Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Artwork--Chickadee triptych

Just finished a series of three Black-capped chickadees. I ran across this little fellow at the Shiawasee National Wildlife Refuge last spring. He posed so prettily and did all sorts of cute things like yawn and stretch his wings. He was really checking us out, must have watched him for nearly 5 minutes. It was quite a treat.

The originals will be matted and framed together, though I am not certain of the size yet. The prints will be done like this and matted to 10x20. Be sure to click on the image to get a bigger view.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Tree Swallow Courtship

I stood on the beach with my back to the water, trying to identify a sparrow that was working its way through the grasses, when I heard a ruckus in the water behind me. I spun around and saw two Tree swallows in the shallows, apparently a male attempting to mate with a female.

She was having none of it.

Next: Birds on the Beach Pt. 2

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Birds on the Beach Pt. 1

As with any birding festival, there were lots of tours and things to chose from. Many of them took place at Tawas Point, a little spit of land that juts out into the Saginaw Bay in Lake Huron. For those of you unfamiliar with the area, here is a map of Northern Michigan...

...and a closer map of the Tawas area. The tip of the peninsula is a state park, and I had decided to camp there rather than incur the additional expense of staying in a hotel. Therefore, I didn't sign up for any of the tours at the park, figuring I would have time to explore it on my own.

The Tawas peninsula is a perfect stop-over spot for the birds who move up the Lake Huron shoreline and then fly across the Saginaw Bay. During the festival this year, 174 birds species were recorded at Tawas Point and surrounding area--this in just a four day period!

After the bus tour along the Au Sable I had dinner with a couple I'd met on the tour, then went back to the park, grabbed my gear and hit the trail.

The section of trail that leads to the lighthouse is paved. As I walked along it I could hear scores of birds in the trees and shrubs around me.

To my left I heard a bird singing and stopped to watch. I saw this bird in a pine tree and was so excited, certain it was a new bird to me. I realized later, looking through Sibley's, that it was a young Baltimore oriole, his head not yet all black. Ah well, a girl can dream, right?

I never did make it as far as the lighthouse. The birds calling from the trees on my right drew me in. The habitat was open and grassy in places, treed in others. I knew there'd be lots of birds here!

While I stood under the trees and watched, trying to figure out what birds were making all the noise, a male Yellow warbler flew into view.

After watching for some time I realized the birds making the most racket were Eastern kingbirds. This one posed nicely on a twig out on the beach.

As I watched the kingbird, movement caught my eye among the short willows on the beach. I was amazed to see a male Ruby-throated hummingbird feeding on the blossoms. I had never seen a hummer outside a garden or sugar water feeder. There were three or four of them nearby, filling up on nectar.

The sun peaked through a gap in the clouds and I spotted this little fellow hunting bugs on the sand.

What gorgeous colors! I had seen a Palm warbler last year in Florida but I had not gotten this good of a look at it. I am not sure how it got its name since there are clearly no palm trees here, but I guess the same can be said for all sorts of birds--Baltimore oriole, Nashville warbler.... Perhaps the first person to see one--well, the first white Western European, anyway--saw it in a palm tree.

Whatever the case, it's a lovely little bird and I enjoyed watching it.

Next: dance of the swallows

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Along the Au Sable River

After a very hectic and somewhat scary weekend in Indianapolis I am home and ready to blog about birds. The show was pretty slow but the weather was anything but. We had a nasty storm rage through the show on Sunday, wiping out several booths. I came through unscathed but it was a frightening experience being in the booth with what had to have been at least 50mph winds blasting my tent, watching my life's work flop around on the walls as we were battered by the gale. I had a family of five in the booth, who had taken refuge from the storm, and along with Lisa and I we held on tight until the storm passed.

I will have to rethink doing shows south of Michigan in May, as the weather seems to be quite volatile--just ask the folks in Joplin, Missouri. My heart goes out to them.

So on to more pleasant things! The Tawas Point Birding Festival was a joy and an amazing experience for me. I had never attended a festival of this sort before, and am really only a recent bird watcher/life lister, so I had lots to learn. I think my novice status helped make this even more exciting for me--I've identified so few birds up to now that it seemed every time I turned around I was seeing something for the first time.

On Thursday I took a bus tour out along the River Road National Scenic Byway that parallels the Au Sable river. It was an where area I had spent some time in the past as Lisa's family used to have a cottage in there. The bus took us out to the Westgate Overlook, where I saw a Nashville warbler, male Grosbeak and a robin with a mouth full of mud. I stayed put at one over look while much of the group walked down to a second. They got to see a male Scarlet tanager, who apparently posed for them while they ogled and snapped lots of pictures. Ah well.

One of the things that struck me about the area was the number of White-crowned sparrows. We usually see one here at home, just once in mid-May, and then don't one again until the next year. Up in Northern Michigan they were everywhere!

Our second stop landed us at Iargo Springs. The road is on the bluff-side of the river, and here there was a 300+ step stairway leading down across several creeks to the river. While the first stop was hot and dry, this place was cool and damp, and there were hemlocks and yellow birch. Here I saw, at quite a distance, a Blackburnian warbler, as well as a Song sparrow, a Black-throated green warbler and more Nashville warblers.

Our last stop was at Lumberman's Monument. Here there was a small gift shop and drinking fountains. I mention the fountains because when we left for the tour, it was around 65 degrees. By the time we got inland it was near 80, and none of us was prepared for the heat. I resisted the urge to stick my whole head in the fountain but did drink like a camel.

A pair of Eastern wood pewees hoped about the branches over the sidewalk near the monument. This one caught itself a snack.

Farther down the trail a group of folks had gathered, trying to identify this bird. We finally decided it was a Pine warbler.

