Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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A Shiawassee walk in the park

My sister is visiting from out of town and we’ve been busy exploring. I took her to Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge one very early morning a couple weeks ago.

A pretty pink early morning light gilded everything.

I hadn’t been there in mid-summer before, preferring migration season, when the cranes are coming and going, but you never know what you’ll see on any given day. We arrived at the park before the sun was up, and it seemed pretty quiet.

Almost boring.

Here comes the sun.

I was feeling kind of disappointed that nothing seemed to be flying when suddenly the sound of wings came up from our right, moved directly overhead and then off into the distance to our left.

All those little black dots are birds.

I don’t know what kind of birds they were, they were just black silhouettes, but thousands of smallish dark shapes flew by, heading out for breakfast and their day in the sun.

It was pretty cool.

A chilly start to our bird-watching day.

Then we hopped back in the car and started down Wildlife Drive where, once again, I didn’t initially see anything interesting Though there was this beautiful field of something, glowing in the early light.

This reminded me of the tulip fields in Holland though of course it wasn’t.

And as I was standing outside of the car taking that photo these guys rose up with a ruckus from the ditch right next to me.

It’s hard to have a peaceful morning when people keep stopping to stare at us.”

And a little further up the road we disturbed this blue heron. I loved his long legs as he took off.

Lift off!

He was less than thrilled with us…

“Darn humans anyway.”

…so we moved on down the road.

No one out there but us and the wildlife.

At the next corner I saw an adorable duck. So of course we stopped.

There’s a duck under there. Somewhere.

Turns out he was some kind of diving duck, and the best image I grabbed of him wasn’t him at all.

And then right after the duck was a juvenile eagle hanging out in a tree.

“I’m not going to look at you, ladies.”

The light wasn’t really right to get a great shot of him, so I started looking around at what else was waiting to be photographed and found my artsy-fartsy image of the day.

The morning’s art piece.

I don’t know why the line of dead trees caught my eye, but something about it demanded to be captured. So I did.

Then we ran across something of a bird flasher. He seemed intent on showing off everything he had. Or maybe he was just drying off from a morning swim.

“Geeze, ladies, if you don’t want to see, don’t look.”

And while we were watching him my sister saw a bit of gold flitting around in a stand of thistle.

Hanging upside down to get the best thistle seed fresh from the blossom.

I spent a long time getting an image of him eating out in nature what I usually see goldfinches eating from my feeder at home.

These ducks were swimming as if they had some sort of mission to achieve somewhere else. I have no idea what kind of duck they are. Looking in my Michigan bird book I wonder if maybe they are female wood ducks? Or maybe juveniles.

“We might have red eyes, but we’re not hung over.”

And this family of ducks were adorable. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like them before either.

I think mama is on the right and the other 3 are babies.

But the bird that made me smile the widest was this guy. We’d been watching, through binoculars, a couple of bald eagles perched in a tree very far away when I happened to glance to my left and saw this:

“Just minding my own business, nothing to see here.”

There was an adult bald eagle in the top of a tree much closer to us. Still far away, but much closer than those eagles across the field.

Heavily cropped image.

We spent a long time taking shots of him, as I was struggling with my focus all day. I kept trying, manually adjusting, trying to find a place to prop my long lens because I was worried about camera shake.

“Keeping a watch on you ladies is a full time job!”

My glasses were fogging up and sliding off my nose which irritated me so I put them on top of my head and then realized I couldn’t tell if anything was in focus without them. I decided to trust the lens.

Eventually I figured, what the heck, I’d try to move closer to him. I walked, under cover of the tree line toward him, moving slowly and as quietly as I could given the gravel road. I couldn’t tell if he was watching me.

“Really lady. I’m an eagle. I’m where the term eagle eyes comes from.”

I caught a bit of him through the trees then tried to move out into the open to get an unobscured shot. But he wasn’t having any of it, and that was the end of that.

I’m outta here.”

But man that was fun.

We were nearing the end of Wildlife Drive, but there was still a bit more to see. We’d noticed monarch butterflies all morning, flitting among the milkweed, wings glowing in the early morning sun.

Nom nom nom.

And now that the sun was higher warming the air we noticed even more.

I loved the colors in this shot, the butterfly and the background too.

Having not learned my lesson with the egrets, the heron, the diving duck, and the eagle, I tried to move around the butterfly to get a better angle.

“I’m outta here.”

But he wasn’t having it and that was the end of that.

Ah well.

