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  • Todd

Something Different, Something New and Something Old

This must be a test to see how much I can take. Seems every time I try to write, something else comes up. I go from knowing exactly what I want to say, to not having a clue where to start. The title has been sitting up there for a MONTH now, with no written words under it. At the the time I wrote the title, I knew which pictures were going where and what I wanted to say. Now, I'm going to just wing it. It'll probably take me another month and I know I'll have multiple interruptions (probably reports of a big buck, strange bird or something of the sort) along the way. Anyone that knows me can attest to the fact that I can get distracted - oh hey, was that a butterfly outside the window?


Seems to me that we have had quite a few "different" visitors to the area this year. For the most part, I'm not a chaser, meaning if I hear of a rare bird in Midland County, I'm not likely to chase after it and try to get photos. This year the rare sightings have been a little closer to home and I teamed up with a birder/photographer friend to hunt down a few of these. Willie is almost as good a birder as he is photographer. You have to admire a person that can rattle off the names of birds just by hearing them. Not the common, every day bird either. I'm talking like Indigo Bunting and Chestnut-sided Warbler...and many, many more. I think I know the Northern Cardinal and the Cuckoo on the wall that appears every hour.


Anyway, having that kind of a resource out on field trips is pretty valuable and keeps me from talking to myself. One of our first trips was down to Lake Erie for an uncommon bird of sorts. I guess its not strange to see them in Michigan, but having access to them with little ones is not very common. This may have been the easiest of all the trips we took because as we rolled up to the spot, I located them before we had even parked. These birds are not ones that like to pose for portraits. You just can't get close without working for it, the price you pay for spotting them from the truck I guess. Persistance paid off as we were rewarded with some decent photos of the Wilson's Pharalope. Typically breeding in wetlands, these two families were in a large grassy area with no visible shoreline. No visible shoreline, but plenty of big, hidden puddles that produced some very wet shoes and socks.



Wilson's Pharalope

Unfortunately I was not able to get any good photos of the little ones, but with some luck they will return to raise more next year.


Not far from where we were is a little area that typically holds a bird called a Dickcissel. I've photographed them in the past, but it has been years since I'd seen one. The same spot was holding a rare bird this year and it seems, from the reports that I have heard, that it may have actually nested this year. Could be great for the future of the bird in MI. We got lucky and found them both! First up, the Dickcissel.

Dickcissel

The other was not so cooperative, but I was able to photograph my first ever, Blue Grosbeak!

Blue Grosbeak

I've tried to turn many Indigo Buntings into Blue Grosbeaks, but it's an obvious difference.

Indigo Bunting

Washtenaw County was our next trip. This one was not so simple as the Pharalope. Three trips, maybe 4, before were were able to locate our down south friend, the Yellow-crowned Night Heron. We would get out there first thing in the morning, check all the ponds in the area, nothing. Go for breakfast, return, check all the ponds again, nothing. Get home and 1 hour later, a new sighting. You had to laugh. When we finally did find the bird, it pond hopped to at least 4 different ponds. It was worth it.




I've seen Yellow-crowned Night herons in South Carolina and Florida, but Michigan? Not really it's range, but I was happy to photograph one here.


My next "first" happened during the freeway floodings. I don't recall where we had planned to go, but it was south. It was the morning after one of those all-night soakers we got. Our first attempt was I-94. We got as far as 8 mile and had to exit the freeway because of flooding. So 8 mile to I-75 and another attempt southward. Stalled vehicles littered the freeway. You could see where the water had come up and then receded, leaving cars scattered. A couple miles down the road and once again, blocked and forced to exit due to floodwaters. Okay, we are not going south - north it is today! Well wouldn't you know it...flooded. This time we had no direction to turn to, so we carefully drove south on northbound I-75 and exited the freeway via the on ramp. Now this is all before 7am and traffic is light. It was actually much easier than you probably think, but still, not in our best interest. After a nice tour of a Detroit neighborhood, we found some familiar roads and, not yet ready to quit, continued north.


I mentioned a bird that I had never photographed or even seen and Willie knew where to go. I've photographed many varities of sparrow before but have never seen a Grasshopper Sparrow. It took some time but we got on one and he found a nice perch to pose on in some rather nasty lighting.

Grasshopper Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow

We knew of a Barred Owl that hung out nearby and decided to give it a try. When the owl dropped down, it was hidden and we couldn't photograph it. When it was at the tops of the trees, it was backlit and awful lighting. The best I could under the circumstances. I'll be back for you Mr. Owl!


