Just One Walk

July 19, 2022

I almost didn’t go for a picture walk today. It was already beyond hot and well beyond humid. It was also the middle of the day and not the best time for pictures — or for humans. But, I was restless, and eager to be on the move, so I grabbed my camera and off I went. As I left our cool air-conditioned home and stepped out into a steamy summer day, I comforted myself with the thought that I might find lots of dragonflies and butterflies!

I headed out at 11:00 a.m. and photographed almost everything I saw for three enjoyable hours. It was just one walk, but I took so many pictures and observed so many creatures getting on with their lives, that I felt a bit like a teensy-weensy Jane Goodall or Diane Fossey out doing field work. All I had to do was swap out the chimpanzees and mountain gorillas for dragonflies, butterflies, birds and frogs and I was good to go! It was a huge stretch of the imagination, but it made for a more interesting walk! Here are my field notes!

Field Notes:

Date: July 19, 2022

Location: Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery, Mattawan, Michigan

Weather Conditions: 90 degrees Fahrenheit, 45% humidity

Time of day: 11:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

11:04 a.m. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly When I spotted this beautiful Eastern Tiger Swallowtail flitting among the lavender-colored Bee Balm, it took my breath away! The conditions for getting a good picture were perfect–light shade, no harsh shadows.

Male Calico Pennant dragonfly

11: 24 a.m. Calico Pennant Dragonfly, male The dragonflies were plentiful today! Before taking up photography, I didn’t realize there were so many different dragonflies in so many different colors! Worldwide, there are about 7,000 species of dragonflies. Here in Michigan, there are about 160. This Calico Pennant is very common in our area.

Male Halloween Pennant dragonfly

11:34 a.m. Halloween Pennant Dragonfly, male I seem to see male dragonflies much more frequently than I do females. Perhaps because the males are generally more colorful and easier to spot. Halloween Pennants look very similar to Calico Pennants, but instead of small spots they typically have larger dark bands on their wings. Adult males have orange and black bodies, while females (and young males) have bodies that are yellow and black.

Viceroy Butterfly

11:37 a.m. Viceroy Butterfly The Viceroy Butterfly is often mistaken for a Monarch. The main visual difference between the Viceroy and Monarch is the black line across the viceroy’s hind wings, which monarch butterflies do not have. The viceroy is also smaller than the monarch. You can also tell them apart when they are in flight. Monarchs have a more floating flight pattern, while viceroys fly more quickly and more erratically.

Male Blue Dasher dragonfly

11:39 a.m. Blue Dasher Dragonfly, male This is a very small and a very common dragonfly. The male has a bright blue body with a dark tip, while the female has a black and yellow striped body, and tends to be browner in color. Males have green eyes while females have red eyes. They really look like two entirely different dragonflies, which is often true of other dragonflies.

Male Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly

11:52 a.m. Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly, male The Male Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly is almost the same chalky blue color as the Blue Dasher pictured above, but it is noticeably bigger than the Dasher and doesn’t have the same dark tip on its tail. The Pondhawk is 1.5 to 1.7 inches long while the Dasher is only 1 to 1.5 inches long. The female Eastern Pondhawk is green.

Male Twelve-spotted Skimmer

11:55 a.m. Twelve-spotted Skimmer, male I wanted to call this a Twenty-spotted Skimmer but, apparently, you’re only supposed to count the dark spots not the white ones! The twelve-spotted skimmer is a common North American dragonfly, found in southern Canada and in all 48 of the contiguous U.S. states. It is a large dragonfly at 2.0 inches in length.

Female Eastern Pondhawk

12:01 p.m. Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly, female Male and female dragonflies often look completely different from one another and the Eastern Pondhawks are a good example of this. The male (pictured above) is a dusty blue color, while the female is green and black.

Great Blue Heron

12:06 p.m. Great Blue Heron The Great Blue Heron is the largest of our North American herons weighing in at around 5 pounds. They will eat nearly anything within striking distance, including fish, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, insects, and other birds. Great Blue Herons can stand patiently like this for what seems like forever waiting to impale a fish with their dagger-like bills.

