Finding Waldo

December 9, 2019

I’ve been traipsing about on and off for the last week or so looking for interesting things to photograph, but it’s not always easy here in Michigan during the winter months. The trees are bare and the sky is often cloudy. Some days it feels like spring, other days it feels like Siberia. Usually I can dress for the weather and still take pictures —unless it’s raining. Like today. I don’t mind getting wet, but my camera sure does!

One of hundreds of Canada Geese at the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary

Yesterday, by contrast, it was cold and windy– but good enough for a picture walk. My destination: Kellogg Bird Sanctuary. This sanctuary is home to a large number of ducks and swans and geese who like to hang out along the edges of Wintergreen Lake and create a tremendous racket with all their honking and quacking and squabbling.

The whooper swan, also known as the common swan, pronounced hooper swan, is a large northern hemisphere swan.
It is the Eurasian counterpart of the North American trumpeter swan,

On any given day at the sanctuary, you can find hundreds of mallards waddling about on the grass or dabbling about in the lake. They are great socializers and mingle freely among the hundreds of Canada Geese and dozens of swans who also call the bird sanctuary home. It was against this backdrop that I played my duck version of ‘Where’s Waldo?’, the game where you have to find a cartoon type character dressed in a red and white striped shirt hidden among hundreds of other characters and objects that look frustratingly similar.

Mallards Mingling

In the duck version of ‘Where’s Waldo?’ I was looking for a lone duck, among the hundreds of mallards, that was not like the others, — maybe a Gadwall or a Wigeon or a Wood Duck.  An ‘odd duck’ like this is very hard to find among so many mallards. But yesterday, I found my ‘Waldo’—and his wife! (I knew it was his wife because he made an unexpected conjugal visit right in the middle of the lake while I was trying to take a family-friendly, G-rated photo!) The ducks I was looking at were totally new to me and I just kept snapping pictures so I could, hopefully,  identify them later.

‘Waldo’
‘Waldo’s’ Wife
‘Waldo’s’ conjugal visit in the middle of the lake. That’s Mrs. Waldo underneath his beak!

In spite of all the resources I had available, however, I could not identify these two ducks–not as a particular breed anyway. What I should have realized sooner rather than later, though, was that these two birds were mallard cross breeds.

The Happy Couple

After reading up on mallards a little bit, I learned that there are many different ducks in the ‘mallard family’ and those ducks are able to breed with one another. The offspring of these unions would then be referred to as a ‘cross breeds” by some or ‘hybrids’ by others.

The bird that we commonly call a ‘mallard’ can mate with domestic ducks as well as Northern Pintails, American Black Ducks, American Wigeons, Northern Shovelers, Cinnamon Teals, Green-winged Teals and Gadwalls.

I still don’t know what mallard mix produced the birds I saw today, but they certainly were an interesting pair!

Swimming on the Wrong Side of the Sun

November 25, 2019

Male Northern Shoveler at the Muskegon County Wastewater site
I love their huge beaks!

Almost all the snow had melted from our big, unexpected snowfall on November 13th when my husband and I decided to take advantage of an unusually ‘balmy’ day for a picture walk. Temperatures were expected to be in the low 40’s– a relative heat wave compared to what we had been experiencing and it wasn’t supposed to rain or snow! So we headed up to the Muskegon County Wastewater Treatment Plant to see what we could find. With all of it’s man-made ponds, the wastewater site is a great place for birding!

A lovely pair of Mallards
A well-camouflaged Wilson’s Snipe at the Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery

Until a few years ago, neither of us had any idea that a wastewater treatment site could be a great place to find birds. On our first visit there two years ago, we got to see an elusive Snowy Owl and were really hoping to see another one. What we found instead were tons of Northern Shovelers, a few Ruddy Ducks, the usual cluster of Mallards, lots of Buffleheads, a few Lesser Scaups, and a boatload of Geese and Gulls. Many of the birds we saw, however, were too far out in the water to get a decent shot, or they were swimming along the edges on the wrong side of the sun!

Killdeer at the Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery
Juvenile Bald Eagle flying overhead at the Muskegon Wastewater site
Juvenile Bald Eagle and an adult Bald Eagle cavorting overhead
at the Muskegon Wastewater site

It’s a real challenge this time of year to even get out of the house and take pictures let alone find something interesting to photograph. The weather always plays a role in my decision making and it’s often too cold, too wet or too icy to go mucking about with expensive camera equipment. The upside, though, to winter photography is freshly fallen snow. It provides the perfect backdrop for all the birds who are out and about braving the elements along with you– and the bare trees make them infinitely more visible!

