Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wordless Wednesday Wildflower

Wordless Wednesday - A day to appreciate nature without saying a word. Happy Wordless Wednesday my friends.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sandhill Crane's Delightful Feather Music

Sandhill Crane - Juvenile along the Aspen Trail - Kensington Metropark, Milford, Michigan.

Your's truly posing with the Sandhill Crane family. I have watched this crane family all season long. They tolerated my close presence as they fed, preened and relaxed along the Aspen Trail.

This extremely curious juvenile Sandhill Crane that couldn't get enough of my shoes and camera gear. I was kneeling right in front of this little one, and managed to take a few photos without much trouble from the bird.

The feathers of an adult Sandhill Crane as it molts into winter plumage.

Being inspected by the juvenile Sandhill Crane. Just a few quick pecks but nothing too painful or terrifying about this inspection.

The female Sandhill Crane preening and making the delightful feather music as she grasped and pulled at her feathers. I was so lucky to be so close I could hear the music she was making. It sounded like satin fabric being rubbed together.

A beautiful adult Sandhill Crane as it stood within three feet of me.

According to the calendar, summer has surrendered to autumn. However, we are experiencing hot and muggy weather as if summer has never left at all. It feels more like August than September. We know any day now, we will feel the real chill of autumn and have to put away the sandals until next year.

This has been a glorious birding season using a new birding lens - the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM. This lens has brought me closer than ever before to birds and the opportunity to photograph them with more clarity and sharpness. There is nothing like an excellent "L" lens to tantalize a nature photographer on the look out for life birds.

This season has been a very eventful one, the highlights have been watching Osprey chicks successfully hatch and fledge the nest and a pair of Sandhill Cranes also raise a pair of chicks to fledge the nest. I have visited Kensington almost weekly since March when the weather became more hospitable to outdoor hiking and exploring. With summer waning, I knew I had to get out to Kensington to see the cranes before they departed for the winter. I didn't know if they were still in residence, I hoped for the best and took a hike to Kensington. If no birds were to be found, then I would do some macrophotography of the late summer wildflowers.

I started out shooting flowers with the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM lens, but after a few attempts of shooting flowers, the wind kicked up and I abandoned that plan to do some hiking. After a short hike, I turned onto the Aspen Trail, where I found the Sandhill Crane family feeding and relaxing next to a cattail marsh. I have watched them all season long as their babies have grown into adult size birds. It is not unusual to see them along the trail, but today's encounter would be much different than any other visit at Kensington.

This is where an ordinary hike became a spectacular encounter that I will remember the rest of my life. I was so close, I couldn't believe it, I would become foot to foot standing next to a crane.

I approached the cranes very quietly and cautiously to avoid scaring them into the marsh. As I got closer, I put down my tripod, released my camera and slowly and carefully walked up to the cranes. I literally inched myself closer, until they were walking toward me without concern. I stood next to the cranes as they fed, preened and occasionally inspected my feet for curiosity's sake. A few people came by as my encounter lasted well over an hour, and a woman stopped and took my photo as the cranes were within inches of me.

I quietly observed and photographed these birds as I stood next to them. The juvenile cranes walked back and forth next to me paying no mind to my presence. The adult female was particulary interesting because she stayed right by me for most of an hour. I could hear her "bleet" and sound a semi-warning call every now and then to keep her babies in line, but she never acted aggressively toward me or was bothered that I was kneeling next to her as I took photos of her as she preened her feathers. As she preened, I could hear the sound of her beak making "music" as it grasped the feathers. It sounded just like satin fabric being rubbed together, it was that beautiful. I listened intently as she continually preened and made the feathers produce this high pitched musical sound, almost violin like. Birds do make music when they preen, we just don't hear it, but today I heard feather music for the first time.

The encounter lasted close to 90 minutes, and I had to get going and leave the cranes. I didn't want to leave, but I had to get home and the cranes were intent on staying put for awhile. As I packed up my gear, the cranes also departed the trail and headed off into the marsh to seek other places to eat, rest and preen.

This was the most splendid way to say a final goodbye to summer and wish my Sandhill Crane friends a safe journey to their winter grounds. I will anxiously await their return in the spring. The circle of life can begin again as the Sandhills can once more delight this humble human being with their beauty, grace and more beautiful feather music. Safe travels my friends, and thanks for the music.

Monday, August 31, 2009

August Wildflowers & Wings

The Southeast Michigan August wildflower meadow dazzles us with an array of Knotweed, Monarda (Bee Balm), Flat Topped Aster, Goldenrod, Black Eyed Susan, Purple Coneflower and Queen Ann's Lace. With the bloom of these flowers, the dance of the Monarch, Great Spangled Frittilary and Spicebush Swallowtail begins in this part of Michigan. My favorite place to observe and enjoy butterflies is at Indian Springs Metropark in White Lake, Twp. This park is a 10 minute drive from my house, which makes it a frequent place for me to enjoy wildlife all year long.

