This post is about the trip that I made to Muskegon on November 9th, 2014, and it will be a relatively short post compared to some of the others that I have done recently. It was cold, windy, and with frequent rain showers that day, hardly good weather for photography.
However, bad weather for photography often presents the most opportunities to shoot photos, a bit of a quandary for some one like me.
Since I began my blog, I have often shot the most interesting photos in really crappy weather, and I’ve often written that bad weather is the best time to observe wildlife in action. Critters have no choice but to continue to live as they always do during spells of bad weather, and with fewer people outside, I can get closer to the action than on nice sunny days when there are more people around.
So, to begin with, when I arrived at the grassy cells of the Muskegon wastewater facility, I stopped at the far edge along a drainage ditch to scope the area out to see if anything was around so that I wouldn’t spook it. As I was looking the area over, a great blue heron came gliding towards me, and landed close enough for me to shoot this photo, which hasn’t been cropped at all.
Great blue heron
Apparently, the heron didn’t like the sound of my camera, for it quickly wound up for take off….
Great blue heron
…but it didn’t go far.
You can see the raindrops hitting the water in the creek, to give you some idea of the conditions that I was shooting under. And, given those conditions, I’m happy with the resulting photos, which were shot with my Canon 60 D and the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens).
How bad was the weather? This video that I shot later in the day will give you a better idea of what the weather was like.
Not a nice day at all, or a good day for photography! And, my talk about the weather isn’t just an excuse for the poor quality of most of the images that will be in this post, it also brings up why I’m drooling over one of the new Canon 7D Mark II cameras.
The 7D is a highly specialized tool, designed for sports and action photography in low light situations. It has the best weather sealing of any camera on the market today, and it has several other features that would have been useful on a day like this one. The super fast auto-focusing system, that works much better than my camera in low light situations would have been nice, as would its capabilities at high ISO settings.
But, the 7D is too much camera for most people, there’s no reason to spend what a 7D costs unless you’re as crazy as I am to be out on a blustery, rainy day, trying to shoot flying birds, such as an eagle coming at me carrying a dead mallard in its talons, and landing on a power pole.
The eagle looked at me…
…then at a flock of gulls approaching…
…and decided that it could find a better place to finish lunch than being mobbed by gulls hoping to steal the mallard from the eagle, or with a photographer shooting pictures of it…
…but it paused and looked at me as if to ask “Hey Mr. Photographer, are you getting this?”…
…and with that, the eagle was gone.
I’m under no illusions that a 7D would have produced great photos of the eagle, but there would have been a significant improvement in the image quality if I had been using it, rather than my 60D, which doesn’t handle high ISO settings as well as the 7D does.
I could be like most people, and stay home in bad weather, but I see the most interesting things when it’s nasty outside.
Later on, I saw a peregrine falcon go zooming past me, resulting in this terrible photo.
I watched as the falcon made repeated dives through a flock of gulls off in the distance, but none of the dives resulted in a kill. Then, I saw the falcon and a gull coming at me at a high rate of speed, too fast for me to get a photo. It was as they passed me that I saw that the falcon must have ticked off a gull, for the gull was chasing the falcon, rather than the other way around.
With a stiff tailwind, the gull did a respectable job of staying close to the falcon for quite a way, but the falcon’s speed eventually allowed it to pull away from the gull.
I see something as interesting as that, and of course it had to be on a rotten day to capture it. ;) However, that seems to be about normal for me, which is why a Canon 7D would be a wise choice as my camera.
That doesn’t hold true for most other photographers though, like I said earlier, the 7D is a specialized tool for sports and wildlife photographers. Some one shooting landscapes or portraits would be much better off with a different camera than the one that is best for the subjects that I shoot.
Nikon and Sony are way ahead of Canon as far as sensors, even the sensor in the brand new 7D Mark II comes up short against the cameras produced by the other two brands. That’s what makes choosing the right camera for yourself so tricky, it’s about more than the absolute image quality that can be recorded by the sensor. You have to be able to get the shot before the sensor records it, and that’s where Canon seems to have made most of the improvements in the 7D Mark II, with one of the best auto-focusing systems on the market today.
I went with Canon for more than just the camera bodies. In researching lenses, it was Canon’s lens selection that made me switch from Nikon to Canon, as they seemed to have the best selection of lenses that fit my needs. A camera body is worthless without a lens, and vice versa.
But, enough of that other than to say that just because I’m drooling over a 7D Mark II doesn’t mean that it is the best camera for you, it probably isn’t.
Back to the photos that I wished I had a 7D for, a male ring-necked duck in the rain.
The rain let up now and then, and during one of those times, I shot this series of a rough legged hawk.
I included all of those because they show the way that the rough legged hawks hunt, which is completely different from the red-tailed hawks. The rough legged hawks will hover over a spot, touch down, look around, then repeat that over and over.
The red-tailed hawks either soar overhead until they spot prey, or perch somewhere to watch for prey, like this red-tailed hawk.
There were plenty of waterfowl around, but in the poor light that day, I didn’t shoot very many photos, however, since green-winged teal are a new species for me, here’s a few of them that I saved.
During one of the brighter moments, I saw a flock of tundra swans flying over.
It’s good to see so many of them, when they were close to extinction not that long ago.
Finally, three photos of a horned grebe, the first, just after it surfaced.
Then, it spotted me.
Then, dove out of sight.
Okay, I lied, one more image to show how bad the weather was, a male bufflehead duck battling the waves.
You know it’s a windy day when the waves on the small man-made lakes are over a foot in height!
