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

Lane’s Landing, Muskegon, I got the bird!

Another Sunday, another rather hot and humid day, so I left early for a birding trip to the Muskegon area, starting at Lane’s Landing. Lane’s Landing is within the Muskegon State Game Area, and it has become one of my favorites places for birding.

Before I get to the sparse details about this trip, a word about the weather here in West Michigan this summer. We’ve been in a pattern where the warmest, most humid days of the week have been on the weekends, a front with rain passes through the area on Sunday night into Monday, then we have had cool, pleasant days during the work week as the heat builds slowly towards the weekend. Almost perfect weather!

I don’t have very much to say in this post, I walked as far at Lane’s Landing as I could before the mosquitoes got too thick as I approached the Muskegon River, then, I did a short tour around the Muskegon County wastewater treatment facility, and finished up in a wooded area of the Muskegon State Game Area.

Upon my arrival at Lane’s Landing, I warmed up shooting this juvenile common yellowthroat.

Juvenile common yellowthroat

Juvenile common yellowthroat

Juvenile common yellowthroat

Juvenile common yellowthroat

I heard the distinctive voice of a marsh wren behind me, so I turned around for these.

Marsh wren

Marsh wren

Marsh wren

Marsh wren

Those aren’t great, I was shooting towards the sun, but at least I’ve finally gotten photos of a marsh wren. Like most wrens, they spend most of their time hidden in the thickest of vegetation. I’ve heard marsh wrens a few times, and I may have even seen them before, but I could never make a positive ID before. The photos may not be great, but they’re a start, and I can cross another species off from my list of birds to photograph. If things go as they normally do, I’ll get better photos the next time I see them.

Anyway, as I shooting the wren, this willow flycatcher was watching me.

Willow flycatcher

Willow flycatcher

I got to the pond where I had seen the common gallinules (moorhens) the last time I was there, but there was only one juvenile in sight.

Juvenile common gallinule (moorhen)

Juvenile common gallinule (moorhen)

I installed the 1.4 X tele-converter behind the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) and tried for a better photo, but that was an epic failure. None of the photos I shot were any good. I have to manually focus when the extender is used with the Beast, so I don’t know if I missed the focus, or if using the extender with the Beast is a lost cause at longer ranges. I’m beginning to think that it’s the latter. I shot these two with the same set-up, and they aren’t very good at all.

Female ruby-throated hummingbird

Female ruby-throated hummingbird

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

But, I had a chance to test that set-up later in the day, so I’ll get back to that when I get to those chances. For right now, here’s the rest of the photos from Lane’s Landing worth posting.

Unidentified flowering object

Unidentified flowering object

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Willow flycatcher?

Willow flycatcher?

That wraps things up for the Lane’s Landing portion of the day, the next stop was the wastewater facility, where I shot these bobolinks.

Female or juvenile bobolink

Female or juvenile bobolink

Female or juvenile bobolink

Female or juvenile bobolink

Female or juvenile bobolink

Female or juvenile bobolink

Since they were relatively close, and I could rest my camera on the door of my Forester, I installed the tele-converter again for this juvenile male bobolink.

Juvenile male bobolink

Juvenile male bobolink

Juvenile male bobolink

Juvenile male bobolink

Juvenile male bobolink

Juvenile male bobolink

Way too soft again! I was wondering how I was able to get such sharp photos of waterfowl using that set-up earlier in the spring, when it dawned on me, the waterfowl were so close that I didn’t have to zoom to the full 500 mm to fill the frame with the birds. But, by then the bobolinks had moved out of range to try that. In the meantime, I found large flocks of shorebirds of several different species.

I didn’t want to do what I did last year, shoot almost 500 photos to try to sort through and ID the birds, so I limited myself to just these two.

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

It was hot out in the open, and I wasn’t in the mood to ID shorebirds, so I headed to the woods of the Muskegon SGA to keep cool, and was able to get these.

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird

I haven’t seen many bluebirds this year, so it was good to see one. I also saw a family of red-headed woodpeckers, but only this juvenile perched where I could see it.

