Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks

Every single day I thank the powers that be for the gifts that I have been given; good health, great friends, a keen eye and steady hand, a roof over my head and food on my table.

I am thankful too for sunrises from the home of a good friend,

 lots and lots of tomatoes from our garden,

and trees that look like mammoths.

 I am thankful for beautiful, happy chickens,

  beautiful places,

and beautiful sentiments left by a stranger in the sand.

I am thankful for Oscar, who showed up out of the blue one August evening a hungry little kitten, and who has become my near-constant companion.


He helps with all sorts of chores, like window washing,


paper shredding,

and plumbing.

I am thankful for Louis, my little man, the most handsomest cat I've ever known,

who has absurdly large, many-toed feet,

and who likes to watch videos on the computer.

But I am most thankful for the two beautiful women in my life, who enrich me and inspire me:

Lisa, who took full-time work this summer so that I could keep pursuing my dreams,

and Lori, forever child-like, always awed and excited by the wonders of the world, who teaches me so much.

They are my best friends, my partners and my companions.

We explore and experience the world together.

Thank you, my fellow Bear Girls. I can't imagine any of this without you.

Monday, November 19, 2012

De Cranes! De Cranes!

 Phyllis Haehnle cont:

Whew! Sorry about the delay in finishing the crane posts. We had our open house this past weekend and it is an amazing amount of work to get ready for. There was more work than usual for this one as we redid some of our road signs and I redesigned our note cards. Add in all the usual stuff, like cleaning the house and yard, hanging and tagging the show, creating advertising, blah blah, and I spent the better part of the past 10 days doing little but open house stuff. In addition I had a commission to finish to deliver today up in Traverse City, so I've been busting my tail. The work was well worth it but I am glad it's over!

So back to Phyllis Haehnle....

I settled down on a bench after chasing the kinglet around the apple trees, and waited for the cranes to arrive. I didn't have to wait long. Around 5:45 I heard some calling beyond the trees to the southwest. A group of about 50 cranes flew in right overhead, and deposited themselves in the marsh.

A few minutes later another group of about 50 birds joined them.

There was a lull, and then I could hear them, farther off than the first two groups, coming in from the northwest into the northern section of the marsh. Even at this distance, I could tell there were a lot.

"A lot" is an understatement.

They came streaming in, dozens, hundreds, of cranes, to the northern end of the marsh. Flying with them were huge flocks of blackbirds.

It seemed to go on forever. Finally a short break, and the cacophony coming from the marsh was incredible as the cranes jostled for a spot to spend the night.

Then it started again, hundreds of cranes and blackbirds pouring in, flying over the prairie where earlier I'd seen the buckeye butterfly.

I was dumbfounded. I must have witnessed nearly 2000 cranes flying in to roost. It was one of the most spectacular things I've ever seen. I can't imagine what it's like in Nebraska at the Platte River, or what the snow goose migration is like, where there are tens of thousands of birds.

I imagine by now the bulk of the cranes have gone south. I know there are some still hanging around--I heard a pair just yesterday morning, flying past the house. This is definitely going on the calendar for next year, as this was something I want to experience again!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Haehnle Prairie, and a Ruby Crowned Kinglet

Phyllis Haehnle Sanctuary cont:

I had arrived at the sanctuary with enough time to walk the short trail that loops around the western edge of the 900 acre site. Leaving the marsh and prairie the trail first enters a mixed hardwood forest. The oaks were in their glory, most of the other trees having already shed their leaves.  There is something so inviting about a leaf-lined path, like it's paved in gold.

Upland forest at Haehnle.

The path passes Eagle lake on the left. A shallow-looking lake, it appeared to be quite low. We had a very hot, dry summer but had received over five inches of rain in October (at least at home). It has filled many empty ponds around my place, so I was surprised to see this lake still so low.

The path eventually leads to the second prairie in the sanctuary. I entered from the southwest, just as the sun broke through the thick gray clouds.

Most of the flowers were done, but here and there goldenrod was still in bloom. They were all covered with insects searching for one last meal.

I chased butterflies in the afternoon sun.

Buckeye butterfly.

The path looped around and turned to the southeast. The prairie was now back-lit with hazy sunshine.

Re-entering the woods I nearly stepped on this eastern garter snake. It was not a particularly warm day, and he was slow to move.

Back at the marsh I deposited my stuff on a bench near a cluster of old apple trees. I had heard a few small flocks of cranes fly in while I was in the prairie, but the sky was still very quiet. I thought I might find someone interesting in the apple trees, something to do to fill the time waiting for the arrival of the cranes.

I was right--staring into the trees from my spot on the bench I finally detected some movement.

Most of my shots look something like this!

I went over to investigate and found a ruby-crowned kinglet gleaning insects in the tangled branches of the trees. Occasionally she paused long enough for me to get a clear shot. I don't think I have attempted anything more difficult than trying to get pictures of a bird actively feeding in a tree on a cloudy evening.

Sweet face! Love the orange feet on black legs.

A nice look at her lemon-edged feathers.

  I am assuming this is a female. If it was a male, his red crown was very well concealed.

The best for last!

As the light dimmed I gave up on the kinglet and went back to my bench. Within minutes, the calls of the cranes could be heard beyond the trees at my back.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Phyllis Haehnle Memorial Sanctuary

Every Tuesday now I try to take a "me" day. This is a day when I go and do whatever I want--go for a hike, a drive, see a movie, sit in a cafe, stay home even. Kind of like my weekend, this is a solo endeavor, a chance to get some alone time. No meal planning, no house work, no running a business. Just me, free.

A few weeks ago I decided to visit the Phyllis Haehnle Memorial Sanctuary. Located near the Waterloo Recreation Area and operated by the Jackson Audubon Society, it's in a pretty rural, undeveloped area north of Jackson, Michigan. It is a staging area for the greater sandhill crane, who amass there by the thousands before they fly south for the winter. I had been there only one time before, and had gotten there late, missing the bulk of the fly-in. This time I arrived around 3pm, planning to hike the short trail and then find a bench and watch the cranes come in.

Phyllis Haehnle Sanctuary from the observation area. Restored prairie in the foreground, Mud Lake Marsh in the background.

When I arrived no one else was there yet. I wandered over to the kiosk to read about the preserve and pick up some pamphlets.  According to the literature the sanctuary is over 900 acres and includes Beech and Oak forests, a hardwood swamp, a fen, and two restored prairie areas. Thanks to the varied habitat it is a great place to see lots of different kinds of birds. Over 200 bird species have been recorded there, as well as over 35 species of butterflies.

I saw a flock of cedar waxwings in the trees around the observation area but they were up at the tippy tops and impossible to photograph. I noticed movement closer to eye-level and found a sparrow with a yummy morsel in the lower branches of the trees.

White-crowned sparrow, female or immature.

When I saw this bird and the one that follows I thought they were field sparrows. Goes to show how well I do field ID's!

The bird left the tree and I followed it to some better light in the grass at the edge of the marsh.

Stretching out for a nibble.

After getting home and looking at the images I could see this was not a field sparrow but a white-crowned sparrow. The give-away for the ID were the white wing bars, plus the pale pink bill and partial eye ring. I don't know if this is a female or immature, but if I had to guess I'd say a female.

There were no cranes to be heard yet so I set foot on the trail that leads into the woods to see who else might be about, but that is for next time.