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

April Fools, The signs were wrong

From all the signs, it looked like we were going to have an early spring here in West Michigan, but the signs were wrong. March may go into the record books as warmer than average, but there were also several extended cold stretches to go with the warmth. Two snowstorms which dropped large amounts of snow passed just to the north of where I live, fortunately, as I’d rather not deal with over a foot of snow at work, or at home. March was also much wetter than average, it seemed like that when the weather was warm enough to enjoy being outside, then it was raining to spoil that.

April isn’t looking much better, the forecast for the first ten days of this month are for well below average temperatures, and well above average precipitation, with some of that precipitation coming as snow, yuck!

Thankfully, while this past winter wasn’t as cold or snowy as the previous two winters were, it appears like this one is going to make up for the mild start by hanging on for an extra month.

If only every day could be like Easter Sunday was, when I had very good light and a wide variety of subjects to photograph, from large birds…

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

…to smaller birds…

Male Red-winged blackbird

Male Red-winged blackbird

 

Male Red-winged blackbird

Male Red-winged blackbird

…to some of the first flowers of the year.

Tiny white wildflowers

Tiny white wildflowers

I even found a snowy owl, one that didn’t want to pose for me.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Before I could get any closer, it took off, and was promptly attacked by one of the many red-winged blackbirds.

Snowy owl being attacked by a red-winged blackbird

Snowy owl being attacked by a red-winged blackbird

You have to admire the courage of the red-winged blackbirds, they will attack anything that enters their territory, even the large predators like the owl.

Anyway, the owl landed on a piece of the equipment at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, not my favorite setting to shoot photos, and, the owl was really out of camera range. That was a shame, as this one was more animated than most of them that I’ve seen.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

I think that it may have been panting in the heat that day, since snowy owls live in the arctic most of the year, it may have found a warm spring day here too warm.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Those two were shot with the 300 mm lens and 2 X tele-converter, and cropped quite a bit. I put the Tamron 1.4 X tele-converter behind the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) to get a little closer.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

That was last weekend, on Sunday of this week, this is what I woke up to.

April Fools Day snow

April Fools Day snow

While a couple of inches of snow is really no big deal, and it was beautiful, I really didn’t feel like trudging through it, since it is April, and we’re supposed to be done with the white stuff by now.

Actually, that isn’t true, we do have some snow in April of most years, but here in Michigan, we’ve dealt with so much snow for so long, that we feel as if the snow should be done with by April. This is the reality of April in Michigan.

Daffodils and snow

Daffodils and snow

So, with the weather forecast for the day calling for clouds and possibly more snow here where I live, but a warm front just to the south where I’d find less snow, more sun,  and much warmer temperatures, I decided that a road trip was in order.

It was an amazing day weather-wise, with a temperature difference of over 30 degrees Fahrenheit (15 C) in less than 100 miles (160 KM) in distance. Just to the north of where I live, it never got more than a few degrees above freezing and they did get more snow. To the south, where I went, it turned out to be a pleasant, although very windy, day, with plenty of sunshine as the day wore on. The wind proved bothersome, but it was much better than snow. I would have liked to have gotten a better photo of the daffodils, but the wind whipping them around made it impossible.

Still, it was good to see some green grass as another sign that spring will eventually get here.

Early spring in southwest Michigan

Early spring in southwest Michigan

Beside the weather, another reason that I decided to head south was to photograph the lighthouse at South Haven, Michigan…

South Haven, Michigan lighthouse

South Haven, Michigan lighthouse

…and I climbed a dune there for this photo.

Lake Michigan near South Haven, Michigan

Lake Michigan near South Haven, Michigan

Yes, that’s my brand new pretty blue Subaru in the parking lot, I couldn’t resist it. 😉 That photo also serves as a reminder of why I go to the Lake Michigan beaches during the colder months. In the summer, that parking lot would be full, with thousands of people walking the beach and the dunes.