I shot one other video that day, it’s horrible to say the best about it. I think that I’ll post it anyway, for several reasons. It will give you an even better idea how bad the weather was. You can tell that the wind was buffeting me, and that I was not able to stand still in the wind. As it starts, it shows a large number of gulls soaring in the wind, but then, a flock of northern shovelers fly between myself and the gulls. At about the eight second point of the video, you can see that the ducks and gulls seem to take evasive action, and a bird swoop through the flock of ducks from a completely different direction than what the gulls and ducks are moving. It comes in the upper right hand corner of the frame, then exits out of the frame very quickly.
It may have been the falcon again, but I’m not sure, but something caused the flock of ducks to split apart as they took evasive action.
And, that leads me to the last thing that I have to say in this post. Once I purchase a 7D next spring, I’ll have three camera bodies, the 7D and two 60D bodies. I could sell one of the 60D bodies, but I doubt that I will. The 7D will be my wildlife body, one 60D I’ll use for landscapes and macros so that I don’t have to change settings back and forth all the time. Also, the 60D has the vari-angle display, that I love for landscapes and macros, the 7D doesn’t have that feature.
I think that I’ll keep the second 60D body set-up for videos, to shoot more of them in the future. As you can see, I need lots of practice at shooting videos. ;) It would help if things didn’t happen to distract me from my intended subjects as in the last video. I go to shoot gulls, a flock of ducks fly past, causing me to focus on them, rather than the gulls. Then, something causes the flock of ducks to split up and change directions, as all the time, I’m fighting the wind and trying to capture the scene and keep the fast moving ducks in the frame.
That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
This post is about the trip that I made to Muskegon on November 2nd, 2014, the same weekend as my last post from Pickerel Lake. It was the last nice weekend this year as far as weather, it’s been getting progressively wetter and colder since then. There’s a snowstorm happening outside as I’m beginning this post, and this one is just a warm up for the worse one predicted to hit tomorrow. :(
I went walking today, in the snow, and did some thinking. I took my vacation this spring towards the end of May. After the long, cold, snowy winter last winter, there were still snow drifts on the ground in places up north. When I went north the first weekend in October of this year, there were snowflakes and sleet falling, although it melted as fast as it fell. However, snow has been falling steadily here for several days, and covering the ground. That means that there only five months this year when I didn’t see some snow on the ground, and only four months between snowfalls. Yuck!
However, this post is about a day when we still had nice weather. So, with good weather and a wide range of species of birds to photograph, you all know what that means, a long post with too many photos. ;)
I’m going to start the photos in this post with one that I did wrong.
What I did wrong was to go for a good shot of the heron first, then as an afterthought, shot this one that almost included the heron and a flock of northern shovelers that had been much closer to the heron.
Also in the same area, a female hooded merganser.
Next up, I spotted a pair of gadwalls swimming up one of the drainage ditches, and I was able to get ahead of them, hide in the weeds above them, and wait for them to get close.
You can tell that the male had spotted me, and the next photo was of him headed back behind the weeds. The female continue on for a few good photos of her, I’ll include one of them.
The male bolted, I got one bad photo of him in flight.
I only included that one because it does show his wing colors, even if he’s out of focus, and I haven’t posted many images of gadwalls.
Next up, a flock of northern shovelers with one female blue-winged teal for a size comparison.
It’s easy to tell the teal from the shovelers, she’s half their size, and of course she has a more petite bill. Here’s a closer shot of her.
And yes, that’s ice on the water, and that was a relatively warm day this November, as you’ll see later when I get to the shots where you can see the heat waves above the ground.
Anyway, here’s a scaup, I can’t tell if it is a lesser or greater, in front of a ring-necked duck. As you can see, they are close to the same size, and also in coloration. But, if you look closely, you’ll see that the scaup has lighter sides, and darker head than the ring-necked.
Sometimes it is easier to learn to ID birds when you see two species together like that. Here’s the ring-necked duck zoomed in and cropped more.
Bufflehead ducks are one of the smaller species of ducks, but they are chubby little things with short, wide wings, as you can see here.
By comparison, the northern shovelers look svelte in flight.
Switching over to raptors, here’s a red-tailed hawk.
I had tried to get a photo of that hawk a few minutes before, but it flew off before I could get a good image of it. So, it surprised me when it landed even closer to me than it had been before. I told it I had been hoping for an eagle.
So, it did its best eagle impersonation for me.
Switching gears again, this time to songbirds, here’s an American pipit with a blue-winged teal in the background.
But, I found the teal distracting, so the pipit hung around until the teal was gone.
Don’t you just love it when the birds cooperate? Speaking of which, I think that this is my best shot of a ruddy duck so far.
I caught her just as she surfaced with a mouthful of food.
I have a still photo of northern shovelers feeding, but, I have also shot a much better video than the one that I had in my last post from Muskegon. In that one, the sound of the IS system in the 300 mm prime lens was all that you could hear. In this one, you can hear the shovelers, since I used the 70-200 mm lens, which has no stabilization system. The shovelers are filter feeders, their bills have about 110 fine projections (called lamellae) along the edges, for straining food from water, and you can hear them this time.
I was hoping that they would get into one of their feeding frenzies, but no such luck.
Not all the birds were so cooperative, I think that this male bufflehead was doing the duck equivalent of flipping me off.
Especially by the way he smirked at me over his shoulder as he and his buddy were swimming away from me.
Here’s an American coot for the record.
The Wilson’s snipe was still hanging around, in nearly the same spot as the last time.
While I was watching the snipe, hoping it would move to a more photogenic area, I spotted a real prize, a male green-winged teal in breeding plumage.
