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

The September birding trip to Muskegon

I may as well face it, no matter what the weather is like, I’ll probably be going to Muskegon to go birding at least once a month for the foreseeable future. I haven’t posted any photos of waterfowl from my last few trips there, as I haven’t seen any new to me species on those trips. But, I’m sure that will change, (I’m starting this post before the actual trip) as more waterfowl are arriving each time that I go there.

Speaking of weather, once again, the forecast was completely backward. It was supposed to be sunny and hot during the day, with possible storms in the evening. It never stormed, but I ran into on and off showers on my way to Muskegon, and that continued for most of the day.

Because of the clouds and sprinkles of rain, I didn’t manage any award-winning photos today, but I worked my butt off to get a few of several species of raptors and shorebirds.

When I exited the expressway, I spotted this hawk and thought that it would be a good chance to adjust my camera settings for the weather.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Looking at the LCD display, I thought that I had the exposure set better than it turned out to be. I guess that I made an oops last week. To see the LCD display better in the bright sun while using live view to focus, I bumped the brightness of the display up a tick or two, and that helped then. I never thought what effect that would have on a cloudy day when I checked my exposure settings. Still, it’s not bad given the weather conditions.

Almost as soon as I entered the grounds of the Muskegon County wastewater treatment facility, I saw a raptor on the ground in one of the fields. It was in the same area that I saw the northern harrier on my last trip, and as large and dark as the bird this morning was, I assumed that it was also a harrier. Imagine my surprise tonight when I blew the photo up and saw that the bird was a peregrine falcon!

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

Looking up to start moving again, I had to wait until two families of turkeys crossed the road in front of me.

Two hen turkeys and a lot of poults

Two hen turkeys and a lot of poults

A little farther down the road, I spotted two great egrets hanging out with the Canada geese.

Great egrets and Canada geese

Great egrets and Canada geese

And when I arrived at the lagoon where the shorebirds had been on my last trip, I saw that they had been replaced with flocks of gulls, and one lone crow trying to blend in with the gulls.

American crow hiding in a mixed flock of gulls

American crow hiding in a mixed flock of gulls

Gee, crows are known as an intelligent bird, but that one couldn’t have been too bright, it stuck out like a sore thumb.

Last week, I wrote that I should go somewhere with many birds in flight to get more practice using the Sigma lens for photos of the birds, and where you have hundreds of gulls, there are always a few in flight, so practice I did.

Juvenile herring gull in flight

Juvenile ring billed gull in flight

Not bad, how does it work on a great blue heron you ask?

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Not too shabby considering the light.

I won’t bore you with all that I shot. But the practice, and the test shots earlier of the hawk came in darn right handy a short time later. But first, here’s a few tree swallows for you to count.

Several tree swallows

Several tree swallows

And once you’re done counting the stationary swallows, here’s a few airborne swallows that need to be counted also.

Mostly tree swallows in flight

Mostly tree swallows in flight

Yup, the migration is on!

I ran into Ric, the president of the Muskegon County Nature Club while he was busy trying to estimate the number of tree swallows there, he was well over 1,000 when he gave up.

Then, things got interesting, first, one of the peregrine falcons hunting along the edge of the lagoon.

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

Then a bald eagle flew past me.

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

Then, a second eagle following close behind the first.

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

And I barely had time to draw a breath before a second falcon decided that it wanted to be my friend!

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

I had one more chance at it before it was directly overhead less than twenty feet off the ground, but the Sigma wasn’t quite fast enough to keep up with the falcon. However, the falcon was kind enough to land on a power pole almost over my head.

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

The falcon hung around a lot longer than I expected it to, we were there for almost half an hour, with me waiting for better light.

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

I spotted a deer running across an open field, and decided that the deer would make a good practice subject.

Whitetail deer at a dead run

Whitetail deer at a dead run

The falcon let me know in no uncertain terms that it was the star of this show!

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

But, it soon grew tired of posing for me, or got hungry, and left.

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

It’s hard to top a peregrine falcon, I would have liked to, but wasn’t able to. I did shoot a few other notable birds though.

Juvenile golden plover

Juvenile golden plover

Male northern shoveler, non-breeding

Male northern shoveler, non-breeding

Northern shovelers in flight

Northern shovelers in flight

Semi-palmated plover, non-breeding

Semi-palmated plover, non-breeding

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

Swainson's thrush

Swainson’s thrush

Male wood duck, non-breeding

Male wood duck, non-breeding

Male wood duck, non-breeding

Male wood duck, non-breeding

I did some walking around the small woodlots on the northern edge of the wastewater facility, where it abuts the Muskegon State Game Area, but didn’t come up with any birds, just these wildflowers….

Unidentified flowering object

Unidentified flowering object

…and these interesting plants.

Unidentified plants

Unidentified plants

All in all, a very good day! The golden plover and Swainson’s thrush are lifers for me, and I was able to get somewhat better photos of the peregrine falcons and wood duck.