Turns out there was so much to see along the road that had initially looked empty, and just before we left the Refuge we saw one more image that made us smile.

” Hey look Clyde, there’s another car full of camera happy fools. I swear we should start charging a fee.

I know it’s not easy being green, but these guys seemed pretty comfortable in their own skins. Or should I say shells. At least they didn’t take off when I took their picture. Maybe because I shot it from the car window.

I can learn, contrary to what Katie always used to say, yes I can.


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Both sides of my lens

I changed the photo at the top of my Facebook page yesterday. It’s a shot taken by a friend of mine while we were out at my favorite park earlier this week.

Many people ask how I get the images of birds eating out of my hand, and this shot tells you the entire story. Basically you just shoot as fast as you can and hope.

This was one of the only times I’ve had a picture of me taking a picture where I knew that I had grabbed shots from the very same moment.

So now you can see both sides of my lens.

I remember hearing birds swarming around my head, and I just kept the shutter clicking, not sure what I’d end up capturing.

In the end Mrs. Red-winged got something to eat, after the rude Mr. got his choice and flew away.

I was rooting for her. Weren’t you?


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Two opportunists or just one con-bird?

I was back out at Kensington this week, on a dreary and damp Wednesday morning. The birds were overjoyed to see us. And of course I have loads of images. Some are quite good.

But my question today is about one particular little bird. Or perhaps two.

We were still very near the nature center when a rose-breasted grosbeak demanded a treat. This is the first year I’ve ever seen a grosbeak come in for a hand held treat. But these days I often see, on Facebook, a picture of one enjoying himself. It kind of looks like the same bird I’ve fed out there.

And I wonder if there is only one that comes in to eat our treats, or if the entire rose-breasted population has figured out the secret.

So here’s the bird that ate from our hand near the nature center.

And here’s the bird that flew down from a high branch of a dead tree to get the last of the snacks just before we left for the day.

What do you think? Is it the same bird? Or did we have two hungry birds begging for attention?

Inquiring birders want to know.


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Father and son

Now look here, son, you’re almost an adult. You’re as big as me and your head is starting to turn red! It’s time for you to learn how to feed yourself.

Hey! None of that flapping your wings for supper stuff. Look over there, see the woman with peanuts in her hand?

Are you listening to me, boy? Pay attention!

Look, that’s not going to get you anywhere with the humans around here . You have to have more finesse!

Now watch me, I’m gonna go schmooze a snack. For myself.

The kid’s gotta learn to get his own food sooner or later.

Dad?

DAAAAADDDDD!!!!!


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Tales from the backyard

I sat on the deck the other day, watching the comings and goings. I was thinking about my girl, of course, but also just enjoying a beautiful day.

Here’s one of the many tales from my backyard.

Nom, nom, nom. Sure is nice to have the feeder to myself. No pushy starlings or jays around.”

“Hey! You’re a baltimore oriole, you’ve got your OWN feeder over THERE!”

“Now wait just a darn minute! There’s not enough room for all your friends too!”
“Man, what’s the world coming to, mumble, mumble mumble…”

“I’m outta here, I’m not going to listen to this old guy anymore. Plus there’s grape jelly over there!”

“Nom, nom, nom, nom.”


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Of wings… or the attack of the red bellied

I’ve hidden my babies over here.

It’s that time of year where a walk through the woods reveals babies everywhere.

Hurry up, I only have a 10 minute break from the babies this morning, lady!

I visited my favorite park early one morning after a night of rain.

Did you bring us all something to eat?

The parking lot was virtually empty, and the birds were frantic for some breakfast.

Make way! I, the big bad red-winged blackbird require food!

Swarms of blackbirds and starlings swirled around me. The little birds tried to get some attention too.

Talk to the wing, blackbird!

They lined up on the railing for a chance to get something to eat.

“Lady! We’re hungry!”

The rose breasted grosbeak got first dibs. Just based on beauty. Plus he was pushy.

Nom, nom, nom Thanks lady!

Even the mourning dove hopped over to get a treat. I’ve never had either the grosbeak or a dove land in my hand before.

“This is a joke, right? Did that pig the grosbeak eat all the treats?”

Eventually everybody got something.

“About time, lady.”

And then I went on down the trail

“Come on into the woods, lady. It’s not your responsibility to get them ALL fed.”

Where I quickly ran into this family out for a morning stroll. I first noticed an adult with a teenager almost as tall. Notice the teenager’s knees.

