The My Week series of posts is a daily running journal that I do on the walks that I take daily around the apartment complex where I live. I’m located just south of the second largest city in Michigan, Grand Rapids, in the southwest part of the state. It was inspired in part by the phenology project done by Rebecca on her blog, Rebecca in the Woods.
Here you will find my thoughts about the wildlife that share this area, and maybe my thoughts on a news item I have read that pertains to nature or the environment.
This post covers the week from April 1 to April 7, 2012
I know that last week I said that I was going to go somewhere other than around here this weekend, but I didn’t. For one thing, I had forgotten that it was Easter weekend this weekend. For another, I thought that it was about time to do my taxes. Yet another reason was the weather forecast, it was supposed to cloud over yesterday afternoon, with some rain overnight, lasting into this morning. That didn’t happen, we received a few sprinkles late last night, and when I got up this morning, I was greeted by bright blue cloudless skies. I woke up fairly late as well, so nothing went as planned.
As it was, I didn’t begin my walk today until nearly 1 P.M., much later than I normally start. I only did one lap as well, so I would have time to complete my taxes, which I am happy to say, have been completed. I considered doing another lap after my taxes were done, but the clouds predicted for yesterday afternoon showed up this afternoon instead. We could use some rain, after the thunder showers last week, the creeks ran high for a few hours, then, dropped back to about average.
The big story today was the wind, very strong out of the west, strong enough so that power lines were knocked down in several areas around here. The wind was so strong that it made any of my attempts to photograph the flowers around here useless, except for these Spring beauties, which grow so low the wind doesn’t cause them to move around as much.
I spent some time poking around the back of the long back pond again, it’s tough going back there! The brush is so thick that in many places I couldn’t bust my way through, and in any of the openings, the briers, brambles, and other prickly plants made walking unpleasant. I did find large numbers of wildflowers that are about to bloom, but other than that, just more game trails.
I saw the first barn swallow of the spring, it will be great once they are back in numbers and filling the skies around here with their darting about.
Some of the oak trees are sprouting new growth, I was going to check to see if it was flowers or leaves, either way, it is really early for oaks to be sprouting any type of growth.
One of the other things of note today, a robin feeding on sumac.
This was interesting on several counts. You could tell that robins aren’t normally perching birds by the way it was having trouble staying on the sumac branch as it was swaying in the wind.
Another was watching it try to find the last few edible seeds.
Then, there’s the question of what was a robin doing feeding on sumac when they are known for feeding on earthworms? Well, I suppose that birds need to eat a balanced diet, just as we humans do, or should. And, sumac is used as a spice in some parts of the world, so it probably tastes good to the robins.
My string of bad luck when trying to photograph wood ducks continues.
The wood duck was flying with a couple of mallards, and I didn’t identify it as a wood duck at first, when the light would have been better. And birds of a feather do not always flock together.
Mallards seem to enjoy being around other birds, if the other birds are mallards, that’s fine by them, but I also see them “greeting” other waterfowl that land in the ponds, and I see time and time again how other species of ducks seem to “hide” in with a flock of mallards. Most of the time that is, this one seemed to want some “me” time all to itself.
I’d be willing to bet that there was a female around close by, probably on her nest, but I didn’t go looking for her.
The last interesting thing of the day, I spotted the ghost of Byron Lakes here today. We have this weird ghost that only appears on windy days.
OK, so it isn’t really a ghost, it was an escaped shopping bag, it sure looked like our ghost.
One more thing. If you’re ever in Prescott, Arizona, you’ll have to stop at the Aloha Grill, the best food anywhere!
I think that’s all for today, on to Monday.
It is nice and sunny outside right now, that’s predicted to change soon, with rain moving in by this afternoon, and sticking around most of the week. We can definitely use the rain, it is so dry around here that there have been numerous grass and brush fires this last weekend. The bad thing will be the wind, if it is like what they are predicting. I’m afraid that I’ll miss a few flowers that will bloom, then be blown apart by the wind before I get a chance to photograph them well. One day at a time I guess, right now, it’s time for breakfast and to get out there and take advantage of the sunshine while it lasts.