Yes! Another species I can cross off my list of species that I need photos of.
A short while later, I saw an approaching hawk, but I could tell that it wasn’t a red-tailed.
It was a rough-legged hawk, as you can probably tell from the caption. ;)
From where I saw that hawk, to the grassy cells, is well over a mile, but when I got to the grassy cells, I found what had to be another rough-legged hawk. It would hover for a while, drop down, touch the ground, then immediately take off again.
You can see the heat waves rising from the ground in these shots, as well as this one, which I shot at the same time, but in another direction.
Three species of hawks in one day, even if the photos aren’t great, not a bad day.
So, with the atmospheric conditions getting worse, I tried to get closer to my subjects. Here’s a great blue heron modeling the latest in leggings for herons.
While I was watching that heron, another landed on the slope above the first.
I think that the second one showed up to distract me as the first one caught something to eat.
And, as the first heron finished swallowing its catch, the second one flew off, so I missed the action shots.
How many species am I up to in this post? I’ve lost count, but, time to add another, a greater yellowlegs.
In my last post from Muskegon, I jumped ahead and posted a video of Canada geese flying past me, well, here’s the first wave of the geese as they took flight.
It was as the second wave flew past me that I got the idea to shoot the video in the other post.
Time to add another species to the list for today, a horned grebe.
I spotted to adult eagles in a tree ahead of me as I was driving past the lagoons, but when I got there, some one else had exited their vehicle and was trying to sneak up on the eagles. That doesn’t work, so I knew that the eagles wouldn’t be there long. I slid my Forester around, got into position as one eagle took flight, and managed to get one shot of the eagle still perched.
I hadn’t had time to get a good focus on the eagle, and I still hadn’t as it leapt into the air.
I did finally get a good focus lock on the eagle.
One more, just because it’s an eagle.
I was lucky there, when the other person spooked the eagle, it launched almost straight at me at first. Now I know what an eagle’s prey sees!
My best photo of a juvenile bufflehead ever.
A photo of one of the rough-legged hawks perched for a change.
And, a red-tailed hawk nearby to compare to the rough-legged hawk.
I headed back to where I had seen the green-winged teal earlier, hoping that they were in a better spot for photos. I shot these mallards there, yet another species to add to the list for the day.
The teal were still there, but not for long, here’s a male on take off.
The female teal which had jumped into the air first, caught and passed the male.
But, I wasn’t able to catch their distinctive green wing patches, darn, better luck next time.
Should I include another heron? What the heck, why not.
I found the gadwalls again.
That’s it from the wastewater facility. Since I wasn’t seeing anything new, I drove the length of Muskegon Lake to visit Pere Marquette Park for the next few photos, starting with an inquisitive ring-billed gull.
I was going to walk down the breakwater, but it was a bit chilly to get splashed on.
So, I watched some kite surfers for a while instead.
Other than the gulls, there were no birds to photograph, so I looked for other things.
The flag flying over the Muskegon Coast Guard Station…
…makes a fitting prelude to my next photo. Long time readers of my blog have seen this before, but with many new readers, it’s time to post photos of the USS Silversides again. The Silversides is a World War II era submarine docked in Muskegon at the Great Lakes Naval Memorial & Museum. She sank the second highest total tonnage of any sub during WW II, and is now a floating museum, after having been used as a training ship after the war.
The old girl still looks pretty good for being almost 75 years old and having sustained heavy battle damage several times during the war!
Well, another day done, and a fine day it was. I could prattle on longer, but I won’t, this post is long enough already. So, I’ll just say that this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
Kent County’s Millennium Park is a unique, ambitious project to reclaim 1,500 acres of heavily used land for public recreation. It is the largest park close to where I live, and a good spot for birding. I’ve been there a couple of times before, so I won’t go into great detail about the park in this post.
I did check the online maps before I went though, and had decided to check out a different section of the park to start my day there. When I arrived, I couldn’t find the parking lot for that section of the park, so I parked along the road to do a quick check of that section.
I had just started down the trail, when I spotted a tiny raptor crossing the sky above me, but I was too slow to get a shot of it. As I was looking around, hoping that the unknown raptor would appear again, I saw this squirrel laying flat on the crossbar of a power pole. I thought it strange for a squirrel to be out there in the open with no food around, and when the squirrel started moving, I found out why it was acting so strangely, it was drunk.
It must have been eating fermented berries and not feeling very well. ;)
A few feet later, a cedar waxwing that posed for me, but in a shadow.
The trail I was on looped around a small pond drained by a small creek. As I was walking near the creek, I heard something crashing through the brush on the other side of the creek. I caught a glimpse of a deer, and managed to get to a relatively open spot before the deer to wait for it.
The was the second of two shots the bucks stood for before he took off back into the thick stuff. But, that was enough to convince me that I needed to spend more time in the area, and that I should find a better place to park than along the road. I paused along the way for this flower.
And, the drunken squirrel had made it to the top of the power pole.
That seemed like a poor place to sober up, for there was a red-tailed hawk perched near my Subaru when I returned to it.
And, after I found a parking lot on the other end of that part of the park, as soon as I started down the trail, I found another hawk, this one was hiding.
I know, far from my best hawk photos, but I still thought it strange for the drunken squirrel to be on top of the power pole with so many hungry predators all around it.
Next up, a species of bird that I find it very hard to get a good shot of, a brown creeper.
Not only are they always on the move…
…they stay on the shady side of trees for the most part…
…and their color blends in well with tree bark. I must have worn this one out, for it perched behind a few leaves and actually stayed there.
