Thursday, April 28, 2022



Oh, it isn’t that there aren’t signs of spring out there because there are.


 I was in Elk Rapids Friday afternoon and came upon this yard peppered with tiny purple flowers.  It was so striking traffic was stopped so people could snap the scene with their phones.  I also have to say, these were the only flowers I’ve seen this spring.


 Then on Saturday, between the Tigers’ doubleheader, I headed to farm country to look for more springlike signs.  I couldn’t miss the semi-sunny, very warm afternoon.  My car’s outside temperature sensor read 81 degrees.  Gracie was along and she went nuts as we passed this family of Herefords enjoying the outdoors with their two young ones nearby.


 Cows calve early, usually in February or March, so this one already had some size.  I laughed watching it lick its chops.


 We continued on to the Andersen Creek marsh and could see how flooded it was from winter snow melt and recent rains.  Yet, I didn’t see a single duck or heron on the water.  Not even geese, who seem to be everywhere.


 I did get a wonderful surprise, however.   As I turned around and headed away from the marsh, I heard the sound of a woodpecker drumming on a dead tree.  

 It was a Northern Flicker, returning from its southern migration spot.  A definite sign of spring.  While it’s typical of woodpeckers to hammer on dead wood, and this one can too, the Northern Flicker actually prefers to find food on the ground.  Ants are its favorite food and it uses its long barbed tongue to lap them up.


 I saw lots of tractors and other farm equipment out in yards with farmers tuning them up and test-driving them, but no actual plowing going on.  Most fields were still tawny and untouched. 


 I did snap this pretty scene and noticed that one strip of land had been plowed.  Probably a test run to see how firm the soil was and I could see the mud had won out.


 The whole time I was out-and-about, I was accompanied by a chorus of spring peepers emanating from the many roadside bogs created from the melting snows.  Certainly peeper chirping is another mark of spring!  I stopped and used my long lens to try and spot one of these frogs, but at only an inch in size, and with their tan camouflaged-skin, they were impossible to see.


 And back in the city, there are plenty of spring-like signs too.  This male Goldfinch sports its spring plumage.  Okay, I’ll get to my point.  The calendar says it became spring on March 20.  That was over a month ago.  But spring is when there are blossoms, trees leaf out, grasses green up.  And we’re not there yet, after five weeks.  No, the season we’re in is a TRANSITION to spring.  


 This screenshot from my weather app with all the temperature variations illustrates my point that spring isn’t here yet.   And, I think we need a name for this transitional season.  If we lived in Alaska, for example, the local seasonal names better match the seasonal rhythms.  “Break-up” occurs April into May when snow melts and the ground thaws, resulting in a time of puddles and mud.  Alaskans even wear rubberized footwear called “break-up boots.”


 In early-to-mid May, Alaskans next have what they call “Green-up.”  It happens fast when leaf-out arrives almost overnight and transforms brown landscapes into green ones.  That’s what we’re waiting for here too.  Color!!  I wonder what we could call this transitional seasonal here in Northwestern Lower Michigan.  Calling it spring just gets us jazzed up for something that won’t be coming for weeks after the calendar date proclaims it’s spring.  We might call it the Rollercoaster Season, with all its ups and downs.  Or, based on how I’m feeling right now, sitting in my study on Tuesday afternoon as I watch snow fall heavily through the newly leafed maple tree, perhaps the Grumpy Season would be a better fit.




Thursday, April 21, 2022



The pair dancing is mostly over and the breeding season has begun for Sandhill Cranes.  Some have laid eggs and are tending their nests.


 My brother Mark, who lives in the Battle Creek area, sent me this exquisite image he took of a Sandhill Crane on a nest.  During the day, both parents incubate the nest, which contains two buff or olive eggs.  The incubation period lasts about a month.

Mark’s success sent me back to farm country to learn what I could about the local Sandhill Crane breeding process.  Being a few hours north, I hoped to still see some pair-bond dancing.  But, instead, I saw the same lone crane feeding in the field where I typically see two birds.


 Not being sure if this was a male or female, I wondered whether there was already a nest built and eggs being tended by the other mate.  Typically, cranes build their nests near water and that’s where I began looking for a nesting crane.


 Right behind where the solo crane was feeding is a small wetland.  Cranes like areas with vegetation growing in standing water and this little marsh fit the bill, I thought.  But, as I watched quietly from my car for several minutes, I saw no movement or nesting crane.


 Across the road from the first bog is another wetland, one where I’ve seen nesting geese and beavers building dams.  Again, there were no crane nests there either.  I moved on and went around a couple blocks seeing what else was out there.  Lots of hawks in the area again.


