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

The first signs of spring

It may seem early for such a post, since the official start of spring is over a month and a half away. However, spring doesn’t arrive in one day when the date on the calendar changes. It comes slowly at first, gaining momentum as it approaches. It’s the last day of January as I begin working on this post, and I’ve already noticed a few signs that spring is on its way. So far, it’s been the birds that are letting me know that so far. Unfortunately, I missed a photo of the first sign of spring that a bird sent me, it was a downy woodpecker testing dead branches to see which one would be the best to use for drumming.

Woodpeckers don’t sing songs, but they drum loudly against pieces of wood or metal to achieve the same effect, attracting a mate. People sometimes think this drumming is part of the birds’ feeding habits, but it isn’t. In fact, feeding birds make surprisingly little noise even when they’re digging vigorously into wood to find food. When you hear a male woodpecker rapidly drumming on a dead branch, it’s to attract a female.

Anyway, the male that I heard drumming was just out of camera range, and he was too busy looking for exactly the right dead branch to use for drumming to pause for me to get a good photo of him. So instead, I’ll have to use this photo as one of the first signs of spring.

Male tufted titmouse

Male tufted titmouse

As he went from branch to branch in search of food, he’d pause once in a while to sing for any females that may be looking for a mate this spring. I don’t know if he found one, I do know that hearing him singing certainly brightened up my day, especially since it was on a rare sunny day to begin with!

The day before that stood in stark contrast, it was the very gloomy day when I had gone to the Muskegon area in search of birds. As I noted in a previous post, I sighted many bald eagles, but the light was the pits, and the eagles kept their distance from me. Still, I have to remember that very few people have the chance to see one bald eagle, let alone several of them at one time. So, I decided to go ahead and post these next few photos of juvenile bald eagles establishing their rank within the flock that was there.

Juvenile bald eagles in action

Juvenile bald eagles in action

 

Juvenile bald eagles in action

Juvenile bald eagles in action

 

Juvenile bald eagles in action

Juvenile bald eagles in action

 

Juvenile bald eagles in action

Juvenile bald eagles in action

 

Juvenile bald eagles in action

Juvenile bald eagles in action

Okay, enough of the poor photos, it’s time for a good one, even if it’s just another mallard.

Male mallard

Male mallard

I had high hopes for that one when I snapped the shutter release, but I was a little disappointed with what the camera actually captured. I’ll have to work on that a bit more. Photographing anything well is a humbling experience, but mallards take that to the extreme due to their coloration. I’m not sure that any camera sensor has the dynamic range to handle an adult male mallard, but that won’t stop me from testing the limits. 😉

It has dawned on me that other than mallards, I haven’t been posting very many photos of the more common species of birds here in Michigan. So, since I had a few hours of filtered sunshine, and with a few birds to be photographed around home, I did shoot a few photos that I would normally have skipped these days.

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

I’ve posted similar series of photos before, but here’s another to show you how quickly the birds react when they spot me.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

It heard the shutter go off, turned to see what made the sound…

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

…and was off.

Black-capped chickadee taking flight

Black-capped chickadee taking flight

I was shooting at 5 frames per second, and got three shots off including the take-off. The little buggers are quick!

On the other hand, mourning doves don’t flit around much, but for some reason, they’ve become very wary around here and will no longer pose for me. So, I had to shoot this next one at a greater distance than what I would have liked.

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

Recently, I posted a photo of a goldfinch eating seeds from a sycamore tree, not only are these next two better images…

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

…when I blew those photos up on my computer, I recognized that individual. It’s Scarface, a male goldfinch that I photographed back in the fall of 2014, he has a scar on the left side of his face, that you probably can’t see in these small versions of the photos. However, it’s good to see that he recovered from his wounds and is still around and kicking.

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

Next up, a pair of cardinals, other than I haven’t posted many photos of them recently, there’s nothing special about them.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

 

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

It’s now early afternoon on Monday, I spent the day yesterday at Muskegon, I’m not sure how many, if any, of the photos that I shot I’ll end up posting. The light was good right at sunrise, but went downhill quickly. Besides, I had a great morning walk around home this morning, with plenty of signs of spring, much to my surprise. After all, it is only the first of February, neither I…

American robin

American robin, first of the year

 

Cedar waxwings

Cedar waxwings

…nor the birds should be jumping the gun on spring. We’ll have plenty of ice…

Ice patterns in black and white

Ice patterns in black and white

 

Ice patterns in color

Ice patterns in color

…left to endure this winter.

I was surprised both the robins and waxwings had shown up on the same day. But, with them around, I went crazy as far as shooting photos, since it’s been a while since they’ve been around.

After their long flights, the birds were hungry!

Cedar waxwing eating a high bush cranberry

Cedar waxwing eating a high bush cranberry

However, this robin was tasting the crabapples before eating them…

American robin taste testing a crabapple

American robin taste testing a crabapple

…and if the berries didn’t taste good…

American robin taste testing a crabapple

American robin taste testing a crabapple

…the robin would spit the crabapple out.

