2012 in review
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog. Not too shabby for not having posted anything for 6 months, I’ll do better this year!
Here’s an excerpt:
4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 19,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 4 Film Festivals
Great blue herons in flight
I’m sorry about the appearance of my last post, I tried something different, didn’t like it, but didn’t have the energy to go back and do it all over. So I’m going back to the old way of doing things, I hope you enjoy these photos of great blue herons in flight.
I know I said at one time that I wasn’t going to take any more shots of heron’s butts as they flew off, well, I lied. I still do, for practice, but then I normally delete them, but I like these three as they show how herons twist their wings as they flap.
I have to tell you though, it’s a lot easier to get a shot of a heron flying away from you than it is one flying directly at you!
So here’s the story behind this little series. I was on my morning walk, minding my own business, and had just passed two young women going the opposite direction as I was. Suddenly, there was a great commotion in the brush along the creek I was approaching, and two herons burst out of the brush headed straight towards me, so close and so low that I thought that I was going to get hit by their wings. Out of instinct, I began to duck, and at the same time, brought my camera to my eye and fired. I swear that I heard the beep of the focus lock as I shot that photo, which by the way, was taken with the zoom set at 70mm, for I didn’t even have time to zoom in at all. My composure was not helped by the sounds of the two women screaming and breaking into a run right behind me, thinking that we were all going to be attacked by the herons.
I managed to regain my composure and shot these two as the chasing heron looked the situation over, and returned to the creek to hunt.
Do you know that it is darned near impossible to keep a bird as large as a heron in the your viewfinder when it’s less than 20 feet up and directly overhead?
For these next two, it was much the same situation, I was walking upstream along a creek, when a heron came gliding along headed downstream.
We spotted each other at about the same time, and the heron turned away.
From those experiences, and several others with various species of birds, I was learning that I have to anticipate when the auto focus is going to focus on the bird, and that I have to already be pressing the shutter release the rest of the way when it happens to get an incoming bird in focus. I thought that I had gotten the timing down for this one, but noooo….
For this series, I was using the closest thing that I use as a blind, standing against a fence in chest high weeds on top of the hill overlooking the pond you see in the background. I don’t think that the heron saw me when some one else spooked it, it was headed straight at me. I had to step away from the fence I was leaning back against in order to get the freedom of arm movement required when the heron spotted me, veered off to my right, and did a slow circle around me.
As some one who has never used Photoshop or any other photo editing software, I wonder if I could remove the sign from the background so that the photo looks more natural?
I wonder if I could edit out the building?
Bright sunshine is great for high shutter speeds to freeze motion, but then you have to deal with shadows.
Cloudy days mean little or no shadow, but then, getting sharp photos is more difficult, at least with my old Nikon. When I bump the ISO up higher than 400, the photo quality drops off to the point that I’m better off shooting at 400, and living with a little blur from motion.
Here’s a few more of my many attempts to capture the perfect shot of a great blue heron in flight.
Another heron butt, I do really need to stop posting those!
Just when I think that I am going to get the perfect shot, the stupid trees jump in the way and spoil it.
Sometimes more so than others.
So I keep trying.
Who knows, one of these days I may even get it right.
I’m getting closer to that perfect photo, one of these days!
That’s about it for this one. On a side note, I’m thinking of upgrading my photo equipment. Currently, I am using an older Nikon D50 and a Nikkor 70-300mm lens. Since I have worked all the glitches out of the body, I am very pleased with it, yet I think that the newer technology built into today’s cameras would be helpful. I would just purchase a new camera body, but I have read and heard that the lens I am currently using isn’t the best that Nikon has ever produced. I know that it has way too much chromatic aberration in it, and a few other problems as well. Since I’m on a budget, this won’t be easy, but I’m thinking of switching over to either a Canon 60D or a Pentax K5, with a couple of lenses for each.
One of my younger brothers uses a Pentax, and I can see that his photos are a notch above what I can get with the set up that I’m currently using. On the other hand, I am somewhat familiar with Canon, as I use a Powershot as a backup camera, and I am very pleased with the color rendition and sharpness it is able to achieve. Also, many of the bloggers that I follow use Canon equipment, and I’m often in awe of the quality of their photos.
I know that the most cost-effective way I could upgrade is to purchase a new Nikon body and lens like an 18-105mm lens so I would have something more suitable for landscape work, and continue using my current lens until I can afford to replace it with one of a higher quality. Or, I could continue to use the D50 body, and purchase a better lens now.
I’m so confused!
Anyway, thanks for stopping by, and any thoughts on the camera situation would be most welcome!
I failed at trying to save the world, back to photos
To get back to the photos, I’m just going to throw a bunch of great blue heron photos in this one, as you will plainly see.
The Drake’s Bay oyster farm
I am not going to reply to the comments on my last post just yet, instead, I am going to start this post off with a quote from Diane Feinstein, senior Senator from California.
“Accurate, objective science should guide environmental policy, and when science has acknowledged problems, it should never be used to make decisions. There is no guarantee that any given study is perfect, but we should all agree that decisions based on science we know to be flawed is a stark violation of the public trust.”
Senator Feinstein wrote that in an op-ed piece concerning the case of the Drake’s Bay oyster farm in the Point Reyes National Seashore. I am not going to go into great details on this case, I’m not sure how many people would believe what I had to say anyway, given what I posted yesterday.
