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

Spring vacation, Alpena, Days 1 and 2

Warning! Too many photos ahead!

After what seemed to be a very long drive, I arrived at the Ossineke State Forest Campground in the mid-afternoon. I didn’t drive through the entire campground, but from what I saw, I was the only person to camp there that day. That meant that I was able to get the same campsite, number 13, the one with the screaming tree…

Screaming tree

Screaming tree

…as last year. It’s a good thing that I’m not superstitious, campsite 13, there’s a grave of a young man who drowned back in 1865 next to the campsite, and of course the screaming tree.

After I had my tent/cot set up….

My combination tent and cot set up looking out at Lake Huron

My combination tent and cot set up looking out at Lake Huron

…which took all of ten minutes, I grabbed my other camera with the 300 mm prime lens and 1.4 X extender and went for a walk down the beach. (This photo taken with my 15-85 mm lens)

Lake Huron shoreline near Ossineke, Michigan

Lake Huron shoreline near Ossineke, Michigan

The first thing that I noticed right off the bat was that the lake was much higher than last year, and that all the sand bars and rocky points that had been above water last year were now under water. Also, the marshes between the actual shore and the tree line had been filled with water, but those changes didn’t really effect the wildlife much, it was still there. I started out practicing my flying bird shots with these geese….

 

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

…and this gull.

Herring gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

I also warmed up on a few small birds as well.

Savannah sparrow

Savannah sparrow

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Male mallards

Male mallards

It was a good thing that I had gotten some practice on flying birds, for it wasn’t long before I noticed a gull that didn’t look or fly like the common herring or ring-billed gulls, it was a Caspian tern!

Caspian tern

Caspian tern

This next image is a testament to my single-mindedness when going after a bird.

Caspian tern photo-bombed by a red-winged blackbird

Caspian tern photo-bombed by a red-winged blackbird

That was one of the first photos of the tern, I stuck with it to get the first one that I posted rather than let myself be distracted by the blackbird.

A while back, Tom, who does the Tootlepedal’s blog, left a comment to the effect that it seemed as if I was kicking wildlife out of my way as I walked. Well, I don’t actually kick it, but close to it. As I walked along the edge of the marsh, the small birds such as the sparrow and these shorebirds….

Spotted sandpiper in flight

Spotted sandpiper in flight

Four shorebirds of three different species in flight

Four shorebirds of three different species in flight

….would take flight as I approached, sometimes from nearly under my feet. At the same time, I had to keep an eye to the sky for these birds.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Female mallard in flight

Female mallard in flight

F-18 Hornet in flight

F-18 Hornet in flight

Hmmm, is that last one a bird, as in warbird, or an insect, as in hornet? I guess I’ll let you decide. 😉 Whichever they are, they sure are fast! Either the Michigan Air National Guard or the US Air Force were conducting training missions the week I was up there, so I saw plenty of the planes, but was only able to get photos of two, and I won’t bore you with the other one.

Also, I won’t bore you with dozens of bad photos of eagles in flight. There’s an eagle’s nest about a quarter of a mile south of the campground where I stayed, but most of the time, the eagles stayed just out of range of a good photo.

A small thunderstorm popped up in the evening, so that curtailed my photography for a while, and also ruined any sunset photos.

I ate supper, then turned in not long after sunset.

The next day dawned, if that’s what you want to call it, cloudy and windy.

Cloudy dawn

Cloudy dawn

The smokestacks on the far horizon are the LaFarge cement plant in Alpena, Michigan, and the bay that lies between is called Thunder Bay. I should post a map of the area, or add links to the posts that I did from last year to give you a little more history about the area, but I’m too lazy.

As I was drinking my coffee, waves of warblers passed through the campground, just like last year. But unlike last year, they stayed back in the trees this year. I think that the weather was responsible. Last year, the mornings were cold but sunny, so the warblers would perch out on the ends of branches to catch the early morning sun to help warm them up. This year, it was cold, cloudy and windy, and by staying back in the trees, the warblers were out of the wind to stay warm. And, with the cloudy skies, photos would have been impossible anyway, at least good photos.

After I finished my coffee, I walked down the beach again for these photos.

