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

Muskegon trip September 21st, 2014

This post is about the trip that I made to Muskegon on September 21st, 2014. Since I had been to Muskegon the week before, I was going to skip a week, but I’m glad that I didn’t, for I was able to get two lifers on this trip.

The reason that I decided to go again this week was the weather, the forecast called for scattered rain showers and a stiff northwest wind, and that’s what we got. I had considered going for a hike, as the weather doesn’t bother me that much, but I don’t want to take any chances with my camera gear. The good thing about the Muskegon County wastewater treatment facility is that you can do your birding by vehicle if you want.

In fact, the first few times that I went there, I thought that drive-by birding was the only way to get close to birds there. The birds are used to vehicles moving slowly along the roads and two-tracks, but they would instantly flush if I stepped out of my car. I have since learned how to stalk the birds using the bits of vegetation, rocks, and other obstructions as cover.

The weather meant that most of my early photos aren’t very good, but bad weather often means good birding, especially early in the morning. I arrived just after dawn, and it was raining as I drove to the area known as the grassy cells. On my way, a small falcon flew past me, I was hoping that it was a merlin, but it turned out to be a kestrel.

American kestrel

American kestrel

I never noticed this before, but their markings make it look as if they have eyes in the back of their heads.

American kestrel

American kestrel

Kestrels are about the same size as a dove, so you’ll have to excuse the poor quality of those photos, taken in low light while it was raining.

Just as I arrived at the grassy cell that I had planned at starting at, the rain let up, although the wind was still quite fierce. Just as I had hoped, that cell was full of shorebirds of many species. I’ll start with a juvenile black-bellied plover.

Juvenile black-bellied plover

Juvenile black-bellied plover

Juvenile black-bellied plover

Juvenile black-bellied plover

I may have identified them as juvenile golden plovers in my last post, I’ll have to go back and check. The differences between the species are slight, as with many shorebirds. But, speaking of golden plovers, one of the adults came running towards me and got so close to me that these images were only cropped for composition.

American golden plover

American golden plover

American golden plover

American golden plover

As I was shooting those, I noticed a pair of Wilson’s snipe coming out of a clump of reeds where they had been taking cover from the weather.

Wilson's snipe

Wilson’s snipe

There’s quite a bit of difference in the coloration of the two snipe, I wasn’t sure if they were the same species or not, so I shot many photos of each of them just in case. 😉

Wilson's snipe

Wilson’s snipe

Wilson's snipe

Wilson’s snipe

Wilson's snipe

Wilson’s snipe

Wilson's snipe

Wilson’s snipe

Wilson's snipe

Wilson’s snipe

I had been looking for them all summer long, but it turns out that I was arriving far too late to catch them out in the open. Snipe feed at dawn and dusk, and sleep most of the day. They were lifer number one.

Since I was there, and this greater yellowlegs was there, I shot a few photos of it.

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

It soon began to rain again, so I drove around, checking on what species of birds were where, so that I could come back later for photos. It was while I was driving that I spotted the second lifer for the day, a green-winged teal in with a small flock of blue-winged teal.

I have to ask you to excuse the quality of these photos again. There are a number of reasons for the poor quality of these. I spotted the teal while I was driving, but knew that they would likely flush as soon as my vehicle stopped moving. My Subaru has power windows, so I hit the down button with my left hand as I was grabbing my camera with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) on it with my right hand. Trying to manuever a lens that long inside of a car is not easy! But, I got it shifted to my left hand as the window was coming down, and shut the ignition of my Subaru off with my right hand. As I expected, the teal flushed, meaning that I had to shoot them in flight from within my vehicle. It was still raining also.

Blue-winged teal in front, green-winged teal following

Blue-winged teal in front, green-winged teal following

Blue-winged teal sometimes show patches of green on their wings, so I wasn’t 100% sure that the second teal was a green-winged, but the smaller size and lighter belly, tell me that it was.

Green-winged teal in flight

Green-winged teal in flight

That’s barely good enough for me to use in the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on, but I hope that the photos I got break the ice so to speak. I’ll save the photos of the teal for now, and hope to replace them with better ones, like males of the species in their full breeding plumage.

Next up, another terrible photo.

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

I didn’t expect the eagle to be there, it was busy choosing from the brunch menu as I shot that photo through the windshield of my car. As soon as I opened the door to step out for a better photo, the eagle took flight, as did most of the waterfowl and gulls that the eagle had been watching.

Just a few ducks

Just a few ducks

By the way, the eagle chose ring-billed gull for brunch, but I missed that photo, and one of the eagle carry the gull off to a place where it wouldn’t be bothered by photographers.

I drove back to the grassy cells during a break in the rain and the sky lightened up a little. On my way, I shot a few herons.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Earlier this year, it was rare for me to see a great blue heron, even in the Muskegon area, there’s no lack of them now.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

You would think that when I saw this….

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

…that I’d be ready for this…

Great blue heron leaping into flight

Great blue heron leaping into flight

…and possibly, even this.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

I don’t know if the heron didn’t see me or what, but it was angling towards me at first, then made that sudden turn away from me for the typical butt shot.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

This other heron was watching all that unfold.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

You can tell that this is a different heron by the markings on their faces.

I spotted a pair of sandhill cranes, but one of the many mallards that were near the cranes spooked before I could get a good shot of the cranes. They tried their best to blend in with the flock of mallards…

Sandhill crane and mallards

Sandhill crane and mallards

Sandhill crane and mallards

Sandhill crane and mallards

…but that didn’t work out very well.

Sandhill crane and mallards

Sandhill crane and mallards

I found the named bald eagle whose name I can’t remember perched in his favorite tree.