Here’s a brief synopsis, the National Park Service, part of the Department of Interior, has chosen not to renew the lease for an oyster farm that has been in business since long before the Point Reyes National Seashore came into existence back in 1976. The feds have given the owners of the oyster farm 90 days to cease operations, including removing and destroying the existing “crop” of oysters presently growing in the bay. Thirty one workers will lose their jobs, 15 of the workers will also lose their homes, as they live in housing provided by the owner of the oyster farm.
This case has many interesting and informative aspects, such as the fact that the local chapter of the Sierra Club supports the oyster farm, saying that the farm is a perfect example of an environmentally friendly and sustainable way of producing food, while the people in the headquarters of the Sierra Club are demanding that the farm be shut down because of the adverse environmental impact the farm has.
Also interesting is what the National Academy of Sciences had to say about the scientific studies used by the Department of Interior as justification for shutting down the oyster farm, claiming the National Park Service was trying to get rid of the oyster farm by exaggerating its negative impacts on the environment. During the impasse, more than $1 million in taxpayer money was spent on environmental assessment studies, according to records.
To me, this case speaks volumes about bending science, as well as many other subjects that I’m not going to list at this time. I don’t think that any one would accuse Senator Feinstein of being a right-wing whack job, and she’s supporting the oyster farm, so I urge my readers to do a little research on this case on their own, it could be an eye-opening experience, that goes along the lines of what I posted yesterday about climate change.
To believe, or not believe,
Editor’s note: I began this post quite some time ago, and I have just gotten around to finishing it now. It is one of a series of posts that I plan to do on environmental issues in the near future. Sorry, no pretty photos in this one.
To believe, or not believe….
Shouldn’t even be the question. What I am talking about here is the theory of Global Warming, or specifically, anthropogenic global warming (AGW), that is, the theory that man’s burning of fossil fuels leads to increased emission of CO2 into the atmosphere and is causing the Earth’s climate to warm at such a rate that it threatens our survival.
This is in response to a long essay that was included in the Autumn 2011 newsletter from the Pigeon River Country Association, of which I am a member, written by R. W. Kropf, who is the editor of the newsletter. Once the newsletter is posted online, I will add a link to it so that you may read if you wish. Basically, Mr. Kropf makes the case that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is occurring, and what we should do to try to reverse it.
I for one am not convinced, but does that matter? Not really, and I’ll get to why later on, as well as why pushing a theory that I believe will prove to be incorrect may well do more harm than good as far as goals that I believe that Mr. Kropf and I share.
First, a little about science and myself. I am not a scientist in the strict sense of the word, although I had planned on becoming one and that was my goal in my short foray in the academic world. My problem was that I was interested in all the “ologies”, from archeology to zoology and everything in between. One thing I learned is that scientists continually claim that they have moved past their personal biases and are basing their scientific opinions on pure science. Truth is, that has never been the case and probably never will be. Science has always been driven by religious, political, and economics as much as scientific facts, and I see no change in that to this day.
One only has to go back to the early debate over what is now called the Big Bang Theory of the origins of our universe. When Georges Lemaître first proposed what would become the Big Bang theory, Fred Hoyle and other scientists argued against it, and later admitted that much of their opposition to the theory was due to their belief that if science accepted that there was a beginning to the universe, it would lend credence to the religious notion of God having created the universe. That was in the 1940’s, and anti-religious bigotry played a part in shaping scientific views then.
But scientists were correct when they argued for a ban on DDT, weren’t they? Yes they were. And scientists were correct when they argued for a ban on CFC’s to save us from the “hole in the ozone” weren’t they? The jury is still out on that one.
Despite the Montreal Protocol as amended several times, the largest holes in the ozone over Antarctica have been during the winters of 2006 and 2010. There is still much research being done on the causes of the hole in the ozone, and several theories advanced as to what is causing it, but for the most part, those theories aren’t gaining any traction. For one thing the scientists who pushed CFC’s as the cause don’t want to admit that they may have made a mistake that cost consumers across the planet trillions of dollars.
That’s one of the reason the original Montreal Protocol has been quietly amended several times, to include variations of halogenated hydrocarbons not banned in the original document, scientists keep adding to the list of banned chemical compounds, hoping that eventually they get it correct.
I am not saying that banning CFC’s was wrong, the point I am trying to make is that when science moves before they have all the facts, mistakes are made.
So now we come to global warming, which may go down in history as one of the biggest scientific mistakes of all time, and Mr. Kropf’s essay. He begins by noting several species, including opossum, which were largely a southern species at the time when the first European settlers arrived in North America, have been expanding their range northward. The northward migration of many animals, including opossum and the northern cardinal were well documented, long before the first coal-fired power plant began belching smoke into the atmosphere, before man harnessed electricity, and long before the first automobile ever sputtered into life.
There are a number of reasons some species have been expanding their range to the north, one is that the “Little Ice Age” was ending, another is the wholesale changes in habitat that Europeans wrought on the land by clearing the forests, plowing the land, and planting agricultural plants where vast tracts of forest once stood.
The Little Ice Age was a period of cooling that occurred after the Medieval Warm Period. NASA defines the Little Ice Age as a cold period between 1550 AD and 1850 AD and notes three particularly cold intervals: one beginning about 1650, another about 1770, and the last in 1850, each separated by intervals of slight warming. It should come as no surprise that some species of animals were pushed south during the Little Ice Age, and that when it ended, those species would begin to expand their range northward again.
It should also come as no surprise that when there are the widespread changes in habitat as there have been that the species living in those areas that went from dense old growth forests to open farm land would change.
To leave both the end of the Little Ice Age and the changes in habitat out of the equation as to why species are moving north is simply bad science, something that has plagued those supporting the AGW theory from day one.