A beautiful Carolina Wren singing its heart out behind our house.
House Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Tufted Titmouse

In spite of the vagaries of winter weather, I usually manage to get out for a picture walk on most of our winter days. More often than not, though, I lug my camera around for hours without finding much of anything. Fortunately, I’m easily entertained and all it really takes to keep me going, is one good shot — whether it’s a tiny wren, a solitary eagle, a wild turkey or even a common duck (just as long as it’s not swimming around on the wrong side of the sun!).

Juvenile Mute Swan in the waning sun
I love all the different colors and textures of the feathers on this wild turkey! (Kensington Metropark, Milford MI)
Three Amigos heading out of town before Thanksgiving!

The Wonder of It All

November 13, 2019

In the past two weeks, we have gone from balmy t-shirt weather to sub-freezing arctic temperatures and 5 inches of snow! For towns closer to Lake Michigan, it has been more like 24 inches!! Totally crazy weather for sure, but amazingly beautiful— that is if you don’t have to drive in it, shovel it, or survive in it! There have been multiple car pile-ups all over the state and I am quite thankful that I have been able to enjoy most of this ‘bad weather’ from the comfort of my home.

November 3rd: Fall colors at WMU’s Business Technology and Research Park
November 4th: An inviting path in Parkview Hills

It’s not snowing here at the moment, but it’s only 12 degrees with a wind chill of 7! I’m sitting at home all cozy and warm debating about whether I even want to go outside and take pictures!

November 7th: Northern Shoveler at Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery with just a hint of snow
November 7th: Snow starting to fall

It’s not that I don’t love taking wintertime pictures, it’s just that there are so many challenges–  mostly how to stay warm. What hat to wear? Which jacket to don? How many layers will be good enough? Then, after all those decisions are made, what’s the best way to keep my ‘shooting’ finger warm? I don’t need to have my pointer finger exposed to press the shutter, but I do need to have it bare in order to change the settings on my camera. I’ve tried all different kinds of special mittens and gloves to address the problem, but with limited success. Recently, though, I’ve discovered that if I wear the right jacket, and I stuff my gloved hand into a warm pocket between shots, I can keep my finger (and its nearby friends) reasonably warm.

A lovely Tufted Titmouse
November 12th: Black-capped Chickadee amidst a heavy snowfall

When it’s this cold outside, the hardest decision really is whether to even leave my very comfy chair, my hot cup of tea and my very warm fire– especially when all the birds I really need to see are right outside my window—dark eyed juncos, cardinals, house finches, house sparrows, red-winged blackbirds, tufted titmice, goldfinches, bluejays, red-bellied woodpeckers, black-capped chickadees, robins, downy woodpeckers and nuthatches. So why leave?

For the wonder of it all, I guess.

November 13th: One of the many deer who let me pass by without running away

There’s always something that surprises me, or moves me, or causes me to wonder. Today it was the deer that let me pass by without being frightened, and the Red-tailed Hawk that landed in a nearby tree, and the White-throated Sparrow that was almost close enough to touch. I never cease to be amazed by it all– so I keep going out, even when it’s too cold to blink.

One of my deer friends giving me a pass.

A Photography Addiction

It’s Friday November 1st and it’s freezing outside—literally. My weather app says it’s 31 degrees and it feels like 23!  Yikes! Less than two weeks ago, it was so sunny and warm that we were out walking in shorts and t-shirts! Michigan weather is like that– happy one day, miserable the next.

Shooting in the cold–three layers on my head, three on my body (and it isn’t even winter yet!!)
Great Blue Heron
Trumpeter Swans flying over the Fall colors at Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery

In spite of the vagaries of Michigan weather, I’ve had a surprising number of opportunities to squeeze in a picture walk here and there. When it looked like I only had an hour or two between bouts of rain, I’d stay close to home and visit the business park next door, or the nearby woods where we live, or the preserve across the street. When there was a bigger window of opportunity, I’d venture further afield to the fish hatchery, the nature center, or the bird sanctuary.

Eastern Bluebird
Eastern Towhee
White-throated Sparrow

Once the season changes from warm summer days to fall and winter chilliness, it gets harder and harder for me to find things to photograph. When I was out at the fish hatchery the other day, for example, it took me forever to spot the well-camouflaged snipes, yellowlegs and killdeer out on the mudflats. It also took me beyond forever to pick out the Northern Shovelers swimming among the mallards in the adjacent pond. From a distance, those birds all looked the same. It was kind of like a ‘Where’s Waldo’ search– but without Waldo’s brightly colored clothes!

