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

Archive for March, 2013

Grand Haven, Michigan, urban birding

On Saturday March 30, with the promise of some beautiful weather, I made a trip to Grand Haven, Michigan to spend the day birding. Grand Haven is the largest of three municipalities on the banks of the Grand River where it eventually empties into Lake Michigan. The other two are Ferrysburg on the north bank, and Spring Lake to the east.

I didn’t carry my GPS unit with me, as I was in town 100% of the time, so I don’t have a map of my walking that day, but I did take a photo of a map that shows the majority of the ground that I covered.

Map of Grand Haven, Michigan

Map of Grand Haven, Michigan

You can click on the photo for a larger photo with more details. You can see an extensive system of walking/bicycle trails, many right along the Grand River or its offshoots.

It’s been years since I visited Grand Haven, it used to be a place that I went very often, as the Grand River bayous are well-known for good bass fishing. It also serves as a good port to access Lake Michigan for salmon and steelhead fishing on the big lake.

I began the day on Harbor Island, part of which is shown on the map above. I don’t know if it was a real island, or if it was turned into one by dredging a channel through a marshy area to create more mooring slips for pleasure boats. You’ll get a better idea as I post more photos of the area. Since this post is about birding in the Grand Haven area, most of the photos will be of birds, but I’ll throw in a few of the other things to see and do as well.

I had just parked and gotten out of my vehicle, and I could see a few waterfowl in the south channel that makes Harbor Island an island.

Bufflehead ducks

Bufflehead ducks

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Common Mergansers

I was standing on top of a railroad trestle for those, and the pilings from an earlier bridge caught my eye.

Bridge pilings

Bridge pilings

I walked most of the circumference of Harbor Island, it is a very marshy area, and I was hoping to catch a few early wading birds, but other than a few killdeer, none where to be found.

Killdeer

Killdeer

With the water level of Lake Michigan near an all time low, the ribs of an old boat that had been beached and left to rot have been exposed.

An old boat left to rot

An old boat left to rot

And since the next day was Easter, I thought this to be a fitting shot.

Cross and flag

Cross and flag

The flag and cross are atop a dune that rises above one of Grand Haven’s claim to fame, the world’s largest musical fountain. It’s quite impressive when they do their evening shows, but that’s all I have to say about it here.

I did spot a few more ducks as I walked the shoreline of Harbor Island.

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers

Red head ducks

Red head ducks

There were other things to photograph as well, the tugs used to push barges of sand and gravel from a mining operation…

Tugboats moored together

Tugboats moored together

Tugboat

Tugboat

….another old boat left in the mud…

Old boat wreckage

Old boat wreckage

…and the old railroad swing bridge, which is still in operation.

Railroad swing bridge

Railroad swing bridge

Railroad swing bridge

Railroad swing bridge

It was a beautiful day, with birds singing everywhere…

Song sparrow living up to its name

Song sparrow living up to its name

Male northern cardinal in full song

Male northern cardinal in full song

…but I didn’t try very hard for better photos, I didn’t want to spook the birds and lose the music they were providing me. It’s been months since I’ve heard their songs, it was a day to enjoy them. Adding to the songbirds’ music was the warbling croaks of huge flocks of sandhill cranes headed north.

Sandhill cranes headed north

Sandhill cranes headed north

And the chattering of a pair of kingfishers who kindly made sure I got good photos of them by flying past me repeatedly.

Belted kingfisher in flight

Belted kingfisher in flight

Having made it all around Harbor Island, I drove to downtown Grand Haven to walk the breakwater there.

The south breakwater in Grand Haven

The south breakwater in Grand Haven

I began at the Coast Guard Station in town.

Coast Guard plaque

Coast Guard plaque

It was there that the red-throated loon made my day by flying past me for a great photo-op! I saw the loon, but it was really too far away for good photos. If as it knew my predicament, it launched itself into flight and flew past me at about the optimal height and distance for some very good photos, if I do say so myself. There was a couple standing near me, and after the loon had flown past, they asked if it had been a loon. My reply was yes, and it had made my day, for things were not going the best as far as getting good close-ups of birds. That didn’t change a lot, other than the loon.

Red-throated Loon in flight

Red-throated Loon in flight

Some people would say that it was much more likely that the loon took flight because the Coast Guard boat pulling out of its slip disturbed the loon…

Coast Guard boat

Coast Guard boat

…but I’d like to think that the loon was being nice, since it was the reason I went to Grand Haven in the first place. ūüėČ

I walked all the way to the end of the breakwater.

Grand Haven lighthouse

Grand Haven lighthouse

On my way, a small raptor flew past me at speed, landing in a tree on the other side of the channel. I’m not 100% positive, and my photo isn’t very good, but I think that it was a peregrine falcon, which make their home in Grand Haven.

Peregrine falcon?

Peregrine falcon?

I wasn’t quick enough to catch it in flight, and that shot is cropped severely to show the bird. I should have brought my binoculars, but they were sitting in my Subaru, a great place for them while trying to ID birds.

After walking the breakwater, I headed over to the Pere Marquette Railroad display.

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

As always, there were plenty of gulls around who were willing to pose.

Ring billed gull

Ring billed gull

Ring billed gull

Ring billed gull

If you notice, the bottom of that last photo is darker than it should be, I think that my Nikon is dying. ¬†About halfway through the day, the shutter began making odd sounds when I was shooting, by the end of the day the camera was giving me error messages that I really didn’t want to see.

The turkey vultures must have sensed the imminent death of my Nikon, for a few of them began circling ominously close.

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Thinking that I should give the camera a rest, and escape the vultures, I headed up to Mona Lake, and Lake Harbor Park to shoot a few photos of red breasted mergansers in flight.

Red breasted mergansers in flight

Red breasted mergansers in flight

Male red breasted merganser in flight

Male red breasted merganser in flight

Female red breasted merganser taking off

Female red breasted merganser taking off

Other than the mergansers and a sky full of gulls, there wasn’t a lot to see there, so I went on to the Muskegon Channel to see what I could find. Nothing really special at first.

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Long-tailed duck

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White winged scoters in flight

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Greater scaup

I kind of like the effect of my shutter going bad made to this photo of some ducks too far away to ID.

DSC_9688

Distant ducks on ice

I sat on a bench to take a break and soak up some very rare sunshine when a male mute swan decided to declare war on younger male who was some distance away, and minding his own business. The older male came at the younger one like a freight train!

DSC_9693

Swan wars

The older swan had a head of steam behind it, I got the feeling that all the younger one wanted to do was to escape and be left alone, but that didn’t happen. It wasn’t much of a war, the older one was beating and biting the younger one, who was doing all it could to get away.

DSC_9694

Swan wars

DSC_9695

Swan wars

DSC_9696

Swan wars

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Swan wars

DSC_9699

Swan wars

DSC_9700

Swan wars

DSC_9701

Swan wars

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Swan wars

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Swan wars

Swan wars, the victor swims off

Swan wars, the victor swims off as the loser sulks

That’s all the photos for this one, but I do have a few more words to add about Grand Haven. It is a very popular summer destination for thousands of people, from both Michigan and surrounding states all week long, but especially on weekends. There will be a steady stream of boats going up and down the channel, and people will be shoulder to shoulder on the breakwater in town. It is not a place will you will find peace and quiet if that’s what you’re seeking, nor many waterfowl during the summer. That’s not a knock, but I think that you should know that it is a typical beach town, sleepy in the winter with many businesses closed, and a bustling city in the summer. You can see yacht from all around the world moored at the many marinas along the Grand River during the summer months.

Even on this early spring day, there were enough fishing boats going in and out of the channel to keep the waterfowl population at bay. If you’re thinking of birding in the summer, there are probably better places to go, but over the winter months, with the migratory waterfowl using the open water of the river as a rest stop, it can be a very good place to go.

One last thing, for most of the day I was wishing I had brought my kayak to get around rather than walking. I probably should have, it would have been a great day for it, although I’m sure that the water was still mighty cold! I’m thinking of going back there at least once during the early spring so that I can get back into the bayous of the Grand River. I picked up the crossbars that fit my Subaru when I had it in for its service, so I’m all set for kayaking this summer!

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


Red-throated Loon, Gavia stellata

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Red-throated Loon, Gavia stellata

This is another species that I will probably never be able to post photos of in their breeding plumage. They are loons that breed primarily in the Arctic. In breeding plumage, the adult has a dark grey head and neck (with narrow black and white stripes on the back of the neck), a triangular red throat patch, white underparts and a dark grey-brown mantle. It is the only loon with an all-dark back in breeding plumage. The non-breeding plumage is more drab with the chin, neck and much of the face white, the top of the head and back of the neck grey, and considerable white speckling on the dark mantle.

