Falcon Watch!

June 9, 2019

The other day, Mel and I were invited to be part of a ‘peregrine falcon watch team’ in downtown Kalamazoo. There were three teenage peregrine falcons who were ready to fledge, or leave the nest, within the next few days.

Two of the three juvenile Peregrine Falcons getting ready to fledge

“Since 2010, Peregrine Falcons have been returning to the Fifth Third Bank building in downtown Kalamazoo for nesting. Thanks to the bank, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and the efforts of Audubon Society of Kalamazoo (ASK), in 2014, the birds successfully nested in and fledged four chicks from the nesting box installed by the ASK. Then, in January 2015, two cameras and a microphone were installed so that you can now catch live footage as the Peregrine Falcon web camera captures each moment.” https://www.kalamazoofalcons.com/

Peregrine Parent
Peregrine Parent

The nest is on about the 10th floor of a downtown bank building and we would be watching from the roof top of a nearby parking structure. Our job was to see if any of the teenagers took their first flight, and if they did, where they landed and if they were successful—meaning they didn’t crash and burn or land so far down that they couldn’t fly back up to the nest. If they did land on the ground or got hurt, our job was to call Gail and then do our best to rescue the bird or keep it safe until she arrived. A rescue would involve wrapping the bird gently in a towel, putting it in a ventilated covered box and waiting until Gail could return it to the nest on the side of the bank building. Access to the nest requires  going to the 10th floor of the bank building, accessing one of the offices, climbing through a window, and dropping into a deep window well.

Bringing home the bacon!
Feeding the kids

Not surprisingly, Mel and I brought our cameras to this falcon watch assignment. My favorite shots on the first day (although they weren’t the best shots in terms of sharpness) were of the young falcon who was captivated by a carpenter bee zooming all around him. It reminded me of a small child who was totally distracted from the task at hand!

Young falcon distracted by a carpenter bee!

By the very end of my very first watch day, none of the birds had fledged. So I went again the next day, but not early enough! One of the birds had taken flight by 7:30 a.m. and I didn’t get there until 11:00!

After the peregrine took off, it was unclear where he had landed and the folks who had been keeping an eye on him, spent a long time trying to find him. Fortunately, one of the ‘falcon watchers’ lives in the condo unit adjacent to the bank where the nest is located. He tracked down the maintenance worker for the building who readily provided access to the roof where they spotted our young flyer!

By the time I arrived, flyer number one was perched on the edge of a building overlooking one of the busiest and nosiest streets in Kalamazoo– which made us all worry even more that he might take flight again and land in the road. Gail was keeping an eye on him from down on the street while I was keeping watch from the parking garage to see if either of the remaining birds decided to fly. Nobody did.

Parent flying high

Then I went down to the street with Gail and watched the bird on the ledge while someone else watched the other two birds from the parking garage. After an hour or two, I traded places with the person on the parking garage and the bird on the ledge decided to fly! Darn! I missed it! He had flown from his street side perch to a metal tower closer to the parking garage– but I never saw him fly in! Double darn! I did however get a few pictures of him once he landed.

The first falcon out of the nest lands on a metal tower

By 7:00 p.m. of the third day, I was reluctant to leave because I had really, really wanted a picture of one of the juveniles in flight. It was not to be! Oh well, it was a fun watch (albeit tedious at times) and I got an inordinate number of falcon pictures in the process!

A Day Without Rain

May 31, 2019

Today is the last day of May, but the first day of the entire month that I can remember having no rain at all in the forecast!!  Given this rare opportunity, Mel and I didn’t waste any time throwing our camera bags in the trunk of the car and heading out the door by 7:30 a.m. Our destination: South Haven, Michigan– less than an hour away. Our plan: to have fun—and maybe take a few pictures!

Trumpeter Swan and three cygnets (Kellogg Bird Sanctuary)

Our day started out with a tasty breakfast at Six Chicks Scratch Kitchen, followed by a picture walk around our favorite park– where we had once spotted a red-headed woodpecker, and were optimistic about finding him (or maybe his 2nd cousin). Ha!! We didn’t even find a robin!

Northern Flicker (Ott Biological Preserve)

We then took a leisurely walk to the end of the South Haven pier and were delighted to watch as the Friends Good Will tall ship set sail into beautiful Lake Michigan.

