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!
This post is the second from the trip that I made to Muskegon on August 10th, 2014, you can see the first one here.
I may as well start with a few photos of a pectoral sandpiper which I have also used to update the post on them that I had done earlier in the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on, since some of my earlier photos weren’t as good as these.
Not only weren’t some of the photos very good, I had incorrectly put a few photos of an upland sandpiper in that post.
Identifying shorebirds is still difficult for me, but the more of them I see frequently, the easier it is becoming. The first time that I went to the Muskegon County wastewater facility to photograph shorebirds, they all looked alike to me. I’m getting better, I could tell that the pectoral sandpiper wasn’t a yellowlegs…
…nor was it a solitary sandpiper, as this is.
I’m learning to spot the slight differences in the color patterns on their backs, in their bills, and leg color, all of which are clues to their ID.
Another thing that I’m learning is how to get good photos of them. The first few times that I tried I had a very hard time getting the exposure correct. With the sunlight reflecting off from the water and rocks, it results in “confused” light entering the camera. Confused lighting isn’t easy to work with, but getting closer helps a lot, along with checking the images and adjusting the exposure for each and every situation. You can see some of the reflections from the water in the first photo of the pectoral sandpiper. However, those aren’t the worst offenders as far as reflections, it’s the ones that you can’t see which make photography difficult.
One thing that I meant to try was to use a polarizing filter to cut down on the reflected light coming from the water and rocks, but I haven’t shelled out the big bucks for one of those filters to fit the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) yet. It takes an 86 mm filter, and they don’t come cheap for a good one of that size. I do have a polarizing filter for the 300 mm prime, but I didn’t want to do any testing and risk missing a photo of something special. It turns out that I didn’t see any birds that fit that category, but you never know around Muskegon.
Another thing that I want to try is using fill in flash to help when the lighting is less than ideal. I’m jumping way ahead, but just before I packed it in for the day, I found a treasure trove of birds to photograph, but on the north shore of the lagoon. That meant that I was shooting towards the sun, and my photos from that spot are not what I wanted, but they’ll have to do.
The only photos that I had up until them of the Bonaparte’s gull were of juveniles, or adults after they had molted. I didn’t know it when I shot that photo that just a bit later I would get a chance to photograph another of the gulls while perched on shore.
Still, the light was wrong for that shot, but it was the best that I could do, birds don’t always perch where I would like them to for the best images. ;)
I used to use the flash on my Canon Powershot camera for fill-in flash quite often, but that camera seemed to be programmed to get good results that way. My old Nikon was junk, but I learned some bad habits from it, like not using fill-in flash. I also made a poor decision in purchasing an off brand flash unit that had little control over the unit’s output for the Nikon.
I thought about trying the flash on my Canon to improve the gull photos, but as large and long as the Beast is, I didn’t think that the built-in flash would work well. I could have been wrong. It’s been rainy the past two days, so I’ve been playing, but not with the Beast on the camera. However, the results when using the flash and the 300 mm prime lens have been encouraging so far.
Still, if I’m going to get serious about using a flash more often, as my brother keeps telling me I need to do, I need a better, more controllable flash than the one built-in on my camera.
I’ve been researching Canon’s speedlites, and I’ve settled on the 320 EX. It can be used as a wireless slave in addition to or instead of the camera’s flash. That means that I don’t have to have the flash mounted on the camera in order to fire it. The camera will do that wirelessly, meaning I can hand hold the flash off to one side for macro photography. In addition, I can have the camera on a tripod, point the flash at the camera and press a button on the flash to trigger the camera’s two second shutter delay, and it’s the same as pressing the shutter release on the camera using a two second delay. The two seconds will allow me to position the flash before the shutter fires. I can even trigger the camera remotely with the flash, and have the flash not fire, just like the remote control that I was going to purchase.
So, that flash will kill two birds with one stone, not only will it work as a flash, but it will also work as the remote control that I needed. Speaking of birds, it’s time for a few more.
I included the killdeer because I saw so many of them, dozens at least.
This spotted sandpiper was jumping from rock to rock in search of food…
…and seemed quite proud of itself after making the leap without getting wet.
I tried to catch a jump, but I missed, a little early on the shutter.
By using the sparse brush along the dike that created the lagoon, I was able to sneak up on the short-billed dowitcher from the last post.
A little closer.
I almost got even closer to the dowitcher, but a bird that I hadn’t seen as it hid in the rocks took off when I spooked it, and spooked the dowitcher as well. Birds weren’t the only critters hiding between the rocks.
I did get two poor shots of the dowitcher in flight.
I also saw a small flock of semipalmated plovers, they’re such cute little birds!
The look like killdeer, but they’re less than half the size, only have one black band at the neck, and have slightly webbed feet, which if you look closely at the last photo, you can see.
For the other birds that I saw, there were quite a few hawks….
….another juvenile bald eagle…
…a great blue heron…
…a common raven…
…and last, but certainly not least, a sandhill crane.