Bluejay
Black-capped Chickadee
American Robin

I enjoy the challenge, though, of trying to find things. It’s a big part of what makes photography such an addictive hobby. When I am concentrating on finding an elusive bird or insect or mammal, there’s no more room in my brain for anything else–like today’s politics or the devastating effects of climate change or the well being of my friends and family.  So I keep going back for more, for another ‘fix’, as often as I can.

Wilson’s Snipes on the mudflats at the Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery
Taking pictures on Lake Michigan in 30mph winds on October 23, 2019
Kiteboarding on Lake Michigan

Over the last couple of years, I’ve wondered exactly how much of an addiction to photography I really have. How many pictures does it take to qualify as an addiction? a thousand? Five thousand?? I know that I take a lot, but what, exactly, is a lot?

Lesser Yellowlegs in the Fall light

There are several different websites you can go to where you can determine how many ‘shutter actuations’, or pictures you have taken, for any given camera. I’ve had my current camera, a Nikon D5600, for exactly 2 years and I’m the only one who’s uses it. As of September 2019, I’ve apparently taken 109,510 pictures!! That’s a lot of pictures by any standard I expect! In fact, Nikon says that the shutter expectancy for my particular camera was met when I’d reached 100,000 pictures!

I’m going to guess, that If there’s a standard by which one qualifies as an addict, this is probably it!

Cedar Waxwing
White Tail Deer
Beautiful Fall colors!

The Best of October

October 12, 2019

I’ve been posting nature stories and pictures on Facebook almost daily for close to three years now. What I have really enjoyed are the ‘memories’ that pop up from ‘one year ago today’ or ‘two years ago today’, or ‘three years ago today’. By looking at the same date in multiple years, I’m getting a better idea of what birds and insects I can expect to find in the spring and summer,  which ones will have already left by fall, and which brave souls will stay here all winter. I am also learning which birds are likely to be migrating through our area during the spring and fall and where I might find them.

Of course, Mother Nature has had a big roll to play in what I might see and when I might see it. October has always been a fickle month here, with great variations in the weather– hot one day and cold the next. It can rain cats and dogs on Monday and blanket us in snow on Tuesday. We just never know what we’re going to get.

The hot days seem to be getting hotter and more frequent, though. We’ve had temperatures in the 80s in October which is not normal and doesn’t bode well for the future. Unfortunately, we are also seeing extremes like this (and much worse) across the globe, the effects of which have already been profound and devastating for the birds and other creatures we share our planet with. I hope it’s not too late for us to right the wrongs we’ve inflicted.

Wilson’s Snipes

When looking back on all my nature related posts from the last three years, I was somewhat surprised to see how often the exact same things showed up on almost the exact same dates—like the Wilson’s Snipes I found the other day. They have arrived at the Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery on or around October 9th for the last three years that I’ve been paying attention. Other birds that have shown up around the same time have been the Lesser Yellowlegs, the Killdeer, and the Sandpipers. I expect there are others, but these are the ones I have a photographic record of.

Sandhill Crane
Great Blue Heron

Looking back over three years of pictures and posts was a fun but challenging activity. It was a good way for me to see patterns and to reminisce about the nature preserves and sanctuaries I love to visit. Deciding which pictures to leave out was difficult– there were so many that represented ‘the best of October’ that I had a hard time choosing. And even though there seems to be an excessive number of pictures here, I really did leave most of them on the cutting floor!

Differential Grasshopper
Bullfrog
Great White Egret
White-breasted Nuthatch
Painted Turtles
American Robin
Squirrel
Red-tailed Hawk
Crayfish and Bullfrog
Great Blue Heron
“That’s All Folks!”

Saying Goodbye to Summer

September 27, 2019

When I looked at the calendar to see how long it had been since Mel and I had returned from our vacation in Colorado, I was surprised to see that it hadn’t even been two weeks—It seems like forever ago!

It was so much fun being someplace else and finding new things to photograph like the elk in Estes Park, the Pelicans in Ft. Collins and the Clark’s Nutcracker in the Rocky Mountains. Coming home was a stark reminder of how quickly we are moving towards winter.

