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

Another Muskegon trip, another lifer

On Sunday, November 3, 2013, I made my monthly birding trip to the Muskegon area, and once again I was amply rewarded with great birding.

I had planned on starting out by hiking P. J. Hoffmaster State Park early in the morning, then hitting some other birding spots in the afternoon. However, Hoffmaster is right on Lake Michigan, and from checking the weather from home, I could see that lake effect clouds were over Hoffmaster, so I decided to change my plans. The clouds alone wouldn’t have been enough to change, but I also just received two pairs of hiking boots to break in, and I also hadn’t been feeling 100% the past few days. So I opted to begin at the county wastewater treatment facility, and go from there. But, things were so good there, that I never left until late afternoon.

In fact, it was so good that I have decided to do two posts on the day, because I spent some time photographing a pair of peregrine falcons hunting together, and I think that they deserve their own post.

OK, where should I start, at the beginning would make sense, but my first shot of the day was of a flock of mallards that I have cropped so that the photo won’t work in the slide show at the top of the page. So instead, I’ll post this photo out of order, then go back to the beginning. 😉

Red-necked phalarope, non-breeding

Red-necked phalarope, non-breeding

That seemed to be the star of the show on Sunday, with almost all of the many birders whom I spoke with asking me if I had seen it.

It’s an insight into how good the Muskegon area is for birding, with thousands of birds, including some rather rare species, most people were complaining that they weren’t seeing anything out of the ordinary on that day. This post will end up being quite long because of the number of species of birds that I did get photos of, and I only managed a fraction of the species there, but it was still considered an off day of sorts to many of the birders.

OK, back to the start. I planned on checking what are known as the grassy cells to look for the Wilson’s snipe that had been seen earlier in the week. I never did find it, but I hadn’t even made it to where I planned to park and start wandering around on foot before I started shooting photos.

Mallards in the morning

Mallards in the morning

They may be only mallards, but the numbers of them feeding in one of the cells that had a large puddle in it was impressive.

There were two red-tailed hawks perched in the trees on the west edge of the grassy cells, I guess hunting wasn’t good there, for first one…

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

…then the other flew off to better hunting grounds.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

With thousands of Canada geese all around me, I had to take a few photos of them in flight for practice.

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

I spotted this small bird which I haven’t been able to ID yet.

Unidentified bird

Unidentified bird

There were flocks of horned larks in abundance.

Horned lark

Horned lark

I didn’t find the snipe, so I decided to try another spot, and as I was driving past one of the man-made lakes, I shot this photo of a few of the northern shovelers who have arrived for the winter. They form groups on the water and work together to agitate the water to stir up food for themselves.

Northern shovelers

Northern shovelers

Later in the day I shot this photo of a male, I may as well throw it in at this point.

Male Northern shoveler

Male Northern shoveler

I went past the man-made lakes to a small area of mixed field and trees, and found the following, but no snipe.

Meadowlark

Meadowlark

I never got a look at the chest of the meadowlark to tell if it was an eastern or western meadowlark, since both are seen in the area, I’ll play it safe on the ID.

I found this doe, I think that it was one of this year’s fawns, as it had the forlorn look of a fawn that had just been driven off on its own by its mother. During the fall is when whitetail deer breed, and the females drive their young of the year away as mating season approaches. The poor little fawns are left on their own for the first time in their live’s, and they always have a sad, lost look about them. I have seen the mother deer driving their young away, and it is something heartbreaking to see, as the fawns can’t fathom why their mother has suddenly turned against them.

The good news is that once the breeding season is over, the fawns generally find their mothers again, and are allowed to rejoin them. Next fall, the mother of this one won’t have to drive it away, its hormones will take care of that as this one goes in search of a buck.

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

I think that this swan that flew over me while I was snipe hunting was a trumpeter, but I’m not 100% sure of that.

Juvenile Trumpeter swan in flight

Juvenile Trumpeter swan in flight

My snipe hut wasn’t going well, no snipe, so I headed to yet another spot, driving past the south end of the man-made lakes, pausing to shoot photos of a flock of about 100 Bonaparte’s gulls cavorting near the edge of one of the lakes.

Bonaparte's gulls

Bonaparte’s gulls

Bonaparte's gulls

Bonaparte’s gulls

Bonaparte's gull in flight

Bonaparte’s gull in flight

As I was approaching the east end of the grassy cells for another look around that area, I saw a flock of snow buntings in the distance.

Snow buntings in flight

Snow buntings in flight

When I went for a better photo of them is when I saw the peregrine falcons from my previous post.

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

And the rough-legged hawk.

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

And a northern harrier.

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Still no snipe, but I did find a few greater yellowlegs hanging around yet.

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs in flight

Greater yellowlegs in flight

There were many small flocks of American pipits scattered all around the area.

American pipit

American pipit

Still no snipe, but I managed to stay busy taking photos.

