Thursday, October 22, 2009

2009-10-21 Kensington Metro Park - Another treasured day!

2009-10-21 Kensington Metro Park
Temperature in high 60's, sun to overcast, light wind.

Judy and I went to Kensington yesterday to visit the friendly “birds in hand” (see earlier blog). It was a wonderful day for weather and a good time was had by all (us and the birds). We managed to have many Tufted Titmice (another first!!!) feed from our hands as well as numerous chickadees. Wow!!! We almost had a White-breasted Nuthatch as well – two were certainly interested though reluctant!

The species list follows.  I note for birders that the most interesting observations were lots of Eastern Bluebirds and several Sandhill Cranes.

The Bluebirds were seen in four different localities. In one place there were at least 6 flitting around the trees mid-level (eating bugs?). I am always astounded about seeing “rare” (for me) birds. In 15 years in Michigan, I had only seen one bluebird before this year. Now this year (maybe it is from being on the "birder’s list" and hearing daily about bird sightings? – or maybe I should just “get out more”?), I have watched bluebirds nest at Holland Ponds and even taken some very good pics. Yet, I have never seen as many as at Kensington yesterday! Wonderful!!!

We saw a couple of Sandhill Cranes “grazing” on a lawn as we drove around the park. Then we were disappointed to not see them at the Nature Center as expected (they are "Judy friends"), but finished the day by seeing four in Wildwing Lake. Hey, they actually were wading! One might expect that from a long-legged bird, but I already had a “mindset” – Sandhills are "land grazers”. However, as near as I could tell, they were not fishing like a normal wader, but rather standing in the water eating vegetation along the edges of the lake. OK, fine! They are still "land grazers" - just sometimes they stand in water. They were also bathing, preening, and just enjoying a beautiful day as were we!
I am always learning and amazed!

Species list:
American Goldfinches (lots)
Red-winged Blackbirds(lots)
Eastern Bluebirds (lots)
Black-capped Chickadees (lots)
Tufted Titmice (lots)
White-breasted Nuthatches (several)
American Crows (several)
Great Egret (1)
Great Blue Heron (2)
Sandhill Cranes (6)
Mallards (several)
Wood Ducks (one flying flock - 8 individuals)
Mute Swans (lots around the lake - none at nature center area)
Blue Jays (uncommon)
Downy Woodpeckers (uncommon)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (heard several)
possible Red-Headed Woodpecker (heard - "barks" differently then the Red-bellied)

And, other observations:
Snapping Turtle - in the middle of the path taking his time to "cross the road"! He was quite a hit for us and for several goups behind us - especially the kids!
"Red-dotted" turtle (the turtle with red dots at edges of carapace - I forgot his name)
Chipmunks of course (but interestingly not pestering us around nature center - I guess they are busy foraging and hiding seeds for winter)
Red squirrels (mostly eating nuts)
Gray squirrels (mostly the gray colorations)
And, a couple of deer as we left the park

Another wonderful day! It is just so special to be outdoors in Nature on a perfect Fall weather day (knowing what comes next), and then to have God's creatures literally eating out of our hands!!! In our experience around our home, titmice are fairly spooky - or at least they are so quick to come to feeders and leave - that we rarely ever even get a good photo. To have them land on our hands, and then to have them take their time to sort through the seeds in our palms while we watched is utterly incredible!!! In many cases both chickadees and titmice would pick up and discard 4 to 5 seeds before choosing the one they wanted. And all the while the "feeder" was transfixed with the moment, and the "shooter" was clicking away. Judy and I took turns having the experience of lighter-than-air Life in the palms of our hands. It was not a "quick in and out" - it was a time to understand each other. We - birds and us - were unafraid.

For you "locals", I cannot recommend the experience strongly enough! (And, it is "legal" according to Kensington MP rules - specifically hand feeding of songbirds is acceptable! But, please do not feed any other wildlife!!!).

We met a couple walking the trail who had been taken there before and hand-fed the birds "28 years ago" and have never forgotten the experience! What a wonderful way to instill a love of Nature in your children! And, hey (!), it also works wonders for elders! Imagine treating your parents to the experience of intimately sharing Nature!!! We met people in wheelchairs, and people walking with canes. We also met "youngsters" with "tats" and rings. We met a multi-generational family - grandparents, their kids, and the kid's kids. (We later saw them feeding the birds at a different location). We were willing to share seeds with any of the people we met to just witness their joy and expressions. They all knew about the birds already! No wonder they keep coming back! (Yes, Judy and I are "newbies"!).

And they were all respectful and waited until we told them it was OK to pass (amazing in itself - that is what an experience in Nature teaches you - respect!), and yet, the birds did not care!  There were several occasions where we said to come on through, and even while people were passing, the birds flew onto the immediate trees and waited until we opened our hands. It was just so amazing to us that we could even carry on a conversation between ourselves, and even with the passers-by and the birds still came to our out-stretched hands.

