Thursday, March 29, 2018


The temperature reached 50 degrees earlier this week.   Finally!!  I decided to take a drive in the countryside to see what was happening.

Farmland ponds were beginning to thaw and this one was full of gulls in constant motion.  Their squawking filled the evening air.

This Ring-billed Gull appeared to be leading the chorus.  While this gull often lives year-round in the Great Lakes region, its location in the pond made me wonder if it’d been migrating from a warmer climate.  You know, one of those snow bird types who are returning home from a warm winter away.

On the next corner was another pond with mallards busy eating vegetation off the bottom.  I also saw a Red-winged Blackbird perched on the top of a spent cattail.  It was singing its distinctive trill.  I’d never watched this breed execute its vocalization, but each time it did, it puffed out its body and expanded its wings.  How much energy it expended!

  Off in the distance, I could see a huge flock of something in the sky.  My heart quickened, but as the mass came closer, I could see it was (just) geese.

Truth be told, I’d been looking for another critter, and I found it in one of the most unlikely places.  As I passed by Hency Marsh, I saw it.  A Sandhill Crane standing in the snow.  It wasn’t moving at all and it made me wonder if it was stuck or frozen in space.  Or maybe, it wasn’t moving because I was there so I drove off to give it a chance to do it’s own thing.

As I rounded the corner, I came upon two more cranes, this time in a setting more natural to them.  What graceful birds they are as they moved nearly in tandem through the field.  The cranes were not happy with my presence, however, and quickly turned their backs to me and continued the walk in a different direction, bugling their discontent the whole time.

With sunset approaching, I wanted to return to the marsh to check on the crane I’d imagined was stuck in the snow.  When I returned, the crane was gone so I felt relieved.  I was just about to leave when my eye caught movement in the red vegetation.   Camouflage artist!  With its red eye and crest, the crane blended in perfectly.

Thursday, March 22, 2018


I’ve been awaiting their arrival for weeks.  I’d heard that sometime during late winter, Cedar Waxwings would arrive and feast on the Mountain Ash berries in my backyard.

Now, there’s more to the story.  These berries have spent months fermenting over the winter.  Rumors have it that the birds get inebriated on the berries and display erratic, drunken behaviors.

I heard them before I saw them.  The air was filled with the high-pitched calls of Cedar Waxwings.  Since there were so many of them, I knew something was happening even from inside my home.

The Cedar Waxwing is a striking bird.  Red-brown body.  Buff under parts.  Yellow-tipped tail.  But it’s the black mask outlined in white that’s the hallmark of this bird.

Cedar Waxwings also have a crested or plumed head; some crests are larger than others.  This well-fed waxwing has a very prominent crest.  Also notice the red, wax-like tips on bird’s secondary feathers, which help sustain the bird in the air and give it lift.  The red wax-like tips are where these birds get their names.

  Waxwings are voracious eaters.  They swoop onto the tree as a group, chow on the berries, and then fly back to the stand of evergreens at the back of my yard.  This behavior has gone on for this whole week.


I was amazed at the acrobatics the Waxwings went through to get at the fruit.  Some even hung upside down like trapeze artists.

The Waxwings weren’t the only birds eyeing the action.  This Robin looked like it was ready to partake in the fruit feast too.

I was right on that call as it jumped over to another branch and quickly went bottom up as it nibbled away on the berries.

  It was great fun watching the Cedar Waxwings enjoy the berries.  And it didn’t appear that any of them got “drunk” over the fermented fruits.  But at week's end, the Mountain Ash was completely stripped of its berries.

Thursday, March 15, 2018


The morning after I’d photographed the eagles, I wandered into habitats I’d not visited before.

I happened upon a beautiful marsh, resplendent with red vegetation.  I’d not seen anything like it in the area before.

As I drew closer to the water, I could see it was frozen.  Part of me wasn’t surprised at that because I was in a deep valley at the base of two hills.  Another part did surprise me, though, because many of the farmland ponds in the area were already free of ice and hosting migrating Cackling Geese and Trumpeter Swans.

When I reached the far edge of the marsh, I began to understand the scope of this wetland.  I was intrigued by the red vegetation.  From a distance, it reminded me of the Pickleweed I’d seen in some salt marshes around the east coast.

I finally reached a spot where I could take in the marsh as a whole.  The vista was stunning and I looked forward to exploring the wetland more in the spring.

And then, just as I was leaving the marsh, I heard a familiar bugling call.  Cranes!  I had just enough time to grab my long lens and get a quick shot off before they flew completely out of my range.  Wow!  Two surprises in one morning.

Thursday, March 8, 2018


When my brother was visiting a week ago, we saw an eagle in a distant tree, but it stayed out of photography range the whole time. 

I returned to the same area later in the week, and the eagle's unmistakable shape told me it was still hanging around.  I wondered what the attraction was.

It was too far away to get the kind of detailed shots I prefer, but I still felt excitement build as I drove off and hoped the eagle would come closer next time I came by.

  On my next pass, the eagle was sitting in a field, much closer to the road.  It was staring intently at something I assumed was some kind of prey.  How right I was as someone had dumped the carcasses of four deer at the edge of the field.


While I watched the ever-vigilant eagle looking in all directions, my mind also focused on where those deer had come from.  It was upsetting not to know the story behind how the deer carcasses had suddenly arrived in that spot.

  The eagle stared at me with those pale yellow eyes, which told me the bird was a young adult.  Its beak was also unmarked, another sign of the youth of this bird.

The eagle continued to focus most of its attention towards the deer.  What a handsome bird this was!  While I enjoyed watching the bird close up, I knew it was only a matter of time before it took flight.

  In an instant, the eagle took to the air.  It was thrilling to see, but what a challenging transition it was for this photographer!

  Off it went and was soon out of range.  It didn't return so I called it a day, but it was an exciting adventure nevertheless. 

Thursday, March 1, 2018


March, probably the longest month of the least emotionally.  The month where our hopes turn to longer days, sunnier skies, and warmer temperatures.  While there are many natural signs that winter is on the wane, we are clearly in between this season and the next.

The snow is diminishing, especially around town.  Ugly piles from snowplowing are mostly what're left.  At least until we’re struck with late winter snowfall.   Like today, perhaps. 

In the countryside, it’s a mixed bag.  North facing hillsides continue to be thick with snow while sites graced with the sun’s southerly touch are beginning to show plow lines, tall grass, and corn stalk remnants.

The pond where I photographed a Great Blue Heron last summer remains frozen and inhabited only by the muskrats and beavers who’ve built shelters to survive winter’s cold.

Last Saturday, on a partly sunny afternoon when my brother was visiting, we decided to drive to Empire to have dinner and catch a sunset.  Party sunny skies made the promise of a sunset very real, yet by the time we arrived, the clouds had moved in and effectively blocked the chance of seeing the sun set.

Still, the beach scene was beautiful.  The Lake was mostly free of ice; interesting ice formations lined the shoreline; and Empire Bluffs and South Manitou nicely framed the whole tableau.

While it was chilly near the shoreline, the wind was calm making it easy to explore the dune grass, beach, and ice formations. 

Earlier that day, when my brother and I had been exploring the countryside south of town, we drove by this cornfield.  In my mind’s eye, I could still visualize last season’s Sandhill Cranes doing their herky-jerky moves across the field as they feasted among the leftover corn stalks.

Passing this still frozen wetland pond on our way back home, I recalled all the migrating birds I’d seen there last spring.  I wondered whether they could already be on their way here.  That’s what the long in between is about, isn’t it?  Hope for what’s coming next.