I watched for quite a while, waiting for it to come out into the open, but it didn’t move until I tried to get a good angle on it so there wouldn’t be the leaves in the way, then it was gone.
Next up, a monarch butterfly. I shot a few images of it with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens)…
..then, I started to walk away, since I have posted too many photos of monarchs lately. But, I made myself go back, switch to the second camera body with the Tokina macro lens on it, and shoot way too many more photos of the butterfly.
I have many more, but I won’t bore you with all of them now, I’ll dole them out over several posts.
The part of the park I was walking in was a newer addition to the park overall, and the trails didn’t go far. So, I headed over to the core of Millennium Park to check that out.
It wasn’t long before I managed a shot of a white-crowned sparrow.
I got to the narrow isthmus of land between two man-made lakes and spent some time watching the double crested cormorants that perch on the far side of one of the lakes.
Well, that one isn’t perched, but these two were squabbling over a choice perch.
There was a pair of mute swans.
Then, I spotted two small birds flying up into the trees near the cormorants, pausing for a while, then swooping down to catch something.
They were merlins, a lifer for me, or at least I suspected that they were. This image isn’t great, but it does help me nail down my identification of the pair of falcons as merlin.
The checkerboard pattern under the wings confirms my hunch, along with their small size. Another lifer on my list!
While I was shooting more photos of the merlin, a cormorant came crashing into a tree.
I am happy to report that the cormorant survived the crash, but it was touch and go there for a few seconds. ;)
Anyway, here’s a wide view of the far end of the lake.
That one, and the next few photos were all shot with my newer 10-18 mm lens, more for practice than anything else. I say practice, because I’m still not very good at being able to tell what an image shot from my two short lenses will look like when I view them full size on the computer. But, I’ll go into more detail on that in a later post. I thought that this oak tree would be a piece of cake, but other than capturing its color, it really isn’t a good photo.
In almost every review that I’ve seen of the 10-18 mm lens, they included an image shot with the lens pointed almost directly at the sun, and I’ve been amazed by the photos. I assumed that they had been doctored, now, I’m not so sure. The blown out area in the top center of this photo is from the sun, but somehow, the rest of the image came out very well as far as the exposure.
Arriving at an old railroad trestle that has been converted into a walking/cycling bridge over the Grand River, I shot this one. There’s very little barrel or other distortion that normally comes with lower cost super wide-angle lenses. I almost wish that the lens had a little distortion, so you could tell that I was using a 10 mm lens. ;)
The subject matter, the Grand River, isn’t great in these next two, but I’m happy with how they turned out, which is better than what the scene looked to the naked eye. The green leaves looked dull and washed out in real life, The lens and camera deepened the colors and added some contrast.
Just a short distance from the bridge, I hit a bird bonanza, all of these were shot as I stood in one place.
This red squirrel was on the other side of the trail and must have been there in the open the entire time I was shooting birds.
I decided to take a few steps closer and then crop this image.
As you can probably tell, it was a fantastic day, I think the red squirrel was sitting there soaking up the autumn sun. It isn’t often that one sits still for very long. Speaking of not sitting still….
…I tried for some time to get a good shot of the sapsucker, but most of them looked like this.
The sapsucker would not sit for me to get a good photo. But, a little farther down the trail, I spied a yellow-rumped warbler feeding on berries….
…the warbler spotted me…
…and struck a pose for me.
But, the wind moved something around which either change the exposure, or was between myself and the warbler, which is why the last one looks a bit odd. Things worked out okay, the warbler moved to a better spot for this one.
This next one was another short lens practice shot, but I think that it marks a change in the way that I shoot landscapes, even though it’s a ho-hum photo.
When I first got to where I shot that one, there were ripples on the water from the wind, and there were reflections of the clouds obscuring the reflections of the trees. That didn’t stop me from shooting several poor photos though. Then, I stopped to think about what I was doing, and what I wanted the scene to look like in an image. I waited for the wind to die down, and for the clouds to move so their reflections weren’t mixed with the reflections of the trees, and I’m actually happy with the way that one came out. The subject isn’t special, but that image is a huge improvement over the first few images I shot there. It could be that there is some hope for me yet. ;)
Next up, a song sparrow that paused for a photo…
…before hopping down to the ground to eat.
I got back to where the cormorants hang out, and decided to get some practice shooting flying birds.
This one was directing traffic.
There were a few turtles watching the cormorants.
Two more flight photos.
On my way back to my car, I got this juvenile pied-billed grebe.
If its head and bill look too large for its body, it’s because the grebe was already beginning to sink into the water to hide from the big bad photographer. ;) A grebe’s first choice is to dive away from danger, their second choice is to run across the surface of the water. They only fly when they are forced to because the first two options won’t do.
To wrap this one up, a shot of the other grebes close to where the one above was, but these were on the other side of the lake, frolicking in the late afternoon sun.
A great day to be outside, the merlin were a lifer for me, and a good selection of other birds to photograph, what more could I ask for?
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
This post is about the trip that I made to Muskegon on September 21st, 2014. Since I had been to Muskegon the week before, I was going to skip a week, but I’m glad that I didn’t, for I was able to get two lifers on this trip.
The reason that I decided to go again this week was the weather, the forecast called for scattered rain showers and a stiff northwest wind, and that’s what we got. I had considered going for a hike, as the weather doesn’t bother me that much, but I don’t want to take any chances with my camera gear. The good thing about the Muskegon County wastewater treatment facility is that you can do your birding by vehicle if you want.
