Maybe it was just me, but it sure seemed that winter took it's time getting here. Yes, it was cold in November but December seemed warmer and a green/brown Christmas had many kids crying foul! In true Michigan form, we woke one morning to snow, then a Polar Vortex, then more snow, ice, ice, snow, and yes, more snow! One day the Great Lakes are ice free and social media sites are loaded with ice shanties for sale. Overnight the lakes are frozen and the guy you had contacted to buy the ice shanty from suddenly stops answering your text messages. Pure Michigan!
Most folks probably don't care much for that weather, but it does usher in some northern visitors that we don't get to see much of in our other seasons. Snowy Owl, Horned Larks, Common Redpolls, and Snow Buntings just to name a few. Snowy Owls were reported throughout Michigan, including at least one at Harley Ensign boat launch in Harrison Twp.
The Harley Ensign launch has been a very reliable spot for seeing Snowy Owls the past several winters. It provides good duck hunting for the owls and nice tall marina buildings to perch on (and some comfy condo rooftops also!).
Moving out to cold, empty, farm fields in winter are great for finding Snow Buntings feeding on any leftover grains.
Many times you'll find Redpolls and Horned Larks in these fields also. I've struck out on the Redpolls so far this year, but did see a few Horned Larks.
Seeing the Hen Pheasant (above) in early February was a surprise. It was about a 1/4 mile away from where I had seen this stunning Rooster in early January!
For me, the best part of winter is the diver ducks that can be found and the Eagles that are generally in the same area - open water. I would imagine it takes a lot of energy to stay warm and the ducks know it. They'll be diving for food from sun up to dark.
Diver ducks make catching fish look easy. The hard part seems to be trying to swallow it, as they have no teeth, before the other ducks steal it from you.
You have to be tough to stick it out in a "Polar Vortex" if you are a duck. Water can quickly turn to ice and when your bill is frozen shut, it can be a long, hungry day.
Visiting from way up in Alaska and across northern Canada are the Long-tailed Ducks. These have got to be the most vocal ducks I have ever heard. They seem to talk non-stop, day and night. They really are fun to watch as they drift down the St. Clair River, usually in groups, diving for food. Then they will run across the top of the water, take flight back up the river, and start all over again. Watching them attempt to land reminds me of a football skipping across the water. Not very graceful, but it works for them!
Naturally the concentrations of ducks in the open waters brings the Eagles in also. Eagles have no problem at all snatching up something the size of a wounded duck, to grabbing a dropped shad that is floating in the water. Such a strong, powerful and amazing bird. I'm still in awe every time I see one.
You ever have one of those moments when you just stop and shake your head, thinking, "did that just happen"? Saturday, February 2nd, 2019...on my way up Interstate 94 toward Port Huron to check out the St. Clair River. It was a dark, dreary, misty kind of morning and my only real hope of getting any good photos rested with hope that our local weather forecast of midday sun was going to be correct. I decided to jump off the freeway and take an alternate "back road" drive up to PH. As I got off the freeway, I think to myself, "it's been a while since I've seen a coyote or fox around". Not 10 minutes later, "did that just happen?" happened! I caught movement up ahead from the left side of the road. I knew in an instant it was a fox! How can you not know that color moving across the snow? I pulled over to the right as it ran across the road ahead of me, with a mouthful of rabbit! Most likely me moving over like that caused it to panic a bit and it dropped the rabbit. It was running off as I unbuckled my camera (yes, it gets a seatbelt, lol) and put the window down. There was no way I was going to get a decent picture of it - but then it turned around and headed back toward it's dropped breakfast! About halfway back it stopped and I hit the shutter button hoping the settings from my last outing would work. The fox took off away from me but I got lucky! Far from perfect, but not bad under the circumstances. My morning was made.
The way this played out was funny to me and I had to tell someone, so I called my son. Obviously he didn't share my enthusiasm as he quickly stated, "Dad, next time you take an alternate route, maybe you could think; it's been a long time since I found a bag of money on the side of the road". Ah family...smh
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Spring is coming! Get Outside!!!!