My Week…New Life
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 22 to April 28, 2012
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may remember that I had been planning on kayaking the canoe trail at Ludington State Park today. My plans have changed, due to the weather. I had one of my gut feelings about today, which turned out to be correct, there’s a very stiff breeze blowing out of the east right now that is now predicted to get even stronger this afternoon. Funny, none of the weather forecasts that I read, even as late as last evening, mentioned anything about high winds. Yet this morning when I got up, I could see the trees bent over and several small to medium size limbs have been blown down.
If I had been planning on kayaking a river, the wind wouldn’t be an issue, but, I was planning on kayaking a good size lake, and I would have been on the side of the lake getting hit by the wind. Fighting the wind while trying to take photographs is not a good combination, so I’ll hold off for better weather. Other than the wind, it is a beautiful day today, so it’s time for breakfast, and a good long walk after to burn it off.
A bit of a strange day in some ways, I did two laps around here and only took around 100 photos, which is unusual for this place. For one thing, almost as soon as I got started, the clouds rolled in and with the wind blowing the way that it was, there weren’t too many chances for good photos. Most of the 100 photos I did take are bad action shots of the mallards fooling around, I’m not sure I’ll even post any, but there is a story there when I get to that point in my walk.
With the clouds and the wind, it was quite cool, and didn’t really warm up much until I was almost done with the second lap, which is when the clouds finally broke up again, once and for all. There were a few breaks during the day, but I’m sure glad I didn’t waste a trip on a day like today. The wind was strong enough that two trees that I know of blew down at some time today, both were dead and easily blown over with the ground as wet as it is, but still, it was not a good day to be kayaking a larger lake.
At the back pond, there is the pair of mallards that have been there all spring, now with their new brood. I walked all the way around the pond today, more in the hopes that something would turn up than for any other reason. The only things that did were another pair of mallards. When they landed in the pond, the resident male would go after the female of the new pair, and her mate would follow along as the resident male chased the female off. Then the resident male would return, things would be calm for a minute or two, then the second pair would return. Then they would repeat what had just happened, the resident male would chase the female away, her mate would follow, the resident male would return, over and over again. They did that at least half a dozen times, maybe more.
Sometimes I wonder if they do those things just to amuse themselves, or to irritate the other mallards. Whatever you may think about mallards, they certainly are entertaining to watch. In the front pond, the area’s unattached males were congregating for a while for a little guy talk as they were feeding. One by one they would land in the pond, and the other males already there would swim over to the new arrivals to greet them. They would all quack away at each other, but in quiet quacks, then they would all tip up to eat. They would move from spot to spot in the pond in a line, how do they go about choosing a leader?
The little pie-billed grebe was still there, looking very lonesome. I think that he would like to hang out with the mallards, but they don’t let him. Why? I see mallards allowing many other species of ducks to join their flocks, why not the grebe? Also, how to grebes find mates? Is the male there waiting for a female to find him in that pond?
Anyway, that’s about it from the first lap. The second lap was much the same, I spent more time watching wildlife in action than trying to photograph it. That didn’t change until I was close to being done for the day. I had checked out the back pond, then walked to the center pond, and as I turned around, I could see a great blue heron had somehow made its way to the back pond in the few short minutes it took me to get to the center pond.
By then, the clouds had broken up, and the light was right for me to try to sneak up on the heron. I was working my way to a good spot to shoot from, and paused behind a bush where I could watch the heron without it being able to see me. I was planning the next leg of my stalk when I saw some one else approaching the pond from the other direction, and knew that the heron would fly off when the other guy got close, so I stuck my head and camera out around the bush and started shooting to get what I could before the inevitable happened.
And as I thought, it wasn’t long before the heron took off.
The bad thing was that the other guy spoiled what could have been a good stalk on my part, the good thing was that since the heron was fleeing the other guy, the heron launched in my direction.
As I was crossing one of the bridges over the main creek, I saw a male mallard coming at me, and I mean coming at me!