Remember those first computer models used to “prove” global warming was taking place? They were the laughing-stock of the overall scientific community. The scientists who wrote those models went back to their offices, not to write the best computer models to model the climate, but to produce models that would be acceptable to the rest of the scientific world and still “prove” global warming was taking place. Having a predetermined outcome is simply bad science.
Remember when it was announced that the Arctic ice cap was going to melt and the rise in sea levels because of it was going to flood most of the major coastal cities around the world? More bad science, because if the Arctic ice cap melts, sea levels will actually drop due to the fact that ice displaces a larger volume than does liquid water.
The story has changed now, the new story is that when the glaciers melt, sea levels will rise, and cause the flooding. That’s still somewhat bad science, for they are estimating the total amount of water that is held in the glaciers, and adding that to the current sea levels. Not all the water that melts from the glaciers is going to end up in the oceans. A good deal of it will be held in the plant life that takes root as the glaciers retreat. Some of the water will be held in lakes that form in the depressions left behind from the glaciers. Some of that water will filter down through the earth to underground aquifers. In the end, very little of the water from melting glaciers will end up in the oceans.
Relying on bad science to try to prove a theory leaves those trying to prove the theory grasping at straws. For example, headlines across the world trumpeted that long time skeptic of the global warming theory, Richard Muller, had compleated a study showing global warming was indeed taking place. The supporters of the AGW theory are trying to use this as proof of the theory, when all the study shows is that average temperatures around the world have increased since the 1950’s. The study does not address the causes of the warming, it only helps to verify that warming has been taking place for some reason.
The warming seen since the 1950’s is just as easy to attribute to the increase in solar activity that has coincided with the warming. There is far more correlation between solar activity and temperatures than there is between greenhouse gases and temperature.
Supporters of the AGW theory are also pointing to Muller’s study as validating the data used in the infamous Climategate scandal. It may validate the data, but it doesn’t validate manipulating the data to arrive at a predetermined outcome, which is what Climategate is really all about. That’s really bad science.
All the bad science used to try to convince the public that the AGW theory is correct makes it easy to poke holes in the theory. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the debate over the AGW theory and lose sight of what’s really important, and that is doing the right thing for the environment.
Who cares about the amount of CO2 coming out of the smokestack of a coal-fired power plant when that same smokestack is spewing tons of arsenic, mercury, and other toxic substances into our atmosphere?
Let’s face it, nothing that comes out of the smokestack of a power plant, whether coal-fired, or natural gas-fired, is good for us to breathe, or good for the environment. Nothing that comes out of the exhaust of an internal combustion engine is good for us to breathe, or good for the environment. Mining coal isn’t environmentally friendly, neither is drilling for oil or natural gas.
That’s why I said that Mr. Kropf and I share the same goals, we both want clean air to breathe, clear, free-flowing rivers, clean water to drink, our forests protected, and so many other things, yet we get caught up in the debate over AGW.
The biggest problem that I have had with the global warming theory is that to many of the public, it is another example of radical environmentalists sounding like Chicken Little claiming the sky is falling. Recent public opinion polls show that the majority of the public doesn’t believe that man is responsible for the warming that has taken place, if they believe that there has been any warming at all.
So while we could be taking steps that would actually benefit our environment, based on proven science, we waste time, effort, and resources debating whether or not climate change is the result of man’s burning of fossil fuels. Unfortunately, I believe that the leaders of “Big Environment” have many agendas other than doing what’s best for the environment, something I will explain in future posts.
What I would like to see happen is that the debate over climate change be sent back to the scientists to debate for the time being, and the rest of us focus on what we can all agree on, and here’s a few points I think that almost every one can agree on.
- Drilling for oil or natural gas does harm to the environment
- There is no such thing as “clean coal”, nor any way to extract coal from the ground that doesn’t do some of the most severe damage to the environment of all the things man does.
- We need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, not only to preserve the environment, but because they are finite resources that will not last forever.
- We need to take actions to reduce our reliance of fossil fuels that are not only as environmentally friendly as possible, but also taking into account the effects those actions will have on the common man, and especially the poor.
- We need to set political agendas aside, and take some common sense actions that do actually preserve our environment.
- We need to develop a new idea, “environmental efficiency”, and by that, I mean taking into account the entire environmental impact a process has, and whether it is a good trade off when compared to what that process is intended to replace.
So that’s it for this one, I hope to follow it up shortly, along with getting back to some photos, good or otherwise. Thanks for stopping by!
Christmas day hike with Mike
A few days ago, my friend Mike contacted me to ask what I was doing for Christmas, and I replied that I would probably be going hiking. He asked if he could join me, and I told him that I would pick him up Christmas morning, and so I did. In the same time frame, Mike made a comment about one of the photos I posted on Facebook of a green heron, and I told him that we wouldn’t see one of them on Christmas, but that I could almost guarantee that we would see an eagle.
It’s nice having a good vehicle again and to be able to make the offer to drive. Our first stop was at P. J. Hoffmaster State Park for a nice hike along the beach of Lake Michigan. I parked at the visitor center towards the south end of the park, we were the only ones there, although we did see a few cars parked at the beach road entrance of the park. We got our packs on and set off.
It was cloudy (of course it was, this is Michigan in the winter, it’s ALWAYS cloudy) and not a great day for photography. We did see many deer tracks down on the beach, far more than I have ever seen before, but no deer, and other than one unidentified duck that flew off well out of camera range, just a few herring gulls made an appearance. Since it has been a while since I’ve shot any flying birds, I snapped a few photos of one of the gulls just for practice.