On the way to our next picture walk destination, the Kal-Haven Trail, we spotted a huge gaggle of Canada geese—which is totally unremarkable in and of itself, but I spotted a couple of orange beaks in that gaggle and yelled, “Stop the car! Stop the car!” Turns out, our mystery beaks belonged to three rather large Greylag Geese, which are native to Europe and the UK, but not here. Hmm.

Greylag Geese
” The ancestor of most domestic geese, the greylag is the largest and bulkiest of the wild geese
native to the UK and Europe.

Our last walk of the day was through a nearby nature preserve where we had hoped to get a few more pictures of birds and flowers and bugs. What we got was mostly bugs–as in mosquitoes, who wanted to eat us. It was as good a time as any to head back home and feed the dogs!

Surprisingly, the sun was still shining when we returned home around 5:00. Knowing that I still had at least another two hours of sunlight left before our perfect sunny day would be over, I grabbed my camera again and went back outside– this time I just walked next door to Western Michigan University’s Business Technology and Research Park. It’s a good thing I did– or I would have missed the red-winged blackbird taking a break in Einstein’s hair, and the barn swallows sitting nicely on a branch, and the deer grazing in the field, and  the great blue heron catching fish in the pond! That’s the thing I always wonder about– what am I missing if I don’t go out??

Red-winged Blackbird in Einstein’s hair! (WMU’s Business Park)
Beautiful Lupine (WMU’s Business Park)
Mute Swan doing a little house cleaning! (WMU’s Business Park)
Barn Swallow (WMU’s Business Park)
Mallard (WMU’s Business Park)

For all the rainy days leading up to this one coveted dry one, I managed to find blocks of time here and there when I could take short picture walks—at Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery, the Ott Biological Preserve, Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, or our very own deck! There’s always something interesting to see– but I sure hope Mother Nature comes up with some better circumstances in which to see them!!

Female red-winged blackbird (Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery)
Tree Swallow (Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery)
Five Turtles (Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery)
Bleeding Heart (Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery)

Magee Marsh, Part Two

May 25, 2019

This is a  follow-up story to the previous post titled Magee Marsh. It would be good to read that one first so you have the back story :-). (https://picturewalks.org/2019/05/22/magee-marsh/)

The beautiful, and very accessible boardwalk at Magee Marsh
A beautiful Cape May Warbler

In spite of the unpredictable weather, my husband and I managed to get in at least four hours of picture-taking at Magee Marsh every day of our three day visit. I took so many pictures of so many birds that it’s taken me almost as many hours to go through them as it did to take them—probably more! On one day alone, I  took over 700! Between the two of us, Mel and I captured almost 40 different varieties of birds! What a treat it was to see so many– and so close at hand!

Bay-breasted Warbler

On one of our birding days, Mel and I also spent a few hours at the Trautman Nature Center, which was just a matter of stepping out the door of  the lodge where we were staying and taking a short walk to the nearby Nature Center and its beautiful 2 mile boardwalk through the marshes and fields.

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Trautman Nature  Center didn’t have the swarms of migrating birds like Magee Marsh, but I was really happy with the few things that I did find — Eastern Screech Owls, a Bald Eagle, a Great Egret and a few good shots of a great blue heron.

Great Blue Heron
Two Juvenile Screech Owls
Great Blue Heron
Bald Eagle

After Trautman, we grabbed a quick lunch and headed over to Magee for one last, memorable visit.

Prothonotary Warbler

Admittedly, there are an inordinate number of pictures here, but it was sooo hard narrowing them down! I tried to stick to just one of each kind– but it sure wasn’t easy! Enjoy!

Eastern Wood PeeWee

Note: I’ve done my best to label these birds correctly, but if you find any errors, please let me know. Thanks.

Magee Marsh

May 22, 2019

A month ago Mel and I went to a Woodpecker Festival in Middleville, Michigan, where we met lots of birdy people like ourselves. When we had lunch with a couple of those folks, they told us about a wonderful birding place in Ohio called Magee Marsh (https://www.mageemarsh.org/).

Magnolia Warbler–a new catch for me!

“Magee Marsh, situated on the southern shore of Lake Erie, is a prime stopover for North American warblers during spring migration.  Every year thousands of birders, photographers, and nature lovers flock to this location in spring to witness the unforgettable spectacle of large songbird concentrations preparing to migrate across the great lake toward their breeding grounds in the north. Magee Marsh is just one of those special places that you have to come back to year after year.”

