Scouting the Haymarsh State Game Area
Last Sunday, July 27th, it was hot, humid, with occasional showers and thunderstorms, so I figured it would be a good day for a scouting expedition. I chose the Haymarsh State Game Area, as it is only about 70 miles from where I live. I had been there once or twice when I was much younger, one of my uncles lived just a few miles from there.
Here’s what the Michigan DNR’s website has to say about the wildlife viewing potential of the area, which is close to 6,000 acres in size.
“A mixture of streams, ponds, small lakes, and wildlife floodings dot this forested area of cut-over aspen, maple, and oak. This area is primitive with few amenities. Many of the access roads are unimproved and there is only one primitive restroom.
A small campground offering 19 sites with pit toilets and hand pumps is run by Mecosta County and is located on 140th Avenue. There are numerous trails that dissect this area, but they are not marked. Feel free to hike any trails you find, but don’t forget to bring a compass. There are 56 acres in six plots have been seeded for several years with warm season grasses. Two plots are identified with signs.
Excellent probability of viewing songbirds throughout the year. Haymarsh probably offers the best opportunities for viewing nesting songbirds in Mecosta County. Look for nests of golden-winged and mourning warblers in May and June. Areas of overmature aspen forest provide good habitat for red-bellied woodpeckers and the large, crow-sized, pileated woodpeckers. Bald eagles and loons are seen here occasionally, and osprey (also known as fish hawks) usually nest here in spring. September and October bring large flights of migrating Canada geese and wood ducks to the shallow water floodings of the area.”
For those of you who aren’t familiar with how the State of Michigan designates land, a state game area is much like many other of Michigan parks, but they are open to hunting in season. The land was purchased with money that came from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, or the from the tax on hunting and fishing gear. During the majority of the year, when all the hunting seasons are closed, the state game areas offer great birding and hiking opportunities.
On my way up there, I stopped in the City of Big Rapids, as they have a system of parks and trails along the Muskegon River. I took a quick stroll through one of the parks just to stretch my legs, and found this spotted sandpiper foraging along the banks of the river.
There were a couple of gulls on the far bank, which I thought would be good for testing something that I have been wanting to try, using live view to auto-focus with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) with the 1.4 X extender behind it.
My 60 D body will not auto-focus normally with the Beast and extender, but I’ve read that you can use live view. That works best with the camera mounted on a tripod, so I set-up and shot this shot without the extender to start the test.
Unfortunately, that gull was chased off by an adult, but the adult perched very close to where the juvenile had been, so I shot this one with the extender behind the Beast.
Not good, but I’m not sure why. It may be out of focus, or it could be because I forgot to turn the OS of the Beast off. I’ve read that leaving the OS on when the lens is mounted to a tripod can cause problems, and the second photo looks like it has the same “ghosting” that I get if I leave the OS on while shooting photos of birds directly overhead.
It could also be that there was some shake to the camera even though I had it mounted on the tripod. I didn’t use the self timer, silly me, so I was pressing the shutter release by hand. My Manfrotto tripod is a good one, but the weight of the Beast, extender, and camera body are pushing the tripod’s capacity.
My biggest problem was that I couldn’t see the LCD display of my camera no matter how I positioned it, due to the bright sun and hazy conditions. (The Canon 60 D has an articulated display, very handy most of the time)
I have remedied that problem I think, I have since bought a cheap umbrella to carry with me. I think that the umbrella will come in handy for a number of uses besides keeping my camera and myself dry when it rains. I can use it for shading myself and camera so that I can see the camera display, shade subjects when the shadows are too harsh, or use it as a backdrop behind subjects when the background isn’t that attractive.
I think that I’ll pick up a remote control for my cameras as well, so that I don’t have to switch back and forth between using the self timer and not. If an eagle had flown past me while I was doing the testing, I would have yanked the camera off from the tripod and focused manually to catch the eagle as I did this spring. It’s not easy, but I have done it. But, it would be impossible if I had the self timer enabled.
Anyway, the test wasn’t a complete bust, I did learn that what I’ve read is true, the 60 D body will focus with the Beast and extender in live view. I may have to tweak the focus manually, that remains to be seen, when I can see the display. So, on one of the days when I have the time and a willing model, I’ll try again, using this experience as the starting point the next time.
That’s just one of the things that I have to test yet with my gear, one of the others is shooting in burst mode. I used to fill the buffer of my old Nikon even when I shot in the single frame mode, so I’ve never gotten around to trying the burst mode with my Canon. Since it has a much larger buffer, and uses faster memory cards, I may not fill the buffer as quickly as I think, but that remains to be seen as well.
Anyway, I was on my way to the Haymarsh SGA, so I didn’t linger in the park very long. I had just crossed the boundary line that marks the beginning of game area when I spotted these along the road, so I pulled over to photograph them.