We walked north up the beach all the way to where Little Black Creek empties into Lake Michigan. One thing that always amazes me is how much the wind and water of both the creek and lake can move so much sand around in such a short time. The last time I was there, just over a year ago, the creek had created a pleasant little lagoon just inland of its mouth. I scaled the small dune from where I had photographed the lagoon before, but it was gone. In its place was a ten to fifteen foot high sand dune with dune grass growing from it. And it had been such a pretty place to photograph, oh well, it may return someday.
We poked around the creek a little, then cut through the camping area, which is closed for the winter, and started back towards the visitors center via the park road at first, then by trail for the last half of that leg. We saw a few woodpeckers, mostly downy and red-bellied, but one hairy woodpecker as well as the normal Michigan tweety birds.
When we arrived back at the visitor center, we had covered a little over five miles, but I hadn’t found an eagle for Mike yet. He’s originally from the east side of the state, and only somewhat familiar with the west side, so I decided to show him Lake Harbor Park in Norton Shores, a suburb of Muskegon. That park is just a few miles north of Hoffmaster State Park, so hitting both parks in one day is no problem.
Lake Harbor Park would be my favorite place to go along Lake Michigan, if it were larger. It has the nicest forest of any of the parks along the lake in lower Michigan in my opinion, and is located so as to have frontage on Mona Lake, the channel to Lake Michigan, and a little over a half mile of frontage on Lake Michigan. However, at 189 acres, there’s not much room to roam.
We didn’t bother with our packs, we walked from where Mona Lake enters the channel to Lake Michigan, along the channel towards the big lake. There’s often an assortment of waterfowl present, but on this day, there were only a few mallards and this odd duck.
Those photos aren’t very good, I didn’t put much thought or effort into them. It was so cloudy that I didn’t think that I would have trouble with reflected light from the water and sand, I was wrong. I knew it seemed too easy.
Mike and I walked along the channel, talking about the kayaking possibilities there from that park, then I paused to shoot a few mallards flying past, without much success.
About then, Mike pointed out to me a huge, and I mean huge, flock of birds flying south out over Lake Michigan, just above the horizon.
I could tell from the way they flapped their wings that they were waterfowl, what species, I have no idea.
The birds are hard to see in the photos, they look like little more than black specks, but there were thousands of them. The flock was several miles long, I have never seen so many birds in one flock migrating like that. I don’t know if they were staying just in sight of land, or if they were that far out over the lake to get into the sunshine at the edge of the lake effect clouds.
Those two photos also well illustrate the lake effect clouds, you can see that off to the west, there is a partly cloudy sky with some sunshine. But, as you get closer to the shore of Lake Michigan, the lake effect is well and truly taking hold, leaving us under dense cloud cover.
The lake effect is cold winter air passing over the relatively warm water of any of the Great Lakes. The air near the surface picks up moisture from the waters of the lake, and rises from the increase in temperature. When the warmer, moisture laden air rises and mixes with colder air aloft, the moisture condenses into clouds. It’s similar to the way the weather is in Seattle, Washington, always cloudy with many days of light precipitation, only we get snow while Seattle gets famously gets rain.
On the beach, I took this shot.
You can click on any photo twice to see a larger version, that last one doesn’t look nearly as good cut down in size as I had hoped. (hint, hint)
On our way back to the vehicle, I stopped to show Mike the remains of some of the buildings there that at one time had been part of a luxury resort that had burned down. Then, this came flying along.
It was a bald eagle on its way to do some fishing out over Lake Michigan, so I had indeed found an eagle for Mike. There was a problem however, the eagle zoomed past us so quickly, that while Mike had seen it fly past, he hadn’t been able to see that it was an eagle. He asked me how I had been able to identify it as an eagle so quickly, and I told him that I had caught a glimpse of white from the eagle’s head and tail, and that since I’m outdoors everyday, I get more practice than most people. I should have added that it was also from the set of the eagle’s wings and the way it flew. Anyway, I had to try to scout up another eagle, hoping that the next one would stick around longer.
We drove around Muskegon Lake to the north side, where the state park is located, I showed Mike the nest that a pair of eagles has been using the last few years, but there were no eagles to be found in the area. It was an unusual day, for I see eagles quite often flying over Mona Lake, Lake Michigan, or Muskegon Lake, and the land in between. Often, there is an eagle perched in a large dead tree on the west side of Muskegon Lake to look for fish, but it wasn’t to be seen while we were there. Other that quick zoom by, no eagles.
As a last resort, I decided to swing past the Muskegon County wastewater treatment plant on our way back towards Grand Rapids hoping to get Mike a better view of an eagle. We hadn’t seen much wildlife of any type close up, other than the gulls and mallards, and I was hoping to do better at the treatment facility. Yes, and no, there was a huge flock of northern shoveler ducks in one of the first ponds we came to, but the bad lighting of the day meant that these were the best shots I got of them.
I hate Michigan winters, not because of the cold or snow, but because it clouds up here in November, and remains cloudy until March. Peaks of the sun are rare, and sunny days are even more rare. I’d like to be able to shoot photos at an ISO of less than 800 and with a shutter speed higher than 1/160 of a second. I had a good camera support for the shoveler photos, but just the little wavelets caused enough motion so the photos are less than I would like them to be.
Anyway, not far from the first pond I spotted a shape in a tree that I pointed out to Mike as looking like it could be an eagle. Sure enough, as we approached, it flew off carrying a fish or something in its talons, looking for a peaceful place to finish its supper. It was a tough fight, but I won, I did find an eagle for Mike. I didn’t get any photos of that one, although we saw it flying around the area several times, like almost everything else this day, it was shy and stayed in the distance. It was just one of those days when most of the wildlife seems to disappear from the face of the earth, it happens.