In a way, I am going to be sorry to see this glorious weather that we’ve had for the last week come to an end, but we need rain, badly.
To start the day, my bad action shot of the day.
I thought that it had come out better than it did, I guess he was moving too fast for me.
A little farther on, I looked up to see a fox squirrel feeding on the fresh maple seeds of the year. I had the camera on him, debating whether to shoot or not, as the light wasn’t the best. When the squirrel slipped and nearly fell, my finger pressed the shutter release without thinking.
Once he recovered, he ran over to a safer spot and began eating maple seeds again. I have more shots of him chowing down, but I’m not going to post them. This poor guy was really beaten up. He was missing some patches of fur, one eye was swollen shut, the other eye wasn’t in much better shape, and he looked all swollen and bruised in other places, especially his face. I don’t know if he was hit by a car, quite possible the way the idiots drive around here. Or, if he had survived an attack by a predator, a fight with another male squirrel over territory, or what. Once I had a few shots to document his injuries, I left him be to hopefully heal up again.
I found these pretty yellow wildflowers blooming in the woods under the squirrel, I’m sorry, I just don’t have the time to look up what they are.
I’m glad I found them early in my walk, as the wind was growing in strength all the time I was out there. Flower shots became nearly impossible because of the wind, and I even had trouble shooting pictures of birds as well. I did manage this one of a blue jay.
At that point, the battery of my Nikon went dead, my fault, I forgot to charge it last night. So I had to break out the trusty Canon and try for a better shot through the branches, without much luck.
The Canon does a darn good job when you can compare photos from it side by side with photos from the Nikon. I had already been thinking about the differences between the two of them, and how that has effected the way that I compose photos. With the Nikon, hardly anything is in focus due to its extremely narrow depth of field. With the Canon, everything is in focus, whether you want it to be or not, due to its extremely wide depth of field.
I should back up a little here, before the battery went dead, I managed a few good shots today.
I was near the center pond when I heard the pair of geese there start honking in their very high-pitched, very agitated manner, and I wandered over to see what was going on. Another goose had landed there, and the two resident geese where chasing the intruder around the far side of the pond. I took photos, but stills are not good for depicting a chase, the photos make it look like three geese out for a stroll rather than a goose fight.
That made me wonder about something else though, there are a pair of geese in each of the three ponds here, but only one goose is nesting. Is it that the other geese are slower to nest, or what’s the deal with them? They appear to be mated pairs the way they act, and maybe the pair in the front pond is getting ready to nest, we’ll have to see. I wouldn’t have thought that there would be several weeks differences in the nesting times for the geese, but maybe there is.
On to Tuesday.
Well, no rain as they had forecast, instead, we’re getting snow. It isn’t sticking on the ground of course, but when I woke up, it looked as if I were looking into a snow globe when I looked out the window. It will be a winter parka with the camera tucked safely inside kind of day today.
I woke up later than normal as well, so I’m getting a late start on today as well, but better late than never!
That was lucky, by getting out there a little later than normal, I missed most of the snow, and as I was sorting through the few photos I took, the rain hit in earnest. It is hard to believe that just a month ago we were in the middle of a record-breaking heat wave with temperatures in the mid to upper 80’s. It was cold, windy, and snowy today, more like the middle of March should be than the middle of April.
Most of the animals were busy looking for food today, not surprising given the weather. I heard a few birds singing, but not many for example. This song sparrow perched on a branch long enough for one song.
Then went back to looking for food to fuel his high rate of metabolism.
The first of the honeysuckle blooms are beginning to appear.
As well as the first wild cherry so far that I have seen.
The clouds parted for a few minutes, I tried the impossible, getting a red-tailed hawk, crab apple blossoms, blue skies, and clouds all to show up in one shot.
As the next squall moved in, it cast an eerie light on things.
