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

My Week, cold with occasional snow

Sunday

I was up way too early this morning for the winter months, well before sunrise. Maybe I’ll beat the wind if I go for my walk early in the morning?

The weather forecast for the week is much like it would be for the middle of January, cold, cloudy, with occasional snow. I shouldn’t get as bummed out as I have been this year, it’s always the same in Michigan this time of year, but I’ve let photography become the biggest reason for me to get outside. And, with the weather the way that it’s been, and will continue to be into March, my chances for really good photos is greatly diminished.

My new Canon is so much better than the old Nikon that I am able to get photos in much worse weather than before, but still, it would be nice if the weather was more suited to photography.

That’s not to say that I haven’t been appreciating the sights, sounds, and scents of nature while I’ve been out and about, I have.

Yesterday at Muskegon was a good example, something that I didn’t put in my post from last week. There were periods of time when I was sitting in my Subaru with the engine off and the window down, as I glassed huge flocks of various birds, looking for new species to photograph. Seeing and hearing wave after wave of mixed flocks of geese passing overhead was something I’ll never forget. It was the same with the northern shovelers, the flock of them feeding and carrying on was an amazing memory as well.

I grew up during the period of time when the numbers of many species were at or close to their low point, to have thousands of geese and ducks in view at one time, with half a dozen bald eagles in sight at the same time was a totally new experience for me. I really should be thankful that so many people worked so hard to protect so many species of wildlife, and quit whining about the weather if it isn’t great as far as me getting a few photos.

I should also remember that most people never see those sights, like thousands of ducks taking flight as a bald eagle soars overhead searching the flock for a weak individual to make a meal of.

And the best part, I was able to witness it all in southern Michigan, I didn’t have to travel to some remote location where man has made little impact.

Well, I suppose that it’s time to bundle up and head on out into the cold and gloom.

I bundled up alright, I got back home and found that I had never zipped my parka up! By getting out so early, I almost beat the clouds.

Clouds on the increase

Clouds on the increase

But very quickly, things returned to normal around here.

Michigan winter sunshine

Michigan winter sunshine

I almost beat the wind, it was pleasant when I first began my walk, but by the time I finished, it was definitely getting uncomfortable, although not as bad as yesterday.

I almost beat the snow, but the first few flakes from the next system were just beginning to fall as I was headed home.

I’d say that I beat the birds, since I didn’t get any photos, but that isn’t true. I did see a few of the typical winter residents, but in the low light, I didn’t bother them as they obviously were busy finding food to fuel their tiny little bodies in the cold.

I did shoot a few photos, of frozen leaves.

Frozen green

Frozen green

Frozen brown

Frozen brown

One determined leaf!

One determined leaf!

I liked the way that the last leaf had curled itself around the branch it was attached to, as if holding on for dear life to prevent its falling off.

Because of the mild summer with plenty of rain, most of the plants produced bumper crops of seeds and berries. I’ve shot a few photos of various “crops” this fall, but I don’t think that I’ve posted many if any, as there seemed to always be more important photos to post. So, here’s a few of the highbush cranberries from this year.

Highbush cranberries

Highbush cranberries

The birds, squirrels, and other critters have had a very easy time of it this fall, plenty of food so far, I hope that even as much as there is, that it will be enough to carry them over the winter.

If any one is interested, these were all shot with the 70-200 mm L series lens. I don’t know why, but that lens seems to produce photos that look almost 3 dimensional. I have learned to love that lens, when I didn’t care for it much when I first bought it. It takes more work to get it to focus correctly, but when I get it right, the results are excellent.

I think that the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) is on vacation until the weather warms up a little. Its performance seems to degrade when the temperatures are much below freezing, and it’s a lot harder to carry and keep my hands warm at the same time. Besides, the L series lens is made to handle inclement weather, so it’s a better choice for winter in the first place.

Monday

A typical southwest Michigan winter morning, cold, cloudy, and snow.

It does look as though we are in for a long cold winter, much like the ones that we had back in the late 1970’s. On the bright side, that could mean an early spring, I hope so.

Another positive, although it may not seem like it right now, as quickly as winter hit this year, Lake Michigan is cooling off earlier than it normally does. If this trend continues, the lake effect machine may come to an early end, and we could get more sunny days towards the end of January and into February.

In just two weeks, we’ll be past the Winter Solstice, and the daylight hours will begin to grow longer again. imperceptible at first, but by the end of January, it will be more noticeable. That’s when I’ll see the first tree buds starting to swell, and a renewed energy in the birds, as spring really won’t be that far off by then.

