Wandering with a Sense of Wonder

December 28, 2020

I came across the phrase, wandering with a sense of wonder, while researching ideas for my previous blog, Photography as Meditation. Alice Donovan Rouse, in her blog titled Photography and Meditation wrote, “I realized that wandering with a sense of wonder embodies the same methodology as yoga—it’s an exercise in focus and acceptance of whatever it is we may encounter along the way.”

I found this pretty, little Dark-eyed Junco as I wandered through the Blandford Nature Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan on an unusually warm and sunny winter day

That’s exactly how I envision my ‘picture walks’ –as wandering with a sense of wonder.  On most of my ventures, I set out with no particular goal in mind other than to find whatever it is that I think is pretty or interesting– and take a picture. It might be a beautiful bird or butterfly, but it might just as easily be a rock or a fungus. It might even be a single sound that catches my attention and sends me off in a different direction.

Rocks in a thin layer of ice at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan
An interesting looking fungus on a cool winter day in our nearby woods

About two weeks ago, I was out taking pictures at the Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery in Mattawan, Michigan, and was mystified by a sound in the distance, a sound I had never heard before. At first, I thought it might be a bird or maybe even an injured animal, but quickly divested myself of that idea when I decided it didn’t sound like any living thing on this planet! It sounded more like something from outer space!

This strikingly handsome Red-tailed Hawk at the Blandford Nature Center in Grand Rapids, was keeping a close eye on me as I tried to take his picture.
A Juvenile Bald Eagle flew overhead as I was taking pictures below at the Fish Hatchery.

My curiosity was getting the better of me when I spotted two people in the distance bending down close to the ground as if they were examining something quite small. When they stood up, it appeared as if they were throwing these things into the pond— and that’s when the strange noises began! It happened again and again as they threw stuff into the pond. They were far too distant for me to see exactly what they were throwing, but the most likely answer was rocks. All of a sudden, the proverbial light went off in my head! They were throwing stones across an ice-covered pond!! Fascinating!

A Northern Flicker at the Kalamazoo Nature Center that kept scurrying ahead of me down a path

Once the couple had moved out of range, I started experimenting for myself. The first rock I found was too small and made a disappointing ‘click-click-click’ sound across the pond. The second stone was too big and crashed unceremoniously through the thin ice. After a dozen or so rocks of various sizes and two small ponds with varying degrees of ice, I decided that a rock that was a little smaller than my fist made the best ‘pew-pew-pew’ sound as it skittered across the ice. Take a listen…

A very short video of one of my successful rock tosses across an icy pond at the Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery

Once I returned home and could do a little research on the subject, I found an article by Mark Mancini titled, Skipping Stones on Ice Makes Crazy Sci-Fi Sounds, where he describes the sounds of this phenomenon perfectly “Skip a stone across a frozen lake and you might hear a high-pitched sound that’s both familiar and otherworldly. It’s like the chirp of an exotic bird or a laser blast from a galaxy far, far away.”

https://science.howstuffworks.com/skipping-stones-on-ice-makes-crazy-sci-fi-sounds.htm

Male Cardinals certainly brighten up the landscape on these long, colorless winter days.

I also learned that the phenomenon itself is “… a classic example of acoustic dispersion. Sound waves are made up of multiple frequencies, including high ones and low ones. When a sound travels through air, its component frequencies usually travel together at the same rate, so they all reach the human ear more or less simultaneously. But sometimes, when a sound wave passes through a solid medium (like ice), those high and low frequencies get separated. Being faster, the high-frequency wavelengths zip ahead of their low-frequency counterparts. As a result, you may hear a gap between the high notes and the low notes contained within the same sound. That’s acoustic dispersion in a nutshell.” How interesting!

A Blue Jay who landed way too close as he waited for a turn at one of our feeders!

If you ultimately decide that you’d like to try chucking rocks yourself, I’ve read that extra-large expanses of ice lend themselves particularly well to acoustic dispersion, and that you should probably stand a good distance away from the iced-over body of water for the very best effect.

A beautiful American Goldfinch on Oriental Bittersweet

If you want to see the ultimate in stone skipping across ice, watch this video by Cory Williams as he tosses rocks onto an ice-covered lake in Alaska. He apparently struck internet gold when he posted this video in 2014. (Fast forward the video to the 3:50 mark if you want to skip the intro and just see him throwing the rocks.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=UUqEZdtqi4IlzmASqAjHGiHg&v=ZIHF5EoEixc

One of my very favorite little birds, the Black-capped Chickadee

If you wander with a sense of wonder, you’ll never be disappointed!

A young White-tailed deer that came almost close enough to pet!

A Common Denominator

April 2, 2020

We are nearly three weeks into isolating ourselves as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Mel and I have been staying at home (our Florida rental for two more weeks that is) except for our daily walks and our brief but infrequent trips to the grocery store. Our walks have mostly been to nature preserves and wildlife areas that are not commonly visited by others, and for most of those walks, we have taken our cameras– which is how we have amassed so many pictures in a relatively short period of time!

Tri-colored Heron
Green Heron

Fortunately, photography is a hobby that is serving us well during this time of forced isolation. Even if we become restricted to the parameters of our own backyard, we will still find things to photograph–especially Mel with his macro photography!

One of Florida’s many alligators sunning itself in the grass.
Osprey with its catch of the day

One of the many benefits of this nature photography hobby has been its therapeutic effects. No matter how anxious or worried I am about the overwhelming consequences of this pandemic that we are all suffering through, once I start focusing on the birds and bugs around me, I am almost immediately calmed. All my concentration is focused on the subject at hand and whether the settings on my camera will be correct. But, even before the COVID-19, my picture walks had proven to be quite the magical elixir for restoring a sense of balance, tranquility and joy to my world.

Sandhill Crane parent and offspring

An added benefit of this nature photography hobby has come from sharing my pictures with others, By sharing the things I have seen, I am afforded the opportunity to stay connected to others. The natural world is our common denominator. It gives us a common language with which to converse and to find joy. Pictures are just another way to communicate that joy– particularly during these very uncertain and heart-wrenching times.

Stay safe out there!

Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly (minus the swallow tails!)
Common Grackle

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.