Anyway, the other lighthouse that I wanted to photograph is the one at the twin cities of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, Michigan. When I arrived there, I found that the lighthouse was undergoing so repair, so the composition that I liked best…

The lighthouse at Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, Michigan

The lighthouse at Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, Michigan

…included the equipment being used during the repairs, so I settled on a tight shot.

The lighthouse at Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, Michigan

The lighthouse at Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, Michigan

Since those two lighthouses aren’t as photogenic as many of the others in Michigan, I didn’t put much effort into the photos, and it shows. Oh well, I’ve crossed them off from my list of lighthouses in Michigan to photograph.

Along the way, I stopped at two state parks, Warren Dunes and Grand Mere to check them out, along with a host of smaller parks and nature preserves that I found during my trip, another reason that I headed south for a change. While most of them showed some promise as far as being places that could yield some good photos, the reality is that I probably won’t return except under similar weather conditions. While I didn’t run into many people on this day, during nicer weather, people escaping from Chicago crowd our southwestern Michigan parks since they are so close.

I have one more landscape photo to add, even though it’s not very good.

Grand Mere State Park in the background

Grand Mere State Park in the background

That one sort of sums up the landscapes in southern Michigan. I checked several locations out, trying to find a good view of the towing dunes in Grand Mere State Park, that was the best that I could do. In the foreground is the access road that leads to I-94, the expressway that runs between Detroit, Michigan, and Chicago, Illinois, which you can also see in the photo. There’s a sliver of the green waters of Lake Michigan, a small patch of blue water from one of the inland lakes there, and trees everywhere. Try as I did, I couldn’t find an opening in the trees anywhere from where I could see the dunes but not the expressway.

I’ve driven past that spot hundreds of times for work, and had never noticed the dunes before, because the expressway is down in the valley so one can’t see over the trees. It doesn’t help that I get frustrated and choose the wrong lens when I get to a spot like that. Because I chose to shoot with a wide-angle lens, the dunes in the background look less impressive that they really are. If I had used a short telephoto lens, I would have been able to convey how tall and steep the dunes are, but then, I wouldn’t have gotten more than one dune in the frame at a time, nor the inland lake or Lake Michigan. I really need to think those scenes out better before shooting poor photos like that.

I was at the lake that you can just make out in that photo, and the dunes were hidden from view by the trees. But, while at the lake, I shot a few good photos of a flicker.

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

 

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

You can tell that it was bit breezy in this next photo.

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Earlier, on my way to the lighthouse in South Haven, I found a kestrel to photograph poorly.

American kestrel in flight

American kestrel in flight

It was hovering over an open field in a city park, right in town. That’s the other great thing about Michigan, wildlife is almost always close by, even in the cities.

American kestrel in flight

American kestrel in flight

I had driven the back roads down along Lake Michigan until I was only a few miles from Indiana, I decided to take a different route home, heading inland, or east, for a while before turning north again. That’s farm country in Michigan, and I was hoping to find waterfowl feeding in the flooded portions of the farm fields. I did, mostly bufflehead…

Male bufflehead

Male bufflehead

…mallards…

Mallards

Mallards

…and Canada geese.

Canada goose

Canada goose

I was hoping to find a flock of a species of goose that I need for the My Photo Life List project, and at one point, I thought that I had…

Domestic X Mallard hybrids

Domestic X Mallard hybrids

…but they turned out to be domestic ducks that had some mallard in them.

I did see quite a few sandhill cranes, but only one close enough for a fair photo.

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

One of the flooded areas held a pair of wood ducks…

Wood ducks

Wood ducks

…here’s the male…

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

…and the female.

Female wood duck

Female wood duck

It’s amazing the way that they can stick to the shady areas when it was such a sunny day by then, but they are good at not being seen.

That wraps up my trip to the southwestern corner of Michigan. I’m very glad that I decided to take this little road trip, as other than for work, it’s a part of the state that I’ve never visited before. I found some good birding spots, but I doubt if I’ll ever return, unless there’s a similar day as far as the weather. They may be good birding spots, but no better than those closer to where I live. The scenery was better than I had expected, but still not as good as farther to the north, and I relate better to the scenery of northern Michigan, and fewer people there as well.