The waterfowl are arriving by the hundreds, on the other hand, birds like the swallows are about to depart the area for the winter. I’m not a serious bird counter, but I would estimate that I saw well over 5,000 birds today, of about 100 species. Besides the shovelers, there were bufflehead, teal, and ruddy ducks in numbers too great to count, along with the Canada geese which covered some of the farm fields.

The tree and barn swallows numbered into the thousands each, and I wouldn’t want to try to estimate the numbers of gulls or starlings that I saw. My biggest problem today, besides the weather, was trying to determine what all the birds I was seeing were, and whether or not I wanted to attempt to photograph them. That’s a good problem to have when you go birding!

Well, that’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

26 responses

  1. WOW! What an awesome day of birding!!!! All your birds-in-flight shots are very impressive! Interesting that the peregrine falcon was banded. I really enjoyed the oddfellow shots – the egrets with the geese and the crow among the gulls! πŸ™‚ Looks like you had a terrific day despite the weather.

    September 8, 2013 at 8:14 am

    • Thanks, any more light at all would have made all the photos better, but you can’t have everything.

      September 8, 2013 at 8:37 am

  2. The purple flower looks like one of the ironweeds, but I’m not sure what the other plant is.
    It looks like it was a great and worthwhile trip. The peregrin falcon looks like it landed kind of klutzy. I’m glad I’m not the one who has to count all those birds!

    September 8, 2013 at 9:21 am

    • The falcon chose the worst spot on the pole to land, it it didn’t look like a comfortable spot to perch, but the falcon sat right there for a long time.

      There are two reasons that I mentioned the numbers of birds. One, there were times that I was truly awestruck by the numbers, like the swallows on the powerlines, or seeing acres of the lagoon covered with northern shovelers. The second reason is that I ran into a “professional” bird counter. He had his spotting scope, several handheld counters, and volumes of paper to record the numbers on. He was so intent on the numbers that I don’t think that he actually saw the birds for their beauty, only as numbers.

      September 8, 2013 at 9:37 am

      • That’s too bad. He should read more nature blogs and become educated about the great beauty to be found out there.

        September 8, 2013 at 7:14 pm

      • I think you’re right!

        September 8, 2013 at 7:20 pm

  3. So many tree swallows!!!
    We have here only barn swallows and they are preparing to migrate right to Africa… Juvenile golden plover is so cute!!
    Male northen shoveler has an interesting colour of eye.
    And wood ducks are lovely, they have such big eyes, I wish we had some here.

    September 8, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    • Thank you Cornel! I’m a big fan of your blog, even though I seldom leave a comment.

      September 8, 2013 at 1:45 pm

      • Somehow, I already knew that.
        πŸ™‚

        Anyway, glad to be sure of this.

        September 9, 2013 at 2:31 pm

  4. Excellent shots both flying and stationary. The falcon won my vote.

    September 8, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    • Thanks! I’ll let the falcon know the next time I see it.

      September 8, 2013 at 5:05 pm

  5. That had to have been an amazing day, the photos are quite awesome.

    September 8, 2013 at 5:37 pm

  6. Lucky you to have so many birds to shoot.

    September 8, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    • Yeah, I like spamming people with my bird shots. πŸ˜‰

      September 8, 2013 at 6:36 pm

  7. Wow that was one packed outing!

    September 9, 2013 at 8:37 am

    • Thanks, but that’s a more or less typical day of birding in the Muskegon area, I missed several species of birds that others reported.

      September 9, 2013 at 8:53 am

  8. Jane

    Great shots! Looked like a great day all the way around.

    September 9, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    • Thank you, it was!

      September 9, 2013 at 12:51 pm

  9. What a great day!! I’m always in awe of the number of birds you manage to find and photograph. (You might want to double check the captions on your Wood Duck shots… I think those are females. πŸ˜‰ )

    September 9, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    • Thanks, I think. That’s a female? I thought it was a young male with its eyes just starting to turn red.

      September 10, 2013 at 1:14 am

      • I definitely meant that as a compliment! (As for the Wood Ducks, you could be right. Tough to tell with the youngsters.)

        September 20, 2013 at 10:43 pm

      • Thanks, I don’t get to see them very often, I’m just a rookie at wood ducks.

        September 21, 2013 at 1:26 am

  10. Have u ever wondered why only young turkeys are poults when we usually think of chickens when we say poultry? (Or is this something only I think about… πŸ˜‰ ) Thx for the peregrine pix, too. Love the raptors!

    September 10, 2013 at 6:28 am

    • Thank you! I hadn’t thought about poults/poultry specifically, but the way that plants, birds and animals are named can be too weird to figure out.

      September 10, 2013 at 9:34 am

  11. plantsamazeme

    So you are still getting life birds! I think the Juvenile golden plover is a little cutie.
    Interesting too that the Peregrine falcon kept its eye on you. Nice shots.
    πŸ™‚

    September 10, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    • Thanks! I have a couple hundred birds to add to my life list from Michigan alone. Fortunately, there aren’t as many birds as there are plants and flowers. πŸ˜‰

      It isn’t every day that I have a peregrine falcon fly past me that close, look me in the eye, then perch on the nearest power pole and sit for that long, it was a cool day!

      September 11, 2013 at 1:26 am