Even though we never had the chance to get up close and personal with any wildlife, all in all, it was an excellent day. It’s been a while since Mike and I got together, what with everything going on in his life, and everything going on in my life this last year. It was nice to have a few hours to get caught up again, Mike is a great guy. He may not be the nature lover that I am, but he respects that about me, so it works well when we do kayak or hike together, much better than some of the people who profess to be nature lovers. That wasn’t meant to imply that Mike doesn’t love nature, it’s more that he’s a city boy at heart. He loves living right in the heart of downtown, hanging out to do some people watching, and I respect that about him. I guess that’s what it’s all about, respecting the differences between each other.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
Merry Christmas everyone! Woody was working, the heron, frozen
I just got home from a Christmas Eve hike a few minutes ago, fist I had to prep tonight’s dinner before posting this. I have simple, but very tasty fare in the oven, buttercup squash, potatoes, cornbread, and of course my favorite meat, Ham. I’ll be eating well for a few days.
Now, for the hike. I went to a county park near where I live, I didn’t see many species other than the typical Michigan tweety birds, such as chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, and our more common woodpeckers. It was cold and cloudy, a typical Michigan winter day.
I did walk right into a small herd of whitetail deer.
One of the herd was kind enough to step out where I could get better shots of her.
One of these days I’m going to get a frontal shot of a deer that shows their big beautiful eyelashes!
Then, I spotted a species of woodpecker that I have fond very difficult to get a good photo of, a pileated woodpecker, two of them actually.
One of the pair flew off as soon as I made an attempt to get better shots of them, without all the brush in the way, but today was a fairly lucky day, the other stayed put.
Those aren’t great shots, but they’re better than I’ve ever gotten before. Mostly black birds aren’t easy to photograph well in the first place, setting them against the dark bark of trees only makes it harder, and to top it off, they love the shady side of trees on dark cloudy days, or at least that’s when I normally see them.
I did see the other of the pair flying a couple of times and attempted photos of it, both flying and stationary, but none of them are worth posting.
My last two photos of the day, a great blue heron. These shots are so bad that I wouldn’t normally post them, but I think that they should remind us of what wildlife has to endure, plus, I tried out the new tripod that I bought myself for Christmas.
It was so dark by that time that I couldn’t tell for sure that it was a heron, it was a heron shaped dark blob to my eyes. I snapped a couple of photos handheld, but seeing the exposure time, I knew that they would be junk even at ISO 800, and they were. So, I set up my new tripod, freezing my fingers while doing so. I reset the ISO to 200 and zoomed in as best I could, and came up with this.
I know, it’s really a bad photo, but I did get something recognizable as a heron. I know this also, I sure wouldn’t want to be roosting on a snow covered log for the night tonight, it’s cold out there!
So, while we’re enjoying the food, companionship, and warmth that the holidays bring, please remember our fur and feathered friends don’t have it as easy.
Merry Christmas to all of you and yours!
These are a few of the photos of American Goldfinches that I was able to capture this last summer. Rather than type out a description of these cheerful little birds, I stole this from Wikipedia.
The American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis), also known as the Eastern Goldfinch and Wild Canary, is a small North American bird in the finch family. It is migratory, ranging from mid-Alberta to North Carolina during the breeding season, and from just south of the Canadian border to Mexico during the winter.
The only finch in its subfamily that undergoes a complete molt, the American Goldfinch displays sexual dimorphism in its coloration; the male is a vibrant yellow in the summer and an olive color during the winter months, while the female is a dull yellow-brown shade which brightens only slightly during the summer. The male displays brightly colored plumage during the breeding season to attract a mate.
The American Goldfinch is a granivore and adapted for the consumption of seed heads, with a conical beak to remove the seeds and agile feet to grip the stems of seed heads while feeding. It is a social bird, and will gather in large flocks while feeding and migrating. It may behave territorially during nest construction, but this aggression is short-lived. Its breeding season is tied to the peak of food supply, beginning in late July, which is relatively late in the year for a finch. This species is generally monogamous, and produces one brood each year.
On to the photos.
If you noticed, there were a couple of photos of the males singing to attract mates. I love hearing their song, and it’s one of the best ways to locate them. On warm, sunny, late-winter days, you can often hear the males “warming up” for the mating season, singing part, or all of their songs, it’s a sure sign that spring is approaching.
Welcome back to the real world
Several people have asked my if there is as much wildlife around my new apartment complex where I live compared to where I used to live. In some respects, there is more wildlife in the area where I live now, but my photo output will probably decline drastically. There are several reasons for this, which I will explain as I go.
At the old apartment complex where I lived, they carved out opennings in a wooded area to build the buildings, leaving narrow strips of woods which radiated out from the center of the complex much like spokes of a wheel. It was easy to walk along the edges of those narrow strips of woods and photograph the birds there. It also limited the habitat area for the birds, concentrating them to make photography even easier.
Most people would say that the complex I live in now is a “park like” setting. I think it used to be a farmer’s field, and they planted a few trees all around the complex back when it was built, but there are no heavily wooded area in the complex, meaning less habitat for critters of any kind.
Another difference between the last apartment complex and the one where I live now is the rain water retention ponds. At the last complex, the ponds were larger and were located off to the edges of the complex, somewhat removed from the buildings. At the complex where I live now, they incorporated the ponds into the landscaping, with more ponds, but smaller, and placed between buildings, with the lawn mowed right down to the water’s edge. It all looks very nice, but isn’t very conducive to waterfowl, other than the tame mallards and geese that hang out here.
