Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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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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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.


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Stalked by Mr. Red

Now where was I? Ah yes, tramping around chilly Kensington Park one morning last week. I was checking out the herons on a dreary overcast day with spitting snow and drizzling cold rain.

Standing guard on a rainy morning.

And, as you know, I left the herons after a few minutes of attempting to get decent images in the low light and headed into the woods in hopes of finding skunk cabbage, a sure sign of spring here in lower Michigan.

Have a good walk lady! Don’t forget about us over here!

And of course I hoped to spend some time with my little birds too. Those chickadees and titmice and downy woodpeckers and nuthatches that hang around visitors begging for a snack.

A tiny little one waits in line for breakfast.

Since it was early, and the weather was bad I was probably the first person to venture into their woods that day. I knew the birds out on the boardwalk were hungry, they had already told me so. And the little ones back in the woods were ravenous too.

Just showing off my cuteness before I grab a peanut.

As I was being swarmed by a small cloud of birds I heard the sound of a red-bellied woodpecker high up in the trees. As I fed the little ones I watched him watch me.

I see you have breakfast bits. I’d like to place my order, please.

Down, down, down he moved. Slowly, from one tree to another, pretending he wasn’t interested in all the activity. Not interested in those luscious peanuts or succulent woodpecker suet balls in my outstretched hand.

I’ll take some, lady!

He even did a couple fly-overs, as he gaged the risk versus reward, but he couldn’t make himself land on my hand.

That’s OK, more for us if he stays away!

I waited patiently, camera held in one hand, the other outstretched filled with delicacies. Eventually my shoulders ached and I dropped a few treats on the ground and proceeded up the path and around a corner, intent on getting further into the woods.

I’ll sing for you lady, if I get one more treat before you leave!

He immediately dropped to the ground and gathered up his breakfast. I laughed and went on my way.

But just around the corner a new batch of birds waited for their snacks. I spent quite awhile there, photographing them in the branches and on the grasses near by, as they waited patiently for their turn for a treat.

Please notice how beautiful I am.

Then I heard it. The distinctive sound of the red-bellied, and there he was, just out of reach in a tree near my head. Once again I held out my hand, and once again he flew over but couldn’t trust me enough to land. And once again I tossed him a peanut or two and went on my way.

I finished my first course, do you have more?

Further into the woods a nuthatch was chattering loudly, and I stopped to give her a treat.

Don’t listen to him, lady. The rest of us are much more polite.

A bluejay showed up, and darned if that red-bellied wasn’t far behind.

Hey Mr Jay, pay attention, the lady has treats!

Sighing, I moved over a bridge to the other side of a wetland, one of my favorite places to stop and feed the birds. Several littles were waiting for me and you know who followed me over there too.

Hey, don’t forget about me!

As I was leaning over to put some seed on a bench for everyone to share I heard a gobble to my right. And there was a magnificent manly turkey, with his three wives strutting down the path.

Yes, you can admire my stunning colors. Everyone does.

He was so handsome that I pulled the camera away from Mr. Red-belly and focused it on the big boy showing off just feet away from me.

Thank you for giving us the right of way, lady.

Mr. Red-belly wasn’t having it and he dive bombed my head while I was looking toward the turkey. As the turkey harem moved on down the path I left my increasingly rude stalker with a few seeds and moved on in the other direction.

Hmmmm…what looks good this morning?

And that’s the way the rest of my walk went. Wherever I stopped to feed a hungry bird, the red-bellied and increasingly fat bird followed. I finally dropped a whole lot of treats on the ground and got away.

Everyone was hungry.

I think he followed me for at least an hour and more than half a mile. He never came to sit on my hand but he knew he didn’t have to. If he was just persistent he’d get a contactless treat.

Not all woodpeckers are so rude, lady. Thanks for the suet ball!

Though I describe him as a stalker and a pig, I actually smiled each time I’d hear his call. I’d look for him and there he’d be, a tree or two over from me, acting like he was entitled.

Even the deer thought he was a bit pushy.

I guess he was.

As I scurried away I heard a munching sound in the underbrush. What kind of bird was making a sound like that?

I found this all on my own! I don’t need handouts!

Ahh….the infamous little red squirrel bird. He never blinked as I stood and took his picture. This guy didn’t notice me either.

Well, hey. I found my own breakfast too. Those birds asking for handouts give us all a bad name.

Everybody was hungry that morning, and I realized I was too. No one was standing around offering me breakfast, so I decided it was time to head home and find something to eat.

I should probably say thank you, lady.

But wait! I was in the woods looking for skunk cabbage, looking for a sign that spring has indeed come to lower Michigan. Did I find any? Or was I too distracted by the bird drama swarming my head?

Skunk cabbage poking up from the swamp.

Well of course I found it. And it made me smile too.


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They’re back!

I’ve heard the herons are back out at Kensington, I’ve even seen pictures on Michigan birding Facebook groups of them flying around repairing and remodeling their nests in preparation for this year’s branchers. (Did you know baby herons were called branchers? Me either, I had to look it up!)

Everybody claims their place in the neighborhood.

This morning, feeling restless, I decided to go out to see even though it was spitting snow and ice cold rain. But the forecast says it’s only going to get worse around here in the next week so I decided to just go this morning.

Bringing in additional building material.

I arrived at the nature center around 7:45, it was dark and dreary and there were no other cars, unusual in my experience. Apparently most photographers knew better than to even try. I worried that there wasn’t enough light for my long lens.

Coming in for a landing.

As I was standing on the boardwalk, struggling to capture the comings and goings at the heron rookery, I heard a very loud cry right next to my right elbow.

