It’s that time of year where a walk through the woods reveals babies everywhere.
I visited my favorite park early one morning after a night of rain.
The parking lot was virtually empty, and the birds were frantic for some breakfast.
Swarms of blackbirds and starlings swirled around me. The little birds tried to get some attention too.
They lined up on the railing for a chance to get something to eat.
The rose breasted grosbeak got first dibs. Just based on beauty. Plus he was pushy.
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.
Eventually everybody got something.
And then I went on down the trail
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.
Then the other parent emerged from the trees to complete the family.
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.
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.
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.
And then he fed it to his youngster who had been following all the excitement eagerly.
I crept away as they were eating.
Lots of little birds came in for a snack once I was away from the attacking woodpecker.
I enjoyed their visits in the quiet woods.
It was peaceful out there, not many people wandering the trails.
And then I heard a squealing and yelling headed in my direction.
The quiet of the woods was interrupted, but I was OK with that. Kids need to spend time outside too.
So I headed out to the rookery to see if any of the teenagers were still there.
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.
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.
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.
And then I left the park, stopping for a moment to check on the osprey nest where the youngsters were flexing their wings too.
Another good walk in the woods.
Babies everywhere, all growing up so fast.
After our first night under the stars I went back to the hotel, arriving around 5:30 a.m. ready to get some sleep. Unfortunately most of the hotel housekeeping staff, whose laundry room was across the hall from me, were arriving as well. And don’t even talk about the family with three kids who were in the room next door.
I gave up on napping and drove around a little bit looking for barns. And as the afternoon wound down I went out to the lake to see what kind of sunset was going to happen.
And to people watch.
Both were fun, but I was really waiting impatiently for the skies to darken again.
My friend and I were meeting at Esch Beach at midnight where we hoped to shoot the Milky Way amongst a stand of tall, dead trees. It seemed promising.
It turns out that on a warm Friday night the beach is a busy place. Lots of people sitting next to lots of fires which lit up the trees with a bold, red glow. OK then. We’ll just consider that our light painting and work with it.
While we were shooting the trees we listened to the group of people sitting right behind us discuss what we were doing. “Are they taking pictures of the Milky Way?” “IS that the Milky Way up there or just a bunch of clouds?” “Do you think I can get it with my phone?” “Look how cool that looks on the back of their cameras!”
When we moved off, closer to the beach, to see if there were northern lights (my friend was getting alerts for the lights on her phone) over the lake they were all standing up pointing their phones to the sky.
Made me smile.
And guess what? Though we couldn’t see anything but darkness out over the water, the cameras told us otherwise. It was my first time ‘seeing’ the northern lights. I was pretty excited.
Then more carloads of people began to arrive, so we decided to drive back to Point Betsie and try to get some more Milky Way images. The night was young. The air was warm. The lake calm. No time to waste!
No one was out on the beach at Point Betsie, and I shot my favorite house in the dunes again.
Then we walked up closer to the lighthouse, for a different angle.
It was pure magic and I loved being there in the warm darkness. I took a few images and then just sat down on a piece of cement in front of the lighthouse and watched the sky and listened to the gentle waves.
We didn’t mean to stay out all night again…it just happened. And when we finally left it was hard for me to say goodbye to my lake.
Lake Michigan is special no matter the season or circumstance. The lake under the stars?
It’s taken me a few days to sort through the images from my two nights of photography. Looking through them I’m transported back to those warm nights again.
Before my photography friend arrived that night I spent a few minutes capturing the sky above the dunes and houses along the road. It was an image I’d had in my head since my last trip up to this area, back in May. I think it looks like an amazing painting, and I’m glad I got to go back and get it.
Once she arrived we went down to the beach to see what there was to see.
It was a very windy night. We were pushing our tripod legs deep into the sand to try to reduce camera shake. The wind was cool, but I never felt cold until we stopped shooting. The adrenalin kept me warm.
The sky was stunning. The Milky Way was so clear. And when we turned around to face north the lit lighthouse was beautiful too.