However, this complex is just north of the M6 bike/walking trail, so instead of walking around the complex, I walk the trail instead, and a spur of the trail takes me to a small county park called Creekside Park, and yes, there is a small creek flowing through the park.
The first few days I so very few critters, but I saw a lot of signs that told me wildlife abounds in the area, such as the tracks of deer, and many old bird nests in the trees that I can see since the leaves are off the trees this time of year.
The land to the south of the trail is partially wooded, partially open fields that are beginning to be taken over by bushes and small trees, and partially used for farming.
(On a side note, the people who farm the land have a small farm market there where I have been able to purchase fresh produce, and they also carry items from other farmers and fruit growers in the area, including some of the best apple butter that I have ever tasted!)
Anyway, the area looks like it should be teeming with wildlife, but in the first week and a half of walking, I was seeing very little. Then one day I flushed a large flock of northern cardinals as I walked along, there were at least 25 of them in the flock, the largest I have ever seen.
A few days later, I was standing on top of a hill where I could look over the area, and I was wondering to myself, “With all this great habitat, I should be seeing more wildlife”, and then it hit me, all that great habitat was the problem. There’s far more room for the wildlife to roam here, and because of how little ground I actually cover, there could be millions of critters in the area I was looking at from the top of the hill, but I may not be able to see any of them along the path I walk.
At the old apartment complex, there were postage stamp sized areas for wildlife to take cover, feed, or travel through. Here, the wildlife has the room to spread out. Another difference is that the little areas of habitat at the old complex wouldn’t support a flock of cardinals of the size I saw a few days earlier.
And so it went over the next week or so, I began to see more wildlife, usually birds, and usually in very large flocks. But all the wildlife around here seemed to be far more skittish than the wildlife was back where I used to live, I was having trouble getting close to anything, even chickadees and fox squirrels, which normally allow a person to get quite close.
Then, I caught this coopers hawk perched low in a tree right along the trail.
Even as I shooting those photos, I was wondering to myself whether or not this hawk was one that I used to photograph back where I used to live. The old apartment complex is less than three miles from where I was able to shoot these photos, and three miles isn’t much ground for a hawk to cover.
So, another thought began to take shape in my feeble old mind, could it be that since I walked the same path everyday for years, that the wildlife was used to my being close to them?
I am going to use hawks again to flesh this out, because they were part of the thought process I was going through. This past summer, I was priding myself on how close I was getting to red-tailed hawks, and how often I was able to get close to them. So often that I was getting to the point where I could identify individual hawks most of the time. There was an adult pair, here’s one with a muskrat it had just captured.
Then, there was a young hawk from the adults brood from 2011.
And finally, a young hawk from the brood hatched in 2012.
I think with the three photos together like that, it is fairly easy to tell that these are three different hawks, from the facial markings, tails, and beaks.
The adults were the toughest to get close to, they would tolerate me when they were in the mood to, but the two younger ones hardly seemed bothered by my presence at all. In fact, the one I think was hatched in 2011 would even ham it up for the camera at times.
It’s no wonder the two younger hawks were much easier for me to approach, both of them grew up with me chasing them around the apartment complex, and I’m sure that they could recognize me, since I could easily recognize them.
The hawk hatched in 2011 is the one I photographed for my post R. T. Hawk Rodent Control, to give you an idea as to how at ease it was with my presence.
That got me to thinking, (no comments on that please) that since I had walked the same place everyday for several years, was all the wildlife used to my presence, and my attempts to photograph them? Looking back through all my photos from my daily walks adds a lot of weight to this theory. Many of my photos are of young critters, young birds just after they left the nest, and fawns still in spots. It’s very likely that the young wildlife I shot in the earlier years were the adults I shot in later years.
I think that there’s a lot to that theory, as I am getting closer to the critters around my new apartment, when I catch them near my normal path.
Actually, I have several options as far as where I walk each day here at my new apartment, and I started out alternating between three of those options. But, since thinking about the critters getting used to me, I have limited myself to just one for the time being, so that the wildlife gets used to me being around at the same time each day. I think that there’s a lot to that, and it seems to be working as you can see from the photos above. I am getting closer to the critters, when they are around to get close to, but, with all the great habitat around here, there are days when they’re all off in an area too far away for me to get to them.
This is the real world, where the birds can form large flocks for the winter, and there’s food available to support the large flocks. The postage stamp sized areas of habitat at my old apartment made photography easy, too easy, now I am having to work for good photos again.
There are some other factors affecting my photography as well, like fences and private property which limit what areas I have access to. Maybe one of the biggest things is how well I know the area. I knew the old apartment complex like the back of my hand, I knew where the critters were likely to be, and how to approach those areas without being seen until I was within range of a good photo. I’m still learning that here, the hard way. The other day, I flushed a great blue heron from the creek, and got one bad photo of it flying off, this morning, I spooked a flock of turkeys without getting a usable shot of any kind.
It was so very easy at the old place, the critters were concentrated into a few spots, I knew those spots, the area was clear of brush and tall weeds to obscure the critters in my photos, but I knew how to approach those spots without being seen, and I’m not sure that even mattered, as the critters were used to my being there.
This is the real world, with the critters spread out, often beyond my reach, I’m having to work harder to get a clear shot, and the critters are still completely wild. This may sound strange, but I like the challenge, my output may be a lot lower, but I’m having a lot more fun.