Male Widow Skimmer dragonfly

12:14 p.m. Widow Skimmer dragonfly, male This is my very favorite dragonfly to photograph! It makes for such a beautiful picture. The Widow Skimmer gets its name because the male dragonfly leaves the female by herself as she lays her eggs, thereby ‘widowing’ her. This behavior is unlike some other species where the male guards the egg-laying female.

Halloween Pennant dragonflies mating

12:16 p.m. Halloween Pennant dragonflies mating Dragonflies and damselflies both create what are called “mating wheels” when they mate.  The male (upper dragonfly) grasps the female at the back of her head with the terminal appendages at the end of his abdomen and the female curls her abdomen forward until the tip of her abdomen reaches the male’s sex organs. (Notice the slight difference in coloration between the male and the female. The wings of the male are orange and brown, the female’s are yellow and brown.)

Silver-spotted Skipper butterfly

12:19 p.m. Silver-spotted Skipper butterfly The silver-spotted skipper,  with its large white spot on the underside of each hind wing, is one of our largest, most widespread and most recognizable skippers. The silver-spotted skipper is found throughout most of the United States and into southern Canada. In the West, it is more restricted to mountainous areas.

Monarch Butterfly

12:22 Monarch Butterfly I was saddened, but not shocked, to learn that North America’s iconic Monarch Butterfly, after suffering from years of habitat loss and rising temperatures, was placed on a list of endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as of July 21, 2022.

Eastern Amberwing butterfly

12:49 p.m. Eastern Amberwing Dragonfly, male The Eastern Amberwing is a tiny species of dragonfly that only reaches about 1 inch in length. It is one of the smaller dragonflies in North America. Males have clear amber wings, so it is easy to see how this dragonfly got its name. Females have blotch-patterned wings. I usually find these dragonflies perched on lily pads or other plants along the edges of small ponds.

Eastern Kingbird

12:53 p.m. Eastern Kingbird The Kingbird gets its name from the aggressive behaviors it exhibits towards other kingbirds and other species. When defending their nests, kingbirds will attack much larger predators like hawks, crows, and squirrels. They have been known to knock unsuspecting Blue Jays out of trees.

Willow Flycatcher

12:56 Willow Flycatcher Flycatchers don’t learn their songs from their parents, as many other birds do. Instead flycatchers hatch knowing their songs. Scientists tested this by raising Willow Flycatchers in captivity while letting them listen to only the Alder Flycatcher song all day long. The Willow Flycatcher chicks grew up to sing their own species’ song!

Canada Goose

12:57 p.m. Canada Goose The Canada Goose was nearly driven to extinction in the early 1900s. Programs to reestablish the subspecies to its original range were, in many places, so successful that the geese have become a nuisance in many urban and suburban areas.

Male Slaty Skimmer dragonfly

1:30 p.m. Slaty Skimmer Dragonfly, male The Slaty Skimmer has a body that is about 2 inches long. Each of the four wings has a dark spot on the outer leading edge. Older males are all slate blue with black heads and eyes. Young males and females have brown abdomens and a dark stripe running down the back.

American Bullfrog

1:34 p.m. American Bullfrog This is my very favorite amphibian! I love their big, bulgy eyes, and funny looking faces. I’m always looking for a new frog to photograph, hoping for a funnier face. Bullfrogs are the largest species of frog in the U.S. growing up to 8 inches long and weighing over a pound! Bullfrogs usually spend 2 winters as tadpoles and live around 8 years.

Barn Swallow

2:06 p.m. Barn Swallow The Barn Swallow is the most abundant and widely distributed swallow species in the world. It breeds throughout the Northern Hemisphere and winters in much of the Southern Hemisphere. I can’t help taking a picture every time I see one!

Female Red-winged Blackbird

2:09 p.m. Red-winged Blackbird, female The Red-winged Blackbirds are my harbingers of spring. When I hear them calling from the trees and the reeds along the ponds, I know that spring is not far away. I also know that when a male Red-winged Blackbird bombards me, his babies are nearby, but out of sight!

