Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.

A walk through Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge


I follow a wildlife group on Facebook. I’ve been seeing pictures of what were identified as Brown Pelicans that people were seeing out at the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge which is only a little over an hour from me. Pelicans in Michigan?

Early morning at the refuge.

I’ve been to this refuge once before, about a year ago. I saw lots of pretty things then, but no pelicans. I’ve never heard of pelicans in Michigan and I wanted to see them.

I startled a racoon as it swims over to a log to exit the water.

But life, as it usually does, interfered. I had too many commitments, too many places I needed or wanted to be. I kept putting off my trip up to Saginaw County, but those images of these beautiful birds continued to show up on Facebook.

Huge flocks of sandhill cranes flew overhead in the early morning light.

Finally I decided to add a stop at the refuge to a scheduled trip north to my happy place along the shores of Lake Michigan. I figured since I wanted to be at the refuge at sunrise I could spend as much as four hours there and still get up to Northport at a reasonable hour.

Water on either side of the dike I was walking on.

So one day last week I let Katie get me up at 3:30, put on my waterproof shoes and lightweight hiking pants and headed out the door by 4:30, prepared for a double adventure.

I arrived at the refuge as the sun was coming up. In hindsight I should have arrived even earlier, because it’s a two mile walk back to the wide open wetlands where the pelicans were supposed to be. But I saw plenty of things on my two mile walk, even as the sun crept higher and higher into the sky.

A damp egret watched me walk by.

I crept along as well, because the trail was covered in crushed stone and my heavy, waterproof shoes were so noisy on the rock that every few steps ducks rose up from the water on either side of the dike I was walking on. The noise of their flight up out of the water is startling, even after I heard it a few dozen times.

I frighten a wood duck couple into leaving.

It was hard to get a decent image of anything in the low light, no matter how high I set my ISO. But I had fun trying.

A juvie green heron, just out of focus.

By the time I got out to the open wetlands I was already tired. Such an early start, so many missed images. But then I rounded a curve and saw these guys. They sounded an alarm as I slowly approached them.

“Should we stand our ground or get the heck out of here?”

They were between me and where I needed to be in order to check out potential pelicans. I wanted to get a good picture of them flying, so I stayed prepared with the camera held up to my eyes as I moved forward. Eventually they gave up and rose into the air with great fanfare, warning about my trespassing into their space to anyone else out there that cared. They were absolutely beautiful.

The sun on their wings was so beautiful.

I coldn’t stop shooting as they rose higher and higher.

They looked like a painting.

Once they had flown off over the woods and the sound of their calls had faded I looked around and saw what I thought were some swans preening on a log on the other side of some open water.

Those are swans over there. Right?

I couldn’t see them very well, even with my long lens because I was shooting into the morning light. I was pretty sure it was a bunch of swans, so I spent some time seeing what else was out there.

Egrets discussing the weather. Or something.

The egrets were beautiful in the morning sun. And everywhere I went something flew out of the water. It was hard to keep up.

I startled this blue heron too. He left without looking back.

Still, those swans out there called me and I took more pictures. But time was ticking, and how many images did I need of a group of swans? I was getting tired and I was disappointed that I hadn’t seen the pelians.

A female wood duck takes off. I seem to be disturbing everyone!

I turned to go, and over my left shoulder three large birds flew by. Three large white birds. Could it be? Yes! They were pelicans! My settings weren’t right for a moving bird, but I got some OK shots.

White pelicans!!!!!

Then I took some more shots of those ‘swans’ back where I had turned around. Because you know what? There were more and more gathering there. And behind them were hundreds more, out of camera range. Pelicans masquerading as swans.

They call a group of pelicans a ‘pod.’ This pod was getting bigger by the minute.

I looked them up and I think these are not Brown Pelicans, but American White Pelicans. They have big black stripes on the ends of their wings, just like the images in the article. I feel lucky to have seen them.

All those white birds flying in the background are pelicans too!

After spending a long time watching them I turned and began my long walk back to the car. By now the sun was really up and so were all the little birds. Lots of hopping around in the underbrush, chirping, flitting across the path. I only got one of the little ones in a decent shot.

A little round yellow bird. Maybe a warbler?

But I saw several others too, though the images are terrible so I won’t share. I’m just glad to have seen a juvinile rose breasted grosbeak, and a white throated sparrow, who, people say, is only around in winter. Uh oh. Winter??

What a beautiful place to be on a beautiful morning.

On the way back I concentrated on moving along, but also stopping to notice the flowers still in bloom…

Everything was yellow, green or red.

…and the beautiful fall colors just starting.

The maple trees were glowing in the early light.

Four hours later I had walked a little over six miles, my feet hurt, my back hurt but my heart was full. I still had a four hour drive to Northport, but I was headed to my happy place, and had been in a very beautiful refuge. Couldn’t complain, that’s for sure.

Morning light.

Plus….I had seen hundreds and hundreds of pelicans! And now you have too!

Definitely worth getting up early!

