My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

The snowy owl trip, with bald eagles as a bonus

Well, I did it. I went to Muskegon today to visit the wastewater treatment facility to look for snowy owls, and I found one, and a whole lot more to boot! I’m not exactly sure where to start, so I guess I’ll start with a blurb from the Michigan Audubon’s website about the facility.

“Muskegon County operates a huge, 11,000 acre, Wastewater Management System that is one of the best birding sites in the state. If the name didn’t alert you, be prepared for a fragrant visit. This site is home to huge numbers of waterfowl and gulls during migration and also attracts large numbers of shorebirds. In the fields used as spraying areas you can find raptors and open-country birds. Many rarities are often found here. While you’re in the area, check out the nearby Muskegon State Game Area.”

And, here’s a map of the area, courtesy of the Michigan DNR. The place is huge, and only a small area is used for treating sewage, the rest is mostly farm land with a few woodlots here and there.

There are two other things I have to say before I get to the photos, one is that the place is a birder’s heaven, and I don’t know why, but none of the pictures I took with either of my cameras came out as well as they should have, luckily, the snowy owl photos are the best of them!

Oh! One other thing, you’re supposed to have a pass to be on the facility, but they are only available during the week. If you want to go there on a weekend, you have to arrange for a pass in advance. You must obtain a permit from the Administration Office as you drive into the facility. The office is closed on weekends so a permit must be obtained in advance. Contact: 231-724-3440 to arrange to have a pass left for you to pick up at the administration building.

OK, so how do you find a snowy owl in a 11,000 acre facility? You drive around until you spot the crowd of photographers taking pictures of them!

Photographers "stalking" a snowy owl

Then, you walk up to the owl, and start taking photos yourself.

Snowy owl

There’s one of the Snowy owls that is known for being a ham, and posing for photographers. The only thing is, he seldom opens his eyes all the way.

Snowy owl

He is a cutie, isn’t he?

Snowy owl

It is quite the social event, there will be groups of photogs there, alternately snapping photos, and holding conversations with their fellow photographers.

Snowy owl

All the while, the owl sits there squinting into the sun, listening to the conversations going on around him. When he hears that you’re all talking and not paying attention, it moves a little ways away so that you will return your focus to him!

Snowy owl

Then he sits there until a sufficient more number of photos are taken.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

I don’t know what this guy was shooting.

Snowy owl photographer

I was using my 70 to 300 mm lens for these photos, the guy with the BIG lens was even closer, and telling the rest of us to be quiet and not get as close as he was or we would scare the owl away. After all he was wearing camo. I almost cracked up laughing at that one. He’s wearing dark camo in a snow covered field, his camo was flapping in the wind like a tattered flag, and he’s telling us to be quiet? I have some news for the guy with the BIG lens, even a squinting owl could see you sticking out like a sore thumb when you’re only 50 feet from the owl. What a hoot! And that lens at 50 feet, what was he doing, checking to see if the owl had fleas or mites or something?

That’s something I have to mention, the wind. It was nasty out there! That may have had something to do with the other big story of the day, which I’ll get to later. I was only out of my vehicle for a short time, and I was chilled to the bone by the wind. The rest of us there retreated to our vehicles to warm up, while the guy with the BIG lens kept inching closer to the owl, until it took off.

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

And the owl perched where I could shoot it from my vehicle nicely.

Snowy owl

My, what big feet they have!

Snowy owl

You can tell how windy it was, the wind was trying to blow the feathers off from the owls chest!

The guy with the BIG Lens tried sneaking up on the owl wearing his wrong color camo again, and again the owl flew off.

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl's rough landing

You may or may not be able to tell from the pictures, but the owl basically circled those of us sitting in our vehicles, giving us great photo-ops, while staying clear of the guy with the BIG lens and his camo. I like that owl! As much fun as it was watching the owl give the guy with the BIG lens a hard time, I decided to drive around a few of the roads to see what else I could find, and it was considerable.

The other story of the day was that I couldn’t get a sharp picture from either of my cameras, other than the owl pics, and they’re not that great. I saw so many species of birds that I have never photographed before, and the photos I took today came out like crap, could be because I was at a sewage plant, I don’t know. Here are just a few examples.

American kestrel

Horned lark

Common goldeneye duck

Green winged teal and mallard

I spotted what looked to be a flock of eagles.

Bald eagle in flight

And I got this shot of two unidentifiable birds and an eagle.

Bird attack

Then this shot of a mature and immature eagle together on the ground.

Eagles on the ground

And lots of eagles in the air.

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

I’m not completely happy with any of the shots in this post, the owl pics came out OK, but they should have been better. When I first did the download from my Nikon, I thought that because I had switched from spot metering to center weighted, it was up to its old tricks again. But, I took a few back-up photos with my Canon just in case, and they all came out crappy as well. As I am typing this, it dawned on me that several times when I was either walking, or had the windows in the explored down, it felt like I was being snowed on. There was hardly a cloud in the sky, and I never saw snow other than that which was being driven by the wind. But thinking about it now, I’ll wager there was more snow blowing around than than I could see, and all those little ice crystals in the air are what caused my photos to come out as poorly as they did.

Since this is about the snow owl, I’ll finish up with one more of him being the ham that he is.