American robin dropping a crabapple

American robin dropping a crabapple

It did find a few to its liking…

American robin eating a crabapple

American robin eating a crabapple

…swallowed whole of course.

American robin eating a crabapple

American robin eating a crabapple

With flocks of both species present, I had a tough time choosing a subject.

American robin and cedar waxwing

American robin and cedar waxwing

Then, I got serious about trying for some good portraits of the waxwings.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

This one puffed itself up for me.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

This next one thought that it would model for me, striking one pose…

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

…after another.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

The only thing that kept me from filing the memory card on my camera was that the light was just okay, not great for bird portraits. I also have to remember to pace myself, these birds will be around all summer, so I don’t have to get the perfect photo of them on their first day back.

I missed several other species of birds that I saw, but I did manage to catch this goldfinch.

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

What it and the Juncos (one of the species I missed) were doing in with the flocks of robins and waxwings, I have no idea. Maybe the other birds have missed them also?

I saw more signs of spring, the color green for a change.

Lichen covered tree and rock

Lichen covered tree and rock

I had taken one of the 60D bodies with the macro lens and one wide lens, just in case, and it was a good thing that I did. That was my first shot of that scene, I took several others, with this one being the best in my opinion.

Green!

Green!

The macro lens came in handy when I checked to see if the ornamental witch hazel bushes had buds in them yet. Not only did they have buds, but they were opening.

 

Witch hazel

Witch hazel

I also played with the wide lens to shoot this photo of the British soldier lichens growing on the fence at the entrance to the park.

British soldier lichen

British soldier lichen

One more sure sign that spring is coming…

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing

…several of the cardinals were singing today, for the first time since last summer!

These signs of spring couldn’t have come at a better time, I was a bit down after the previous day at Muskegon. The day had begun with fair light, but soon, this is what it looked like there.

The Muskegon channel in the fog

The Muskegon channel in the fog

We may have had a mild winter so far as far as the temperatures and lack of snow, but the constant cloudy, gloomy days are wearing on me. I’m looking forward to spring when I can shoot photos of flowers…

Aster

Aster

…and insects again.

Ladybug

Ladybug

Hopefully, I’ll be able to build on what I’ve been learning over the past few years as far as photography is concerned, and get some really great photos this spring. It looks as though I may be able to get an early start if the weather continues to cooperate.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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36 responses

  1. Lots of good stuff here but what I most enjoyed were all those fantastic shots of birds especially the male mallard, what colours!

    February 3, 2016 at 2:01 pm

    • Thank you very much Susan!

      February 4, 2016 at 12:00 am

  2. The Cedar Waxwing photos are really nice!

    February 3, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    • Thank you very much Michael!

      February 4, 2016 at 12:01 am

  3. So many beautiful shots! Do you have an option to reduce the shutter noise on your camera? If you do, that may help with the birds, or even with people.

    February 3, 2016 at 2:44 pm

    • Thank you very much! The 7D does have a quieter shutter mode, but it then limits some of the other camera functions that I really like. My Canon Powershot goes one better, I have it set to produce bird sounds when it focuses and the shutter fires. I wish that they had that option for their DSLR cameras.

      February 4, 2016 at 12:04 am

  4. Wonderful photo series; I have lilacs almost ready to break bud in my garden, spring is definitely on the way.

    February 3, 2016 at 3:12 pm

    • Thank you very much Charlie! I hope that your lilacs do bloom soon, ours are still several months away.

      February 4, 2016 at 12:04 am

  5. Wishing you an early arrival of spring. You deserve it after last year’s misery.

    February 3, 2016 at 4:00 pm

    • Thank you very much Gunta!

      February 4, 2016 at 12:05 am

  6. That mallard positively glows! Just gorgeous! Spring is definitely around the corner!!!

    February 3, 2016 at 4:57 pm

    • Thank you very much Lori! You should have seen that mallard as I snapped that photo, he was even prettier in real life.

      February 4, 2016 at 12:06 am

      • I’ll bet! That winter light–so strong!

        February 4, 2016 at 8:37 am

  7. You can’t have too many chickadee pictures. A very warming selection today. I hope that the weather behaves itself.

    February 3, 2016 at 5:12 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! According to the latest forecast, we’re going back to the deep freeze for a week or so, but that’s just temporary, I hope.

      February 4, 2016 at 12:08 am

      • I hope so too.

        February 4, 2016 at 6:14 pm

  8. I haven’t seen a robin or a cedar waxwing yet but that doesn’t mean they aren’t here.
    I’d like to see a waxwing. They’re pretty birds.
    It looks like spring might be early just about everywhere this year, though there’s still plenty of time for more snow.
    Nice shots of the robin rejecting the crab apples. I’ve heard they did that but I’ve never seen it.
    This post and mine that I posted today have a lot of similarities, proving once again that great minds think alike!