I am sure this is a very unique place in the universe, and has been for many bird generations (and obviously for a few people generations as well)! I had one little chickadee land on a railing next to me, yet he would not come to my hand. I slowly moved my hand toward the bird, until my hand touched the railing. The bird quickly grabbed a seed and took off. Next year, the bird will be more unafraid and be among those "birds in hand"!

Always (please, please, please!!!) respect Nature, and the gifts that are available when all of us respect them! It really takes little to trash something wonderful!

And, given that admonishment, please DO share this experience with your elders and your children! Truly, the "bird-in-hand gift" is one of the best gifts Judy and I have ever been given! I am sharing our experience with you so that you may, in turn, share it with your loved ones.

I do not believe the hand-feeding is seasonal. It is probably especially important for the resident birds in winter, but obviously it is available whenever you need a "reality fix" or want to share a gift with a loved one. (I can imagine a birthday card with a "coupon" for a day at the Kensington Nature Center! Take a special lunch for a picnic afterwards).

I will love hearing from you about your experiences. If you want to share your comments with others, please comment on this blog. Else, please write me direct at:

Enjoy the gifts that are given. Enjoy birds. Enjoy your Life! Each day is special!!!
"Dr. Bob"

Catchup 2009-10

Another placeholder. Gee, it is hard keeping up a blog!

This is for places we went twixt then and now.

I am just compulsive enough I need to keep things in order.

I have my field notes and just need to add them. Yes, I am trying to put my field notes here - probably for myself more than even for sharing - yet I am also pleased some of you want to see my "ramblings"!

Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

It's a TV Zoo out there!

Yesterday we started off to Kensington to spend more personal time with "Judy's Birds" and the radio told of the traffic in the area, so we detoured down Woodward to the Detroit Zoo. Judy has been pestering me to go there as well. It has been several years. We were happy to see most animals "out and about" and took quite a few pics of mammals and so on. Yet, it was also very interesting to see the "zoo birds" through our new "birding eyes". What fascinating creatures!

I think the most fascinating for birding was to see many local Turkey Vultures (TV) flying into and around the enclosures - especially the enclosure with the exotic vultures. I suspect they might have been migrants (reference the huge migrating TV day at LEMP on that day!) and the migrants probably were as fascinated as we were by the weird relatives they saw below. At least two dozen local TVs were seen! I caught some great pics of them flying in - the only problem was that with my tele, I rarely seemed to get a full shot - they were that close! (Ah, yes, I remember the time I went whale watching in southern California and had a telephoto lens that proved quite useless when the whales surfaced almost under the boat, ... but that is another story!).

Anyway, after seeing and photographing the exotic vultures, I had to go learn more about these creatures!
I will post pics to my PBase site and share the link here when done. As always, learning is about asking questions! I shot the placards at the zoo to try to get their names right, but had to go Wiki to see if I could verify and find more info.

Anyway, it was really amazing to have my first "up close and personal" encounter with the local Turkey Vultures I had mostly only seen/shot previously as "contrasts in the sky"! They seemed to come right at me!

For now I am posting a few pics of the "locals". These pics alone were enough reason to go to the Detroit Zoo yesterday!

"It's All Happening at the Zoo"! (S and G) [Oh, for my seaweed friends I am not talking Setchell and Gardner here - rather Simon and Garfunkle].


More rambles and pics later - just starting this...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

My scientist finds my internal God again with birds

For my friends and birders:

I do not want to delve too deeply into the seemingly dichotomous discussion between religion and science. I have always been the "scientist" and fully believe in evolution and the teachings of science. I also was raised by parents who hauled me off to church each Sunday, and I remember and practice lessons of the church. Without going "too religious" here, I believe that the basic teachings of most religions in the USA encompass the Ten Commandments and the "Golden Rule". I just wish people today would take the time to slow down from their immediate lives and remember what I hope they were exposed to as children, and to remember it is their job to expose their own kids to our sacred and moral values! The values are not on the cell phone or TV or a gaming device that receives Internet! The values (code of ethics and beliefs) should not primarily be from their peers! It is the nuclear family (read: Parents!) that must pass on the values of our society to their own family. The nuclear values will help your kids live a "better life" - whatever that means - and you will certainly help them succeed in life by not only giving them values, but also by living the values you teach!

Following church, we often went to explore the beaches or woods around the San Francisco Bay area - bringing a much broader world ("Nature") into the context of the day. Not only are "church values" important, but the values that come from an appreciation of "Nature" are essential for a fully grounded fulfilling human experience .

Hey! Even if your kids become a scientist like myself, they still might wonder about (and ask about, and study...) the origin of the "Wonders of Nature". I feel comfortable with my seeming dichotomy. As a scientist, I could (given time...) document the world back to the "Big Bang", yet I will always wonder ( awe and true wonder!) who provided the "combustibles" and "lit the fuse"!!! Yes, I see no real dichotomy between religion and science! We must appreciate the teachings of science! Our lives, our health, our environment, and our futures are based on science! We must support, fund and believe in scientific accomplishments!

