• Todd

A Little Help From My Friends

A question I get asked frequently is "How do you know where to find all these birds/animals?" As a little kid I was always outside. Catching worms to fish with, crayfish out behind the old church (before they turned it into a subdivision) and chasing my sisters with snakes we would find in the yard. As I got a little older, I got to go hunting "up north" with my family. Looking back, this was probably the key to the whole outdoor adventure. Spending hours in the woods, watching deer come and go, wondering what that grouse was eating under those pine trees, hearing the pheasants cackle out in the field. Watch, listen, learn. Noticing the birds up there that we didn't see at home - why was that? The wheels were turning.

Built by my Uncle, his family and friends, the house is still owned by family and continues to make memories for those that still love to hunt and be outdoors.

Where the camera came into play is a little foggy. To this day, I can't believe my father let me use his Canon AE1. Was this really the same dad that yelled at me for leaving his tools out in the rain or breaking that screwdriver because I used it as a pry bar? But he trusts me with his camera, wow! For a number of years, I would race out to Harsen's Island and try to get pictures of the deer during the non-hunting months. The camera gave me a 12 month hunting season! My luck was about the same as when I was really hunting, but the enjoyment I got from being out there made it all worth while. Both photography and I have progressed far from that old Canon AE1, but I never got rid of the old equipment.

Fast forward from those humble beginnings to the world of the internet and constant, instant communication. Before I started writing this I cleaned up my mailbox. Deleted 34 emails. Almost every single one contained info on birds or a quick note about a spot for some other critter. Those are just from the time I've been home from work today. If I could find the energy after work to make some of those drives, I'm sure I could be out 6 of the 7 days of the week. Things are happening and word is spreading and even if it's been seen for 3 straight days, the day you have off is the day nobody sees it. Poof, gone. It really happens that fast.

Eastern Whip-Poor-Will

An Eastern Whip-Poor-Will roosted in the same spot for about a week, then just like that, not seen again. Glad it was close enough that I could get there after work. Nocturnal bird, sleeps most of the day.

Birders are a huge resource in all this. I am very fortunate to be a part of their community. I'm included in text and emails. They spend 100's if not thousands of hours afield. One of the first true birders I ever met jokingly told me, "You'll always know a birder in the field. They will have binoculars, a flat hat and look like they just walked out of the LL Bean catalog." Over the years I have found this to be mostly true and still laugh at times when I notice that description. They are, however, the most outstanding source of information. The knowledge under those caps is irreplacable. Without them, I'd probably be lost in the woods someplace. Can't thank them enough.

Mississippi Kite

This Mississippi Kite was located in Washtenaw County by a birder that reported it to the group. Poor lighting made for some tough photography.

The Mississippi Kite likes to eat large insects such as cicadas. The place it was found just happened to be loaded with cicadas. Draw a line from Kansas east to North Carolina and you'd have the basic range for this Kite. So it's big news when one shows up in Michigan. Racing into the woods to photograph it with a storm kicking it's heels up behind us made for an exciting time. We got a little wet, but beat out the heavier rain.

My cellphone picture attempt of a Cicada

Throughout the years I have also had the pleasure to meet some totally amazing photographers. They have all these great places to find deer, owls, eagles and just about anything else you ask them about. In addition, they help to make me a better photographer. I get to learn the different techniques they use and apply them for what works best for me. Study, watch, learn, apply. Three photographers in particular really push me. The work they do is amazing and I have no problem admitting to being jealous. Sometimes it's great to be alone and in nature, other times it's the company you are with that makes the trip worthwhile.

A fellow photographer had found this little fawn and waited nearby for 40 minutes while I made the drive out. I was in such a rush to get here, I forgot my tripod in the trunk of the car. Improvising as best as I could, I waited the hour and a half for it to stand up.

It was worth the wait. It was a little shaky, but managed to get up, turn and lay back down.

Could they get any more adorable? Think just how big some of them will get eating all your hostas and daylilies!!

In some cases I have been lucky enough to get to go out on some "secret" missions. Places that few people know of. It's a privledge to get to go to these places and get to photograph wildlife with these people. That they trust me to not tell anyone where these places are is probably the best feeling of all. On a recent one of these trips, I was able to photograph a Yellow-Billed Cuckoo. I've only seen one before and the picture I got from it was nothing compared to what this trip provided.

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

Now truth be told, we were hoping for a Black-Billed Cuckoo as I have never even seen one before. Heard, but not seen. It was still an incredible morning of shooting.

Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

Red-Eyed Vireo

Mourning Warbler

Male (R) and Female (L) American Redstart

Cerculean Warbler

Two species of birds that we had hoped to see but were not having any luck with both appeared at the same time at the edge of the treeline, nearest the parking lot.

Scarlet Tanager

Hooded Warbler

Sometimes you just go out, thinking you'll be looking for one thing and then everything changes because something else steals the show. A recent search for fawns turned into a turkey shoot.

Tom turkey and a hen

A hen with some of the smallest polts I have ever seen in the wild.
Three Amigos
Wasn't shut out though!

Spring is, of course, migration time. All those beautiful songbirds heading back to the breeding areas. It's been strange the past couple years with areas that I once visited being closed, but on the other hand, it opened doors to exploration and even visiting some areas that I haven't been to in many years. One morning, along the shores of Lake St. Clair, I had an encounter with a Mink. I had never seen one in this area before, but it was closed for 13 months and maybe that's all the little mink need to move in? For 30 minutes I tried in vain to get a photo of that mink. It just would not sit still. I stopped by a flowering Redbud tree to photograph an Oriole and when I was done, looked back to the water and guess who was sitting there watching me?

There really is no explaining why they do what they do.

That same area and the Redbud made for a great place to just hang out and do a little bird photography.

Northern Cardinal
Yellow-Rumped Warbler
Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher
Blackburnian Warbler

Trying to capture birds in a flowering tree can be tough, but the rewards can be great. I find it much more appealing than the heavy green foliage of summer.

Pine Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Blue-Winged Warbler
Chestnut-Sided Warbler
Indigo Bunting
Everyone's favorite, Black-Capped Chickadee
White-throated Sparrow

Another location and another mink! I don't know if they are becoming more adapted to people or if rubbing sardines on my legs really does attract them (yes, I'm joking) but I'm seeing more and more of these critters every year. They are a lot of fun to watch and I hope to get one with a meal in it's mouth before too long.

The other day I was walking back to my car and passed an opening in the woods where some flowers were growing. No idea what triggered the idea to do this, but I thought it might be interesting to teach a little about camera settings. The next two pictures are from the same spot, focused on the same flower stalk. All the settings are the same except for one change. The change is what we call the F-Stop. It sort of controls the depth of field and the amount of light that that gets to your cameras' sensor. The first picture is at F/22 and the second is at F/2.8.

If you really want something to "pop" off the screen, then you'd want F/2.8 to blur out that background. If you had a group of people, say maybe 3 deep, you would shoot at a higher F-Stop and aim at the middle person so as to get all three in focus. Anyway, just a little camera info.

That green, blurred, background can make a rather interesting shot as it was quite a ways back. I think that works pretty well in this case.

Chipping Sparrow
Great Crested Flycatcher

The network of people I get information from goes far beyond just birders and photographers. Family, friends and coworkers are great sources also. I'm always looking for something new to photograph and gathering info plays such a huge part (I NEED A FOX!). You all have no idea how much you are appreciated.

Yet there is still another great source, the animals themselves.

While out photographing fawns, I heard a crow just screaming it's head off. I knew a predator was near by. Following the noise of the crow, I found one of our young Great-horned Owl youngsters!