Thursday, November 16, 2017


Because fall is typically a season of transition, fluctuations in weather patterns are common.  Summer temperatures one day; below freezing conditions on others.  This particular fall also seems to have had some unusual patterns with respect to the changing of fall colors.

Granted, some landscapes show a lot of bare or rust-tinged trees with occasional ones still showing colorful leaves.

But it's mid-November now, and I'm surprised at how many woodland scenes still have significant fall color.

Driving around the countryside, I've even found occasional trees, like this one, still in full yellow foliage.

And despite the date, there are still some lovely bright orange vistas out there.

I was surprised to find his tree still in full orange foliage, especially when we've had some days of pretty significant windy weather.

For someone who loves the fall colors like I do, there have been plenty to enjoy this year.

Thursday, November 9, 2017


I'd gotten my first Audubon bird alert on Friday that a Snowy Owl had been sighted out near where I do a lot of nature photography.  It's where I'd photographed various birds, including the Great Blue Heron and Sandhill Cranes.

I didn't get the chance to head out until Sunday afternoon, but the Snowy was still there, perched atop an electrical pole.  I shuddered when I saw her up there preening herself because I'd just read that one of the most frequent causes of death among Snowy Owls is electrocution on power lines.

It wasn't long before she caught sight of me watching her from my car and clicking away with my camera.  Gracie was along for the ride but was sound asleep in the passenger seat.

And then before I knew it, she did what I'd always hoped a Snowy Owl would do.  She took off in flight.  I don't know what prompted her to fly and I wondered if it was my presence, although I wasn't all that close.  Regardless, I was ready and following her with my long lens as she pumped those huge wings up and down across the gray sky.

The whole time she was in flight, she kept that magnificent yellow eye on me.  I was amazed at the size of her wings.  My bird app reports that the wingspan of a Snowy Owl is 54-66 inches.

Her wings went up and down with deep wing beats.  Flap and glide.  Flap and guide.  Flap and guide until she reached her next destination. 

It was another telephone pole.  On the corner of a busy highway.  Go figure.  I knew this Snowy was a female because she had many of the dark bands in her feathers.  Males are nearly pure white.

I was able to get much closer with this new perch.  Close enough to capture those piercing golden eyes.  They seem to stare right through you.  

Soon after landing, the Snowy went about its normal business of preening and watching for prey, mostly little rodents, like voles.  One unusual thing about this owl is that it hunts during the day, unlike most other owl species.

Every once in a while, the Snowy would look down and give me a good stare.  I wondered if it was aimed at me or at Gracie, who'd come alive and was sitting on the seat staring back through the windshield at this magnificent creature. 

Thursday, November 2, 2017


All week long my Audubon bird alerts told me of more migrating ducks.  I'd not heard of Surf Scoters or Oldsquaws, but they'd been seen at Hull Park beginning last Saturday morning.

I'd been traveling earlier in the week so today was my first chance to check out Hull Park.  I went over in the afternoon, and saw lots of ducks bobbing in the choppy waters of Boardman Lake.

Most of the ducks there were beautiful Redheads.  These diving ducks have gray backs and sides, and a reddish brown head and neck.  They are medium-sized diving ducks.

I'm most familiar with ducks, like this mallard, which live in wetlands and feed on insects and crustaceans at the bottom of ponds.  They don't dive for their food; they just tip their bottoms up, and submerge only their heads and necks as they forage.

Diving ducks also feed on aquatic plants and insects, but they dive down into the water to get their food.  It happens very fast.  All of a sudden, the Redhead leans its body in a way that signals the dive is coming.

Then it thrusts its head and neck down in the water and the rest of its body quickly follows.  Two or three seconds is all it takes.

The Redhead leaves bubbles in its wake.  It's only submerged a few seconds, but was great fun to watch.  I had my finger on the camera shutter button ready to capture the whole dive sequence, but the Redhead was way faster than I was.

Not really disappointed that I'd not seen any of the rare ducks at Hull, I left to go over to my normal watching point at the Logan's Landing.  There were lots of Buffleheads, another migrating diving duck.  Then I saw another Redhead...or at least I think that's what it was.  The extra spikey "do" made me wonder if it was something else.  Maybe its hair had just dried out a funny way after all its diving.  Sorta like bedhead.  

Saturday, October 28, 2017


Traverse City loves decorating for the holidays, and Halloween is no exception.  It's fun to drive around and see the creativity people have put into their outdoor displays.

Thursday, October 19, 2017


I spent a lot of time this week at the north end of Boardman Lake in search of cormorants.  I ended up taking nearly 700 pictures of these incredible, very large waterfowl. 

The first cormorants I saw were perched on a log sticking out of the water.  A third bird, probably a juvenile, was enjoying itself in the water.  The cormorant ranges in size from 32-72 inches and typically weighs about 64 ounces. 

While I was too far away to get a good close up shot, I delighted in watching one of the adults take to the air.  He touched off three times before finally getting himself up.  I enjoyed watching these birds through my binoculars as much as I did photographing them.

I left the first site and continued my search for more cormorants.  They blend in quite well with their surroundings so I didn't see this grouping until I looked through my long lens.  Count them, there are twelve of them.  They were either preening or napping; I couldn't really tell. 

Besides the big group, there were four or five nearby smaller groups, like this threesome.  They looked like they were having a conversation.

When I returned to the larger grouping, they were all perked up with necks stretched out in various directions.  You could see the variety of colors among them, males and females, juveniles, breeders and non-breeders.  They stood there stiffly and made quite the family portrait.

Friday, October 13, 2017


The fall bird migration is underway.  My favorite birding habitat south of Traverse City has been devoid of Sandhill Cranes and Great Blue Herons for at least the last couple weeks.  Since the Boardman Lake hosts a variety of waterfowl year round, my bird photography has shifted to that area.

In Traverse City, the Boardman River drains into West Bay from Boardman Lake.  At the lake's north end, both Logan's Landing and Medalie Park provide excellent bird viewing spots.  Some waterfowl, like this family of Mute Swans, including two parents and four juveniles, are year-round lake residents. 

Mallard ducks are also common year-round inhabitants of Boardman Lake.  These male Mallards are on the hunt for any insects or crustaceans that are on or just below the lake's surface.

But during the fall migration, the waterfowl population explodes with many species using the lake as a good stopping point as they transition from one habitat to another.  Buffleheads are one of new ducks arriving at the Boardman.

Redheads are also part of the visiting migration.  Some of the waterfowl will stay until the Boardman Lake freezes over and they are forced to find a more hospitable location.

The ducks especially enjoy the old wooden pylons that dot the north end of the lake.  I enjoy seeing the ducks there because they're a bit closer and I can get better images of them.

For me, the catch of the day was this giant cormorant I saw on the far side of the lake.  I wish it had been closer, or that I'd had a longer lens.  I will be on the lookout for this big bird over the next few weeks.  It typically is here over the summer, but then moves on during the colder months