It’s another cold and rainy October day as I write this– not a day for pictures, but a day for bird watching from my easy chair! I am perfectly situated for this endeavor, with the fireplace in front of me, a large sliding glass door next to me, and a hot cup of tea snuggled between my hands. Just outside that sliding glass door is a second story deck where we have bird feeders filled with sunflower seeds, suet and peanuts. Today, there’s an entertaining assortment of sparrows, nuthatches, titmice, finches, grackles, blue jays, woodpeckers, cardinals, and black-capped chickadees taking full advantage of our all-you-can-eat buffet.
Unfortunately, this rainy, gloomy weather has persisted for days on end now, with only intermittent bouts of sunshine, so it’s been difficult to squeeze in a picture walk. On the days where I have managed to get outdoors with my camera, it’s been so much harder to find things to photograph; gone are the colorful butterflies and dragonflies, gone are the beautiful fields of wildflowers, and gone are the fickle birds who only enjoy Michigan when it’s warm! What I am finding instead are the migrating birds, the ones just passing through on their way to Florida or other sunny havens—like the sandpipers, the northern shovelers, the greater yellowlegs, the gadwalls, and the white-crowned sparrows. Truth be told, I’m a fickle bird as well, and would scurry off to Florida in a heartbeat– were it not for this horrible pandemic!
In spite of the colder, darker days ahead and the loss of so much color, I still look forward to my quiet, solitary forays into the ‘wild’ to see what Mother Nature has left for me. It will get bitterly cold in the days ahead and the snow will eventually blanket everything. I will have to dress warmer, look harder and wait longer for one bird or another to show up, so I give myself pep talks: “It’s good to be out in nature! It’s good to be out walking and breathing the fresh air! It’s good to have an outdoor hobby!” But sometimes, even the best pep talks in the world won’t stand a chance when the mercury drops below freezing and even my camera doesn’t want to go outside!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Once in awhile, I just go on a ‘regular’ walk, not a picture walk. After my 600 picture marathon the other day, I thought it might be a nice to just go on a ‘regular’ walk– and not stop every two feet to take a picture! With that goal in mind, Mel and I strapped on our binoculars and headed out the door for a leisurely ‘regular’ walk down the Portage Bike Trail.
Just before heading out the door, though, I grabbed my camera (I couldn’t help myself!). It wasn’t my usual camera, the Nikon with the super long lens– just my little Canon, the one that got me hooked on nature photography in the first place, the one that takes reasonably good pictures, but is extremely frustrating for me to use (hard to locate target at a distance and hard to hold the camera steady when it is fully zoomed in).
Nonetheless, I grabbed it, mostly because it’s lightweight– and it meant that I was mostly going a regular walk, NOT a picture walk. BIG mistake! I missed getting the best shots of a red tailed hawk, mallards, a bluebird, a cardinal, a bluejay, a pair of gadwalls, a northern flicker, downy woodpeckers and a belted kingfisher! Even though I missed out on a lot of good shots, the pictures I did get were worth posting because they afforded me the opportunity to share some really fun facts!
Yesterday I ventured out to the Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery in Mattawan, Michigan to take a picture walk, but it was so cold and so windy (wind chill of 30 degrees) that a lot of the pictures I took didn’t turn out well. The wind was periodically strong enough that just holding my camera, with its very long lens, was a bit of a challenge. And, at times, I couldn’t hold it steady enough because I was just too darned cold! Of the nearly 600 pictures I took, more than half of them didn’t make the cut. (Even on a good day, though, I tend to take an excessive number of pictures–mostly because I’m still learning and I think maybe picture number two will be better than picture number one. It only becomes a problem, though, when picture 100 might be better than picture 99!!)
In spite of the cold and windy weather, I was pleasantly surprised, and happy to see so many different birds braving the weather along with me– the Killdeer, the Lesser Yellowlegs, the Pectoral Sandpipers, the Buffleheads and the Mallards were still out on the mud flats and the ponds like they were a few days ago, AND there was a pair of Gadwalls hidden among the other birds! They were well camouflaged!!
Late in the day, on my way home from the fish hatchery, I decided to keep driving south another 20 minutes to the town of Schoolcraft, where a fellow birder had said I might find flocks of Sandhill Cranes out in the farm fields—and I did! Thank you Andrea Zinkus!