My year of clicks at Bear Creek Nature Park

Hello everyone, my name is Paul Birtwhistle and I have been encouraged by Cam Mannino and Dr. Ben VanderWeide to write a blog and share some of the photographs I have captured over the past year or so whilst walking my English Labrador called Stanley around Bear Creek Nature Park in Oakland Township, Michigan.

For reference here’s Stanley and I on the marsh deck near Gunn Road.

I have been walking around Bear Creek Nature Park with my wife and both of our dogs for a few years now and we really appreciate the wonderful wildlife and flora that is on our doorstep but soon after the pandemic arrived I realized that we were going to have a lot more time available to spend outdoors so I decided to get back into photography and see if I could capture some of the beauty that we regularly observed.

I armed myself with a new Sony A7iii digital camera and a Sony 100-400mm zoom lens and started clicking away on the daily dog patrol.

The new hobby became very addictive and I often describe it as hunting without killing because you need patience and stealth and a bit of luck to get the elusive money shots. I sometimes find myself muttering under my breath “hold still you little beauty” or “don’t you dare leave” as I’m frantically trying to compose the shot and get the camera settings where they should be.

One of the first subjects to appear in my crosshairs was a doe that was grunting in the woods near Gunn Road. It turned out that she had just given birth to twins as I arrived so I got close enough to capture the fawns as they lay below her. She ran off once she saw me but hovered nearby. I got a couple of shots and then quickly left the area to give them some peace. I returned later that day and they had moved slightly and were snuggled together so I got a couple more. Bless them!

(Clicking on the thumbnail photos should enlarge the image to full size)

Six months later I captured a mother and twins (below) looking at Stanley and myself in the same woods as the previous shots. It may be a different family but I like to think it could be them.

Bucks are also present in the park but they are very cautious and the following shots were mostly taken just after sunrise which is a great time for photography as it’s the “golden hour” and provides soft, even lighting without harsh shadows.

There are several ponds in the park and these give plenty of opportunity to find different subjects. Frogs and turtles are easy to capture. Below are a few of my favorites.

We sometimes come across snapping turtles crossing the paths on their way to a new pond or in search of a mate. The one below was a very large example.

Whilst observing the ponds I started to capture the birds that hangout there too. The Great Blue Heron is one of the largest birds that we come across and most of these next shots were taken at the large central pond.

The smaller Green Heron in these next photographs is a regular visitor to most of the ponds. A very striking bird but poorly named in my opinion. The only green parts are it’s feet but I am becoming quite fond of this bird.

Many waterfowl frequent the central pond and some of the other wetland areas. Here are a few pictures of what I’ve seen so far.

The largest birds we have seen at the park are these Sandhill Cranes (below). These birds are unchanged for about 2 million years and they sound like prehistoric creatures as they fly over head making their unique call. All of these photos were taken at the marsh near to Gunn Road.

I also got lucky with an American Bittern at the same marsh . It came out of the reeds as Stanley and I sat quietly on the dock with the single bench. I haven’t seen it since I captured the following photos.

Another lucky encounter was this Belted Kingfisher (below). It was fishing in the big center pond but unfortunately I haven’t come across any others since I got these pics.

Redwing Blackbirds are found mostly in the marsh area near Gunn Road but the nest in the following photos was to the east of the deck on the central pond. It was great watching the mother feeding the chicks in the evenings before they fledged.

Male Redwing Blackbirds are easy to capture if you hang around the dock near Gunn Road. Stay patient and they will come to you. Below are some males and juvenile males.

Eastern Bluebirds were very elusive for the longest time and I remember the satisfaction when I finally got this following shot after many failed attempts.

Once I got this one under my belt, the flood gates opened and I have many more photos of this iconic bird. Here are a few personal favorites of this wonderful creature.

Another favorite whilst on the blue theme is the male Indigo Bunting. Catch one in the right light and it absolutely pops. Most of these were captured on the paths that lead to Gunn Road in the grassy savanna north of the central pond but a few were near the bottom of the sledding hill.

This next bird is the Common Yellowthroat and the male has the wonderful black masked eyes. I always seemed to find him in close proximity to the Indigo Buntings but he was quite tricky to capture as he was always on the move.

It just occurred to me that this blog is going to be huge if I carry on sharing multiple images of the same bird so I will try to limit the next images to single shots of birds that I have seen in various parts of the park.

