Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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The weekly smile is buried in snow.

Trent hosts a collection of smiles each week. People post on their own blogs, describing things that made them smile that week, and link their posts to his. On Mondays, a day when we could all use a few smiles, Trent posts a recap so that we can all visit everybody else. It’s a nice way to start the week.

So this week, in Michigan, we got snow. Record breaking snow, more snow this early in the season than we’ve ever received in the history of our weather.

Sure it was pretty, but nothing to smile about.

Did we smile?

Well, not so much, not after the first “Oh it’s so pretty” wore off. My husband went out three times during the day to clear the driveway. And then he went and bought a bigger snowblower.

We all wanted to fly away.

To add more drama to our lives, this week we’re having drywall put up in the garage, so the car had to stay outside. In the accumulating snow.

Is this supposed to be fun mama?

I took his truck with four wheel drive to my morning physical therapy appointment. Driving in blowing snow, through snowdrifts, and finding out, after the appointment, that there was no snow scraper in the truck meant I was still not smiling.

My feet are cold. This is not fun.

And Thursday and Friday we had painters doing the inside of our house. Katie and I were relegated to one bedroom with the door closed so she didn’t end up a painted dog. She wasn’t smiling.

Camping makes me smile, but not in the snow!

And when Katie is unhappy everyone is unhappy. So most of Thursday and some of Friday she and I explored her parks.

About time you found me a park where they plowed the path!

And then the sun came out. Which made us all smile!

Now this is perfect weather mama!

After two long days of exploring cold, snow covered parks, we spent last night playing hide the sheltie-girl.

You can’t hide from me mama!

And the smiles continued.

What made you smile this week? Share it with us! Those of us up here in snow country could use more smiles.

Adventures always make me smile mama!


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Missed it by THIS much

A few weeks ago I drove an hour north to visit a wildlife refuge and found the trail was closed for hunting. I left not knowing if there was anything there enticing enough to make me drive all that way again.

Three cranes drift noisily over the trail.

But it’s stayed in the back of my mind, a little whisper nagging me. What if it’s beautiful?

So Sunday I got up early (OK, Katie got me up early as she does every day) and jumped in the car heading north. I arrived about 8:30, the refuge opens at 7:30. As I was driving down the last dirt road toward the parking lot I heard cranes. Lots and lots of cranes.

The Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge is out in the middle of farmland.

I realized I should have arrived earlier, because there were hundreds of cranes flying high overhead, and odds were they had just left the very place I was going. I was missing the mass exodus by minutes.

I stopped in the middle of the road, leapt out and pointed my camera blindly at the sky, trying to capture just a bit of it; I had no idea what I got, but I kept snapping until most of the birds were gone.

Then I drove to parking lot and began to explore.

On the drive north I had been watching the sky, the clouds were really interesting and I was assuring myself that even if the park was a dud, the clouds would make the drive worthwhile.

Early morning art.

Turns out the park was not a dud, though with the heavy cloud cover and a bit of morning fog the colors were initially muted. Still, I was there mainly to see what kind of birds I could capture. So I moved along, further into the preserve.

The over 9,000 acres was once mostly farmland. There are a series of earth dams, pumps and drains to manage the wetlands now. Most of the time I was walking along the top of a dam, with water on both sides of me.

Not a lot of color right at the beginning of my walk, but still beautiful images everywhere.

I seemed like maybe the water was high this year, as full grown maples and hickory trees were standing in water to my right.

Young cottonwood trees glow on the other side of tall trees.

And to the left, on the other side of a tree lined and water filled ditch were open fields.

Splashes of red from maples that lined the ditch.

I was headed down a long straight path toward a ‘wildlife viewing area’ that turned out to be a bench sitting in a nondescript place along the path.

Looking for wildlife.

Along the way I accidentally flushed out two blue herons who had been standing in the ditch. I guess I’m a noisy walker. Both of them startled me and I missed catching their images. No time to get the camera up, turned on and focused. I barely figured out where they had come from when they were gone from sight.

All I got was that little dark spot in the sky. But I know it was a blue heron, and I’m OK with just seeing him.

Darn. Missed each of them by seconds.

I turned around after half a mile, working my way back to the path intersection. A sign said there was a viewing tower 2 miles in another direction. I switched to my long lens and began the trek.

Walking along another earthen dam, water on both sides, I was focused on trees turning colors over to the left. It was pretty amazing.