That was shot with my zoom lens set at 85 mm according to the shooting information, that’s how close the mallard came to me. He turned right over my head to land in the creek.
Then he started laughing.
By then I had regained my wits and zoomed in to 300 mm. That was just a warm up for some action shots to come.
I didn’t go back into the new swamp today, since I was back in the swamp yesterday, I wanted to give it a rest. I did walk along the edge of it though, and saw what I thought was a chickadee fly towards me and land in a small tree. Once it had landed, I could see that it wasn’t a chickadee, it was a yellow-rumped warbler. By the time I got the camera on him he was gone, but he didn’t go far, and, he had a few friends with him. I managed to get a couple of acceptable shots of them.
Even when perched, they don’t sit still!
I told them that if that’s the way they wanted to be, I would shoot them while they were flying! They seemed to like that idea.
I think that they thought I couldn’t do it and that they would be tormenting me by flying all around me, ha! Fooled them, didn’t I? That’s when all those bad action shots of the mallards that I take and then delete come into play, keeping me in practice for these shots.
I think that about wraps things up for today, on to Monday.
Yesterday’s strong east wind is now today’s light west wind, although the wind is predicted to pick up during the day. I can’t see a cloud in the sky, so it’s time for me to get moving.
I’m back, another action packed day with few photos to show for it, mainly because they are all beginning to look the same to me. The geese and hawks were flying overhead, as well as the mallards of course, and I took a few shots for practice, but I think I have hit my limit as far as quality of the photos. I get good shots of large birds flying at a distance, but when they get closer to me, then the auto-focus doesn’t keep up with them most of the time.
I did try something different today, a few crows flew low and very close to me, and I tried shooting in aperture priority to give me a larger depth of field, hoping that the crows would be in focus. They were, but then the shutter speed was so low that the motion of the crows caused blurring, even with a cloudless blue sky as a background. I think that crows were probably a poor subject for that experiment, since they are completely black, I will have to try that on another species and see how it works. But, I had the camera in aperture priority when the crows flew past me, so I thought I would give it a shot.
I could bump the ISO up to 400 even on a sunny day like today, which would help by boosting the shutter speed while the lens is stopped down. Something else to try. It would be just like the old days of film when I would load my camera with 400 ASA Ektachrome for action shots. I’m not dating myself there, am I? 🙂
The trees are about halfway leafed out right now, you would think that with the head start that they got during the first part of March would have them further along than they are. These cool nights with frost very often has slowed all the plants back down, and also killed many of the buds on the trees and plants that would normally be blooming right about now. That, and the wind storms every few days. Flowers just open up, and we get a windy day that shreds the flowers. That’s happening again today, the light breeze of earlier this morning is now quite strong out of the north. There are flower petals and maple seeds filling the air, I wonder how many pounds of maple seeds are falling off from the trees? It has to be a considerable number, but I’m not going to try collecting all those seeds to weigh them. 😉 Besides, the birds and the fox squirrels are doing their best to clean up the fallen maple seeds, they don’t need my help.
The photos that I am going to post today are of a pair of killdeer, since I haven’t posted many of them.
The new arrivals are catbirds and brown thrashers, two of my favorite birds, I love listening to them sing! They’re related to each other as species, so it isn’t surprising that their songs would be somewhat the same. There was one of each in a row of trees near the long back pond, both of them were singing away like crazy, so I stood there for a while to listen, then tried for a photo. I saw the thrasher a couple of times, but it was too quick for me, I never caught a glimpse of the catbird, which is normal with them. After they are fully settled, I’ll make more serious attempts at photography. I know that I’ll end up going into the trees to catch the catbirds.
I have also become convinced that there are a pair of both sharp shinned and coopers hawks around here. The last few weeks, I have taken photos of the male coopers hawk soaring overhead, and have seen, but not been able to photograph the sharpie. He is tiny compared to the coopers hawk, and I am learning to correctly identify them better. Who would have thought that living in an apartment complex and walking around it everyday would help me to identify raptors?
