Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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The trees talked to me

On an impulse, and because I’m still working on my 365 days of walks, I took my camera and wandered the woods of my favorite local park. It was later in the day than I’d normally be out there, and though I had seed and peanuts for any bird I ran into, I wasn’t out there to find picture of birds.

An overcast sky couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm.

I just wanted to be in the woods.

When I arrived two school bus loads of elementary students were milling about. Not a good sign. But luckily they were loading up to go, so I skirted their noisy mass and headed for the trail the furthest away from chaos.

So much texture and color if you just look.

There I began to notice the trees, and it was as if they were speaking directly to me. Who, they said, ever notices them? Most people are out in these woods looking for birds to feed, or deer to watch, or wildflowers nudging up from the wetlands.

Nothing out here but me and the trees.

Who notices our bark, they wonder, our towering stature. Who appreciates the shade we provide or the abstract art our branches draw? Who even takes note of the songs we sing when the wind blows and our branches rub against each other?

Oh wait. Let me take a closer look. I’m feeling watched.

So this post was going to be all about the trees, the different textures and shapes and sounds I experienced while I was there.

Tree art.

It wasn’t going to be about birds or deer or chipmunks or squirrels.

But as I was concentrating on capturing this lovely old log…

Even in death a tree provides nourishment and life.

…I heard from somewhere behind me a gentle cry, almost a soft whining. I looked back to find this little one asking politely if I had something, anything, for him to eat.

I’m sorry to interrupt you, lady, but have you got something for me?

Normally the nuthatches are a little more reticent and don’t come down to my hand until they’ve studied me awhile, until other birds, those brave titmice or the cheeky chickadee have made successful landings. But this little guy was hungry and no one else was around, so he had to be brave.

Thanks lady! Peanuts are my favorite!

And just like that birds began arriving from every direction.

And it was that way the rest of my walk.

Flight paths became crowded.

But along the way I did find other beautiful things. Like these fungus growing along a fallen log.

A bit of green on a cool spring afternoon.

And the last bit of winter color hanging on.

Some red to brighten the landscape.

And as I climbed a hill I ran into these guys.

Three gents out for a stroll, looking for love or lunch, whichever comes first.

Still looking for interesting trees, I turned to walk around the small lake, and was approaching my favorite stand of white pines, rounding a corner, and literally had to stop in my tracks. Because marching down the path toward me were a pair of cranes without a care in the world.

The lunch menu today seems a bit thin, don’t you think honey?

They walked right up to me as I was clicking away, and, without seeming to notice me, walked on by within inches of my hip. This didn’t really surprise me as the cranes here are so used to people. They usually ask for something to eat, but I’m a bit timid about letting them eat out of my hand. So I tossed them a few seeds and moved away to watch.

Aren’t their colors wonderful?

I had to laugh as they moved on down the trail and one of them stopped to stretch.

Awkward!

I continued on my way around the lake, anxious now to get back to the car. I had more than enough photos to choose from for my one photo of the day. And I’d been out there for a couple hours already and had barely walked 2 miles. Couldn’t even count this walk as exercise!

But the surprises weren’t over.

Around a few more corners, almost back to the busiest part of the park, I saw a deer munching on lunch. And behind her was something white. At first I thought it was just something caught in a tree, some trash perhaps.

Or maybe it was a cow.

What you lookin at lady?

A cow? Oh no, not a cow, but the fabled albino deer I’d heard about but never hoped to see. I didn’t get close, and there was a lot of brush and trees between me and it. But oh my.

Be still my heart.

I stood quietly for a very long time, just watching, not wanting to startle it or cause it to run. Eventually I eased myself further away long the path with a huge smile on my face. A once in a lifetime sighting.

So that was my day wandering in the park, talking to the trees and my usual suspects of birds. For a day when I didn’t think I’d see much of anything I sure had some wonderful experiences.

Thinking back on it all I feel, just like Mr. Blackbird, like crowing.

Hello world! Wasn’t this a magnificent day!


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Birding around

I have all these photos, taken during our March 31st snowstorm and now it’s feeling warmer and the snow is long gone and if I don’t post these soon I never will.

Yes, the snow is gone, at least down here in Southeast Michigan. Not to say it won’t be back. But at least we’re not still covered in snow like our friends to the north.