Hey lady!!!!

This guy was demanding breakfast. It kind of felt like I was still at home with a certain short fuzzy little girl. I stopped what I was doing and offered him a couple peanuts from my pocket. He eagerly jumped into my hand and scarfed them up.

Hurry up lady, I’m starving over here!

I had been wondering, on my drive to the park, whether the female blackbirds had arrived. And yes they have. At least one has. And she was disgruntled to be out there in the snow, so I gave her a few peanuts too.

What’s with the snow, lady? I expected spring would get here before I did!

I took a few more shots of the herons, vowing to come back some sunny morning, then headed into the woods. I was looking for skunk cabbage, a sure sign that it’s spring around here, even though it’s still snowing.

Nobody every gives me anything.

And of course I’d be visiting with my favorite little birds. I’ll share those with you in the next post.

We and our lady friend will wait right here until you come back, lady.


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But what about the blackbird?

Ah yes. I went out to Kensington nearly a week ago to see if there were red-winged blackbirds singing there. I had one lone male visiting my feeder at home, but I hadn’t heard the early blackbird chorus that announces spring every year here in Southeast Michigan.

Not a blackbird.

But I got distracted, first by the turkeys and then by the redheaded woodpecker. Still….were there red-winged blackbirds here in Michigan, aside from the lonely guy at my feeder?

Can’t get over this guy.

I could hear a few, down another icy trail, and I hoped I didn’t have to go too far to gather proof. They were mostly far away, hiding in the cattails. They weren’t making much noise, and seemed a bit shy, or maybe they were just shell-shocked by the freezing temperatures and snow.

“I’m hungry, but I don’t know if I can trust that lady over there.”

One was walking up the path ahead of me. I thought maybe if I put some peanuts and oilers out I could coax him up into a more photogenic location.

“HEY! Hurry up you guys, she left us SNACKS!”

The longer I stood there the more blackbirds I saw, though none were brave enough to come get the treats I put out.

I’d appreciate a snack too, lady. My feet are cold.

Eventually they came closer, and ate some treats that I tossed near them. They even sang a little, but I know that later in the season they’ll be much happier to see me, once they figure out that the people visiting generally have food for them.

“If I don’t look at you, you’re not there. Right?”

So yes, spring has officially sprung in Southeast Michigan. The red-winged blackbirds are here, let the snow begin to melt!

“Gotta get fluffed up and pretty for spring!”


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Search for Red

My purpose, this past Monday, in going out to my favorite park was to see if the red-winged blackbird was back here in southeastern Michigan. I had one visiting my backyard feeder, but I hadn’t heard him or any others singing, my true harbinger of spring.

Everybody’s in a hurry. Why not stop and just enjoy a spot of sunlight?

I knew if they were anywhere, they’d be at Kensington which has large marshy areas and more importantly, people with food for the birds.

Hey lady! I’ll pose for peanuts!

When I arrived I drove past the heron rookery in case the eagle happened to be there, and since he (or she?) was not, I didn’t bother to walk over there after I parked. Instead I considered which trail might be most effective for finding the blackbirds.

I’ll keep watch for you lady! My fee is mere peanuts!

And then I remembered that I have been seeing beautiful images of the illusive (to me anyway) red headed woodpecker taken at this park. And I knew, from those pictures, what area of the trail system he had usually been seen.

I don’t see any red birds over this way. Do you happen to have any peanuts?

So I decided to go check that out before more people showed up. I had only seen one other car in the lot, and I didn’t want a lot of people clomping around scaring off my birds! And speaking of clomping, I was wearing my Yax grippers, and let me tell you, wearing those on ice makes it impossible to sneak up on anything!

The trails were covered in ice, no problem for the big guy.

I arrived at the location I thought I’d find the red headed and there wasn’t a bird to be seen. Nothing. Not a sparrow or a mourning dove. Not a starling or a cardinal. No hawk, no crow. No bird sounds. I stood there a long time. Then I sighed and walked off down the trail, head down, dragging my heavy camera in defeat.

Guy with really big camera charges off into the woods and missed the big show.

And then I heard the little squeak of a nuthatch. He was poking his head up over a slightly hollow stump. Someone had left some millet in the stump and he was poking around eating what he could find

Hey! Don’t suppose you have a peanut for me?

He was adorable. And then there was a second set of squeaking, and I saw a second nuthatch on a nearby tree. Beautiful.

If there are peanuts, I’m in!

I walked over to their stump and put a few peanuts in there, as sort of a reward for posing so nice for me, and then I backed up and waited. Soon enough they were both running around on their stump, and my camera was following them.

She didn’t put very many in here, we better get our share!

And then I heard a bigger squawk. OMG, look what came in for a peanut!

I have arrived!

Well, look at both of them, the red headed and a male downy woodpecker, tucked in lower on the right side of the stump. I could hardly breath as I was shooting.

The little male downy wasn’t sure he was invited.

And even when the red headed flew up into the tree he didn’t go far.

Getting a snack to take up into the trees.

He kept posing for me, up and over branches, in and out of the sun. My arms ached from holding the big heavy lens up toward the sky.

I loved the tree limbs in this one.

But I couldn’t stop smiling.

He looks small here, like a hummingbird, but he’s definitely a good sized woodpecker!

I clicked away until I finally gave up. He wasn’t moving, and I had no idea if I had anything worthwhile.

I’m watching you lady!

Still smiling, I walked away. After all, I had to go find my blackbirds!

Don’t forget about me, lady! I won’t be around here much longer!