Black-legged Meadow Katydid

This Katydid was such a pleasant surprise! I rarely find them because they usually blend in so well with their environment. This one stuck out like a sore thumb!

When I go out for picture walks now, it’s much harder to find birds, butterflies and dragonflies. The birds I am seeing now are mostly Goldfinches, Eastern Phoebes and Cedar Waxwings. In the butterfly department, I’m still seeing a few of the bright orange Monarchs, an occasional Silver Spotted Skipper, some Clouded Sulphurs and Orange Sulphurs, and a plethora of the little Cabbage Whites. A small assortment of dragonflies are still hanging around, especially the beautiful red Autumn Meadowhawks– and occasionally I see a Halloween Pennant or a Slaty Blue, but the dragonflies are few and far between these days.

One very pleasant surprise this past week was a fox. I rarely see them and I’ve never gotten a picture until this one. I’ve also seen a couple of bald eagles –which is always a thrill, but I’ve not been able to get a good picture, they’re always too high in the sky!

A rare sighting for me, a beautiful Red Fox
I love seeing the Sandhill Cranes up close at Kensington Metro Park
I always enjoy finding a pile of turtles. So often they slip into the water before I can get a picture!
I don’t see these critters very often either, spiny softshell turtles.
The deer near our home are fairly used to people so I’m often able to get close enough for a good shot.
Female Wood Duck and a Blue-winged Teal
The Autumn Meadowhawks are in great abundance this time of year!
This is a giant puffball, an edible mushroom that can be found in the woods this time of year. I’ve taken these mushrooms home before and fried them up, but they don’t have much flavor.
The acorn on top of this puffball is there just to show the relative size of this giant mushroom.
It won’t be long before all my froggy friends will be going into a state of hibernation for the winter.
I just loved the background colors, the blue of the water and the crisp reflections in this picture.
There are still a few monarchs hanging around to brighten up the fading landscape.

Even though it saddens me to say goodbye to summer and its warm sunny days, there are things I look forward to with the coming of winter– like sitting in front of the fire with a cup of tea and a good book, or walking outside into the very first snowfall, or finding an unexpected bird weathering the elements in the middle of January. There’s always something to look forward to, but sometimes, on the coldest, darkest days of winter, I have to look really, really hard!!

I had no idea that Great Blue Herons hung out here in Michigan in the wintertime!
I was totally surprised to find this ‘summertime bird’ standing in the snow

Colorado Rocky Mountain High

Mel and I have just returned from a vacation in Colorado where we both enjoyed pursuing our passions—fly fishing for him, nature photography for me.

August 28-29

Hitchcock Nature Center, Honey Creek, Iowa

Our four day, twelve hundred mile car journey from Michigan to Colorado took us through the states of  Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. According to Google Maps, it’s only a 16 hour journey— that is if you don’t stop to sleep or eat or go to the bathroom! We did all of the aforementioned, plus took a side trip to Honey Creek Iowa where we spent two days in a cozy little cabin on the grounds of the Hitchcock Nature Center. While at the nature center, we took pictures walks along the  Fox Ridge Run Trail and the Boardwalk Trail.

Great Spangled Fritillary on Field Thistle

August 30- September 2

Ft. Collins, Colorado

From Honey Creek, Iowa we headed through Nebraska to Fort Collins, our first Colorado destination.

Fort Collins is well known for its excellent fly fishing opportunities and a multitude of natural areas to explore. Over the course of our stay in Fort Collins, Mel went fishing several places along the Cache La Poudre River, while I took picture walks along the Hewlett Gulch Trail, the Fossil Creek Reservoir (twice) and at the Colorado State University Annual Trial Flower Garden. Mel joined me for picture walks on one of my visits to the reservoir and at the university flower garden.

Cache La Poudre River where Mel was fishing
(He took this picture while he was fishing and you can see the tip of his rod in the lower right corner.)
I was surprised to find White Pelicans in Colorado!
This one, as well as hundreds of others were hanging out at the Fossil Creek Reservoir in Fort Collins
Red-legged Grasshopper– one of hundreds at the Fossil Creek Reservoir
Barn Swallows waiting to be fed!
Fossil Creek Reservoir is a huge tract of land! That’s me in the lower left corner!