Mostly maples turning, our first trees to give in to fall.

Then I happened to glance to my right and I laughed out loud.

Fall hasn’t made it over here yet.

It was so green even the air seemed tinged with jade.

I thought I caught a glimpse of a little bird, then two, flitting in some nearby shrubs. Ah…maybe I could catch them before they flew off. From their tail feathers I thought they might be dark eyed juncos, though I hoped not. Juncos are only in our area during fall and winter, and they are my first harbinger that winter is really on the way. It’s a reality check I hate to accept. I never got pictures, the little birds remained hidden in the dense underbrush.

I missed them by micro seconds.

I continued on and the colors of the trees got more and more intense. At least the leaves stood still for me while I messed with my settings.

Kind of unbelievable.

Even though there was no sun, maybe because there was no sun, the colors were intense. It was taking me forever to walk that two miles out to the viewing stand.

Loved the shape of the trunk.

The long lens was heavy and I hadn’t seen any other birds. But there really wasn’t a good spot to stop and change it, so I slogged on. Even when there weren’t colors it was still beautiful.

Oh wait…there’s something, a family of geese enjoying a quiet moment together. Good thing I still had the long lens on the camera so I could be far away and not disturb them.

They stood still for me too.

I finally got out to the viewing “tower” which was a large, elevated deck overlooking a huge pond. A long way away were hundreds of geese and swans and probably cranes too, all making a lot of noise.

Lots of birds way down there.

I was too tired to walk further in order to get closer, and I figured if I went down there they’d all leave, so I sat on the deck and watched and listened for awhile. And then I changed my lens back to the lighter and shorter version.

The view was pretty from up there. The subtle colors in the fields and marsh looked like an oil painting. But I knew I had over 2 miles to get back to the car and and hour drive home, so I reluctantly started back.

Not as flamboyant as the maples but just as pretty.

Glancing to my left I stopped as a doe and I stared at each other. She was several yards away from me, but well within range if I still had my long lens on the camera.

She showed me her white tail of alarm as she ran the other way.

Darn. Missed again.

The walk back was faster, mostly because I was focused on not taking any more pictures! Well, maybe one more. And that over there is stunning. But no more!

And then the sun came out.

The world began to glow.

I couldn’t resist, even though my stomach was rumbling with hunger, and my back ached from carrying the camera, and my poor little finger, still aching from being broken was telling me it was time to stop. I couldn’t resist.

Light is what it’s all about.

But eventually I got back to the parking lot where several cars full of people were contemplating if it was worth it to walk back into the preserve.

Gold trees, blue sky. What’s not to love?

I don’t know…what do you think? Even though I didn’t get one single fabulous wildlife image I still had a great time.

Far far away, but still beautiful.

And I learned a few things.

One, now that I have the lay of the land scoped out, I need to sit in one spot and see what comes by. Walking around only makes the wildlife nervous. Two, I need to leave the camera turned on, lens cap off, and not regret whichever lens I happen to be using.

And three, I need to go up there again before it gets too cold.

Soon all the color will be gone.


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Photo surprise

Early Saturday morning, just before the sun made it out of bed, I headed out to a park about a half hour away to meet other photography students and an instructor. We explored the Hawk Woods Nature Center, with it’s large pond and trails.

Then the sun began to push through the clouds.

It was cold, only 44F degrees (6.66C) and I hadn’t dressed warm enough. But I figured once we were moving, and in the woods, I’d be fine. I was wrong.

This park, on this particular day, challenged my belief that there’s always something to photograph. Though there were beautiful purple asters I wasn’t noticing much else in the way of fall color.

If you look closely there’s a bit of color, no matter where you are.

The pond was fringed with tall grasses, making it hard to appreciate. But I did notice this guy sitting across the way when I passed a break in the grass.

Hiding in the grasses.

But still, what else to shoot? The class stopped at a wildflower garden, but I wasn’t really into it, as I have the same flowers in my own yard. So I meandered away from the pond and into the woods.

This path looked interesting.

I am always most comfortable in the woods. Not much color in there, but still, it drew me in.

After a bit of time in the dark green woods I went back to where the group was still concentrating on the flowers. I moved on down the trail that circles the pond, looking for anything interesting.

The sun began to peek out and the grass began to glow.

Brown is a color, right?

If you make this bigger you’ll notice the intricate texture of this dried queen anne’s lace.

