Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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Something to smile about

These days, in order to make people feel better and less isolated, everyone is sharing things that make them smile. It’s sort of a trend.

But Trent has been collecting smiles for months, maybe years, and this week, crazy as it’s been, is no exception.

A bit of yellow points toward spring.

So as the week has run it’s excruciating course I’ve been on the lookout for something to smile about. And this morning, as I was staring out the window at my bleak, brown yard I smiled.

Because my goldfinches are turning yellow.

He knows he’s looking quite dapper.

It’s proof that no matter what the humans in this world do, what destruction we bring down on our own heads, mother nature just keeps moving along.

Spring will come regardless of whether we’re ready or not.

Some of us were wearing our bed-head look this week. Understandably.

Might as well just sit back, watch and smile.


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We could use a smile

Things have gotten kind of crazy here in the States. No matter which side of the virus crisis argument you stand, it’s gotten crazy. I feel like I need to write something about all of this, but I also think we all need to stop and take a deep breath and maybe even smile.

This guy is a red-bellied woodpecker, showing off his red belly.

So, for now, I’m going to go for the smile.

Yesterday I took my neighbor out to my favorite park to feed the birds. She and her husband have just moved into the neighborhood and I’ve told them about the experience of having wild birds land in your hand.

The usual suspects stopped by for a snack.

This week we both had time to spend out there, and the timing was good. The sandhill cranes are back and the red-winged blackbirds arrived just a couple days ago.

This couple greeted us soon after we got out of the car.

Both are hungry.

I told her that the blackbirds wouldn’t come sit on our hands, they are always interested in the food happenings but will usually wait around until we move off and then go in for the leftovers. Just as I was saying this a huge blackbird landed on my hand.

“Thanks, Lady, this peanut is irresistible!”

I guess they were really hungry, because several of them swarmed around for a treat. I’ve never had them come in like that before, and it was pretty cool.

Of course the cranes were intent on getting lunch too. As we were feeding the little birds these two sauntered up the path behind us.

The cranes that welcomed us to their park stopped by to see if we had anything good.

We had seen them over by the parking lot, but apparently they were interested enough in us to follow us as we made our way into the woods.

We wandered through the woods, over hills and across streams. Just about everywhere we stopped little birds came flying. It was so much fun!

On our way back to the car I noticed these three coming to see us at a fast jog.

“It’s a race! Whoever gets to those ladies first gets the best treats!”

They were absolutely beautiful, look at the colors in their heads…

They almost look fake.

…and in the feathers on their back. The sun wasn’t even out and they still glowed.

Stunning!

Speaking of bird heads…I was speaking of those right? Look at these two closeups of the crane heads….one of them had more feathers making the red part look like a heart.

A heart shaped forehead.

And the other in this particular pair didn’t have similar facial feathers at all.

A more streamlined face.

I wonder if one is a female and one is a male…or is one just different?

Now, a turkey head…well…these are just weird. I think Dr. Seuss designed the turkey.

“What you looking at lady?”

Anyway, we had the best time, and we were serenaded out of the park by another pair of cranes in conjunction with our new best friends, the three turkeys!

Do you see them? They’re both screeching. The turkeys behind us were gobbling. It was pretty intense.

My neighbor shared our stories with her husband and he wanted to experience it all for himself. So this morning we headed back out. Today we had blue skies and big puffy white clouds and a lot of wind.

We were met by the parking lot greeter cranes.

Nom nom nom…

And then we ventured back into the woods. At first it took a lot to entice those little birds to come out of the trees for a treat.

“I’m not sure I’m coming down there, people!”

But eventually we found a spot with lots of the little guys and we spent a long time letting them flit around us looking for good stuff.

“Thanks, mister!”

And of course a pair of cranes came wandering up to see if we were worth investigating.

“Good stuff hiding under these leaves!”

So we had two days of smiles this week which, thankfully, eclipsed all the news on television. I guess things will probably get worse before they get better, but as long as we have retreats like this to escape into, we’ll get by just fine.

The sun always comes back.

I hope you are all finding something to smile about too. If you do, share them in your blog and link back to Trent’s smile post. He’ll post a recap on Monday of everyone’s smile.

These days sharing smiles is something of a public service.


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Still smiling

I have a lot going on, some of which you’ll undoubtedly read about next week. But I didn’t want this week to get away without smiling.

Now I know you’ve seen my ‘through the window’ bird shots just last post.

Look at all the detail in her feathers. There are little white hearts in there, perfect for February and Valentine’s Day.

And I know she’s just a starling, though as a European starling I guess she is rather exotic.

But since I’d never seen one before, and since she stops by every day now to get some lunch, and since I think she’s just so darn cute I thought you wouldn’t mind seeing her again.

A girl’s got to be nimble to get the good stuff here at the bottom.

Because she makes me smile every time I see her chowing down on that suet.

Who say’s I’m chowing, lady? I’m daintily having brunch.

