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

One small wetland, Three lifers!

Having received a rare bird email alert from eBird that told me that trumpeter swans and American bittern had been seen at a small wetland not too far from where I live, I decided to check that place out.

First, I “scouted” the area on Google Earth so that I would have some idea of what the area was like, that helped a lot. It also helped that I just happened to bump into the person who verifies the rare bird reports for eBird here in Kent County, Michigan this morning, and he gave me more info about the place.

After doing my daily walk around home, I ate lunch, then set out for the wetland. When I arrived, it was rather cloudy with a pretty stiff wind out of the northwest. I had barely gotten started down the path when I began spooking birds that I should have gotten photos of. But, since this was my first time at this spot, I wasn’t sure what I would find or where. I tried to go slow and cautiously, but I wasn’t able to sneak up on anything, the birds were spotting me and either running…

Pie billed grebe on the run

Pie billed grebe on the run

…or flying away from me long before I could get a good shot.

Male blue-winged teal in flight

Male blue-winged teal in flight

Northern shovelers in flight

Northern shovelers in flight

I was a bit disappointed, as I could tell that the trumpeter swans had left the pond, I didn’t think that I would ever be able to spot the bittern in the marsh, and overall, things were not going well.

As I approached the far end of the pond, there was a stand of willows and alders there, along what turned out to be a small creek that drains the pond. I could see small songbirds flitting about in the brush, so I put the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) to work at what it does an excellent job of, catching small birds trying to hide from me.

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

Warbling vireo

Warbling vireo

Swamp sparrow

Swamp sparrow

Warbling vireo

Warbling vireo

I was in my element, surrounded by plentiful birds in thick brush, spotting the birds and shooting quickly before they could escape the Beast. To make things better, the sun came out, and eventually, I grew arm weary chasing the small birds with the Beast.

I spotted a very large bird of prey across the pond, and got this one bad photo of it.

Unidentified bird of prey

Unidentified bird of prey

I watched it land, and from the way that it worked its way back into the thickest brush as red-winged blackbirds swarmed it, I think that it was probably an owl of some type, but I could be wrong. Hawks don’t usually hide, that’s something that owls do. I kept an eye out for whatever it was, but never saw it again.

My arms needed a break, so I sat down on the rocks that had been placed along the creek to keep the creek flowing where it is supposed to flow, but my break didn’t last long. The birds just wouldn’t leave me alone.

Warbling vireo

Warbling vireo

Warbling vireo

Warbling vireo

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

Palm warbler testing the Beast's ability to find it

Palm warbler testing the Beast’s ability to find it

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

It turned out to be a great day, well, except for the wind. But, the sun was out, I was surrounded by birds carrying on, some singing, some just calling, and the Beast was performing well. I spotted a bird that I didn’t think that I had ever gotten photos, sure enough, it was a northern waterthrush! My first lifer of the day.

Northern waterthrush

Northern waterthrush

So, how good is the Beast as a birding lens? This good!

Swamp sparrow

Swamp sparrow

Swamp sparrow

Swamp sparrow

The Sigma lens may not be as sharp as my new 300 mm prime lens, but the auto-focus of the Sigma is much quicker, and it seems to hone in on birds even when they are partially hidden, whereas the new lens will focus on the brush rather than the birds.

I have no idea how long I played around in that small area of brush, but I shot many more photos than what you are seeing here, and I decided that it was getting late, and I should start back.

As I had been photographing the small birds, I saw a sandhill crane spiral in and land in the marsh across the pond from me. I looked for the crane, but was having no luck spotting it in the reeds. A red-winged blackbird came to my rescue, and began to attack the crane, which is how I spotted it.

Red-winged blackbird attacking a sandhill crane

Red-winged blackbird attacking a sandhill crane

Red-winged blackbird attacking a sandhill crane

Red-winged blackbird attacking a sandhill crane

Red-winged blackbird attacking a sandhill crane

Red-winged blackbird attacking a sandhill crane

Red-winged blackbird attacking a sandhill crane

Red-winged blackbird attacking a sandhill crane

Red-winged blackbird attacking a sandhill crane

Red-winged blackbird attacking a sandhill crane

I am happy to report that both birds survived, I felt sorry for the crane, it was just looking for food, but in the blackbird’s territory.

Anyway, I continued on my way, watching to blackbirds to see if they would alert me to any other birds, but it was a muskrat that drew my attention to my second lifer of the day, a sora.

Sora

Sora

I got a few so-so shots of flying birds.

Cooper's hawk in flight

Cooper’s hawk in flight

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

Northern shovelers in flight

Northern shovelers in flight

I had about given up on seeing the bittern, I was trying to use my camera as a spotting scope from time to time, but that doesn’t work very well. I rounded a curve in the path, and came eye to eye with one of the bitterns perched in one of the willow bushes on the edge of the marsh. I froze, it took flight.

American bittern in flight

American bittern in flight

It flew across the pond, to where I had been before. I took a step or two in that direction, then decided that I wouldn’t go after the bittern, even though I wasn’t sure how good the photos that I shot were. If I pressed the bittern, it may have left the area for good, and I didn’t want that. So, I turned back around, and just then, a second bittern let out a croak, and took off from very near where the first had been.

American bittern in flight

American bittern in flight

American bittern in flight

American bittern in flight

So, after a lackluster start, the day turned out to be a very good one! Three lifers in a wetland that was less than 80 acres in size makes for an excellent day in my book.

I have one more photo, of the field next to the wetland area.