With the weather warm and on a slightly windy day, I set out to find Monarchs and other butterfly species in the wildflower meadows at Indian Springs. I was truly delighted with what I found on my photo adventure for the day. The wildflower fields were in full bloom and were swaying in the balmy breezes. A perfect day for winged creatures to nourish from nature's wildflower harvest.

One of the first winged creatures to catch my eye was a Hummingbird Moth sampling from the Monarda. Soon I spotted a Monarch butterfly, a Viceroy, a Giant Swallowtail, and one of my favorites a Gold Spangled Fritillary made its appearance in the meadow. Along the edge was a Common Ringlet, Cabbage White, Clouded Sulphur, Silver Spotted Skipper and the elusive Black Swallowtail and a Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly. My quest that day was to see a Spicebush or a Black Swallowtail, and I was very pleased to find them on this perfect butterfly observing day in late August.
Everywhere I looked, I found a butterfly floating on the wind onto the next flower for a quick dash of nectar as if anticipating the change of season that will soon be upon this glorious field. My butterfly experience was shared with a woman named Doris, whom I met along the trail, she is from a local chapter of the Audubon Society. However, Doris, she was looking for butterflies and not so much for birds. She was doing a count of butterfly species. We exchanged pleasantries and decided to see if we could add to each other's tally for the day. Between the two of us, we found thirteen different species of butterflies. I helped her find some of the butterflies I spotted but not on her list, and she helped me find some of the butterflies I had not spotted. It was delightful experience to meet Doris and share our love of nature and butterflies together. We even found out we have a birding friend in common; isn't that a coincidence.
We also had another delightful experience together, we happened to have a close encounter with the resident Sandhill Cranes, but I will leave that for another post tomorrow. Doris had not seen a Sandhill Crane up close like that, so she was in awe of her encounter with the Sandhill Cranes.
Doris and I parted for our homes and I vowed to get in touch with her and become more active in the local chapter of the Audubon Society. I am the lone butterfly and birder amongst my friends, so having met someone new who enjoys the same pursuits as I do, is the greatest gift I found while out chasing butterflies and birds on this late August day in Michigan. Thanks Doris, you made my day.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Fields and Flowers At Indian Springs Metropark

Indian Springs Metropark - White Lake Twp., Michigan. 35 Miles Northwest of the city of Detroit. Where nature is on display for all who wish to enjoy the experience.

Sandhill Cranes searching for food alongside the small lake at the Nature Center. The Environmental Discovery Center for educational and underwater pond room observations, the wildflower fields for butterfly enthusiasts and pathways to get an even closer look at the frogs, turtles and dragonflies that inhabit the many ponds at this nature park nestled in the northern suburbs of Detroit, Michigan.

Butterflies and Birds are the main attractant for me at the Nature Center and Environmental Discovery Center. The wildflower fields bring in the winged creatures and deserve a short blog about their importance for their food and shelter of birds, insects and butterflies.

Wings On The Wind

As a birder, butterfly and dragonfly photographer, choosing to go out on a windy day brings all sorts of challenges. The first being, birds are hunkering down with the change in the weather, even if it is for a change to fair skies and warmer temps. That was the kind of day I ventured out to visit my local Huron / Clinton Metropark, Indian Springs in White Lake Twp., Michigan. A fifteen minute drive from my home.

My first stop was to the Nature Center where I can usually find something to observe. Funny how the cool things hang out near the Nature Center. I stopped by the pond and found a very healthy looking Green Frog enjoying the duckweed in its environment. A few feet away, a meadow of wildflowers and milkweed attracted a Monarch Butterfly. I took a quick photo of the frog and then off to watch the Monarch. Given the windy conditions, I was surprised to see the Monarch handling the wind as well as it did. A very cooperative Monarch posed momentarily on the milkwood and I was able to get nice images with the wind whipping in my face.

The day was hospitable for the Turkey Vulture soaring in the warm winds, the Great Egret was buffeted in flight by the strong westerlies and the Cedar Waxwing was unphased as it clung to its perch on a young tamarack tree. The barn swallows and tree swallows were a delight as they seemed to enjoy the extra lift under their graceful wings.

After a trip to the pond, and was returning an unneeded tripod to my car, I happened to run into some friends who are fellow members of the West Oakland Camera Club. They were there to watch the Cedar Waxwings at the marsh lake a short distance from the Nature Center. I joined them for the short hike and conversation about the Cedar Waxwings and how they enjoyed their antics and the seemingly friendly nature of the birds. We were strategizing on how to get close to them for easier viewing. We walked closer, and the birds didn't mind, so there are more opportunities for close up photography. We concluded our visit and they were on their way. I stayed on to watch for more butterflies, but only the Monarch would make an appearance on such a windy day.