“Meet my son, Junior.”

Then the other parent emerged from the trees to complete the family.

“Come on over this way, mom and dad, I think the best stuff is on the other side of the trail.”

Once I edged carefully by them, which wasn’t easy because one of the parents was keeping an evil eye on me, I found a papa red bellied woodpecker. And his son.

“Watch this, son.”

To be accurate, I didn’t find him. He got my attention when he dive bombed me. Repeatedly.

He wasn’t interested in coming in for a treat. He flew right at me, did a touch down on my head and landed in a tree behind me. Then he came back and hit me in the head before landing back in the tree with his young one.

“I see you lady, move on down the road, OK?”

He did this over and over, as I continued to duck and weave and move on down the trail.

Eventually he picked up a bit of seed that I had flung behind me as a desperate distraction and perched on a broken branch to peck it open.

“First you have to crack the seed open, son.”

And then he fed it to his youngster who had been following all the excitement eagerly.

“Here, taste this, pretty good, ey?”

I crept away as they were eating.

Lots of little birds came in for a snack once I was away from the attacking woodpecker.

“Thanks!”

I enjoyed their visits in the quiet woods.

“Coming in for a landing, lady!”

It was peaceful out there, not many people wandering the trails.

“Good morning mama.”

And then I heard a squealing and yelling headed in my direction.

“This way!”

The quiet of the woods was interrupted, but I was OK with that. Kids need to spend time outside too.

“Thanks for the dive-through service, lady!”

So I headed out to the rookery to see if any of the teenagers were still there.

“Where’s the lunch lady?”

Many of them were. I guess they’re planning on staying as long as mom and dad are willing to feed them.

I witnessed one parent arriving with something good to eat. The craziness is hard to sort out in pictures. And the noise was amazing.

“OK, ok. I’m here with lunch. Settle down you two!”

Personally I think it’s time the folks kick the kids out. Most of them are flying from their nests to other branches, but come back to the nest for food.

“Hey! I want some over here too!”

None of the commotion appeared to distract the egret, just below, from continuing his grooming. Egrets move in when the herons leave the rookery. This guy was early I guess.

“Kids. Can’t wait until the neighbors move out!”

And then I left the park, stopping for a moment to check on the osprey nest where the youngsters were flexing their wings too.

“Hey! I think I’m getting this flying thing!”

Another good walk in the woods.

So peaceful. So fun. So exciting. You take your pick around here!

Babies everywhere, all growing up so fast.

“Parenting is so exhausting.”


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Not photographed

I met a friend at Kensington today. She’s a budding birder. Me? I’m just trying to get focused bird images.

The little birds weren’t particularly hungry today and not many were coming down to grab a treat. Besides, she wanted to add new birds to her life list…so we didn’t spend too much time trying to tempt the regulars.

Wait ladies! I’m just a baby, a little slow on the uptake. But I’m cute!

We were wandering out to a boardwalk that bisects a wetland when we noticed a squirrel trotting down the path toward us. I was a bit concerned because it seemed to be a fast trot, and I didn’t want it running up our legs. And then I realized this was a very long squirrel. Kind of skinny too. And it had something in it’s mouth.

When it got close, just before it veered off into the weeds next to us, I realized it was a mink. I’ve never seen a mink before. I had a camera hanging around my neck. Did I get a picture? No I did not. I was too busy processing what I was seeing. A mink, with a mouse, or perhaps a vole, in it’s mouth trotted right by and I have no image to show for it.

Oh well.

A beautiful day.

We moved on down the path to the boardwalk where we began to hear at least two Common Yellowthroat birds. They were calling, quite loudly, from trees on both sides of the path. My friend was using her binoculars and I was using my camera to try to find either one of them.

I’ve never actually seen one, and I wasn’t even sure what I was looking for, so I looked for any small bird. She saw it first, and then I saw it hop from one branch to another. And then it flew right toward us and landed, for a split second, on the boardwalk just to the left of me.

I had time to register the swooping black eye patch and the bit of yellow, and then he was off, following the call of the other one behind us. Did I get a picture of this beautiful bird while it was there on the path beside me? No I did not. I was too busy processing the fact that the bird had actually landed so close.

Oh well.

We spent a long time on that boardwalk, looking for more Yellowthroats. We heard them and caught brief glimpses of them flitting among the branches. I actually have one sort of bad image, and was lucky to get that.

A yellowthroat contemplates us looking for him.