Oh, one more thing, on my way back home, there was a detour because a very large tree had blown over in the very strong wind that day, completely blocking the road. The detour was no big deal, I only mention the incident because of the wind, so even with sunshine and warmer temperatures, it wasn’t that nice of a day.

It’s mid-afternoon on Monday as I’m working on this part of this post, and the temperature finally climbed above the freezing mark for the day. There were snowflakes in the air as I ran some errands earlier today, and they continued to fall as I kept an eye out for the UPS driver. He’s been here, to deliver the faster, higher capacity memory cards for my cameras that I’ll need while I’m on vacation next month. One of my errands this morning was to the Subaru dealer to pick-up new roof racks for my brand new pretty blue Subaru, as the ones from my old Subaru didn’t fit the new one.

I’m now just about all set for my vacation next month, if the weather will cooperate. I sure hope that it isn’t like two years ago, when there were still a few piles of snow in the woods, and drifts of snow left along the highways.

Well, it’s now very early Thursday, before I head off to work. The weather hasn’t improved even a smidgen, and it may even be worse this upcoming weekend. It may not get above freezing here on Saturday, which is okay in a way, since I have to work. But the forecast for both Sunday and Monday, when I don’t have to work, the forecast is for rain and snow mixed, more yuck! We’ve had at least a trace of snow every day so far in April, and more snow for the month than we got in December. I’m not sure what, if anything, that I’ll do this weekend, I’ll try to think of something.

Luckily, I have a few photos from around home left to fill out this post, from when I thought that spring had arrived.

Song sparrow singing

Song sparrow singing

The weather this year hasn’t fooled just the humans, but the birds as well. When I read through the rare bird alerts that I receive, they are almost totally species of birds that are arriving back here much earlier than they normally do, not some rare migrant that isn’t typically seen in Michigan.

Take this fellow…

Eastern towhee

Eastern towhee

…he arrived here well over a month before that species normally does. I’m sorry about the poor photo with the brush in the way, but I heard him singing and didn’t have much time to get a photo before some one walking their dog would spook the towhee away, as I saw them coming as I was looking for this guy. That’s exactly what happened, as expected, the towhee went even deeper into the brush as the person walking their dog got closer.

That brings up another point, I’m going to have to find better places to shoot photos of birds, without as many humans around, if I’m going to take the time to set-up a hide to try to get closer to the birds. That will  mean getting off the beaten path more often to find places where it would be worthwhile to set-up a hide and just sit for hours. Eventually, I may end up doing species specific set-ups where my goal is to get the best possible photos of one species, then move on to another species later. But, I’ll have more thoughts on this in later posts, for now, a few more photos to wrap this post up.

Witch hazel

Witch hazel

 

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

 

Eastern meadowlark

Eastern meadowlark

 

Eastern meadowlark

Eastern meadowlark

 

Common grackle

Common grackle

 

Common grackle

Common grackle

Another day of mixed rain and snow driven by strong cold winds out of the north, still more yuck! That’s the forecast for the entire weekend as well, however, things may begin to improve around here towards the middle of next week. I sure hope so, this last blast of winter (I hope) sure has been a cruel April Fools joke on all of us who were looking for spring.

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

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20 responses

  1. That shot of the bird in the wind was special. I liked the redwinged blackbird and your shot of the daffodils in the snow. Hope the weather improves soon.

    April 8, 2016 at 3:09 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! Big changes in the weather are on the way for next week, hopefully I can shoot some good photos then.

      April 8, 2016 at 11:28 pm

  2. We’re experiencing the same type of weather here in central Ohio. It’s been hard to find a window just to go for a walk without getting drenched, frozen, or blown over.

    April 8, 2016 at 5:33 am

    • Thank you very much Bob! I hope that we both see better weather soon.

      April 8, 2016 at 11:29 pm

  3. Loved the Flicker shots. So sorry to hear your weather is yucky. On the other hand, I’ve been complaining because it’s turning hot way too early out here! Can’t please everyone I suppose!