I had just told Allen who writes the New Hampshire Gardens Solutions blog that I couldn’t remember having ever seen red bee balm before. I have now. I also spotted these in the same marshy area.
A little farther up the road, there was another small marsh, and several of these.
Unfortunately, I spooked the other two herons before I could get a shot of them, but I did get this sandpiper.
I pulled into an access site to one of the many small lakes in the area, and found these frogs.
Both of the frogs were shot with the Tokina macro lens, and the photos haven’t been cropped at all. The same is true of the flower photos.
It may look as if it had been a sunny day from the photos so far, there were some times when it was sunny but there were also small showers moving through the area as well, as you will see later.
Because of the weather, I spent most of my time driving slowly along the two-track roads that were open, getting a feel for the place. I saw a few birds, nothing special worth stopping to try to get a photo of, however, it looked like a great place for birding with just about every type of habitat that Michigan has. There were small ponds, marshes, and swamps in between wooded, upland parcels of wooded land, with a few open fields as well.
I arrived at one of the earthen dams that holds back the water of a small stream to form a marsh, and decided that it would be a good place to walk for a while. The mosquitoes and weather said otherwise though. Oops, I gave away the ending of this segment.
I had parked in the parking lot near the dam, and walked over to look the area over, and was nearly struck down by the birds flying across the trail from the parking lot to the dam. I returned to my Forester to apply insect repellent and grab my camera bag so that I’d have more than just the Beast with me, and returned to the dam to shoot these.
Then, this phoebe perched to give me this shot….
…seeing that I was taking its photo, the phoebe turned…
…and struck a pose for me.
Isn’t it great when the birds cooperate?
The yellowthroat saw what was going on and thought that she would get in on the action as well….
…however, she wasn’t quite sure of me, and fidgeted the entire time she was out in the open, so the photo isn’t as sharp since there wasn’t much light to work with.
The reason that there wasn’t much light is that there was another thunderstorm moving rapidly towards me, and what light that there was had an eerie quality to it.
I set the Beast down, and started shooting photos of the approaching storm using the 15 – 85 mm lens, hoping to get a bolt of lightning in the picture.
Well, I didn’t get any lightning, the storm collapsed on itself just as it got overhead, and it dropped just a little light rain. But, there were other storms popping up all around me, so not wanting to get a close-up of a lightning bolt as it struck me, I thought that it would be a good time to drive over to the campground that’s located in the Haymarsh SGA and check it out.
Before I get to that part though, a short side note. If I were to ever begin doing any post-processing to my photos, it would be to landscape photos such as the ones above. My 60 D bodies don’t have the widest dynamic range compared to some other digital cameras, but even the very best cameras are lacking in that area. The sensors can’t handle the very bright sky and record the foliage correctly at the same time. If you expose for the foliage, then the sky is blown out. There are graduated neutral density filter systems that would make those photos better if I had one, but they are expensive, and cumbersome to use, which is why most photographers today use software rather than filters. If I do start post-processing, I’ll have to do better than this one!
So, I headed over to the campground and wandered around there between the storms. Seeing this bull thistle, I decided to try out the 15-85 mm lens again.
A bee arrived…
…which led to this photo.
I saw a few signs that fall is approaching much more quickly than I would like.
Just before another storm hit, I got this dragonfly.
And once again, I shot photos of the approaching storm, first, with the 15-85 mm lens…
…then with my new 10-18 mm lens.
I can see that the 10-18 mm lens is going to come in handy for both landscapes as in the photo above, and for this photo, which was taken at home.
The extra angle of view over the 15 – 85 mm lens let me get all of the reflections of the clouds on the water in the first photo, and the incredible depth of field got all the flowers in focus in the second image.
But I digress. I have two more photos from the day.
Okay, to wrap this up. My plan worked about as well as I could have hoped for. With the small storms moving through the region all day long, hiking for very far would have been miserable as warm and humid as it was between storms. During the storms, I’d have been worried about being struck by lightning along with getting drenched.
I got a very good feel for the Haymarsh SGA, and I loved it! (except for the skeeters, which are everywhere this summer) I saw birds everywhere I went, even if I didn’t get many photos. I can see that it would be a great place for spring and fall birding when they are migrating, as there’s plenty of different types of habitat to attract many different species of birds.
The campground is a small rustic type, just my kind of camping, and I think that in early spring, or fall, when the insects aren’t present, that I’ll camp there so that I can spend a weekend birding the area.
The Muskegon area may still be the number one spot for birding on this side of the state, but I got the feeling that the Haymarsh SGA would come very close to Muskegon, with two added benefits. One, affordable camping available so I can spend an entire weekend there, and two, there will be different species of birds present at the Haymarsh than at Muskegon.
But, that’s Michigan for you, too many good places for one to get out into nature. I keep finding new places all the time, it’s getting hard to keep track of them, and to spend any time at all of them. 😉
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!