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

Big changes on the way

I’ll start with the big news, my new Subaru Forester has arrived, and I should be able to pick it up in a week or so. I’ll learn more on Monday March 7th, after I’ve seen it and talked to the dealer. I’m actually getting excited about it, although making the purchase has to do more with long-term planning for my life than any immediate desire to replace my current Forester.

But, the arrival of the new vehicle comes with some extra work, not only the time it takes to complete the financial transactions, but I want to keep my new Forester in the garage. To that end, I’ve already begun to clean out the stall that I have here at the apartment complex, but I need to find someplace to store my canoe. I have my kayak slung from the rafters now, so that’s up high enough that I can park under it, and I’ve brought some things inside my apartment that I used to keep in the garage, but there’s still more to be done.

Also changing is the weather pattern, thankfully! The last two weeks have been something else. Large amounts of snow, the two biggest snowfalls of the winter, and very cold during the middle of the week. The one saving grace has been that the temperatures moderated for the weekends, or I’d still be hibernating. The extended forecast is for spring! I’m loving the forecast, but the reality is that the first week of warm weather will be a wet, sloppy mess. We’ve had nearly two feet (60 cm) of snow the past two weeks, and combined with the rain in the forecast, there’s going to be a lot of water that has to go someplace. Fortunately, this is Michigan, the Gravel State, and I doubt if there will be much if any flooding, but it will limit where I’ll go for a short time.

For the newer readers of my blog, I live in Michigan’s lower peninsula, which was formed by the glaciers during the last age, as were the Great Lakes. All the sand, gravel, and loose rocks that the glaciers carried with them as the moved south were deposited here in lower Michigan as the glaciers melted. While the Upper Peninsula of Michigan has much more rocky terrain, especially in the western part, lower Michigan is a huge pile of the rocks, sand, and gravel that was left by the glaciers, so water soaks into the ground very quickly in spring or when we get a heavy rainfall. It’s like a natural water purification machine, especially when you consider the lake effect snow that we get.

Water from the Great Lakes is picked up by the cold air crossing the lakes in the winter, come spring when all that snow melts, it soaks down into the soil here and is purified by the soil as the water eventually makes its way back to the lakes from where it came. That’s just one of the reasons the water in the Great Lakes has remained so clean, other than Lake Erie, which is the shallowest of the Great Lakes, and became very polluted back in the 1960’s. But, I’m getting sidetracked already.

Soon, I won’t have to dig back into the photos that I saved from last year to show photos like this one.

Goatsbeard

Goatsbeard

Or this…

Milkweed bug

Milkweed bug

…because I’ll be shooting photos of them as they appear throughout the spring and summer. That’s a change that I’m really looking forward to!

I hate to brag, but I was quite proud of most of the images that I shot at Duck Lake State Park last weekend. I am going to continue to work to improve my photos to get them as good as they can possibly be, while at the same time, concentrate more on capturing the behavior of critters when I see something that strikes me as interesting. In other words, I’m going to attempt to combine those two goals, good images and interesting animal behavior at the same time.

However, there’s one problem with that, too many photos of the same subject, which some people may find boring, and that also limits the variety of subjects that I can display in any one post. So, I think that I have come up with a way to do that, as the following slide show demonstrates, I hope.

Warning, this slide show has too many photos and takes two minutes to run.

The blue jay had nothing in its beak when it landed, but by the time that I got into position to shoot the photos, you can see that it had a green beetle in its bill. I don’t know if the jay had cached the beetle earlier and had returned to check on it, or if it had just found the beetle as I watched it. Also, I don’t know if the jay was killing the beetle as it held the beetle in its bill, or if it was deciding whether to eat the beetle then, or save it for later. But, I found it fascinating to watch as the jay carefully tucked the beetle under the bark of the tree, looking around to see if any other birds were watching, and then making sure that the beetle was completely out of sight before the jay flew off.

Blue jays are a member of the corvid family, considered to be some of the smartest birds of all. It just so happens that I found another article about how smart crows, a cousin to the blue jays, are.  Here’s the link to the article if you’re interested.

As for me, I need to work on my slide show editing skills. 😉

I think that most people would agree that this is a very good photo of a kestrel.

American kestrel

American kestrel

That was shot on Sunday, March 6th, on my way back home after having spent the day along the Lake Michigan shore, looking for harlequin ducks, which I never did find.