Following up on something from yesterday, I guess Mother and Father Goose in the long back pond did get a head start on most of the rest of the geese. I watched a territorial squabble in the center pond yesterday, saw a major gander fight last night while driving for work, and a Facebook friend has posted several photos of geese fighting in her area. I never knew geese to be so violent, the pair I saw from the truck last night got a running start at each other, then body slammed themselves into their opponent. If I had known what was coming, I would have stopped the truck, I just happened to have taken my point and shoot with me.
I guess it shouldn’t surprise me in the way geese fight, having inadvertently gotten too close to goose nests at times while paddling, I know that they use every available weapon they have to wage war on an intruder. They will slam into you, beat you with their wings, claw you with their feet, and bite you with their bill, which alone is enough to make you wish you had paid more attention in the first place.
To change the subject, here’s my rare find of the day.
OK, so the wind blew the maple seeds down and they stuck to the spruce tree, but it sure made me do a double take as I was walking past.
Not much else to say about today, because of the weather and my late start, I went much quicker than I normally do, which worked out well, I missed getting rained on.
On to Wednesday.
Another epic fail by the local weather forecasters this week. As late as Monday afternoon the predictions for this week were occasional rain and snow all week except for Friday. There isn’t a cloud in the sky as I look out my windows, and all mention of any type of precipitation has been removed from the updated forecasts. While it was cloudy most of the day yesterday, we received very little rain from the squalls as they passed over, and we really need the rain.
We are predicted to receive close to an inch of rain over the upcoming weekend, I hope that forecast pans out. That may sound funny, some one wishing for rain on a weekend, but I don’t care when it rains when we need it as badly as we do right now.
I spent far too long out there, for a number of reasons. I was talking to the groundskeepers for a while, they saw an egret in the front pond a few days ago, good news. Also, all the ash trees here are going to have to be cut done because they have become infested with the emerald ash borers, bad news. Last year they tried to have the ash trees treated, but it costs a small fortune per tree, and it only helped on a few of the trees, which isn’t unusual. So this year, corporate has decided that it would be better to cut all the ash trees down so as to try to halt the overall spread of the ash borers. All the dead and dying ash trees are home for the next generation of ash borers right now, so cutting the trees down and burning them will be about all any one could do.
I saw the injured fox squirrel again today, he’s looking really rough, I’m not sure if he’s going to make it, poor little guy. I won’t post photos of him, for some reason, it just doesn’t seem right. I’m not going to take advantage of his suffering that way. He was sunning himself today, the warm sunshine probably felt good to him.
I saw a double crested cormorant again today, flying overhead. Since they are black, they are hard to photograph, but I did shoot this “artsy” one.
I’ll call that my bad action shot of the day and not bore you with any of the shots of one of the red-tailed hawks soaring overhead.
I also spent a lot of time chasing two chickadees around in one of the flowering trees. I have been trying to shoot photos of birds in with the flowers, but so far this year, I have struck out. The stupid chickadees would perch in a great spot, just long enough for my auto-focus to almost get a focus lock, then flit off before I could shoot. When they did sit still, it was in a bad spot where I couldn’t get the flowers in the frame at the same time. This is the best I could do today.
I’ll keep on trying! 😉 I would like to get one something like this one…
…but with some flowers, even if the flowers aren’t fully in focus. I’m not even fussy about the species of bird, I have tried several times to capture robins in the flowering trees, but they won’t cooperate any better than the chickadees.
The landscaping service was here today working on the lawns here, and it struck me just how much environmental damage we do in order to have neat, well manicured lawns in this country. I’m not saying we should give up lawns entirely, but in a place like this, much of the grass that they mow, fertilize, treat with herbicides, and all the other things that they use gas-powered equipment to do, could be planted in native plants which would improve conditions for the wildlife, and save hundreds of gallons of gasoline each year.
Another bright blue day out there today, that’s supposed to last until tomorrow, then the rain is predicted to be heavy over the weekend. It got cold overnight, there was already frost on my vehicle at 1 A.M. when I finished work last night. What that means for round two of the flowering trees that were just about to bloom remains to be seen, I will check on that today, along with the lilacs that were just beginning to bloom. It’s been so nice to smell real lilacs rather than the heavy artificial lilac scents that manufacturers add to products, nothing like the real thing!