Last week we a were enjoying a beautiful day when I noticed this out my kitchen window…

“Seems a little small, lady. Do you have anything with three bedrooms and two baths?”


…and the next day the view out my kitchen window looked like this:

“Brrrrr….I should have migrated South.”

I spent much of the morning sitting in my nice warm living room taking pictures of frantic birds landing on the feeders.

“It’s a smorgasbord!”

Eventually I put the camera on a tripod, sat on the sofa, and used my phone to release the shutter in order to get these shy gold finches.

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It was so much fun!

I never know exactly what I’m going capture when I’m trying to shoot birds. Sometimes I’m surprised when I download everything and take a look. This one made me laugh.

Take off!

I know professional bird photographers spend hours and hours preparing for a particular bird shoot…and it takes a bit of luck too. I feel pretty lucky that I can sit here and watch all these little guys stop by for a visit.

I hope you enjoyed my birds as much as I do!

If we’re lucky this was the last snowy day around here for awhile.


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Out like a lion or hungry birds

Not surprisingly we had snow on March 31st. This is Michigan after all, where winter doesn’t go quietly.

We only got this much snow, but it sure was pretty!

Oh no, winter around here is much more sneaky than that.

After beautiful days earlier in the week those pesky weather people predicted snow, and they were right. It started Friday evening, by Saturday morning the yard was stunning. And when the sun peeked through the clouds (for only a few minutes, but still) it was spectacular.

A moment of sun early in the morning made it all sparkle.

I told Katie I arranged for snow just for her Gotcha Day. I don’t think she bought it, but she was kind enough not to laugh.

I’d rather not sit here mama, can we go back inside now?

Even she seemed to think it was pretty cold, wet and windy when we toured the yard. She said snow was not enough to get me off the hook for the lack of celebration on her big day. I had to promise something special for later. I think camping might do it, but don’t tell her.

Seriously mama, I’m cold and wet.

Meanwhile the birds were crazy. I have so many cute shots of them crowding around the feeders, that they will have to be in a separate post.

It was crazy around the feeders!

And of course Katie will be posting about her day and her expectations for future adventures. I might be in a bit of trouble there. We’ll see.

Waiting his turn at the feeder. Classy gent.


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Early morning smile

I was thinking yesterday about what this week’s smile might include. Nothing really stood out except that magnificent image I didn’t get of the two cranes flying low across a grassy brown hillside, sun glinting off their wings. And though that made me smile at the time, it’s caused me angst since because I didn’t have my camera with me and it would have been a great shot.

My favorite photogenic trees at Katie’s park early in the morning.

I’ve been to a few parks this week with Katie-girl, she’s enjoying the cool weather, I’m enjoying the lack of snow. Several times I’ve seen pairs of cranes float by. Never had a camera. So one morning this week I decided to go out early by myself. No dog. Just me and my camera to see if I could catch a pair in flight in the rosy morning light.

Don’t tell Katie, but I went to her park. It’s a totally different experience early in the morning and without her. It’s just a little park, with a mowed walkway around the perimeter, nothing special unless you’re a dog. Or a bird seeker.

I saw my first interesting bird as I pulled into the parking lot. A pair of killdeer were hopping along the gravel path. I couldn’t get a nice shot though because he kept turning his back on me.

Trying to ignore me.

Then I noticed my shadow stretched out long in the early morning light and was so busy capturing it that I didn’t notice that robin on the last fence post to the right. He would have made a nice picture, shining red in the sunlight.

Bet you didn’t see the robin either.

By the time I noticed him he flew up into a huge tree and became just about invisible. I guess you have to be alert when you’re out looking for birds, they rarely give you a second chance.

So I headed down the path, noticing the way the sun shone on everything and sort of missing my Katie-girl. A flurry of activity caught my attention out of the corner of my eye.

Flapping his wings for attention.

I ended up with a bunch of really bad pictures of this bluebird couple who were checking out a housing unit together. When I first saw them they were both fluttering around the house opening. The light was bad and I couldn’t see anything through the viewfinder, so I just kept clicking.