I had mentioned earlier in this post that I had found a treasure trove of birds along the north shore of one of the lagoons. That’s where I shot the gulls and plovers. But, by that time I had nearly baked my brain again in the hot sun as I stalked the shorebirds from this post and the last. Since I had been sick that morning from too much sun the day before, and since the light was so poor on the north shore of the lagoon, I decided to call it quits for the day. The rest of the photos were shot as I drove slowly towards the exit of the wastewater facility.
I’ll probably be going back this next weekend, I know of no other place where I can see and photograph the variety of birds that I do there.
I think that I’ll pick-up the flash unit tomorrow if it is in stock locally, that will give me time to read the manuals for it and my camera, and test it out around home here before I try it on some rare bird that I may spot.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
I had great plans for the day, starting with getting up early so I’d beat the heat of the day. I was up early, but I was also sicker than a dog, so I piddled around home for a while until I felt well enough to go. That meant that I had to change my plans a bit. I was going to start at Lane’s Landing again, but instead, I started and finished at the Muskegon County wastewater treatment facility.
I shot 600 photos, and no, I’m not going to post them all, not even close. The “curse” of the wastewater facility struck again, I have to be very close to a subject to get a sharp photo of anything there. I’ve discussed possible reasons for that in the past, no need for me to rehash them again. It is a shame though, there are more birds to be seen there than anywhere else I’ve ever been. The area is mostly open as well, making it hard to sneak up on the birds. The first few times I went, I shot most of my photos from my vehicle, but I am learning a few tricks that let me get closer to the birds on foot, so that my photos are a bit better at least some of the time.
As soon as I turned off from the main road to enter the facility, I began shooting photos, starting with a red-tailed hawk and a great blue heron, but those images have been deleted, since both species made frequent appearances during the day. On the other side of the road I spotted some spotted bee balm, and so I decided to look them over and if they looked good, I’d set up my tripod and get some good macro photos of them. Silly me, since the flowers were within a few feet of the road, I didn’t grab a camera, and several species of waterfowl went winging past me as I inspected the bee balm. I quickly returned to my Forester and grabbed the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) but the waterfowl seemed to know that I had a camera then, and stopped flying past me. The spotted bee balm was well past its prime, but I did find this insect feeding on the few remaining flowers.
Not bad for a “junk” lens not worth buying. ;) But, I’ve hammered that review of the Sigma lens enough, time to move on.
And move on I did, checking what are called the grassy cells for any birds that were worth exiting my vehicle and attempting to stalk on foot. I did spy a red-tailed hawk recharging after a rough morning.
A little farther on, this great blue heron.
As good as the Beast is, the 300 mm prime is better under the right circumstances, and I’d love to see what the prime lens can do on a heron. So, I drove down the road a short way until I could find a place to park in the shade, swapped lenses, and started back on foot, hoping to sneak up on the heron. It didn’t work.
I don’t know if the heron heard me, or if it just decided to try other hunting grounds, but you can see that it left well before I got close to it.
However, what happened next was one of those magical moments in nature that I’ll never forget, although it began on the bland side. I was walking back to my Subaru when a small flock of vultures came from over the woods out in the open very close to me.
As I was standing outside of the car, changing back to the Beast, the vultures continued to circle above me, catching a thermal updraft to help them gain altitude without expending much energy. The vultures were still over me as a pair of sandhill cranes came from across the grassy cells, headed straight at me, giving me plenty of time to get ready for them.
The cranes joined the vultures circling over me as they gained altitude also. Next, a red-tailed hawk came along to do the same.
By then, I had a flock of vultures, the cranes, and a hawk all riding the thermal upwards, which begs the question, how do the birds know where to find updrafts? Because the vultures and the hawk as well as more birds I haven’t mentioned yet came from over the woods, I don’t know how far away from the updraft that they were to start. But, I know the cranes flew a quarter of a mile directly towards the updraft to get to it.
Can the birds tell by the lay of the land, experience, weather conditions, or a combination of various factors to find an updraft?
Anyway, the first hawk had hardly gotten out of photo range when the young eagle joined the parade.
I was getting arm weary keeping the beast pointed almost straight up, but the birds kept coming.
I thought about zooming out and trying to get several of the birds in one photo, but the vultures were mere specks in the sky by then, the cranes were slightly closer, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell what they were, and besides, more hawks joined the upward spiral.
You may think that I’m cheating and using many photos of the same hawk, but I’m not. Look closely at the markings of the hawks and you can see that there were five individual hawks circling over me, along with the eagle, cranes, and vultures.
It was truly an awesome display, seeing all those birds circling over me, I forgot how sick I had been earlier. ;) I neglected to say that I think that I felt as poorly as I had because of my allergies kicking in combined with too much sun the day before. I had gotten the top of my head sunburned even though I wore the same hat that I always do.
I may not have gotten a great photo of the heron which I had set out for, but I have to thank the heron anyway, for if I hadn’t parked there to try, I would have never seen all those graceful birds flying over me to begin circling above me.
For most of the rest of the day, I spent my time chasing shorebirds, of which there were many. The fall migration has begun in earnest, believe me! Two years ago I had never heard of most of the species of shorebirds that I saw this day, and it was just a year ago that I wondered if I would ever get a good photo of a species like the lesser yellowlegs. Little did I know.