While we were there a blue jay landed on a limb of an oak tree above us. He watched my friend as she offered treats to a couple little birds without success. He hopped closer, tilting his head to peruse her hand. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the blue jays never come down for a treat, they all wait until you give up and move along, then they swoop down to gather from the ground whatever you’ve left behind.

He’s calculating how he’s going to get a treat from us without lowering himself to our expectations of gratitude.

As I was fiddling with the camera settings to get a picture of him above her he dropped straight down, wings folded, a little torpedo headed right for her hand. He landed on it with a plop which scattered the seed from her hand onto the boardwalk. In the midst of the chaos he grabbed a peanut and flew back up into the tree to gloat while he enjoyed his spoils.

We looked at each other stunned. So…did I get the picture? I did not. But it really happened, I can get my friend to vouch for me.

There was a bird on these branches. Honest.

Oh well.

Eventually we headed back to our cars, happy that we had seen the mink and the Yellowthroat, and even the blue jay. And as I drove out of the parking lot I saw a sandhill crane couple with their two teenage colts. A lovely image. Did I get the picture? I did not.

There was nowhere to park and by the time I did and walked back I got one very poorly focused image of the back of one baby as they slipped off into the tall grass.

So….this post will have to fuel your imagination. Imagine walking down a wooded path on a beautiful warm breezy day. Imagine a mink running toward you and a beautiful little yellow bird flying by and a big ole blue jay figuring out how to get a contactless treat and a whole beautiful family of cranes complete with twins.

It’s always a good day out here. Even if you don’t get perfect pictures.

I bet, if you do all that, you’ll be grinning as much as we were, in fact you won’t be able to help yourself.

We sure couldn’t.


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Songs of Shiawasee

Ok, so maybe I won’t be singing in this post, but lots of birds were vocalizing when I visited the Shiawasee National Wildlife Refuge Friday morning. (And I should thank my friend Wendy for telling me about the Merlin phone app that helped me identify so many bird songs that morning!) Want to come along? You should probably be on a screen bigger than your phone for these images. Just to get the full effect, you know.

It was a beautiful sunny day. Perfect for basking.

I got a later than normal start, as I’m usually there at sunrise and this time I didn’t arrive until hours after the sun was up. But it was still morning! So that counts for something, right?

This might be a king bird. Or something else. I thought he was very elegant.

Still, there weren’t many cars in the parking lot, which now that I think about it, was irrelevant because I planned on doing the Wildlife Drive instead of doing my usual 4 mile hike through the woods.

This juvenile bald eagle startled me, coming off of a telephone pole just as I drove by.

I was curious about what I’d see from the car on the 6 mile route through the refuge. I’ve visited in late fall and early spring, but the wildlife drive is only open from June 1 through September 30 each year, so I’ve never driven it before.

Not all the pretty things are wildlife. At least this water lily stood still for me.

I have to say there are long stretches of the road that weren’t particularly interesting to me. But when I got a good image, it was a really good image.

I watched this blue heron scratch his chin for several minutes before he took off for parts unknown.

And it was fun to see the refuge from a different perspective. I could see, way across the wetlands, parts of the trails I usually walk.

Way over there is a tree that usually has eagles sitting in it. You can get closer if you’re walking, but they always see you and fly away.

But boy, you have to be ready for anything while driving, just like when you’re walking in the woods.

Mama wood duck and her brood. Not in focus, but way too cute to leave out.

You never know when a bunch of birds will fly up over your car, or be standing silently up to their knees in water. (Do birds have knees?)

Do you see the heron out there looking for lunch?

I lost lots of great shots because I couldn’t get a fast enough focus.

Look closely and you’ll see a bunch of wood ducks startled by me driving by. Not in focus, but cool anyway.

I was particularly disappointed by not getting a great shot of the pelicans. I caught a glimpse of them too late, when I was already past the perfect spot to stop.

Not in focus, but there was a car behind me and I didn’t take the time to check my shot. Darn.

I actually drove the road twice, just to get back to the pelicans to get a better shot, but they were gone when I came around the second time. But that’s OK, I got a great shot of a sleepy blue heron on my second trip around.

“Can’t get a lick of sleep around here.”

And I spent quite a long time watching an egret stalk his (or her) lunch on my second loop too. They are so white I’ve often had a hard time getting good images of them, but this one was close enough to notice the nuances in the tail feathers.

I think something wasn’t going down easily.

I don’t know what it was eating, something too small for me to see, but there seemed to be a lot of it and the bird was chowing down.