Of course the red-tailed hawks are easy to ID since they are so much larger and with much broader wings than either the sharpies or the coopers hawks. I am also sure that one of the red-tailed hawks I see on almost a daily basis is one of last year’s young, probably by the pair I see very often. I am learning to ID it because its tail isn’t as dark as either of its parent’s.
There’s certainly something to be said for walking the same place everyday, like learning individual birds and being able to recognize them on sight.
I think that’s all I have to say for today, on to Tuesday.
Another almost cloudless day, another very windy day. I may be wrong, but I don’t recall ever having a spring as windy as this one has been. It is also rather chilly again today, after the heat wave last month, it has actually been cooler than average around here, which I don’t mind a bit. That keeps the number of bugs down, I may love nature, but mosquitos and biting flies, not so much.
What a day! It was very windy, and cool to start, but it warmed up nicely as the day went along. Up in the front creek, a pair of muskrats were feeding on the water cress.
It still bothers me that these completely harmless critters are being trapped just for their fur. I hate to sound like one of the nuts from PETA, but there’s no reason for any one to wear a fur coat.
OK, now for some great news, Mother Goose wasn’t on her nest today, her eggs have hatched!
As I circled the pond to try for better photos of the goslings, I watched a pair of crows put on an aerial ballet that I think is part of their mating ritual.
I knew that crows could be very acrobatic in flight when they wanted to be, I’ve seen them in action as they have attacked hawks and owls, but the moves these two were making surprised even me. Those photos aren’t very good, and the crows saved their best moves for times when they were partially blocked from view by trees in the distance, so no photos of that portion of the ballet.
I made it closer to the goose family, but I couldn’t see the goslings while I was there. The proud papa let me know just from the look on his face that one of us would die if I tried getting ay closer.
Mother Goose seemed much more laid back about my being there, she was probably happy to get up and walk around for the first time in a month, to say nothing of eating and drinking again.
I circled around to the nest…
…when Father Goose sounded the alarm…
…the hawk circled the nest a couple of times as I was standing near it…
…the hawk was very interested in the nest. As good as the eyes of a hawk are, and as close to the nest as it was, it had to have seen the broken egg shells there in the nest. The question is, will it remember the nest, and circle past the area often trying to catch Mother and Father Goose off guard and pick up an easy meal of fresh gosling? Something for me to keep an eye on.
As I was checking out the back pond, I watched a pair of mallards land and go about their business with no response from the resident male there. The other day, the resident male was chasing the female of another pair of mallards out of the pond every time that they tried landing in the pond. OK, I have no way of knowing if the pair today was the same pair he chased out of the pond numerous times the other day or not, maybe he got tired of chasing them away, if that was the same pair. If it wasn’t the same pair, then how did the resident male know that from across the pond? By the way the pair quacked?
A couple of photos of butterflies that I saw at places during the day.
Then, between the center pond and the back pond, this female goldfinch was nice enough to pose for some good photos of her.
And, to finish off the day, a picture of the sky.
That’s it for today, or I should say that’s all I have time for today, on to Wednesday.
The clouds are rolling in ahead of what could be some rain later in the day, so I have to get moving now!
As is so often the case, I spent way too much time out there today observing, and taking some really crappy photos. The darn critters just won’t cooperate and position themselves in perfect lighting when they do interesting things. Throw in some trees, signs, and buildings to get in the way of great photos, and it’s a wonder that any of us ever get the photos that we do. Oh, and I forgot to mention other people spoiling a good stalk by spooking off a bird that you had spent twenty minutes trying to get close to.
One thing that I have been forgetting to mention is that there has been a large number of songbirds all around the back pond that otherwise has seemed to be lacking in wildlife all this spring. By wildlife, I mean waterfowl and wading birds, for two years, that was the pond that held most of the wildlife of that nature. This year, just a few mallards fooling around with a few times other waterfowl have stopped in. I have been noticing the large numbers of songbirds around it for a couple of weeks now, I see the bluebirds back there quite often, but as yet, no photos.