The Red-throated Loon is a migratory aquatic bird found in the northern hemisphere. It breeds primarily in Arctic regions, and winters in northern coastal waters. It is the most widely distributed member of the loon or diver family. Ranging from 55‚Äď67 centimeters (22‚Äď26 in) in length, the Red-throated Loon is the smallest and lightest of the world’s loons. In winter, it is a nondescript bird, greyish above fading to white below. During the breeding season, it acquires the distinctive reddish throat patch which is the basis for its common name. Fish form the bulk of its diet, though amphibians, invertebrates and plant material are sometimes eaten as well. A monogamous species, the Red-throated Loon forms long-term pair bonds. Both members of the pair help to build the nest, incubate the eggs (generally two per clutch) and feed the hatched young.

The Red-throated Loon has a large global population and a significant global range, though some populations are declining. Oil spills, habitat degradation, pollution and fishing nets are among the major threats this species faces. Natural predators‚ÄĒincluding various gull species, and both Red and Arctic Foxes, will take eggs and young.

Like the other members of its genus, the Red-throated Loon is well-adapted to its aquatic environment: its dense bones help it to submerge, its legs, in their set-back position, provide excellent propulsion and its body is long and streamlined. Even its sharply pointed bill may help its underwater streamlining. Its feet are large, its front three toes are fully webbed, and its tarsus is flattened, which reduces drag and allows the leg to move easily through the water.

Because its feet are located so far back on its body, the Red-throated Loon is quite clumsy walking on land; however, it can use its feet to shove itself forward on its breast. Young use this method of covering ground when moving from their breeding pools to larger bodies of water, including rivers and the sea. It is the only species of loon able to take off directly from land. If frightened, it may submerge until only its head or bill shows above the surface of the water.

Like all members of its family, the Red-throated Loon is primarily a fish-eater, though it sometimes feeds on molluscs, crustaceans, frogs, aquatic invertebrates, insects, fish spawn or even plant material. It seizes rather than spears its prey, which is generally captured underwater. Though it normally dives and swims using only its feet for propulsion, it may use its wings as well if it needs to turn or accelerate quickly. Pursuit dives range from 2‚Äď9 m (6.6‚Äď30 ft) in depth, with an average underwater time of about a minute.

The Red-throated Loon is a monogamous species which forms long-term pair bonds. Both sexes build the nest, which is a shallow scrape (or occasionally a platform of mud and vegetation) lined with vegetation and sometimes a few feathers, and placed within a half-meter (18 in) of the edge of a small pond. The female lays two eggs (though clutches of 1‚Äď3 have been recorded); they are incubated for 24‚Äď29 days, primarily by the female. The eggs, which are greenish or olive-brownish spotted with black. Incubation is begun as soon as the first egg is laid, so they hatch asynchronously. If a clutch is lost (to predation or flooding, for example) before the young hatch, the Red-throated Loon usually lays a second clutch, generally in a new nest. The young birds are precocial upon hatching: downy and mobile with open eyes. Both parents feed them small aquatic invertebrates initially, then small fish for 38‚Äď48 days. Parents will perform distraction displays to lure predators away from the nest and young. Ornithologists disagree as to whether adults carry young on their backs while swimming with some maintaining that they do and others the opposite.

On to my photos:

Red-throated Loon

Red-throated Loon

Red-throated Loon taking off

Red-throated Loon taking off

Red-throated Loon in flight

Red-throated Loon in flight

Red-throated Loon in flight

Red-throated Loon in flight

Red-throated Loon in flight

Red-throated Loon in flight

Red-throated Loon in flight

Red-throated Loon in flight

Red-throated Loon in flight

Red-throated Loon in flight

Red-throated Loon in flight

Red-throated Loon in flight

This is number 72 in my photo life list, only 278 to go!

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

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Red-winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Red-winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus

The¬†Red-winged Blackbird¬†¬†is a¬†passerine¬†bird¬†of the family¬†Icteridae¬†found in most of¬†North¬†and much of¬†Central America. It breeds from¬†Alaska¬†and¬†Newfoundland¬†south to¬†Florida, the¬†Gulf of Mexico,¬†Mexico, and¬†Guatemala, with isolated populations in western¬†El Salvador, northwestern¬†Honduras, and northwestern¬†Costa Rica. It may winter as far north ¬†and¬†British Columbia, but northern populations are generally¬†migratory, moving south to Mexico and the southern¬†United States. Claims have been made that it is the most abundant and best studied living bird in¬†North America.¬†The Red-winged Blackbird is¬†sexually dimorphic,¬†the male is all black with a red shoulder and yellow wing bar, while the female is a nondescript dark brown. Seeds and insects make up the bulk of the Red-winged Blackbird’s diet.

Virtually all of North America’s¬†raptors¬†take adult or young Red-winged Blackbirds, even¬†Barn Owls, which usually only take small mammals, and¬†Northern Saw-whet Owls, which are scarcely larger than a male Red-winged.¬†Accipiter¬†hawks are among their most prolific predators and, locally, they are one of the preferred prey species of¬†Short-tailed Hawks.¬†Crows,¬†ravens,¬†magpies¬†and¬†herons¬†are occasionally predators of blackbird nests. Additional predators of blackbirds of all ages and their eggs include¬†raccoons,¬†mink,¬†foxes¬†and¬†snakes, especially the¬†rat snake.¬†Marsh Wrens¬†destroy the eggs, at least sometimes drinking from them, and peck the nestlings to death.

The Red-winged Blackbird aggressively defends its territory from other animals. It will attack much larger birds.¬†Males have been known to swoop at humans who encroach upon their nesting territory during breeding season. I have a couple of photos of them defending their territory which I’ll add in the photo section.

On to my photos:

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

 

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Female Red-winged Blackbird

Female Red-winged Blackbird

And two showing males attacking other birds who ventured too close to their mates nest.

Red-winged blackbird attacking a killdeer

Red-winged blackbird attacking a killdeer

Red-winged blackbird attacking a gull

Red-winged blackbird attacking a gull

This is number 71 in my photo life list, only 279 to go!

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

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Red-shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Red-shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus

The Red-shouldered Hawk is a medium-sized hawk. Its breeding range spans eastern North America and along the coast of California and northern to northeastern-central Mexico. Red-shouldered Hawks are permanent residents throughout most of their range, though northern birds do migrate, mostly to central Mexico.

While in forested areas, these birds typically wait on a perch and swoop down on prey. When in clearings, they sometimes fly low to surprise prey. Red-shouldered Hawks, like most raptors, have very sharp vision and reasonably good hearing, with talons capable of killing animals at least equal to their own size. Small mammals are typically the most important prey, especially rodents. Voles, gophers, mice, moles and chipmunks may locally be favored based on abundance. Slightly larger mammals, such as rabbits and tree squirrels, are also occasionally predated. Other prey can include amphibians, reptiles (especially small snakes), small birds, and large insects. They will attack birds as large as pigeons. Blue jays, a potential prey species, sometimes habitually imitate the call of the Red-shouldered Hawk and are known to be difficult to distinguish on voice alone. During winters, Red-shouldered Hawks sometimes habituate to preying on birds commonly found at bird feeders. In some areas where they are common, crayfish can be important prey for this species. Unusual food items recorded for the species have included nocturnal animals such as Eastern Screech Owls and flying squirrels and road-killed deer.

The breeding habitats of the Red-shouldered Hawk are deciduous and mixed wooded areas, often near water. Like almost all raptors, the Red-shouldered Hawk is monogamous and territorial. While courting or defending territories, the distinctive, screaming kee-aah call (usually repeated three to four times) of this bird is heard. Courtship displays occur on the breeding grounds, and involve soaring together in broad circles while calling, or soaring and diving toward one another. Males may also perform the “sky-dance” by soaring high in the air, and then making a series of steep dives, each followed by a wide spiral and rapid ascent. These courtship flights usually occur in late morning and early afternoon.

Red-shouldered Hawks’ mating season is between April and July, with activity usually peaking between April and mid-June. The breeding pair builds a stick nest (also sometimes including shredded bark, leaves and green sprigs) in a major fork of a large tree. They often use the same nest year after year, refurbishing it annually with sticks in the spring. The clutch size is typically three to four eggs.

In Florida, Red-shouldered Hawks sometimes collaborate and peaceably coexist with American Crows (usually an enemy to all other birds because of their egg-hunting habits) so they cooperatively mob mutual predators, mainly Great Horned Owls and Red-tailed Hawks.

On to my photos:

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered hawk

Red-shouldered hawk

This is number 70 in my photo life list, only 280 to go!

