I am a 72 year old retired teacher with an avid interest in hiking and photography. I am not a professional photographer, but spend almost every day exploring the natural world and taking pictures and honing my skills. When I review the pictures I have taken, I love researching information about the things I have found-- and then sharing my results with others. The time I have spent walking in the woods (including 4 months on the Appalachian Trail at 68) has always been somewhat therapeutic. When I added photography to the mix a few years ago, it quadrupled the therapeutic effect! Opening pictures on my computer at the end of the day is like opening presents. There are always surprises! It allows me to see so many details that were not visible to my naked eye! I have learned so many new things about birds and bugs, reptiles and mammals that I never knew before--and I have also found, that when I share with others, I invariably learn something new!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!!
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.
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.
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.
Beautiful flowers and butterflies from the Colorado State Annual Trial Garden…
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!
In front of the Visitor’s Center at Estes Park, the Hummingbird Moths and the Hummingbirds were a delight to watch…
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.
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.
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.
Stunning flowers from the Yampa Botanic Garden…
Colorado Springs, 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!
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.
After our visit to Garden of the Gods, Mel dropped me off at the Bear CreekNature Center to take pictures all afternoon while he explored the fishing shops, bookstores and coffee shops around Colorado Springs.
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!
The meerkats were great fun to watch. They are both curious and comical!
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.
It’s been a productive and surprising picture week—and it’s only Thursday! On some of the days this week, I ‘tripled up’ and went to three different places in one day! So I had hundreds and hundreds of pictures to go through, all of which needed cropping, editing and sorting—or deleting! It’s an enjoyable process, but time consuming.
My favorite part of the editing process is looking at the pictures on my computer screen and seeing everything up close. I’ve found some of the most surprising things during this process– like learning that dragonflies will eat each other and that they are sometimes covered with miniscule mites, that butterflies can still fly in spite of missing much of their wing mass and that our fair state of Michigan has cuckoos (or maybe that isn’t such a surprise!!).
This past week was filled with a variety of other kinds of surprises as well. I found out that just by standing on my back deck taking pictures, I could ‘capture’ more birds than I ever could on a picture walk! In just two hours, I photographed fourteen different kinds birds! If I had waited longer, I expect that all the neighborhood birds would have eventually come by for a portrait shoot!
On my way home from a different kind of photo shoot, I was surprised to find a young red-tailed hawk down on the ground beside a busy road. As soon as I could find a place to park, I went back to see what I could do. Since I had neither a towel nor a box to rescue the bird with, I called my husband to see if he could help. We were hoping to take the bird to a local bird rehab specialist. Fortunately, when Mel arrived and subsequently approached the hawk to cover it up and put it in a box, the bird was able to fly into a nearby tree! It wasn’t going to need a trip to rehab after all!
Another surprise was the weird looking duck I saw at the Bernard W. Baker Sanctuary in Bellvue, Michigan. I had been hoping the bird was one I hadn’t seen before, but when I got home and was able to do some research, I thought it might be a juvenile male Wood Duck. Later, on Facebook, another person posted a similar picture and also called it a juvenile male Wood Duck. They were informed that it was “an adult male wood duck in “eclipse plumage“. Eclipse plumage??? Apparently, the bird was NOT a juvenile, because “immature males wouldn’t have the red eyes yet.” My ‘weird’ looking duck had red eyes, so I guess it was ‘eclipsing’ rather than being immature! Who knew??
On my walk yesterday, along the Paul Henry–Thornapple River Trail in Middleville, Michigan, I was surprised to see a Lesser Yellowlegs and a Solitary Sandpiper. I don’t remember seeing them here in Michigan before and I’ve never seen them along the Paul Henry River Trail. I also saw a Common Green Darner dragonfly. My Google search informed me that this insect is “North America’s most common dragonfly”! For me, it’s actually the least common! I hardly ever see them and when I do, they rarely stop for pictures. This one, for whatever reason, was crawling out of the water –and easy to photograph!
Keep your eyes and ears open! There are so many wonderful surprises out there!
Even though I sometimes get tired of going back to the same preserves over and over again, the truth is, no two days are ever the same. The location may be the same but everything else is up for grabs—the weather, the time of day, which creatures decide to show up and whether I can even get the settings right on my camera!
This past week, I went back to the Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery twice, the Chipman Preserve twice and three other places for repeat visits, but not in the same week—the Kalamazoo Nature Center, Western Michigan University’s Business Technology and Research Park, and Asylum Lake Preserve.
The good thing about going back to the same place over and over again, though, is that I get to know the patterns and routines of some of it’s inhabitants, particularly the birds. In the last three visits to the Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery, for instance, a small green heron has been fishing in the same pond, on the same log and at the same time every single day! I could practically set my watch by the regularity of his fishing expeditions.
Also at the Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery, I’m guaranteed to find a Kingfisher or two hanging out around the back ponds. Unfortunately, kingfishers are very astute birds and can hear (or see) me coming long before I even leave the house! They are very good at making themselves unavailable for any kind of photo shoot. So, I have decided that, in order to get any kind of worthwhile pictures of a Kingfisher, I’m going to have to set up a bird blind at the hatchery– or just stand in one place, camera in hand, until my next birthday.
Another benefit of going to the same place repeatedly is that it increases the likelihood of noticing something that’s out of kilter, or not typical. On one of my repeat visits this week, it was a small blue speck in a tree that looked out of place. That small blue speck turned out to be an Indigo Bunting! I rarely ever see them and was happy to get several reasonably good shots before he flew away.
Also, as a regular visitor to our local preserves and sanctuaries, I sometimes run into other birders who have shown me the location of birds I would never have found on my own, like a Red-eyed Vireo, a Prothonotary Warbler and, most recently, a yellow billed cuckoo (Who knew we even had Cuckoos in Michigan??).
So, when I start out on a picture walk to a place I’ve been a million times before, I sometimes have to give myself a little pep talk so I don’t feel ho-hum about the same old place. My pep talk goes something like this…
“Even if you don’t find something new, this is a great place for a walk!” or
“This might be the day you get the best picture ever!” or
“This might be the day you get a picture of an eagle, or a cuckoo or even a blue footed booby!”
It’s all good though, I always find something interesting, even if it’s not new. And, if nothing else, I get some exercise—although, with all the stopping I do to take a picture, it sometimes takes me three hours to walk a mile! My Picture Walks might more accurately be called Picture Shuffles!