Otter Play

Going to the zoo has always been a fun place to visit. I loved going to the zoo as a kid and seeing many of the different animals from around the world. As an adult, I still love the zoo. Michigan has several zoos throughout the state and has a variety of animals in each of the zoos. Some zoo’s are larger than others, but nonetheless you always walk away with a better appreciation of wildlife. The John Ball zoo in Grand Rapids is a place that should be on any itinerary when coming to visit the city. I have been to this zoo serveal times and each time, I leave satisfied with my visit.

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One of my favorite places to visit at the zoo is the Otter Exhibit. There is a glass wall where you can see the otters swim around under water. To the left there is a platform where you can view the Otters on the land. If you just want to sit down and relax there are benches that overlook the exhibit. it is not uncommon to see several Otters out and playing with each other. In all the times I have visited the zoo, I cannot recall one time where they were inside and away from the public. They love interacting with other Otters and will often go where the other Otters are. Occasionally you will see one of them swimming around on his own while the others are out sunbathing, but typically they are like pack animals where they stay together and do things together. When they are at play with each other seems to be when they are the most entertaining to watch.

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I do like those moments where one Otter will break from the pack and do its own thing. I have seen Otters enjoying themselves swimming or just finding a quiet place to enjoy the sunshine. When they are still and quiet, they are still entertaining to watch. Otters usually don’t stay in one place for long. I have found this to be different from some of the other animals where you could circle the zoo and come back to an animal and find them laying in the same spot as when you left them. Otters keep moving and will do something different over a period of time. That is where the entertainment value comes in with them. As a photographer, you can get quite a few different types of photographs with the Otters and actually get a sense of their personality.

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John Ball Zoo has benches to watch the animals in various places. If you have the time, I would recommend just sitting down and relaxing. There are food outlets throughout the zoo. You could even grab some food, eat lunch and enjoy watching the animals play. The Otters and Monkeys tend to be the most entertaining of all the animals there. You never know what you will see from one minute to the next. When visiting the zoo, be sure to take some time to visit the Otters. You will not be disappointed.

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Return of the Butterflies

It is that time of year again where a trip to Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids becomes synonymous with several butterflies floating around. The Butterflies are Blooming exhibit at Meijer Gardens is an annual exhibit that draws several visitors anxious to get a little taste of spring. It is the perfect time to see this exhibit because it embodies the promise of spring after what seems to be a long extended winter. The butterflies are held in the gardens greenhouse and the environment is very tropical. It is the one exhibit that Meijer Gardens has where I see nothing but smiles on everyone’s faces.

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At the Butterflies are Blooming exhibit you will be treated with over 7,000 butterflies within the greenhouse. There are 50 variety of butterfly species. One of the most sought out species is the Blue Morpho. When it is closed it is a dull brownish color, but when it spreads its wings you are treated to a brilliant blue color across its wings. Getting the Blue Morpho to spread its wings is the hard part. I have sat nearby one for quite some time hoping that it would spread its wings, only to be disappointed. In other occasions I was just lucky enough to see this one spread out its wings. That seems to be the key to it all. You have to be in the right place at the right time. These butterflies are pretty common throughout the greenhouse, but more often you will spot them with their wings closed up.

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One of the most common species that you will see at this exhibit is the Maylay Lacewing (not to be confused with the one pictured below). They look like the smaller version of a Monarch Butterfly. There are plenty of them floating around and they like to sit on some of the leaves of the tropical plants and trees throughout the greenhouse. They are not jittery so to speak and are easy to photograph. With several butterflies, the minute you get to one, they will fly off. This species of butterfly seems to be very calm and content just to be laying on the plants and leaves. In many cases, I have seen these butterflies land on people. When this happens, it is such a great photo opportunity.

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When you go to the exhibit, plan to spend an hour or two at the greenhouse. Once you finish with the butterflies, there is still plenty of things to do at the Meijer Gardens. If the weather is nice, there is the main sculpture garden, the children’s gardens, the new Japanese gardens, and the Lena Meijer Farmhouse. All of these sections within the gardens is worth visiting and spending time at. One could spend several hours into the afternoon taking in the whole Meijer Gardens area. The butterflies are blooming, and spring is just around the corner. Now I know why so many people are smiling.

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A Meijer Meltdown

I planned a trip out to Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids on my calendar a couple months in advance. I had thought that the Japanese Gardens would be an interesting place to visit during the winter months. I have been so accustomed to seeing the part of the gardens during the summer months, and thought it would be interesting to see how the landscape changes during the winter time. The day came for my visit to the gardens and it was a very sunny day. It was also 60 degrees outside with snow melting rapidly. That week we experienced a January thaw. This warmer weather brought out a lot of people. What I thought might be a wasted trip turned out to be pretty good after all.

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The trail going around a series of several ponds in this garden was extremely wet and at some points muddy from the melting snow. In spite of the warmer temperatures, the ponds still had a thin coat of ice over them. There were a few snow piles left along the trail. One of the highlights along this garden are the three man made waterfalls pouring out into the ponds below. The point of the Japanese Gardens is to promote a relaxing atmosphere. These waterfalls do exactly that. There are even a few benches nearby where one can sit and just take it all in. I myself could have spent more time there had the benches not been wet from the melting snow. As you continue around the ponds you come across a couple island areas where there are gazebos to sit in. Again, the way this garden promotes the idea of relaxation in nature is really great.