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

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Common Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Common Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula

Goldeneye¬†and¬†Whistler, are common names for a species of small tree-hole nesting¬†northern hemisphere¬†sea ducks¬†belonging to the¬†genus¬†Bucephala. The plumage is black and white. Goldeneyes eat¬†fish,¬†crustaceans¬†and other marine life. The “Whistler” name comes from the noise their beating wings make in flight.

On to my photos:

Male Common Goldeneye

Male Common Goldeneye

Male Common Goldeneye

Male Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye ducks in flight

Common Goldeneye ducks in flight

Common Goldeneye ducks in flight

Common Goldeneye ducks in flight

Male Common Goldeneye

Male Common Goldeneye

Male Common Goldeneye

Male Common Goldeneye

Male Common Goldeneye

Male Common Goldeneye

Male Common Goldeneyes

Male Common Goldeneyes

Male Common Goldeneyes in flight

Male Common Goldeneyes in flight

Updated, January 16, 2014.

Male common goldeneye

Male common goldeneye

Male common goldeneye

Male common goldeneye

Male common goldeneye

Male common goldeneye

 

This is number 69 in my photo life list, only 281 to go!

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

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Lesser Scaup, Aythya affinis

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Lesser Scaup, Aythya affinis

The¬†Lesser Scaup¬†is a small¬†North American¬†diving duck¬†that migrates south as far as¬†Central America¬†in winter. It is colloquially known as the¬†Little Bluebill¬†or¬†Broadbill¬†because of its distinctive blue bill. The origin of the name scaup may stem from the bird’s preference for feeding on scalp – the Scottish word for clams, oysters, and mussels; however, some credit it to the female’s discordant scaup call as the name’s source.¬†It is apparently a very close relative of the¬†Greater Scaup¬†or “bluebill” (A. marila), with which it forms a¬†super species.

Lesser Scaup are often hard to distinguish from the Greater Scaup when direct comparison is not possible, but in North America a large scaup flock will often have both species present. Females, juveniles and drakes in eclipse plumage are hard to identify; there is considerable overlap in length between the two species, but Greater Scaup are usually noticeably more bulky. Lesser Scaup females and immatures tend to have less white around the bill, but this too varies considerably between individual birds.

Their breeding habitat is inland lakes and marsh ponds in tundra from Alaska through western Canada to western Montana; few breed east of James Bay and the Great Lakes. Notable breeding concentrations, with more than half a million birds at the height of the season, can be found in Alaska, in the woodlands of the McKenzie River valley and on  Crow Flats. These birds migrate south (mostly via the Central and Mississippi Flyways) when the young are fledged and return in early spring, usually arriving on the breeding ground in May. Lesser Scaup typically travel in flocks of 25-50 birds and winter mainly on lakes, rivers and sheltered coastal lagoons and bays between the US-Canadian border and northern Colombia, including Central America, the West Indies and Bermuda. Wintering Lesser Scaup are typically found in freshwater or slightly brackish habitat and unlike Greater Scaup rarely are seen offshore when unfrozen freshwater habitat is available.

Lesser Scaup forage mainly by sifting through the bottom mud, usually after diving and swimming underwater, occasionally by dabbling without diving. They mainly eat¬†mollusks¬†such as¬†mussels¬†and¬†clams, as well as seeds and other parts of aquatic plants like sedges and bulrushes, “pondweeds”,¬†Widgeon-grass, wild celery¬†or¬†wild rice. In winter, but less so in summer, other¬†aquatic¬†animals ‚Ästcrustacean,¬†insect¬†and their¬†larvae¬†and small¬†fishes¬†‚Äď form an important part of their diet. It has been reported that both the Lesser and the Greater Scaup have shifted their traditional migration routes to take advantage of the presence of the¬†Zebra Mussel¬†in¬†Lake Erie, which was accidentally introduced in the 1980s and has multiplied enormously. This may pose a risk to these birds because zebra mussels are efficient¬†filter feeders¬†and so accumulate environmental contaminants rapidly.

They nest in a sheltered location on the ground near water, usually among thick vegetation such as sedges and bulrushes, sometimes in small loose groups and not rarely next to colonies of gulls or terns; several females may deposit eggs in a single nest. The drakes court the hens in the winter quarters; pairs form shortly before and during the spring migration. When nesting starts, the males aggregate while they molt into eclipse plumage, leaving the task of incubation and raising the young to the females alone.

The nest is a shallow depression scraped in the ground and lined with plants and some¬†down feathers. Breeding begins in May, but most birds nest only in June, later than usual for North American¬†waterfowl. The¬†clutch¬†numbers about 9-11 eggs on average; up to 26 eggs have been found in a single nest, but such high numbers are from more than one female. Incubation is by the female only and lasts around 3 weeks. The young¬†fledge¬†some 45‚Äď50 days after hatching and soon thereafter the birds migrate to winter quarters already. Lesser Scaup become sexually mature in their first or second summer. The oldest known individual reached an age of over 18 years.

On to my photos, and I’m doing something a little different for this post. There are very few differences between Lesser and Greater Scaup, other than their size. So I am posting a couple of a¬†male Lesser Scaup by itself, then a few of a¬†male Lesser Scaup in a flock of Greater Scaup so that you can see the size difference. The Lesser Scaup is about 25% smaller in size that the Greater Scaup. Other than the slight bump on the back of a Lesser Scaup’s head, that the most reliable way of identifying between the two.

Male lesser scaup

Male lesser scaup

Male lesser scaup

Male lesser scaup

A Male lesser scaup in the foreground , with two greater scaup behind

A Male lesser scaup in the foreground , with two greater scaup behind

A Male lesser scaup, third from right, in a flock of greater scaup

A Male lesser scaup, third from right, in a flock of greater scaup

This is number 68 in my photo life list, only 282 to go!

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

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Horned Grebe, Podiceps auritus

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Horned Grebe, Podiceps auritus

The Horned Grebe is a member of the grebe family of water birds. It is also known as the Slavonian Grebe. It is an excellent swimmer and diver, and pursues its fish prey underwater.

The Horned Grebe is a small grebe at 31‚Äď38 centimeters (12‚Äď15¬†in) long with a 46‚Äď55 centimeters (18‚Äď22¬†in) wingspan. Unmistakable in summer, the plumage of both male and female includes a black head with brown puffy ear like tufts along the sides of its face. It shows a deep red neck, scarlet eyes, and a small, straight black bill tipped with white. Unfortunately, I don’t know if I will ever see one in its summer plumage, as they breed far to the north of Michigan. They do winter here, and during this time, this small grebe is mainly white with a sharply defined black cap.

Horned Grebes breed in vegetated areas of freshwater lakes across Europe and Asia. It also breeds in remote inland parts of the United States and much of Canada. Most birds migrate in winter to the coast.

Like all grebes, it builds a¬†nest¬†on the water’s edge, since its legs are set very far back and it cannot walk well. Usually two¬†eggs¬†are laid, and the striped young are sometimes carried on the adult’s back.

On to my photos:

Horned Grebe, winter plumage

Horned Grebe, winter plumage

Horned Grebe, winter plumage

Horned Grebe, winter plumage

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

This is number 67 in my photo life list, only 283 to go!

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

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European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris (I)

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris (I)

This is an introduced, invasive species of bird, and not one of my favorites. In fact, at one time I said that I would never post a photo of one here on my blog, but they are on my list, so to complete my project, I have to do this.

The only information I am going to post on these all too common birds is the story of how and why they were introduced to North America.

After two failed attempts,¬†about 60 Common Starlings were released in 1890 into¬†New York’s¬†Central Park¬†by¬†Eugene Schieffelin. He was president of the¬†American Acclimatization Society¬†which tried to introduce every bird species mentioned in the works of¬†William Shakespeare¬†into North America.¬†About the same date, the Portland Song Bird Club released 35 pairs of Common Starlings in Portland, Oregon. These birds became established but disappeared around 1902. Common Starlings reappeared in the Pacific Northwest in the mid 1940s and these birds were probably descendants of the 1890 Central Park introduction.¬†The original 60 birds have since swelled in number to 150 million, occupying an area extending from southern Canada and Alaska to Central America.

On to my photos:

European Starling

European Starling

European Starling

European Starling

European Starling

European Starling

European Starling

European Starling

European Starling

European Starling

European Starling

European Starling

European starling

European starling

This is number 66 in my photo life list, only 284 to go!

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

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Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia

The Song Sparrow  is a medium-sized American sparrow. Among the native sparrows in North America, it is easily one of the most abundant, variable and adaptable species and one of my favorites because of its song.

Although they are a habitat generalist, their favorite habitat is brushy areas and marshes, including salt marshes, across most of Canada and the United States. They also thrive in human areas, such as in suburbs, along edges in agricultural areas, and along roadsides. In southern locations, they are permanent residents. Northern birds migrate to the southern United States or Mexico, where there is also a local population resident all year round.