The phoebe that I have been trying to photograph is giving me a hard time. After its preferred maple limb fell, it hasn’t picked one branch on any tree to sing from, it moves around all the time now, and is often so far back in the woods that I am not able to spot it before it spots me.
I haven’t seen any wood ducks in the new swamp, I have heard them a few times though. That’s a tough spot too, for as I am trying to spot any wood ducks, I also have to be on the look out for the pair of flickers that are often feeding right on the edge of the swamp. There is also a small, sparrow-like bird that I have seen hunting the edge of the swamp that I have not gotten a good enough look at to identify yet. It is very good at keeping branches between itself and me as I try to take a photo of it, or get close enough to identify it.
I was about to write that I haven’t seen much going on outdoors as I look through the window while drinking my coffee, when I saw three ducks circling the woods across from me. They didn’t look like mallards, they weren’t, it was two male and a female wood duck, so I guess it is time to get moving!
The problem with my leaving earlier to walk is that I end up taking more photos, leaving me less time to work on this, and I could use a few more hours today.
First, some very sad news, I don’t think that the injured fox squirrel is going to pull through. If this were the old days when I walked out in the woods someplace and it were safe for me to do so, I would put the poor little guy out of his misery. As much as I dislike the idea of killing anything, seeing a critter suffer makes me even sadder, and he is suffering. It broke my heart to see him, and it put a damper on what otherwise would have been a great day.
Now, for the good news. I saw some wood ducks back in the new swamp, managed a few shots of them…
…as I was shooting those photos, I found a deer trail around the edge of the swamp, so I followed it trying to get a better shot of the wood ducks. I didn’t, instead, I found a pond or small lake that I didn’t know was back there! The deer trail took me along a narrow length of high ground between the pond and the swamp. In the pond were two different species of ducks that I have never seen here before, Pied-billed Grebes, and Gadwalls, along with mallards and Canada geese. The photo I got of the Pied-billed Grebe isn’t great, but it was good enough for me to make an identification. The male Gadwall was nice enough to pose with some painted turtles for me.
The pair of red-tailed hawks showed up, I had a hard time getting photos of them through the trees, and one of them came even closer to me much later during my walk, so I post one of those photos later.
The biggest problem I had back there was how thick the brush was around the edges of both the pond and the swamp. I think that I am going to do something I have never done before and clear a few very small “shooting lanes” through the brush in places so I can sneak back there from time to time and photograph the waterfowl.
The hard freeze overnight has damaged some of the flowers around here, but it is hit and miss, which I’m not sure I understand. For example, there are two trees right next to each other of the same species, on one tree, all the flowers had obvious freeze damage, and the other tree showed very little. It does look like the lilacs took a major hit, again, I had already noticed that this years bloom was going to be subdued compared to last year.
Here’s the hawk photo that I promised earlier.
I caught a few of the wild turkeys basking in the sunlight, something I have a hard time doing it seems. They tend to stick to the brush on nice days, and only come out into the open on dark, dreary days.
That reminds me, this one is actually from a few days ago, I forgot to add it, it is the white rabbit that I have been chasing for several years.
I don’t know if this is a hybrid, or partial albino, or why the rabbit is so white, but I have seen this same rabbit a few times over the years, and this is the best shot I have gotten of it.
I am going to throw in one more photo of the turkey, just because I can, and I like it.
He sure looks mean, doesn’t he?
I’m sorry, that’s all I have time for today, on to Friday.
It is warming up, there’s a layer of high clouds overhead, and the meteorologists are backing off from their predictions of heavy rain for tomorrow. I guess I’ll have to wait until tomorrow to decide what I am going to do. If the weather is nice, I will go to Aman Park to photograph the awesome display of wildflowers that bloom there. I have to get through today first, so off I go!
Once again, I spent way too much time taking photos, and left myself short of time to work on this. It’s been a struggle since I have started trying to do this series. The critters keep doing things I want to photograph.
That last one was with no cropping at all, that’s how close the goose was to me at that time, I did get one more of it even closer, but the auto-focus couldn’t keep up with how fast the goose was coming at me, so the photo is out of focus.