That’s another thing, the bluebirds around here are harder to get close to than any of the other birds other than the wood ducks. I have never seen such skittish bluebirds before. But, back to the pond.
I think that the number of songbirds around it isn’t really much higher than it was the last two years, but since there aren’t other, larger species around, I am noticing the songbirds more this year.
As I was looking over the back pond, I could hear a lot of goose honking going on around the center pond, but that’s not unusual since the swans have left. (I miss the swans, I wish they would have nested here) When I finally got around to checking out the reason for all the honking, I was very surprised at what I found.
Father and Mother Goose had brought their newly hatched goslings over to the center pond to go for a stroll. That had the resident gander all worked up.
And, before I forget, the resident female of the pond went on the nest yesterday.
Father goose is definitely the dominant gander, for the resident gander of the pond made several charges at Father Goose, but as soon as Father Goose moved towards the resident gander, it backed off and would go waddling back to the water, a few times, quite quickly. Maybe it was because Father Goose had Mother Goose for backup, but she didn’t seem to get involved in the skirmishes other than a little honking, she was more concerned with her new brood and hovered over them like any new mother would.
I tried for photos of the skirmishes, of course, but there was always something in the way. Their battles seem silly anyway, in a short time the adults will be as flightless as the goslings, and they will all get together in large flocks to feed. Geese lose their primary flight feathers every year when the molt, and for a while they are grounded. While they are grounded, the same geese that are now fighting over territories will all join together in one big happy family to raise their young.
Here’s the best shot of one of the goslings I could get.
You can see that they start young as far as making noise, and you can also see where they get that from.
I wonder why the Goose family decided to take their young over to the center pond in the first place. Are geese like people in that they think the grass is always greener at another goose’s pond?
How well the newly hatched goslings got around sort of surprised me, they were doing better than Mother Goose who at times looked as if she were drunk and staggering around. After sitting on the nest for a month without ever getting up to stretch her legs it will take her a couple of days to get her legs working right again.
Leaving the center pond, I saw a few crows landing in the evergreens planted here. It took me a few minutes to figure out why. At first, I thought that they may have been looking for nesting spots, but that didn’t seem right, crows nest in larger trees than the 15 to 25 foot tall evergreens here. Then, it dawned on me, they weren’t looking for places to build their nests, they were looking for the nests of other birds who have nested in the evergreens.
Crows often raid the nests of songbirds to eat the young hatchlings in the nests. That’s one reason that some people despise crows. I knew that crows did that, but I have never seen them actively and purposefully hunting evergreens that way before. They were systematically going from evergreen to evergreen, with one crow perched in the top of a tree to serve as a look out.
When I approached the lookout to try for a photograph, it gave the warning call, and the entire small flock of crows left, for the time being anyway. I’m sure that they will return, as there are songbird nests in most of the evergreens here.
Nature may not always be pretty, but it is what it is. The crows eating the young songbirds is one of nature’s check and balances against overpopulation, as ugly as those checks and balances may be at times.
On a lighter note, a dark-eyed junco eating dandelion seeds.
I didn’t post it, but the other day, I took photos of a house finch also eating dandelion seeds, that’s one of those checks and balances most people would welcome. The more dandelion seeds that the birds eat, the fewer dandelions there will be showing up in people’s lawns.
That’s all I have time for today, on to Thursday.
It is cloudy, very dark, and windy outside this morning. I have been holding off going for my walk, hoping that the clouds will thin out a bit. A flock of turkeys just went past, so maybe it’s time for me to go out and play hide and seek with them for a while.
Another day, another 100+ photos to sort through. I need an assistant, some one to sit at the computer and stay in radio contact with me so they can type as I walk and shoot photos.