These birds forage on the ground, in shrubs or in very shallow water. They mainly eat insects and seeds. Birds in salt marshes may also eat small crustaceans. They nest either in a sheltered location on the ground or in trees or shrubs.

The male of this species uses its melodious and fairly complex song to declare ownership of its territory and to attract females.

The Song Sparrow’s song consists of a combination of repeated notes, quickly passing isolated notes, and trills. The songs are very crisp, clear, and precise, making them easily distinguishable by human ears. A particular song is determined not only by pitch and rhythm but also by the timbre of the trills. Although one bird will know many songs, as many as 20 different tunes with as many as 1000 improvised variations on the basic theme,¬†unlike¬†thrushes, the Song Sparrow usually repeats the same song many times before switching to a different song.

Song Sparrows typically learn their songs from a handful of other birds that have neighboring territories. They are most likely to learn songs that are shared in common between these neighbors. Ultimately, they will choose a territory close to or replacing the birds that they have learned from. This allows the Song Sparrows to address their neighbors with songs shared in common with those neighbors. It has been demonstrated that Song Sparrows are able to distinguish neighbors from strangers on the basis of song, and also that females are able to distinguish (and prefer) their mate’s songs from those of other neighboring birds, and they prefer songs of neighboring birds to those of strangers.

On to my photos:

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Male song sparrow belting out a tune

Male song sparrow belting out a tune

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

This is number 65 in my photo life list, only 285 to go!

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

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Long-billed Dowitcher, Limnodromus scolopaceus

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Long-billed Dowitcher, Limnodromus scolopaceus

The Long-billed Dowitcher is a medium-sized shorebird.

Adults have yellowish legs and a long straight dark bill. The body is dark brown on top and reddish underneath with spotted throat and breast, bars on flanks. The tail has a black and white barred pattern. The winter plumage is largely grey.

Their breeding habitat is wet tundra in the far north of North America and eastern Siberia. They nest on the ground, usually near water.

They migrate to the southern United States and as far south as Central America. Long-billed Dowitcher is a rare but regular visitor to western Europe, with some individuals staying for long periods.

These birds forage by probing in shallow water or on wet mud. They mainly eat insects, mollusks, crustaceans and marine worms, but also eat some plant material.

On to my photos:

Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher

This is number 64 in my photo life list, only 286 to go!

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

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Snowy Owl, Bubo scandiacus

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Snowy Owl Bubo scandiacus

The Snowy Owl  is a large owl of the typical owl family Strigidae. It is one of the largest species of owl and, in North America, is on average the heaviest owl species. The adult male is virtually pure white, but females and young birds have some dark scalloping, the young are heavily barred, and dark spotting may even predominate. Its thick plumage, heavily feathered taloned feet, and coloration render the Snowy Owl well-adapted for life north of the Arctic Circle.

The Snowy Owl is typically found in the northern circumpolar region, where it makes its summer home north of latitude 60 degrees north. However, it is a particularly nomadic bird, and because population fluctuations in its prey species can force it to relocate, it has been known to breed at more southerly latitudes.

This species of owl nests on the ground, building a scrape on top of a mound or boulder. A site with good visibility such as the top of mound with ready access to hunting areas, and a lack of snow is chosen. Gravel bars and abandoned eagle nests may be used. The female scrapes a small hollow before laying the eggs. Breeding occurs in May, and depending on the amount of prey available, clutch sizes range from 5 to 14 eggs, which are laid singly, approximately every other day over the course of several days. Hatching takes place approximately five weeks after laying, and the pure white young are cared for by both parents. Although the young hatch asynchronously, with the largest in the brood sometimes 10 to 15 times as heavy as the smallest, there is little sibling conflict and no evidence of siblicide. Both the male and the female defend the nest and their young from predators, sometimes by distraction displays. Males may mate with two females which may nest about a kilometer apart. Some individuals stay on the breeding grounds while others migrate.

Snowy Owls nest in the Arctic tundra of the northern most stretches of¬†Alaska,¬†Canada, and¬†Eurasia. They winter south through Canada and northern Eurasia, with irruptions occurring further south in some years. Notable is the huge mass southern migration in the winter of 2011/2012, when thousands of Snowy Owls were spotted in various locations across the United States, due to the dramatic drop in the number of lemmings available within the owl’s typical range.

This powerful bird relies primarily on¬†lemmings¬†and other small¬†rodents¬†for food during the breeding season, but at times of low prey density, or during the¬†ptarmigan¬†nesting period, they may switch to favoring juvenile ptarmigan. They are opportunistic hunters and prey species may vary considerably, especially in winter. They feed on a wide variety of small¬†mammals¬†such as¬†meadow voles¬†and¬†deer mice, but will take advantage of larger prey, frequently following¬†trap lines¬†to find food. Some of the larger mammal prey includes¬†hares,¬†muskrats,¬†marmots,¬†squirrels,¬†rabbits,¬†raccoons,¬†prairie dogs,¬†rats,¬†moles, and entrapped fur bearers. Birds preyed upon include ptarmigan, other¬†ducks,¬†geese,¬†shorebirds,¬†pheasants,¬†grouse,¬†coots,¬†grebes,¬†gulls,¬†songbirds, and even other raptors, including other¬†owl¬†species. Most of the owls’ hunting is done in the “sit and wait” style; prey may be captured on the ground, in the air or fish may be snatched off the surface of bodies of water using their sharp talons. Each bird must capture roughly 7 to 12 mice per day to meet its food requirement and can eat more than 1,600 lemmings per year.

Snowy Owls, like many other birds, swallow their small prey whole. Strong stomach juices digest the flesh, while the indigestible bones, teeth, fur, and feathers are compacted into oval pellets that the bird regurgitates 18 to 24 hours after feeding. Regurgitation often takes place at regular perches, where dozens of pellets may be found. Biologists frequently examine these pellets to determine the quantity and types of prey the birds have eaten. When large prey are eaten in small pieces, pellets will not be produced.

On to my photos:

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

This is number 63 in my photo life list, only 287 to go!

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

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Buying camera gear on a budget, advice from a non-expert

Note, this post is aimed at nature photographers, although many of my points apply to all photography.

Since I want to upgrade my photographic equipment, I have been reading tons of reviews of cameras and lenses lately, and in my opinion, most of them are well-intentioned, but miss the mark.

One of the few that I think was well done comes as no surprise to me, it was¬†Kerry Mark Leibowitz’s review of his Nikon D 800 on his¬†Lightscapes Nature Photography Blog. If you read it, you’ll get a feeling for his thought process as he weighed the pros and cons of making the purchase in the first place, taking into account the camera’s capabilities as compared to his subject matter and style of shooting. The other thing that may strike you about his post, is that he used the images taken by his camera to judge the quality of the lenses that he uses.

There’s one of the real keys to getting great photographs, the lenses that you mount to the camera, much more so than the camera that you use!

Most people who make photographic gear recommendations start with the camera, telling you about all the great bells and whistles that you can get with each camera. However, if you read the same person’s tips for getting better photos, you’ll find that the tell you to disable or turn off most of those bells and whistles and shoot manually!

So, why pay for the bells and whistles if they are not going to improve the quality of your photographs?

The truth is that even an entry-level DSLR from any of the major manufacturers is quite capable of producing high quality photos, when you use a quality lens!

Most of the people offering advice on purchasing camera equipment will make a suggestion as to which of the “kit” lenses to buy when you purchase the camera.

Here’s a truism for you, none of the “kit” lenses typically sold with a DSLR is going to produce top quality photos, and if you read the reviewer’s tips to photography, you’ll see that.

Even if you purchase a mid-level DSLR, the kit lenses that you have to choose from are entry-level lenses designed to keep costs down, which also keeps the quality of photos taken with them down.

Here’s another truism, when you consider the total costs you end up having tied up in camera equipment, the camera body is one of the lowest costs items in your camera bag.

Another recommendation made by many experts is that you should start with entry-level equipment, then work your way up by replacing one item at a time, and defraying the cost by selling (at a loss) the entry-level stuff you purchased. Sorry, but selling at a loss is not the way to buy on a budget.

So, let’s stop and think for a second.

A camera is useless without a lens, and a lens is useless without a camera, you need both. The camera holds the sensor that records the image used to create the photograph, parts of the auto-focus system, and the shutter, which is just a part of the exposure control system.

The lens contains all the optics used to create the image that the sensor in the camera records, along with the aperture, which is part of the exposure control system, most of the auto-focus system, and in most brands, the image stabilization system, if so equipped.

The camera can only record the image produced by the lens, so I would say that the lens is the most important part of the whole, if quality photos is your goal.

