I’ve mentioned previously that there are many benefits to living in my little corner of southeast Michigan, one of them being that we can live a rural/suburban life while having city conveniences just a half-dozen miles down the road.
My home is only about 6 miles north of the Ohio border, with the city of Toledo located right on the state line. Toledo has been the brunt of many jokes and much maligned in the past, and it does have its blight and troubles. But the fact is, there are also many positives about this mid-sized city. It boasts a world-class zoo — rated #1 in the country, the best hockey arena in the ECHL, and a fabulous metro-park system.
I was pretty excited when my new birding buddy, Rachel, asked me to join her and her friend, Renee, at the largest of Toledo’s metro-parks, Oak Openings, to do some birding. Many different species have been seen there recently and she thought it would be an excellent opportunity for me to add a few more to my 2015 Big Bird List.
Oak Openings Preserve, located out near Swanton, Ohio, past the Toledo Express Airport, consists of more than 3,700 acres of varying habitats – from oak savannahs to sand dunes to swamp. There are more than 50 miles of trails throughout the park, some for hiking, some for biking, and some for horses.
We met at the Buehner Center where they have a “window on wildlife” with a water feature and plenty of bird feeders, but there wasn’t much to be seen there. We were blessed with an absolutely PERFECT June day for walking in the park — and this turned out to be somewhat of an unfortunate thing. Because a perfect day means plenty of sunshine, and also plenty of shade and shadows, which did not make for good photography.
Our first subject was this blue heron who posed quite patiently for pictures.
As you can see, he was in dappled sunlight. My first attempts were too washed out, then they were too green. Because of the bright light, his head and neck got washed out. This next photo is not the greatest but I was fascinated by it because it shows so well how his gangly body is put together. Really, you have to admit it’s kind of weird looking! 🙂
Gray catbirds were everywhere! This one was singing up a storm and stayed still but was in deep shadow in the branches. I had to lighten this up considerably.
He looks to be molting. See his funky feathers sticking out every which way? But he doesn’t let a bad feather day get him down!
My best shot of the day was probably this macro shot of these pretty blossoms. I’m not sure what they are but they smelled heavenly!
Overall, this indigo bunting demonstrates our experiences for the day. Birds sitting high up in the tippy tops of trees and branches in direct sunlight.
Obviously the birds wanted to enjoy the perfect day as well!
(I want to add here that Mark and I discovered a very interesting fact about indigo buntings. You professional-type birders probably already know this but we were fascinated to find out that indigo buntings don’t actually have any blue pigment in their feathers which is why if they are in the top of a tree in bright sunlight they look completely black and you think they are a cowbird or something! LOL Now, how do you think we found that out? 😉 )
Here’s another example of a bird basking in the sun — in the light and out of range! I “think”, after zooming way in on this on my computer, that this is just a chipping sparrow.
The most exciting thing for me about the day was that Oak Openings is rife with red-headed woodpeckers!! I was hoping and praying to see at least one and my hopes were exceeded far above my expectations. We ended up seeing so many that we stopped mentioning them after awhile!
Of course, they too were hanging out at the tops of trees, in bright sun, usually a bit beyond the range of my camera!
We also got a split-second glimpse of an eastern towhee. I got one, very blurry and underexposed photo that I have enough pride to not share here. We also saw summer tanagers, which was very exciting! They too, were up in the canopy right above my head and I was unable to get focused on them at all, so no photo. But Rachel did get a couple of shots with her DSLR and we were able to make a positive identification so I could add them to my list!
While we were tracking down the summer tanagers, this group of horseback riders came down the trail.
The indigo buntings nest in Oak Openings so there were plenty to be seen. I finally managed one decent shot, although this is cropped, as are most of the photos in this post.
This yellow warbler was one of the most cooperative subjects of the day, although still on a high branch in the sun.
There was also a male ruby-throated hummingbird perched on a branch.
It was cool to see them “in the wild” and not just at a nectar feeder!
In 2010 a tornado ripped through a section of the park and the damage caused is still quite evident. You can see it here in the dead trees sticking out from the landscape.
Although the park is still recovering from the damage caused by the tornado, I wonder if all those dead trees are the reason the red-headed woodpeckers are so prolific there.
After two hours, Rachel had to leave for an appointment. I walked along Mallard Lake. It’s a very serene setting and you can see why it is a favorite spot of those that frequent the park.
I just wish I could get better at landscape shots. Now that prime bird photography time is past, maybe I will focus more on landscapes for the rest of the summer. Seriously, there is a reason that early May is prime time for birding in Michigan. By early June, these are the kinds of bird photos you get!
Yes, there is a bird there! Can you see it? Don’t ask me what it is, I have no idea. Even with zooming in on my computer, I can’t figure it out.
Speaking of not being able to figure a bird out — I need the help of some of my more seasoned birding friends. I have gotten shots of two different birds that neither Mark nor I could identify. Now trust me, we are NOT lazy birders! We spent a long time last night poring over these photos and going through THREE different field guides page by page. We also consulted the All About Birds web site. We looked at every photo and illustration and could not figure these two birds out with any amount of certainty. This first one, I was sure was a savannah sparrow.
But due to the yellow tone in the belly, Mark didn’t agree. We thought perhaps the yellow was a trick of the lighting, but it appears in every shot I took.
After Rachel left, Renee and I decided to walk to the sand dunes. Once we got there, I saw this bird hopping along. Again, I didn’t have the chance to take many shots. There is a distinct white spot behind the eye.
Again, Mark and I pored over the field guides, page by page, and nothing looked like this! Anyone want to venture an opinion?
The sand dunes were really neat to see and you come upon them so unexpectedly. We walked through oak and fern and then up a hill and here is the view of sand.
Maybe not as impressive as Sleeping Bear Dunes, but still a very interesting geologic feature.
We saw more red-headed woodpeckers as we were returning to the Buehner Center. I had to play with these quite a bit because the green leaves gave a distinct green cast to the white feathers on the woodpeckers back!
Just before we got to the parking lot, Renee and I stopped to admire the way the sunbeams came through the pine boughs. Unfortunately, my camera did not capture the moment the exact way I saw it with my eyes, but still you can see what a pretty place this is.
Overall, I was ecstatic with the day. I was able to add the eastern towhee, summer tanager, and red-headed woodpecker to my 2015 Big Bird list, bringing my total of species for the year to 88. If any of you can help me identify these two unknowns, then hopefully I will be at 90!
We barely scratched the surface of what Oak Openings has to offer, so I hope to return again soon with Mark to make further explorations of this wonderful nature preserve.
On a down note, some of you may remember that we were planning a big hiking vacation down to the mountains of Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway. After much discussion, Mark and I decided to cancel our trip. I spent part of yesterday afternoon canceling all our hotel reservations. It was a bit of a disappointment, but we have decided we are best to focus our time and financial resources on our place in the northwoods rather than on a vacation. So, in a couple of weeks, there will be new Northwoods Journal entries. I know you all will be waiting with baited breath! LOL 😀
Have a blessed day and I hope you all get a chance to take a walk in a park near you!