And, that all goes along with my thoughts I was thinking today, I am having a hard time getting motivated about taking pictures of flowers. The last two springs I took thousands of photos of flowers, and while the flowers this year are very good, they pale in comparison to the displays the trees and bushes put on in previous years.
That, and my current equipment, just a 70-300 mm lens, isn’t very well suited for photos of flowers. I really need a macro lens, or at least a lens that will focus closer than my current lens. The past two years, I used my Canon point and shoot which works well, but, because of the depth of field difference, using the Canon after the Nikon DSLR is like having to learn all over again.
Then, there are the other blogs that I follow. They seem to fall into two categories, one is people who take much better photos of flowers than I could ever hope to take, mostly because they have the proper equipment for it. The other category is bloggers who are very well-educated as to the identities of the various wildflowers and they are far better educated than I am, so what I would post would be lacking.
That brings up an interesting dichotomy that happens often to me, both in real life and through this blog. I will take a photo of a wildflower or other interesting plant and I don’t have a clue as to what it is. Some one will identify it and say something to the effect that those plants are rather rare, and ask where I found them. I thank them for identifying the plant in question, then say that those plants aren’t rare to me, I see them all the time at such and such a place. To me, it has always been the finding that has been the most important aspect of being out in nature, correct scientific names has always been secondary, a huge failing on my part.
There’s only one reason for me not to have looked up and identified things before, laziness. Well, laziness and time constraints, for spending hours trying to identify something cuts into my limited time for finding.
There is yet one more reason I haven’t shot as many flower photos this spring as I normally would, and that is my current “quest” to take an excellent photo of every species of wildlife that I possibly can. Getting an excellent photo over just a very good photo takes time. For example, I spotted a male cardinal singing from the top of a tree today.
I think that many people would be happy with that shot, but there’s a branch behind the cardinal’s head that looks like it is going through the cardinal’s head, so I started moving around to find an angle to shoot from that would give me exactly the shot I wanted. Every time I moved, so did the cardinal.
No more branch through the head, but now there were shadows preventing this from being an excellent shot. And so it went, I would move, the cardinal would move, and there would always be something in the 25 or so photos I took of him that kept them from being what I wanted. Not only did taking the photos consume a lot of time, then, I have to go through those photos and analyze them, sort them, delete the ones I don’t like, and so on. Oh, and no, I didn’t get the perfect photo of a male cardinal singing, so I will have to try again.
As the photos I have saved on my computer improve, my criteria for judging them becomes more discriminating. I would have been very happy with the last cardinal photo, last year. This year, I want better! Every time I take a picture that is an improvement over what I already have, it raises the bar yet another notch, making it even tougher to do better than that in the future. Getting the next better shot then requires even more time and effort.
Then there are fun photos of wildlife doing things that you don’t see everyday, like geese on the roof of an apartment building. I knew that those photos weren’t going to fit my quest for the perfect photo of a goose, but I took them anyway because they tell a story.
And this quest for perfect wildlife photos doesn’t leave me with enough time to view hundreds of individual flowers looking for just the right one with just the right lighting to make a great flower photo. Every once in a while though, one jumps out at me, like this one.
And I haven’t even touched on other things in nature that I see and photograph, like this.
I guess that technically, that could be considered a flower in a way. So many things to photograph, so little time. There are times when I wonder if I should narrow my focus to just birds, or just mammals, or just flowers, but that’s not me. I photograph what catches my eye, be it animal, vegetable, or mineral. When I post those photos either here or on a social media site, I find that people have never seen these things before, like balsam fir cone above. And here’s a little secret, I had to look up to see that the photo above was a balsam fir, something I knew once upon a time.
Maybe I spend too much time outdoors, for after a while, some of the identifications I used to be able to make don’t seem to be that important, or they didn’t until I began this blog. Now I really should be able to identify what is in the photos I post here.
