Thursday, February 22, 2018

DUCKS RAFT UP ON THE BOARDMAN



Waterfowl often winter on the Great Lakes, but when the bays and lakes freeze over, they are forced to find open waters in area rivers.  As I traveled along Eight Street on Saturday, I noticed that hundreds of ducks were on the Boardman River.




I pulled into the parking spot overlooking the river and was shocked at the numbers I was seeing.  I hardly knew where to aim my camera.  Later that day I learned I wasn’t the only person duck watching.  One seasoned birding observer counted over 800 ducks in a 16 minute segment. 




The Redheads clearly had the greatest numbers on the river.  The pair on the right are incredibly beautiful; the male’s in the foreground and the female’s just behind him.  I was most taken, however, with the duck on the left, a Common Goldeneye. 




Not only was its black and white coloring striking, but I found even more interesting the white, circular patch near the duck’s beak.  It was so fluffy!




As the Goldeneye turned and swam away from me I noticed the markings on its back.  I also saw how powerfully it was paddling.




Another black and white duck had begun propelling itself in my direction.  It was one of the Scaups.  I chuckled at how the angle of the image gave the duck an intense expression.




I quickly saw, however, that the Scaup’s intensity wasn’t meant for me.  It must’ve spotted some prey deep in the water and immediately went into a dive.
 



Bottoms up!




Only the wake bubbles were left behind.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

FROZEN!! BUT FOR HOW LONG??



Traverse City lore has it that the bay is frozen over when the ice cap extends to Power Island.  After a big January thaw, we’ve had mostly frigid temperatures ever since.  I decided to drive out along Old Mission to see the ice formation progress.




Lying about seven miles into West Grand Traverse Bay, Power Island appears as a huge whale sleeping on a bed of fresh snow.   On Sunday afternoon, the sky was hardly discernible from the snow.  The early morning snowfall actually made it easier to distinguish between the snow, ice, and water.




As I drove along Peninsula Drive, I could see a y-shaped area  devoid of snow.  It was ice versus water, however.




The further I drove, I noticed a stream of light had begun hitting the snow.  Perhaps the sun would be making an appearance after all.




I wasn’t the only one interested in the bay’s ice cover.  This walker gingerly walked into the bay, tapping the surface with a walking stick the whole way.




As I drew even with the end of Power Island, I could see it was completely surrounded by ice, at least from the east side.  The light beam continued to widen and the dull sky was looking more interesting.




With the ice prognostication out of the way, I headed to the other side of Old Mission to see what beautiful scenes awaited me.  Fortunately, the skies continued to brighten.




With at least nine wineries on Old Mission, it’s common to see fields of grapevines showing off their shadows.




Red barns are abundant also.  Here one shares the scene with an orchard in winter dormancy.




I heard on Tuesday’s news that The Watershed Center had declared the bay frozen over, which hasn’t happened the past two winters.  Didn’t surprise me at all.  What did surprise me was the sudden change in temperatures.  With yesterday reaching fifty degrees and today’s forecast calling for temps in the forties, the bay freeze-over may be the shortest one in history.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

WELCOME, SOCIA



My brother used to tease me about my naming the deer that frequented my feed blocks in the winter months.  One time he even asked if I was getting leashes for the twin fawns that came in the spring.




I suppose it may sound unusual for people to name wild animals, but they do and I’m not alone.  Notice this beautiful female Snowy Owl has a tag #25.   Since she’s been tagged, I’ve been able to learn more about her.  For example, we know from her bander that her name is Socia. 




Socia’s core territory was Duluth, Minnesota/Superior, Wisconsin.  She was first seen there near the Menards in December of 2008.  She was caught and banded that same month.  She was sighted in the Duluth/Superior area often until March of 2015, after which she went missing.



Somehow Socia made it to Traverse City this winter and sightings of her began again in December.  She’s been seen all over the area this winter.  The airport.  The Holiday Inn rooftop. The ball park.  Even the front page of the newspaper.  Here Socia sits atop a light post in the ballpark. 




What’s the attraction there?  What’s Socia looking for?  Snowy Owls hunt from elevated perches during the day.  With amazing eyesight they are able to swoop down and catch voles and other small critters that are in the field. 




