It seems like forever since I’ve posted. It has been a busy week. I will post my Project 365 photos tomorrow, in a slideshow. But for now, I’ll tell you about last Sunday.
We headed out in search of barns, which I have posted about. On our way back, I suggested to my sidekick that we stop at the Swan Park to see what was going on. I have posted about the Swan Park before. It is a park close by where hundreds and hundreds of Trumpeter Swans have gathered in the winter for many years. A woman who they called the “Swan Lady” started feeding the geese and swans on the Mississippi back in the 80’s. Back then, there were only a couple of pairs of Trumpeters. In recent years, they have had up to 1500 to 2,000 swans in the park. The Swan Lady and her husband feed the waterfowl corn every year. Sadly, the swan lady died last spring, but her husband has taken on the huge undertaking of feeding the swans. At any rate, I decided it was some place we must go. I got online and did a bit of research on Friday night about the place. Here is more about the Swan Lady. There are lots of photos and articles on the net on the Swan Lady. However, because of the mild temperatures and lack of snow, it has been hit and miss as far as them being at the park. The corn can still be had in the local farmers’ fields when there is no snow, and the river has been wide open and not frozen. We had been there twice in the last few weeks, and only saw a handful of swans. Lots of mallards and geese, but no swans. We were there a couple of weeks ago on a Sunday and a lady there told us that there were about 1000 of them there the day before. We have been bummed.
Since we recently had snow, I thought we’d give it another try. This time our luck paid off. It was not the 1000 or more that I was hoping for, but there were plenty. They were so LOUD! There were so many that I really couldn’t get a good shot in except to get these. It was quite cold so we didn’t stay all that long.
Here are some photos I took, hope you enjoy!
I took the first couple to give you an idea of how many there were up and down the river.
Since we discovered we were “bird dorks” last spring, my daughter and I have some funny tales and adventures, inside jokes, and “hit and miss” stories to talk about. We may be the only ones who think they are funny, and they are probably better off in the “had to be there” category . I have talked about some, and not others.
There was the time when we first started checking the birds out last spring at the refuge, something was soaring above us. We were very wet behind the ears when it came to identifying birds. We still are. We were certain it was an eagle. We were so excited, I must’ve snapped 50 pictures of it. I got home and realized on my computer it was a Turkey Vulture. A dime a dozen around here.
There have been times we stopped and both have binoculars pointing at what looks like a bird, animal, etc. And we end up saying “it’s just a stick”. One of our inside jokes. We have seen an eagle soar 10 feet above us and me trying the whole time to get “the shot” only to realize a 300mm lens is not the one to have on your camera when there is an eagle soaring 10 feet above you. Then there was the time we got out to the refuge and I had forgotten my memory card. I could go on and on about our mis-adventures, but I have to save some for future blogs
Our most recent misadventures started this past Friday, and ended Sunday afternoon. We stopped at a local boat landing on the Mississippi looking for uncommon ducks, namely some sort of mergansers. We walked to the edge of the river. What a beautiful day it was. My iPhone said 43 degrees at 3:45 and it was January 6. There were some Trumpeters a little ways out, and a couple of woodpeckers in the tree above. My Project 365 photo that day was this shot of the Red-Bellied Woodpecker.
It was getting late, and we walked back to the car. Baylee was sitting in the passenger seat fixing her boot when I heard “EAGLE!” I turned and looked. Right where we were standing a beautiful bald eagle flew by low and we would’ve had a wonderful opportunity for a great photo. We scrambled for our cameras and by the time we got back to where we were standing, the eagle had flown to the other side of the river. It was sitting on a piece of ice waiting for it’s dinner. We laughed at our antics, and decided the eagle had been watching us perched in a not-so-distant tree waiting for us to walk away. As we were laughing, out of nowhere we saw another large bird soaring on the OTHER side of the river. After a “What IS that?” and looking through the binoculars, we determined it was a juvenile eagle. Of course I said owl at first, go figure. It stayed on the other side of the river, though, just out of good photo range. Oh, we snapped away to our little heart’s content, but when we got home and had them on the computer, there were no keepers. He/She landed in a tree over by mama/papa. When we got to the car, we turned back and of course just what we went there to see, a merganser, was flying by. Well out of shot. When we left, we said that they were all laughing at us and had definitely out-smarted us very dumb humans. Better luck next time. On Saturday, I did get a shot of some mergansers flying, not too close, though. And was able to take about 100 photos of a red-tailed hawk sitting quietly in a tree, and one of them was my 365 pic for that day. This is just a different pose. Patience does pay off I guess.