He was all hot and bothered, trying to win her favor. As I approached they flew from tree to tree, she’d fly first, he’d follow and perch nearby, flapping his wings, talking all the time to her. She’d hop to the next tree, he’d pursue, not too close, and flap and talk some more.

Showing his true colors in the morning light.

I decided to leave them be, not wanting to be the negative influence that made her reject him and his housing offering. As I moved beyond the birdhouse and then looked back I could see she was standing back on the nesting box.

Maybe she’s made up her mind.

And then she flew to join him at the top of a shrub just across the way.

The loving couple shares a quiet moment together.

I think they’re going to make it.

Seemed wherever I looked somebody was singing loud and clear.

Hard not to notice this guy with his big sound.

And while I was trying to get a shot of a cardinal in the top of another tree there was all sorts of commotion in the pond behind me.

He likes to choose the highest branch to proclaim his territory.

Seems a flock of ducks had gotten into a misunderstanding, and they took off into the bright blue sky to circle around and around the pond, chasing each other, working out the hierarchy for the coming season.

All six landed back on the pond, so maybe this was just an exercise in take offs and landings.

It was hard trying to capture them as they flew in and out of the sun now blazing down on Katie’s little park. But I liked the way they looked against the sky so I kept trying.

And while I was busy with that an insistent bit of chirping and warbling caught my ear. I turned around and this little guy had planted himself quite low in a tree right in front of me.

Now just who are you again?

I’d been trying to get his picture when he was in the tree with the cardinal, but I couldn’t tell what he was, he was just too far away. I guess he wanted his turn in the spotlight because he sat there, proudly puffed up, and chirped away at me.

I moved off to the side trying to determine what he was and he didn’t seem afraid of my moving at all. He just kept singing.

Sing it buddy!

I still don’t know what he is, maybe a song sparrow? Or something else? Once he figured I had enough images of him he nodded his head and flew off to look for breakfast. Cheeky little guy.

So I wandered around a bit more but my fingers were cold and I was happy with what I had. I did hear the cranes a few times while I was out there, their calls always seemed to come from the opposite side of the park, no matter which side I was on.

So, no crane pictures from this adventure, but I’m still smiling. Because when I got back to the car the robin was still singing and this time he let me get the shot.

Did you get my good side lady?

And the killdeer couple was still bopping around, happy on their gravel path and willing to let me grab one more image, this time of the two of them together.

Another happy couple checking out housing options.

I hope all of you had at least one big smile this week. And if it wasn’t a great week I hope the birds here at least made you grin just a little bit.

And someday I’m going to show you the most amazing image of a crane couple gliding gracefully in a blue sky. Makes me smile just thinking about it.


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Define spring

The calendar says winter is over. But those of us living in Michigan, and I suspect, other northern states know better than to trust a date on the calendar. Around here we look for more definite signs that spring is poking around and considering hanging out with us for awhile.

For me robins bouncing around in my front yard is hopeful, but not really true evidence of the season changing; we’ve been known to have them stop by in the middle of winter. In fact I think I have a picture somewhere of a very disgruntled robin sitting in my heated birdbath during an icy snowstorm.

Gotta get your bath in when you can.

Up here it’s not really spring until I’ve hear the red-winged blackbird’s cry. It’s a distinctive sound, one you can’t confuse for anything else. That’s why I was grinning last week, because the blackbirds were robustly announcing their arrival. This week they are busy daily cleaning out my bird feeder, they must not have stopped anywhere for lunch on their trek home to me.

Singing for his supper.

Then there are my goldfinches. Though many hang around all year the bright yellow males turn to an olive green in the winter. And in the spring they start sprouting patches of brilliant yellow again, a heralding of sorts that warm spring days aren’t far away.

It’s starting to get yellow around here.

This week the goldfinches are turning a decided yellow. I’ve been hanging out by the windows just watching them power eat thistle seed. Every day there seems to be more yellow showing.

Do you have any more food in there lady?

Some of them have turned almost totally yellow already. Proof positive that winter is losing it’s hold over us, even though it snowed again today.

Can’t hide my colors now!

Daffodils are pushing up from the cold ground. I saw buds on a bush yesterday. The limbs of the forsythia bush seem to have a golden glow though there are no blossoms or even buds yet.