Bald eagle, not cropped

Bald eagle, not cropped

Bald eagle, the cropped version

Bald eagle, the cropped version

As I drove around, I spent more time checking the ducks, hoping to find more green-winged teal, but I had no luck with that. I did get a fair shot of a female blue-winged teal by herself….

Female blue-winged teal

Female blue-winged teal

…and another hiding out in a flock of mallards.

Female blue-winged teal and two mallards

Female blue-winged teal and two mallards

I know that I post too many of this type of photo…

A few Canada geese

A few Canada geese

…but the number of birds there is something that I find very impressive. That was less than 1/4 of the geese in that one field, and there were several fields with just as many or more geese.

That was on my way to the area known as the Swanson/Laketon fields. While driving down a two-track between cornfields, I found this heron blocking my way, but it took flight as soon as I opened my window.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

And I spotted this northern harrier nearby.

Northern harrier

Northern harrier

Other than a few dozen turkey vultures, and a few thousand more geese, I wasn’t ale to find many other birds, so I returned to the main portion of the wastewater facility where I found a female wood duck.

Female wood duck

Female wood duck

Female wood duck

Female wood duck

And, yet another heron did a fly by.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

I have to apologize again for the poor quality of the next three images. One of the kestrels was hunting over one of the grassy cells, and fairly close to me. I shot dozens of photos trying to get good ones, but the weather was just too bad. The photos may not be good, but I really enjoyed watching the kestrel in action. They will hover for a while, then dip, dive, and put on a great display of flying ability as they hunt.

American kestrel in flight

American kestrel in flight

American kestrel in flight

American kestrel in flight

American kestrel in flight

American kestrel in flight

I did better with this pair of sandhill cranes.

Sandhill cranes

Sandhill cranes

Of course, standing birds are much easier to photograph than flying ones, like this bird, another northern harrier.

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier

Northern harrier

Northern harrier in flight

So, that wraps up another trip to Muskegon. I’m not sure yet what I’ll be doing this weekend, I should go on a warbler hunt, but yet another trip to the Muskegon area is very tempting because of the variety of species there. With the good weather forecast for this weekend, I may be able to get better photos than the ones in this post. The hawk migration is on, with many broadwing and other hawks being reported from the dunes in Muskegon State Park. I could also hunt warblers at Lane’s Landing and other places within the Muskegon State Game Area.

I know that the first weekend in October, if the weather forecast is suitable, I’ll be heading up north for fall foliage photos.

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

 

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16 responses

  1. A fabulous photographic tour. Strange to see how similar yet how different birds can be in England and America.

    September 26, 2014 at 11:02 am

    • Thank you Simon! It is good to see the differences and similarities in the birds on either side of the pond.

      September 26, 2014 at 2:19 pm

  2. avian101

    Nice gallery! 🙂

    September 26, 2014 at 11:10 am

    • Thank you very much HJ!

      September 26, 2014 at 2:19 pm

  3. What a fantastic set of photographs, it was impossible to choose a favourite they were all so good. I shall keep them on my iPad to look at again and again!

    September 26, 2014 at 11:52 am

    • Thank you SUsan, but I think that you are pulling my leg, at least a little. 😉

      September 26, 2014 at 2:20 pm

  4. What a great selection of flying bird photos on today’s post. The heron shots were wonderful but the harriers were excellent too as I imagine that they were flying at a good speed.

    September 26, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    • Thanks Tom! The first harrier was going with the wind, so it was zipping right along. The second one was working into the wind, and barely making any forward progress, hence the sharper photos of the second one.

      September 27, 2014 at 2:14 am

  5. I’m finally seeing herons here too after not seeing any for most of the summer. I like the shots of them in flight. I tried that the other day and got a frame full of cattails with a heron foot dangling on the edge. It isn’t easy, and I’d imagine that low light doubles the difficulty.
    I like those little snipes too and the shots of the cranes flying with the mallards are excellent.
    The number of birds there is really amazing. I don’t blame you for going back, I would too!

    September 26, 2014 at 5:38 pm

    • Thanks Allen! It’s good to hear that you’re seeing herons too, I saw very few all summer long. Photographing flying birds isn’t easy, it’s much like shooting skeet, it takes lots of practice, so don’t give up.

      Seeing and hearing hundreds or thousands of waterfowl taking flight all at once is truly awe inspiring. One of these days I should try shooting a video, for it would give people an idea of the bounty that was here when the Europeans first arrived.

      September 27, 2014 at 2:29 am

  6. Looks like an awesome day! Glad you are seeing so many herons, that’s a good sign. I loved the golden plover photos. Congrats on adding to your life list!

    Tomorrow Mark and I are going to the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge for the day. I’m REALLY hoping to see some new-to-me birds, there are supposed to be dunlins there! I’m excited. The weather is supposed to be perfect.

    September 26, 2014 at 7:02 pm

    • Thank you Amy! I wish you good luck today, keep your eyes peeled, as the first time hat I saw a dunlin, it was because I had almost stepped on it. All the shorebirds blend in well with their surroundings, watch for movement, as they are seldom still.

      September 27, 2014 at 2:16 am

  7. Love the shots of the Wilson’s Snipe. The Kestrel, now that is a though one to get.

    September 27, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    • Thanks Bob! It’s always good to see kestrels, even if my photos aren’t good.

      September 27, 2014 at 6:59 pm

  8. So many good shots despite the awful weather conditions. Large flocks of birds are awe-inspiring and still photographs never can get across the effect they can have. The noise of them all calling or the sound of their wings as they fly overhead is quite thrilling.

    September 28, 2014 at 6:17 am

    • Thanks Clare! One of these days I’m going to have to learn how to shoot a video of the flocks of birds taking off for the reasons you stated.

      September 29, 2014 at 9:36 am