Down at the end of the pond I came across a couple fat warblers and a chickadee hopping about in a shrub. I didn’t have the right lens, and while I was changing lenses they flew away. But I was happy to see them.

Not peak color yet, but still pretty.

By now my fingers were freezing, and my broken little finger was aching, a combination of the cold and carrying the camera, so I decided to pack it in. I’m not writing this park off, I think if I had dressed better I’d have stayed and found more pretty things, and given it’s not so far away I will definitely go back.

On the way home I stopped and got a warm drink, trying to make my finger feel better. I stopped at a rest stop along the freeway, to toss the cup when I finished the drink, and as I was getting out of the car I noticed a flurry of activity in the crab apple trees lining the sidewalk.

Could it be my favorite birds? I heard the distinctive excited chirp. My camera already had the long lens attached and was sitting in the passenger seat. My fingers were no longer cold.

I grabbed the camera and crept up to the trees. AMAZING. There were adults…

Notice the yellow feathers at the end of his tail.

…and juveniles.

Notice the stripes on his breast.

I know people stopping at the rest stop thought I was insane as I was creeping around the trees with a big ole camera. But I ignored them, except when they slammed car doors and the birds rose up into the air as one. Then I scowled at the clueless drivers. (Not really, it’s a public rest stop after all.)

Three in this one shot!

There were so many! They’d fly from the trees near the bathroom over to the trees on the other side of the parking lot, and back again.

The trees were beautiful too.

I was having such a great time. And in a rest stop. But I actually squealed when I got home and looked at the images. Because I had captured this:

My favorite shot of the day.

So the point of this post is that there always is something interesting or beautiful or original, or fun to shoot. And you should always have your camera ready to go, because you’re never going to know what you’ll see when you keep your eyes open.

Years of sitting quietly in these woods.

Many thanks to Bob DiTommaso and his wife Juliann for hosting the meetup. If I hadn’t gone and wandered at the park I wouldn’t have stopped for a warm drink and to toss the cup and I never would have seen the cedar waxwings.

Plus I found some pretty things at the park too.

Hungry


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Backyard birds are so much fun to watch

You know I like to go out to Kensington Metropark and hang out with the birds there. But I have to say that my own backyard has some pretty fun sights too. This past weekend I wasted spent quite a bit of time just sitting and watching what was going on right here at home.

See the red bellied woodpecker? Right below her (or him) is the juvenile.

Turns out there is a whole lot going on! In particular I enjoyed watching this red bellied woodpecker feeding his or her youngster. I have to admit I’ve never noticed young woodpeckers before. I don’t know if I’ve just never seen them, or if I mistook them for some other kind of woodpecker.

Here, have a bit of lunch sweetie.

Either way, this was obviously a juvenile being fed by a parent.

The youngster moved to a more open branch and I hoped the parent would feed it there, but being a teenager, the younger bird became impatient and flew off before mom or dad returned with more seed.

Though I wish the leaves of the birch tree they were sitting in hadn’t obscured the youngster’s head I’m still really glad I noticed this action going on just outside my kitchen window.

Well good, the little whippersnapper is gone. I get to eat this seed all by myself!

And of course the hummingbirds. They are really active at the feeder now, perhaps fueling up for their long trek across the Gulf of Mexico this fall.

Is this the only thing on the menu, lady?

Sometimes I’ve seen them over in the zinnia garden too. I can understand the allure of having a fence to sit on while eating.

Yum. WAY better than that empty caloried sugar water she serves at the house.

Kind of like going to a fancy restaurant v.s. a fast food place.

We have lots of goldfinches and titmice and cardinals and all the rest too. They are eating me out of house and seed, but I don’t mind.

This is MY orange, everyone else go find your own.

Seems a small price to pay for all the entertainment they provide.

Incoming!


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We have babies!

There are two bluebird boxes in our yard. Last spring I cleaned out one of them, but hadn’t gotten to the other one when I noticed bluebirds checking it out, so I left it alone. Turns out the bluebirds went with other options and I sadly acknowledged that we didn’t have any tenants this year.

Warning off the human intruder.

Well, I guess I haven’t been paying attention.

For the past couple of days, whenever I wandered around the backyard there would rise up noisy, agitated chatter from the fringes of the yard. Somewhere up in the oak tree, or over in the hydrangea bush was an angry bird, but I could never quite find it.