Of course as I type this, I am listening to the maintenance workers here scraping the ice off from the sidewalks. 😉 Time to go out and check their work.

The crews are doing a fine job of clearing the sidewalks, with an added benefit. Scraping the ice and snow off from the sidewalks has also removed the calling cards that the geese have been leaving behind. 😉

In my weather synopsis for the day, I neglected to mention the wind, ice pellets, and freezing drizzle mixed in with the snow and cold. Needless to say, I didn’t shoot many photos today, just six, all of the same subject as I tried to dial in low light snow scene settings.

Snow on highbush cranberries and white pines.

Snow on highbush cranberries and white pines.

That’s not exactly as I wanted it to appear, but it had to do as the best of the six that I shot.

One thing that has surprised me this winter is that for scenes with a lot of snow in them, I have to go positive in exposure compensation. The one from today was shot at +2/3 EV. That is due to the metering system in the Canon 60 D, it apparently reads all snow scenes as too bright and automatically adjusts the exposure down. Some of the photos from the Thanksgiving weekend trip to Pickerel Lake were shot at +1 Ev, like this one if I remember correctly.

Pickerel Lake

Pickerel Lake

All summer long, I shot landscapes at from -1/3 to -1 EV, that applies to close-ups of flowers as well. When I looked at the first photo of Pickerel Lake that I shot with no exposure compensation, it looked black in the LCD display. I would have thought that I would have had to have gone at least as far down for snow as summer landscapes, but the opposite has been true, I have to go up, a lot at times.

There’s a bright side to not posting many photos, I’m not using up my free space from WordPress as quickly as I was all summer long. 😉

On my way home, I stopped at the farm market down the street from the park and stocked up on jellies and jams for the winter before they close for the season. They were out of my favorite, no sugar added apple butter, so I had to “make do” with some of their other delicious flavors, like peach butter.

I am going to go on a small rant here, about conservation groups, and their fundraising efforts. This was brought about by a news story concerning the death of a snowy owl, that flew into a truck at night. A few of the local conservation groups are using the death of the owl for fund-raising purposes, as if money would have prevented the owl from dying.

Since I’m now a low-income worker, I’ve had to pare back on the number of conservation groups that I am able to contribute to, and in many cases, I feel no great remorse for not being able to contribute the way that I used to.

It seems that fund-raising and money are the only things most conservation groups care about these days. I know that it does take money to operate such a group, but I fear that in too many cases, most of the money raised by these groups goes to pay for more fund-raising, and little to actual conservation work.

Back when I had more money, I became a life member of Trout Unlimited, but even if I had the resources to do so now, I doubt if I would become a life member if I hadn’t already done so. The only correspondence that I receive from the national headquarters is “send more money”, sometimes they even say please first. The national organization now spends far more money on lobbying the government than they do on grassroots work projects.

That’s what many of us feared would happen when TU moved their national headquarters from Michigan to Arlington, VA so that they were closer to Washington DC. TU was formed as a grassroots organization, local people getting together to improve river habitat for trout. No more, it’s all about the money!

The local chapter isn’t much better. They have started several projects asking for volunteers, and when time permitted, I would show up. However, almost all the projects have fizzled, not because of a lack of volunteers, but because there was no follow-up from the leaders at the top of the local chapter. They find it easier to hire an AmeriCorps worker(s) to do the work, than to organize volunteers who would gladly perform what was necessary for nothing.  The excuse is that we, the membership, don’t have the expertise to do what needs to be done.

The one group that continues to impress me is the Little Traverse Conservancy. When I receive their quarterly newsletter, it is full of things that they have done, land acquisitions, field trips, and volunteer work that has been done, opportunities for future volunteer work parties and field trips, with a small section devoted to fund-raising. They seem to understand that if they build a community, encourage people to visit the preserves, and organize opportunities for people to get involved, that the work gets done, and money flows in without hammering people over the head to give more all the time.

If I had the resources, I would gladly give more to the Little Traverse Conservancy, they get things done, they make things happen, and most of all, it is a true grassroots organization where they encourage people to participate in ways other than just sending in a check to pay professional fund-raisers a huge salary to raise more money.

Let me put this another way. The correspondence that I receive from most conservation groups is all doom and gloom, things have never been worse, and the only way to help is if I send them all my money.

Well, things aren’t all doom and gloom, and having grown up in the 1960’s when things were worse, I know that progress has been made.

When I get the newsletters from the Little Traverse Conservancy, it’s “Due to the generosity of (fill in the blank) we were able to add (X number) of acres of land to our (fill in the blank) preserve.