It’s taken a while, but something is finally beginning to sink in to this thick skull of mine, the reason there are no waterfowl or wading birds in the back pond is because they are all hanging out in the new swamp. Isn’t that the way it goes, it is very difficult to even see into the new swamp, let alone get a good photo of anything there. That’s going to get even worse as the trees finish leafing out, I can barely see the new swamp unless I go wading through the mud to get to the edge.
That’s an example of what I have to deal with back in the new swamp. I also saw a great blue heron, blue winged teal, wood ducks, gadwalls, Canada geese, and of course dozens of mallards as well. But getting good photos is close to impossible, the best on that I got of the egret is this one.
To make getting around back there even more of a challenge, a Canada goose has built her nest right next what little high ground that there is around the swamp.
I don’t want to disturb her, and in avoiding her, it cuts down on my access to what few places there are to walk in the area.
That swamp didn’t exist a year ago, the pond next to it did, although I didn’t know about the pond until this spring. But, what I find interesting is how quickly wildlife has adjusted to the new swamp, and taken up residence there in some cases, and how some species have had to move out of the area. The fox squirrels for example, they still move from tree to tree over the swamp’s edges, but they avoid the middle as swamps aren’t exactly squirrel habitat, at least not for fox squirrels. The turkeys and the whitetail deer have also had to adjust both where they feed, and their travel routes also.
The wood ducks living there don’t surprise me that much, swamps are ideal habitat for them, and I would sometimes see them swimming up and down the creek behind my apartment during the spring in years past. But where did all the blue-winged teal, gadwalls, and pie-billed grebes come from? Especially the blue-winged teal, there’s twenty to thirty in a loose flock here this spring. I don’t know if they will stick around or not, I took a few bad shots of them in flight, I am hoping for a better one to show how they got their name.
I really need to put on my mud boots and find out what blocked the creek behind my apartment to create the swamp, but I have been holding off on that.It’s nice knowing that there’s something left here to discover, something to explore. I was talking to one of the groundskeepers the other day, and he said in passing that I must know this place like the back of my hand, every tree, shrub, and edge, and in a way, I do. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing, it’s good in that it makes it easier to get the photos that I do, it’s bad in that I love exploring new places, and there’s no place other than the swamp left for me to explore around here. Unless I start trespassing, which I am not about to do.
Up in the front pond, there was a big fight between four Canada geese, I have many photos of it, but they will go into a separate post, Good Geese Gone Wild.
Here’s another new addition to the wildlife in the area., a young cottontail rabbit.
And soon, there will be even more additions.
I love spring! It isn’t just the weather, the fact that the trees have leaves again, or the flowers blooming, it’s the new life all around. The next generation of critters being born or hatched. Soon, the whitetail does will be giving birth to their fawns and young squirrels will be chasing each other through the treetops as young birds try their wings for the first time. It’s a sign that everything is “right” in the natural world and that there will be a new generation of wildlife to bewilder, aggravate, amaze, and amuse me, and any one else willing to pay attention to the wildlife. I find it very sad that while nearly every one wants to “go green” and give lip service to the environment, very few people actually take any time to learn about it, or to even watch and listen to it in action. I’d better stop there, or this could become an extremely long rant. So, on to Friday.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, it was a beautiful day and I spent so much time taking photos…..
OK, you’ve heard that one before, well, it was true. In my quest to take a perfect photo of every species of wildlife around here, I shot over 200 photos, and I think that there was only one species that I haven’t already posted many photos of.
I’ve been chasing them for two years, and that’s the best photo of one that I have managed, so far. Like all warblers, they stick to the thicker growth, and never stop moving. Nice to see them back though, even if they do give me fits when I try to shoot them. 😉
A few other shots from the day.
I think that’s all for Friday, on to Saturday.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, it was a terrible day for photography, but the critters were putting on such a show that I spent so much time taking photos…..
OK, you’ve heard that one before, well, it was true.
The weather, cloudy, cold, windy, with light rain most of the time. So what happens today? The geese were chasing great blue herons around as I was chasing them both of them around, with the mallards looking on and being their usual selves. I have more than enough photos for an entire post on just that, so that’s what I am going to do. Before I finish up this week though, I have to mention a few things about today.
