Morning Light

November 19, 2023

Note: Most of the pictures in this post were taken on earlier picture walks

I was sitting in my favorite chair at 5 a.m. on this cold November morning, enjoying a toasty fire, drinking a hot cup of tea, and contemplating the day ahead. Every once in a while, I’d look out the window to see if the sun had come up.

By 7:45, I could see just a hint of light on the very top of the trees along the far side of the creek behind our house. I wrestled with my choices for the day– stay warm and cozy inside the house, or go out into the cold November air and take pictures. The conditions were perfect: early morning light, no wind, and clear skies. I thought maybe a northern shoveler would unexpectedly drop by, or that a few wood ducks might swim out from the reeds as they sometimes do, or that a great blue heron would be scouting for fish along the opposite bank.  I might even see a rare mink scurrying by. Anything was possible!

Great Blue Heron
American Mink

There was no choice, really; whether to stay inside or to go outdoors. The morning light beckoned. It would be impossible for me to stay home on such a beautiful day! There was such promise in the air! But, it was only 32 degrees! I wasn’t ready to face the cold! And getting dressed would be a challenge– because cold weather photography, where I might not move for hours on end, takes careful planning. Should I wear two layers or three? Do I need mittens or gloves? Boots or shoes? There were too many decisions to be made this early in the morning!

All bundled up for the cold on an earlier picture walk

By 8:15, though, I was out the door. The sun had risen a little higher in the sky, the water in the creek was perfectly still, and I planted myself in the very best spot I could find where the sun would be at my back.

Cherry Creek in the early morning light

I stood quietly and waited. The squirrels were scampering through the leaves behind me and running across the branches overhead. Now and then, I’d hear a red-bellied woodpecker tapping on one of the nearby trees. A handful of birds were greeting the new day with their joyful song while a solitary goose flew by.

Canada Goose

Not far from where I was standing, I could hear the familiar sound of the male red-winged blackbirds as they flitted among the cattails. They have a short, one-second song that starts with an abrupt note and turns into a musical trill. The females usually respond to the singing males with a chit-chit-chit sound, but I never heard their replies. Perhaps, the females have already flown south for the winter.

Male Red-winged Blackbird in the reeds along Cherry Creek

After about an hour of standing and waiting, I took a seat on the bench next to me; my hopes slowly dwindling. There had been no signs of any shovelers, wood ducks, or herons. I would have been happy at that point if even a mallard had floated by!

Female Mallard from an earlier walk

Eventually, the cold air settled into my bones, and I had run out of things to talk to myself about. I tried, instead, to concentrate on all the different birds I could see or hear in the trees around me, like the chickadees, tufted titmice, cardinals, robins, cedar waxwings, woodpeckers, sparrows, and blue jays. They provided a symphony of songs and a bit of entertainment as I sat watching for the elusive ducks and herons to appear on the creek.

Downy Woodpecker

By 9:30, I was ready to throw in the towel and go for a walk in the sun so I could soak up some of its warmth. Before leaving my temporary roost, though, I moved closer to a nearby bush where I had been watching the cedar waxwings gobbling up berries, hoping I could maybe get a picture of them! With all the foliage obstructing my view, it was more of a challenge than I expected!

Cedar Waxwing enjoying the berries

After managing to get a few waxwing shots (and one fat robin), it was time to move on to more promising grounds. I headed over to the business park next door thinking I would find a red-tailed hawk, a migrating duck, or maybe even a bluebird. All I found were pigeons.

Three pigeons on a lamp post!

Where was everybody??

It was almost noon and the temperature had climbed from a chilly 32 degrees to a toasty 50. I was so HOT! I had taken off my hat, mittens, and scarf and stuffed them into the pockets of my coat; the pockets that were already jammed full with two rechargeable hand-warmers, one cell phone, and a set of keys. Eventually I had to take off the coat as well and tie it around my waist or I would totally disintegrate from the heat! It was time to head home.

A big fat Robin enjoying the same berry bush as the Cedar Waxwings

In the end, I didn’t have much to show for all my efforts: no wood ducks, no hawks, no shovelers, no mallards. It’s always disappointing when this happens, but I just can’t force the birds to show up when I want them to– or to get them to sit still in the right light while I adjust my settings.

On a particularly slow picture day, like this one, I have to remind myself that the most important thing is the walk itself, not the pictures. At my age (76), spending the day outdoors traipsing about is a gift; one that I treasure. Having my camera along, just makes all that exercise more interesting.

And that’s what keeps me going out the door–even on the least promising of days.

Cedar Waxwing