In fact, the first few times that I went there, I thought that drive-by birding was the only way to get close to birds there. The birds are used to vehicles moving slowly along the roads and two-tracks, but they would instantly flush if I stepped out of my car. I have since learned how to stalk the birds using the bits of vegetation, rocks, and other obstructions as cover.
The weather meant that most of my early photos aren’t very good, but bad weather often means good birding, especially early in the morning. I arrived just after dawn, and it was raining as I drove to the area known as the grassy cells. On my way, a small falcon flew past me, I was hoping that it was a merlin, but it turned out to be a kestrel.
I never noticed this before, but their markings make it look as if they have eyes in the back of their heads.
Kestrels are about the same size as a dove, so you’ll have to excuse the poor quality of those photos, taken in low light while it was raining.
Just as I arrived at the grassy cell that I had planned at starting at, the rain let up, although the wind was still quite fierce. Just as I had hoped, that cell was full of shorebirds of many species. I’ll start with a juvenile black-bellied plover.
I may have identified them as juvenile golden plovers in my last post, I’ll have to go back and check. The differences between the species are slight, as with many shorebirds. But, speaking of golden plovers, one of the adults came running towards me and got so close to me that these images were only cropped for composition.
As I was shooting those, I noticed a pair of Wilson’s snipe coming out of a clump of reeds where they had been taking cover from the weather.
There’s quite a bit of difference in the coloration of the two snipe, I wasn’t sure if they were the same species or not, so I shot many photos of each of them just in case. ;)
I had been looking for them all summer long, but it turns out that I was arriving far too late to catch them out in the open. Snipe feed at dawn and dusk, and sleep most of the day. They were lifer number one.
Since I was there, and this greater yellowlegs was there, I shot a few photos of it.
It soon began to rain again, so I drove around, checking on what species of birds were where, so that I could come back later for photos. It was while I was driving that I spotted the second lifer for the day, a green-winged teal in with a small flock of blue-winged teal.
I have to ask you to excuse the quality of these photos again. There are a number of reasons for the poor quality of these. I spotted the teal while I was driving, but knew that they would likely flush as soon as my vehicle stopped moving. My Subaru has power windows, so I hit the down button with my left hand as I was grabbing my camera with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) on it with my right hand. Trying to manuever a lens that long inside of a car is not easy! But, I got it shifted to my left hand as the window was coming down, and shut the ignition of my Subaru off with my right hand. As I expected, the teal flushed, meaning that I had to shoot them in flight from within my vehicle. It was still raining also.
Blue-winged teal sometimes show patches of green on their wings, so I wasn’t 100% sure that the second teal was a green-winged, but the smaller size and lighter belly, tell me that it was.
That’s barely good enough for me to use in the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on, but I hope that the photos I got break the ice so to speak. I’ll save the photos of the teal for now, and hope to replace them with better ones, like males of the species in their full breeding plumage.
Next up, another terrible photo.
I didn’t expect the eagle to be there, it was busy choosing from the brunch menu as I shot that photo through the windshield of my car. As soon as I opened the door to step out for a better photo, the eagle took flight, as did most of the waterfowl and gulls that the eagle had been watching.
By the way, the eagle chose ring-billed gull for brunch, but I missed that photo, and one of the eagle carry the gull off to a place where it wouldn’t be bothered by photographers.
I drove back to the grassy cells during a break in the rain and the sky lightened up a little. On my way, I shot a few herons.
Earlier this year, it was rare for me to see a great blue heron, even in the Muskegon area, there’s no lack of them now.
You would think that when I saw this….
…that I’d be ready for this…
…and possibly, even this.
I don’t know if the heron didn’t see me or what, but it was angling towards me at first, then made that sudden turn away from me for the typical butt shot.
This other heron was watching all that unfold.
You can tell that this is a different heron by the markings on their faces.
I spotted a pair of sandhill cranes, but one of the many mallards that were near the cranes spooked before I could get a good shot of the cranes. They tried their best to blend in with the flock of mallards…
…but that didn’t work out very well.
I found the named bald eagle whose name I can’t remember perched in his favorite tree.
As I drove around, I spent more time checking the ducks, hoping to find more green-winged teal, but I had no luck with that. I did get a fair shot of a female blue-winged teal by herself….
…and another hiding out in a flock of mallards.
I know that I post too many of this type of photo…
…but the number of birds there is something that I find very impressive. That was less than 1/4 of the geese in that one field, and there were several fields with just as many or more geese.
That was on my way to the area known as the Swanson/Laketon fields. While driving down a two-track between cornfields, I found this heron blocking my way, but it took flight as soon as I opened my window.
And I spotted this northern harrier nearby.
Other than a few dozen turkey vultures, and a few thousand more geese, I wasn’t ale to find many other birds, so I returned to the main portion of the wastewater facility where I found a female wood duck.
And, yet another heron did a fly by.
I have to apologize again for the poor quality of the next three images. One of the kestrels was hunting over one of the grassy cells, and fairly close to me. I shot dozens of photos trying to get good ones, but the weather was just too bad. The photos may not be good, but I really enjoyed watching the kestrel in action. They will hover for a while, then dip, dive, and put on a great display of flying ability as they hunt.
I did better with this pair of sandhill cranes.
Of course, standing birds are much easier to photograph than flying ones, like this bird, another northern harrier.
So, that wraps up another trip to Muskegon. I’m not sure yet what I’ll be doing this weekend, I should go on a warbler hunt, but yet another trip to the Muskegon area is very tempting because of the variety of species there. With the good weather forecast for this weekend, I may be able to get better photos than the ones in this post. The hawk migration is on, with many broadwing and other hawks being reported from the dunes in Muskegon State Park. I could also hunt warblers at Lane’s Landing and other places within the Muskegon State Game Area.