Female Wood Duck

2:10 p.m Wood Duck, female Wood Ducks usually nest in trees near water, but can sometimes be found nesting over a mile away. After hatching, the ducklings jump down from the nest tree and make their way to water. The mother calls them to her, but does not help them in any way. The ducklings may jump from heights of over 50 feet without injury.

Female Hooded Mergansers

2:12 p.m. Hooded Mergansers, female The Hooded Merganser is the second-smallest of the six living species of mergansers (only the Smew of Eurasia is smaller) and is the only one restricted to North America.

It was just one walk, but there was so much to see!

Before Pictures: A Photography Journey

July 4, 2022

Before I started taking pictures, there was so much I didn’t know about the world outside my own front door. I didn’t know that dragonflies came in a rainbow of colors, that turtles shed parts of their shells, or that we had cuckoos in Michigan! I didn’t know that cedar waxwings could get drunk eating fermented berries, or that great blue herons would stay here throughout our cold Michigan winters. My enlightenment all started with a Christmas wish.

A brown, white and yellow Widow Skimmer dragonfly

In the Fall of 2013, my husband, Mel, started asking me what I wanted for Christmas. I gave his question a good deal of thought and came up with the idea that I’d like to have a better camera. All I had was a pocket-sized Canon PowerShot– a lightweight and easy to carry camera with very limited capabilities.

Michigan’s Black-billed Cuckoo
A Great Blue Heron that decided to stay in Michigan for the winter!

Once I told Mel what I wanted, he went to work doing the research and came up with a bigger, better version of the Canon PowerShot that he thought might work. I loved it– and ultimately, dubbed it my “gateway drug”.

Eastern Kingbird babies hoping for lunch!
A giant snapping turtle taking a break on a very hot day!

I happily used that camera on and off for the next three and a half years; taking the usual family photos and typical vacation shots. It wasn’t until we went to Florida in 2016 for our first extended stay that my addiction to nature photography really kicked in. There were so many rookeries, sanctuaries and preserves with new and unusual birds, mammals, and reptiles that I had absolutely no trouble feeding my ‘habit’!

Florida alligator taking a siesta

Eventually though, I started wanting more. I wanted a camera with a faster response time so that the bird on the limb would still be there once I pressed down the shutter button. I wanted to get pictures of the birds and butterflies that were farther and farther away, and I wanted sharper images. Mel went back to work looking for a camera that would do all those things—without causing us to re-finance our home! By July of 2017, I had my new camera, a Nikon D3400 and a detachable 70-300mm zoom lens. I was back in business!

A bright-eyed Yellow Warbler
Common Yellowthroat

At some point along the way, Mel decided to take up his photography hobby again and assumed ownership of my D3400 after finding me a Nikon D5600 to take its place. We were both hooked!

Spiny Softshell Turtle

I loved all the beautiful pictures I could get with my D5600 and the 70-300mm lens, but there were birds and butterflies still out of reach that I wanted to capture! After a bit of research, Mel thought that a Sigma 150-600mm lens might do the trick. I was well aware of the size and weight of this lens based on what I had read, but when it actually arrived, I thought “What on earth have I done??” It looked huge! It felt heavier than I expected and I had serious reservations about my ability to carry it around for hours on end. But, I really, really wanted to take ‘far away pictures’ so off I went, camera and lens in hand.

The BIG lens!

I used that set up for a year or so before my back started telling me that it might be better to add a monopod to my camera in order to support all that weight when I stood for hours taking pictures. Adding a monopod would mean I’d have a little more weight to carry as I walked along, but I wouldn’t have to hold the camera up to my eye unsupported as I patiently waited for the ‘perfect shot’ or tried to pan the movement of a bird in flight. My back has thanked me many, many times over.

Taking pictures using the camera mounted on a monopod– a good back-saver

I used the Nikon D5600 for two or three years along with the 150-600mm lens before totally exceeding the picture expectancy of my camera with over 100,000 shots!! I decided to trade it in for a Nikon D500, a camera that was highly rated for nature photography and has totally lived up to that assessment!