On the other side of the field is a huge pile of snow deposited by the plows as they’ve cleared the roads.  It’s another favorite of Socia’s perches.  From this vantage point, she can case the other side of the field.




From a photographer’s perspective, there are two things that are especially appealing about taking Snowy Owl pictures.  The first is sharply capturing those piercing yellow eyes.  Socia kept an eye on me the whole time I was watching her.





The second dream of a photographer is to catch this enormous bird in flight.  She often gives a few signals that she’s about ready to take off.  Ruffling her tail feathers, rising up and stretching her body forward, spreading the gigantic wings.  Sometimes, though, it’s a false alarm and the owl doesn’t take off, like on this day.




She sat back down and turned slightly towards me, giving me a look with that yellow eye, as if to say, “You’re still there, watching me, aren’t you?  Are you ready for the big show?”




But my gut told me she was about to take off.  And she did not disappoint.  Without going through any of the preliminary moves, off she went into the air, flapping those huge wings to propel herself forward.  What a sight she was!




Now I tell you, photographing a bird that’s flying all over the sky is one of the most challenging aspects of photography.  I keep practicing and I’m always happy to get a few.  When she first took off, Socia was flying away from me so I only captured her from the tail end as she pumped those powerful wings up and down.




As she neared her destination, Socia turned a bit towards the left, revealing a bit of her face.  Is that a smile on her face?   And yes, you’re seeing the #25 tag on her right wing.




And where was Socia headed?  Would you believe the Blair Township Water Tower?
If you look closely you can see her perched atop one of the bars on the top right side of the tower.




As I prepared to leave the area, I took one final close-up shot of Socia atop her new perch.  Even from that distance, she was keeping an eye on my whereabouts.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

A PURE SUNSET


It looked like there was going to be a nice sunset so I decided to head over to Empire.  I brought along both my old and new cameras because I'd begun to doubt whether the new one could measure up to my expectations.  It was a nice drive to the beach with clear roads the whole way.  I'd made this drive many times, but didn't think I'd ever done so in the winter. 



When I got to Village Park, I noticed the sky was pinking up to the north and a stiff wind was laying the dune grass nearly flat against the sand.  The park was about half full with other sunset watchers.  Pretty good for the middle of winter.



But the real show was going on to the south.  The sky was cloudless and I could already tell the sunset was going to be a pure one.  Just sky, sun, and water.



As the sun descended behind the Lake, the sky was awash with lovely shades of rosy salmon.  The rays reflected the same colors onto the water.



I'm always amazed at how fast the sunset goes once it hits the water.  Sunset watchers wait and watch patiently for the moment the sun appears to meet the water and when it does, the sun's gone in merely a minute or two.



Usually, the afterglow is just as spectacular as the sunset.  But on this evening, there were no clouds to help create an afterglow streaked with reds, purples, and pinks. 



As the color began to fade from the sky, I noticed wind-driven rollers continued to pound the shoreline.  What a scene it made!



As I headed out of the park, the rosy sky continued to hang above the dunes and water.  I held the scene in memory the whole way home.  And oh yes, the new camera went back.  All these scenes made here were from my trusted Canon.





Thursday, January 25, 2018

Learning Curves


I've been looking for a more lightweight camera system the last few years.  I think I've found what I've been wanting, but with new gear comes a learning curve.  



Birds and waterfowl make good subjects for practice, so I headed to the bay to see what I'd find.  Seagulls were all over the place, mostly perched on marina posts watching for handouts.



Mallards were populous at the marina too.  This guy came out of the water and walked right up to a family walking through the park.  It seems begging is really in vogue during these cold winter months.



I moved to the west side of the bay and immediately saw this Lesser Scaup, or a least I think that's what it was.  Seemed to be a bit too far north, but maybe it was still migrating.



This female Common Merganser looks like it's relaxing by floating on the bay.  But don't let her fool you.



Mergansers are diving ducks and are hilarious to watch as they go "bottoms up" in search of their next meal.  I caught this one as she was just going into her dive.



I planned to head to the other side of town to check out big birds, hopefully another Snowy Owl.  But instead of a Snowy, I spied this huge hawk perched at the top of this tree watching and waiting for its next meal.  After a couple snaps, I realized my camera wasn't functioning.   I figured out I had a dead battery.  Ahhhh, learning curves.