One of the many joys of a picture walk is never knowing what I’ll find or who I’ll meet along the way. Yesterday, I met a dog named Norman. It brought a smile to my face. Why would anyone name a dog, Norman, I wondered? It seemed like a very formal moniker for such a small, scruffy little beast. So, I posed the question to the human attached to the other end of the leash, “Why Norman?”
“Well,” she said, “I named him after my dad who recently passed away.”
That was even funnier, I thought, to name a dog after your dead parent, but I kept my chuckle to myself. Instead, I shared the fact that my own father was also deceased and was also named Norman! For the life of me, though, I couldn’t even imagine naming a dog after my dead parent! It just didn’t seem right–and it conjured up an unappealing visual in my head of walking my dad on a leash and cleaning up all his messes!
Earlier in the day, long before I met up with Norman, I had been walking along the creek behind our house hoping to find a wood duck in the early morning light. I expected one to swim out from the cattails along the bank, but it splashed down suddenly in the water next to me and jolted me out of my quiet reverie! Later, I was pleasantly surprised to find a female northern shoveler and a male blue-winged teal swimming in close proximity to the newly-arrived wood duck. What a great find! Both the shoveler and the teal are rare visitors to our creek!
Once the early morning light started to change, and no longer had that soft golden glow, I wandered through the woods adjacent to the creek and headed over to a nearby preserve where I hoped to find a loon. I had never seen a loon here in Michigan, but knew that one had recently been spotted on the lake at the preserve and hoped I’d get a picture!
It took me awhile to find the loon. It’s not a very colorful bird, and it does have a habit of swimming rather low in the water. Even on a relatively small body of water, like the one I was visiting, loons can be difficult to spot.
While I had my camera focused on the loon, something in my peripheral vision distracted me. It was an Osprey flying towards me on the left with a good-sized fish in its talons!! I turned to take its picture and didn’t have time to change the settings on my camera. I just started shooting as fast as I could and hoping for the best! In photography, this method of shooting is often called ‘spray and pray!’ Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s always worth a try.
As I continued walking around the lake, I was delighted to find two great blue herons in relatively close proximity to one other! I’ve never seen two blue herons at the same time except at a rookery. A short time later, I spotted a third!
One of the birds that never takes me by surprise is the Canada goose! It’s absolutely everywhere, but quite easy to overlook as a desirable photography subject. Even the most mundane of subjects, like the Canada goose, though, can make for a beautiful photograph given the right circumstances and a little bit of ingenuity. If nothing else, Canada geese are great subjects for practicing one’s photography skills; they’re not hard to find, they’re easier to photograph than smaller, flightier birds, and they really are stunning in their own right.
On this particularly warm spring day, I also saw swans, turtles, grackles, and one very busy muskrat chewing away on something tasty; totally oblivious to my presence. Up in the trees surrounding the lake, there was a musical assortment of robins, chickadees, bluebirds, red-winged blackbirds, golden-crowned kinglets, yellow-rumped warblers, and one little brown creeper scurrying up a tree.
I always head out on these picture walks wondering what kinds of surprises I’ll find or who I’ll meet along the way. Yesterday, my best surprise was the osprey with the fish, but the funniest surprise was the dog named Norman, and the story of his name. I’m still smiling!
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!
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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!!
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.
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!
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.
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!
Going for a ‘picture walk’ is a lot like a scavenger hunt, I think. It’s not that I have a list of things to find, but every picture I take feels like a little treasure I’ve collected and put in my pocket. When I get home, I empty my pockets of all the things I’ve found and decide what to keep and what to throw away. The nice thing about this kind of treasure is that my pockets are always big enough! And that’s a good thing– because sometimes I have more than 500 treasures to sort through!
After months and months of dreary Michigan skies, it was a welcome relief to finally arrive in Florida for 10-weeks of respite. It’s not that I don’t like winter, I actually love the snow; but in Michigan, it doesn’t come often and it doesn’t stay long. Most of the time it turns to slush. The straw that breaks the camel’s back, though, is the never-ending days of gray. I can live with the slush, but it’s hard to forego sunshine day after day.
So, for the last four years, we have loaded up our cameras, fishing gear, inflatable kayaks and our two very old dogs to head south, to sunnier skies, to warmer days and never ending picture opportunities.
We arrived at our rental destination late Monday afternoon and I could barely contain myself. I was so tired of sitting in the car for days on end that I could hardly wait until Tuesday morning to go for a picture walk! As soon as the sun was up, that’s exactly what I did.