Author: dawnkinster

I'm a long time banker having worked in banks since the age of 17. I took a break when I turned 50 and went back to school. I graduated right when the economy took a turn for the worst and after a year of library work found myself unemployed. I was lucky that my previous bank employer wanted me back. So here I am again, a long time banker. Change is hard.

34 thoughts on “A walk through Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge

  1. These are beautiful, Dawn! I’ve never seen white pelicans before–we have brown ones here in my part of FL. These are pretty. What ISO were you using? I’ve been staying in Aperture mode (your instructions are great!) and doing well so far, so am curious what you were using, because I could not tell it was dark in your photos. The two birds in flight are gorgeous.


    • Well, the ISO changed. I picked my apeture first, the amount of the image I wanted in focus. Then I moved the ISO up until I had at least a 1/125 shutter speed for something still, 1/125 is about the lowest you can go when you’re holding a camera, not on a tripod, and have stuff mostly in focus. If I thought I was going after something that was going to be moving, especially flying, I wanted the shutter speed to be about 1/2000 so I moved the ISO up until I could get the shutter speed to be that fast. Most of these were around 3200 ISO. But what I tried to do was to get the shutter speed fast enough to stop motion…so I aimed for 1/2000 shutter speed at whatever appeture I wanted, often f 8 or f9 out there. My photo instructor said he rarely went above f6 or f7 but he’s mostly a landscape photographer, so stuff isn’t moving. I’ve found the depth of field at f6 doesn’t always get all of the bird in focus, so I try to go higher, but that means I need a faster shutter speed and a higher ISO.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. When you were shooting the first photo of the swans you didn’t notice the pelicans? They must have been far away! You have an amazing camera, and your camera has an amazing boss!


  3. I so admire you and your adventures, Dawn. And some lovely pictures! I especially liked the painting (was that of cranes?) and the circular ripple and the pelican pod. Your photography has just gotten better and better over these years!


    • Yes, sandhill cranes. The ripple was funny. I was standing there looking at a pair of egrets when something fell out of the tree above the water and made that pretty circle. So I didn’t shoot the egrets but I did shoot the ripple!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wonderful photos. I love the White (and Brown) pelicans. Probably my favorite bird. When I see them here in Central Washington on the Yakima River I am always thrilled. But the pod, that apparently makes its home on the Columbia River, seems much smaller than the pod you saw.


    • Maybe these were in multiple pods…there were hundreds of them there, most way too far away for my camera, but definitely flying around. Could be a migration stop for them on their way south for the winter.


  5. Your photos are gorgeous! The white pelicans visit our waterways every summer. I had never seen them before we moved here.


  6. Oh my goodness. Your pictures are amazing and I did not know about this park at all. What a great day you had even if you had to get up at o dark thirty! Thanks for sharing!


  7. What a great story, and well done for your persistence: but you were rewarded;


  8. Beautiful, beautiful birds and scenes! I love that little raccoon, too.


    • I loved the raccoon too. There were two, perhaps mother and baby, this being the baby. I heard a splash and saw the first racoon head up the log and then the bank. I was too late to capture that, and didn’t see the 2nd one until it moved…but I was glad to get this image…the series is him on the first log, then walking along that log, then stepping into the water, then up to his chin in the water, the image I used, then the back end of him, out of focus, with water dripping off of him as he climbed out. He also ambled up the log and then the bank, following the first one. I don’t know what they were doing out there in the middle of the water in the first place. Probably eating something.


  9. You had a great outing. And who’d a thunk pelicans in Michigan. Lucky you!


  10. So much beauty you’ve shared here! I’m glad you were the one getting up at 3:30 in the morning and walking miles and miles, too, ha! But I’ve never seen a white pelican before so there’s that. And I’ll bet your princess knew something was up when she didn’t get to go on this jaunt!


  11. All right. This gets a wowsah! It deserves nothing less.


  12. It looks so beautiful out there. So many birds! So many colors and textures and flowers. White pelicans are considerably larger than the brown, and, yes, brown pelicans are… brown. I have a photo of them on the same beach, although not standing right next to each other, in Elkhorn Slough between Santa Cruz and Monterey, which in several ways reminds me of your refuge photos. Makes me realize how long it has been since I’ve been out at some of these places in late autumn thru early spring when the varieties expand fabulously because of breeding presence or migration. Glad that you got to see some pelicans and realized it before you left!
    (Pelicans in here:

    Liked by 1 person

  13. WOW Wow Wow! Magnificent!!


  14. I love wildlife refuges — so much to see and appreciate. Your pictures are lovely — my fave is the little yellow bird. But all are good. Thanks for sharing this special place.


  15. I am so glad you found the pelicans. I had no idea they hang out in Michigan. What a treat! They are beautiful. I saw some here recently, at the beach, but they are here year-round, I think. The Brown Pelican hangs out in Virginia, and the American White can be found over the border in Maryland, but they don’t really care where the border is so we see both in both places on Assateague Island.

    Your photos are beautiful, and it looks like such a lovely walk.


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