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

Muskegon trip Aug. 10th, sharing a thermal

I had great plans for the day, starting with getting up early so I’d beat the heat of the day. I was up early, but I was also sicker than a dog, so I piddled around home for a while until I felt well enough to go. That meant that I had to change my plans a bit. I was going to start at Lane’s Landing again, but instead, I started and finished at the Muskegon County wastewater treatment facility.

I shot 600 photos, and no, I’m not going to post them all, not even close. The “curse” of the wastewater facility struck again, I have to be very close to a subject to get a sharp photo of anything there. I’ve discussed possible reasons for that in the past, no need for me to rehash them again. It is a shame though, there are more birds to be seen there than anywhere else I’ve ever been. The area is mostly open as well, making it hard to sneak up on the birds. The first few times I went, I shot most of my photos from my vehicle, but I am learning a few tricks that let me get closer to the birds on foot, so that my photos are a bit better at least some of the time.

As soon as I turned off from the main road to enter the facility, I began shooting photos, starting with a red-tailed hawk and a great blue heron, but those images have been deleted, since both species made frequent appearances during the day. On the other side of the road I spotted some spotted bee balm, and so I decided to look them over and if they looked good, I’d set up my tripod and get some good macro photos of them. Silly me, since the flowers were within a few feet of the road, I didn’t grab a camera, and several species of waterfowl went winging past me as I inspected the bee balm. I quickly returned to my Forester and grabbed the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) but the waterfowl seemed to know that I had a camera then, and stopped flying past me. The spotted bee balm was well past its prime, but I did find this insect feeding on the few remaining flowers.

Wasp-like insect on spotted bee balm

Wasp-like insect on spotted bee balm

Not bad for a “junk” lens not worth buying. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But, I’ve hammered that review of the Sigma lens enough, time to move on.

And move on I did, checking what are called the grassy cells for any birds that were worth exiting my vehicle and attempting to stalk on foot. I did spy a red-tailed hawk recharging after a rough morning.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

A little farther on, this great blue heron.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

As good as the Beast is, the 300 mm prime is better under the right circumstances, and I’d love to see what the prime lens can do on a heron. So, I drove down the road a short way until I could find a place to park in the shade, swapped lenses, and started back on foot, hoping to sneak up on the heron. It didn’t work.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

I don’t know if the heron heard me, or if it just decided to try other hunting grounds, but you can see that it left well before I got close to it.

However, what happened next was one of those magical moments in nature that I’ll never forget, although it began on the bland side. I was walking back to my Subaru when a small flock of vultures came from over the woods out in the open very close to me.

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

As I was standing outside of the car, changing back to the Beast, the vultures continued to circle above me, catching a thermal updraft to help them gain altitude without expending much energy. The vultures were still over me as a pair of sandhill cranes came from across the grassy cells, headed straight at me, giving me plenty of time to get ready for them.

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

The cranes joined the vultures circling over me as they gained altitude also. Next, a red-tailed hawk came along to do the same.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

By then, I had a flock of vultures, the cranes, and a hawk all riding the thermal upwards, which begs the question, how do the birds know where to find updrafts? Because the vultures and the hawk as well as more birds I haven’t mentioned yet came from over the woods, I don’t know how far away from the updraft that they were to start. But, I know the cranes flew a quarter of a mile directly towards the updraft to get to it.

Can the birds tell by the lay of the land, experience, weather conditions, or a combination of various factors to find an updraft?

Anyway, the first hawk had hardly gotten out of photo range when the young eagle joined the parade.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

I was getting arm weary keeping the beast pointed almost straight up, but the birds kept coming.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

I thought about zooming out and trying to get several of the birds in one photo, but the vultures were mere specks in the sky by then, the cranes were slightly closer, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell what they were, and besides, more hawks joined the upward spiral.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

You may think that I’m cheating and using many photos of the same hawk, but I’m not. Look closely at the markings of the hawks and you can see that there were five individual hawks circling over me, along with the eagle, cranes, and vultures.

It was truly an awesome display, seeing all those birds circling over me, I forgot how sick I had been earlier. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I neglected to say that I think that I felt as poorly as I had because of my allergies kicking in combined with too much sun the day before. I had gotten the top of my head sunburned even though I wore the same hat that I always do.

I may not have gotten a great photo of the heron which I had set outย for, but I have to thank the heronย anyway, for if I hadn’t parked there to try, I would have never seen all those graceful birds flying over me to begin circling above me.

For most of the rest of the day, I spent my time chasing shorebirds, of which there were many. The fall migration has begun in earnest, believe me! Two years ago I had never heard of most of the species of shorebirds that I saw this day, and it was just a year ago that I wondered if I would ever get a good photo of a species like the lesser yellowlegs. Little did I know.

There were so may yellowlegs everywhere that there was no way I could keep count of them all.

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

IMG_8251

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

I’m sorry for so many photos of them, but they were everywhere! And as many of them as there were, there were even more least sandpipers! ย (I won’t bore you with as many photos though)

Least sandpiper

Least sandpiper

Least sandpipers

Least sandpipers

Least sandpipers

Least sandpipers

Least sandpiper

Least sandpiper

Least sandpipers

Least sandpipers

When I did see a species of shorebird other than those two, my biggest problem as far as photography was getting the other species alone. Most of the time, there were either least sandpipers or yellowlegs in the frame at the same time. Here’s a wider shot showing aย Short-billed Dowitcher in a mixed flock of shorebirds.

Short-billed Dowitcher and mixed shorebirds

Short-billed Dowitcher and mixed shorebirds

Luck was on my side, later I caught the dowitcher even closer, with just one least sandpiper in the frame. However, those photos and the rest that I saved from this trip will be in the next post. ๐Ÿ˜‰ And I promise, no more yellowlegs or least sandpipers unless they just happened to be in the frame as I shot another species of bird. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But, I know of no other way to convey the shear numbers of those two species that I saw on this trip.