Bonaparte's gull

Bonaparte’s gull

Bonaparte's gull

Bonaparte’s gull

Herring gull

Herring gull

Just a tree

Just a tree

Unidentified duck

Unidentified duck

Female ruddy duck

Female ruddy duck

Female bufflehead

Female bufflehead

American coot

American coot

Trumpeter swans

Trumpeter swans

So far for the day, I had mixed driving from spot to spot with short walks around each spot, I needed to stretch my legs out, so I headed to the north end of the facility to walk the woodlots there, and here’s a sampling of the birds I saw there.

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

Milkweed seed

Milkweed seed

Dark eyed junco

Dark eyed junco

Juvenile red headed woodpecker

Juvenile red-headed woodpecker

Juvenile red headed woodpecker

Juvenile red-headed woodpecker

The other birds I saw while hiking the woodlots were mostly the same species I see at home on a regular basis, so there’s no need for me to post more photos of them here.

All in all, I would say it was an excellent day of birding, even if I never found the snipe of spotted a merlin as I had intended to search for earlier in the week. I got another lifer, the rough-legged hawk, and more good photos of some of the species that I could use better photos of, and best of all, it was just a great day to be outdoors. What more can I say, I suppose that I could attempt to list all the species of birds that I saw, but I didn’t take notes, I was too busy shooting photos, and without notes, there’s no way I could remember everything that I saw. I would estimate that I saw close to 100 species of birds that I could ID in total, and hundreds or even thousands of some of the species there, like the Canada geese and some of the ducks.

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

21 responses

  1. What an awesome day of birding!! Good for you!

    November 5, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    • Thank you! And, thank you!

      November 5, 2013 at 3:01 pm

  2. Looks like you’ve got a fantastic area for birding. You snagged some great shots, too. That juvenile woodpecker is a cutie!

    November 5, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    • Thank you! That woodpecker was tough to photograph, it tried its best to stay hidden.

      November 6, 2013 at 2:18 am

  3. A fabulous flock of photos! I would love to spend a day here and see some of these wonderful species! I have to tell you, your photographs have really opened my eyes to the beauty of gulls! That shot of the mallards in the sunrise is quite moving!

    November 5, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    • Thanks Amy! The Bonaparte’s Gulls aren’t like their larger cousins at all. They are quiet, almost friendly birds.

      November 6, 2013 at 2:20 am

  4. Anonymous

    Very nice shots, particularly the juvenile Red-headed woodpecker. Don’t believe I’ve ever seen one.

    November 5, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    • Thanks, I hadn’t either until I managed to track that one down, it did its best to stay hidden from me.

      November 6, 2013 at 2:21 am

  5. Wow-what a lot of different birds to see in one day. I’ve never been to a place where so many different species come together like this. It didn’t take long for you to get used to swinging that giant lens around! All of the photos are excellent, but the shots of the flying birds are even more so. The color on that maple is georgeous!

    November 5, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    • Thanks! I hope to make it to Ludington this fall, the number of birds is much like Muskegon, but it’s a nicer setting.

      Swinging the Beast around following birds as fast as falcons is a real workout, I can feel it in my back and shoulders today.

      November 6, 2013 at 2:30 am

  6. It is wonderful to be able to see so many different birds in one day. You must be very active as well as very still almost at the same time.

    November 5, 2013 at 6:36 pm

    • Thanks. You know, that’s a good description of my technique, actively stationary. 😉 I try to sneak along slowly, but my head and eyes are always moving looking for the slightest sign of wildlife, then the real action starts as I manhandle the Beast to get the photos.

      November 6, 2013 at 2:33 am

  7. What a fantastic outing you had, and an excellent report and wonderful photos you’ve shared with us. Well done.

    November 5, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    • Thank you, I was surprised that I didn’t see any herons, there’s usually a few around.

      November 6, 2013 at 2:34 am

      • Ah, but you more than made up for it in volume of other birds, plus a lifer. Our herons, most of them, will be on the wing south soon, with only the hardy remaining to winter over. That was the same when I lived in Michigan by this time of year.

        November 6, 2013 at 8:23 am

      • It really hasn’t been that cold here yet, and we usually have a few hard core herons that stick through the winter if they can find open water.

        November 6, 2013 at 8:35 am

  8. You have the greatest birds to enjoy. Almost makes me want to move there. But then..the winters are a bit much for me. Fantastic captures!

    November 5, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    • Thanks. The winters aren’t that much colder here, but they are much cloudier with much more snow than you get. I’ll bet that there are similar birding spots near you, have you tried the eBirds Hotspot map?

      November 6, 2013 at 2:36 am

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  10. Great shots! Michigan looks to be a great state for variety of birds- it helps having lots of water in your state!

    November 10, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    • Thanks Tracy! Actually, the water is both a help and a hindrance, we get many waterfowl and other water loving birds because of our lakes and rivers, but some songbirds won’t migrate over the open waters of the Great Lakes, so they go west of Michigan.

      November 10, 2013 at 7:42 pm