Yet, we also should not ever dismiss the possibility of a "grander scheme", and certainly we must not ever fail to remember the teachings from our childhood that basically set the stage for us to be fully functional, caring, and productive adults with a destination beyond our immediate selves!  (And that applies equally to religion and science!)

Thus - having "set the stage" by describing my internal apparent conflict, I return to birding!

I took Judy to Kensington Metro Park today. I wanted to wait for Saturday when a local birding chapter was going there, but the weather looked "iffy" for Saturday and we are "fair weather birders" (largely because we want to take our cameras). Judy has been pestering me to go back there ever since she saw the Sandhill Cranes "up close and personal". (... and, yes, we saw them again today! Really cool birds!). I have waited. Anyway, today was a such a great wonderful early fall day in Michigan, I just could not sit at home! So we went! My "story" follows. There are few things in life that I could ever buy or do that would compare with my decision! I attach a couple of pics that were worth the trip, yet they represent a very minute statement about our experience.

I need to note that I "just happened to have" a small sandwich bag of the best bird seed (oilers, peanuts, shelled sunflower seeds,etc.) in my pocket. I do not normally advocate feeding birds in natural aeas and respect the need to post and enforce feeding restrictions (because the general public does not understand and feeds preserved, salted "packaged crap" if allowed - really, it harms the birds!). Done. Enough with "disclaimers". On with "the story" I have been waiting to tell. My story today expresses great joy. It also led me to consider again  - and helped resolve - my feelings about my internal beliefs as I have noted. Whew!
There is nothing in my vocabularly to describe the experience of having a representative of God's Nature land on your hand! Today, Judy had her first experience and I had only my second with an "outside" bird landing on our hands. While walking in the Kensington forest, we saw chickadee activity and "pished" while holding out our hands with bird seed. The chickadees responded!  They alighted and fed from our hands!

The chickadees are essentially weightless! If you were blindfolded, you would not even notice their presence other than possibly a slight tap as they plucked a seed.

Judy experiences a Chickadee!

We normally see birds as "things". We photograph them. We describe them. We study them. We sometimes even think we know them. We love them deeply, yet we hardly ever have a more personal relationship with them!

Yet, if you are in the right place, and fill your hand with good seeds, and extend your arm, you may just experience life as you have never studied it or known it before!

The experience is to feel no weight, yet to be intimately face to face with one of God's creations literally in the palm of your hand! You look each other in the eye! You share the experience of giving and receiving! (And, I note - who is really the giving party? Certainly we received far more than we gave!)

This is an entirely new side of Nature for even an experienced biologist and photographer such as myself! I was truly overwhelmed, and hence sharing tonight. I did it for Judy so she could learn some of my appreciation of Nature (I thought there was a good chance it might happen at that location known for hand-feeding, and it had happened once before ...), yet my personal rewards were far more than I had anticipated.

Yes, we snapped a few pics. Yet the pics and words cannot describe the brief moments we shared with the birds. These memories and our feelings of the experience will far outlive so many other memories of our lives! What an experience! And, truly inspirational!

I feel like I may have not described it well. Yet, until you have the expeience of having a "lighter than air living being" land on your hand you will not really know of what I speak!

Scientist: Chickadees came to our outstretched hands when we "pished" (a sound) at them with hands outstretched with good food. They are apparently accustomed to this here. It was expected.

Person: Blessed be the feathered creatures of God's earth for they lack nary any weight or substance, yet they bring God's life to your palm and will give you memories, and with one visit will touch you and remind you of your place in the Universe and lift your hope and spirits forever! My emotional reaction surprised me!

I really have no better way to explain it!

As a side note, why did I try it anyway the first time? I saw a note from a SE Michigan birder (appropriately it was Joy!) and just happened to have a few sunflower seeds in my pocket when I walked the trails the first time we went there. Along the trail, I was accosted by two chickadees who seemed to demand something from me. I fished my pocket, held out my hand, and they came to me and I briefly fed. I quickly came to believe! I wanted to share this with Judy today and wound up not only with her new experience, but an entirely new insight into myself!!

Yes, I believe! (all of the above...) I have no conflict! This experience reinforced the fact I do not need to "pick one" (science vs. religion). I wanted to share this. I hope you appreciate that fact there is really no dichotomy! And, I hope you continue to enjoy the richness of life your teachings and experiences provide to you!

"Dr. Bob"

2009 September Catchup

I guess I have been "doing" rather than "telling". I am dropping a placeholder here to tell of our wonderful September experiences. They will come to the blog. Really, they will! For now I just need to move on. Maybe I will get better as I "do" less and become more house-bound. But the weather may give me time to catchup! (Or mustard up the stories I have yet to tell...)

Stay tuned!