Oh…and these guys make me smile too.

I like the bird flying away in the background.

And this one…

Maybe she won’t notice me way over here.

And even this one.

Just pretend I’m a bird, OK lady?

What made you smile this week? Post about it and link to Trent’s smile post and he’ll recap on Monday!

Waiting in line for lunch.


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Bad bird photos

It’s not that the birds are bad. No, the birds are, as always, just being birds. It’s the images I got of them that are bad. But I have an excuse.

From the backside of this large-ish brown speckeled bird, can you tell what he or she is?

I was grabbing quick shots of birds that I wanted to identify — birds that are not usually at my feeders or standing still in my yard here in lower Michigan.

Sharing the feeder with a bluejay so you can get an idea how big the brown bird is.

I was shooting from across a room because I couldn’t get close to the window in fear of scaring them away. And of course the windows are filthy.

Blury, but you can see the shape of the head. From the beak I thought maybe woodpecker, but young red bellied woodpeckers (about this size) have white stripes across the back. If you look close there is an adult red bellied woodpecker on the other side of that suet.

On top of all that the light was bad both days.

Today this guy showed up. What kind of hawk do you think it is?

But still, there’s enough here to identify these two…right? So….I need help…any ideas what they are?

Dirty windows, bad light and extreme cropping doesn’t hide how beautiful he or she is.


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Behind the fog

I’m up early this Saturday morning because, as usual, Katie is up early. But I can’t place the blame solely on her; before she demanded breakfast I was already awake.

A dreary day is brightened by a visitor.

Katie and I wander the dark yard after her morning meal, looking for the perfect spot. It feels warm, at 36F (2.22C), though of course it is not. Fog drifts above the melting snow, drips from the trees sounding loud in the silence that envelops an early Saturday morning.

My mind is in a fog too.

I heard from a high school friend last night that the latest treatment for her cancer hadn’t worked, tests results are in and she and her doctors are moving on to another type of chemo. I don’t know how many different treatments she’s tried in this past year, but this is by far not the first failure.

When I received her text I told my husband and he sat down heavily with a sigh. “So many…” he said then drifted off into silence. We have several friends in different stages of treatment for cancer.

I remember my Dad, years ago, saying that the Christmas letters they received had morphed from talking about their marriages, to their jobs, to their kids, their kids graduations, marriages, grandchildren, and by the end of his life Christmas letters were filled with health issues. But I thought my folks were lots older than I am now when all that health stuff started.

Puffed up against the cold he knew he looked magnificent.

But when I think about it…no…they were just about our age. When did our lives and schedules begin to revolve around doctor appointments? How did we slide so effortlessly into this place where our own mortality stands starkly in front of us?

Heavy thoughts for so early in the morning but maybe early morning is the best time to contemplate the wholeness of life.

Katie grabbed a toy when we got back inside, offering it to me, wanting a bit of play before she wandered off for her morning nap. She reminds me that there is still fun and goodness and hope in all our lives.

Coming in close to offer comfort.

She’s snoring now and I’m sorting through yesterday’s photos. Some people believe cardinals represent visits from our loved ones. I can’t prove that one way or the other, but this morning I find comfort and smiles and a bit of hope all rolled into these shots.

Today I will think about my friends and their struggles and hope that the sun comes out for a bit wherever they are, that the fog lifts and hope shines and a cardinal wings it’s way into their lives too.

A bit of a snack before heading out.


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My gift to me

You’d think that this week’s smile would center around Christmas day. A lot of people find that day the culmination of weeks of preparation, but for me, this year, I didn’t have to prepare much of anything. Which left Christmas Eve day open to do anything I wanted to do. Most of you can guess where I spent it.

And you’d be right if you guessed the woods.

Dried beech tree leaves are the only leaves still clinging to their branches.

Monday had been in the 50s (10C) and Katie and I enjoyed a long sunny walk. But Tuesday it was cold, the high temperatures only half of the day before, and of course I didn’t pay attention and was under-dressed. But once I got moving everything but that darn broken finger warmed right up.

I went out to Kensington, my favorite park and nature trails, on the hunt for something different. This is the park where the little birds come down and perch on people’s hands if they are offered seed. And I always love that experience, but I wanted to see what else was out there.

The bridge to the fun begins here.

Of course I wasn’t surprised when I stopped on a bridge not far from the car to change some settings on my camera and heard the familiar fluttering of wings near my head. A silly little downy woodpecker landed on the bridge railing and insisted that I give him something. No picture, because I wasn’t prepared, though I think he would have waited right there for me to get the camera settings right. Instead I just reached in my pocket (because of course I had something for him!) and handed him a peanut.

Little stinker didn’t even say thank you before he took off to enjoy his treat.

No snow around here at the moment.

I headed to the trails furthest away from the parking lot, trails that I had never explored before. I know that the further away you go from the parking lot and nature center the fewer little birds you’ll see or hear. They’re smart and hang out where most of the people wander. But the further away you go the fewer people you’ll run into and that was my goal, at least for the first part of my walk.

