Hello, and welcome to my blog where we'll travel the state of Michigan and see what it has to offer.
For some time now I've been wanting to photograph owls, but especially a snowy owl. There is something about these birds that is fascinating. Their eyes are captivating and just seem to draw me in. I spent many days last winter driving the countryside, looking for a snowy owl, but to no avail.
On January 12 I was lucky enough to visit the Howell Conference and Nature Center for a “Birds of Prey” workshop. The workshop was put on by wildlife photographer Steve Gettle, who makes his home in Brighton, Michigan. Steve has been photographing wildlife for over 25 years, and it shows. His 25-minute slide show presentation was not only jam-packed with outstanding photographs, but seemed to end just as soon as it had begun. The presentation was followed by a short Q&A period, which was very casual and informative. His knowledge of animal behavior and photography is second to none. The conclusion of the Q&A session found us ready for lunch and, lucky for us, the nature staff had cooked up a wonderful meal of lasagna, vegetarian lasagna, salad, and garlic bread. In addition to the tasty food, I enjoyed talking photography with others at my table. It’s always great to bond with others who share the same passion for photographing wildlife.
After lunch we headed to an outdoor site for the shoot. The site was down a gravel road a short distance from the nature center. We came to a field surrounded by woodland. Spread out on the edges of the field were custom-made perches with the birds we there to see. Unfortunately, we did not have snow for this year’s shoot (I think we were all hoping for some snowy shots.) On the plus side, the weather was a balmy-for-January at 60 degrees. The warm weather made for a very relaxing outdoor shoot.
For our shoot, the nature center had provided seven birds and a porcupine. The nature center takes in wounded animals and rehabilitates them for release back into the wild. The birds we photographed have injuries that don’t allow them to go back into the wild. They are cared for with gentle hands at the center, where they now reside permanently.
The photographers were welcome to walk around the field and visit whichever bird they wanted to shoot. Each bird had a handler that would answer questions about them and let photographers know how close they could get to the subject. A 200mm lens, or longer, is recommended. I used my Canon 70-200mm lens and found it adequate. For the second half of the shoot I used a 2X extender on the same lens and it was helpful to have that extra reach.
Arriving at the field I headed straight for the snowy owl. This was the bird I most wanted to shoot and only two others were setting up to photograph this beauty. She was a little grumpy and was giving the handler some trouble about getting on the perch. After some coaxing and gentle words she obliged and hopped on the perch. The snowy owl is a stunning bird to view and to photograph. She was on the constant lookout and turning her head from side to side. Patience paid off as several times she stopped her scan of the skies and looked straight into my lens. Click! I got the shot I came for.
Over the next two hours I would photograph all of the birds they had out that day. The time flew by and I could not help but be impressed by these regal birds. I have only seen owls from a distance in the past, usually when perched up high on a telephone pole or a similar setting. It was great to see them up close and at eye level. In addition to the snowy owl were the Eastern screech owl, the great horned owl, the barred owl, another horned owl, a red-tailed hawk, and a bald eagle.
If you’ve ever walked along the shores of Lake Michigan and found yourself smiling at the antics of the Piping Plover, you’re not alone. These birds scamper across the sand at the edge of the surf, and just as quickly flutter away. To many they are a sign of summer in the same way that a seagull perched on a piling may be.
Hopefully the Piping Plover will continue to amuse us and enjoy our shorelines for years to come. But only time will tell if their precarious hold on life will prevail. The Piping Plover is considered an endangered species and could become extinct if we’re not careful. In the 1800s and early 1900s the Piping Plover was hunted to very low levels as it was in demand for its feathers, which were used for hat decoration. They were put under protection in 1918 and numbers were increasing. However, habitat loss due to development, rising lake levels, and predators brought their numbers in the Great Lakes area down to around two dozen in the '70s. The Piping Plovers construct their nests on flat, sandy beaches. As lake levels rise, the beach area decreases and leaves little room for nesting. Dogs, cats, foxes, and raccoons are just a few of the predators these birds have to worry about.
Current efforts to protect their nesting areas have made a difference and their numbers are increasing. Nesting pair numbers are currently around 5 dozen in the Great Lakes region, but that number fluctuates. An aggressive campaign to build cages around their nesting sites and rope the areas off to alert humans has greatly helped the Piping Plover population.
If you’re lucky enough to spot these playful plovers, enjoy their antics, but try to keep a respectful distance. For photography enthusiasts, a long lens and patience can go a long way. With a little education, these beautiful birds just may be here for years to come.