Where do I begin? Lonesome George, friends, and enemies
Things may not have gone well for me as far as buying a condo, but I have hundreds of photos that I would like to post, however, I’m having a hard time figuring out where to even start with the photos, so let me tell you the story behind many of them.
In July, right after the Canada Geese had regrown their flight feathers and could fly again, a lone goose took up residence around one of the ponds near the last place I lived, so it seemed. It was there by itself for days, and it’s rather unusual to see a goose by itself. It was odd to see a lone goose day after day, almost always standing in the same place. I thought that it was a young male goose that had staked out that pond, hoping an unattached female would find the pond, and him, to be just what she was looking for, so I named the goose Lonesome George, after the old-time comedian, “Lonesome” George Gobel. (Most of you are way too young to remember Lonesome George Gobel.)
Every day, I would walk up near the pond, and there would be George hanging out on a “point” on the shore of the pond, all by himself. After a week or so, I saw that there was nearly always a female mallard hanging out with George, and the two of them seemed to become inseparable.
I took a few photos of George, but since I have a ton of goose photos, most days I just looked to see if he was still there, and he was. Then, looking at one of the photos I did take of him, I noticed that his wing had been injured, and that’s why he was still at the pond by himself, except for Molly, the female mallard who was always at George’s side.
That was the beginning of a learning experience, actually, many learning experiences. First of all, George was well aware of his injury, by that, I mean he went to great lengths to keep his injury hidden by always standing in spots where no one or no predator would be able to see that he was injured. His favored spot on shore was right next to a bush where he could see all around, but hid his injured wing from view. When George did leave his spot, he would go into the taller grass to feed, where his injuries were also hidden from possible predators.
Those shots were taken later in the summer, after George started hanging out in more open areas.
I started hanging out near the pond on weekends, talking to people who lived in the housing development where the pond is located, trying to get some help for George, but to no avail. I called a few places myself, and was told “It’s just a goose” or “We have to let nature take its course”. A few of the people I talked to had also tried to get help for George, they were all told the same thing that I had been told. But, George was being looked after by Molly, the female mallard. She seldom left his side, and you’ll see her in most of the photos of George that I took. Day after day I walked up to the pond, and day after day, there would be George and Molly side by side. George made some other friends as well.
It was one thing to see George and Molly together everyday, but then Craig the cormorant showed up, and he took up residence at the pond as well. He didn’t stay at George’s side as Molly did, he would often perch on a piece of half sunken debris floating in the pond, but he did spend a lot of time with George, and was looking out for him as well, as you will see later.
In a complete reversal of what I would normally do, rather than trying to get closer to George and his friends, I stayed farther away, not wanting to stress George anymore than necessary. But, I did begin to spend more time at the pond watching, and learning. I spent most of my weekend days sitting under a small tree on the opposite side of the pond from where George spent most of his time. I could easily bore every one to death with all the photos I took of George, Molly, and Craig hanging out together, but I won’t. I shot them as a record, as a way keeping track of who was there at the pond, and who wasn’t. Because I sat on the opposite side of the pond, the photos aren’t as good as I would like them to be, but I think that you’ll find them interesting even though shot at a distance. I sure learned a lot sitting under that tree, about the interactions between the various species that came calling.
Craig would fly off for a while every now and then, but he spent most of his time at that one pond, either standing on shore near George, or perched on the debris floating in the pond. Molly was nearly always within just a few feet of George, most of the time within inches, except when he went off in the tall grass to feed. Then she would either feed in the water, or sit there at George’s spot, waiting for him to return.
So it seemed that things were as normal one Sunday in the middle of August when I arrived at the pond to watch and learn, but I had no idea just how much I would learn. George and Molly were hanging out in George’s little spot on shore.
Craig must have just finished fishing for his lunch, as he was perched on his favorite spot drying his wings.
There was also a great blue heron off to one end of the pond.
When a second heron came swooping in.
And landed across the pond from the first heron, with Craig between them.
All that happened before I had even made it to my spot under the tree. I made it to the tree, and had just sat down, when heron #2 started across the pond towards heron #1, croaking as he came.
Heron #2 drove heron #1 off…
Heron #1 took off across the pond…
With heron #2 following heron #1..
Unfortunately, like an idiot, with two great blue herons flying right under my nose more or less, I filled the memory buffer of my camera, and missed some of the best shots of the two herons together. That’s one of the many problems in nature photography, you never know what’s going to happen, and when things do start happening, they happen quickly, and you don’t have a lot of time to think, let alone get to a better location to shoot from.
Heron #2 landed on the edge of the pond as heron #1 headed off for one of the other ponds.
The second heron walked up on shore, and up into the brush that you can see surrounding the pond, which I thought was a little strange at the time. I won’t bore you with the photos I took of the heron and Craig the cormorant jawing at one another across the pond, but they were, with George and Molly in the middle.
Then, things got really strange. The heron made a strike into the grass just as if it were going for a fish in the water, but of course, there wasn’t a fish to be caught, instead, there was a rodent of some type.
I felt sorry for the poor little rodent, the heron carried it to the water, then held it under water until it drowned.
After the rodent was dead, the heron swallowed it whole, just like it would have with a fish. Then, things got stranger yet.
The heron worked its way down the shore towards where George was standing near the bank, and I could sense that George was feeling uneasy as the heron got closer. Maybe I am reading too much into what transpired from then on, but I think that the photos show what I felt, you be the judge.
Craig the cormorant left his perch and took up a position in the pond near where George and the heron were.