A top of the line camera when used with an entry-level lens will not yield the same quality of photo as an entry-level camera using a quality lens!

There’s one more thing to consider, camera bodies become outdated much quicker than the lenses do! A camera body is current for about five years before being completely outclassed by the newer models, but lenses stay current for much longer, perhaps for decades.

So, that’s where you should start looking if you’re thinking of buying a DSLR system, the lenses that best suit your needs and budget, then, choose a camera to go with the lenses that you need, not the other way around.

OK, you’re in the market for a camera, the first question to ask yourself is do you actually need a DSLR to start with.

Unless high quality photos are your primary concern, you may well be better off with a good mid-level compact digital camera, especially if you’re planning on carrying a camera while hiking, backpacking, or other strenuous outdoor activities. A DSLR and the lenses are both expensive, and heavy to lug around. The compact digital cameras are much lighter, easier to carry, and produce photos that are surprisingly good. I have a Canon Powershot that I carry while kayaking so that I don’t risk having my expensive DSLR meet an untimely death by going for a swim. I love that little camera, it produces photos almost equal to my DSLR.

Every one who uses a DSLR and multiple lenses has a story about how they left one or more of their lenses home to save weight, and then it turned out that the lens that they needed most was the one left at home. With a compact digital, that’s never an issue.

The images produced by the mid-level and higher compact digital cameras is very good, especially considering their ease of use, and relative cost when compared to a DSLR and a battery of lenses to match the compact digital’s capabilities.

If you do decide that a DSLR is just the ticket for you, don’t bother looking at camera bodies until you decide on the lenses that best fit your needs.

This is the hard way, I know that, the vast array of lenses on the market can be overwhelming at first. I think that’s why most people start by choosing a camera, as that limits the number of lenses you have to choose from. If you pick a “Brand A” camera, then you are limited to the lines of lenses that fit the “Brand A” camera.

But, what if the lens that you’ll use most isn’t available for a “Brand A” camera, or if a lens is available, it is way outside your budget? Actually, you’ll probably find the latter to be true, as most manufacturers offer lenses for just about every purpose, the question becomes, can you afford the lens that you want, for the type of photography that you do the most.

I am not going to attempt to recommend lenses to any one, we’re all different, shoot different subjects, and have different styles in the way that we shoot. On top of those reasons, we also have different expectations and budgets as well.

What I can do is point out the questions you should be asking yourself as you shop for lenses.

The first may be obvious, but needs to be stated, what is your overall budget? Be realistic, or you’ll be disappointed. Quality lenses cost more, just as quality cameras cost more. The good thing about interchangeable lenses is that you don’t need to purchase every lens you’ll want right off the bat. Buy the lens that you’ll get the most use out of to start with, and you can add other lenses as your budget allows. Don’t forget to save some of your budget for the accessories that you’ll need, such as extra batteries, memory card(s), and filters. Don’t spend the money on a quality lens, then effectively throw that money down the drain by using inferior quality filters on your lenses.

What range of focal lengths do you need? And, what range will you use most often? It pays to spend the most money on the lens(es) you’ll be using the most. If you do mostly landscape photography, that will be on the shorter end of the focal length range, if you shoot mainly wildlife, that will be on the longer end of the range, but not always.

How often do you use a tripod? If you’re doing serious landscape photography, the answer should be 100% of the time, or close to it. Some wildlife photographers do as well, while others shoot handheld most of the time.

How much weight do you want to lug around with you, and how far are you going to have to lug it?

What is the minimum maximum aperture you can live with? If you shoot in low light situations very often, maximum aperture may be one of your deciding keys as far as the lenses you purchase.

Do you need a zoom lens, or would a prime lens be a better choice for you? A quality prime lens will always out perform a quality zoom lens as far as absolute photo quality is concerned. The reason is simple, a zoom lens requires more elements than does a prime lens, and every element creates some distortion and loss of light no matter how high the quality is. On the plus side, zoom lenses do require you to carry fewer lenses, and they make composing a photo much easier.

Will a teleconverter (extender) work for you? These are a relatively low-cost way of getting a much longer focal length lens, but they do have their downsides as far as reducing image quality, functioning correctly while using auto-focus, and reducing the effective maximum aperture of the lens they are used with. Not all lenses or camera bodies are compatible with teleconverters either, making them less of an option to many people, but they are something to take into account.

OK, so how do you use your answers to help you pick and choose the right lenses for you?¬†I’m going to talk about a few of the choices I have been looking at as I have been researching my next purchases. I am looking to upgrade from a Nikon D 50 body and a 70-300 mm lens. I shoot mainly wildlife, and 90%+ of my photos are taken at 300 mm. However, I would like to do more landscape photography in the future. As it is now, even set at 70 mm, the lens I currently have is too long for landscapes most of the time, I use my Canon Powershot under those circumstances.

One lens that I have been considering is the Sigma 150-500 mm lens, but that thing is a tank, or I should say, it’s like a tank’s cannon. I’m not sure if the quality of photos it will produce would make it worthwhile to haul that thing around with me. I do almost all of my photography while hiking or at least walking, and even being a big guy, I think that the Sigma is heavier and larger than I want to use as my walking around lens. For some one who normally shoots from a blind (or hide as they say now) this could be a good lens choice.

Canon makes five different 70-200 mm “L” series lenses, ranging from the¬†EF¬†70-200 mm¬†f/4L USM at $709.99 to the¬†EF¬†70-200 mm¬†f/2.8L IS II¬†USM at $2499.00. Three of the five have Image Stabilization, and you can get either a f/2.8 or f/4 version with or without Image Stabilization. So how does one decide which one to buy? If money were no object, the answer would be easy, especially since many people would find that they used this lens most of the time, it would be the¬†EF¬†70-200 mm¬†f/2.8L IS II¬†USM. However, I’m not most people. I shoot mainly wildlife photos, and the 200 mm maximum focal length is far too short for my purposes. And, at 70 mm on the low end, it is probably too long for most landscape work, just as my current lens is.

But this lens does make a good example of how to pick and choose a lens. Can one live with the f/4 version, and bump up the ISO of their camera in low light situations? Or would the added noise be too much for their tastes, making the f/2.8 version a better choice? If some one shoots using a tripod all of the time, then they may opt for the version that doesn’t have image stabilization, while the IS would be very important to some one who normally shoots handheld. Whether using a tripod or not comes into play as far as deciding as to how much of a difference the maximum aperture makes as well. There’s a reason that manufacturers offer so many choices.

I think that for me, the¬†EF¬†70-200 mm¬†f/4L¬†USM at $709.99 is the best bet, as I doubt that this lens will get a lot of use, and when it does, I’ll use my tripod to make up for its lack of IS, and slower aperture. That saves me $1789 to put towards lenses that I will use more often, like a super telephoto for when I am photographing small birds.

And, speaking of¬†super telephoto lenses, Canon makes 4 different 400 mm lenses ranging in price from $1,339 to $11,499 depending on the maximum aperture and whether or not they have Image Stabilization. I am leaning towards the¬†EF 400 mm¬†f/5.6L USM, the least expensive of the four. Why? Because my ultimate goal is to go even longer, to a 500 mm or 600 mm lens eventually, and the more money I save now, the sooner I’ll get to my ultimate goal.

But what about Canon’s almost legendary 100-400 mm zoom? It’s only a few hundred dollars more. By all accounts, they are a great lens, but the 400 mm prime beats it as far as image quality, which is what I’m after. I could be wrong, but I doubt if I would ever use the zoom feature, just as with the lens I currently own, I’d have to 100-400 zoomed to 400 all of the time. The 400 mm prime is a little smaller and lighter as well, and that makes a difference to some one who normally hikes 5 to 6 miles a day on the weekends.

I do wish the 400 mm prime had IS, but to get it, I would have to move up to the $6,469 model, and I don’t think that IS is worth that kind of cash, but I could be wrong.

For a landscape lens, I’m leaning towards the¬†EF-S¬†15-85 mm¬†f/3.5-5.6 IS USM as it is a highly rated lens, and will work well for landscape photography on a crop sensor camera. At $799.99, I would rate it as a best buy.

So for just the three lenses I am looking at, the total comes to $2,848.98, throw in three high-end filters, and I’ll be around 3 grand for a total, and I still don’t have a camera yet. But, I will have three quality lenses that will cover all my requirements for years to come. And they will continue to work for me even after I upgrade camera bodies again in the future. That’s part of my overall plan as well, to buy a relatively low-end camera now, then upgrade again in a few years. I’ll hold onto the camera that I buy now, as it is always a good thing to have a second/spare body.