One thing that I’m doing to improve my images is to shoot more photos of fewer subjects. The kestrel wasn’t being very cooperative when I first spotted it, that’s the second to last photo of a series of 25 or so that I shot. In the first few images, the kestrel was in the wrong position as far as where the sun was, so it was in its own shadow. I’d move, the kestrel would move also, putting me right back in the poor light again. Eventually, I got into a good position, and the kestrel hung around for a few images like the one above, before it whirled around and took off for good, which was the last image that I shot. Too bad that I wasn’t quicker, but those kestrels are really quick when they decide that they’re leaving. I was also hindered by my equipment, I was using the 2 X tele-converter behind the 300 mm L series lens, and the auto-focusing is as slow as molasses with that set-up, and it couldn’t stay locked on the kestrel as it turned and flew off. Of all the photos of the kestrel that I shot, that’s the clearly the best.

But, in other cases, when I have to decide whether to post a photo or not, the decision isn’t as clear-cut. One of my earlier stops that day had been Lake Harbor Park, where I found very few things to photograph, other than the flock of mallards that hang out there. Even with a cloudy sky, I decided to do a little practicing.

Male mallard drying its wings

Male mallard drying its wings

A few clouds, or a thinner layer of clouds is often a good time to shoot photos, but as thick as the clouds were then, I couldn’t get the shutter speed fast enough to freeze the mallard’s wings. Still, I like that photo, because other than not freezing the wings, I did a pretty good job of getting that image. The same applies to this one as well.

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

If there had been more light, I would have used a polarizing filter to cut the glare coming off the water, but other than that, it’s a pretty good photo, as it wasn’t cropped at all, and I got the composition right for a change. It’s hard keeping up with a mallard as it’s landing, as this next photo shows.

Female mallard landing

Female mallard landing

She was coming in hot, as you can tell by how much water she displaced when she landed. I missed the composition slightly, but I still like that photo because of the expression on the other mallard’s face as she photobombed the landing mallard. She was so cute, I decided to include a portrait of her.

Female mallard

Female mallard

I know, too many mallards, but the practicing that I do on them leads to this…

Male red-breasted merganser in flight

Male red-breasted merganser in flight

…which with a little luck, leads to images like this one.

Male red-breasted merganser in flight

Male red-breasted merganser in flight

I worked all day on my skills at hiding from the waterfowl that I saw, and that isn’t an easy proposition. They have excellent vision and hearing, and even hiding in the brush, I think that this pair of mergansers spotted me or heard my camera.

Common merganser pair

Common merganser pair

But, I stayed put, and eventually the male came a little closer for this one.

Male common merganser

Male common merganser

I thought that the photo above would be the best of that species that I would get for the day, but later on, I used the same approach, hiding in the weeds to shoot these…

Male common merganser

Male common merganser

…and even though its head is turned slightly the wrong way, this photo shows how their feathers grow on the backs of their heads…

Male common merganser

Male common merganser

…and those two photos led to this one.

Male common merganser taking flight

Male common merganser taking flight

But, I was just a tad slow on that last one, and since I was too close to be able to crop the image at all, I missed the correct composition slightly because of being slow. I am learning that not only do you have to learn how to identify birds, you have to learn how they take flight as well. Some waterfowl, like mallards, green-winged and blue-winged teal, explode out of the water nearly vertically when they take flight. Others, such as bufflehead, ruddy ducks, and the common goldeneye…

Male common goldeneye

Male common goldeneye

…need a running start…

Female common goldeneye taking flight

Female common goldeneye taking flight

…before they can get airborne.

Male common goldeneye taking flight

Male common goldeneye taking flight

The common mergansers take a path somewhere in-between running across the water and exploding nearly straight up. No matter which approach that they take to get airborne, it helps to know which one that they use in order to be prepared to move the camera quickly, because it doesn’t take any of them very long to put a good deal of distance between themselves and a photographer that has spooked them.

Even when it comes to a common subject for me, take squirrels as an example, it pays to take multiple photos of them,  to catch them at just the right moment. I would have been happy with this one…

Fox squirrel eating an acorn

Fox squirrel eating an acorn

…but the photos became better when the squirrel turned towards me…

Fox squirrel eating an acorn

Fox squirrel eating an acorn

…and I think that this one is the best one of all, catching the squirrel with its mouth open and looking happy. And yes, that’s my reflection in the squirrel’s eye, I was that close to it.