Sunday was a bit different. In previous weeks, a co-worker of mine has been telling me of a park close by in Monticello where hundreds and hundreds of Trumpeter Swans have gathered in the winter for many years. Really? It is 12 miles away and I never heard about this? Evidently a woman who they called the “Swan Lady” started feeding the geese and swans back in the 80’s. Back then, there were only a couple of pairs of Trumpeters. In recent years, they have had up to 1500 to 2,000 swans in the park. The Swan Lady and her husband feed the waterfowl corn every year. Sadly, the swan lady died last spring, but her husband has taken on the huge undertaking of feeding the swans. At any rate, I decided it was some place we must go. I got online and did a bit of research on Friday night about the place. Here is more about the Swan Lady. There are lots of photos and articles on the net on the Swan Lady I have found out. Evidently, because of the mild temperatures and lack of snow, the swans haven’t arrived at the park yet. The corn can still be had in the local farmers’ fields, so that is where they stay until the snow comes.
I had decided I also wanted to check out a local state park, about 20 miles away for hiking and birding. So we mapped out our route, planned to get up bright and early on Sunday morning, stop at the swan park and head to the state park. Sunday morning plans didn’t go so well. It was after noon by the time we left. Because my blazer has been hit and miss as far as starting goes (friends have diagnosed MAYBE a starter celanoid) the last couple weeks, I resorted to driving my parent’s old ’93 sable, complete with squeaky belt and exhaust problems of its own. I cannot afford to get mine fixed until tax rebate time, and my parents are in worse shape than I am financially. So it was the lesser of two evils. We got to the swan park, and it was as expected. No snow. No swans. But plenty of squacking mallards. We saw some honkers flying above and stood there snapping photos left and right of the noisy mallards. We were getting ready to head out when a couple of swans flew by and circled around, as if to find some friends. They decided not to stop, maybe because of the noisy mallards. Baylee’s autofocus wouldn’t zoom in on them, and she was getting very frustrated. She kept saying the mallards were laughing at her, and it did sound like they were. I did get a passable shot of them before they flew by without stopping.
We trudged on in our borrowed car that needs to be “Midas-sized” and squealed our way to Lake Maria State Park. We pulled into the park about 1:10, and started driving toward the lake. It didn’t take me long to realize that it was a mistake with this car. The gravel road and some snow on the roads was really doing a number on the catalytic converter on the bottom of my dad’s car. Not to mention the both of us in the front seat, it was bottoming out. The squealing alone scared any wildlife there was away, I’m sure. We were both a little edgy until we finally got down to the lake. There were several trails I wanted to start hiking, and we would just worry about the car and getting home later. The park was known to have Osprey and Eagle nests. We were excited, hoping to see one or the other. We walked out on the dock of frozen Lake Maria and immediately saw a couple of skater/skiiers. They had ice skates on with cross country ski poles. Looked like fun, except it hasn’t been all that cold here yet to be out on the ice, but apparently there is 6 inches which is appropriate for humans to walk on.
We spotted a big nest across the lake, but could not identify who it belonged to. It was quite big, but not as big as an eagle’s nest. We liked to think that it was the osprey nest. We walked a trail up to a pond for wildlife viewing. It was 40 degrees out on our walk. It was more like a Spring day than anything. However, it looked more like fall with all the fall leaves on the ground in the forest.
The only snow was on the lake and ponds, and some on the roads and trails. Very little. The trail we took was interpretive and one of the signs said to look for barred owls. One of our goals this year is to see an owl in the wild. Any owl. We didn’t see anything avian except a lone chickadee and a couple of white breasted nuthatches. We even “called” the barred owl through my Audubon Guide app on my iPhone. We do that often with the birds, but Baylee always says she feels bad because she feels like she’s “teasing” them, LOL! We came across a nest of some sort, didn’t know who it belonged to.