But, what will work for me probably won’t work for you, so you owe it to yourself to do the research, and come up with what does work for you. There are bargains out there, you just have to look for them. Start with quality glass that will last, then upgrade your camera as manufacturers continue to improve them.

I haven’t touched on buying used equipment, I have nothing against doing that, but from what I have seen while looking is that people are asking new prices for used equipment. I may be cheap, but I’m not willing to take a risk on a piece of used equipment when I can buy the same thing new for just one or two hundred dollars more. That, and there are few quality lenses on the market, people who have them tend to hang on to them because they are quality lenses.

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


House Wren, Troglodytes aedon

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

House Wren

The House Wren is a very small songbird of the wren family, its range is from Canada to southern most South America, and is thus the most widely distributed bird in the Americas. It occurs in most suburban areas in its range and it is the single most common wren.

This bird’s rich bubbly song is commonly heard during the nesting season but rarely afterwards. In fact, the best way to locate house wrens is to listen for the male’s almost constant singing during the nesting season, as they are easier to hear than see.

Bubbly and energetic, just like their songs. Look for House Wrens hopping quickly through tangles and low branches and, in spring and summer, frequently pausing to deliver cheerful trilling songs.In summer, House Wrens are at home in open forests, forest edges, and areas with scattered grass and trees. Backyards, farmyards, and city parks are perfect for them. In winter they become more secretive, preferring brushy tangles, thickets, and hedgerows.

The nesting habits do not seem to differ significantly between the Northern and Southern House Wrens at least. They usually construct a large cup nest in various sorts of cavities, taking about a week to build. The nest is made from small dry sticks and is usually lined with a variety of different materials. These include: feather, hair, wool, spider cocoons, strips of bark, rootlets, moss, and trash. The male wren finds dry sticks, which he adds to the nest. Once he is done, the female inspects at the nest; but if she does not approve of the construction, she will throw any unwanted sticks to the ground. After this process, the female lines the nest. Nest cavities are usually a few meters above ground at most, they may be natural, old woodpecker nests, or man-made, often using bird houses. House Wrens will gladly use nest boxes, or you may find their twig-filled nests in old cans, boots, or boxes lying around in your garage. As the season progresses their nests can become infested with mites and other parasites that feed on the wren nestlings. Perhaps to fight this problem, wrens often add spider egg sacs into the materials they build their nests from. In lab studies, once the spiders hatched, they helped the wrens by devouring the nest parasites.

House Wrens are feisty and pugnacious animals considering their tiny size. They are known to occasionally destroy the¬†eggs¬†of other birds nesting in their territory by puncturing the eggshell. They are also known to fill up other birds’ nests within its territory with sticks to make them unusable.

House wrens lack the fairly prominent pale eyebrow of other species of wrens.

They eat a wide variety of insects and spiders, including beetles, caterpillars, earwigs, and daddy longlegs, as well as smaller numbers of more mobile insects such as flies, leafhoppers, and springtails. Also eats snail shells, probably for the calcium they contain and to provide grit for digestion.

On to my photos:

House wren

House wren

House wren

House wren

House wren

House wren

IMG_4916

House wren

House wren

Juvenile House wren

Juvenile House wren

Juvenile House wren

Juvenile House wren

Male house wren giving me the stinkeye

Male house wren giving me the stinkeye

Female house wren giving me the stinkeye

Female house wren giving me the stinkeye

 

This is number 62 in my photo life list, only 288 to go!

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

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Red-breasted Merganser, Mergus serrator

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Red-breasted Merganser, Mergus serrator

I could not find very much information about this species online, other than that they are diving ducks that¬†mainly eat small¬†fish, but also aquatic¬†insects,¬†crustaceans, and¬†frogs. I already knew that, and Wikipedia and “All About Birds” seem to be at odds with each other in respect to the breeding preferences of the red-breasted merganser. Wikipedia says that they prefer freshwater, “All About Birds” states that they prefer salt water more the other species of mergansers.

They have a spiky crest and long thin red bill with serrated edges. The male has a dark head with a green sheen, a white neck with a rusty breast, a black back, and white underparts. Adult females have a rusty head and a greyish body. The juvenile is like the female, but lacks the white collar and has a smaller white wing patch.

On to my photos:

Male red-breasted merganser shaking off the water

Male red-breasted merganser shaking off the water

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser taking flight

Male red-breasted merganser taking flight

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser taking flight

Female red-breasted merganser taking flight

Female red-breasted merganser in flight

Female red-breasted merganser in flight

Female red-breasted merganser in flight

Female red-breasted merganser in flight

Female red-breasted merganser in flight

Female red-breasted merganser in flight

Male red-breasted mergansers in flight

Male red-breasted mergansers in flight

Male red-breasted merganser in flight

Male red-breasted merganser in flight

Male red-breasted merganser landing

Male red-breasted merganser landing

Male red-breasted merganser landing

Male red-breasted merganser landing

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser with a droopy crest

Male red-breasted merganser with a droopy crest

This is number 61 in my photo life list, only 289 to go!

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

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How to Have Fun When You’re Bored and Have a Fever

This is another special guest post by my friend and fellow nature stalker, Jan, and she’s thrown in some of her photos of George and Martha, the mute swans, and a few of the other visitors to the pond she frequents. So, no need for me to babble on, take it away Jan!

Apparently I didn’t duck fast enough because a flu bug slammed me right between the eyes a few days ago. ¬†So I found myself stuck inside, bored to tears, and running a fever of about 101… and I had a small group of photos that I’d taken a couple of days before in lousy lighting. ¬†Playtime!

I’d gone to the lake early in the evening. ¬†It was overcast. ¬†It was cold. ¬†It was drizzling off and on. ¬†It was windy. ¬†(I think I just figured out how I got the flu.) ¬†The swans, who are named George and Martha (not my fault), were taking a break from harassing two geese, so I started taking photos. ¬†When I got them uploaded that night, I hated them all. ¬†The lighting was horrible, and the backgrounds were a depressing dark gray, not to mention that I couldn’t seem to get the swans to strike any amazing poses. ¬†For some reason I didn’t delete them.

Once the boredom hit, I started playing around with those photos, adjusting shadows and highlights.  It was a nice surprise when those one-click-away-from-the-recycling-bin photos actually started to look halfway decent!

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

The rest of the photos here were all taken the following day.  It was one of those days when it was alternating between cloudy and sunny so quickly that a beautiful shot could turn to a poorly lit one by the time you hit the shutter button.   But despite the cold, the wind, and impending snow showers, somehow the waterfowl were feeling spring in the air.  Personally, my numb fingers and I disagreed with them.

IMG_1884-001

It’s tough trying to preen in 30 mph winds.

IMG_1876-001

Coot yoga.

IMG_1845-001

Young female Redhead Duck.

IMG_1834-001

“Mallard, you WISH your feet were this cool!”

IMG_1785-001

The wind was making this basketweave pattern on the water. I have no idea how that would happen!

IMG_1760-001

Redhead Duck

IMG_1734-001

Redhead Ducks are very exuberant about bathing.

IMG_1936-001

Jerry said it looks like the two Mallards are laughing at the third one for showing off.

IMG_1921-001

I was happy to finally get a shot of a Coot flapping its wings, but the look on that Redhead Duck is priceless!

IMG_1917-001

What you don’t want to see if you’re a goose.

IMG_1889-001

George, celebrating his latest goose-chasing success.

Me again, I hope that you have enjoyed Jan’s post and photos as much as I do, and will join me in encouraging her to start a blog of her own!

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


When the going gets tough…

When the going gets tough…there are two ways of finishing that.

One, is that the weak wimp out. I was thinking of going to Grand Haven, Michigan today, to see the waterfowl there, as Grand Haven is similar to Muskegon, but they’re seeing some different species there. It was anther cold day, the high temperature barely crept above the freezing mark. That didn’t bother me, it was the very strong north wind blowing that caused me to change my mind and stick closer to home. The stiff north wind clears out the clouds for a change…

That kind of day

That kind of day

…but I could remember almost freezing my fingers and nose off during my last trip to Muskegon, and today was almost an exact duplicate. So I wimped out and opted for a walk in a local park that runs along Buck Creek, where I was somewhat sheltered from the wind.

The other way to finish the opening statement is, the tough get better!

For some reason, where I went didn’t matter to me, I had the feeling that it was going to be a very good if not great day, and it was! I don’t want to sound like I am bragging too much, but I did some of my best bird photography today! I am almost tempted to post a couple of the photos full size and resolution, but I won’t, you’ll have to trust me I suppose.

The day started as good as my gut feeling told me it would.

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Next, was a slightly unusual sight, a dark-eyed junco singing from a treetop.