I’m not so gullible to think it’s time to till the garden or plant those annuals yet. Way too early up here. And I know that every year we have a significant snowfall in April.

What do you mean this isn’t the last of the snow?

But I also know that last snow won’t need shoveling because it will melt by mid afternoon. And the sun will grow warmer and finally, finally the frogs will begin to peep.

And then it will be spring.

More evidence.


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Let’s explore Bok Gardens and Pinewood Estate

We’re back home in snowy, cold, shades of white Michigan this evening. But I have so much more to show you from sunny, warm, colorful Florida, so let’s pretend we’re still there, shall we?

The front of Pinewood Estate.

I last left you with a tease about Bok Gardens, a wonderful place full of magical gardens, a winter mansion and an amazing bell tower. I don’t want to leave you hanging, so here we go!

We wandered under huge trees enjoying the azalea bushes that were in full bloom.

Bok Gardens is a 7 acre slice of heaven, including several types of gardens designed by Olmstead brothers landscaping company (the same that designed the gardens at Biltmore in North Carolina, and Central Park in New York City), a new children’s play and educational area, what seems like acres of azaleas, a Florida desert trail, and towering live oaks covered in lichen and ferns.

I’ve never seen red sugar cane before.

The home, built in the center of all of this beauty, was the winter home of industrialist Charles Buck (not Bok, I know, it’s confusing) from 1932 to 1945. After that it was purchased by a couple of families before being acquired by Bok Gardens in 1970.

The house from the back.

The house, with over 12,000 square feet, feels much more intimate than many of the seasonal homes of the wealthy back in those days.

Dining with color everywhere.


The rooms were smaller, and many had lower ceilings.

One of several bedrooms.

There wasn’t gold gilding, unlike many homes of this vintage, but there were plenty of wonderful details.

An ibis acts as a doorstop, holding up the heavy and intricate door.

Tilework acted as wainscoting throughout the first floor, and ran up the stairs to the less public rooms.

Beautiful tile covers the risers on the front stairs.

The floors on the main level were covered in handmade red tiles, each room with it’s own pattern.

One of many patterns of these tiles.

The docents told us the gardens were put in first, and then the house was built so that each area had a different garden view. Pretty spectacular.

Magnolias, azaleas and camellias were all in bloom.

And then there’s the bell tower, with it’s huge carillon and sixty tons of bells which are played regularly. It is absolutely stunning.

Glimpsing the tower through the trees.

There were two concerts the day we were there, one we heard as we wandered the garden, and another that we purposely sat and listened to.

Details of the top, the colors are beautiful.

Bok Tower Gardens is located between Tampa and Orlando, and I think time spent there is well worth the admission for you and your family. Kids can play in the kid garden and run on the lawns up by the tower.

Stonework at the entrance to the childrens’ garden and play space.

Parents can let the beauty wash over them…and I guarantee everyone will smile.

And after all that, we made it over to the Gulf for the sunset.

A pretty ending to a very good day.

I’ll post more about the beaches in another post. We did spend a bit of time walking those white sands. After all…it’s Flordia.

Door knob detail.


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Baseball and nature

It’s always a great day to be a Tiger fan.


Baseball and nature – not really related, but that’s the way we’ve spent the past couple of days down here in sunny, hot Florida.

Friday we took in a Tiger game at their Lakeland spring training facility. Have to say it’s a pretty impressive stadium, and run really professionally, with lots of volunteers handling everything from checking bags, helping with seating and answering questions about the building and the team.

Field lights and palm trees.

We had great seats right behind the Tiger dugout, too bad the Tigers didn’t play very well.

Miguel made it to first base with this swing.

The second pitch of the game the New York Mets player hit a home run, and it was downhill from there. Miguel Cabrera, one of the Tigers star players came up to bat three times, managed to get on base once, but never scored.

He didn’t seem happy, and ran rather slow, just back from an injury that kept him out of the game most of last season. Still, it was cool to see him up close.

Not such a great
day.

The Mets just had better pitching, the score ended up 7 to 1.

Looks like another one of his 98 mph strikes. Sigh.

The one run Detroit scored was a homerun. That was fun to watch.

Giving thanks for the home run.