    April 8, 2016 at 1:48 pm

    • Thank you very much Gunta! No, the weather seldom pleases every one, hopefully things will change for both our areas soon.

      April 8, 2016 at 11:31 pm

  4. It sounds like we have the same weather this spring. I’ve never seen so much wind and we got about 5 inches of snow and temps in the teens too. Birds weren’t the only ones fooled either-many flowers went to the cold. Oh well, it has to warm up eventually.
    The shots of the flicker and snowy owl are excellent, and I also like the daffodils in the snow even though the two don’t really belong together.
    I remember last year when you climbed some dunes. I don’t know if these are the same ones but I remember being amazed by how big they were.
    They were huge!
    I hope you (and we) will see some spring weather before summer gets here.

    April 8, 2016 at 5:43 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! It has been an up and down spring so far, with the weather fooling plants, birds, and people. 😉 No, I never photographed these particular dunes before. The dunes along Lake Michigan are like a long, thin, miniature mountain chain that run from Indiana most of the length of the lake. I don’t know if I would call piles of sand 600 feet high huge or not though. 😉

      April 8, 2016 at 11:53 pm

  5. Well done for making the correct weather related call. I almost always get these things wrong.

    April 8, 2016 at 6:18 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! Every one gets lucky now and then, this was one of those times for me.

      April 8, 2016 at 11:32 pm

  6. Jerry, you have in a few days found more different birds and ducks than I ever could in an entire year. That Snowy Owl has eluded me this year, even though I had to hike 7 miles one day to try and find it. Your photos are fabulous, perfect!

    April 8, 2016 at 6:59 pm

    • Thank you very much! I’m fortunate to live in an area that has a wide variety of birds, and blessed with great eyesight that helps me find them.

      April 8, 2016 at 11:36 pm

  7. I am sorry your weather is so unpleasant – I hope this really is the last of the snow and temperatures improve next week. I enjoyed this post because of the variety of birds you have included – I especially like the Canada Goose shot and the Flicker photos. Even though you weren’t particularly pleased with your landscape shots they did give me some idea of the type of country you live in and drive through which is fascinating for me.

    April 8, 2016 at 7:00 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I need to stop letting my frustrations with not being able to shoot the landscape photos that I would like to from preventing me from shooting better ones that would really show the subtle beauty of Michigan.

      April 8, 2016 at 11:41 pm

  8. I really enjoyed seeing more of Michigan and also this wonderful collection of birds. The witchhazel is lovely and I especially like the pretty blue sheen of your common grackles. My favourites are the lighthouse and the snowy owl shots though. The way the face feathers are fluffed out makes the owls look like they are laughing/smirking at you! Beautiful work! So sorry your weather has been bad again. Here it is still hot – about 32-33C and blue skies! The maximums are 5C above normal so it seems we are getting odd weather too. 🙂

    April 9, 2016 at 6:11 am

    • Thank you very much Jane! It looks like we have about turned the corner here, and that the weather will begin to improve the next few days. This snowy owl had a very expressive face, I wish that I had been able to get closer to it to get some better photos.

      April 10, 2016 at 3:38 am

  9. Stunning array of photos, Jerry, so many I love, I wouldn’t be able to pick just one favorite! We’re all hoping this crazy weather to date is almost over and Spring really will be here to stay! 🙂

    April 9, 2016 at 7:30 pm

    • Thank you very much Donna! It looks like a warm up is in store for us soon, I hope that it works it’s way to your area as well.

      April 10, 2016 at 3:40 am

  10. All great photos, Jerry! I love the owl – he really is expressive. Redwing blackbirds are always a favorite as well. Their call, along with the call of the cardinal, was one of the first bird calls I learned to recognize as a child.

    April 10, 2016 at 7:12 pm

    • Thank you very much Lavinia! I wish that the snowy owls were full time residents here, but only a few show up for the winters, so I have to make the best of the opportunities that I do get.

      April 10, 2016 at 7:29 pm