My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

New Year day hike

Before I get to a rather boring hike, I have to thank Emily from the Bella Remy Photography blog for nominating this blog for an award. While I do appreciate the thought, early on when I began this blog I chose not to participate in any of the awards. For one thing, most of the blogs I follow have already received those awards, and I would rather not pick and chose from the blogs that haven’t won the same award yet, and hurt any one’s feelings by leaving them out.

While I’m on the subject of blogging, I’d like to thank all of you who follow my humble blog. One of the things that surprised me when I got back online was how many hits my blog was getting even though I wasn’t posting anything. People are looking for information and maps as far as places to go, and now with my new Subaru, I will be getting back into that more when spring gets here.

My New Year’s resolution this year is to make a real effort at selling some of my photos as a way of earning extra income. I did set up a web site a few years ago, but the few sales I made didn’t cover the cost of the website, so this time, I am going to have some prints made of the best of my best, and see if I have better luck locally. Wish me luck, I’ll need it. I spent New Year Eve and day sorting through the thousands of photos that I have, and came up with just over 100 that I think are worth printing out. I am going to sort through them again, and weed out near duplicates, trying to get down to the very best to print.

Now, on to the boring hike. I shouldn’t really say boring, it’s never boring in the woods, but it was another dark dreary day for most of the time I was out. I had great hopes, it was actually somewhat bright outside when I first set off. I even saw a small patch of blue sky not soon after I started. That’s such a rare occurrence in West Michigan during the winter that I was going to take a photo of it, but decided to wait until I got to a clearing so I wouldn’t be shooting through tree branches. That was a bad idea, because the clouds had filled the hole back in by the time I got to the clearing.

I know, too much talk about the cloudiness here, but it does get to me, and it makes photography especially difficult. I took the liberty of “stealing” this graphic from a local news outlet (I don’t think they’ll mind the publicity) to show you a typical West Michigan weather forecast for winter.

The same old same old, cloudy with snow

The same old same old, cloudy with snow

Last winter was an odd one, not only was it milder than normal, we actually had sunshine, which kind of spoiled me. This year has been much more typical, let me put it this way, we received more sunshine in 3 1/2 days in July than we did for the entire month of December. I also threw this in for fellow blogger, Mr. TootlePedal, who often comments about the weather in Scotland.

But I digress, which I think will happen often in this post.

I decided to stick close to home and chase the deer around a county park that I visit often. I couldn’t see driving many miles to go somewhere special when there’d be little chance of getting good photos.

It wasn’t long after I started my hike that I started seeing forms in the snow, brush, and trees that were deer. So let’s play the “Spot the deer in the photo” game. I was zoomed all the way in to 300mm for this shot.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

I know I have said this before, but you really have to train your eyes and mind to see any animal when it is hiding. In this case, I spotted the twitch of an ear, or I would have walked right by the deer, as so many other people do. Seeing wildlife is a skill that you need to practice, just as photographing animals in motion is, and just as photography as a whole is.

So here’s another spot the deer (plural this time) in the photo.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

I know that this may sound funny, but to become good at spotting any species of animal, you have to be very familiar with their appearance. Deer, like many creatures, blend in to their surroundings very well, plus, they pick areas to rest in where they blend in even better. Looking at the deer, you can see that they are brown with small white and black patches. In the case of the two in the photo above, they had already spotted me and were staying perfectly still, no motion to catch my eye. The reason I was able to spot them is that I recognized the pattern of white and black on their faces and necks, specifically, the horizontal white stripe on their neck, and their black noses with the little white ring around them.

I have to admit that I have an advantage, in that my eyesight is very good, but the real reason that I was able to spot the deer is that I know what they look like, and how to spot them. Since I practice seeing deer (and all critters) everyday, and I know exactly what deer look like down to the smallest details, I have trained myself to spot little things like a spot of black with a white ring around it, which is their nose. I think that a lot of people would be able to see the black spot with a white ring around it, but they don’t associate that with a deer. They look for what they think of as a deer, a brown, four-legged animal standing out in the open, fairly easily seen, because that’s the way they’ve always seen deer.