Blanding’s Turtle
Barn Swallow

Before taking pictures, I had already loved going on nature walks– but there was so much I didn’t see! With my camera in hand the world suddenly opened up!! I paid more attention.  I noticed things I had never noticed before– like the subtle movement of a blade of grass that might mean a dragonfly had landed, or the tiny ‘bump’ at the top of a long-dead tree that might mean a hummingbird was resting; or the infinitesimal speck of blue on a shiny green leaf that might mean a damselfly was nearby.

Hagen’s Bluet Damselfy

All of those creatures had been there all along, but I never saw them —until I started taking pictures!

Three Gifts

June 4, 2022

I have a mental checklist that I review every time I leave the house for a picture walk: Is my camera battery fully charged? Is my memory card inserted? Do I have an extra card and an extra battery?  Do I have my phone and is it fully charged? Do I have my monopod? But, after what happened yesterday, I should probably switch my mental list to an real list!

Yellow Warbler
Cedar Waxwing

I was off on another picture adventure and eager to see what surprises awaited me.  My destination was a favorite nature center about an hour away from home. Whenever I go on a picture adventure, I feel an immediate sense of calm wash over me once I arrive. Yesterday was no exception. I drove into the parking lot, took a deep, relaxing breath, and prepared for my three-hour escape into nature’s arms– until I realized there was no memory card in my camera!!

Canada Goose Gosling

I had made this mistake before and had come prepared with an emergency back-up card! Perfect! Once the card was inserted, I happily set off into the ‘wild’ hoping for a day filled with beautiful little creatures and colorful flowers. My joy was short-lived.

Trumpeter Swan
American Toad singing!

Forty-five minutes into my walk, after taking only three measly pictures, my memory card said ‘full’!! What??? How could that be?? I tried every ‘high tech’ solution I could think of to remedy the situation: pull the card out and put it back in; turn off the camera, turn it back on, and re-format the memory card–repeatedly. Nothing worked! It was time for plan B!  Look for the nearest store!

American Bullfrog
Great Blue Heron shaking the water off

I hustled back to my car as fast as a marginally nimble 75 year-old can hustle on an uneven boardwalk with an expensive camera, a 600mm lens, and a 5 foot monopod! Once in my car, I drove as quickly as was legally possible to the nearest store to find another memory card– and hope that it worked. It didn’t. But I had already driven back to the nature center before I found out!

Field Sparrow

At that point, I could have just thrown in the towel. I could have just gone for a ‘regular’ walk and not taken pictures. But it was completely impossible for me to do that! This particular nature center had a butterfly house. It was the perfect place for close-up shots of stunning and unusual butterflies. I had to stay!

White Peacock Butterfly in the Butterfly House at the Nature Center
Garden White Butterfly in the Butterfly House at the Nature Center
Monarch Butterfly in the Butterfly House at the Nature Center

So, I went back into town to a different store and looked for a different memory card. While standing in the aisle reading the descriptions on each of the various cards, I suddenly realized why the first card hadn’t work and dashed out of the store. Back to the nature center for my third and final attempt at trying to salvage what was left of an otherwise lovely day!

Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly in the Butterfly House at the Nature Center
Zebra Longwing Butterfly in the Butterfly House at the Nature Center

I had first arrived at the nature center at 9:00 a.m. It was now noon. The soft morning light was long gone, as was the cool morning air. It had been a frustrating start to what was supposed to have been a calm and relaxing day. I was totally frazzled.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

But, keeping things in perspective is everything. The day was still young. The weather was still great and, most of all, I was very much alive and well, doing something I dearly loved— three priceless gifts that not everyone gets to enjoy. It was all I really needed to remember and off I went…

Trumpeter Swan coming in for a landing

Riding Out the Storm

March 15, 2020

Osprey on the wing

In the ten days since I last posted, so much has happened here in the states (and all over the world) in terms of the Coronavirus. We are officially in a ‘state of emergency’. Schools, libraries, restaurants and churches have closed all across the country for an indefinite period of time. Broadway has closed, Disney World has closed, New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade has been cancelled and the Boston Marathon has been postponed!  And this is only the beginning!