The moon and several planets were supposed to line up around 4:30 that morning, so though we were done shooting the lighthouse and the Milky Way around 3:00, we thought it would be a waste not to stay and see. It was warmer up on the road, and we stood around talking as we waited for the moon to come up.
The moonrise was stunning, but it was rising through a bank of clouds and only intermittently visible. And in the end we didn’t see them all lined up, just Jupiter and sometimes Mars, and the moon.
But even without planets we were both smiling when we finally headed to bed just as the sun was beginning to light up the world.
We knew we’d had a wonderful night under the stars, and if we were lucky we’d be out the next night too.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I went on a little adventure this week, two nights spent near Lake Michigan shooting images of the Milky Way. It didn’t escape my attention that I went without my girl. Or that I went in part because it was too hard to be here without her.
And it worked. For two glorious nights I stood in silky sand with my lens pointed at the sky and I was happy.
Last night, after I was finished shooting while waiting for my photographer friend to finish her work, I sat alone in the sand, gazed up at the Big Dipper and talked to my dad, a warm breeze drying the tears on my face.
Hey Dad. I know you and Mom never met Katie but she’s up there now. Take care of her for me, will you? She might be scared to be so far away from her mama and daddy. I don’t want her to be scared, so please reassure her. And she likes her shoulders to be massaged. If you could do that for me, I’d appreciate it.
Tell her we love her, and miss her, and we’ll see her again someday.
PS: I’ll have more images to show you from the past two nights once I get them all sorted. It was pretty amazing, millions of stars crowding the sky, the Milky Way glowing.
I felt lucky to be there. Even without my girl.
The squirrels have taken over. Katie would be incensed.
They do provide entertainment though.
And distraction. They all take flying leaps over to a hanging birdfeeder, then eat until they are full.
Or until one of us goes out and chases them off.
But they come right back. So mostly we just sit and watch the antics.
And then this guy showed up. I thought he was a female, one of the mama deer who are hanging around with their babies.
But I guess he’s not a her.
Sure is beautiful though.
Ok, so maybe I won’t be singing in this post, but lots of birds were vocalizing when I visited the Shiawasee National Wildlife Refuge Friday morning. (And I should thank my friend Wendy for telling me about the Merlin phone app that helped me identify so many bird songs that morning!) Want to come along? You should probably be on a screen bigger than your phone for these images. Just to get the full effect, you know.
I got a later than normal start, as I’m usually there at sunrise and this time I didn’t arrive until hours after the sun was up. But it was still morning! So that counts for something, right?
Still, there weren’t many cars in the parking lot, which now that I think about it, was irrelevant because I planned on doing the Wildlife Drive instead of doing my usual 4 mile hike through the woods.
I was curious about what I’d see from the car on the 6 mile route through the refuge. I’ve visited in late fall and early spring, but the wildlife drive is only open from June 1 through September 30 each year, so I’ve never driven it before.
I have to say there are long stretches of the road that weren’t particularly interesting to me. But when I got a good image, it was a really good image.
And it was fun to see the refuge from a different perspective. I could see, way across the wetlands, parts of the trails I usually walk.
But boy, you have to be ready for anything while driving, just like when you’re walking in the woods.
You never know when a bunch of birds will fly up over your car, or be standing silently up to their knees in water. (Do birds have knees?)
I lost lots of great shots because I couldn’t get a fast enough focus.
I was particularly disappointed by not getting a great shot of the pelicans. I caught a glimpse of them too late, when I was already past the perfect spot to stop.
I actually drove the road twice, just to get back to the pelicans to get a better shot, but they were gone when I came around the second time. But that’s OK, I got a great shot of a sleepy blue heron on my second trip around.
And I spent quite a long time watching an egret stalk his (or her) lunch on my second loop too. They are so white I’ve often had a hard time getting good images of them, but this one was close enough to notice the nuances in the tail feathers.
I don’t know what it was eating, something too small for me to see, but there seemed to be a lot of it and the bird was chowing down.