My first picture walk on Tuesday morning was around the wonderful little Ollie’s Pond. Later in the day, I went to the Larry Taylor Kiwanis Park not far from our rental. Today, Mel and I went to two more parks. After months of relative blight in Michigan, I felt as if I had won the lottery: Cormorants, Anhingas, Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Mergansers, Little Blue Herons, Tri-colored herons, Blue-winged teals…the list was almost endless.
I was simultaneously overwhelmed and rejuvenated with all there was to see!
Mel and I have just returned from a vacation in Colorado
where we both enjoyed pursuing our passions—fly fishing for him, nature
photography for me.
Hitchcock Nature Center, Honey Creek, Iowa
Our four day, twelve hundred mile car journey from Michigan to Colorado took us through the states of Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. According to Google Maps, it’s only a 16 hour journey— that is if you don’t stop to sleep or eat or go to the bathroom! We did all of the aforementioned, plus took a side trip to Honey Creek Iowa where we spent two days in a cozy little cabin on the grounds of the Hitchcock Nature Center. While at the nature center, we took pictures walks along the Fox Ridge Run Trail and the Boardwalk Trail.
August 30- September 2
Ft. Collins, Colorado
From Honey Creek, Iowa we headed through Nebraska to Fort
Collins, our first Colorado destination.
Fort Collins is well known for its excellent fly fishing opportunities and a multitude of natural areas to explore. Over the course of our stay in Fort Collins, Mel went fishing several places along the Cache La Poudre River, while I took picture walks along the Hewlett Gulch Trail, the Fossil Creek Reservoir (twice) and at the Colorado State University Annual Trial Flower Garden. Mel joined me for picture walks on one of my visits to the reservoir and at the university flower garden.
Beautiful flowers and butterflies from the Colorado State Annual Trial Garden…
Estes Park, Colorado
As soon as we arrived in Estes Park, Mel headed to the fishing shops and I headed out looking for pictures to take. Surprisingly, the Knoll-Willows Nature Preserve is right in town and only a stone’s throw from where we parked! Within a minute or so of commencing my walk, I spotted a huge bull elk lounging in the underbrush along the edge of the preserve! A little farther down the sidewalk, were several of his girlfriends. Apparently, elk are a very common sight right in Estes Park!
In front of the Visitor’s Center at Estes Park, the Hummingbird Moths and the Hummingbirds were a delight to watch…
September 5, 2019
Rocky Mountain National Park
to Steamboat Springs
We spent the day driving through the scenic, breathtaking Rocky Mountain National Park to reach our second Colorado destination, Steamboat Springs. Mel and I stopped several times through the mountain route to take in all the spectacular views– but I never took any scenery pictures (they tend to be disappointing compared to the real thing), preferring instead to look for the smaller things like birds and butterflies and mammals.
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
While Mel went fishing in the Yampa River, I went walking along the Yampa River Trail, a 7.5 mile multi-use trail that runs through the heart of Steamboat Springs and along the Yampa River. Along that trail, I found other points of interest like the Rotary Park Boardwalk and the Yampa Botanic Park, both of which were wonderful places for a quiet retreat as well as multiple picture opportunities.
On one of the days that Mel didn’t go fishing,
we took a drive up to Fish Creek Falls
together for a picture walk and later spent hours at the Yampa Botanic Garden taking pictures of all the beautiful flowers,
birds and visiting insects.
Stunning flowers from the Yampa Botanic Garden…
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Springs was our last destination in Colorado and we made the best of the time
we had. As soon as we arrived on the afternoon of the 9th, we went for a
picture walk in Palmer Park on a
trail that turned out to be rockier and slipperier than we expected. Not many
pictures got taken—we were too busy watching our footing!
The following morning we headed out to the Garden of the Gods, which is known for its enormous, awe-inspiring geologic
formations, including tall rock spires or hoodoos, and steep cliffs. It’s a
major tourist attraction and well worth the visit.
After our visit to Garden of the Gods, Mel dropped me off at the Bear CreekNature Center to take pictures all afternoon while he explored the fishing shops, bookstores and coffee shops around Colorado Springs.
On Wednesday, our last full day in Colorado, Mel dropped me off at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo where I spent a delightful five and a half hours taking almost 800 pictures of the zoo animals and of the native birds that were flitting about in the nearby trees!
The meerkats were great fun to watch. They are both curious and comical!
The best part of going on vacation, besides getting away from every day routines, is finding things I’ve never seen before (and taking pictures!), eating things I’ve never tried before and meeting new people I’ve never met before.