Thanks to all the wonderful volunteers who showed up at the (fill in the blank) preserve to help eliminate invasive species of plants.

On such and such a date, we had a great turn out for the hike in the (fill in the blank)  preserve.” And so it goes.

Rather than focus on the negative, they accentuate the positive, what they are accomplishing.

I don’t know about you, but I would much rather be part of a group that accomplishes what their stated goals are, rather than a group that can only see the negatives.

And, there’s even more to it. Many of the large national and international conservation groups have developed an elitist attitude, that only the leadership of those groups are intelligent enough to understand the ecosystems that they are trying to protect. The Nature Conservancy is a perfect example of that attitude.

In my Post on Michigan’s Garden Peninsula, I noted how birds from Michigan “island hop” to Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula. Well, just recently some one donated the majority of one of those islands to the Nature Conservancy, which promptly made the island off-limits to the general public, even though the part of the island donated to the Nature Conservancy had been a private resort in the past. It wasn’t pristine wilderness untouched by humans.

That kind of attitude is what caused me to leave the Nature Conservancy years ago. Yes, they do good work preserving natural habitats, but what good is it if no one is ever allowed to visit those places, except for the top brass of the Nature Conservancy? I grew tired of reading about how they had just acquired a significant piece of land, but that they were closing it to the public.

The Little Traverse Conservancy has some preserves which they have closed to the general public, but they are typically smaller preserves which really should be closed. The vast majority of their preserves are not only open to the public, but they urge people to visit, even non-members.

By doing so, they make the public aware of the work that they are doing, and get more people involved, which I believe is a good thing.

Tuesday

I’m looking out my window to see sunshine, which is rather unexpected since the forecast is for more snow later. But, the snow isn’t forecast to arrive until almost noon. Maybe there will be a few breaks in the clouds left when I venture out this morning. Since this may be my only chance to see the sun for a while, I’m heading out as quickly as I can eat breakfast and get bundled up.

Well, that didn’t work very well at all. Even as I was eating breakfast, I had noticed that the amount of light coming through the windows was decreasing at a dramatic rate. Stepping out the door of the apartment building, I was greeted by a blast of wind-driven snow. The snow and wind both continued to increase in intensity as I walked down to the park, and by the time that I got there, it was like walking through a blizzard.

I did stop to watch a small flock of chickadees and a couple of kinglets looking for food in the woods along the creek. It was funny, rather than flying to the next branch that they wanted to investigate, they would puff up their feathers, hop off from the branch that they were on, and let the wind carry them along, with an occasion flap of their wings to help them steer. They looked like little puff balls driven by the wind.

I actually saw quite a few other birds, they were either in the thick brush along the creek banks trying to stay warm, or flocked around bird feeders in the yards of houses surrounding the park.

The only word for the weather this morning is brutal. With wind gusts over 30 MPH (48 kilometer/hour) the wind chill was well below 0 F (-18 C). So, since I didn’t want to subject my camera to those conditions, or bother the birds that were trying to survive, I didn’t shoot a single photo.

On my way home, the snow let up and it got a little brighter out, but neither the cold or wind relented, so still no photos.

So, I’m going to add a few more of the leftovers from my trip to the UP back in September.

Unidentified warbler on a dewy morning

Unidentified warbler on a dewy morning

Dewy spiderweb

Dewy spiderweb

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Wednesday

The weather today is the same as yesterday, cold, snow, and wind. The local meteorologists are already saying that there will be a white Christmas here, and that the temperature won’t make it above freezing again until into next year.

I just finished yet another post in the My Photo Life List project, and a count of the species of birds that I have photos saved of puts me only 5 short of half way. Some of my saved photos aren’t very good, but very few if any people seem to care about that project anyway, so I suppose that photo quality shouldn’t matter, but it does to me. Doing the project online has many advantages, I have already replaced all the earlier photos of some species when I have gotten better ones, or added photos if I only had one or two when I originally did the post.

Stepping out the door of my apartment building today, it looked just about exactly as it did yesterday, but a wonderful thing happened as I got to the park. The snow let up, the wind slacked off, the clouds thinned, and there was enough sunshine that I could see shadows for the first time in days.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

I tried to take advantage of the light.

Everywhere I go

Everywhere I go

But, the sunshine didn’t last long. So, I tried shifting gears for this one.

Like gnarly, dude

Like gnarly, dude

That was actually shot in black and white on purpose, just a practice shot. It didn’t matter, the few other photos from then on looked much the same even after I switched the camera back to full color.