    February 3, 2016 at 6:22 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! It would have been impossible for me to miss the robins and waxwings, they were there in large numbers and being very vocal about their arrival. The latest forecast calls for a return to the deep freeze, but I hope that it’s temporary. I don’t know why the robins reject any of the berries that they do, since they swallow them whole. But, as much as I like getting good portraits of birds, I also love getting photos that show their behavior. It was due to our past discussions that I remembered to check the witch hazel bushes for flower buds, I never would have thought of it on my own, so it was your great mind at work.

      February 4, 2016 at 12:14 am

  9. Well, I have learned something new about woodpeckers. I had always thought the tapping was the sound they made while looking for grubs in tree trunks/branches. We don’t have woodpeckers here of course. Not only did I enjoy seeing the birds eat the crab-apples, but I love how pretty and delicate the fruit looks hanging there. Even the eaten parts like attractive as they glisten in the light. I also like the round balls of sycamore seeds. We don’t have those either. Yes, I do think you are fortunate to see the eagles in action so often – thanks for sharing their behaviour with us. The mallard colours are stunning. The cedar waxwings are one of my favourite North American birds – loved the pics. Yes, I imagine you must be desperate for some sunshine and pretty colours after the gloom. It’s definitely coming…sometime! Thank you for the interesting commentary and for the beautiful gallery, Jerry. 🙂

    February 4, 2016 at 1:58 am

    • Thank you very much Jane! I didn’t know that there were no woodpeckers in Australia, so I learned something also. Yes, when you can hear one rapidly drumming on a hard, dead branch, it is a male trying to attract a mate.

      Photographing the birds while they are eating is one way that I’m able to get closer to them, and it also show what and how they eat. And, you’re correct, after a long gloomy winter, there’s nothing better than a colorful Michigan spring!

      February 4, 2016 at 11:33 pm

  10. Very beautiful photos of birds.
    I have noticed many signs of Spring even if it’s so early for them.
    Strange weather.

    February 4, 2016 at 3:27 am

    • Thank you very much Cornell! I hope that you also have an early and wonderful spring.

      February 4, 2016 at 11:34 pm

  11. Happy incipient spring to you, even so far north.

    I like the way reality fades out in the center of your fog picture.

    February 4, 2016 at 9:15 am

    • Thank you very much Steve! That’s a great way of describing fog, that reality fades away, I should have shot a few more photos that day.

      February 4, 2016 at 11:35 pm

      • Maybe you can get in your time machine and hasten on back for a few more pictures.

        February 4, 2016 at 11:56 pm

  12. Hi Jerry. I really like the idea of spring gaining momentum – I’ll be rolling that concept around in my head all day.

    Love those gorgeous cedar waxwings shots. And the Robin with the whole cranberry is a great shot.

    Keep your head above water. I hear you had lots of rain yesterday. Just remember, spring is gaining g momentum.

    Take care.

    February 4, 2016 at 10:27 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! We’re about to take one step back from spring this next week, but we’ll soon be making more progress in the right direction. That’s the way that spring happens, a few birds at a time return, a few plants begin to bud, and pretty soon, it’s “suddenly” spring. I slept through the rain, I knew that it had rained, but had no idea how much until I checked the news.

      February 4, 2016 at 11:52 pm

  13. Great shots of all your new arrivals. The Cedar Waxwings are such beautiful birds! I was interested by your shots of the Robin eating the crabapples. Our crabapples don’t get eaten until they have been frosted and the mushiest ones always get eaten first. Perhaps your Robin rejected apples that weren’t soft enough, especially as they are swallowed whole.

    February 5, 2016 at 6:20 pm

    • Thank you very muchClare! That may be the answer as to why the birds eat some berries and reject others. I had never thought of that.

      February 6, 2016 at 12:29 am

      • You’re welcome 🙂

        February 6, 2016 at 9:45 am

  14. A beautiful series of late winter birds. I love the ones of the crabapple going down the robin’s throat. Good catch! Cardinals are always special to me, another fond memory from my youth. Yes, the call of the male cardinal heralded spring was not far off.

    February 7, 2016 at 3:09 pm

    • Thanks Lavinia! I’m glad that I could bring back a few good memories for you!

      February 7, 2016 at 5:46 pm

  15. I always love photos with red berries and birds, and your Robin shots were awesome, Jerry! The Cedar Waxwings are splendid, such a gorgeous contrasting bird. And of course, I love the Cardinals. 🙂

    February 7, 2016 at 11:16 pm

    • Thank you very much Donna!

      February 8, 2016 at 1:24 am

  16. I came across your blog by accident. I really enjoy the writings and the photos. Your earlier one on Hoffmaster Park led me to this site as I walk, snowshoe or cross county ski there almost daily. Keep up the good work

    February 8, 2016 at 6:16 pm

    • Thank you very much! Hoffmaster is a great place, but there are a few like it in the Muskegon area that I like almost as much.

      February 8, 2016 at 10:38 pm