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

Black-bellied plovers

Black-bellied plovers

Killdeer in flight

Killdeer in flight

Lots of shorebirds!

Lots of shorebirds!

Unidentified thrush

Unidentified thrush

I began to wish that I had brought my kayak with me. Some of the sandbars that were reachable by foot last year had become small islands with the higher water levels of Lake Huron. The shorebirds were taking advantage of that, with most of them staying on the islands, just out of reach of my camera. However, I think that you get the idea, there were lots of them! I could also post a few bad eagle images here, but I won’t, the  photos from this morning were bad enough.

One thing that I had decided to do this time while I was up north was to eat a good breakfast at a restaurant each morning, rather than trying to keep going on junk food. I could cook breakfast myself, but that seems so time-consuming, although eating at a restaurant probably takes as long or longer.

Anyway, as I was on my way out of the campground, the DNR had the road blocked while they sawed down two trees that were about to fall over from winter damage. While one employee pulled the first tree out of the way, I talked to the second employee, whom I had also spoken to the day before. We were talking about other parks in the area, and he suggested the Besser Natural Area, among others. Besser was on my list already, and since it looked like the weather would improve while I ate breakfast, I decided that it would be my first stop of the day.

The Besser Natural Area is a small parcel by Michigan standards, 134 acres, of land donated to the state by the Besser family. I could type more info, but I think this will work just as well.

Besser Natural Area map

Besser Natural Area map

What the sign leaves out is that there’s part of a shipwreck in the lagoon, also.

The weather was improving, but it still wasn’t great for photos, so here’s the few that I shot while hiking the trail.

Unidentified flowering objects, bluets?

Unidentified flowering objects, bluets?

Unidentified flowering objects

Unidentified flowering objects

Beard lichen?

Beard lichen?

Male American redstart singing

Male American redstart singing

Male American redstart

Male American redstart

The abandoned village of Bell

The abandoned village of Bell

The abandoned village of Bell

The abandoned village of Bell

The abandoned village of Bell

The abandoned village of Bell

Caterpillar

Caterpillar

I wish that I could figure out how to shoot a photo of a forest! Just as in Hartwick Pines the week before, the stand of virgin white pines was an awesome sight, but I couldn’t figure out a way to capture that.

I had almost made it back to my Forester, , when I heard the song of a bird that I wasn’t familiar with, my first northern parula!

Northern Parula

Northern Parula

The sun was breaking through the clouds quickly now, so I decided to hike along the beach, going back to the other side of the lagoon in hopes of seeing the shipwreck.

Lake Huron shore at the Besser Natural Area

Lake Huron shore at the Besser Natural Area

Lake Huron shore at the Besser Natural Area

Lake Huron shore at the Besser Natural Area

While shooting those, I noticed that the polarizing filter on the lens let me see down into the water better than the naked eye, I hope that it would help if I spotted the shipwreck, it did, a little.

Shipwreck at the Besser Natural Area

Shipwreck at the Besser Natural Area

If it had been a calm day without the ripples on the water, I could have gotten a better photo of the shipwreck.

For the newer readers who aren’t familiar with the Great Lakes or Lake Huron, and who may not know how large that they are, the Great Lakes are like freshwater seas more than lakes. With the completion of the St. Lawrence Seaway back in the 1950’s, ocean-going ships can sail from the Atlantic Ocean, up the St. Lawrence river, and enter the Great Lakes. This allows those ships to call at ports such as Chicago, Illinois, Detroit, Michigan, and the iron ore docks of Duluth, Minnesota. Here’s a down bound freighter.

Freighter on Lake Huron

Freighter on Lake Huron

I’ve tried to find the name of the ship that’s in the lagoon at the Besser Natural Area, but I haven’t come up with anything. That’s a bit odd, as half the ship is in the lagoon, and the other half in Lake Huron, in just a few feet of water, and it’s listed as one of the easier wrecks to see in the area, but no one seems to know what ship it was.

One more bird image from Besser, another Savannah sparrow.

Savannah sparrow

Savannah sparrow

Since I had to drive past Michigan’s newest park, the Rockport Recreation Area, to get to the Besser area, I stopped to check it out on my way back, and to see what if any improvements have been made since it became a state park. None that I could see so far, but the DNR employees that I talked to said that they will soon be adding a few walk-in campsites and other improvements.