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

 

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27 responses

  1. A lovely collection of pictures! Great work.

    August 12, 2014 at 10:20 am

    • Thank you very much Cathrine!

      August 12, 2014 at 1:21 pm

  2. Sorry you were poorly first thing. Your pictures were all a delight but I specially admired the birds in flight.

    August 12, 2014 at 10:23 am

    • Thank you on both counts Susan! I think that I used up my allotment of birds in flight in this post, you’ll have to settle for perched birds for a while. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      August 12, 2014 at 1:23 pm

  3. I see birds riding the thermals right over downtown here and I always wonder what they are. They’re big, whatever they are. It’s an interesting thing to watch.
    The cranes are beautiful birds and I wish more of them came out this way. They did spot some back in May but I haven’t heard of any since.
    I like the shots of the shore birds. It looks like the lighting was perfect that day.
    Take care of the allergies. I have them too and when I forget to take a pill at night I pay for it the next day.

    August 12, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    • Thank you Allen! Cities create many thermals for birds, I’m going to assume that the large birds you see are vultures or possibly buzzards, or they would have made the news headlines. ๐Ÿ˜‰ No matter, those species are very graceful soaring birds, even if they are ugly close up.

      You should be seeing cranes there in a few years. They were still rather rare here a decade ago, now they are becoming quite common. They only raise one or two chicks a year if I remember right, but their numbers are exploding.

      I guess that all the time and effort I’ve put into getting good photos in bad light has paid off. The light wasn’t too bad, but it was far from perfect. It was very humid and hazy, and the light reflecting off from the water and rocks had me doing some serious adjustments to my exposure settings all day for the shorebirds. How bad the lighting was will be more apparent in the next post, in fact, it has convinced me to buy a flash unit to attempt to overcome some of the problems I had.

      August 12, 2014 at 1:32 pm

  4. Mind blowing photographs. As usual! ๐Ÿ˜‰ ๐Ÿ™‚

    August 12, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    • Thank you very much!

      August 12, 2014 at 1:23 pm

  5. Wow! Great pix.

    August 12, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    • Thank you very much Cynthia!

      August 12, 2014 at 3:19 pm

  6. I’m especially fond of those sandhill crane photos. I’m already looking forward to my winter migration to the Gulf Coast to commune with the cranes. Hopefully I’ll have some luck catching them in flight. Hope you’re feeling better ๐Ÿ™‚

    August 12, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    • Thank you, I’m feeling much better now. I’m looking forward to seeing your crane photos this winter.

      August 13, 2014 at 2:19 am

  7. Nothing quite like a great shoot to take your mind off feeling yucky. Hope you can tame the allergies. They really do make life miserable at times. But this series of shots was utterly amazing. I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing a sandhill crane, much less shooting one! (with a camera, of course!) ๐Ÿ™‚

    August 12, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    • Thank you very much! I did fairly well with the flying cranes, but wait til you see what I can do with one on the ground. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      August 13, 2014 at 2:21 am

  8. I am not surprised that you took 500 photos. You were in a good place as they say.

    August 12, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    • Thanks Tom! But, you may not think it was such a good place if you ever smelled it. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

      August 13, 2014 at 2:22 am

  9. What a wonderful collection of birds you found this day. I’m thrilled that you started feeling better so that you could get out and enjoy these beauties. And the Sandhill Cranes! What a fantastic find. You did a super job with these and sounds like you’re getting your stalking techniques honed. ๐Ÿ™‚

    August 12, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    • Thanks Emily! My stalking skills were very good before, but the place where I shot these photos is open and flat, very little to hide behind. I am learning to make do with almost no cover.

      August 13, 2014 at 2:24 am

  10. Nenkin Seikatsu

    A great collection of photos on this outing, particularly the cranes. Are they transient visitors?

    August 13, 2014 at 7:02 am

    • Thank you very much! Some of the sandhill cranes spend their summers here to breed and raise their young, so they are transients in a way. But, not like many of the shorebirds which just pause here to feed on their way farther north in the spring, or south in the fall.

      August 13, 2014 at 8:35 am

  11. Pingback: Muskegon trip Aug. 10th, more shorebirds | Quiet Solo Pursuits

  12. Sorry you started the day feeling so ill, but you were rewarded for getting out there anyway! I loved the story of the thermal updraft — what a sight that must have been! The sand hill crane shots were super!! Also, a couple of the lesser yellow leg photos are really great, so sharp!

    August 13, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    • Thank you Amy! The birds spiraling upwards in the thermal was a sight to remember forever! Because the birds were in no hurry, I had plenty of time to get set to get good photos for a change.

      August 14, 2014 at 2:33 am

  13. I never mind how many shots you include in your posts. As Amy says, some of the lesser yellow leg shots are superb! It must have been so thrilling to have seen all those birds riding the thermals! I am glad you are feeling better. I too have allergies and I’ve also had heat and sun stroke before. Worse than a hangover!

    August 13, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    • Thank you very much for your kind words and thoughts!

      August 14, 2014 at 2:38 am

  14. I have this image of you, camera pointed skyward, whipping back and forth – trying to get a shot of everything as it flies overhead. What a day that must have been. I had a friend who was a glider pilot, and he said that they find thermals in which to soar by looking for the birds that are already in it.

    Such a great collection of shots….

    August 15, 2014 at 9:06 am

    • Thank you Judy! You know, birds are pretty smart, I’ll bet that some of them watch other species, like the vultures, to see where the thermals are, and then in. It was a very cool sight!

      August 15, 2014 at 9:19 am