Barred Owl

A Coopers Hawk was buzzing the area and found the darkest part of the forest to land. I'm much happier with these than the owl photo.


It was even kind enough to turn around and face us.

Coopers Hawk

So if you want to create a birding frenzy in Michigan, you go find yourself a big pink bird and post it on social media. As I have mentioned, birders have networking down to a science. When a rare bird like this shows up, it can be a little crazy. People were coming from all over the state and even out of state, to see this bird. All the way from the Gulf Coast, here is a Roseate Spoonbill.


Spoonbills will stand in the shallows and swish that flat bill back and forth collecting minnows, crustaceans and other insects for food.

What I found even more interesting than the bird itself were the people that came to see it. How bad did it get? Local and State Police had to come in and set up and area where people would be safe to view the bird because it was best seen from the roads edge. They blocked off part of the road because people were parking there, had them park in an empty lot up the road and bit, then set up cones along the road so people had a place to stand and watch and not get run over. The best part, even the police were looking through borrowed binoculars and checking out the bird. You had parents with children coming out, grandparents and grandchildren, I saw a guy in a wheelchair and other elderly folks that litterally needed help to get to the spot, but they had to see this bird. Lots of smiles and lots of "Oh my goodness" being uttered. Again, I don't really consider myself a birder. I don't keep a list of the birds I've seen, I like to let my photos do that for me, but people were getting emotional about this and that made it pretty cool.


Along the way, while looking for these rare and not-so-common birds, I photographed a few that are a little more regular.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Eastern Bluebird

And as if to tease me, a Black-billed Cuckoo made a quick appearance before dashing back into the brush and leaving me with a not so impressive photo. Definately on my 2022 hit list!

Black-billed Cuckoo


The summer months always seem to lack some of the excitement that Spring and Fall migration bring. It's hot, humid, the mosquitos are the size of a 747 and attack in squadrons, ticks (the absolute worst things ever) and the trees are covered in green leafy things that hide all the birds...


So I tried something new. I contacted my friends over at lensrentals.com and had them send me a macro lens and ring flash. Now I know nothing about macro photography, except how to attach the lens to the camera. After testing out this lens for a couple weeks I can say with a great deal of certainty that I still no nothing about macro photography!!! I did learn that with the new lens style you need to also order an adapter, WHOOPS!


It was fun experimenting around the house and at a local park. Flowers seemed to be an easy subject to start with, so I gave it a try.







Some flowers came with a bonus!









Hand-holding the camera set-up is my prefered way of shooting but you need a super calm day and the slightest shaking made a huge difference. I used a monopod and tripod, just messing around to see what worked.



Dragonflies and Damselflies seemed to be easy targets also. Each I am sure, has it's own name but I'm not feeling so inclilned to look them all up, so here ya go...













This next little thing I don't even have words for. I've never seen anything quite this color.

If anyone knows what these are, I'd love for you to message me and let me know.


Of course I had to try it....mosquito.


Some other interesting bugs






That spider above took all afternoon to get and I'm still not very happy with the results. All in all it was fun trying macro photography and I will likely do it again when the dog days of photography strike. A lot to learn yet!!




Let's get back to the cuteness, shall we? Let's make it twice as nice...




and its twin!!

And who doesn't like a butterfly?






It's not unusual to see water snakes sitting in the sun in the swamp. They look pretty cool just sitting there and they do not move. One of these days I will photograph one eating something, I hope!



What I don't expect with snakes is to have one at mid-chest level. I was dodging those pesky mosquitos, trying to get some butterfly photos and suddenly this guy was right in front of me! Just a typical garter snake, but you just don't expect it at chest level!


It has become obvious to me that I move like a Stealth Bomber, how else can you explain how close I was able to get to this Groundhog and Vole?




After a quick bit of research, I have found that groundhogs have very good eyesight, while voles have poor eyesight. My wife said I do not move under the radar at 600+mph and so I'm no Stealth Bomber but that it's more likely I look like a groundhog....what can I say?



Before I wrap this up we have to get to some of our summer buck pictures and maybe a video or two if I can figure out how. The pictures I am going to post are from July and maybe the first week of August. Plenty of antler growth between then and now. Those will be down the road a bit. It's been an exciting year so far and that includes being caught out in a thunderstorm while shooting. I mentioned it on Instagram and I will say again, thank goodness for LensCoat (lenscoat.com) for keeping the cameras bone dry!