One of the first signs of spring is the return of the Canada Geese to Hoffman Hills. For the last seven years I’ve documented a pair of geese as they have arrived at Hoffman Hills, nested and raised their young. They normally appear at the end of March and start nesting around the first of April. Last year shortly after they arrived there was a blizzard and nesting was delayed. I actually found an egg that had been laid on the banks of the pond because they couldn’t nest. This shot was taken a week ago as they were checking out the location for the nest.
They typically nest on a small island in one of the ponds where they have a good view of their surroundings. The exact place varies from year to year but since the nest is so exposed it is easy to see from shore. Yesterday when I arrived the female was already on the nest. The male will guard the nest while the female lays and incubates the eggs.
When I arrived at the pond the male was walking along the bank of the pond. He quickly took to the water and placed himself between me and the nesting female. He was a little on the aggressive side this year.
This past week I’ve been wandering around taking photos of spring tree buds and flowers. Most of this activity has taken place at Hoffman Hills Recreation Area which seems to be several weeks ahead of the farm in terms of tree budding.
Just a few days ago the Weeping Willow Trees were just yellow branches. A few days later the tree was starting to leaf out and was covered with flowers.
This was taken about a week ago just as the maple trees were starting to get their buds.
A few days later the maple buds were much further along.
The Pussy Willow Trees are just about done flowering and are starting to get their leaves.
This is a photo of the Poplar Tree flowers that had fallen into a small pond.
The last week of winter I had a chance to stop at Wisconsin Point Lighthouse to take a few photographs. Things were a lot different than last year at this time. It was just about a year ago that the huge March storm create fantastic ice sculptures along the Minnesota North Shore of Lake Superior. The same storm pushed the lake ice into the lighthouse at Wisconsin Point.
This was the scene this year about a week earlier than last year.
Bloodroot is usually the first wildflower to bloom on the farm. Generally it doesn’t start blooming until the second week of April. This year they started blooming the third week of March. I first noticed them last week when I went out to pick up litter along my farm road. This week I went out to get some shots and found that many of the Bloodroot on the south facing slopes have already finished blooming. Fortunately the Bloodroot on the top of the hill and on the north facing slopes have yet to bloom so I will have some more chances to photograph it.
This shot shows the Bloodroot in full bloom.
This shot shows a Bloodroot that has lost most of its petals.
This shows a flower that has lost all of its petals.
This is going to be a shorter list than normal because we really didn’t have much of a winter this year. Things started off great in December when we had a nice 6 inch snowfall. All of the outdoor enthusiasts were excited hand started getting their skis and snowmobiles ready for action. The birds started showing up at the feeder and I was optimistic that it was going to be a good year. Unfortunately the weather turned warm and we were without snow for most of the winter. I like to photograph birds during snowstorms but what little snow we received came at mostly at night when it was impossible to photograph. The end of the winter was just as strange. With a little over three weeks to go the weather took a dramatic change. Temperatures hovered around 70 degrees and even reached into the 80’s. All of the Goldfinches disappeared and most of the other birds became scarce.
The most common bird this winter was the American Goldfinch. In fact, it has been a constant visitor for the last couple of years. I don’t know if they are just lazy or what but they were at the feeder regardless of the weather.
The Black-capped Chickadee showed up later than normal and there were fewer of them. It wasn’t until the middle of winter that they appeared at the feeder with any regularity. Often when the weather was nice they were nowhere to be found.
The Junco’s pattern was similar to the Chickadees. They showed up late and were mostly around when we would get some snow. I have a log that I’ve drilled some holes in so I could put suet it the holes. When I first fill it up the Junco’s seem to like to visit it and try and land on the vertical log.
Downy Woodpecker male
Downy Woodpecker female
Downy woodpeckers have been at the feeder most of the winter. They primarily like to feed on suet. If I have some peanut butter suet available they will usually head for that first. They are the only birds that have continued to be at the feeder throughout the entire winter.
Northern Cardinal female
Northern Cardinal male
Northern Cardinals frequent the feeder late in the day or on days when there is a snowstorm. In the past I’ve had a Coopers Hawk visit the feeder so the Northern Cardinals like to visit when the hawk is not likely to be around. It’s only been during snow storms that they visited in any numbers.