The snow returns

The snow returns

I am finally getting acclimated to the cold weather, my hands didn’t feel as if they were bordering on frostbite, nor did my nose for the first time since the really cold air settled in. It must be because it got so cold so quickly this year, but the cold has bothered me much more than it typically does. It wasn’t much nicer today than yesterday, but I had a rather pleasant walk today, despite the cold wind. Of course, a few peeks at the sun never hurt!

I don’t know where all the birds were hiding today, I saw just a few doves in the park, and not a single bird on any of the feeders that I can see in people’s yards from where I walk in the park.

I think that Santa is going to be late this year in delivering the Tokina 100 mm macro lens that I would like. It doesn’t make much sense to spend the money on it when I won’t get any use out of it for a while. Besides, I get two “extra” paychecks in January, one will be because there are five paydays that month, and the other will be for the sick days that I didn’t use.

So, maybe Santa and I will visit the camera store and pick up a few low-cost accessories that I could use, such as neutral density filters and the like, we’ll see. Then, we’ll return to the store after the first of the year, maybe the lens I want will even be on sale, wouldn’t that be nice!

Well, that’s about it for the day.

Thursday

I see that I messed up when I titled this week’s post, cold with occasional snow. I should have said cold and the snow lets up occasionally, as it has been snowing more of the time than not. It’s mostly lake effect snow though, so it isn’t piling up too badly, yet. Lake effect snow is light, fluffy snow, that compacts itself down as more falls on top of what has already fallen. I have no idea what the official snow total is, for one thing, the amount of snow that falls in any one spot is extremely variable, one reporting station may report seven inches in a day, while the next reporting station may only pick up an inch. It all depends on the wind, and how the snow bands coming off from Lake Michigan set up. And, because of the nature of lake effect snow, several inches a day compact down quite a bit, so the depth of the snow on the ground is nowhere near the total of how much snow has fallen over time.

Enough snow has fallen already this winter that they’ve had to bring in a big front end loader to push the snow piles back, it’s only December, and the plows were running out of places to push the snow already here in the apartment complex. The good thing is that since the snow is light and fluffy, it isn’t that hard to walk through.

The long-range weather forecast is more of the same for as far out as the forecast goes, isn’t that just peachy? Well, there’s nothing to be done about it, so I guess I’ll bundle up and trudge through the snow again today, and tomorrow, and on it goes, until spring.

Well I’m back, a little earlier than usual, I cut my walk short by a few hundred yards today. Not because of the cold or snow…

Winter wonderland?

Winter wonderland?

…but because I wasn’t feeling my usual self today. I’m sure that it’s nothing, and that I will be fine after I get a nap.

As you can see in the photo, the snow was really coming down for a while, it was snowing so hard that visibility was less than half a mile for the first half of my walk.

Even though I was pulling the hood of my parka over my face to ward off the wind-driven snow most of the time, I did see a few birds, but no photos.

Once again today, I was treated to a few moments when the clouds thinned out, and I was able to get a few peeks of sunshine.

Winter wonderland

Winter wonderland

But, by the time I had gotten back home the clouds had filled back in, and the snow was coming down about as heavily as it had been when I began. It is odd though how there have been a few breaks in the clouds for a few moments each day at about the same time.

That’s it for my walk and what I have to say about it.

Over the past two days, I’ve been going back through the photos that I shot while on my vacation back in September. This will sound as if I am bragging, maybe I am, but those photos are much better than I gave myself credit for when I first viewed them. They may not have been 100% of what I wanted, but they were a lot closer to it than I first gave myself credit for, especially the photos from the first four days.

I can see how the quality of my photos dropped off the last two days as I ran myself ragged, and my energy level fell off towards the end of the week.

Here’s one of the photos from my vacation that I wasn’t happy with then, looking at it now, I don’t know why. BTW, you can click on this one for a larger view.

Miner's falls

Miner’s falls

Talk about being too picky!

But looking at the photo and recalling my vacation, I was a little let down the entire week by how little the leaves of the trees were changing color at that point, and I think that I was too disappointed by the lack of color to take a true look at what I was able to photograph. Oh well, better luck next time.

Since the forecast for the weekend is for more unrelenting snow and cold, I’m going to stick close to home this weekend, maybe Palmer Park on Sunday.

Friday

The snow has let up for at least a few hours today, in advance of the next storm, forecast to hit the area this evening. There’s a winter weather advisory out for tonight and tomorrow, just as there have been advisories out the last three days. But, a break from the snow, even for half a day, is a welcome thing.