Snowy owl

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


37 responses

  1. I’m so jealous! Awesome photos of the Snowy, lucky dog! I am cracking up at the BIG lens guy. I swear this was the same guy on our Sandhill Crane tour last fall. He was a hoot as well, some of them get a big head and arrogance when they get the BIG lens 🙂

    February 26, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    • Thanks, from the sounds of the comments, that guy with the BIG lens sure gets around!

      February 27, 2012 at 2:09 am

  2. Northern Narratives

    I love the snowy owls photos. I think that guy with the Big lens must have a twin. I am sure I saw him trying to photo seagulls 🙂

    February 26, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    • Thank you, I think that guy has lots of twins. 😉

      February 27, 2012 at 2:09 am

  3. Incredible as usual. We have a bunch of snowy owls near our home but I haven’t been able to capture a good shot yet. Love all of yours!

    February 26, 2012 at 11:20 pm

    • Thank you, the owls showing up here is something of a rarity, you’re lucky if you get to see them on a regular basis.

      February 27, 2012 at 2:11 am

  4. Fantastic photos! The Snowy Owl and Bald Eagle images are great! Not something you see everyday down here in Ohio!

    February 27, 2012 at 12:22 am

    • Thanks. I’ll be willing to bet that there will be eagles living in your area soon, if they aren’t already. They are repopulating very quickly, and they are expanding their range back to where it used to be.

      February 27, 2012 at 2:13 am

  5. Beautiful photos! Snowy owls are amazing! I love the ‘expression’ on his face, he looks like a wise old Buddha owl.

    February 27, 2012 at 1:04 am

    • Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment!

      February 27, 2012 at 2:17 am

  6. Zelmare

    Beautiful pictures. I love, love, love the snowy owl! 🙂

    February 27, 2012 at 1:09 am

    • Thank you, he is cute!

      February 27, 2012 at 2:17 am

  7. BIG guy teaches us the importance of humility. As with many lessons, it is better to learn that one from the mistakes of others.

    I also liked your owl-finding technique. 😀

    February 27, 2012 at 1:30 am

    • Thanks, I liked it, quick and effective.

      February 27, 2012 at 2:21 am

  8. Thank you, and thanks for the comment!

    February 27, 2012 at 2:05 am

  9. Glad you finally got to see the owls. I think the owl and eagle pictures are excellent!

    February 27, 2012 at 9:27 am

    • Thanks, but I think that every one is being too kind. With the lighting I had to work with yesterday, those photos should have all been as sharp as a tack, and they are not.

      February 27, 2012 at 10:18 am

      • Theyr’e better than the gray squirrel sitting in a tree that I shot with no zoom capabilities a while back. He came out about as big as a pinhead and nowhere near as sharp. Practice makes perfect.

        February 27, 2012 at 2:04 pm

  10. okay, im officially OBSESSED with that owl! what a freaking cutie!

    that guy in cameo looks ridiculous. Amazing.

    February 28, 2012 at 10:47 am

    • They are so cute! I wish I would have gotten a better photo. There should be some in your area yet, I have heard that some are wintering in Washington.

      February 28, 2012 at 1:19 pm

      • huh, ive never gone on an owl hunt before…

        February 28, 2012 at 6:03 pm

  11. bellegroveatportconway


    February 28, 2012 at 10:57 pm

    • Thank you, and thanks for following my blog!

      February 29, 2012 at 2:20 am

  12. Some absolutely terrific photos. I’ve been reading about the snowy owl “explosion” this year, but haven’t seen one in person (or in bird…or whatever the correct terminology is). I will simply do so vicariously through your images; exceptionally well done.

    March 1, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    • Thank you! Coming from you, that is high praise indeed. I am constantly awed by your landscape photos! I love them, even though they point out to me that you are the real pro, and I am just a fool kidding myself for ever thinking that I could be.

      March 1, 2012 at 3:04 pm

  13. Woodland camo in the snow? The bird photos are wonderful. I love the owl, but I am so glad you included a photo of the guy with the big lens as well. I know owls don’t see well in the daylight, but the poor thing would have to be totally blind to miss that. Hilarious!

    March 2, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    • Thank you! I have more to say about that day and the guy with the big lens if I can ever find time to finish that post.

      March 2, 2012 at 1:05 pm

  14. Really nice post, and I, too, love the snowy owl images. I was hoping they would come further south in Montana, but they haven’t made it down to my neck of the woods. Someone else may have already helped you ID the unidentified bird, but if not, it is a horned lark.

    March 6, 2012 at 2:13 am

    • Thank you, and thanks for IDing the lark. A brain fart on my part.

      March 6, 2012 at 10:31 am

  15. Just catching up with you QSP……AND WOW!!!! The snowy owl shots are absolutely stunning, they look so soft. And fantastic eagle shots too. What a perfect bird op day!

    The big guy with big lens, hilarious!!

    March 6, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    • Sorry for taking so long to reply, it’s been a busy week. I hope you won’t mind if I give you a big THANK YOU here for all your nice comments. The guy with the big lens was a hoot, and I felt I had to take a picture of him to tell the entire story of the day. I’m glad I did, he’s garnered nearly as much mention as the snowy owl has.

      March 9, 2012 at 9:54 am

      • Don’t have to thank me at all! I know about busy week, having one myself, I still have photos from beginning of week to review and edit. Hope busy means lots of photo ops coming from you soon! If not, hope all is well…

        March 9, 2012 at 10:03 am

  16. Terrific snowy owl shots! Looks like a fun photo shoot, too.

    March 26, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    • Thank you, it was!

      March 27, 2012 at 3:00 am

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