In a conversation I am having with Allen from the New Hampshire Gardening Solutions blog along these lines, I said that I have become like an animal, very aware of my surroundings, but don’t have a clue as to the exact names of what the things surrounding me are. By that, I mean that I know exactly where the trees are, where the wildlife lives, and how to use the trees and the lay of the land to sneak up close to the wildlife, but it doesn’t make much of a difference if the tree I use for cover is a pine, fir, or spruce, as long as it blocks the view of wildlife as I stalk it. I guess that’s partly mental laziness as well, not bothering to remember.
Anyway, that’s enough of that, at least for the time being. On to Saturday.
Why do I bother with weather forecasts? It is cloudy, and warmer than it has been, but now the forecast is for just a slight chance of rain today, with the heavy rain coming tonight. Tomorrow may turn out nicer than they were predicting as well. We’ll see. We could really use rain, lots of it. The creeks are drying up, they look like they do in late August, and it’s only the middle of April. I think I’ll do my rain dance when I go for my walk.
The rain dance hasn’t worked so far, still no rain. So, I dumped the end of a bag of potato chips out on my balcony for the birds, that usually brings the rain.
I got back to my apartment, plugged my camera in to the computer and thought to myself, how the heck did you manage to shoot 177 pictures on a day like today? I started the day bumping the ISO on my camera up to 400, and I should have gone to 800 at the start of my walk. I took a few pictures of the wood ducks in the new swamp, not one came out worth saving, not enough light, they were too far away, and too much brush in the way. They sure are skittish birds!
I also took a few more of the gadwalls in the pond I discovered, none of those came out well either. Not a good day for photography, so I did a little more exploring back in the woods between the swamp and the pond, and discovered old signs of beaver activity!
At first, I thought that humans had cut down the trees, but I saw unmistakable teeth marks from beavers on the trees. Could it be that the new swamp is a beaver pond? I thought about trying to find the spot on the creek where the water is being dammed up, but since I had already chased the wood ducks once already, I thought it best to let them rest for a day or two before I go crashing around back in there again.
It is an interesting area back there, even if there isn’t much solid ground to walk on. I found many species of mushrooms and other fungi as you would expect.
As thick as it is back there now, by the time summer gets here, it will be almost impossible to see anything in either the swamp or the pond then.
As I approached the back pond, there was still now waterfowl or wading birds there, but there were flocks of different species of songbirds feeding in the grass around the pond, more than I can remember having seen there before. There were robins, starlings, grackles, several species of sparrows, several species of finches, and cardinals , just to name a few, all in the grass or brush around the edge of the pond. I also spotted a flicker and began shooting, even though I doubted that what I was getting would be worth posting, and they weren’t, but another flicker landed in a bush closer to e and I was able to get a few good shots of it.
If only the bush behind it wasn’t giving it “rabbit ears”! Here’s another.
As you can see, they are quite bashful around a camera, which may explain why I have had such a hard time getting even a good photo of them. 😉
Something interesting happened at the center pond while I was there, two male mallards started one of the little fights over a female.
Nothing unusual about that, right? It happens all the time, except that today, the gander in the pond broke up the fight.
I can’t say that I have ever seen that before. Maybe the goose is buddies with the mallard that was being chased or something, all I know is that the gander purposely swam over to intercept the fight while it was in progress. Of course, as soon as the gander rejoined his mate, the mallards went back at it again.
Mother goose is still on her nest by the long back pond, it shouldn’t be too much longer before the eggs begin to hatch.
Here’s a humorous shot from today.
That’s not the injured fox squirrel, I didn’t see him today. I did see it yesterday as I left for work, not good, that’s all I am going to say.
For my bad action shot of the day, I could use one of many of the mallards chasing each other around the pond, either in the water or while flying, but I have posted enough of those, so here’s a couple of robins going at it.
For the first appearance of the year by a reptile, the award goes to this garter snake.
Or are turtles considered reptiles? In that case, the snake loses to the turtles I have already posted pictures of. OK, so the snake wins the award for first appearance by a reptile with no legs.
And to wrap this week up, A photo from yesterday. I broke out the Canon and used it for this shot of a crab apple blossom.
That’s it for this week, thanks for stopping by!