Dead nettle blooming

Dead nettle blooming

All in all, a very good day after a slow start.

An update, I went back again today, and got yet another lifer, so that makes four from that small wetlands in just two days. But, you’ll have to wait for the next post to find out what it was. 😉

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

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32 responses

  1. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! What a great day for you and some great photos! I just loved the yellow warbler shots! Congratulations on adding to your lifer-list!

    May 4, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    • Thanks Amy, something tells me that you’ll be seeing a few more yellow warblers on my blog soon.

      May 4, 2014 at 11:02 pm

      • I will love it! They are so bright and cheerful. There’s something so sweet about them.

        May 5, 2014 at 7:13 am

  2. What a great collection of birds and all from one outing! You have sure tamed the Beast well. So pleased that you managed to see the bitterns, but I really enjoyed the yellow warbler.

    May 4, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    • Thank you for the very kind words!

      May 4, 2014 at 11:03 pm

  3. Amazing stuff, Jerry. You started out with the sort of shots I normally get of birds in flight (away from me). But the rest were simply amazing. I almost went off the road seeing a bird fly over me the other day…. from the silhouette it might have been a crane of sorts, but far more likely a heron. Could just see the headline now: “old woman crashes over craning at a bird”. 😮

    May 4, 2014 at 6:59 pm

    • Thank you! Wouldn’t that be “craning to see a crane”?

      May 4, 2014 at 11:04 pm

      • Perhaps, if I’d been sure it was a crane… it certainly would have mad for better alliteration! 🙂

        May 4, 2014 at 11:07 pm

  4. Nenkin Seikatsu

    The photographs of the bittern and sora are great

    May 4, 2014 at 7:03 pm

    • Thank you, I appreciate the comment!

      May 4, 2014 at 11:05 pm

  5. Beautiful warbler shots, particularly the Yellow Warbler!

    May 4, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    • Thanks, just getting warmed up!

      May 4, 2014 at 11:05 pm

  6. What a day! I could hardly read fast enough to keep up. My favorite shot was the Canada goose in flight. Loved the shadow on the wing. Thanks.

    May 4, 2014 at 10:07 pm

    • Thanks Judy! I almost didn’t use that photo, now I’m glad that I did.

      May 4, 2014 at 11:07 pm

  7. What a wonderful series of first class pictures, I went slowly through so that I could take them all in.

    May 5, 2014 at 4:27 am

    • Thanks Susan, I probably post too many photos, but most people don’t get to see what I do in a day.

      May 5, 2014 at 9:07 am

      • Don’t think it’s possible for you to post too many photos.

        May 5, 2014 at 9:14 am

  8. What a wonderful day of birding!! This weekend was just great for birds. As always, I love your photos. I’ll be out tonight after work, trying to get a few more of these beautiful warblers while the migration lasts!!

    May 5, 2014 at 5:41 am

    • Thanks Judy, it’s that time of the year when you never can tell what you’ll see.

      May 5, 2014 at 9:08 am

  9. This just goes to show once again that it pays to get out there no matter what the weather. That yellow warbler is a cute little thing and you got a great shot of him. I’ve never heard of a sora. The bittern has big feet for what appears to be a smallish bird.
    I’ve never seen so much dead nettle in one place before. It must have been quite a sight! I’m glad you were able to cross 4 more off your list. Imagine if that happened every weekend. Course, you’d have arms like the incredible hulk, but it would be fun.

    May 5, 2014 at 6:27 am

    • Thanks Allen!
      Sora are a common wetlands bird, but seldom seen, they stay back in the rushes and reeds most of the time. They are related to coots.

      The bittern are in the heron family, and feed in the same habitat, so they need big feet so that they don’t sink in the mud.

      The dead nettle was a sight to see, I should have had a short lens with me, it was a farmer’s field, close to five acres solid with dead nettle.

      I’m outside someplace every weekend, but four lifers in two days is something that I’ll remember for a long time!

      May 5, 2014 at 9:13 am

  10. Warbler season, yeah! Also, thanks for the tip about eBird notices. Apparently there was a snowy owl in our ‘hood & I missed it. Gotta sign up!!!

    May 5, 2014 at 8:37 am

  11. LOVE the red-winged blackbird and sandhill crane shot! I have seen the red-winged blackbirds assault great blue herons, but not the cranes. They are very protective of their nesting areas!

    May 5, 2014 at 10:29 am

    • Thank you, I’ve seen the blackbirds attack deer, they’re fearless!

      May 5, 2014 at 2:00 pm

      • Deer?! Wow, that IS fearless!

        May 5, 2014 at 3:27 pm

  12. All the shots were really good. It’s so nice to have a better day than you expect to have – it makes everything special. If I don’t get round to it later this week, may I wish you a really good holiday and I hope everything goes well

    May 5, 2014 at 7:02 pm

    • Thank you Clare! It was a special day, and the next two weeks will be even better!

      May 6, 2014 at 2:59 am

  13. I an full of admiration for your stamina with the Sigma but it is getting you great results.

    May 5, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    • Thanks Tom, the Sigma is still the best lens that I have for birds, it seems to seek them out as if it knows what I’m after.

      May 6, 2014 at 3:00 am

      • It’s had a good teacher.

        May 6, 2014 at 6:37 pm

  14. I’ve learned so much from your posts! A Sora is a new bird species to me, unique looking!

    May 5, 2014 at 11:10 pm

    • Thank you! A sora is related to coots, and they act much the same, other than sora stay hidden in the weeds while coots are more easily seen.

      May 6, 2014 at 3:03 am