The Au Sable River is a wide, shallow, placid river that is dammed in quite a few places along this stretch, nearest Lake Huron. There are many places along its course where the bank is scarred from the practice years ago of rolling logs down to the river--you can see one here on the right. The timber industry pretty much harvested this part of the state down to bare ground, with much of the timber going to construct such towns as Buffalo, New York. But some areas have been allowed to grow back, without being harvested again, and finally we are back to having 100 year old trees in Northern Michigan.

Posing very nicely in a young tree by the overlook was this pair of Northern rough-winged swallows. I didn't even know such a bird existed. They were joined shortly by a third, and I spent some time watching them.

Once the tour was done, I stopped by a small park along Lake Huron with a couple of ladies from the bus ride to do some more birding. There were gobs--GOBS--of White-crowned sparrows, but also a male and female Northern parula in the trees. This isn't the greatest shot but it shows the olive-colored patch on the parula's back.

This one got itself a nice, juicy bug.

And last but not least, one of my favorite warblers, maybe because we have them near home, a female Yellow warbler plied the same trees in search of a meal.

Next: Birds on the beach.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Broad Ripple Art Fair

Well, I have received a last-minute invite to the Broad Ripple Art Fair in Indianapolis, Indiana. Yay!! This was a great show for me last year and I am happy to get the chance to do it again. But that means I will be scrambling the next few days to get ready and may not have a chance to write.

If you haven't already, check out the page at right for the Tawas Point Birding Festival--it's a portfolio of all the birds I photographed while up in northern Michigan last weekend. Hopefully I'll have a chance to write about it next week!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tawas Point Birding Festival

Holy Cow! Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw over the past several days up in Michigan's northern lower peninsula. The Tawas Point Birding Festival was an amazing experience, thanks in part to the awesome folks from Michigan Audubon and all the wonderful volunteers who lead our tours and walks. Their knowledge and experience made this event so much fun, and I saw more birds than I could ever have imagined.

At right is a page I posted as a portfolio of the birds I was able to photograph. I will be doing some posts about the trip in the coming weeks, but I really wanted to get this photographic list posted so everyone can see a bit of what I experienced.

I can't wait for next year!!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Baltimore Oriole

May 10th was a stellar day at Bear Track Studios. Around 10am that morning I caught my annual glimpse of an Indigo bunting. I have seen one, only once, each of the past three years now. I don't know why they don't stay around but am grateful to be able to see one.

That evening, I happened to be sitting in my studio enjoying a little quiet time, and looked up to see an American redstart in the black cherry behind the studio. While I've seen them other places I've never seen one here before so it is a first for BTS.

But the highlight of the day was the pair of Baltimore orioles that showed up at the Humming bird feeder. Lori said she thought she'd heard one the day before but didn't see one. Well, here they were, shipping sugar water from the feeder. We scrambled around and got some grape jelly, hoping to entice them to stay. We found out today that the female uses strips of old milkweed stems to weave her nest, and we finally have a decent amount of milkweed growing, so we're keeping our fingers crossed.

These were shot through a screen so they're a bit fuzzy.

I am off to the East Tawas Birding Festival (see right hand side bar). I am quite excited, hoping to meet bunches of birders as well as Don and Lillian Stokes who will be speaking at dinner Friday night. I also hope to come back with some great bird photos and stories to share!

More Warblers

Right off the bat I want to apologise for the crappy quality of these images. Lori and I returned to the creek where Lisa and I had seen the Black-throated blue the day before, and I set up my camera and tripod and watched for movement in the trees on the far bank. But these birds are small, and there seemed always to be branches in the way, and even with a 420mm there's only so much I can do. These images are heavily cropped on top of that, so....

ANYWAY, I caught a pair of Yellow rumped warblers, the male,

and female searching for bugs in the canopy.

I then spotted another bird, got the camera around and began shooting. It was so far away that all I could tell is that it was probably another warbler. Not until I got home did I see that it was a Northern parula, another first for me. Yay!

Note the yellow chin and orange breast.

Hopefully I can get some better shots down the road, although the window for songbird photography is closing. Soon the trees will be completely leafed out and they will be nearly impossible to see.

I did manage a nice shot of a Blue-gray gnatcatcher resting among new maple leaves.

We also found this nest, which Lori later identified as made by a Red-eyed vireo, so we have another bird to watch out for!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Spring Wildflowers

On our wildflower walk the other day in the Brighton Rec Area, which turned into warbler walk, we did actually see wildflowers. It was such a wonderful afternoon, warm and sunny. It has been such a cold spring here that it was a relief to get out and stretch our legs without needing so much as a jacket.

I was happy to see we hadn't missed the trillium blooming. They would normally be about done by this time of the year, but only half of the trillium we saw were open all the way. This one was conversing with a rue anemone.

Jack-in-the-pulpit, always a favorite.

Marsh marigold were profuse any place where there was water.

This plant is not common in these woods. It is in the Cress family, though I am not sure if it's purple or spring cress--or neither!

Miterwort bows its head to the sun.

The maidenhair fern was coiled tightly like a child's fist clutching some small treasure.

Wild oats back lit by the evening sun.

Interrupted fern too was tightly bound but already two feet tall.

Farther along the trail may apples lined the top of a ridge.

The trees are getting in on the action too]. This hickory sapling's leaves had just burst forth.

It seems like everything is exploding at once this year, the forest's flowers delayed by the cold but the trees more or less on time. In a week the woods will be completely transformed, many of the flowers will be gone and the birds will be hard to find in the dense forest canopy. I need to get out again and explore the woods in this all too short time of emergence and renewal.