Juvenile red-headed woodpecker

Juvenile red-headed woodpecker

Juvenile red-headed woodpecker

Juvenile red-headed woodpecker

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Right after I shot the monarch, I looked up to see several birds the right size and shape to be red-headed woodpeckers flying overhead. Red-headed woodpeckers feed differently than most woodpeckers, they will often catch insects on the wing. I’ve watched them fly from a branch to pluck an insect from the air, then return to their perch to wait for another insect to fly past. However, the birds that I saw this time were behaving more like swallows, staying airborne as they fed on insects. I’m not 100% sure that the birds were red-headed woodpeckers, but they sure looked like it.

Red-headed woodpecker in flight

Red-headed woodpecker in flight?

I’m still trying for a really good photo of Dianthus flowers.

Dianthus

Dianthus

I saw this ovenbird, and as soon as it spotted me, it did what they usually do, started running for cover.

Ovenbird on the run

Ovenbird on the run

This one made a mistake, it had to pass an area in the sunlight on its way to cover, so when it got in the sun, I whistled, and the ovenbird stopped to figure out what was going on.

Ovenbird

Ovenbird

That gave me time for this shot.

Ovenbird

Ovenbird

I had to shoot these next few through a tiny opening in the foliage.

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

The nuthatch would see me, and change positions so that I no longer had even the poorest of views of it. So, I’d wait, the nuthatch would come back into view as it wanted to dig a caterpillar out from under the bark of the tree.

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

Not great, but, sometimes you have to take what the birds give you, and this nuthatch wasn’t giving much.

On my way out of the state game area, I had one more chance to test using the Beast with the tele-converter, this time using a bald eagle as the subject. Here’s the eagle at 500 mm with the image not cropped at all.

Bald eagle, 500 mm, not cropped

Bald eagle, 500 mm, not cropped

Normally, I would have tried to get closer, or at least a better angle on the eagle, but I decided that I would test my equipment and not worry if the photos were only fair. I was using the luggage rack on top of my Forester as a makeshift tripod. Here’s the cropped version shot at 500 mm.

Bald eagle, 500 mm,  cropped

Bald eagle, 500 mm, cropped

I then installed the tele-converter for this next one, still using my Forester as a tripod and focusing manually.

Bald eagle, 700 mm, not cropped

Bald eagle, 700 mm, not cropped

I then got my tripod out, set it up, and mounted the Beast to the tripod. I also grabbed my new umbrella to shade the LCD display of the camera, switched to live view to auto-focus for this one.

Bald eagle, 210 mm, cropped

Bald eagle, 210 mm, cropped

At that point, the eagle flew off.

Bald eagle in flight, 700 mm, cropped, with the OS on, and manually focused

Bald eagle in flight, 700 mm, cropped, with the OS on, and manually focused

Test results, incomplete.

When I mounted the Beast on the tripod, I had zoomed back out all the way to get the eagle in the viewfinder and the tripod adjustments locked down. I switched to live view, using the live view zoom to zoom in 10 X without adjusting the zoom on the lens, silly me. That’s why the last photo of the eagle while it was perched was only 210 mm. By the time I had looked that photo over and realized my mistake, the eagle had flown. Since I didn’t get the OS shut off for the eagle in flight, it’s a crappy photo.

I need a subject that will sit still for 10 or 15 minutes so that I can try to work out all of the variables, but I did learn a little more. One, the Canon 60 D will auto-focus in live view at smaller apertures than it will when trying to auto-focus using the viewfinder. Two, I don’t think that the tele-converter will extend the range that I am able to get good photos at, due to atmospherics, as I’ve said before. Still, it would be nice to know for sure, maybe one of these days I’ll find a willing model that will stick around long enough for me to test it out correctly.

You’d have thought that the eagle would have stuck around to watch the silly photographer fumbling around with his equipment while holding an umbrella for shade, but maybe the eagle wasn’t in the mood to watch a comedy of errors. 😉

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

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20 responses

  1. Glad the eagle realised its obligations!

    August 8, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    • Thanks Susan! If the eagle had stuck around a little longer, I may have gotten a good photo of it.

      August 8, 2014 at 2:56 pm

  2. Congratulations on the Marsh Wren! The third shot of the Ovenbird is beautiful.

    August 8, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    • Thanks Bob!