Before we knew it, it was almost 3:00. I had laundry to do and dinner to make. I really hate it when real life creeps into my photograpy and nature life with my daughter. But it does happen. We grudgingly walked to the car and promised ourselves we would be back in the spring, summer AND fall this year. We started driving and the same thing happened with us bottoming out. I drove very slow and felt sorry for other passersby as they had to listen to the bucket of bolts. We made it home fine, and they do have an appointment to “midas-size” their vehicle tomorrow. Hopefully this weekend if we have a vehicle we will be traveling to the refuge to walk the trail up there, a bit closer to home, weather-permitting.
I guess when it comes to nature, you gotta do what you gotta do, just like anything else in life :)
A funny thing happened on the way to find my Project 365 photo today. However, the story will have to wait for another post, as I don’t think I can continue blogging until I tell
the story of how most of this all came about.
In early spring of this year, I was introduced to the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge by a friend. I had just begun to be interested in nature photography. I would go to his house and take pictures of the birds at his feeder and started exploring the woods and pond out in his back yard. Then he told me about the Wildlife Drive on the refuge. 20 years living in this county and I had never been to it. 30,000+ acres of nature and wildlife right under my nose. I drove past it hundreds, if not thousands of times. This same friend is the one who urged me months ago to write a nature/photography blog. Things happen for a reason, but it’s kinda funny how some things work out.
The Wildlife Drive is approximately 7.5 miles of dirt road winding through wetlands, prairie, and woodlands on a small parcel of land on the refuge. It opens in April and closes at the end of October. They close the drive in winter so the eagles can build their nests, mate, and lay their eggs in peace and quiet. The rest of the refuge is open all year round, with areas restricted to the DNR. They also have a couple of hiking trails that I am hoping to make use of this fall and winter.
The first time my 13 year old daughter and I went on the drive was the first day it opened in April. The weather was crappy, cold, and wet. Eagles nests, muskrat huts, Trumpeter Swans, Canada Geese, spring was arriving on the refuge. We were hooked. There are two eagles’ nests
on the drive. I am told 13 on the entire refuge. We watched the eagles soar and watched the female feeding her young through the telescope. Ever since then, we have been on the drive, weather permitting, at least once a week (and sometimes twice). We
went on the Migratory Bird Tour and walked the Blue Hill Trail. We watched the fledglings grow and continue to watch them now.
That is when we proclaimed ourselves “bird dorks”. I had never heard of a Sandhill Crane or a Double-crested Cormorant. We learned all about them on the Wildlife Drive. Beavers, otters and muskrats. We now know the difference between them. You laugh, but it is hard to tell them apart when they are swimming in the water. American Coots and Hooded Morgansers. What are they? Well, they are waterfowl. I actually paid for and downloaded the Audubon Bird/Mammal Guide onto my iPhone. I borrowed some binoculars from people at work. I started using my old 300mm lens and I came
to find out that it IS old. I was not great, and didn’t think I was all that good. But it was practice. I am still practicing. Once in a while I get a great shot. Again, that is the nice
thing about digital. The DELETE button.
When all the babies were born, we had so much fun watching the families. The Trumpeter babies were born in June. They were a bunch of fuzzy gray ducklings. We watched them grow into the beautiful swans they are today. One day we watched an eagle soar above us, coming within 10 feet of my lens. Of course I had the wrong lens on the camera at the time and couldn’t get the shot. However, it was the moment that
counted. It took our breath away. A friend of Baylee’s was with us and said, “What’s all the excitement? It’s just a bird”. And Baylee said, “do you see an Eagle soaring 10 feet from your head every day? I don’ t think so.” The rest of the “outside world” just doesn’t understand.
One of my favorite moments was about a month ago. We were on the drive and I saw an unfamiliar duck-like bird. I asked Baylee what she thought it was. She said “I think that’s a Pied-bellied Grebe”. I turned to her with a very perplexed look on my face and said, “You’re scaring me.” LOL. I mean, a Pied-bellied Grebe? Had I even heard of that? Sure enough, she looked in the guide and that is exactly what it was. She is a bird dork. But don’t tell anyone. “It’s just not cool, Mom”.
I discovered the sunsets on the refuge are beautiful. I discovered I love to go there by myself. I discovered I could sit for hours watching the Trumpeter Swans or even the Canada Geese, and taking in the serenity of nature. I discovered my peaceful place.