Bundle Up!

January 19, 2020

I’m sitting here in front of a warm fire looking out at the falling snow and the hungry birds flying into our feeders for a bite to eat, and trying to decide how many layers I would have to wear to stay warm on a picture walk today. It’s been snowing (or sleeting) on and off for the past two days and my weather app says the wind chill is below zero. I ultimately decided that the number of layers I would have to wear would probably exceed the number of steps I could take trying to walk– kind of like Ralphie in the movie A Christmas Story.

While contemplating the saneness of leaving my warm fire and my comfortable chair to go for a picture walk, I decided to sort through the pictures I’ve already taken in the last three weeks and then re-evaluate!

I’ll start with New Year’s Eve. The weather was relatively mild then and I was surprised to find so many robins out and about looking for something good to eat. I didn’t expect to even see robins because I had grown up believing that they left for the winter and returned in the spring; that they were, in fact, the ‘harbingers of spring’.

What I found out, though, was that most of our robins just stay put; that we don’t often see them in winter because they spend more time roosting in trees and less time rooting around in our yards. The robins I saw were doing both– roosting in the trees and rooting around on the ground. They had found berries up high and grubs down below.

It seemed like spring when I saw the robins out and about,
but it was still the middle of winter!

The berries that had attracted so many robins had also attracted Cedar Waxwings and Starlings. Interestingly enough, both Robins and Cedar Waxwings have been known to become intoxicated from eating too much fruit that has already become fermented!

This Cedar Waxwing looked a bit ‘tipsy’ as he grabbed for something good to eat!

A few days later, I decided to take advantage of an unusually sunny morning and headed over to the Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery to catch what I could of the ‘golden hour’. It was a good thing I did because, for the next several days, the weather was gloomy, gray and wet.

Belted Kingfisher– a particularly hard bird to catch!
Trumpeter Swan flying over the Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery

After enduring several days of dismal weather, I was eager to get out and take pictures again– but it was still raining! I couldn’t take pictures in the rain (my camera would suffer), so I settled for a ‘picture stand’ instead of a ‘picture walk’ by positioning myself under our second story deck and shooting the birds that were perched in the nearby trees.

For the next few days after that, the weather was fairly cooperative and I managed to visit several familiar places plus one new one, the Paw Paw Prairie Fen. My biggest surprise was finding a Great White Egret fishing in a pond near the fen! I rarely see them in the summer, let alone the middle of winter. I also found a Great Blue Heron, but he decided to fly away before I could get a close-up!

On my visit to the Kellogg Bird sanctuary, I was saddened to learn that two of the birds I loved to photograph had died the previous year– a beautiful Mandarin Duck and a rare Red-breasted Goose. Both birds were one-of-a-kind at the sanctuary, so it was particularly sad to lose them.

A lovely American Goldfinch at the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary

Once a month, I like to stop in at the Kensington Metropark Nature Center on my way across the state to babysit my grandson. The birds at Kensington are abundant and fearless. They eagerly anticipate all the visitors who come by and ply them with birdseed. If you stand still and hold out a handful of seeds or peanuts, the birds will land on your hand within a matter of seconds– chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, downies, and sometimes, even the bigger birds will land– like the red-bellied woodpeckers. It’s always delightful!

Red-bellied Woodpecker enjoying my stash of seeds at Kensington Nature Center
Bluejay scooping up the last peanut

In the time it’s taken to write this blog, the temperature outside has gone up one whole degree— time to bundle up and see what’s waiting for me out there!

Here’s what I found…

White-throated Sparrow

So, bundle up and get yourself outdoors!

A Cold and Windy November Walk

November 8, 2018

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!!)

pectoral sandpipers 11-7-2018 1-55-42 PM
“Pectoral Sandpipers are a medium-sized, chunky shorebird that is found most commonly on mudflats with short grass or weedy vegetation and seems more at home in the grass than in the water.”

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!!

lesser yellow legs 11-7-2018 2-17-47 PM
The Lesser Yellowlegs were also in great abundance, but they tended to hang out more in the shallow waters rather than in the mudflats like the killdeer.

killdeer 11-2-2018 8-38-22 AM (2)
“Killdeer get their name from the shrill, wailing kill-deer call they give so often. Eighteenth-century naturalists also noticed how noisy Killdeer are, giving them names such as the Chattering Plover and the Noisy Plover.” LISTEN HERE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4u6ax5P-o8

lesser yellow legs 11-7-2018 2-35-37 PM
“The Lesser Yellowlegs is a slender, long-legged shorebird that readily shows off the brightly colored legs that give it its name. It is an active feeder, often running through the shallow water to chase its prey.”

GADWALL

gadwall 11-7-2018 3-05-09 PM
Here are the Gadwalls. Mrs. Gadwall is in the picture above and Mr. Gadwall is underneath. They were swimming on the far side of the pond in among the mallards and were hard to spot. “They associate with many other duck species, and on a quick scan you may miss the males because of their subdued brown appearance—keep an eye out for their black rear ends, white wing-patch (formed by the inner secondary feathers), and intricately patterned, not streaked or spotted, plumage.”

American Tree Sparrow 11-7-2018 2-58-40 PM
I managed to capture this one little tree sparrow all puffed up against the wind and cold–just like me!!

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!

sandhill cranes 11-7-2018 4-22-32 PM
“Sandhill Cranes are known for their dancing skills. Courting cranes stretch their wings, pump their heads, bow, and leap into the air in a graceful and energetic dance.”

sandhill cranes 11-7-2018 3-58-39 PM

sandhill cranes 11-7-2018 4-23-53 PM
Sandhill Cranes make a very distinctive sound. If you’ve never heard it before, take a LISTEN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HeIMak-ohVk

sandhill cranes 11-7-2018 4-22-033

sandhill cranes 11-7-2018 4-22-17 PM
More displays of the Sandhill Crane’s many dance moves!!

sandhill crane with one leg 11-7-2018 4-11-48 PM
A parting shot. Take a close look at this Sandhill Crane. He only has one leg!!