As part of showing their new brood the neighborhood, Father and Mother Goose were in the back pond today.
Why Father and Mother Goose are taking their newly hatched youngsters to a different pond everyday is beyond me, but they are. Maybe it is to teach the goslings the neighborhood, maybe it is to upset the other geese, I have no idea at this point.
Getting ready to post this, I have been proof reading it to fix my mistakes, and a thought has occurred to me. On the day when the goslings hatched, a red-tailed hawk made a couple of low passes over the nest, as you probably saw as you were reading this. Perhaps the reason the Goose family stays on the move everyday is to prevent predators from being able to zero in on the goslings. The hawk may know where the nest was, but it won’t do the hawk any good to go back there, since the Goose family is somewhere else. Are geese that smart?
Who know what goes on in the minds of birds. I got to the long back pond that had been the home to Father and Mother Goose for over a month, and did a double take, there was another pair of geese there, hanging out in the same area as Father and Mother Goose used to before she nested.
Later, these two geese chased two great blue herons out of the pond. Are these two of the geese from the epic battle over the front pond? Do Father and Mother Goose know the intruders are taking over the long back pond? Do they care?
Thursday, four geese had an all out war over the front pond. On Friday, there were no geese there at all when I went past it. Saturday, there are two geese back in the front pond, and they are chasing a great blue heron away. Then, a few minutes later, they start honking like crazy, why, I couldn’t tell, but then they leave the pond after having just chased the heron away from it.
There’s a point to all this, actually several, but the one that I have been thinking about a lot is how different my observations of wildlife have become since I am “living” with the critters, seeing them on a daily basis, and I can identify at least some of them by sight to be able to keep track of who belongs where. Then, there is this blog, and keeping track of the goings on around here.
If you would have asked me just a few years ago if I knew about great blue herons, geese, or other birds, I would have answered “Sure”, but I would have been wrong. I knew what I had read in bird guides and a few other books. I knew habitat more than anything else. If you had asked me to find you a particular species of bird, I could have, because I did know which habitats each species was most likely to be found in, and, I knew what the bird’s diets were. I could identify most birds found around here by the way they move around, or by the way they fly, but I knew nothing, nothing at all about the way that they behave, or the way that they interact with other species, be those species other birds, or other types of wildlife.
Take the lowly mallard, there are a zillion of them in Michigan alone, or it seems that way at times. They communicate by quacking, right? Yes, and no. There’s hardly a day that goes by when I don’t hear mallards making sounds that I had no idea they made until I heard it. They quack, sure. But, they also peep, whistle, coo, along with a few others that I am forgetting right now. They have a very complex social structure, and sounds are just a part of the way they communicate, much of it is through body language as well as sounds.
It seems to be the same for most of the species of birds as I watch them. How little we know about them, or at least how little I have found by reading what I have read. Maybe there are studies that have been done on the complex social structures of birds that I am not aware of. And, it could be that the social structures of birds are changing as their populations increase.
It wasn’t that long ago that the numbers of almost all species of birds were still depressed, you didn’t see two male great blue herons in one small pond at the same time, or see them interacting with Canada geese, because there simply weren’t that many of them. As their numbers increase, competition for habitat increase, and interactions between members of the same, and of different species increase.
As this is getting quite long as it is, and since this is an ongoing series, I am going to end this here for now. I’m sure I will be coming back to this subject many times in the future. I have a couple of more posts that I want to get done, plus pack for kayaking tomorrow! Oh, and it was opening day of trout season today. I didn’t go, as you could probably tell, I never go for the opener. The weather is always bad, it seems as if every opener I can remember has been wet, cold, and windy. That, and I don’t like fighting crowds. Many of the people who go opening day may not go again until summer, I’ll be going before they return! That’s why I normally take one of the first two weeks of May off from work, but, not this year. Next year for sure!
That’s it for this week, thanks for stopping by!