I hiked a mile or so there, but my only photos worth saving were of Lake Huron.

The old dock at the Rockport Recreational Area

The old dock at the Rockport Recreational Area

The Lake Huron shore at the Rockport Recreational Area

The Lake Huron shore at the Rockport Recreational Area

By the way, the Besser Natural Area is just 15 miles or so from where I camped, Rockport is a few miles closer.

On my way back towards the campground, I stopped at the Alpena city park that’s part of the Alpena Nature Preserve. The part that I hiked is the Island Park, an island in the Thunder Bay River, formed by a dam back during the logging days.

I really wished that I had brought my kayak for this park! They have set aside the entire lake formed by the dam as a nature preserve for waterfowl and shorebirds. Hiking wasn’t bad though, just over a mile in length. The trail runs around the island, and the trees there were full of warblers. Unfortunately, the clouds had returned, so my photos weren’t that great. Here’s the few that I saved.

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

Black-throated blue warbler

Black-throated blue warbler

Scarlet tanager

Scarlet tanager

Pie-billed grebe

Pie-billed grebe

Marsh marigolds

Marsh marigolds

Black-throated blue warbler

Black-throated blue warbler

Church in Alpena, Michigan

Church in Alpena, Michigan

Tennessee warbler

Tennessee warbler

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

Chestnut sided warbler

Chestnut sided warbler

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

Looking up, I could see birds that looked similar to swallows, but they were much larger than swallows, and their wings were slightly different as well. I shot way too many photos of those birds, as I suspected that if I could ID them, they would be a lifer for me. They were, black terns!

Black tern

Black tern

Black tern

Black tern

Now I wish that I had shot a few more photos of the terns.

I got back to the campground just in time to catch a peregrine falcon flying past my campsite.

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

As you can see, the clouds had departed again for the most part, I wish that I could have had blue skies like that while I was trying for the terns.

A few more from day 2.

Clouds

Clouds

I got down to the point that’s the end of the campground, and found another eagle.

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

The eagles were there quite often because the carp were up in the shallow water to spawn, and spawning carp are easy pickings for eagles.

Spawning carp

Spawning carp

As sunset approached, I shot these three as I was headed back to my campsite.

Ruby throated hummingbird

Ruby throated hummingbird

Ruby throated hummingbird

Ruby throated hummingbird

Magnolia warbler

Magnolia warbler

Then, it was time for a sandwich for supper while I shot the sunset.

Sunset over Thunder Bay

Sunset over Thunder Bay

Sunset over Thunder Bay

Sunset over Thunder Bay

Not great, but not too bad either.

With that, I called it a night and crawled into my tent/cot for the night.

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

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28 responses

  1. I have to agree that your Lake Huron shoreline looks similar to my recent coast shot. It appears that you had a good time on your vacation.

    June 2, 2014 at 1:14 am

    • Thanks, I did. I wish that some of the lower lakes had the same rocky shoreline in places that Lake Superior does, we could trade photos. 😉

      June 2, 2014 at 8:29 am

  2. You are so knowledgeable, it is a treat to read your blog. I loved the geese in flight, the chipmunks and the sunset.

    June 2, 2014 at 3:44 am

    • Thanks Susan! I figure that if I throw in a little of everything, some one will like a few of my photos. 😉

      June 2, 2014 at 8:38 am

  3. Nice shots of the Savannah sparrow! It’s one of those sparrows that if I’ve seen it I didn’t know it. Also, the Black Tern, what a treat! Thanks for highlighting the places you visit like the Besser Natural Area. I’m going to put that one on the list!.

    June 2, 2014 at 4:45 am

    • Thanks Bob. If you want information overload, look up the US 23 heritage route for northern Michigan, it covers the Michigan counties along Lake Huron. You’d never be able to visit all the places that you’d add to your list.

      June 2, 2014 at 8:40 am

  4. In spite of the frequent clouds, it seems you had a great day birding! To see so many warblers in one trip would be just awesome, clouds or not! Thanks for sharing all the photos.