Every July the roar of powerboat racing engines can be heard reverberating from the banks of the Saginaw River in downtown Bay City, Michigan. The Bay City River Roar is sponsored by Dow Chemical Company and one of the many events to attract a crowd to the area. It regularly draws thousands of spectators who find themselves wowed by the speed of the boats.
Music concerts are a featured event of the River Roar as well. On Friday the concert stage hosted rock bands Cinderella, Skid Row, and LA Guns in 2012. Shortly after the roar of the engines died along the banks of the river, the heavy bass beat of rock music shook the shores. Saturday evening hosted the likes of The Product, Wayland, Finding Clyde, and Pop Evil.
Friday opens the weekend with time trials conducted through-out the day. Saturday morning opens with more testing but by afternoon the powerboats are in full racing mode with heats taking place until early evening. Then Sunday follows up with testing and Finals.
Although tickets can be purchased to watch the races, a thrifty way to view the races is by donating a non-perishable food item for entrance to Vet’s Park on the west side of the river. Purchased tickets are required for the concerts, but the music can be heard on all of the sidewalks in the downtown shopping district. Many restaurants and pubs are available to host the hungry and thirsty. So for a weekend of fun, make plans to visit this exciting annual event.
Nothing says springtime in Michigan better than the arrival of tulips, and there is nowhere better to view them than Holland, Michigan. The abundance and varieties leave many visitors in awe. Driving through the downtown, you’ll discover streets lined with tulips and parks overflowing with them. Settled in 1847 by the Dutch, Holland offers many opportunities to learn about Dutch heritage and the link that they have to tulips and the Netherlands.
A popular place to not only see tulips, but to learn cultural aspects of the Dutch is Windmill Island Gardens near downtown. Windmill Island is open daily from the 3rd Saturday in April through early October. Visitors there will discover an authentic Dutch windmill that was originally built in the Netherlands, but dismantled and moved to Windmill Gardens in the 1960s. The windmill is fully operational, and flour can be purchased that is milled on site. Windmill Island is one of the top wedding destinations in the state of Michigan with its gazebo and Amsterdam Street Organ. Guests to the gardens can also purchase wooden shoes and ride the antique Dutch carousel.
Other places for visitors to learn about the Dutch include Nelis’ Dutch Village, Veldheer Gardens, DeKlomp Wooden Shoe & Delft Factory, Cappon & Settlers House, and the Holland Museum. Veldheer Gardens also offers fields of tulips for viewing and a herd of buffalo. In addition to that, you can order many varieties of tulips for your own garden along with many other types of plants, such as crocuses and hostas.
Holland hosts a Tulip Time Festival the second week of May each year when its six million tulips are in bloom. Generally the best time for tulips is the last week of April through the first two weeks of May, but it’s always wise to call ahead and find out current conditions. Booking a room in advance during this time is advised as well.
Consider visiting this lovely town on Lake Macatawa, surrounding yourself with the scent of millions of tulips and treading the cobblestone walkways as you shop. If you work up an appetite, you can rest in one of the many fine eating establishments, or you may prefer to sip a cool drink and people-watch as you enjoy one of the outdoor cafes in the exciting downtown.
Standing tall and proud along the shores of Lake Michigan, Point Betsie marks the southern entrance to the Manitou Passage. Its light has been protecting sailors, and ships, from the many maritime dangers that exist since its construction in 1858. Timeless charm and easy accessibility help explain why Point Betsie is one of the most photographed lighthouses in the state of Michigan. Parking your car just yards away from this beauty, you’ll be welcomed by the sights and sounds of Lake Michigan.
Nestled in a dune just south of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the tower stands 39 feet tall, but with the height of the dune, it towers 52 feet above the water line. Point Betsie was the last lighthouse on the Great Lakes to be manually serviced, and was fully automated in 1983. The light could originally be spotted as far away as 27.5 miles with the Fourth Order Fresnel Lens she came equipped with. Upon automation the Fresnel Lens was replaced with a Vega VRB-25 system which has a range of 15-22 miles.
Today Point Betsie stands in quiet testimony to the many keepers who maintained the light, while their wives maintained the household, tended gardens, and watched their children playfully explore the dunes. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and manned for 106 years, Point Betsie offers a fascinating visit for history buffs and those who just want to relax. Sporting the same paint scheme the lighthouse had in the 1940s, it has been preserved and is cared for by “The Friends of Point Betsie Lighthouse”. If visiting Frankfort, or Sleeping Bear Dunes in Benzie County, make sure and visit this historic lighthouse. Wander the grounds and explore the accompanying fog station, or stroll the beach, and have a family picnic. Adventure awaits!