So if you want to be able to see more critters, and see them before they see you, you have to know exactly what you are looking for, and practice that, whenever you can. The more often you are able to see critters, the better you get at picking them out of their surroundings.

There were about a half a dozen deer in this small herd, but they were looking at me as if asking me not to bother them, so I didn’t try to get any better shots of them. I left them to lay, chewing their cud, as any photos I may have gotten wouldn’t have been great anyway.

A little later I spotted the lookout for another small herd.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

This herd was closer to the trail, and I thought that there would be a good chance that they would run off if even if I stuck to the trail, so I did work my way closer, hoping that I could get a clearer shot before they left.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

You can see just the head of a second deer in that photo, the rest of the herd was lying among all the blowdowns, and were all but impossible to see. That’s also a habit of deer, most of a herd will lay down in places where it is very hard to see them, but then they also have a difficult time seeing any approaching danger. So, one or two of the herd will lay down where they have a better view of the area, and they act as lookouts for the rest of the herd.

I was staying hidden from the lookout, other than to stick my camera around a tree when she wasn’t looking, then waiting for her to turn her head again before sneaking a little closer. She got nervous, she knew I was around, but she wasn’t sure where I was, so she stood up to get a better look.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

Still not being able to spot me, she began sniffing the air to catch my scent.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

Even licking the end of her nose the way dogs do to increase its sensitivity.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

I was a little slow on the shutter. Anyway, scent is carried on the moisture in the air, the drier the air is, the less scent is carried, so animals such as dogs and deer that use their sense of smell as their primary way of identifying their surroundings will lick their noses often. They don’t lick their noses to wet their scent receptors, but to make the air they breathe in more moist, concentrating what scent does reach them.

Here’s a couple more shots.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer hiding

Whitetail deer hiding

The last one is of one of the other members of the herd hiding in the tangle of blowdowns.

The rest of my hike was rather uneventful, I shot a couple of fox squirrels just for practice.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Most of the time I was deep in thought, about several different things. Such as deciding what to do about upgrading my photo equipment, selling some prints to help pay for that, and instinct versus thought.

I started thinking again of instinct versus thought while I was watching the deer, wondering how much of what a deer knows is hardwired in their brain at birth, and how much they learn from their mother.

Deer are most wary of members of the canine family, since wolves and coyotes are the major predators that deer have to worry about, other than man of course. I was able to get as close to the deer as I did because they would get distracted from me at times, listening to dogs barking in the distance.

So I was wondering if fawns are born with a fear of canines, or if they learn it from their mothers. Scientists debate how much of an animal’s behavior is due to instinct, and how much of it is learned.

Here’s what really got me to thinking about this lately, looking at a bird nest, I was hit by the question, how do birds know how to build their nests?

For the most part, each species of birds builds a nest in such a fashion that you can tell what species of bird it was that built the nest, by the materials used in the construction of the nest and so on. Young birds never see their mother build a nest, so how do they learn how to build one?

Do they see the materials their mother used for the nest they were hatched in, and the way it was constructed, and repeat that? Or, is that hardwired into their brain at birth, generational memory is what I think the term is for that.

Then, how much of that applies to mankind?

This last summer, while hanging out around Lonesome George, I saw two geese land, and start fighting with a few of the geese that were already there. Suddenly, there were fights breaking out all through the flock, when they had all been getting along until that first fight broke out. (I’m going to do a post on that when I get a chance, because the day before, the same geese were all playing together)

Wondering what drove many of the geese to start fighting got me wondering how much of mankind’s behavior is driven by what is hardwired into our brains at birth. How much is driven by the attitudes of the other people around us? I’m sure that mankind has more of a “herd mentality” than what scientists believe, but I think that I’m going to be in trouble again if I continue with that line of thought. After my post on global warming, I think I’d be better off dropping this right now. 😉

So I’m going to end this other to say that wandering around in the woods pondering such deep thoughts is not conducive to spotting wildlife, so there may have been pink elephants roaming the woods, and I never would have seen them. That’s OK, the lighting was terrible anyway, so any photos I would have gotten wouldn’t have been very good at all.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by, and I hope that you haven’t seen any pink elephants lately!