Osprey with his ‘catch of the day’

For many people, this emergency presents a severe economic hardship, for others, it is just an inconvenience, and for some, it will be a death sentence.  

Common Moorhen

In order to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, to ‘flatten the curve’ as they say, we are being asked to limit our contacts with other people, to practice ‘social distancing’ as much as possible. For Mel and I, the changes will be minimal. We’re retired. We won’t have lost wages. We won’t have young ones at home who need childcare, and we won’t have elderly parents in our care. In fact, at ages 66 and 73, we ARE the elderly!!  

Bald Eagle

For our part, then, we’ve stopped going to the coffee shop, stopped going to restaurants and stopped going to any stores other than an occasional visit to the grocery store. What we haven’t stopped doing is going out for walks.  

Brown Pelican diving for dinner!

I am beyond thankful that we, as a nation, haven’t yet been  restricted from leaving our homes like other countries have had to do. If this becomes necessary, we would readily comply, but home confinement would, no doubt, stress the limits of my ability to stay sane– or even pleasant! 

Wood Stork

My picture walks are an antidote to all the upheaval. They keep me interested, excited and connected to the world around me—they keep me healthy. So, I am hoping I won’t have to give up my walks during this crisis, and that they will continue to do what they have always done, which is to save my sanity during these very troubled times.  

All done!

For those of you who are housebound or otherwise unable to spend time with Mother Nature, I hope the pictures here provide joy or, in some way, pique your interest in the wonders of the natural world, and that they will help you ride out this storm!

Heat Wave

July 21, 2019

It’s been a hot and steamy week with periodic bouts of rain, but I still managed to squeeze in a picture walk every day except Friday. It was just too hot to enjoy much of anything that day! The temperature peaked at 93 degrees and the heat index, or how it really felt outside, topped 100 degrees!  I expect even the birds and the bees thought twice about expending any extra energy flitting about in that heat!

Sunday July 14, 2019

Kalamazoo Nature Center, 7000 N Westnedge Ave, Kalamazoo, MI

The Kalamazoo Nature Center is one of my favorite places to go for a picture walk. There are so many different habitats to visit and more than 14 miles of hiking trails. For today’s picture walk, I spent all my time in the Tall Grass Prairie looking primarily for birds but finding mostly flowers, butterflies and dragonflies.

Silver Spotted Skipper on Bee Balm
1/1000 sec, f/7.1, ISO 500
Coneflower
1/1000 sec, f/7.1, ISO 500
Twelve Spotted Skimmer, female
1/800 sec, f/7.1, ISO 400

Monday July 15, 2019

Al Sabo Land Preserve, 6310 Texas Drive, Kalamazoo MI

Ten days ago when Mel and I last visited the Al Sabo Preserve, we were blown away by how many different dragonflies there were: Blue Dashers, Calico Pennants, Common Whitetails, Dot-tailed Whitefaces, Eastern Pondhawks, Halloween Pennants, Spangled Skimmers, Twelve-spotted Skimmers and Widow Skimmers. That may not seem like enough to blow us away, but the male and female dragonflies of each type look totally different from each another so it always seems as if there are twice as many different types!

Dot-tailed Whiteface Dragonfly
1/500 sec, f/6.3, ISO 800
Spangled Skimmer
1/500 sec, f/8, ISO 800

There are apparently over 5000 different dragonflies and damselflies worldwide and about 162 different species in Michigan. I’ve found a wide variety of them, but nowhere near the state total!