Fox squirrel eating an acorn

Fox squirrel eating an acorn

It’s now Monday afternoon, this morning I went to the Subaru dealer to look at my new Forester, and to finalize when I can pick it up. Next Monday at 10 AM!

It sure is pretty, I much prefer the blue that I’m getting to the black one that I have now, and the little extra trim that I got on the new one does spiff it up a bit. The biggest changes are to the interior, the new one is less spartan along with being even more comfortable. I’m going to love it! Best of all, because Subarus hold their value so well, the trade in value of mine was more than the lease buy out cost. So, I’ll be getting a newer car, better equipped, with the full warranty and three years of free roadside service for less than $15 more a month than I’m paying now.

It’s an absolutely perfect early spring day, I should be outside soaking it up even more than I did earlier, but it’s time for me to get something to eat. I did go for my walk, taking my time as I did, but I didn’t take many photos, the weather was too nice! There were birds singing everywhere, but I didn’t have the heart to disturb them by trying to get close enough for a good photo. I got to the gate at the entrance the park, and sat down on the gate listening to the birds singing and the snow melting while wearing just a heavy long-sleeved T-shirt. As much as I’ve been looking forward to the arrival of spring, I had forgotten just how wonderful it is when it does arrive.

It sure didn’t feel like spring on Sunday morning when I arrived at Grand Haven, Michigan just before dawn, to shoot the sunrise if it looked good, and to search for a pair of harlequin ducks that had been seen there on Saturday.

The Grand Haven breakwater before dawn

The Grand Haven breakwater before dawn

I waited to see what the sunrise was going to look like, not worth photographing, then once it had gotten light enough, I head out onto the breakwater.

The lighthouse at Grand Haven, Michigan

The lighthouse at Grand Haven, Michigan

Here’s a close up of the ice on the side of the lighthouse, it had the appearance of an animal with its mouth open.

Ice on the lighthouse, or some prehistoric beast?

Ice on the lighthouse, or some prehistoric beast?

Being extremely careful of the ice on the breakwater, I went to the other side of the lighthouse to shoot this, hoping that the 15-85 mm lens was wide enough, it was.

The lighthouse at Grand Haven, Michigan

The lighthouse at Grand Haven, Michigan

You can see that it was a very cloudy day at that point, the clouds stuck around until mid-afternoon, not at all what the forecast called for, which was for a sunny day. It had been perfectly clear when I left home, I could see stars lighting up the early morning sky, but by the time I got to the lake, the clouds had rolled in. There were a few ducks around, but in the low light, the photos that I shot aren’t good enough for posting, and I never did see the harlequin ducks. On my way back to land, there was one sliver of color to the sunrise, as you can see here.

Just after sunrise on the Grand Haven breakwater

Just after sunrise on the Grand Haven breakwater

From there, I went to the north breakwater at Grand Haven and Harbor Island, but shot no photos worth posting. Then, it was on to Lake Harbor Park between Grand Haven and Muskegon, where I shot the mallard photos that you’ve already seen, plus these of a golden-crowned kinglet. After the good photos of one from last week, I probably shouldn’t post these, but the kinglets will be headed north soon, and I won’t see them until next winter.

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

 

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

I also shot this landscape photo while there, I hope that it’s the last one that I shoot that has snow in it for a while.

One of the trails at Lake Harbor Park

One of the trails at Lake Harbor Park

As I was leaving Lake Harbor Park, I spotted this red-shouldered hawk with a short-tailed shrew it had captured.

Red-shouldered hawk with lunch

Red-shouldered hawk with lunch

 

Red-shouldered hawk with lunch

Red-shouldered hawk with lunch

An interesting sidetone, the short-tailed shrew is one of the few species of mammals that has a venomous bite. While their venom isn’t very strong, it is enough to cause a human some distress if bites by one of these shrews. It’s amazing what birds can eat.

As you can see, the lighting was horrible, but I could not resist posting those, since I don’t get many chances to photograph red-shouldered hawks.

I suppose the same is true for this photo as well, it’s a small flock of white-winged scoters that I saw at Muskegon.

White-winged scoters

White-winged scoters

The only reason that I posted that crummy image is that I probably won’t see that species of duck again until next winter. The same applies to these two, taken the week before, the long-tailed ducks are already heading north for the summer.

Male long-tailed duck

Male long-tailed duck

 

Female long-tailed duck

Female long-tailed duck

I thought that it was the case, but I just checked to make sure, the harlequin ducks are the last species of duck that I need as I work on the My Photo Life List project that I began three years ago. It looks like I’ll have to wait until next winter to add them to the list. Oh well, I’m making good progress on the list, and if one species of ducks is all that I have left from the duck family, so be it.