      August 8, 2014 at 2:55 pm

  3. I’d be happy with just seeing an eagle so getting a photo would be the icing on the cake. I like the shots of the ovenbird too. It’s a bird that I’ve heard a lot about but have never seen. My favorite shot has to be the bluebird because I never see them.
    I meant to say in my last comment that I can feel the tug of a DSLR. Even though I swore I’d never lug all of that stuff through the woods again I miss the flexibility, so everything you’re saying about cameras and lenses isn’t falling on deaf ears. Besides, I’m still lugging a bunch of stuff through the woods even without the DSLR.

    August 8, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    • Thanks Allen! I’m so spoiled, I use eagles as test subjects these days. 😉 Ovenbirds are tough, they don’t like to be seen out in the open. I hear bluebirds more often than I see them, but I should start tracking a few down again, as I haven’t posted many photos of them this year.

      I wouldn’t think that you’d have that much stuff to carry with you if you went to a DSLR. A good macro lens and a wide angle lens for landscapes. If you went with a longer macro lens and used a tele-converter behind it, it would be yourr telephoto lens also.

      August 9, 2014 at 2:42 am

  4. It’s really hard work getting the long shots. You’ll have to start imitating bird calls and get the birds to come closer to you.

    August 8, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    • Thanks Tom, and you’re right, get closer to the birds!

      August 9, 2014 at 2:43 am

  5. Personally, I think the last shot of the ovenbird is your best yet.

    August 8, 2014 at 11:32 pm

    • Thank you! The power of a well timed whistle does wonders. 😉

      August 9, 2014 at 2:43 am

  6. II can just see you struggling with all that equipment, trying to focus on the eagle, while holding an umbrella in all that heat! You’re a martyr to the cause of excellent photography! You’ll have to employ a caddie like a golfer. I loved the third ovenbird shot as well as the monarch butterfly and the bobolinks.

    August 9, 2014 at 6:02 am

    • Thank you Clare! For the photos of the eagle, things were easy, I was right at my vehicle, so I didn’t have to carry anything. And, I don’t look at it as work anyway, it’s something I enjoy doing.

      August 9, 2014 at 9:33 am

  7. Never even heard of an ovenbird before! You are working hard for all these shots, and it is really paying off.

    August 9, 2014 at 7:49 am

    • Thanks Judy! Ovenbirds are actually quite common from GR north, but they stay well hidden most of the time.

      August 9, 2014 at 9:38 am

  8. I really enjoyed the series of the bobolinks because I have never seen them before. The oven bird photos were fantastic. We hear them all the time up north. Guess I need to learn to whistle! 🙂 It would be awesome to see red-headed woodpeckers! Congrats on the bald eagle! Your tale of shooting it and trying the different options was fun to read. 🙂 He stuck around pretty well for you.

    August 11, 2014 at 10:43 am

    • Thanks Amy! I need to catch the bobolinks in the spring when the males are mostly black. I’m so lucky to see so many different species of birds, I’m beginning to think that I’m a bit jaded since I use bald eagles as test subjects these days. 😉

      August 11, 2014 at 12:49 pm

      • 🙂 It is easy to take things for granted when we see them regularly. I thought about that when we were in the North east, mostly because we didn’t see very many birds at all. (And I’m used to seeing so many out my front window every day.) I did think of you and your comments awhile back about herons because we saw several great blue herons. Never when I could snap a photo though.

        You do see a very wide variety of birds and I’m always impressed at the shots you are able to get. You must be very patient at standing still, or very blessed to have the birds pose for you so often! I see a lot of them flitting through the trees but never get much cooperation from the subjects. 🙂

        August 11, 2014 at 2:32 pm

      • I use a combination of techniques to get the bird photos that I do. Sometimes I do stand in one spot until the bird slips up and comes out in the open. Other times, I chase them around inside the tree or bush that they are trying to hide in. Other times, they do pose for me.

        August 12, 2014 at 3:05 am

  9. I’m always amazed about the variety of birds you get to see. The Ovenbird is so darling!

    August 12, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    • Thanks you Emily! You wouldn’t think the ovenbirds were so darling if you tried to photograph one that wouldn’t stop running. 😉

      August 13, 2014 at 2:37 am