Twelve Spotted Skimmer, male
1/640 sec, f/6.3, ISO 640
Widow Skimmer, male
1/800 sec, f/6.3, ISO 640

Today, though, when I walked the bike trail that skirts the woods and the meadows of Al Sabo preserve, there didn’t seem to be the same abundance of dragonflies as there had been a little over a week ago, but I still enjoyed my walk and was pleased to find an Eastern Comma butterfly, which I rarely see

Eastern Comma Butterfly
1/800 sec, f/6.3, ISO 1000

Tuesday July 16

Western Michigan University, Business Technology and Research Park, Intersection of Drake and Parkview Rd., Kalamazoo, MI

I particularly love this little ‘park’ –partly because it’s right next door and partly because I’m guaranteed to find something interesting –- Great Blue Herons and Swans, Barn Swallows and Tree swallows, Killdeer and ‘regular’ Deer, Frogs, Turtles, Geese and Goldfinches, and once upon a time, an elusive Green Heron. Even though it is not a ‘park’ in the strictest sense of the word, the green spaces around all the different buildings have been so well designed with an abundance of wildflowers and several ponds that it is a definite haven for a wide variety of birds, butterflies, amphibians and mammals.

Barn Swallow
1/640 sec, f/6.3, ISO 640
Cedar Waxwing
1/1000 sec, f/6.3, ISO 640
Local deer giving me the raspberries!
1/800 sec, f/6.3, ISO 500
Mute Swan
1/320 sec, f/6.3, ISO 800

Wednesday July 17

Kensington Metro Park Nature Center, 4570 Huron River Parkway
Milford, MI 48380

Kensington Metro Park is about 2 hours from our home, but since it is on the way to visiting our grandson, I make a point of stopping in for a picture walk every time I travel to that side of the state. It’s a unique environment with an active heron rookery, friendly Sandhill Cranes, fearless Songbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds and Woodpeckers who eagerly pester you to feed them out of hand, and an elusive white deer! I always find something of interest to photograph at Kensington.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
1/1000 sec, f/6, ISO 640
Great Blue Heron high up in the Rookery
1/500 sec, f/6.3, ISO 500
Thistle
1/640 sec, f/6.3, ISO 500

Thursday July 18

Asylum Lake Preserve, Intersection of Drake and Parkview Rd., Kalamazoo, MI

The Asylum Lake Preserve, like the WMU Business Technology and Research Park is within walking distance from my home.  Unlike the business park, though, the Asylum Lake Preserve is an undeveloped tract of land made up of prairies and woods and a small lake. I enjoy walking the trails through the tall grasses looking for new or unusual insects or looking up in the surrounding trees for a bird I haven’t seen before. On one very rare occasion,  I saw a Black-billed Cuckoo. Up until that day, I didn’t even know we had cuckoos in Michigan! Today I managed to capture a rarely seen hummingbird moth, a never seen Northern Pearly-eye butterfly and my very first Spicebush Swallowtail for the season.

Hummingbird Moth
1/1250 sec, f/6.3, ISO 800
Hummingbird Moth
1/1600 sec, f/6.3, ISO 1000
Northern Pearly-eye Butterfly
(shot with a flash)
Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly
1/1250 sec., f/6, ISO 800
Common Whitetail, male
1/640 sec, f/9, ISO 640
Slaty Skimmer, female
1/800 sec., f/6.3, ISO 1250

Friday July 19, 2019

The heat index topped 100 degrees today! I never went out to take pictures!

Saturday July 20, 2019

Kalamazoo Nature Center, 7000 N Westnedge Ave, Kalamazoo, MI

Mel and I both went out for a picture walk early this morning before it got beastly hot. It still got hot, but not beastly so. Both of us had been hoping to find some of the beautiful Swallowtail butterflies like we had seen this time last year at the Nature Center. But, it was either too early in the day or too early in the season to find them, because we never spotted a single one. Last year at this time, there were dozens of Tiger Swallowtails and Giant Swallowtails flitting around here and there over all the beautiful wildflowers along the entry road. What we found instead was a Ruby-throated hummingbird, a Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, a House Wren, an Eastern Phoebe and a few Cedar Waxwings. I’ll have to go back in a few days to see if I can catch the butterflies again!

House Wren
1/800 sec., f/6.3, ISO 640
Ruby-throated Hummingbird taking a rest high in a tree
1/1000 sec., f/6.3, ISO 800