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 Holiday Collection

December 28, 2019

A beautiful wild Turkey at Kensington Metropark on a very frigid December day

In the span of just eight days, from December 19th to December 26th, my picture walk weather went from a frigid 16 degrees and 20 mile an hour winds to a balmy 61 degrees and no wind at all!

Tufted Titmouse

From the 19th to the 26th, I went from wearing two, three and four layers of clothing (depending on what body part I was trying to keep warm) to wearing almost nothing—no hat, no mittens, no earmuffs! It was warmer here in Michigan on Christmas day than it was in southern California! Go figure!

Canada Geese on a balmy day in Michigan
Canada Geese on Ice!
Mute Swan

The hardest part of taking pictures on a really cold day, is keeping the fingers of my right hand from totally freezing off.  My pointer finger (and its nearby friends) risk a bit of frostbite every time they leave the warmth and security of my mitten. Unfortunately, they are forced to venture out every single time I have to change the settings on my camera. What saved them on December 19th, though, was an early Christmas gift from my husband—a pair of toasty, re-chargeable hand warmers!

A curious White Tail Deer
Sharp-shinned Hawk
An inviting portal into the woods
Morning Reflections

Winter days in Michigan, even when the weather is balmy and clear, is a challenging time to find things to photograph. I usually have to look long and hard to find anything at all. Fortunately, I enjoy the ‘hunt’. It’s a very relaxing endeavor to go on a picture walk because all of my attention is focused on the looking. When I actually do find something, my heart skips a beat —even if it’s  ‘just another deer’ or ‘just another sparrow’. The subjects may be the same as yesterday but everything else is different—a different day, a different location, a different set of weather conditions. So I snap away to my heart’s content adding another hundred pictures to my rapidly expanding collection.

House Finch enjoying a sunny day
Starlings
There were dozens of these birds all gathered at the tops of the trees.
Starling, a beautiful but invasive species
Bluebird on Staghorn Sumac
I had been admiring the bright red sumac and wishing that a bird would land on one –and then this bluebird happened along!
Mute Swan
I was touched by the fact that beautiful swan let me get within a few feet of it without being scared off– so that I could take pictures of the ducks out on the pond!
Mallards on the pond

Picture Walk or Regular Walk?

November 9, 2018

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!

trail 11-8-2018 2-43-47 PM
It was a super beautiful fall day for a walk!

mallard 11-8-2018 2-39-33 PM
This mallard was ‘dabbling’ in the water nearby and occasionally glanced our way as we stared down at her.

red bellied woodpecker 11-8-2018 2-55-11 PM
I couldn’t get this red bellied woodpecker to look at me, but I decided to include his picture because I always thought it was odd that they were called ‘red bellied’ when their red head was much more obvious. This woodpeckers ‘red belly’ is very pale and rarely seen because it usually has it pressed up against a tree!

KINGFISHER 11-8-2018 3-29-43 PM
This belted kingfisher was really far away and I’m surprised my little Canon got such a good  picture!  Kingfishers hover over the water hummingbird style looking for fish, then dive head first into the water to snatch their prey with a dagger like bill. Since fish are rather slippery, the kingfisher first wacks its catch sideways against the tree or whatever it is sitting on. Presumably this stuns the fish and makes it easier to maneuver it and eat it.

Gadwalls 11-8-2018 2-32-09 PM
Male Gadwalls.  Gadwalls are dabbling ducks—they ride fairly high in the water and  tip forward to graze on submerged plants that they can reach with their outstretched necks. They rarely dive. Gadwall sometimes steal food from American Coots.

flicker 11-8-2018 3-47-06 PM
Northern Flicker. Although it can climb up the trunks of trees and hammer on wood like other woodpeckers, the Northern Flicker prefers to find food on the ground. Ants are its main food, and the flicker digs in the dirt to find them. It uses its long barbed tongue to lap up the ants.

downy woodpecker 11-8-2018 3-24-54 PM
Downy Woodpecker. The Downy Woodpecker eats foods that larger woodpeckers cannot reach, such as insects living on or in the stems of weeds.

bluejay 11-8-2018 3-51-25 PM
Bluejay. I couldn’t believe the size of the acorn that this bluejay was trying to bury!!  Their fondness for acorns is credited with helping spread oak trees after the last glacial period.

Baltimore Oriole nest 11-8-2018 2-40-54 PM
Baltimore Oriole nest. Baltimore Orioles rank among the world’s most accomplished nest-builders. Female orioles weave nests that hang like pendants. You can spot these hanging nests most easily when the trees have lost their leaves. The female builds the nest in about a week, meticulously weaving long, flexible strands of grass — and adding in man-made materials she finds close at hand.