Red-bellied Woodpecker male
Red-bellied Woodpeckers visited the feeder occasionally during the winter months. They usually were feeding at my suet filled log.
House Finch male
House Finches visited the feeder on rare occasions. I was able to capture this male during a snowstorm but the female eluded my photo opportunities.
Late in the winter I had a number of Mourning Doves visit the feeder. Normally they are ground feeders and it’s difficult to get a photo of them. This one landed on a pine tree and sat there for quite a while.
RIP – As I mentioned I normally have a Coopers Hawk showing up at my feeder. He turned up early in the winter and then I didn’t see him again. One day I was shoveling off the back step and I found his body. Apparently in his eagerness to capture a bird he hit the sliding glass door.
Wow! it has really been a strange spring. Almost overnight the temperatures jumped into the mid 70’s and it even hit 80 degrees. As I mentioned in an earlier blog I’ve been out at Hoffman Hills checking to see if the geese returned to their nesting grounds. The transformation of the area if a few days was remarkable. The Willow Trees were yellow one day and a couple of days later they were green with leaves. The trees were without buds and a couple of days later they had buds and beautiful spring colors.
I couldn’t believe the changes in the Pussy Willows. They were at peak bloom early and in a few days were past peak.
The photo on the left shows a Pussy Willow at peak bloom. Three days later I was in the same area and took a photo of the same branch. The photo on the right shows the changes in just a few days.
The past week I’ve been out at the Hoffman Hills Recreation area checking out the emerging spring. All of the ponds are ice free, the Pussy Willows are blooming and one pair of geese have returned. There are also a variety of other birds around. It was a beautiful day and I was able to get some nice reflection shots in the ponds.
This is a shot of a stand of Birch Tree reflections in one of the smaller ponds.
The vibrant color is the result of several large Willow Trees along the edge of the pond.
A bird house located along one of the ponds.
Some of my favorite shots in the late winter and early spring are leaves melting into the disappearing snow. As I walk through the woods the March winds bring down any leaves remaining on the trees. Around here they are generally oak leaves. Here are a few from this year.
A couple of days ago the first birds of spring arrived on the farm. Today I noticed that the first of the spring flowers were blooming, the lowly Skunk Cabbage. They usually start poking their heads up just as the snow starts to melt.
They can be found along the Red Cedar State Trail just south of Irvington. In a few weeks they will be all along the trail south of Irvington. They are usually found in the ditches along the trail in the muck and mud. They are not the most beautiful flower around but since they are the only game in town they get most of my attention.
While photographing the Skunk Cabbage I noticed quite a few Northern Cardinals flying around in the area. I also notice several large flocks of Sandhill Cranes flying north.
It’s hard to believe that less than two weeks ago my wife and I were skiing in a blizzard. Yesterday it was 75 degrees with only a few remnants of snow. The day after the blizzard it was 0 degrees when we headed back home from our trip to the U.P. We decided to make a stop at Bond Falls. It is one of my favorite winter waterfalls because it has a combination of open water and ice all winter.
I normally like to photograph waterfalls on a cloudy day when the dynamic range of the photograph is easier to control. I’ve visited Bond Falls three times in the winter. On each occasion it has been cloudy when we left Houghton. On each occasion we had bright sunshine when we reached Bond Falls. Shortly after leaving Bond Falls we encountered clouds. It is what it is and I tried to make the best of it.
Because of the bright light I was forced to take multiple shots of the same image in order to capture the entire dynamic range of the photo. I used the bracketing feature to take 3 to 5 shots changing the exposure slightly with each shot. These were later merged in a program called Photomatrix Pro using Exposure Fusion option. The merged photos captured the entire dynamic range of the scene.
I had visited Bond Falls several weeks earlier for some winter photography. On that visit there was a little more ice. With this visit I encountered the famous frost that occurs when the water is running and the weather is cold. The trees around the river were covered with heavy frost. By the time we arrived the sun was reaching the area around the falls and the frost was starting to fall from the trees. In addition to the heavy frost the area had been blanketed with about a foot of fresh snow the day before making for some great scenery.
It was a great visit. More Winter photos of Bond falls can be found on my website.