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There were several areas that were blocked off and not open during the winter months. That is more to ensure the safety of the guests who may get too close to the ponds. On this particular day, it was a good idea. The ponds were obviously melting and there were areas where open water stood surrounded by ice. It was clear that the ice that was there was very thin and fragile. It did make for some interesting photos throughout the garden. As you walked around the ponds there were several Japanese themed sculptures that seemed to stand out a little more in the winter. A good part of this is due to the trees surrounding the area. Often during the summer the trees shade the sculpture or they are a little bit hidden with full leaves on the trees. The highlight of the gardens was the viewing hill which overlooked the whole area. Again, the lack of leaves on trees made for better viewing of the area as a whole. That seemed to be the big takeaway of the value of visiting this garden during the winter season.

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The walk around the garden took about an hour in total time. There were several people there getting out on the nice day. It was not the original way I wanted to view the gardens, but often when it comes to photography, you have to adjust for the weather conditions. This case was no exception. I am still curious to see the gardens covered with snow and to see how the landscape changed even from what I saw on this trip. It looks like more snow is going to fall during the month of February. I just might be able to get that chance.

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Christmas Traditions Around the World

I was riding home from an event the other night, and was amazed at some of the Christmas lights and decorations on the houses and bushiness that I passed. I love this time of year as the Christmas lights and decorations make everything a little bit more brighter and cheerful. If you like Christmas trees and decorations like I do, a stop at Fredrick Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids is a must see. Every year Fredrick Meijer Gardens showcases the “Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World”. Inside you will walk through the main building of the gardens and can view Christmas trees lit up and decorated representing various countries. It is not only a great way to enjoy the holidays, but you will also walk away learning something new.

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My wife and I were greeted by Christmas decorations and lights the minute we walked into the entryway from the outside. The staff if very friendly and helpful when it comes to pointing you in the right direction. From there we were able to see quite a few Christmas trees decorated with ornaments that represented the country of the tree. There is a informational sign in front of each tree giving a description of a particular countries holiday traditions. There was a lot of information that I did not know and it was great to get a better understanding of how different people celebrate Christmas and the holidays. For instance, Australia celebrates Christmas during the summer. Traditionally, they would gather up wildflowers and decorate the tree with the flowers. It was a fact that I never knew before and had never really thought about how Christmas was celebrated in Australia. The countries that really don’t celebrate Christmas are represented with items in a glass casing showcasing the culture of that nation.

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The Christmas trees are not the only attraction while visiting the gardens this time. The greenhouse areas are attached to the main building. Inside the greenhouse area you will encounter the Railway Garden. This garden brings together miniature displays of buildings throughout Grand Rapids or near the metro area such as Holland and Lowell. These buildings are made up of natural materials and has many varieties of plants and flowers. My personal favorite aspect about this garden is that a model train runs through the whole garden near the buildings and past small waterfalls and garden areas. It is definitely worth taking a detour from the main part of the building to see this attraction. You can also venture inside the tropical greenhouse and see palm trees lit up with Christmas trees.

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Outside the main building are several trees lit up with Christmas lights. Trees are decorated with large ornaments and the area along the Children’s Garden is perfect for a winter stroll to see multi colored Christmas lights. The gardens also offers a holiday carriage ride through the park to create more of a festive environment. Grand Rapids has many things to see and do during the holiday season. Meijer Gardens is one of my favorite places visit during the holiday season. It creates a festive and cheerful environment and embodies everything that you would expect from the holiday season.

http://www.meijergardens.org/calendar/christmas-and-holiday-traditions-around-the-world/

Discovering the Undiscovered

Sitting around a table with some acquaintances of mine we were generating conversation about places we wanted to go see in our home state of Michigan. The usual places that most people want to visit such as Mackinac Island and the bridge, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and summer resort cities like Grand Haven, Petoskey and Ludington were high on everyone’s list. In spite of knowing about these places, it amazed me how little people really knew about some of Michigan’s most frequently visited locations. It astounded me that several people did not know that cities like Marshall, Coldwater, Monroe, Bad Axe, Clare, Midland, Ironwood, Hancock and Copper Harbor even existed in the State of Michigan.

Mackinac Bridge, Mackinaw City
Mackinac Bridge, Mackinaw City

 

To be honest, while I have heard of these cities; there are a few things that I never knew existed within these cities. Earlier this summer I stopped at the Underground Railroad Monument in Battle Creek. Did you know that the monument is operated by the U.S. National Park Service? I would have never thought it was, but it makes sense in hindsight. They have a park ranger right at the monument to answer any all all questions about the fascinating history of the Underground Railroad and how it impacted Michigan. There are so many events and places that I have yet to discover in our great state. Don’t get me wrong, I love the lighthouse tours and the pristine waterfalls in the Upper Peninsula, but there is more to learn and more to discover.

The Underground Railroad Monument, Battle Creek
The Underground Railroad Monument, Battle Creek

This past year in photography has been a little bit of a transition for me. I have wanted to discover the unknown. I have wanted to get the experience of what is now known as our state’s famous tagline “Pure Michigan”. I have been blessed to see the Mackinac Bridge and many of the state’s famous landmarks. I yearn to see more and gain an understanding of what this state has to offer. To experience Michigan is to also converse with the people behind the scenes of some our cities annual events, or those running the museums, cider mills, and farm markets.

Skyline towers, Grand Rapids
Skyline towers, Grand Rapids

I have learned a great deal throughout this past year and I plan to pass some of this information along. Some of my posts will contain some facts and statistics about certain places as it is important to have some of the detailed information. However, a majority of the posts are going to be experienced based. I will not write as if I am an expert on various places within Michigan. Instead I will provide content about the journey to discovering new and exciting places. Those who are looking to find out what Michigan has to offer come with me on this journey. Let’s discover the mitten state together!

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