Everybody OK in there?

Well, this morning I figured out most of the noise was coming from the bluebird house, the one I never got around to cleaning out. A house wren soon swooped up to sit on the roof and tell me off. I retreated to find my camera while she fed her babies who were screaming for their breakfast.

Heading out to gather more insects.

Once outside with my camera I hid in a tree far away and watched mom and dad fly in with insects for the hungry crew. I don’t know how many babies they have, but in this next shot you can see one of the little ones inside.

Click on this to make it larger so you can see inside the nest box.

My new Michigan bird book says they have two broods a year; this is probably the second and last. I’m guessing they had a batch while we were off traveling earlier in the summer. I’m so happy at least one of our rentals had occupants this summer. I think the world could use a few more wrens and I wish our happy brood success as they venture out into it.

It’s hard work being a parent.

Good luck little ones, it was an honor to be your landlord!

Don’t make me come in there!


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The illusive camping birds plus a robin or three

I like site #16 at our local state park because it’s always filled with birds, many of them different than the birds that visit my feeders at home.

A yellow warbler hides in plain sight.

Camping there this week without Katie to distract me or them, I sat quietly through most of a day, camera in my lap studying how they worked the shrubs for food. There was wild cucumber as well as wild grapes winding their vines all over, and though the fruit wasn’t ripe, they seemed to be enjoying it.

I don’t know if this is the same bird, see the black around it’s eye?

This little yellow warbler worked his (or her) way up and down the branches, picking off green fruit as it went.

Giving me the cold shoulder.

I couldn’t get a good image, because it never stayed still, and mostly hid behind at least one layer of leaves. It would pop out for an instant and then be hidden again.

Incoming!

I tried for hours.

While I was concentrating on the little yellow bird I noticed a robin hopping around near my feet. Sometimes he’d stop and stare at me, and I realized I had a big container of blueberries open in front of me.

Hey lady! You got anything good over there?

Did he want one?

Well of course he did! Obviously he has been successful begging campers before.

Nom nom nom

The whole three days I was there a robin stopped by and begged for a treat. I don’t know if it was the same one, but at least once there were several be-bopping around.

Thanks lady!

And I had this visitor, I don’t know what this is, but he (or she) stopped by a couple of times.

He’s got a dark patch on his head that you can’t really see here.

And this one….this one seemed interested in the blueberries and chased a couple of them down when I tossed them his way. But he didn’t eat any of them. I don’t know what he is either.

About the same size as a robin, but slimmer. Maybe because he doesn’t eat blueberries.

At one time there was a perfect shot, he flew up on top of my tent with a small insect in his mouth, but of course my camera was over on the picnic table so I just watched him as he watched me.

Maybe a young something?

None of these bird pictures are great. I have excuses, the light was low, the birds were fast, I didn’t have the right ISO or shutter speed. But it was good practice for me and I’ll try again soon.

Meanwhile if you know what those last two birds are, let me know!

Site #16.


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The upside of weeding

We interrupt our Norway travelog to tell you a sweet story from this afternoon.

I was bent over weeding under our redbud tree, moving slowly because I’d been weeding for awhile and standing up was getting more and more difficult.

I heard a ruckus above me, a sort of chirping chattering noise that continued for quite awhile. I figured it was a squirrel unhappy with me being under his tree.

Whatever it was kept it up to the point that I sort of looked back and up over my shoulder, trying to find the annoying perpetrator.

And, instead of a noisy little red squirrel I saw a downy woodpecker, standing on the main truck about three feet from my head. “Well hello there,” I said, wondering if the birdfeeder was empty and this little guy (or girl) was trying to tell me something. We locked eyes and I slowly stood up. The bird just moved down the trunk, getting even closer to me.

And then I realized the noise wasn’t coming from this bird, but another downy, almost the same size, sitting out at the end of a branch just a few feet further from me.

The bird on the tree trunk began to move up and down, looking, then picked out something special and flew to the bird at the end of the branch who opened his mouth obligingly for the snack. Then mama (or daddy) flew back to the truck to look for more.

The teenage bird was fed two more times with me standing right there and then the adult flew off and the youngster followed.

I loved that the two of them weren’t bothered by me being there, and I had to share it with you. I don’t have pictures, but you can imagine it. The images here are from our gardens, taken today.

I didn’t take any pictures of the weeds.