Thursday, April 30, 2020
Last week, on one of those mornings when we woke to a dusting of snow, I had a visitor that both delighted and surprised me.
This beautiful male Northern Cardinal had perched on my deck railing. I’ve written about how the bird numbers were way down over this past winter so this bright red guy gave me hope that a shift might be happening in bird numbers.
The Cardinal looked my way. I was well behind my desk shooting from a dark room 100 mm away so I doubted the bird could see me. Yet, knowing that vision is the most important sense for birds, perhaps I was wrong.
It kept its eye in my direction but tilted its head downward. Since cardinals are often ground feeders, maybe it was checking out what seed had fallen to the ground it might munch on.
The cardinal looked towards the feeder. C’mon, boy, jump up there and eat some of those sunflower and safflower hearts you love. I’d even re-attached the cardinal ring to the feeder so it would have a better place to perch.
The bird looked my way again from the other side. It still didn’t move towards the feeder. I thought about why the cardinal hadn’t jumped on the feeder, when in the past I’d had many cardinals at this same feeder. I wondered whether the feeder needed to be raised higher so there would be more room for it to maneuver itself to the perching ring. So that afternoon, I added an extra length to the system raising it higher.
The cardinal stood, its crest, black mask, and cone-shaped bill all striking. And then he took off. I felt lucky to have seen the cardinal, but hopeful too, that more might visit in the future.
Thursday, April 23, 2020
The farm country I visit has a lot of ponds. They’re now unfrozen and have become habitat for many critters. I decided to visit several of those ponds to see what I could find.
The first pond I came to was a long oval pond surrounded by cat tails. I’ve photographed both a Great Blue Heron and a Black-crowned Night-Heron there. It’s also where I saw the Belted Kingfisher last week.
I could hardly believe it, but the kingfisher was still in the same spot, intently focused on the pond. It was a sunny day so I was able to get a better picture this time.
I even caught some its loud, penetrating rattle, which my bird app likened to a heavy fishing reel.
Around the corner was a second pond and I immediately disturbed two Buffleheads who were just slipping into the water. They quickly took a low flight to the other end of the pond.
They skidded in for a landing and settled in for a float as far from me as they could get. The female is on the left and the male is on the right.
The prize of the day, however, came when I saw this beaver lodge down the road a bit in a third pond.
This sunlit beaver was standing right beside its den. It’d been busy since the lodge wasn’t here last week when I’d visited.
It was great fun watching the beaver swim through the pond waters looking for additions for its lodge. Gracie hung out the window watching in quiet fascination. Good girl.
Back and forth, up and down, the beaver went. It was sure easy to see how the saying “busy as a beaver” came about.
We were getting ready to pull away, when I caught sight of the beaver’s large tail as it began to make another climb. That large tail serves as a rudder and can propel the beaver to speeds up to 5 mph. Beavers also use their tails to slap the water to drive away their predators. With its tail and webbed feet, the beaver acts a lot like a duck!
Thursday, April 16, 2020
You remember Saturday, don’t you? Sunny. Fifties nearing sixty. I’d been watching the weather forecast and saw there was cold, rain, and snow coming. I knew I needed to get out and enjoy the day while I could, so Gracie and I hopped in the car and took off for an evening ride in farm county.
We were entering prime feeding time for critters, so we were able to see a lot of wildlife. Many, however, were at quite a distance, like this small herd of deer munching on field greens. Even though I watched and clicked from afar, the deer were alert and aware of my presence.
I saw ten Sandhill Cranes during the evening, but none were close enough to get super-sharp images. All were in pairs.
The next four cranes I saw were still pretty far away, but two were vocalizing on the grassy portion of a hilly field. I wondered if they were going to break into their pair bonding dance because vocalizing can be part of that ritual.
Two more cranes were deep in a cornfield behind the vocalizing cranes. One stood watch while the other was bent over with only its feather bustle visible. I couldn’t help but wonder if these four were the family I’d seen from last year.
I noticed it was clouding up, and wondered whether there would be a clear sunset. Still, the clouds and sun were creating a beautiful scene on this hillside stand of trees.
My luck changed in an instant when I spotted this Belted Kingfisher on a tree branch near a farmland pond. These birds plunge dive for prey, often fish, crustaceans, insects, amphibians, and reptiles. It looks like the kingfisher chose a perfect spot for hunting.
The kingfisher is very recognizable due to its distinct, bushy crest and its dagger-like bill. This bird was a female because of its blue-gray breast band and chestnut-brown belly band.
I’d not photographed a kingfisher before, so it was exciting to find this bird. She was kinda cuddly-looking and appeared to be well fed.
It was getting too dark to take pictures, so we headed for home. We were ready to turn on M-37 towards Traverse City when the sun took one last peek through the colorful sky. Wow!
We were nearing home when I took one last look to the West. I had to pull over and take a final shot of this beautiful afterglow. What an evening! Deer, cranes, a kingfisher, all capped off by the brilliant skies of the sunset.
Thursday, April 9, 2020
It was time to take another break from the pandemic crisis and escape into the natural world. One of the places where I drive is a haven for hawks. Sometimes I see them, and sometimes I don’t.
On this spring evening, I caught sight of a hawk sitting on top of some tree branches. It was on the wrong side of the road to photograph, so I drove on and turned around. I was quite a distance away and wasn’t sure whether this was a Broad-winged Hawk or a Red-shouldered Hawk.
Hawks are challenging to photograph because they are flighty and will take off at first sight of encroachment. I approached very slowly, but this one has already caught sight of me.
And sure enough, without me moving any closer, the hawk took off. Luckily, I was able to follow it, and from the appearance of its undersides, I think it was a Broad-winged.
The hawk flapped its huge wings up and down, and I was hoping it would pick a perch soon because I was already getting out of range for sharp pictures with my 100-400 mm lens.
The critter must have heard my wish because it landed on a tree, a whole field now between us. It was taking social distancing to a whole new level!
The hawk continued to watch me from afar. As I sat there, I noticed how my mind had cleared, and my spirit had relaxed. Ah, the wonders of nature. I hope you are well and safe.
Thursday, April 2, 2020
It's been just what we've needed: three days of sunshine along with warming temperatures. Amidst the fears and sadness surrounding life with the coronavirus, the sunshine has brought some hope. Neighbors have been outside cleaning their decks, washing their outside furniture, and chatting from a distance. Connecting again has been healing. Gracie and I headed out to Old Mission for an evening drive and sunset pictures, the first of 2020. Enjoy and be safe, good friends.