Once I got through the gate at the end of the road the second time I decided to park and go walk some small part of my typical hike. It’s just over 2 miles out to the overlook, and of course 2 miles back and I didn’t want to do all that. And I’d just driven by the overlook. Twice.
But you know how it goes. Once you get started you’re always finding something just around the next bend in the trail that sparks your interest. Plus there was this high school (or maybe college?) group that I passed and I wanted to keep ahead of them. Just because.
So I ended up doing almost the entire 4 mile loop. But that’s OK, because I got to see the eagles’ nest and at least one of the adults was sitting in it. I’m guessing there are babies up there, but I couldn’t tell.
The nest is a long way away from the trail, really too far for my lens, but you get the idea. I was thrilled it was in a dead tree. When I first saw this nest last winter I assumed that leaves would obscure the view come summer. I grinned when I turned a corner in the trail and the nest was right there. Plus the eagle, a bonus, made me smile even wider.
So, two driving loops, 12 miles, on the Wildlife Road, and a 4 mile hike through the woods. I’d say that’s a pretty good day.
And I got some nice photos to prove it.
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.
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.
And then we wandered a few of the trails looking for hungry little birds to come down for a treat.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It was very loud, mostly the crane screaming at the 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.
It got quite brutal.
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.
Still you get the idea of the epic battle we witnessed. It was amazing.
When they finally settled down, we moved on.
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.
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.
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.
This park never fails to entertain. When I’m feeling blue I can always count on finding a smile out among the trees.
I hope you each have a place like this that mends your soul. I feel lucky to have mine.
Sometimes when I go north to camp it’s with the sole purpose of getting night sky images. Those trips I don’t care much about the campground, it’s just a place to nap during the day. Mostly I care if there’s a dark sky park nearby, or at least some open sky with something interesting in the foreground.
Those trips I usually spend the days sitting around at the campground reading and nibbling on snacks that aren’t good for me. When I begin to fall asleep over my book I tuck myself into my sleeping bag and take a nap.
Sometimes that’s the best part about camping…eating, reading, napping. Repeat. I’m usually impatient for the sun to set, eager to try again for the shot I can see in my head but rarely get captured on my camera.
This trip, planned months ago, just happened to coincide with clear dark skies and no moon. So I got lucky.
During last week’s camping adventure I had company, and a more varied agenda. We were camped in a walk-in site, we were the only people camping on our loop which was wonderful and so quiet we could hear owls at night as we sat around the campfire.
OK, full disclosure. Mostly we sat around the campfire to get warm because it was stinking cold out there! Last year, on our camping trip the exact same week, we were wearing shorts. This year we were wearing long underwear, layers of sweatshirts, jackets and winter coats. I slept, the first night, wearing gloves and a hat, as well as my winter coat while in a sleeping bag and under multiple layers of blankets.
But the next day, after a night of shivering and then squealing over the Milky Way, the sun came out and we paddled down the Platt River, almost all the way out to Lake Michigan. We got out of the river at the exact location I shot the Milky Way the night before.
That made me smile.
We had the site reserved for three nights, Monday through Wednesday, but though the second night wasn’t quite as cold as the first, I still slept in all my clothes and piled towels on top of the blankets on top of the sleeping bag.
Being cold all the time can wear a camper out.
Plus the weather people said it would get warmer but we were going to get rain Wednesday afternoon, and that it would rain all day Thursday, the day we were scheduled to leave.
We decided to pack up on Wednesday morning and hightail it out of there. There’s nothing worse than packing up camp after a night of rain. Wait. In truth it’s worse to pack up camp after a full night of rain, while it continues to rain. Trust me on this.
So we abandoned ship a day early. I think I did that almost every camping trip I took last summer, and always because of rain. Rain while camping in a small tent is not that fun after the first few hours of listening to it drum on the rainfly. Rain accompanied by wind and thunder can be pretty terrifying.
Anyway, we chose to bail, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to go back. Camping in the woods without big RVs next to you is a delight.
I just hope next time it’s warm enough that I can sleep without wearing my hat and parka.