Beautiful flowers and butterflies from the Colorado State Annual Trial Garden…

Painted Lady butterfly

September 3-5

Estes Park, Colorado

As soon as we arrived in Estes Park, Mel headed to the fishing shops and I headed out looking for pictures to take. Surprisingly, the Knoll-Willows Nature Preserve is right in town and only a stone’s throw from where we parked! Within a minute or so of commencing my walk, I spotted a huge bull elk lounging in the underbrush along the edge of the preserve! A little farther down the sidewalk, were several of his girlfriends. Apparently, elk are a very common sight right in Estes Park!

Bull Elk lounging around right in downtown Estes Park!
Hmmm. No dogs allowed. What’s up with that??
“Hey, good lookin’, what’s cookin’?”

In front of the Visitor’s Center at Estes Park, the Hummingbird Moths and the Hummingbirds were a delight to watch…

Sunset in the Rocky Mountains
California Poppy

September 5, 2019

Rocky Mountain National Park to Steamboat Springs

We spent the day driving through the scenic, breathtaking Rocky Mountain National Park to reach our second Colorado destination, Steamboat Springs. Mel and I stopped several times through the mountain route to take in all the spectacular views– but I never took any scenery pictures (they tend to be disappointing compared to the real thing), preferring instead to look for the smaller things like birds and butterflies and mammals.

Clark’s Nutcracker
(Clark’s Nutcrackers are mainly found in mountains at altitudes of 3,000–12,900 ft in conifer forests.)
Gold-mantled Ground Squirrel in the Rocky Mountains
This little critter looks a lot like a chipmunk but is much bigger– kind of like a chipmunk on steroids!

September 5-9

Steamboat Springs, Colorado

While Mel went fishing in the Yampa River, I went walking along the Yampa River Trail, a 7.5 mile multi-use trail that runs through the heart of Steamboat Springs and along the Yampa River. Along that trail, I found other points of interest like the Rotary Park Boardwalk and the Yampa Botanic Park, both of which were wonderful places for a quiet retreat as well as multiple picture opportunities.

Yampa River
Black-billed Magpie along the Yampa River Trail
Coronis Fritillary (I think) on coneflower

On one of the days that Mel didn’t go fishing, we took a drive up to Fish Creek Falls together for a picture walk and later spent hours at the Yampa Botanic Garden taking pictures of all the beautiful flowers, birds and visiting insects.

White-lined Sphinx Moth (or Hummingbird Moth) in the Yampa Botanic Garden
Townsend’s Warbler up near Fish Creek Falls

Stunning flowers from the Yampa Botanic Garden…

Mel fishing the Yampa River

September 9-12

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Colorado Springs was our last destination in Colorado and we made the best of the time we had. As soon as we arrived on the afternoon of the 9th, we went for a picture walk in Palmer Park on a trail that turned out to be rockier and slipperier than we expected. Not many pictures got taken—we were too busy watching our footing!

Cassin’s Vireo (I think)
One of the few pictures I took at Palmer Park because I was too busy watching my footing!

The following morning we headed out to the Garden of the Gods, which is known for its enormous, awe-inspiring geologic formations, including tall rock spires or hoodoos, and steep cliffs. It’s a major tourist attraction and well worth the visit.

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs
Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs
Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

After our visit to Garden of the Gods, Mel dropped me off at the Bear Creek Nature Center to take pictures all afternoon while he explored the fishing shops, bookstores and coffee shops around Colorado Springs.

Rock Wren at Bear Creek Nature Center

On Wednesday, our last full day in Colorado, Mel dropped me off at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo where I spent a delightful five and a half hours taking almost 800 pictures of the zoo animals and of the native birds that were flitting about in the nearby trees!

Baby Wallaby in his mama’s pouch– one of my favorite pictures from the zoo
This baby wallaby is around 7 months old and barely fits in the pouch anymore!
Here you see his head and legs sticking out!
Mom and baby wallaby hanging out together
The Wallaby baby hopped around for a few minutes before scurrying back to the safety of his mother’s pouch.

The meerkats were great fun to watch. They are both curious and comical!

“What’s up, buttercup??”
The meerkat on the right walked into the scene, laid down and decided to strike this rather suggestive pose!
Their antics were so much fun to watch!
Moose
I had been hoping to see a moose in the wild in Colorado, but this is the closest I got!
Parakeets in the Budgie House at the zoo.
Okapi
Also known as the forest giraffe, Congolese giraffe, or zebra giraffe, native to Africa.
A young warthog (native of Africa)
Red River Hog– native of Africa

The best part of going on vacation, besides getting away from every day routines, is finding things I’ve never seen before (and taking pictures!), eating things I’ve never tried before and meeting new people I’ve never met before.