14 responses

  1. Northern Narratives

    I also think about instinct. The deer here have little fear of people, they eat everything we plant, and they walk down the middle of residential streets like they own the place. Now who taught them that?

    January 2, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    • I know what you mean. One thing that really surprised me was that one of their favorite foods is roses. I knew that we would have trouble with deer in the garden, but the darn things would come right up to the house at night and munch my rose bushes.

      January 3, 2013 at 9:31 am

  2. I am terrible at spotting wildlife. I can’t even find birds up in the trees when I can plainly hear them.

    January 2, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    • That can be tough, birds aren’t dumb. Most species hide somewhat while they sing, as they know that the sound of their singing makes them an easier target for predators.

      January 3, 2013 at 2:02 am

  3. No pink elephants here, Jerry. Well, there may been a few wandering around on New Years Eve. :-). Great post here, and I don’t find your hike boring.

    January 2, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    • Thanks Bob, and if you ever need a good hangover cure, let me know.

      January 3, 2013 at 2:03 am

  4. Sounds like a wonderful contemplative day. I perfectly understand about the awards, but I wanted others to discover your place through my blog. Even still acknowledged it. 🙂
    Love how the deer were checking you out, and the fox squirrel is awesome ! We have boring gray squirrels.

    January 2, 2013 at 6:53 pm

    • Thank you, and thanks again for nominating my blog. Of course I acknowledged it, since you thought enough of my blog to make the nomination, it’s truly the nomination that is the honor, not the actual award.

      January 3, 2013 at 2:07 am

      • 🙂

        January 3, 2013 at 9:35 am

  5. I love these pictures Jerry. As I’ve told you I’m colorblind, so unless I see movement I don’t see too many critters, especially in the winter. I think the main thing is to get out of the house and got some excersize, no matter the weather.At least, that’s what i try to do and I actually see the most interesting things when I’m not looking for them.
    A local photographer sells a lot of landscape pictures here at second hand furniture shops, believe it or not. She mats them and puts them in a cheap black plastic frame and sells 8 x 10s for $25.00 each. That doesn’t sound like much, but she sells a lot of them-I even bought a couple myself so my son would have something to remember home by while he’s in the Airforce. She also sells them at craft fairs and art shows. I wouldn’t be surprised if she made a hundred or more each week the way they sell.

    January 3, 2013 at 6:33 am

    • Thanks! I’m not color blind, but it would seem to me that you would be able to learn color patterns of critters in what ever colors you do see them in, but I could be wrong about that. And, thank you for the ideas on selling my photos. I had already thought of trying furniture stores, but second hand stores is a very good idea.

      January 3, 2013 at 10:53 am

      • I can stand 2 feet from a red cardinal in a green tree and not see it at all unless it moves or chirps. Animals don’t have much trouble hiding from me!
        Glad I could help-I’ve also seen people sell photos in used bookstores. The store owners hang them for “atmosphere” and people buy them right off the walls. Yours would be fantastic in the nature or bird section.

        January 3, 2013 at 7:52 pm

  6. Excellent pictures, excellent physical rambling and excellent mental rambling (in the nicest way) too. An all round blog. Sorry to see that someone else has got miserable weather as well as us..

    January 3, 2013 at 11:29 am

    • Thank you! From your blog, I would say that the weather here is quite similar to what you have in Scotland, but since your clouds and precipitation are caused by warm ocean currents rather than a large freshwater lake, it’s a little warmer there.

      January 3, 2013 at 12:54 pm