Thursday, February 27, 2020


I headed out, hoping to find some critters to photograph for my next blog.  I went first to the ballpark to search for a Snowy Owl, but I struck out.  LOL

 My Plan B was to head to farm country, which I often avoid from November to March due to bad roads and hunters.  Most roads were decent, and there were some pretty wintry landscapes.

The marshes and farmland ponds were still frozen with no signs of waterfowl or wildlife.  I told myself to relax.  Something aways materializes.

Then I remembered the farmer who dumps deer carcasses on his property during late winter. The carcasses always attract prey, especially Bald Eagles.  I headed to that area and was shocked to see that snow had been plowed or dropped over two long country blocks.  If there were eagles, I couldn’t see them, so I turned around and left.

When I got to the corner, where no snow had been dumped, I saw a deer carcass with Crows feasting on it.  All but one was left with my approach.  There are times when I’m uncomfortable photographing these deer carcasses, but I also know they provide sustenance for the other critters.

As I drove through the intersection, I saw three Bald Eagles on the opposite corner.  There were two mature eagles, probably the parents, and a juvenile, eating on another carcass.

The juvenile was pretty scruffy looking with its mottled coat.  That’s normal, though, as it takes four to five years for eagles to mature into their beautiful plumage.  The juvenile’s hooked beak is still black too.

In comparison to the juvenile, the parents were real beauties.  I think the eagle against the snowbank was the female, as they are about 25% larger than the males. 

This eagle’s face had some discoloration, which I think was probably from eating carrion.  Eagles typically subsist on fish, but for ones that live in terrestrial habitats, they have to be opportunistic feeders, and they eat raccoons, squirrels, beavers, and deer fawns.  Often, newborn, dead, or sickly critters make up their diet.

It didn’t take long for the female eagle to move in on the juvenile and demand her own feeding time at the deer carcass.

The juvenile just stood back and allowed the female to take her turn at eating.  In past years, the juvenile fought to maintain its place at the table.  Perhaps, there is maturation going on.

With the juvenile out of the way, the other eagle swooped in to feed.  I was amazed at the bird’s wingspan.  And those talons sure contributed to the eagle’s ability to tear meat from the carrion.

I never tire from photographing Bald Eagles.  I try to catch them from various points of view.  Gracie was with me that afternoon and hung out the window as I shot.  I think she knew we were in the presence of greatness as she never barked or yipped the whole time.

I took 649 images of the eagles that afternoon, which I whittled down to 71.  My hardest task was sorting through them to see which ones I wanted to use for my blog.

I decided to call it a day when I got both parent eagles together.  It had been my lucky day.

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.