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

Muskegon trip Aug. 10th, more shorebirds

This post is the second from the trip that I made to Muskegon on August 10th, 2014, you can see the first one here.

I may as well start with a few photos of a pectoral sandpiper which I have also used to update the post on them that I had done earlier in the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on, since some of my earlier photos weren’t as good as these.

Pectoral sandpiper

Pectoral sandpiper

Pectoral sandpiper

Pectoral sandpiper

Pectoral sandpiper

Pectoral sandpiper

Not only weren’t some of the photos very good, I had incorrectly put a few photos of an upland sandpiper in that post.

Identifying shorebirds is still difficult for me, but the more of them I see frequently, the easier it is becoming. The first time that I went to the Muskegon County wastewater facility to photograph shorebirds, they all looked alike to me. I’m getting better, I could tell that the pectoral sandpiper wasn’t a yellowlegs…

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

…nor was it a solitary sandpiper, as this is.

Solitary sandpiper

Solitary sandpiper

I’m learning to spot the slight differences in the color patterns on their backs, in their bills, and leg color, all of which are clues to their ID.

Another thing that I’m learning is how to get good photos of them. The first few times that I tried I had a very hard time getting the exposure correct. With the sunlight reflecting off from the water and rocks, it results in “confused” light entering the camera. Confused lighting isn’t easy to work with, but getting closer helps a lot, along with checking the images and adjusting the exposure for each and every situation. You can see some of the reflections from the water in the first photo of the pectoral sandpiper. However, those aren’t the worst offenders as far as reflections, it’s the ones that you can’t see which make photography difficult.

One thing that I meant to try was to use a polarizing filter to cut down on the reflected light coming from the water and rocks, but I haven’t shelled out the big bucks for one of those filters to fit the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) yet. It takes an 86 mm filter, and they don’t come cheap for a good one of that size. I do have a polarizing filter for the 300 mm prime, but I didn’t want to do any testing and risk missing a photo of something special. It turns out that I didn’t see any birds that fit that category, but you never know around Muskegon.

Another thing that I want to try is using fill in flash to help when the lighting is less than ideal. I’m jumping way ahead, but just before I packed it in for the day, I found a treasure trove of birds to photograph, but on the north shore of the lagoon. That meant that I was shooting towards the sun, and my photos from that spot are not what I wanted, but they’ll have to do.

Bonaparte's gull in breeding plumage

Bonaparte’s gull in breeding plumage

The only photos that I had up until them of the Bonaparte’s gull were of juveniles, or adults after they had molted. I didn’t know it when I shot that photo that just a bit later I would get a chance to photograph another of the gulls while perched on shore.

Adult Bonaparte's gull

Adult Bonaparte’s gull

Still, the light was wrong for that shot, but it was the best that I could do, birds don’t always perch where I would like them to for the best images. πŸ˜‰

I used to use the flash on my Canon Powershot camera for fill-in flash quite often, but that camera seemed to be programmed to get good results that way. My old Nikon was junk, but I learned some bad habits from it, like not using fill-in flash. I also made a poor decision in purchasing an off brand flash unit that had little control over the unit’s output for the Nikon.

I thought about trying the flash on my Canon to improve the gull photos, but as large and long as the Beast is, I didn’t think that the built-in flash would work well. I could have been wrong. It’s been rainy the past two days, so I’ve been playing, but not with the Beast on the camera. However, the results when using the flash and the 300 mm prime lens have been encouraging so far.

Still, if I’m going to get serious about using a flash more often, as my brother keeps telling me I need to do, I need a better, more controllable flash than the one built-in on my camera.

I’ve been researching Canon’s speedlites, and I’ve settled on the 320 EX. It can be used as a wireless slave in addition to or instead of the camera’s flash. That means that I don’t have to have the flash mounted on the camera in order to fire it. The camera will do that wirelessly, meaning I can hand hold the flash off to one side for macro photography. In addition, I can have the camera on a tripod, point the flash at the camera and press a button on the flash to trigger the camera’s two second shutter delay, and it’s the same as pressing the shutter release on the camera using a two second delay. The two seconds will allow me to position the flash before the shutter fires. I can even trigger the camera remotely with the flash, and have the flash not fire, just like the remote control that I was going to purchase.

So, that flash will kill two birds with one stone, not only will it work as a flash, but it will also work as the remote control that I needed. Speaking of birds, it’s time for a few more.

Killdeer

Killdeer

I included the killdeer because I saw so many of them, dozens at least.

This spotted sandpiper was jumping from rock to rock in search of food…

Spotted sandpiper jumping from rock to rock

Spotted sandpiper jumping from rock to rock

…and seemed quite proud of itself after making the leap without getting wet.

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

I tried to catch a jump, but I missed, a little early on the shutter.

Spotted sandpiper jumping from rock to rock

Spotted sandpiper jumping from rock to rock

By using the sparse brush along the dike that created the lagoon, I was able to sneak up on the short-billed dowitcher from the last post.

Short-billed dowitcher and least sandpiper

Short-billed dowitcher and least sandpiper

Short-billed dowitcher and least sandpiper

Short-billed dowitcher and least sandpiper

A little closer.

Short-billed dowitcher and least sandpiper

Short-billed dowitcher and least sandpiper

Short-billed dowitcher and least sandpiper

Short-billed dowitcher and least sandpiper

I almost got even closer to the dowitcher, but a bird that I hadn’t seen as it hid in the rocks took off when I spooked it, and spooked the dowitcher as well. Birds weren’t the only critters hiding between the rocks.