That’s all the photos from the lakeshore that I have to post, so now it’s time to move closer to home. This is what it looked like around here just before the last big snow storm…

Creekside Park before the storm

Creekside Park before the storm

…and here’s the storm approaching.

The approaching storm

The approaching storm

It didn’t look like much then, but it sure did drop a lot of snow around here, nearly a foot. I didn’t make it out to shoot any photos right after the storm, but I “stole” this one from the Internet to show you what it looked like as a county snowplow cleared one of the roads after the storm.

After the snow

After the snow, March 2016

As for me, I was looking for the light at the end of the winter tunnel…

The light at the end of the tunnel

The light at the end of the tunnel

…and hoping to see a few more signs of spring.

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

 

American robin

American robin

 

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

It made 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15 C) here today, and it’s supposed to be even warmer tomorrow! The downside is scattered rain showers in the forecast for most of the coming week, with the possibility of heavier rain Tuesday and Wednesday. Between the weather, my work schedule, and the things left to be done before I pick up my new Forester, I doubt if I will make it out for a walk during the week. It was a wet, slushy, sloppy mess today, despite the fine weather, and it will only be worse if we do get the rain that’s predicted. Hopefully it will have had a chance to dry up a little before next weekend, but there’s more rain in the forecast then. We’ll see, but no matter what, not freezing my fingers off is a change that I welcome!

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

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29 responses

  1. Wow, gorgeous photos, and you know the difference between a red tail and a red shoulder. Few people know that.

    March 8, 2016 at 1:14 am

    • Thank you very much Cindy! I can also tell a sharp-shinned hawk from a Cooper’s hawk.

      March 8, 2016 at 2:31 pm

  2. Lee-Ann Conway

    amazing images, I can’t wait to see your images over the seasons, hope you do lots of gallavanting in that new car 🙂

    March 8, 2016 at 3:55 am

    • Thank you very much Lee-Ann!

      March 8, 2016 at 2:32 pm

  3. I loved the kestrel, all those wonderful pictures of water birds and the two sorts of squirrels which really made my day.

    March 8, 2016 at 3:59 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! Got to keep the squirrel lovers happy. 😉

      March 8, 2016 at 2:33 pm

  4. Very impressive photos, as they usually are on your blog. I like reading how you went about shooting them, and you certainly are much more patient and deliberate than I am. Kudos to you!

    You will like the new Forrester. I’ve test driven one and had a hard time deciding between it and the Outback, which I eventually bought.

    March 8, 2016 at 7:23 am

    • Thank you very much! It’s not that hard to sit down on a rock or stump in the weeds and wait for a waterfowl to pass by. I spot them first, see what direction they are heading, then get ahead of them. It doesn’t always work, but more often than not it does.

      March 8, 2016 at 2:35 pm

  5. Love the snowplow photo! Hope that’s the last one of those you shoot for many months.

    Think it’s a good idea to group some of the photos like you did with the jay. I wonder, though if viewing them that way uses data more like watching a video. When we’re on the road, it seems like we constantly run thru the data on our Verizon plan. I may have to save these until we’re on a free Wi-Fi somewhere.

    Good luck with your new car – I LOVE new cars.Did you buy it from Jennifer at Fox? If so, say hi to her from me.

    Hope spring does roll into Michigan this week. It’s time…..

    March 8, 2016 at 12:30 pm

    • Thank you very much Judy! I didn’t shoot the plow photo, the county sent it to Bill Steffen who posted it on his blog, and I swiped it from there.

      The slideshows are photos converted to video, so they may use more bandwidth than just the photos, sorry, I never thought of that before. I’ll have to check the file size next time.

      I love my current Forester, but the new one is much prettier, I know that I’ll love it too. I bought it from Caleb Falcom at Fox, he did me right the last time. That dealership seems to have much higher standards than any other that I’ve ever dealt with.

      March 8, 2016 at 2:40 pm

  6. Still a lot of snow up there! I enjoyed the selection of photos and the slide show. I have never seen a Fox squirrel except in photographs. They are quite beautiful.

    Keep us posted on the new Forester. I am particularly interested in any mechanical problems you run into. Longevity and low maintenance in a vehicle are important to me, especially with Seabisquit getting up there in terms of miles.

