Thursday, February 20, 2020
This past weekend, I participated in the worldwide Great Backyard Bird Count. Here in Grand Traverse County, there were 63 species counted on 134 separate participant checklists.
It was snowing during the time that I counted on Saturday, and fourteen American Goldfinches visited my feeders. At times they were fluttering around and fighting for spots on the perches. This was my largest species group.
Mourning Doves were the second largest group I counted; I had six. These guys are the big eaters on the bird feeders. They can sit on the tray for hours, swaying back and forth in the breeze, quickly consuming enormous amounts of seed.
My third visitors were two Starlings, which are pretty birds with their somewhat iridescent coats. Starlings, however, can be very piggy too, and sometimes they come in large flocks and clean out a whole feeder in less than a day. I had two Starlings that day.
I had two Blue Jays visit on count day. I find them very striking in appearance, but their raucous, harsh cries often chase away little birds.
My last and favorite visitor was this Hairy Woodpecker. He visits the seed cylinder daily, along with an occasional Downy, who is similar in appearance but smaller. This Hairy is a male, as shown by the red hind-crown patch. So in this year's count, I had five different species.
But I’ve not yet gotten to the real reason why I participated in the bird count. Last year at this time, I'd counted 16 species at my feeders, like this beautiful male cardinal. I’ve not seen a single cardinal all season. I've even changed from my typical squirrel-proof feeders to a tray feeder to attract more kinds of birds. Last year I had four feeders up, and now I've reduced that to two so seed didn't go to waste.
One of my frequent feeder visitors last winter was the Black-capped Chickadee. This winter, I’ve not seen a single one of these common birds. Other local Audubon members report an absence or reduced number of this species too. What is going on?
Another bird species missing from my feeders are the pudgy little Dark-eyed Juncoes. I’ve seen two all winter. There is concern among area birders about the reduced numbers we’re seeing this winter. I hope once the data from the Great Backyard Bird Count is compiled, it will give us a better idea of the extent of these bird losses. My hope is that once the breeding season begins in the spring, birds will return in greater numbers.
Thursday, February 13, 2020
Mitchell Creek is a tributary that originates in East Bay Township adjacent to the Boardman River. It is joined by numerous small tributaries that flow through East Bay and Garfield Townships. The whole Mitchell Creek Watershed encompasses 15.7 square miles and includes my neighborhood.
The creek's tributaries end up joining and flowing into East Grand Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan. You may have seen the sign for Mitchell Creek near the State Park on US 31. Wading and boat anglers fish just off the mouth of Mitchell Creek for Steelhead in the spring and Chinook and Coho Salmon in the fall.
I decided to follow Mitchell Creek backward from the bay to my neighborhood, Woodcreek. Directly behind the bridge over Three Mile Road, the creek widens. Kayakers often use this spot for put-in near a small group of cabins.
I continued up Three Mile to a business park where the creek flowed near numerous buildings. One had this sweet little covered bridge walkway built across the creek.
I finally reached my neighborhood and crossed a small bridge at the entrance. On one side is a pond where various kinds of ducks and geese often gather.
On the other side of the bridge, Mitchell Creek actively flows.
As the creek meanders throughout the neighborhood, parts are choked with tree growth and vegetation.
Other parts of the creek are more open, and benches beckon people to sit and watch the activity of the creek in warm weather.
But what I like most about my neighborhood being part of the Mitchell Creek Watershed is the habitat it creates for waterfowl, birds, and wildlife. Deer, ducks, and fox are quite commonplace.
The neighborhood is a mecca for birders too. I’ve seen several kinds of woodpeckers, including Pileated, Hairy, and Downy Woodpeckers.
This Red-bellied Woodpecker is another neighborhood visitor and seems to have found a good meal from this tree. This weekend is the Great Backyard Bird Count, and I'll have more pictures of the birds that commonly frequent Woodcreek.
Thursday, February 6, 2020
I headed over to Logan's Landing and Medalie Park because my Audubon alerts had reported some unique waterfowl there. Because of the mild winter, the south end of Boardman Lake hadn't frozen over, so the place was teeming with a large variety of ducks, geese, and swans.