Thirteen lined ground squirrel or gopher

Thirteen lined ground squirrel or gopher

Thirteen lined ground squirrel or gopher

Thirteen lined ground squirrel or gopher

Thirteen lined ground squirrel or gopher

Thirteen lined ground squirrel or gopher

I did get two poor shots of the dowitcher in flight.

Short-billed dowitcher in flight

Short-billed dowitcher in flight

Short-billed dowitcher in flight

Short-billed dowitcher in flight

I also saw a small flock of semipalmated plovers, they’re such cute little birds!

Semipalmated plover

Semipalmated plover

Semipalmated plovers

Semipalmated plovers

Semipalmated plover

Semipalmated plover

The look like killdeer, but they’re less than half the size, only have one black band at the neck, and have slightly webbed feet, which if you look closely at the last photo, you can see.

For the other birds that I saw, there were quite a few hawks….

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk taking flight

Red-tailed hawk taking flight

….another juvenile bald eagle…

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

…a great blue heron…

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

…a common raven…

Common raven

Common raven

…and last, but certainly not least, a sandhill crane.

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

I had mentioned earlier in this post that I had found a treasure trove of birds along the north shore of one of the lagoons. That’s where I shot the gulls and plovers. But, by that time I had nearly baked my brain again in the hot sun as I stalked the shorebirds from this post and the last. Since I had been sick that morning from too much sun the day before, and since the light was so poor on the north shore of the lagoon, I decided to call it quits for the day. The rest of the photos were shot as I drove slowly towards the exit of the wastewater facility.

I’ll probably be going back this next weekend, I know of no other place where I can see and photograph the variety of birds that I do there.

I think that I’ll pick-up the flash unit tomorrow if it is in stock locally, that will give me time to read the manuals for it and my camera, and test it out around home here before I try it on some rare bird that I may spot.

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

 

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16 responses

  1. I can see where identifying the different shore birds can be very tricky! I love the plovers, they are so adorable. And funny that the dowitcher is called “short-billed” when its bill looks lo long!! I actually really liked that the lesser yellowlegs was in the photo, to see the size difference. They looked like little buddies. πŸ™‚ That second photo of the pectoral sandpiper made me laugh, the look on its face!

    August 13, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    • Thanks again! One trick that I forgot to mention in the post to ID shorebirds is to use the bar graphs from eBirds to see what species are around at a given time. I’ve seen and photographed the long-billed dowitcher, there isn’t much difference. But from eBirds, I learned that the short-billed pass through in August, the long-billed from the middle of September to October.

      August 14, 2014 at 2:37 am

  2. Your pictures are getting sharper all the time. You had some beauties here. Don’t get yourself really ill from the sun. We would miss you.

    August 13, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    • Thanks Tom! I still can’t believe that I got a sunburned head while wearing a hat, I’ll have to be more careful from now on.

      August 14, 2014 at 2:39 am

  3. I understand why it is called the least sandpiper now having seen it next to another bird! The last shot of the crane is really good.

    August 13, 2014 at 7:46 pm

    • Thank you Clare! I usually try to get only one bird at a time, but there are times when showing the differences between species is more important.

      August 14, 2014 at 2:40 am

  4. Great pictures!

    August 13, 2014 at 9:10 pm

    • Thanks!

      August 14, 2014 at 2:41 am

  5. Splendid sandpiper!

    August 14, 2014 at 3:51 am

    • Thank you Susan!

      August 14, 2014 at 8:57 am

  6. I have to use flash a lot but the most difficult situation is when I need flash fill. I think an off camera flash would help a lot with that. I’ve also thought of a ring flash for macros.
    It’s odd that the spotted sandpiper has fewer spots than the other birds. I don’t doubt for a minute that shorebirds are hard to identify!
    I think most of these are excellent but my favorites are of the Short-billed dowitcher and least sandpiper. The gopher runs a close second though-he’s funny!

    August 14, 2014 at 6:49 am

    • Thanks Allen!

      When it comes to lighting, I don’t think that there is one easy answer. My brother has a ring light, but doesn’t like it. He did buy a cheap off brand though, which may have something to do with the fact that it doesn’t work well for him. He uses a “tethered” flash for his macros, a flash unit on a cable that allows him to position the flash off camera within reach of the cable.

      The LED panel light that I bought works well as fill for macro photography, but doesn’t have the output to use for fill lighting at more than a few feet away. I forgot to mention that the flash unit I’m thinking of buying has both a flash and an LED output that can be used for video, which will take the place or be used in addition to the LED panel I already have.

      The spotted sandpiper was either a juvenile or had already molted, in the spring and summer the adults have black spots on their belly and are the easiest shorebird to ID.

      The gopher was a hoot, other than I was crawling through that broken rock on my hands and knees to get close to one of the shorebirds, but it gave me a good angle on the gopher. πŸ˜‰

      August 14, 2014 at 9:09 am

  7. Love the Sandhill Crane.

    August 14, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    • Thank you very much!

      August 15, 2014 at 2:02 am

  8. Love the crane shots. Also the size comparison of the dowitcher and least sandpiper. Before I read your title, I thought the sandpiper was the dowitcher’s baby. They’re so cute! I’m wondering if the flash won’t spook the birds. I would never have thought to try that. I never get close enough to our skittish birds (except for the gulls) where a flash could reach.

    August 14, 2014 at 10:55 pm

    • Thank you! I used to flash birds quite often when I used a compact digital camera, most of the time the birds didn’t seem to be bothered by the flash. My brother said that it was because the flash blinded them like it does us, so the birds couldn’t fly away if they wanted to. πŸ˜‰

      August 15, 2014 at 2:05 am