Moving further away from the crowds.

I did hear and see a big pileated woodpecker, he was sounding the alarm about me, I think. When I stood still and watched him he went back to pounding on a dead tree. He was too far away and directly into what sun there was, so no picture of him either.

I was OK with that, after all my goal wasn’t more bird pictures. No, I wanted to see what else was out there. And even if I didn’t see anything interesting, I was enjoying just being out in the woods.

Seed fluff, wonder why the birds don’t eat this?

There was a lot of interesting colors…

Would make cool wallpaper.

…and textures everywhere I looked.

Like it was knitted.


Not to mention the moss that was everywhere…

Fuzzy.

…just about every downed log had something growing on it.

A squirrel’s emerald highway.

After a bit I had the feeling I was being watched. Glancing over to my left I almost missed them. There are two faces watching me, do you see them?

Way over on that ridge, I’m being watched.

How about if I crop it?

Look to the left of the first face you see…there’s another peering between the trees.

The mama deer, laying down and chewing her cud just like a cow, watched me watch her. She didn’t move as I took off my backpack, changed the lens on my camera, and took a shot.

Guess I’m not very scary.

She just kept chewing. Eventually I noticed there was a whole herd of deer just over the ridge. They were all watching me, but none of them ran as I moved away.

After that sighting I was headed back toward the nature center, but I didn’t want the fun to end, so I connected with another trail, one I’ve been on many times. It was late in the day now and I didn’t expect to see much.

I was reminding myself that once, right along this trail, I came across a huge flock of turkeys. I glanced over to my right and saw what looked like, from far away, three stumps. Could it be?

Three turkeys were asleep, lined up on a log.

Don’t bother us lady, we were sleeping here!

The trail was going to take me about 2 feet from their log. I kept taking pictures because I was sure they were going to wake up and move away. They did, indeed, wake up, but they never moved. Three sets of eyes watched me walk past them.

And then they tucked their heads back under their wings and went to sleep.

Boy, it’s sure hard to get rest around here! (Notice way to the right, the turkey assigned to guard duty shirking his responsibilities.)

Then, as I got closer to the parking lot the little birds started hovering. If I stood still getting a shot of anything they flew down to see if I had a treat.

I changed the camera settings and had some fun. These aren’t great shots, but they show the frenzy that can happen when the birds are hungry.

Two at once!

The shots I find most interesting are the ones that show movement. I couldn’t tell what I had until I got home and looked at them on a bigger screen. They aren’t what I was hoping for, but they do give me ideas of how to tweak things to get more of the bird in focus.

All this wing movement would be fun to capture with the head more in focus.

I think I will try shutter speed priority, and set the shutter speed way high, then adjust the rest of the settings to support that. I’d also like more of the bird to be in focus, so that means a higher Fstop too. I have a camera that will allow some of these extreme settings…so it’s worth a try!

And of course I did get a few images of birds in focus. Like this titmouse. Look how elegantly perfect he is! The feet are extraordinary, and the wings are just beautiful.

Perfect!

So I’ll be back. On my way out to the trails I passed a squirrel in a tree enjoying his breakfast. An hour later he was still there, still munching away.

Nom nom nom…

I guess to get the bird shots I want I’ll have to be just as methodical and persistent as this little guy.

I have high expectations for success soon.


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Owl prowl

Have you ever been on an owl prowl?

I went Saturday, out into the woods in the dark of night, where I met with a park ranger, an owl expert and about 80 other crazy people.

We met at a pavilion with a warm fire roaring in the big stone fireplace. The experts told us about the owls we might hear in our area, how their eyes worked, their ears, why some feathers are different than others. We learned that they fly silently and that they can hear a mouse rustling a leaf on the forest floor.

I imagined owls sitting silently way up in tall trees secretly smirking as 80 humans moved as quietly as 80 humans can move below them. I didn’t imagine we’d hear or see anything.

We broke into two groups, about 40 each and went in different directions. We tried to walk quietly, but seriously, some people were wearing snow suit pants that made that irritating noise when they walked. Yes, it was cold, and I’m sure they were all comfy warm, but still. Plus we were walking on fallen oak leaves — oak leaves that crunched with each step.

It was a dark and cloudy night.

Still I love being out in the woods at night, even with so many people around me. I didn’t even care that we never heard or saw an owl, I was enthralled with the black branches silhouetted against the sky filled with puffy clouds, a half moon and a few stars.

I wished I had my camera and tripod.

I didn’t and the images here were blindly shot with my phone, then lightened up a bit. Sort of artsy fartsy, in an attempt to get you to imagine what it’s like to stand under bare trees on a moonlit night staring up at the sky.

It’s pretty magical, I highly recommend it. Even if you don’t hear an owl.

Moonlight magic on bare limbs of winter.


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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