    March 8, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    • Thanks again! I though that fox squirrels were everywhere, it never occurred to me that people in the states had never seen one.

      Longevity and low maintenance are Subaru’s strong suits. I never did a thing to the Forester that I’m trading in other than the regular service, and I’m not easy on a vehicle. I expect the same from the new one as well. But, I insist on a stick shift, I’m not sold on the constant velocity transmissions yet. Subaru doesn’t seem to have problems with theirs, but lots of other manufacturers do.

      March 8, 2016 at 2:45 pm

  7. What a great selection of photos. Love the light in the tunnel and the gold-crowned kinglet is a pretty bird.

    March 8, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    • Thank you very much!

      March 9, 2016 at 12:53 am

  8. Good luck with the new car Jerry. It’ll be a while before I can swing one of those!
    I like that shot of the kestrel. That’s another bird I’ve never seen in person. But I have seen mallards and I like that shot of the female landing and making waves.
    It’s too bad you got more snow and cold. We had the cold but no snow and finally today was beautiful.
    It’s funny that in spite of your cold and snow the red winged blackbirds are back. I haven’t heard a single one here yet.
    I like the puffy robin and of course the cute squirrels.

    March 8, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    • Thanks Allen! I’m sure that the new Forester will work out well for me, I hope that there’s a Subaru in your future. 😉

      To see kestrels, look on the wires along highways, it’s their favorite way of hunting. You may see them hovering over the grassy areas along roads as well.

      The snow and cold are gone here, at least for the next few weeks, but the birds seemed to have known what was coming as far as the weather.

      March 9, 2016 at 12:57 am

  9. The mallard shots were very impressive and you must have kept very quiet to get the mergansers that close. I don’t know for sure but I suspect that you are getting the hang of photographing birds. 🙂

    March 8, 2016 at 6:48 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! Maybe someday I’ll be as good at photographing birds as you are.

      March 9, 2016 at 12:53 am

      • I wish that I had taken that picture.

        March 9, 2016 at 5:55 pm

  10. I hope you like your new car as much as (if not more than) your old one. It is always a bit risky changing cars even if you go for a similar model. I have just ordered a new car – same make but a different model – which I should be getting in April.
    So many really impressive shots – i loved the kestrel and the merganser photos and the fox squirrel’s fur just glows! How did you get that shot through the ice tunnel?

    March 8, 2016 at 9:14 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I’m sure that the new car will be fine, I’ve never heard of any one getting a bad Subaru. As for the ice tunnel, it was in a pile of snow as I walked past, and I thought that it would be a cool photo.

      March 9, 2016 at 12:52 am

      • Cool! 😀

        March 9, 2016 at 5:57 pm

  11. I can feel your joy bouncing off the page in this post, Jerry! I’m pleased you are excited about the new car, the approaching spring and your continued photography plans. Loved the excellent gallery. Wonderful variety and attention to composition and quality of image as usual. I never get sick of mallard shots. They are a beautiful bird and I particularly liked the detail and lovely browns in the female mallard landing shot. But really there are just too many awesome shots to comment on. Enjoy spring and summer! 🙂

    March 9, 2016 at 2:59 am

    • Thank you very much Jane! It’s going to be a great spring around here, it’s getting here two to three weeks sooner than average. On top of that, I’ll have a pretty new car to use when I go in search of birds. My hope is to get close enough to the birds when they’re in good light that I can go to a shorter, sharper lens to catch even more of their feather detail. I knew that crows were smarter than what people gave them credit for, but the more scientists learn about them, the smarted the crows become. 😉

      March 9, 2016 at 4:20 pm

  12. P.S. Thanks for the crow link as well. I have to agree with you. From my years spent on farms, I’ve observed some amazingly clever crow behaviour!

    March 9, 2016 at 3:13 am

  13. Agreed: wonderful shot of a kestrel! Love those adorable little raptors (not really a threat to my ducks, either!) Happy Spring!!!

    March 12, 2016 at 11:44 am

    • Thank you very much Lori!

      March 12, 2016 at 4:37 pm

  14. So many beautiful & creative photos, Jerry! Glad the Forester has arrived, time for a road trip! At least local, lol! 🙂

    March 15, 2016 at 8:57 pm

    • Thanks again Donna! A road trip with the new Forester may have to wait until there’s good weather on one of my days off from work. I don’t see one in the near future. 😦

      March 15, 2016 at 11:52 pm