Dark eyed junco singing

Dark-eyed junco singing

As if shooting photos of flying birds out in the open wasn’t tough enough, lately, I have been practicing shooting through the branches of trees because it happens so many times that it is the only way to get a shot of a bird, so here’s a few of my practice shots from today.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

The park I walked today is the same park where I have been chasing both the Carolina and winter wrens around the last few weeks, and guess what I got good photos of…

Male Carolina wren

Male Carolina wren

Male Carolina wren in full song

Male Carolina wren in full song

Male Carolina wren

Male Carolina wren

Male Carolina wren

Male Carolina wren

Male Carolina wren

Male Carolina wren

Female Carolina wren

Female Carolina wren

OK, so the photo of the female isn’t the greatest, I got the pair of them together, so I know that there is a pair! You can see that I had to go in after the female, she stayed buried deep in the brush, while the male perched out in the open while he serenaded her. (By the way, these photos will be inserted into the post on Carolina wrens in the My Photo Life List series)

Next up, a song sparrow.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

The birding slowed down for a while after that, so I amused myself by photographing the ice and snow.

Ice

Ice

Ice

Ice

Ice

Ice

Ice

Ice

Snow bust

Snow bust

I thought that some one had stood in one place for so long that they had been buried up to their neck in snow. ūüôā

Then the birding picked up again.

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Those are without a doubt the very best photos of a dark-eyed junco that I have ever taken, and again, not to brag, but some of the best that I have ever seen. (They will be added to the Dark-eyed junco post)

A red-tailed hawk flew past to have its picture taken.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Then, I found the flock of American tree sparrows again, and this time I did it right, or at least I think so. I was shooting almost directly into the sun, but luckily, I got close enough to some of them to use my flash for fill, to come up with photos like this.

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

With out some fill in flash, that photo, along with the rest of the ones I took, would have been just silhouettes of the sparrows.

Then, to wrap up an excellent day, both a male northern cardinal and a fox squirrel posed for me.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Oh, that reminds me, other than cropping, nothing was done to any of the photos in this post as far as post processing other than one photo of the ice I tweaked the exposure slightly, other than that, what you see is what came out of the camera today! It was that kind of day, things went so well that I know that I’ll have a sting of bad luck to make up for it.

One more thing before I wrap this one up, my friend Jan is preparing another post on the swans and ducks she sees, there’s some great photos and stories coming up from her!

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


American Kestrel, Falco sparverius

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

American Kestrel, Falco sparverius

The¬†American Kestrel¬†, sometimes colloquially known as the¬†Sparrow Hawk, is a small¬†falcon, and the only¬†kestrel¬†found in the Americas. It is the most common falcon in North America, and is found in a wide variety of habitats. At 19‚Äď21 centimeters (7‚Äď8¬†in) long, it is also the smallest falcon in North America. It exhibits¬†sexual dimorphism¬†in size and¬†plumage, although both sexes have a¬†rufous¬†back with noticeable barring. Juveniles are similar in plumage to adults.

American Kestrels feed largely on small animals such as¬†grasshoppers,¬†dragonflies,¬†lizards,¬†mice, and¬†voles. They will occasionally eat other small birds. The kestrel has also been reported to have killed larger animals such as snakes, bats, and squirrels.¬†The kestrel maintains high population densities, in part because of the broad scope of its diet. The American Kestrel’s primary mode of hunting is by perching and waiting for prey to come near. The bird is characteristically seen along roadsides or fields perched on objects such as trees,¬†overhead power lines, or fence posts. It also hunts by hovering in the air with rapid wing beats and scanning the ground for prey. Other hunting techniques include low flight over fields, or chasing insects in the air.

Its breeding range extends from central and western Alaska across northern Canada to Nova Scotia, and south throughout North America, into central Mexico and the Caribbean. It is a local breeder in Central America and is widely distributed throughout South America. Most birds breeding in Canada and the northern United States migrate south in the winter. It is an occasional vagrant to western Europe.

On to my photos, and since all the photos of kestrels that I have managed so far all look the same, I’m only posting three for right now:

Update! During my vacation to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the fall of 2013, I managed a few good shots of a kestrel which I am adding to the end of this post.

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel in flight

American Kestrel in flight

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

 

This is number 57 in my photo life list, only 293 to go!

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

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American Coot, Fulica americana

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

American Coot, Fulica americana

The American Coot is a bird of the family Rallidae. Though commonly mistaken to be ducks, American Coots come from a distinct family. Unlike ducks, Coots have broad lobes of skin that fold back with each step in order to facilitate walking on dry land. They live near water, typically inhabiting wetlands and open water bodies in North America. Groups of these black-feathered, white-billed birds are called covers or rafts. The oldest known Coot lived to be 22 years old.

The American coot is a migratory bird that occupies most of North America. They live in the Southwestern United States, Mexico, and the pacific coast year round, and only occupy the northeastern regions during the summer breeding season. In the winter they can be found as far south as Panama.  They generally build floating nests and lay 8-12 eggs per clutch.  American coots eat primarily algae and other aquatic plants but they do eat animals (both vertebrates and invertebrates) when available.

Much research has been done on the breeding habits of American Coots. Studies have found that mothers will preferentially feed offspring with the brightest plume feathers, a characteristic known as chick ornaments. American coots are also susceptible to conspecific brood parasitism, and have evolved rules to identify which offspring are theirs and which are from parasitic females.

The American Coot is a highly gregarious species, particularly in the winter, when its flocks can number in the thousands.

The American Coot can dive for food but can also forage and scavenge on land. It is¬†omnivorous, eating plant material,¬†insects,¬†fish, and other aquatic animals. Its principle source of food is aquatic vegetation, especially¬†algae. During breeding season, Coots are more likely to eat aquatic insects and¬†mollusks,¬†which constitute the majority of a chick’s diet.

Coot mate pairings are monogamous throughout their life, given they have a suitable territory. A typical reproductive cycle involves multiple stages: pairing, nesting, copulation, egg deposition, incubation, and hatching. The American Coot typically has long courtship periods. This courtship period is characterized by billing, bowing, and nibbling. Males generally initiate billing, which is the touching of bills between individuals. As the pair bond becomes more evident, both males and females will initiate billing only with each other and not other males or females. After a pair bond is cemented, the mating pair looks for a territory to build a nest in. A pair bond becomes permanent when a nesting territory is secured.

On to my photos, and since coots have appeared many times in my blog in the past, and I’m sure will continue to show up here, I’m only going to post two recent photos for now.

American Coot

American Coot

American Coot

American Coot

American coot

American coot

American coot

American coot

American coot

American coot

American coot with snail stuck to its beak

American coot with snail stuck to its beak

This is number 56 in my photo life list, only 294 to go!

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

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White-winged Scoter, Melanitta fusca

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

White-winged Scoter, Melanitta fusca

The White-winged Scoter breeds over the far north of North America. It winters further south in temperate zones, on the Great Lakes, the coasts of the northern USA and the southern coasts of Canada, and Asia as far south as China. It forms large flocks on suitable coastal waters. These are tightly packed, and the birds tend to take off together.

The lined nest is built on the ground close to the sea, lakes or rivers, in woodland or tundra. 5-11 eggs are laid. The pinkish eggs average 46.9 mm (1.8 inches) in breadth, 68.2 mm (2.7 inches) in length and 82.4 grams (2.9 oz) in weight. The incubation period can range from 25 to 30 days. After about 21 days, neighboring females may start to behave aggressively towards other nesting females, resulting in confusion and mixing of broods. By the time she is done brooding, a female may be tending to as much as 40 offspring due to the mixing from these conflicts. The female will tend to her brood for up to 3 weeks and then abandon them, but the young will usually stay together from another 3 weeks. Flight capacity is thought to be gained at 63 to 77 days of age.

In freshwater, this species primarily feeds on crustaceans and insects, while in saltwater areas, it feeds on molluscs and crustaceans. The favorite foods of the American (sub)species are an amphipod Hyalella azteca in freshwater, and rock clams Protothaca staminea, Atlantic Siliqua and Arctic wedge clams Mesodesma arctatus.

On to my photos:

White-winged Scoters

White-winged Scoters

White-winged Scoters

White-winged Scoters

White-winged Scoters

White-winged Scoters

DSC_7256

Female White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

White-winged scoters in flight

White-winged scoters in flight

White-winged scoters in flight

White-winged scoters in flight

White-winged scoters in flight

White-winged scoters in flight

Female White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

Male White-winged scoter

Male White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

Male White-winged scoter

Male White-winged scoter

Male White-winged scoter

Male White-winged scoter

This is number 55 in my photo life list, only 295 to go!