    June 2, 2014 at 6:06 am

    • Thanks Judy! It’s northern Michigan in the spring, there are migrating birds everywhere!

      June 2, 2014 at 8:41 am

  5. You got some great landscape / seascape shots. It’s fun finding things like the chimney and fireplace out in the woods.
    That first blue / purple wildflower is a bird’s eye primrose (Primula mistassinica) which is usually found much farther north. It’s an unusual one and you’re lucky to have seen it. Another one, Primula farinose, is native to Europe.
    I love the shots of the itchy chipmunk.

    June 2, 2014 at 6:26 am

    • Thanks Allen! There are several northern Michigan ghost towns, old lumber camps in reality, so you never know when you’re going to stumble on the ruins of an old house.

      I really need to learn more about plants and flowers. Northern Michigan especially is home to some very rare plants such as the dwarf lake iris and pitcher’s thistle I have learned. Maybe once I finish with all the birds of Michigan, I’ll start with plants. 😉

      June 2, 2014 at 8:55 am

      • At least they don’t fly away!

        June 2, 2014 at 6:21 pm

      • Maybe they don’t fly away, but they sure do move in the wind!

        June 3, 2014 at 2:33 am

  6. Such remarkable beauty!
    Thanks for sharing.

    June 2, 2014 at 6:58 am

    • Thank you very much!

      June 2, 2014 at 8:42 am

  7. You had a marvelous couple of days as far as the birds go! We will have to check out Rockport and Besser and the city park – although Mark detests the drive to Alpena, for some reason. I think that last sunset shot is quite lovely.

    June 2, 2014 at 8:12 am

    • Thanks Amy. It seems to take forever to get to Alpena, but the trip is worth it. There’s really not much to Rockport yet, it used to be a gravel mining operation. It’s only been owned by the state for two years or so, they haven’t had time to do much with it. Besser is great, and the city park is a real gem! I should have spent a day there in Alpena, especially if I had taken my kayak.

      June 2, 2014 at 8:46 am

  8. Wow, I do hope you realize how lucky you are with the incredible variety of birds, and all in one day! What a fantastic day to start off your holiday. Even though it started off dreary, the afternoon looked glorious. Wonderful captures Jerry! Next time…don’t forget the kayak.

    June 2, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    • Thanks again! Serious birders would put my puny little bird counts to shame easily around here, but I only count what I can photograph.;)

      I’m rethinking bringing the kayak, Lake Huron can turn ugly in seconds, and it may not be a good idea for me to be out there alone when the water temperature is still below 40 degrees. But, I’d do the inland lake in a heartbeat.

      June 3, 2014 at 2:29 am

  9. LOL… Cute! Love those chipmunk shots. Though, I know if I want to get a good lesson on birds and nature, your blog comes to mind. As always, you have a great ability to capture nature’s feathery friends. 🙂

    June 2, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    • Thanks Emily! I still have a lot to learn.

      June 3, 2014 at 2:30 am

  10. A great way to spend a holiday. Your pictures of birds in flight are most enjoyable.

    June 2, 2014 at 6:41 pm

    • Thanks Tom, that’s high praise coming from the King of the flying birds!

      June 3, 2014 at 2:36 am

  11. A really interesting post – and there are never too many shots! The flowers are beautiful and the amount of birds you saw in just a couple of days is amazing!

    June 2, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    • Thanks Clare, just a good day in northern Michigan.

      June 3, 2014 at 2:47 am

  12. A good day indeed. Full of interest as always. Loved the shot of the peregrine falcon and that scarlet tanager looks quite exotic. Now I know why there are so many eagles there.

    June 3, 2014 at 6:20 am

    • Thanks Brandy! Eagles tend to stay together in family flocks until the younger ones are old enough to find mates of their own.

      June 3, 2014 at 9:11 am

  13. Black-throated blue warbler, lovely! I know I’ve said this (many times) before, but Michigan truly is a natural wonder!!!

    June 3, 2014 at 9:15 am

    • Thank you! Not only do we have a wide variety of wildlife here in Michigan, we have access to it. We have the largest system of parks in the country, and more public land than any state east of the Mississippi.

      June 3, 2014 at 9:20 am