The area has lots of fallen logs and posts sticking out of the water, providing perches for the waterfowl, such as this female mallard.
I also saw graceful Mute Swans preening and dunking for aquatic plants. I chuckle at their name because these aggressive swans will hiss and snort at anything encroaching on their territory.
I chuckled as this swan half flew and half paddled across the lake, kicking up a maelstrom of water along the way. I caught a goose in flight, trying to stay out of the swan's way.
Next, I saw this pair of female Hooded Mergansers bobbing in the lake. Truth be told, all these waterfowl were beautiful critters, but rather commonplace. No, I was looking for something unusual. My Audubon emails had given many reports of a Double-crested Cormorant in the area. I had visited several times over the week and had come up with nothing.
What it took for me to finally catch this unusual bird was to get out of bed early so I could match the cormorant's feeding times. I'd been coming in the afternoon and early evening. No wonder I didn't see it!
The hooked bill and orange throat pouch make this seabird unmistakable to identify. Our mild winter has allowed the cormorant to stay further into the winter than is typical.
The cormorant looked at me, and it had a rather sweet face. "Oh, you humans," it probably thought, "always trying to make us into something we're not."
The seabird opened its bill and looked upward, giving me a good look at that hooked bill. I'm sure it aids in capturing prey as it swims underwater to feed on fish, crustaceans, and amphibians.
It was nearing time for me to move on when the cormorant gave me one last piece of its show, displaying its enormous wingspan.
As the cormorant continued to stretch to an even fuller wingspan, I felt fortunate to have photographed something different two weeks in a row. Maybe I oughta get up to see the sunrise more often.
Thursday, January 30, 2020
I’ve heard a lot of it lately: I wouldn’t mind winter so much if it would snow instead of this rainy stuff we’ve been having. And: These gray skies are really getting to me. When is the sun gonna shine again? I have to admit to some inner whining myself, as I’ve searched for some new subjects to photograph in the dead of winter.
The Cedar Waxwings surely must have arrived by now to the fruit trees laden with frozen, fermented crab apples. Not!
So I’ll head over to the ballpark and photograph a few Snowy Owls. I’ve seen four there so far this winter in various areas. They are often perched atop the light poles as they hunt the fields for critters. Not today. And it was such a gray day that the park lights were on!
Maybe there’ll be one atop the tall Pepsi building. They have a great vantage point there to the few open fields left in Chum’s Village. Nope. I struck out in the ballpark too. But I’ve done this photography thing long enough to not become totally disheartened at my plans not coming to fruition. I’ve learned to trust the process that something will materialize.
And then it did. I was driving along a country road with an open, snowy field to my right. I saw movement in the distance against a backdrop of trees, stopped the car, and turned it around to watch. At first, I thought the critter was a fox, but then the legs were too long and the body too large. No, it was a coyote.
It stopped and watched me, assessing the level of danger I presented. Deciding I probably was harmless, it moved on.
It put its nose to the snow sniffing for critters underneath. Mice or voles, perhaps?
It went into a pounce, like I’ve seen foxes do so often. I only caught the tail end of it, though. I wasn’t sure if it was successful in capturing some prey.
It continued to sniff the ground, so I’m guessing that it’d come up empty.
It turned around and sniffed in another direction, and I got to see the coyote’s beautiful bushy tail. Almost as lovely as the tails of the red fox I’d photographed in Northport.
The coyote moved on, vigilant for another opportunity to hunt. I headed home without a thought of whining in my head, grateful for the chance to see a creature I'd not photographed before.
Thursday, January 23, 2020
A visit to Clinch Park in the winter is quite a contrast to visiting in other seasons. When I stopped by the park earlier this week, there were just two cars parked and a few more driving through to see winter's icy beauty there.
While the park is full of icy figures, the bay has a long way to go to freeze over to Power Island. What's your vote? I don't think it's gonna make it this year.