My next trip was to the Environmental Discovery Center to look for dragonflies. The center has a central pond surrounded by marsh, cattails, meadows and Massasauga rattlesnake habitat. You have you watch your step when venturing near the pond edges. The snake is shy, but is present and visitors are instructed by signage to stay on the designated pathway. The snake doesn't like the gravel paths or stoney surfaces, so one must be very observant if wandering off into the grassy areas surrounding the pond. I wasn't dressed in high boots, just my Keens, so I kept to the designated path for the most part. It wasn't very long before I found a male Widow Skimmer and a male Eastern Pondhawk perching on the grasses. The frogs were watching my every move as they lay in the shallows under the protection of the cattails surrounding the stone steps leading to the pond edge. The Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly kept returning to the same step beneath my feet as I enjoyed the scenery at the pond.

My trip lasted a few hours and satisfied my need to be in nature for the day, I returned home, but not without another life time observation, a coyote ran safely in front of my car as I drove the road that runs between Indian Springs Metropark and the Pontiac Lake State Recreation area. That was a first for me, a coyote out in the woods close to suburbia. Even the coyote was enjoying its day out in the northern woods of suburban Detroit, Michigan.

It was a beautiful day and won't think twice about heading out on such a windy and challenging photography day.
Get out and enjoy the day!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sandhill Cranes - Now and Then

This spring and summer, I have had the great fortune to watch and observe a breeding pair of Sandhill Cranes as they raise their young at Kensington Metropark in Milford, Michigan. The Sandhill Cranes call the park their home and several breeding pairs inhabit the park. This particular pair of cranes happen to be very tolerant of human beings. They watch us with caution and do not flee or act aggressively toward park visitors who happen to pass them by while out on the trails or on the park lawn.

Last May 15, 2009, a friend and I were out birding for spring migrants, when this family of Sandhill Cranes approached us while on the Aspen Trail. They had with them their new brood of two crane fledglings. We watched with amazement at these magnificent birds with tiny fledglings scurrying about at their feet. They fed quietly and strolled along without much notice to the human beings who were captivated by their appearance on the trail. The parents would make a low trill sound to alert the babies to stay with the parents and off they went into the deep cover of the marshland. Before we knew it, they were deep into the reeds and all we could see were the parents heads poking up every now and again with a morsel of food for their babies.
We are used to very skittish birds and to have these large birds walk by within a few feet was simply a breathtaking moment. I was so captivated by their grace and beauty I vowed to look for them throughout the season and watch their growth.

The first photo is from July 17, 2009, and the second photo is from May 15, 2009.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Territorial Battles of Springtime

I witnessed and experienced two Mute Swan attacks today while out enjoying the lakes here in Commerce and Milford, Michigan.

This is a slideshow I put together of a Canadian Goose melee being brought to a screeching halt by a territorial male Mute Swan who didn't like the fight that was going on in his part of Wildwing Lake at Kensington Metropark, in Milford, Michigan.

The other swan attack was when I was taking my 6 month old Labrador Retriever puppy for a swim / walk in Long Lake near my home in Commerce Twp. I had to pull the puppy out of the water as another swan flew from across the lake and came within 30 yard of us in an aggressive posture. It is mating time in Michigan of the Mute Swan.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Saying So Long to Winter

After enduring this unusually cold and snowy winter season, I am ready to say hello to spring. During the last few weeks, I noticed the birds have started to ramp up their voices and join the spring chorus that precludes the mating season. The sun's rays are brighter and the days are getting longer. It is time to rejoice the changing of the season. Brighter and warmer days are ahead and the time of spring renewal is just a few weeks away.

Here in the recession plagued State of Michigan, we need a feeling of optimism to keep our spirits buoyed during such difficult economic times. We must stay positive and be confident and have faith we will rebound for better days are ahead. Getting outdoors and breathing the fresh air and feeling the sun on your face cures the winter blues.

On a recent adventure to Robert H. Long Park in Commerce Twp., MI, I had the pleasure of photographing several Hooded Mergansers stopping by on their way to their summer breeding grounds. Also, flushed from the cattails, was the first Red Wing Blackbird of the season. The robins were singing in the distant tree and the geese are setting up territories on the lake. I saw my first flying insects of the season today. The arrival of the Redwing Blackbird is my barometer of when the spring season is ready to emerge.

The calendar says we are still in winter, but my heart is saying spring is here. The temperatures were in the high forties with late day sunshine. I know we are not finished with snow on the ground, but the signs are around that winter is giving way to the spring season. Like this recession that doesn't seem to end, this winter has been prolonged and very brutal to our psyche. There are signs of nature's renewal, take a moment to stop and listen for it will surely brighten your mood and get you heading in the path of optimism.

Happy Spring,