Battelle Darby Metro Park, as seen from Google Earth. This is just a snippet of the sprawling 7,000 acre park, but this patch is my favorite spot. It is a recently restored wet prairie, and the transformation from barren croplands to vibrant prairie has been remarkable to watch.
A few times a year, I'll get here and always take the "Teal Trail", as outlined in red. It's about a mile and three-quarter hike, and passes by great habitat. I always find interesting animals along this path, and today was no exception.
Last time I was in this spot - many months prior - cattails were starting to dominate this marsh. Not now. Muskrats have stepped up to the plate and opened the marsh back up. Their conical lodges were quite conspicuous, and so were the aquatic mammals as they swam about harvesting plant material and mud as they labored on their lodges.
After taking this shot, I returned to the vehicle for some heavy artillery: my tripod-mounted Canon 800mm lens linked to the Canon 5D IV, and attached to a Black Rapid strap around my neck was the Canon 5DSR and 500mm f/4 lens. The latter setup is so light it can easily be handheld for birds in flight, or that are within the 800's minimum focusing distance of 19 feet. The Black Rapid strap makes carrying a camera much easier, even a fairly heavy one. It distributes the weight in a balanced manner, and takes all the pressure off the toter's neck and shoulders. More about these straps HERE.
While gear like that isn't cheap, the big telephotos are worth their weight in gold when stalking wildlife. My main game when out on solo missions like this is to try and locate the quarry before they see me, or at least approach subjects in a way that doesn't overly disturb them and allows me to get fairly close. With big lenses one doesn't have to get too near, and thus the critters will often go about their business as they normally would. This always leads to better shots, and is better for the critters.
The spot where I shot this marsh wren was a goldmine. A late common yellowthroat popped up, and sparrows were everywhere. A quick movement down the trail materialized into a mink, which briefly bounded down the path in its slinky-like gait. Longspurs whistled overhead and as a finale, a merlin rocketed low over the marsh, spotted me and juked slightly off to the west, depriving me of possible photos. No worries, I was mostly interested in my diminutive but sassy stub-tailed wren.
By now, temperatures were in the low 40's, sluggish western chorus frogs and spring peepers slowly creaked out their songs, and, amazingly, a few fall field crickets and striped ground crickets were attempting to sing. Four hours had already passed by, and it was time to head for home.