Canada Warbler

As soon as we got home from the Woodpecker Fest, we checked our calendars and booked a room for four days in May at the Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center in Oregon, Ohio– which was also recommended to us by our bird people (https://www.maumeebaylodge.com/). It looked kind of fancy and expensive but the non-weekend, off season rate for old people (aka Senior Citizens) was perfect! And, it was only 2 ½ hours from home!

As soon as we arrived yesterday at 1:00, Mel and I headed straight for the marsh because we basically had to ‘make hay while the sun shines’.  The weather was expected to be intermittently rainy for the duration of our stay and, since  it wasn’t currently raining, we hurried down the road about ten miles to the marsh before something changed!

Luckily, it never rained yesterday. Today, however, it’s raining cats and dogs and I am patiently (or maybe not so patiently) waiting for it to stop so we can go back to Magee.

We spent almost four hours yesterday wandering the beautiful Magee Marsh boardwalk– snapping pictures all the while! The nearby trees and bushes were just teeming with birds, mostly warblers, that were singing  and chirping and flitting this way and that in their quest for food or nesting materials or love. And, even though the birds were plentiful and near at hand, they were hard to capture. Small birds are constantly on the move! I’d no sooner locate one and they’d be gone! Or, I’d snap a picture and they’d be gone between the instant I’d pressed the shutter and the camera took the picture. They’re that fast!

Tennessee Warbler

Walking through the marsh was a magical experience! Most birders are reverentially quiet as they walk silently among the trees hoping not to scare the birds and speaking in whispers to fellow birders. It’s almost like being in a church. Many of us were in awe of all the different birds flitting around and I was equally thrilled with all the new birds I saw— like the Magnolia Warbler, the Blackburnian Warbler, the Blackpoll Warbler and  the Canada Warbler! Some birds I’d never even heard of before, like the Bay-breasted Warbler and the Chestnut-sided Warbler. Mel also caught a Prothonotary Warbler, which I’ve only seen once before! It was an very exciting day!

Prothonotary Warbler

I almost forgot to mention how weird it felt to be among ‘my own kind’! Most of the time when I’m out taking pictures,  people stare at me or make comments about the size of my lens! At Magee Marsh, virtually everyone had a long lens. Some people even had super-ginormous lenses with flash extenders mounted on a monopods! I was no longer self-conscious about my comparatively small equipment– that is, until someone, who thought I knew that I was doing with my long lens, would ask me, “What bird is that you’re shooting?” and I’d very self-consciously reply, “I have no idea!”

A Week Full of Surprises

May 19, 2019

It’s been a week since I last wrote. In the intervening days, I’ve visited a wide variety of preserves or nature trails in our little corner of the state.  

Yellow Warbler singing its little heart out!

On Tuesday, I went to the Ott Biological Preserve in Battle Creek. I had spent the day not far from the preserve babysitting my grandson and decided it would be fun to explore Ott at the end of the day and see what it had to offer. The last time I had been there was over a year ago and, even though I hadn’t found much back then, I thought it was worth taking a second look and was pleasantly surprised at what I found– Black-throated Blue Warblers, Yellow Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks! The Black-throated Blue Warbler is a very new bird for me. I’d never even heard of it before!

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak

The following day, I decided to take a bit of a road trip north and revisit the trail along the Thornapple River in Middleville where  Mel and I had attended our first Woodpecker Fest  a few weeks ago. I decided to go late in the day hoping I might see more birds than I would in the middle of the day. I actually have no way of knowing whether I saw more birds later in the day than I would have earlier in the day, but I was not disappointed!  There were Baltimore Orioles, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Grackles, Wood Ducks, Sandhill Cranes, Great Blue Herons, Palm Warblers, Mallards, Tree Swallows, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a Red-headed Woodpecker, and my very first Yellow-throated Vireo. In addition, I also ‘caught’ a Blandings Turtle and a Spiny Soft Shell Turtle! Given all of the things I saw, I’m thinking this trail would probably be great no matter what time of day you go! There’s just so much here to attract birds and other wildlife!

Male Tree Swallow
Female Mallard
Sandhill Crane
Nine on a log
Canada Goose

On Friday, Mel and I both decided to go for a picture walk at nearby Chipman Preserve. Once we arrived, Mel and his camera went one way and I went another. He was looking mostly for plants and I was looking mostly for birds. Ironically, he found the most interesting bird (an Indigo Bunting) and I found the most interesting plant-related thing (juniper-apple rust).

