• Todd

It's Been A While

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, plans just don't work out. Such would be the case for me lately. Each year as December nears, I get just a bit excited because it means at least 2 weeks vacation for me and plenty of time outdoors with the cameras. With almost 3 weeks to use this year, I had some great plans. What I didn't plan was being sick for 10 of those days. Most of the time a little cold wouldn't stop me, but this was the "you're not going anywhere" kind of cold. Not exactly a vacation, but I did get some rest.

When I was able to get out, it was clear to see that Mother Nature knew nothing of my plans. December is when my sights turn from deer to ducks and owls. With almost no snow at all and temps that consistently kept the lakes from freezing, the ducks have yet to make an appearance. All the areas I take to this time of year are completely void of ducks. They are around, but when they have the entire body of Lake Erie to feed in, you are not going to find them near the shoreline. It's a little crazy when you have no diver ducks to photograph but you have Tom Turkey out strutting because he thinks it April!

No sense crying about what I can't change though. Let's get on with it before I get distracted.

First up, a trip back to Owosso for the North Pole Express. There is something about a steam engine train that is really cool. Standing 10 yards from one as it comes past is a nice rush too! The wind was whipping around that day and the next thing I knew I was in a complete fog. I had two spots picked out and getting from one to another meant getting ahead of the train after the first set of pictures. The race down the dirt road to get ahead and out front of the train was exciting and fun. I was able to get out front of it and set up just before it came by the second time. Note the train number, 1225 - let me know if you get it's meaning.

First pass

Got on the opposite side of the smoke for the second shot!

It would be nice if the North Pole Express had some snow, but as I mentioned, Mother Nature.

Maybe next year?

Two reliable friends that spend their days in the Howell area, where my daughter attends college, were out showing off one late fall morning.

Sleepy Eastern Screech Owl

He looks very comfy up against that birch tree.

American Kestrel

North America's most common falcon, the American Kestrel. I believe this to be a male from the markings. Both of these birds are on the small side with the Screech Owl all of 9" and the Kestrel at maybe 16" max. This one, maybe 12".

Keeping in line with the falcon family, I had a first this past December. While out looking for Snowy Owls and having a rather unsuccessful day, I noticed off in the distance, a bird of prey land up on a street light. I knew it was too small to be a Snowy but drove (I was using the car as a blind, lol) closer. Thinking I would be Sharpie or Cooper's Hawk, I was blown away to find a Peregrine Falcon! I felt like I was cheating as I lowered the window and shot right from the car. It didn't stick around for more than 30 seconds, but it was long enough.

Peregrine Falcon

A peregrine puts "fast" in "fast food". Having been clocked at over 200mph on a dive, you are all but finished if it decides you are lunch. Workers were cutting a nearby field when this bird showed up and I'm thinking it may have been in that field, eating, because if you look closely, there appears to be some blood at the bottom of it's tail.

This birds leg band is visible and I suspect, given my location, it was likely from the nesting pair in Mt. Clemens. Another pair have been nesting on the Blue Water Bridge for years. As many times as I have been there, I never see them. Maybe I should try during daylight, but the bridge looks so beautiful at night.

Now when you pull into one of the many parking lots near the bridge at 3:00am, you really don't expect to see many people. The ones that are there suddenly take off when you start pulling out camera equipment. I don't know what's going on in those cars but it wasn't anything they wanted a picture taken of.

I did make a quick trip back to Port Huron one morning because we had some rare visitors from way, way up north. Three Harlequin Ducks decided to spend a couple weeks just north of the bridge. These ducks are normally found up in places like Newfoundland, Greenland and Alaska. Occasionally they find there way down to the Great Lakes in winter. Not the greatest pics but here they are. The two with the white dot and moon crescent on their heads are male, the other female. Non-breeding plumage.

If I am not mistaken, now is the hunting season in Alaska for Harlequin and Eiders. Jeremy Ullman, our walleye guide on Lake St. Clair, runs King Eider Adventures ( up in Alaska! These birds are magnificent and if you have Instagram and don't mind hunting pictures, I would definitely take a minute and check out his photos of these ducks.

Almost forgot, did find the Snowy!

Note the light post, same lot as the Peregrine, different day.

We all know the story of the chicken that crossed the road. I present to you, the turkey that crossed the river.