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

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Common Grackle, Quiscalus quiscula

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Common Grackle, Quiscalus quiscula

The common grackle forages on the ground, in shallow water or in shrubs; it will steal food from other birds. It is omnivorous, eating insects, minnows, frogs, eggs, berries, seeds, grain and even small birds and mice. Grackles at outdoor eating areas often wait eagerly until someone drops some food. They will rush forward and try to grab it, often snatching food out of the beak of another bird. Grackles prefer to eat from the ground at bird feeders, making scattered seed an excellent choice of food for them. In shopping centers, grackles can be regularly seen foraging for bugs, especially after a lawn trimming.

Along with some other species of grackles, the common grackle is known to practice “anting,” rubbing insects on its feathers to apply liquids such as¬†formic acid¬†secreted by the insects.

This bird’s song is particularly harsh, especially when these birds, in a flock, are calling. Songs vary from, year round “Chewink Chewink” to a more complex breeding season “Ooo whew,whew,whew,whew,whew” call that gets faster and faster and ends with a loud “Crewhewwhew!” The grackle can also mimic the sounds of other birds or even humans, though not as precisely as mockingbirds, which is known to share its habitat in the Southeastern United States.

In the breeding season, males tip their heads back and fluff up feathers to display and keep other males away. This same behavior is used as a defensive posture to attempt to intimidate predators. Male common grackles are less aggressive toward one another, and more cooperative and social, than the larger boat-tailed grackle species.

Grackles tend to congregate in large groups, popularly referred to as a plague. This enables them to detect birds invading their territory, and predators, which are mobbed en masse to deter the intruders.

Unlike many birds, the grackle benefits from the expansion of human populations due to its resourceful and opportunistic nature. Common grackles are considered a serious threat to crops by some, and notoriously difficult to exterminate and usually require the use of hawks or similar large birds of prey.

On to my photos:

Male common grackle

Male common grackle

Common grackle

Common grackle

Common grackle

Common grackle

Common grackle

Common grackle

Common grackle

Common grackle

 

This is number 54 in my photo life list, only 296 to go!

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

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Ring-billed Gull, Larus delawarensis

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Ring-billed Gull, Larus delawarensis

The Ring-billed Gull is a medium-sized gull.

Adults are 49 cm (19 in) length and with a 124 cm (49 in) wingspan. The head, neck and underparts are white; the relatively short bill is yellow with a dark ring; the back and wings are silver-gray; and the legs are yellow. The eyes are yellow with red rims. This gull takes three years to reach its breeding plumage; its appearance changes with each fall molt.

Their breeding habitat is near lakes, rivers or the coast in Canada and the northern United States. They nest colonially on the ground, often on islands. This bird tends to be faithful to its nesting site, if not its mate, from year to year.

They are migratory and most move south to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North America, also the Great Lakes.

This gull is a regular wanderer to western Europe. In Ireland and Great Britain it is no longer classed as a rarity, with several birds regularly wintering in these countries.

These birds forage in flight or pick up objects while swimming, walking or wading. They also¬†steal food¬†from¬†other birds¬†and frequently scavenge. They are¬†omnivorous; their diet may include¬†insects,¬†fish,¬†grain,¬†eggs,¬†earthworms¬†and¬†rodents. These birds are opportunistic and have adapted well to taking food discarded or even left unattended by people. It is regarded as a pest by many beach-goers because of its willingness to steal unguarded food on highly crowded beaches. The gull’s natural enemies are¬†rats,¬†foxes,¬†dogs,¬†cats,¬†raccoons,coyotes,¬†eagles,¬†hawks, and¬†owls¬†.

In the late 19th century, this bird was hunted for its plumage. Its population has since rebounded and it is probably the most common gull in North America. In some areas, it is displacing less aggressive birds such as the Common Tern.

On to my photos:

Juvenile ring billed gull

Juvenile ring billed gull

Ring billed gull

Ring billed gull

Ring billed gull

Ring billed gull

Ring billed gull

Ring billed gull

Ring billed gull

Ring billed gull

Ring-billed gull portrait

Ring-billed gull portrait

Ring-billed gull

Ring-billed gull

Ring billed gull in flight

Ring billed gull in flight

This is number 59 in my photo life list, only 291 to go!

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

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Herring Gull, Larus argentatus

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Herring Gull, Larus argentatus

The¬†American Herring Gull¬†or¬†Smithsonian Gull¬†or (Larus argentatus smithsonianus) is a large¬†gull¬†which breeds in¬†North America, where it is treated by the¬†American Ornithologists’ Union¬†as a subspecies of¬†Herring Gull¬†(L. argentatus).

Adults are white with gray back and wings, black wingtips with white spots, and pink legs. Immature birds are gray-brown and are darker and more uniform than European Herring Gulls, with a darker tail.

It occurs in a variety of habitats including coasts, lakes, rivers and garbage dumps. Its broad diet includes invertebrates, fish, and many other items. It usually nests near water, laying around three eggs in a scrape on the ground.

It has a varied diet including marine invertebrates such as mussels, crabs, sea urchins, and squid, fish such as capelin, alewife, smelt, insects, and other birds including their chicks and eggs. It often feeds on carrion and human refuse. Food is plucked from the surface of the shore or sea or is caught by dipping underwater or by shallow plunge-diving.

Breeding adults have a white head, rump, tail, and underparts and a pale gray back and upper wings. The wingtips are black with white spots known as “mirrors” and the rear edge of the wing is white. The under wing is grayish with dark tips to the outer¬†primary feathers. The legs and feet are normally pink but can have a bluish tinge, or occasionally be yellow. The bill is yellow with a red spot on the lower mandible. The eye is bright, pale to medium yellow, with a bare yellow or orange ring around it. In winter, the head and neck are streaked with brown.

Young birds take four years to reach fully adult plumage. During this time they go through several plumage stages and can be very variable in appearance. First-winter birds are gray-brown with a dark tail, a brown rump with dark bars, dark outer primaries and pale inner primaries, dark eyes, and a dark bill, which usually develops a paler base through the winter. The head is often paler than the body. Second-winter birds typically have a pale eye, pale bill with black tip, pale head and begin to show gray feathers on the back. Third-winter birds are closer to adults but still have some black on the bill and brown on the body and wings and have a black band on the tail.

On to my photos, most of which are of these birds in flight, as gulls of all species make great subjects to practice photographing birds in flight:

Herring gull

Herring gull

Herring gull dodging a wave

Herring gull dodging a wave

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull feeding on a washed up fish

Herring gull feeding on a washed up fish

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

This is number 60 in my photo life list, only 290 to go!

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

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American Tree Sparrow, Spizella arborea

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

American Tree Sparrow, Spizella arborea

The American Tree Sparrow, formerly known as the Winter Sparrow, is a medium-sized sparrow.

Adults have a rusty cap and grey underparts with a small dark spot on the breast. They have a rusty back with lighter stripes, brown wings with white bars and a slim tail. Their face is grey with a rusty line through the eye. Their flanks are splashed with light brown. They are similar in appearance to the Chipping Sparrow.

Their breeding habitat is tundra or the northern limits of the boreal forest in Alaska and northern Canada. They nest on the ground.

These birds migrate to the United States or southern Canada to spend the winter. Usually, Chipping Sparrows are moving south around the same time as these birds arrive.

These birds forage on the ground or in low bushes, often in flocks when not nesting. They mainly eat seeds and insects, some berries. They are commonly seen near feeders with Dark-eyed Juncos.

This bird’s song is a sweet high warble descending in pitch and becoming buzzy near the finish.

On to my photos, you can read about how I got most of these photos and learned to identify these sparrows here.

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

 

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

 

This is number 58 in my photo life list, only 292 to go!

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

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White-throated Sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

White-throated Sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis

The White-throated Sparrow is a passerine bird of the American sparrow family Emberizidae.

There are two adult plumage variations known as the tan-striped and white-striped forms. On the white-striped form the crown is black with a white central stripe. The supercilium is white as well. The auriculars are gray with the upper edge forming a black eye line.

On the tan form, the crown is dark brown with a tan central stripe. The supercilium is tan as well. The auriculars are gray/light brown with the upper edge forming a brown eye line. Both variations feature dark eyes, a white throat, yellow lores and gray bill. There is variation and some individuals may show dark lateral stripes of each side of the throat.

They almost always pair with the opposite color morph for breeding. The two color morphs occur in approximately equal numbers. Both male and female white-striped birds are more aggressive than tan-striped birds during the breeding season.

These birds forage on the ground under or near thickets or in low vegetation. They mainly eat seeds, insects and berries, and are attracted to bird feeders

White-throated Sparrows breed in central Canada and New England. They nest either on the ground under shrubs or low in trees in deciduous or mixed forest areas and lay 3-5 brown-marked blue or green-white eggs.

On to my photos:

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

 

This is number 53 in my photo life list, only 297 to go!

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

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