 I returned to the solo crane and it’d moved to the other side of the field near the geese pond I’d photographed last week.  It was bugling loudly.  Kar-r-r-r-o-o-o.  Kar-r-r-r-o-o-o.  I wondered whether it was squawking because I was getting too close to the nest.


 Somewhere in this vast field of woods, corn dregs, and watery bogs, there had to be a crane nesting.  Or so I hoped.  I’ll just have to wait for nature to reveal itself.



Thursday, April 14, 2022



Sunday afternoon the Tigers were getting slaughtered by the White Sox and I didn’t want to miss any more of the warm, sunny day so Gracie and I headed out to take pictures.


 The snow had completely melted and the first thing I noticed was the appearance of new ponds all over the countryside.  This sizable one was off in the distance where I hadn’t seen water before.


 It seemed as if geese had claimed it as their own.  I didn’t see other waterfowl types there.


 And where I’d photographed a Bald Eagle fishing on the ice just a week earlier, the melted pond had greatly expanded from what I’d seen in earlier years.


 This female Common Goldeneye had found the pond to its liking, floating peacefully on the golden, sun-touched waters.


 Its mate, striking in iridescent green and magenta, bobbed nearby.


 Both these diving ducks were busy foraging for aquatic plants on the pond bottom.  I hoped they had more success than the eagle.


 I moved on and saw a hawk soaring above on the thermals.  It was a beautiful sight so I pulled over to watch as it landed on a tree not far in the distance.


 As it stood up, I could see from its fully-feathered legs that it was a Rough-legged Hawk.  I’d seen several over the winter but was surprised to see one this late into the breeding and nesting season.  I expected it would have returned to the northern tundra regions by now.


 The large hawk took off and it was interesting to see more of its wing patterns.  In flight, it alternated between powerful wing flaps and glides.


 As it glided, its head was pointed down looking for prey.  Like other raptors, this hawk is an opportunistic predator, focusing on whatever is available.  Voles, mice, rabbits, squirrels, birds, waterfowl.


 Thinking that I’d already had a good photoshoot, the best, at least for me, came last as I spied two Sandhill Cranes in a field where I had often seen them.  One was busy preening while the other was standing watch.


 Across the street in another field where my favorite pair of cranes typically reside, I saw a lone crane.  It was at the end of a VERY muddy two-track and I hesitated driving in, but took the plunge.  Literally.  My car lurched from side to side as it wallowed through the muddy abyss.  I knew I couldn’t hesitate for long or I’d get stuck.  Snap the crane picture, look around for the mate (not there), note the proximity to the geese pond (close), and get out.



As I reached dry pavement, I sighed in relief for getting out unscathed.  I noticed the first crane pair had moved mostly out of range, but the scene was still lovely so I snapped one more image.  I headed home, the sound of mud coming off tires and fender undersides accompanying me for miles.




Thursday, April 7, 2022



I was out shooting with my friend Jan from Northport, hoping to show her a Snowy Owl.  It wasn’t to be, however, so we headed to farm country to look for eagles, cranes, and hawks.


 Not far from the Roadkill Cafe, we spied this Bald Eagle at the edge of a farmland pond.  I wondered what it was up to.


 The eagle wandered over to what appeared to be a slit in the ice and stared intently at it.  From my perspective, the spot seemed similar to an old fishing hole iced over.


 Using its hooked beak, the eagle pecked at the hole, attempting to deepen it.  Could there be fish in the pond?  Perhaps the eagle had made that assumption.  What did it see through the ice with its excellent vision?

The eagle looked over at the two of us shooting furiously through the car window.  We were far enough away to be respectful of the eagle’s space, but close enough to get good shots.


  Ignoring us, the eagle when back to its work.  It seemed to pull up something stringy from the hole.  Or was it drool I was seeing? 


 The eagle opened its beak and brushed away whatever was there with its talon.  It needed to be mighty careful putting those sharp talons anywhere near its face!


 The eagle gave us a classic pose with its head turned to the left, almost like it was posing for coinage.


 The pose to the right was good too, but I could see it was sneaking a peak at us with its yellowish “eagle eye.”  My gut told me it’d had enough of us clicking away with our cameras.


 And I was correct!  It spread those gigantic wings and took off over the blue ice away from us.


 Pumping the wings up and down, legs still dragging below, it sought the momentum it needed to reach cruising height and speed.  What a beautiful sight it was!


 I tracked it as far as I could as it soared over the empty cornfield.  It’s always an awe-inspiring experience to see a Bald Eagle, but to photograph one at these close distances…well, it doesn’t get much better than this!