Song Sparrow
Cedar Waxwing
American Goldfinch
Eastern Phoebe
House Wren
Gray Catbird
Tufted Titmouse
Northern Cardinal
Dark Eyed Junco
House Finch
Swamp Sparrow
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Turkey Vulture
Tree Swallow
Hairy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Red Bellied Woodpecker
Willow Flycatcher
Baltimore Oriole
Baltimore Orioles making their nest
Eastern Kingbird
Red Breasted Nuthatch
White Breasted Nuthatch
Wood Duck troop
Northern Flicker
Warbling Vireo
Black-capped Chickadee
Eastern Wood Peewee
Blue Jay
Red Tailed Hawk
American Robin
Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher
Great Egret

Just a few more non-bird photos if you are still scrolling 🤞 .

Monarch Butterfly
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly
A Great Spangled Fritillary
Blue Dasher Dragonfly
Meadowhawk Dragonfly
Common Whitetail Skimmer Dragonfly
Preying Mantis
Muskrat nest building
Tree Hog! (Ground Hog really)
Raccoon
I saved the best for last, my handsome Stanley. The best photographic assistant that I will ever find.

If you’ve made it to this point then I sincerely thank you for your time and interest and I really hope that you may be encouraged or inspired to get to the park and see for yourself that it really is a special place.

I’ve had a lot of fun taking these photographs and I’m still packing the camera most days so hopefully, Stanley and I may run into some of you at the park if we haven’t already.

I will finish by saying that I can’t praise Dr. Ben and his merry band of interns enough for all of the hard work that they put in. They are usually waist deep in tick territory on the hottest of days when I see them but they are always cheerful and friendly. Please let them know how much you appreciate what they do. The same goes for the maintenance crews and the volunteers that manage the nesting boxes. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes and the park is dependent on all of these unsung heroes.

Happy hunting!

23 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on Natural Areas Notebook and commented:
    Meet my new photographer friend Paul Birtwhistle whose wonderful photos have appeared over the summer in my posts. We’re pleased today to share a photo essay that Paul created for us. You’ll get to meet Paul and his canine “photo assistant” Stanley, while scrolling through a glorious gallery of Paul’s photos that capture a wide range of the creatures that he’s met this year at Bear Creek Nature Park. Enjoy, my friends! – Cam Mannino

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    1. Loved the photos Paul.
      Great blog thanks for sharing.
      Looking forward to seeing more.
      Looks like you are enjoying your retirement.
      Mike Banchory Scotland.

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      1. Hi Mike
        Thanks for the appreciation.
        It’s been a long time!!!
        Hope the years have been good to you?
        Retirement is great 👍

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  2. Wow! What a stunning gallery of photos. Thank you Paul for sharing the beauty of nature through your lens. You are very talented! I look forward to seeing and reading more of your adventures at Bear Creek.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Wendy! Hope you guys are all well. I’m just loading my bike to head down to the National Air Force Museum in Dayton. I bet Carl would like to join us. We need to hook up soon. Miss you all.

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    1. Hi Barbara
      Thanks for your note and I apologize for the slow response but I was down in Ohio on a bike trip when your message arrived.
      I hope you and John are still enjoying the Baja life.
      We need to catch up. It’s been way too long.

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  3. I keep returning to your blog to look at the photos. All of the pictures are great, but especially stunning are the Cedar Waxwing, and the head of the Sandhill Crane. I hope to see you sometime at one of the parks.

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  4. Greetings from Northern MI, Paul! (40 miles from The Bridge).
    This blog speaks of patience, a reverence for Nature, and remarkable photographic skills.
    A 1.000 thanks for sharing your thoughts and gifts with us.
    I especially enjoyed the bug-eyed Preying Mantis, the sassy Racoon and the Red-tailed Hawk.
    We are enchanted and visited by the same variety of wood peckers you pictured, as well as the loathsome
    (tho beautiful) Sap Sucker, who has killed two of our trees – dang!
    Nonetheless – Cam can tell you, we are on the same page as you and Stanley in our love of and
    respect for Nature.
    Best – Gerre

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    1. Thanks so much Geraldine for your kind words. It’s nice to know that we share common interests and appreciate what we have around us. You probably have access to even more natural beauty living where you do.
      Michigan really is a wildlife wonderland.
      Best wishes

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