Indigo Bunting
Juniper-apple rust/Cedar-apple rust
“In virtually any location where apples or crabapples and Eastern red-cedar coexist, cedar apple rust can be a destructive or disfiguring disease on both the apples and the cedars.
Mel’s beautiful Lupine
Male Tree Swallow
Gray Catbird

At the end of our day together yesterday, Mel was yearning for a hot cup of coffee and a quiet read at his favorite coffee shop and I was yearning for a quiet walk among the birds with my camera. So, he went his way and I went mine and we were both happy. My walk didn’t yield a lot, but it did produce a few surprises—my first American Lady butterfly, my first bullfrogs of the season, and a snake sleeping in a tree!

Northern Water Snake
I almost missed this! As I was walking down the path, I thought something was not quite right about the tree I’d just passed, so I went back for a closer look.
I was surprised to find this snake!
Goose Family out for a bit of a swim
Goose Daddy keeping the kids in line!

All in all, it was a full week of fun surprises!

Housework Can Wait

May 12, 2019

I had every intention of staying home today and getting some things done around the house (it’s piling up!), but I also knew I needed to get some exercise. The big decision came down to whether to take the dog for a walk or my camera. If I took the dog, I’d actually get some exercise; if I took the camera, I’d have a lot of fun, but not get much exercise. Fun won.

A sweet little deer along the way

Taking pictures of birds and butterflies and all things skittish, requires a lot of patience and a lot of standing still, but If standing still counted for exercise, I’d be an Olympic medalist! Today’s picture walk ended up lasting five hours—most of which was non-ambulatory and I ended up with nearly 600 pictures! It got me  thinking – shouldn’t all that lifting and lowering of camera equipment count for something in the exercise department?? Do they have an App for that??

Black and White Warbler
Male Baltimore Oriole

There was a wonderful variety of birds today and all I had to do was walk out my front door and into the nearby woods!  Several of the birds were brand new to me–  or I’ve seen them  so rarely that I couldn’t identify them without my Merlin App. It must be that a lot of different birds are migrating through our area right now. I was quite excited to have seen so many different ones!

Swamp Sparrow– I just love all their beautiful feathers!

Early on in today’s walk,  I spotted a small, black and orange, warbler-sized bird flitting around in the trees at a frenetic pace and I wondered what it was.  It was almost impossible to get a picture! At first I thought the little bird might be a rare discovery, but I found out later that it was an American Redstart, a bird that can be found across much of the eastern and northern United States! Geesh! Where have I been??

American Redstart, male
American Redstart, male

Later, I saw another small, yellow and grey, warbler-sized bird that was also zipping around so fast my head was spinning. I thought I’d discovered another ‘rare’ bird, but then, a little light went off in my head and I wondered if the bird I was seeing might also be an American Redstart only a female or a juvenile—and it was!

American Redstart, female
American Redstart, female

Along with the Redstarts, I saw several other birds that I have either never seen before or have only seen on rare occasions, like the Black-throated Blue Warbler, the Veery and the Alder Flycatcher.

I couldn’t always get the best shots today– those warblers are busy little things, but I did document seeing at least 20 different birds! I’m so glad I decided that the housework could wait!

Immature Yellow-rumped Warbler

A beautiful little Swamp Sparrow

A Great Day for Birding

May 11, 2019

I went out in search of a Common Redpoll yesterday, a bird I’ve never seen. My neighbors said they’d spotted one at the nearby Flesher Field and I was eager to see if I could find one too—and get a picture!

Cedar Waxwings
Song Sparrow
Song Sparrow

So I spent a leisurely couple of hours meandering through Flesher Field and the nearby woods in search of the elusive Redpoll, but never found one. Fortunately, when it comes to picture walks, there’s no such thing as a waste of time –there’s always something to photograph!  On this particular walk, I found three other birds I’d never seen before (two of which I’d never even heard of!)— a Black and White Warbler, a Black-throated Green Warbler, and a Chestnut-sided Warbler. There were also Cedar Waxwings, Baltimore Orioles, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Common Yellow-throats, and lots of beautiful little Song Sparrows.

Black-throated Green Warbler

Later in the day, Mel and I joined up with a group of birders from our local Audubon Society at the Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery for  a guided bird walk. It helped immensely to be among experienced birders, and to be with so many people with binoculars!! I was able to get pictures of birds I might not otherwise have seen—and at least two birds I’d never even heard of!

Northern Flicker— I just loved how the speckled chest of the flicker blended in with the branches in the background!
Eastern Bluebird
Blue-winged Warbler

All in all, a great day for birding!