I know that the first weekend in October, if the weather forecast is suitable, I’ll be heading up north for fall foliage photos.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
This post is about the trip that I made to Muskegon on September 14th, 2014. I hit the Muskegon County wastewater treatment facility, Lane’s Landing in the Muskegon State Game Area, and the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. In other words, one of my typical Muskegon area trips.
The weather forecast was a cool, sunny day, and I was up early and on my way before the sun had come up. Pre-dawn light may be good for landscapes and some other subjects, but not so good for birds when using the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens). I somehow spotted this red-shouldered hawk looking for breakfast as I was driving to wastewater facility.
Low light is even worse when trying to shoot flying birds.
So, I arrived at the wastewater facility just as the sun was coming up, but the waterfowl had beaten me there.
Most of the ducks were northern shovelers, blue-winged teal, and mallards, but there were a few others that I’ll get to later.
That reminds me, this post is going to be even heavier on photos than is usual for me, which means way too many, sorry. I shot some of my worst recent photos, and some of my best, the worst were of interesting things, of course. The best were of some more common species, but they’re too good to delete.
Anyway, I drove to what are known as the grassy cells while trying to see any birds in the low light. I found this song sparrow, and hopped out of my Forester for this shot….
…while looking for other birds as I stood by my vehicle, I saw this pair of sandhill cranes…
…I couldn’t believe that I had seen the sparrow before I saw the cranes, the light was that low. So, I stood there a little longer, and noticed birds much smaller than the cranes out feeding on the mudflats, a flock of American golden plovers. Here’s my best shot of an adult.
I was able to get photos of a juvenile last year, and there will be a few more of them later, from when the light improved slightly. But, when I returned for the better photos of the juveniles, the adults stayed out of camera range, darn. Maybe next spring I’ll catch adults in their breeding plumage, which is very colorful for a shorebird.
I watched the mudflats for any movement, and noticed that there were also many killdeer running across the mud.
And, a great blue heron flew almost directly overhead…
…as what I think was an adult male looked on from the next cell…
…and a third heron rose up out of another cell.
I think that so many large birds flying over it made this horned lark nervous.
If you remember, I said that the forecast was for sunny skies, but, it had cooled off so much overnight that a thick layer of lake effect clouds had formed which hung around until after noon. I shot this shot just to see if I could pull it off in the very low light.
It turned out better than I had hoped. I went back to the large lagoon where I started, and shot a few of the newly arrived waterfowl.
What could be cuter than a ruddy duck with its tail up?
A pair of them.
There was almost a break in the clouds, and I shot these Savannah sparrows then.
I caught a least sandpiper taking a bath….
…to dry off, it jumped straight up out of the water and flapped its wings, hovering in place.
A short time later, another was bathing….
…and the other two you see came running to see if the one taking a bath was stirring up any goodies to eat…
…but the one taking a bath was splashing so much that the other two decided not to get too close.
I didn’t see as many red-tailed hawks as on my last trip, but there were still a few around.
There were also a few of the semipalmated plovers around yet, also.
It started getting a little brighter, finally, so I went back to the grassy cells looking for the golden plovers. The juveniles were there close to me.
Talk about tough lighting, as you can see, the sun had come out a little, and blue sky was reflecting off from the water. A few seconds later, the clouds blocked out the sun, and the water reflected black clouds.
A heron, maybe one of the ones from earlier came swooping in.
As much as I wanted to hang around waiting for better light, I headed up to the Lane’s Landing area in the Muskegon State Game Area. That could be considered a mistake, for I saw fewer birds there than any other time that I’ve been there. But, there were other things to shoot.
I did see a few cedar waxwings, so I shot one just to say that I was able to get a bird at Lane’s Landing.
Then, it was on to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. The birding started out slow there too, so I shot a few other subjects.
Even though I have a hard time getting a good shot of a monarch butterfly, I thought that I’d try for a double.
But the way the wind was blowing, I gave up and went for a single.
I started seeing birds.
And, I got what I thought was a relatively good image of a flicker.
They are wary birds, I seldom get close to them. So, I was shocked when one perched right in front of me, in the open, in good light, and started posing like a model!
On the other hand, a juvenile catbird saw that I was about to shoot its picture, and took off running through the foliage…
…and thought that it had found a place to hide. But, I had the Beast, and there’s no hiding from it!
I wonder if this counts as a new species, a banded chickadee?
I was shocked when the first flicker posed for me, I nearly had a hear attack when a second one did the same!
It looked me over, decided that I wasn’t a threat, and then went looking for ants.
I’m including this next one to show you how well they blend into the grass as they feed on ants, their favorite food.
This is how close it got to me.
Next up, three images of a viceroy butterfly, because I can’t choose the best of the three.
By then, it was late afternoon, and I was tired. But, there were these tiny white flowers growing on bushes near the parking lot. I tried to get a good photo of one using the Tokina macro lens.
But, I was too tired to fight the wind, so I switched to the 10-18 mm lens to get a “flock shot” and about that time, a monarch butterfly landed in front of me.
I was going to switch back to the macro lens, but the monarch flew off, so here’s the flowers.
There were plenty of bees on the flowers, so I decided to see how close I could get with the 10-18 mm lens.
Again, I’m sorry for including too many photos, but I didn’t feel like breaking them up into two posts. I won’t bore you any longer, so this is the end.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
This post is about the trip that I made to Muskegon on August 31st, 2014.
It was another hot, humid, hazy day, with variable cloud cover. The day started quite cloudy, but by mid-afternoon, there was hardly a cloud in the sky.