Craig the cormorant and the evil heron were eyeballing one another, and doing some trash talking back and forth as well. Craig began diving for, and surfacing with fish, but rather than eating them, he flipped them up into the air and let them fall back into the water as if to tell the heron, “I’m a much better fisherman than you are!”.
The evil heron kept inching towards George, who was getting more nervous all the time, until he decided it would be better to head for cover.
As the evil heron watched George walking away, Craig the cormorant dove to launch a submarine attack on the evil heron, surfacing right under the heron’s feet almost.
The battle was on!
Like a ballet dancer, the evil heron leapt away from Craig the cormorant as he pressed his attack. Then, Craig the cormorant broke off his attack to check on Lonesome George, who had turned around, and was headed towards the battle.
After a quick glance to see that Lonesome George was okay, Craig the cormorant rejoined his battle with the evil heron.
Again, the evil heron danced away from Craig the cormorant’s attack.
And once again, Craig the cormorant broke off his attack to check on Lonesome George.
The evil heron was still jawing away at Craig the cormorant, and must have made a comment about Craig’s mother or what ever way birds insult each other, for Craig turned on the heron once again, and pressed his attack.
Again, the heron danced away.
But this time, Craig the cormorant stayed right on the heron’s tail. The evil heron decided that leaving the water and standing on solid ground may be a better option, and give him the advantage, so that what he did, running right into a small flock of mallards that had taken refuge from the fight in the tall grass around the pond.
Craig the cormorant looked on as the mallards escaped into the taller brush, with the evil heron still hurling insults at Craig.
The evil heron, thinking that standing on solid ground would give him the advantage in the fight, started an attack on Craig the cormorant.
But the evil heron was no match for Craig the cormorant, so he retreated back into the brush.
I won’t bore you with the photos of them standing thirty feet from one another jawing at each other for a while, the photos aren’t that good.
Anyway, that’s the way it ended, the evil heron eventually walked back into the brush to hunt rodents, and Craig the Cormorant, being satisfied that the evil heron had been taught a lesson, swam back to his favorite perch to keep an eye on things.
There was some more jawing back and forth between the evil heron and Craig the cormorant, and eventually, the heron flew off for better hunting grounds.
Maybe I’m adding too much human thought to all that transpired, but it sure looked to me as if Craig the cormorant had come to Lonesome George’s rescue when the evil heron was making George uncomfortable with his presence and demeanor. During the times when the cormorant broke off its attacks on the heron, and turned back towards George, it never made any signs of aggression, nor did it make any sounds of aggression towards George.
There’s one other thing to add to this before I post it. Early on, after Lonesome George first was injured, a woman who lived in the housing development where the pond is located would stop by as I was sitting under the tree there and the two of us would exchange notes as to who we had called trying to get an animal rescue group to help George out. Our discussion turned to the way that George, Molly the mallard and Craig the cormorant hung out together, and I said something to the effect of wondering if having other birds around, even if they weren’t the of same species, made George feel better. Her reply was “I don’t know, but it makes me feel better, so I would assume that he feels better having some friends around to keep him company.”
I could go on longer about the “friendship” between Lonesome George, Molly the mallard and Craig the cormorant, but you can see the photos and make your calls on that.
That’s it for this one, there’s far more to come, although I have to admit not as dramatic as this one, but I think that you’ll find them interesting as well in their own way. Thanks for stopping by!
I could sub-title this post “What a long strange trip it’s been” or “All’s well that ends well”, but my trip hasn’t ended yet.
If you remember, I shut off my Internet service in an effort to save money to purchase a condo, that didn’t happen. I found several very nice condos that would have worked for me, but after two real estate agents and five, count them five, mortgage companies, I was forced to move to a different apartment complex because the immature snot managing my old apartment complex refused to continue my lease on a month to month basis because he heard that I “made negative comments about the Byron Lakes community”.
My new apartment is just as nice as the old one, for $150 a month less, plus, the new one has a garage, so that saves me another $110 a month on the storage unit I was renting. I took some of the money that I had saved towards a condo and bought a great, reliable, fun to drive vehicle to replace the Ford explorer that I had owned and was on its last leg.
That’s right, I leased a 2013 Subaru Forester, and I love it! During my move, I loaded all my outdoor gear as if I were going on a week-long camping, fishing, kayaking, hiking trip, and everything fits. It also get 25 MPG in town compared to the old Ford’s 14 MPG, so the gas savings I am seeing pays for the insurance on the Subaru.
I could go on forever about how much I love it, but I’ll just say that if you’re in the market for a vehicle, you should really check out a Subaru, you’ll be glad you did.
On the nature/nature photography side, I have hundreds of photos to share as I get the time to sort through them all. Some are technically good,
…some are extremely interesting, even if they aren’t the greatest photos in the world.
I would like to thank every one who commented looking forward to my returning online, and I have saved all the links to all the blog posts people have done over the last few months so I can see what all of you have been up to as well. It will take me a while to get caught up, and to sort through all my photos, but it sure feels good to be back.
I signed a one year lease here, so I’ll start saving money again and hope that the mortgage industry comes to its senses (I’m not really counting on that), then purchase a condo this coming fall. I found a very nice one in the development that I like for under $35,000, but the banks wouldn’t write a mortgage for it for me. They said I qualified, they said the condo and development qualified, but the combination of myself and the condo didn’t qualify. They couldn’t tell me why that was, all they could tell me was that their automated approval software kicked the loan out as rejected. So, I’ll try again next year.
I’m going to make this a short post, as I have a lot to do as far as getting caught up yet, but I will be posting on a regular basis again. Thanks for stopping by!