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.
Not bad for a “junk” lens not worth buying. 😉 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.
A little farther on, this 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.
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.
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.
The cranes joined the vultures circling over me as they gained altitude also. Next, a red-tailed hawk came along to do the same.
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.
I was getting arm weary keeping the beast pointed almost straight up, but the birds kept coming.
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.
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. 😉 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 out for, but I have to thank the heron 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.
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! (I won’t bore you with as many photos though)
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 a Short-billed Dowitcher in a mixed flock of 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. 😉 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. 😉 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!