I started at the wastewater treatment facility, hoping for a lifer or two as far as shorebirds, but while there were many shorebirds to be found, no lifers on this day. I did start the day on a fair note, a northern harrier (hen harrier or marsh hawk) perched on a clump of grass.
That’s one of the few times that I’ve seen a harrier perched, they spend most of their time gliding just off the ground looking for prey.
They had just mowed the grass in what are known as the grassy cells at the wastewater facility, which is probably why this red-tailed hawk was perched so low as well.
I could have spent the majority of the day shooting red-tailed hawks, I saw at least a dozen of them, and I did manage better photos of some of them than the one above. But, the one above was perched within sight of the harrier, which I thought was rather odd.
It also reminds me to say something about the way that birds have learned to make use of human activity, particularly agricultural activity. Like I said, they had just cut the grass in the grassy cells, that brings in the raptors that find it easier to spot the small mammals that they prey on. If there are gulls, crows, or other birds in an area, they will follow a farmer as he plows the fields, the birds know that they will find easy pickings of earthworms and grubs in the overturned soil as the farmer plows. When a hay-field is cut, crows, cranes, and other birds will flock to that field as it is easier for the birds to feed on grasshoppers in the stubble left when the hay is cut.
The “fashion”these days is to bash agricultural activities as being harmful to wildlife, particularly birds. In the “old” days, it was that birds ate a great deal of a farmer’s crop, therefore the birds needed to kept away from farms one way or another, and that often meant killing the birds.
As in most things, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Yes, birds will make an easy meal of a crop when they can, but they also are a benefit to farmers by eating insect pests that would do far more damage to a crop than the birds do. There are some farm practices that are harmful to birds, but overall, birds benefit from agricultural practices though out the year. So, maybe it’s time that we call it a wash, and call a truce on both sides of the issue.
Anyway, I made my way to one of the aeration cells where Hudsoinian godwits had been seen a few days before. Unfortunately, they had left, but a small flock of other assorted shorebirds were there to be seen.
Seeing the flock come flying in, I hopped out of my Subaru and began shooting.
There were Baird’s, Least, and semipalmated sandpipers in the flock, but no godwits, darn!
A little later, I spotted one of what I think is the cutest shorebirds, a semipalmated plover.
They seem to know how cute they are, and most of the time, they will even pose for me, as this one did, turning so that the light was as close to perfect as I could get.
The plovers also seem to be helpful little birds when they can be, one of them chased a Baird’s sandpiper closer to me…
…so that I could get a few close-ups….
…but the sandpiper was too busy feeding, and wouldn’t turn just right for the lighting, and like the dummy I am, I had left my new flash unit in my Forester.
Some of the members of the Muskegon County Nature Club have named this eagle, but I can’t remember what they named it. However, it has a favorite perch on the west side of the west lagoon, and spends a great deal of time there. In fact, this is the same eagle in the same tree as I shot on my last trip there.
Along with the shorebirds, migrating ducks are showing up at the wastewater lagoons in greater numbers all the time. Here’s a few of the hundreds of northern shovelers that I saw.
Since it’s closing in on autumn, and the ducks are all in their non-breeding plumage, I didn’t bother to shoot many photos of them. But, when a shoveler close to shore started bathing, I did shoot a few of that.
Along with the shovelers and mallards were large numbers of blue winged teal, no photos, you’ll have to take my word for it.
I have some good close-ups of Bonaparte’s gulls, so I shot this one and didn’t crop it because I like it the way that it is.
I was surprised that I saw only a few swallows, they flock up at the wastewater facility in the fall to feed on the crane flies that hatch there. I could have used a few swallows to reduce the number of crane flies, seen here on the window of my Forester.
They were so bad along the north edge of one of the lagoons that I didn’t roll the window down to shoot this hawk.
Shooting through the window was not a wise idea, as you can see, so I deleted the other four of five hawks that I shot along the powerline there. There was a hawk on just about ever other pole, and I could see others in the distance, but you’ll have to take my word for that. I wasn’t about to open the window to let the crane flies in. ;)
I stopped at one of the other small ponds there, as there were fewer crane flies there, and shot this yellowlegs.
I shot that one as a test shot before going after a pair of dowitchers that I had spotted, but the darned yellowlegs spooked shortly after that photo, and spooked the dowitchers too. They landed on the far side of the pond and tried to pretend that they were mallards.
I took a break while chatting with some other birders, then went back to the pond, hoping that the dowitchers had returned to the close side of the pond. My plan worked.
I tried to get a shot of both birds with their heads up, it didn’t happen.
Most of the photos I shot were like this.
A sunny day, with interesting cloud formations, no wind, and a large body of water reflecting the cloud formations, I had to shoot the scene.
But wait! It was a sunny day and the rocks in the foreground were nearly white, why does the foreground look so dark? It’s because the sensor in my camera can not record the dynamic range from light to dark present in this scene.
When I exposed for the clouds, the foreground was too dark, when I exposed for the foreground, the clouds were blown out. That’s the reason that I’ve been playing with Photomatix HDR software, to get this image, the way that I saw the scene.
If I had needed any more convincing about the limitations of a digital camera’s sensor, that scene was enough. I will be going over to the dark side and post-processing some of my photos from now on. There’s no other way to capture what I see realistically when it comes to landscapes.
It dawned on me that I hadn’t been doing any close-up portraits of gulls lately, not that I need any more photos like this one…
…but, they make good practice shots.
I moved back to the grassy cells, and instead of crane flies, I had grasshoppers on my windows, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to shoot a few with the Tokina macro lens.