There have been a few multi-car pile-ups on the area expressways this week, I have been extremely lucky in that I have missed all of them while driving for work. It was slow going a couple of nights this week, but at least I never got stuck in one of the huge back-ups as a result of the crashes.

Of course it’s still cloudy and cold outside, so it’s time to bundle up and head on out.

With very little wind today, it felt practically balmy outside today. In some ways, it seemed brighter than what it has been of late, in other ways, it seemed as if there was less light, kind of a weird day. I shot this photo for the heck of it, because I could actually see the sun.

Sun, no shine

Sun, no shine

Okay, there’s a wisp of clouds in front of the sun, but still, I couldn’t believe what the camera was telling me when I shot that, ISO 100, f/11, and a shutter speed of only 1/1000. I would have assumed a much faster shutter speed, but that’s the kind of day it was today.

Light and the way that it interacts with the atmosphere here on Earth is a constant source of amazement for me. How is it that on what looks to be a fairly sunny day, there also seems to be very little light for photography? I should take some college level courses on the physics of light, then try to relate that to the science of photography, but my guess is that there are already people who have tried to answer all the questions that I have, and that they have been left scratching their head as they search for answers. Otherwise, a modern camera could take all of it into account and always produce great photos. 😉

Anyway, with the better weather today, I spent a good deal of time watching the birds, as they were out enjoying the break from the wind and snow as much as I was.

Ring billed gull in flight

Ring billed gull in flight

Male red-bellied woodpecker

Male red-bellied woodpecker

Male red-bellied woodpecker

Male red-bellied woodpecker

Male northern cardinal eating rose hips

Male northern cardinal eating rose hips

Dark eyed junco in the snow

Dark eyed junco in the snow

I probably could have taken the Beast with me today, but it’s on vacation until there’s a real warm up, so I used the 70-200 mm L series for those photos. If I had taken the Beast, I would have come back with even more bird photos, since its range is longer. Oh well, other than a pileated woodpecker, I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, and the light wasn’t all that great to begin with.

Other than to ramble on about how weird the light seemed to be, I don’t have a lot to say other than it’s Friday, and I am going to really enjoy the weekend, no matter what the weather or the light is like!

Saturday

Another day, another little snowstorm moving through the area. I shouldn’t complain though, we had a day off yesterday, sort of. The snow from this storm started before midnight, so technically, we had snow yesterday as far as the record books, but that doesn’t really count.

The last 8 days have averaged 10.4 deg. cooler than average in Grand Rapids, and for the last 11 days, have had only 7.9% of possible sunshine.  The last temperature above freezing in G.R. was the evening of Dec. 5.

If there were ever a day when I didn’t feel like going out for a walk, today is the day. I’m not sure why, and I know that once I get out there, that I will enjoy myself no matter what the weather is like, but I will have to force myself to move to get started.

Well, maybe saying that I would enjoy it out there once I made it was a bit strong. It was certainly snowing, and the wind was certainly blowing, but I did the entire extended version of my daily walk, and I even saw a few birds. It’s hard to get good photos in close to blizzard conditions though.

American Robin eating a berry

American Robin eating a berry

American Robin

American Robin

We’re starting to accumulate some serious amounts of snow on the ground, last I heard it was just over a foot, and the total is definitely growing today! So, half the time I was trudging along while pulling the hood of my parka down as far as I could to block the wind and snow, the other half of the time, I trudged along watching the snow blowing past me. I’m sure that it was all good exercise, the point of my walk to begin with, so it was a good day.

But, since I have a few photos left from my vacation back when the weather was nicer, I’ll post those to finish off the week.

Autumn colors

Autumn colors

Old fishing boat

Old fishing boat

Pine and spider webs covered in dew

Pine and spider webs covered in dew

Autumn colors

Autumn colors

It would be nice if there were a wooded area close to where I live where I could go for my daily walk. On days like today, walking in the woods is so much nicer, the trees help to block the wind, and wooded areas look better in the snow.

There is another walking trail about a mile to the north of my apartment, but it is even more open than the one that I walk now, as it is in the easement for a power line, and straight as an arrow. At least on the trail that I walk now, I get to walk on the edges of some wooded areas.

I grew up walking in the woods, and I have always gravitated to wooded area ever since. It was only after I moved to my current apartment that I began to walk, and appreciate fields and open areas, and the wildlife that inhabit open country.

Oh well, at least I have a place where I can walk everyday, even if it isn’t exactly as I would like it to be.

I don’t have anything else to add, so I guess that this wraps up another week. Thanks for stopping by!

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