Notice the color on his tail feathers?

Once I got through the gate at the end of the road the second time I decided to park and go walk some small part of my typical hike. It’s just over 2 miles out to the overlook, and of course 2 miles back and I didn’t want to do all that. And I’d just driven by the overlook. Twice.

The light playing on the water caught my attention.

But you know how it goes. Once you get started you’re always finding something just around the next bend in the trail that sparks your interest. Plus there was this high school (or maybe college?) group that I passed and I wanted to keep ahead of them. Just because.

Out with a park ranger learning about cool stuff.

So I ended up doing almost the entire 4 mile loop. But that’s OK, because I got to see the eagles’ nest and at least one of the adults was sitting in it. I’m guessing there are babies up there, but I couldn’t tell.

On guard.

The nest is a long way away from the trail, really too far for my lens, but you get the idea. I was thrilled it was in a dead tree. When I first saw this nest last winter I assumed that leaves would obscure the view come summer. I grinned when I turned a corner in the trail and the nest was right there. Plus the eagle, a bonus, made me smile even wider.

So, two driving loops, 12 miles, on the Wildlife Road, and a 4 mile hike through the woods. I’d say that’s a pretty good day.

The milkweed is just about ready to burst into summer.

And I got some nice photos to prove it.

I hope you enjoyed the ride and walk!


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Distraction

Two days after Katie flew free we had company. My brother and sister arrived for a visit that was planned weeks before we knew Katie wouldn’t be here to greet them.

It was a good distraction, to have additional people here in the house. The days were filled with activities and meal preparation. I told stories about my girl, and cried when I needed to. It was nice to have extra people around who knew and loved her.

I don’t suppose you have a peanut for me?

Of course we went out to Kensington to see the birds. The heron rookery was filled with teenagers waiting for their parents to show up with food. They’ll soon be off on their own.

Do you see the delivery guy? He said he’d be here in 20 minutes and that was an hour ago!

And then we wandered a few of the trails looking for hungry little birds to come down for a treat.

You know I won’t come to your hand, but I’d appreciate it if you drop a few treats for me along your way.

We were later in the day than I generally visit, and I wasn’t sure what we’d find. Little did I know the park would be teeming with wildlife. At the beginning of our walk we came across an assertive raccoon.

Looking for lunch, people, give up your seed and no one gets hurt.

Another walker told us she had been fed by people (against the rules) and was now stalking guests. We tried to run her off, because there were small children present. But it was difficult to get away from her.

Finally we took a different path away from the other people and not far down that path we witnessed a great battle. We first heard the sound of a wound up sandhill crane very close.

Then we saw the action begin.

Mama stands over in the tall grass as the battle began.

We think the crane couple had a nest, or perhaps a young one, and the turkey was intent on getting too close. The crane was intent on not letting that happen.

The crane was relentless.

As we stood there, me with a camera lens that was too long because they were so close to us, the battle moved from the field to the path we stood on, and then into the woods. And back again.

You can’t hide from me, Turkey!

It was very loud, mostly the crane screaming at the turkey.

“Get moving out of here, you turkey!”

But the turkey was stubborn too. Each time the crane thought he had banished the turkey, and began to walk calmly back to his family, the turkey followed him, and the battle began again.

Yep, took care of him, he won’t come back this way again.”

It got quite brutal.

“Get back, I say!”

There were the three of us and one other woman essentially trapped on the path, snapping pictures. I never took time to reset my camera settings for the low light and activity, so lots of images are out of focus.

“Take that!”

Still you get the idea of the epic battle we witnessed. It was amazing.

“Darn turkey. Can’t let your guard down a moment around here.”

When they finally settled down, we moved on.

“I’ll be back.”

Turns out even in the middle of the day there were lots of hungry littles out in the woods. Especially since we were on a less traveled path.

“Hey! Don’t forget about me!”

We had a few little birds follow us, and one larger male red-bellied that came down to visit us multiple times. That’s very unlike my typical experience where they usually act quite shy.

“HI!!! I put on my best outfit to show up for a meal! What did you bring me?”

We had a lovely walk, the weather was perfect with dappled sun deep in the woods, and a slight breeze keeping the bugs at bay.

My artsy-fartsy shot for the day.

This park never fails to entertain. When I’m feeling blue I can always count on finding a smile out among the trees.

Nature is amazing.

I hope you each have a place like this that mends your soul. I feel lucky to have mine.