I also found a great egret, but not on my windshield. ;)
I was about to switch over to the 300 mm prime lens, since the egret was within range of it, but the egret flew off before I could make the switch.
It was hot out in the open, so I headed over to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve where I could stay in the shade at least some of the time, and hopefully catch a few migrating warblers. No luck on the warblers, but I did shoot these there.
All those, and all of the other photos so far except for the grasshoppers, were shot with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens), and the flowers are a bit fuzzy due to their movement in the wind. I had a hard time keeping the flowers in the frame because the wind had come up so strong. I couldn’t get close enough to the flowers to hold them from moving, as I was on a fenced boardwalk and the flowers were too far away from me.
The next few photos aren’t great, but they are perfect examples of why the Beast is still my go to lens for birding, even though the 300 mm prime may be capable of better image quality. I was on a boardwalk over a marsh, as you can see in the last photo, the vegetation was extremely thick. I saw a small area of open water, about 6 feet long and 3 feet wide (2 meters by 1 meter). I saw one small brown something cross the open water, followed by another small brown thing that I thought may have been a sora. I was looking in the direction of the sun, so it was hard for me to see anything in the vegetation, but I was able to make out that the second bird was indeed a sora.
The Beast’s ability to lock in on a bird in vegetation that thick under extremely poor lighting is incredible! It’s like a hunting dog that sniffs out the birds, as I could barely see the sora with the naked eye. But, it soon got better, the first brown thing I had seen go across the opening was a marsh wren, I heard it first, then spotted it looking at me.
That image was cropped a lot, if you saw the full size version, the Beast’s ability to pick the bird out of the vegetation would be even more amazing! The wren, knowing that I was getting photos of it even through the weeds, came out into a relatively open spot for a few better photos.
And you can see, open is a relative term, for it was still hard to see the wren through the weeds. I do love the Beast!
The wren went back into the weeds, I hung around for a while hoping that either of the birds would come out into the open, but I had no luck there. To amuse myself while waiting, I shot a few dragonflies.
I did have to focus manually for those, but then one landed for a better shot.
A while later, I got this one with the Tokina macro lens.
And, my last two photos from the day, a mourning dove….
…and a mute swan family.
It turned out to be another great day, even if I didn’t get another lifer, but they will come. Maybe this weekend, for it’s forecast to turn quite cool for this time of year, and I’ll be going back again.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
This post is about the trip that I made to Muskegon on August 16th, 2014, not one of my better days. I think that some of the first waves of shorebirds had already departed, as I didn’t see more than a handful of species of them. I am positive that this will be the shortest post that I’ve ever done on a trip to anywhere in the Muskegon area, and I shot less than 200 photos for the day as proof of how little I saw.
I went to the wastewater facility again, and warmed up taking a few photos of a horned lark.
I posted quite a few images of red-tailed hawks in the last two posts I did from Muskegon, but when one poses for me, I just have to shoot it. ;)
One of these days I’m going to have to buy a good lens other than that junk Sigma 150-500 mm, otherwise known as the Beast. ;)
When I got to the first of the man-made lakes, there was a mixed bag of birds to be seen.
I shot a few more of the greater yellowlegs, since I posted just lesser yellowlegs last week.
While I was shooting those, another birder/photographer showed up, and I showed him my trick of hiding in the weeds to get better photos than from his vehicle. Too bad that somewhere in there I managed to switch the mode of my camera from aperture to manual without knowing it, and I fought that for most of the day. I checked everything else out when I started having trouble, but never thought to check the shooting mode, as I seldom change it.
Anyway, we were kneeling in the weeds, and the Wilson’s phalarope swam right over to us.
As you can see, I over-exposed the last two images quite a bit, darn!
I did manage a few halfway good shots of the semipalmated sandpipers.
Later in the day I was able to get even more, but I won’t bore you with them now.
Instead, I’ll bore you with a few eagle images. The first one was shot from inside of my Forester.
I eased outside for this one.
Since the eagle seemed in no hurry to leave, I put the Tamron 1.4 X tele-converter behind the Beast for these next to, giving me a focal length of 700 mm.
Fair, since I have to manually focus, I never know if I missed the focus or it that combination of the Beast and extender is just soft past about 75 feet.
Another very poor shot, four sandhill cranes and a murder of crows out in the middle of one of the fields eating grasshoppers I assume.
That’s one of those “for the record photos” that I don’t post many of any longer. There were between 30 and 50 crows out in the field along with the cranes.
Next up is the most interesting sequence of photos from the day, a pair of American kestrels engaged in what I assume was pair bonding.
I had watched one of the kestrels chase a hawk out of the area, then it was joined by the second kestrel. They were fooling around in the tree at first, then one took to the air to make passes at the other.
Then, the second one took wing, and the two of them flew in formation together for quite a while as I watched.
I shot plenty of photos, too bad the kestrels had moved to where I couldn’t get a good image of them.
After that, I went back and got a few more shorebirds.
The rest of the images of the Baird’s sandpiper I used to correct one of the mistakes that I made in the My Photo Life List project. One down, one to fix yet, but I didn’t get any shots of a stilt sandpiper, maybe next time.
I’m not sure when that will be. I’m a bit burned out on shorebirds right now, so I think that I’ll skip a week at least before returning to the wastewater facility unless the birding reports tell me that I’d better not. But, I have a week to figure out where to go next weekend. It will depend on the weather, also. It’s hot out there in the mid-day sun, I could use a break from that as well.
Other than that, I don’t have much to say, it was a long day, and not a very productive one at that.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!