It would have been more fun to see today’s game against the Atlanta Braves. We hear the Tigers won 7 to 4, and Miguel hit a home run in the 5th inning.

Sigh.

But I can’t dwell too long on what we didn’t see, because today we saw an awful lot of beautiful. We went to two parks; the first was Hollis Park which is in Lakeland and sits on a beautiful pond in the middle of town with lots of water birds.

Just getting a drink.

And today it also had lots of runners as there was a 5K and 10K road race going on when we arrived.

It was already way too hot to be running, even early in the morning.

This little park is a gem sitting in the middle of town. Lots of beautiful flowering things…

Messing around with depth of field.

…koi in a fountain…

Looking for a hand out.

…and some very unique sculpture tucked away amidst the plants.

Sunshine made it glow.

It’s a wonderful little park, and there’s more to see than what I’ve shared. Maybe I’ll put together a slide show of the things that didn’t make it into this blog.

A green space filled with color.

For sure I’ll do a separate post about Bok Gardens, the stunning garden we visited in the afternoon, complete with a carillon and a winter estate home built in the 1920s with wonderful winding paths through azaleas and camellias, and huge mossy live oaks.

Enter here to see the 1920s home.

And then we made it over to the Gulf of Mexico just in time to see the sun set.

Another beautiful day comes to an end.

I’ll share more about all that in the next post. Right now it’s time to get some sleep, tomorrow is our last day in the sun.

Better rest up!

Enter here to see some beautiful craftsmanship. Next post.


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Smiling in spite of the Polar Vortex

Trent, from Trent’s World, reminds us that we all have much to smile about. Each week he asks what made us smile, and surprisingly, even with -14F temperatures (-25.5C), and wind chills in the -50s (-45C), I find myself grinning.

This afternoon I bundled up, (sweatshirt with hood pulled up over the hat I was wearing, coat with hood pulled up over that, long underwear, heavy socks, boots and heavy gloves) and ventured out to put more birdseed in the feeders.

Though it is still very very cold, today the wind has subsided a bit, and we have sunshine! If you’re inside it’s just beautiful!

The sun came up this morning on another brutally cold day.

While I was out there scattering seed I felt, rather than really saw, a fat bird fly just over my head. I turned around to see what it was and saw the brilliant blue of a male Eastern bluebird, the sun glinting off his wings. He landed in the redbud tree at the other end of the house.

Of course I scurried back inside, urging Katie the dog to hurry up too. Grabbing my camera I tried to walk nonchalantly back toward the door, hoping she wouldn’t want to go back outside. She likes to explode from the door out onto the deck which always scares all the birds and squirrels away.

She says that’s the point.

But of course she wanted to go out too. So obviously there was no bluebird in the tree by the time I got out there. I was sad, but still smiling. Just having seen him was pretty amazing.

Back inside I switched back to the short lens and was turning to put it away when I saw him. The bluebird was back, drinking out of my heated birdbath.

I crept around to the window. The light was bad. There were reflections in the window, and I could barely see him over the top of the recliner. Plus his head was in the birdbath. Still. If this was the only shot I’d get of him, I was smiling.

Pretend you can tell this is a bluebird.

I tried to move to a better angle to reduce the reflections. Katie took that as an invitation to storm the recliner, barking excitedly, sure that if mama had her camera out there was something out there!!! The bluebird flew away. Katie got scolded.

I figured I’d stand there for a bit and see if he came back. I was staring out one window, looking in the direction he had gone. Nothing. I decided to focus on the birdbath so I’d be ready if he arrived. I turned the camera back to the original window.

And found three bluebirds sitting there, quietly drinking.

Yummy water you’ve got here lady! We like it icy cold!

The images I got were still bad, dark and backlit with sunshine and brilliant snow, and there were still reflections in the window. But there were three bluebirds at my birdbath!

The reflections really didn’t matter.

Do you guys think it’s a bit chilly here in Michigan? Maybe we should have migrated.

After cropping and lightening and working to get rid of the reflections I had a somewhat barely passable set of images. Not great images…

This is a really bad picture but I love how the one on the right is all puffed up and they look like grumpy old men.

…but oh my….it’s still freezing cold outside…and I can’t stop smiling.

Yep, it’s a regular water bar for bluebirds around here.