There were so may yellowlegs everywhere that there was no way I could keep count of them all.
I’m sorry for so many photos of them, but they were everywhere! And as many of them as there were, there were even more least sandpipers! (I won’t bore you with as many photos though)
When I did see a species of shorebird other than those two, my biggest problem as far as photography was getting the other species alone. Most of the time, there were either least sandpipers or yellowlegs in the frame at the same time. Here’s a wider shot showing a Short-billed Dowitcher in a mixed flock of shorebirds.
Luck was on my side, later I caught the dowitcher even closer, with just one least sandpiper in the frame. However, those photos and the rest that I saved from this trip will be in the next post. ;) And I promise, no more yellowlegs or least sandpipers unless they just happened to be in the frame as I shot another species of bird. ;) But, I know of no other way to convey the shear numbers of those two species that I saw on this trip.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
Having received a rare bird email alert from eBird that told me that trumpeter swans and American bittern had been seen at a small wetland not too far from where I live, I decided to check that place out.
First, I “scouted” the area on Google Earth so that I would have some idea of what the area was like, that helped a lot. It also helped that I just happened to bump into the person who verifies the rare bird reports for eBird here in Kent County, Michigan this morning, and he gave me more info about the place.
After doing my daily walk around home, I ate lunch, then set out for the wetland. When I arrived, it was rather cloudy with a pretty stiff wind out of the northwest. I had barely gotten started down the path when I began spooking birds that I should have gotten photos of. But, since this was my first time at this spot, I wasn’t sure what I would find or where. I tried to go slow and cautiously, but I wasn’t able to sneak up on anything, the birds were spotting me and either running…
…or flying away from me long before I could get a good shot.
I was a bit disappointed, as I could tell that the trumpeter swans had left the pond, I didn’t think that I would ever be able to spot the bittern in the marsh, and overall, things were not going well.
As I approached the far end of the pond, there was a stand of willows and alders there, along what turned out to be a small creek that drains the pond. I could see small songbirds flitting about in the brush, so I put the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) to work at what it does an excellent job of, catching small birds trying to hide from me.
I was in my element, surrounded by plentiful birds in thick brush, spotting the birds and shooting quickly before they could escape the Beast. To make things better, the sun came out, and eventually, I grew arm weary chasing the small birds with the Beast.
I spotted a very large bird of prey across the pond, and got this one bad photo of it.
I watched it land, and from the way that it worked its way back into the thickest brush as red-winged blackbirds swarmed it, I think that it was probably an owl of some type, but I could be wrong. Hawks don’t usually hide, that’s something that owls do. I kept an eye out for whatever it was, but never saw it again.
My arms needed a break, so I sat down on the rocks that had been placed along the creek to keep the creek flowing where it is supposed to flow, but my break didn’t last long. The birds just wouldn’t leave me alone.
It turned out to be a great day, well, except for the wind. But, the sun was out, I was surrounded by birds carrying on, some singing, some just calling, and the Beast was performing well. I spotted a bird that I didn’t think that I had ever gotten photos, sure enough, it was a northern waterthrush! My first lifer of the day.
So, how good is the Beast as a birding lens? This good!
The Sigma lens may not be as sharp as my new 300 mm prime lens, but the auto-focus of the Sigma is much quicker, and it seems to hone in on birds even when they are partially hidden, whereas the new lens will focus on the brush rather than the birds.
I have no idea how long I played around in that small area of brush, but I shot many more photos than what you are seeing here, and I decided that it was getting late, and I should start back.
As I had been photographing the small birds, I saw a sandhill crane spiral in and land in the marsh across the pond from me. I looked for the crane, but was having no luck spotting it in the reeds. A red-winged blackbird came to my rescue, and began to attack the crane, which is how I spotted it.
I am happy to report that both birds survived, I felt sorry for the crane, it was just looking for food, but in the blackbird’s territory.
Anyway, I continued on my way, watching to blackbirds to see if they would alert me to any other birds, but it was a muskrat that drew my attention to my second lifer of the day, a sora.
I got a few so-so shots of flying birds.
I had about given up on seeing the bittern, I was trying to use my camera as a spotting scope from time to time, but that doesn’t work very well. I rounded a curve in the path, and came eye to eye with one of the bitterns perched in one of the willow bushes on the edge of the marsh. I froze, it took flight.
It flew across the pond, to where I had been before. I took a step or two in that direction, then decided that I wouldn’t go after the bittern, even though I wasn’t sure how good the photos that I shot were. If I pressed the bittern, it may have left the area for good, and I didn’t want that. So, I turned back around, and just then, a second bittern let out a croak, and took off from very near where the first had been.
So, after a lackluster start, the day turned out to be a very good one! Three lifers in a wetland that was less than 80 acres in size makes for an excellent day in my book.
I have one more photo, of the field next to the wetland area.
All in all, a very good day after a slow start.
An update, I went back again today, and got yet another lifer, so that makes four from that small wetlands in just two days. But, you’ll have to wait for the next post to find out what it was. ;)
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!