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

Muskegon trip September 28th, 2014

This post is about the trip that I made to Muskegon on September 28th, 2014. The weather during my previous two trips had not been the best for photography, however, there were plenty of new to me birds to shoot. On this day, I arrived early on a glorious early fall day, great for photography, but I didn’t find a lifer. Oh well, you can’t have everything.

When I arrived at the wastewater treatment facility, I headed straight for the grassy cells, where the shorebirds had been hanging out the last two times I had been there. There was nary a shorebird to be found, unless you consider great blue herons to be shorebirds. 😉

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

So, I headed over to the lagoons, and began shooting the northern shovelers there.

Male northern shoveler landing

Male northern shoveler landing

 

Female northern shoveler

Female northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

I managed a couple of so-so images of blue winged teal in flight.

Blue winged teal in flight

Blue winged teal in flight

Blue winged teal in flight

Blue winged teal in flight

Reflections can be odd things, I don’t know how the top of the teal’s wing showed up in that second image, but I’m glad it did. I hope that the next time I’ll be able to get a sharper image.

Before I forget, the people who moderate eBird reports for this region have just increased the numbers of many species that can be reported from the Muskegon area, I’m taking the liberty of copying and pasting this little tidbit from the Muskegon County Nature Club’s blog.

 

  •  Snow Geese – up to 200 allowed in fall
  • Trumpeter Swan – none allowed now, since it’s locally rare there
  • Gadwall – 300 allowed in winter; used to allow just a handful
  • American Black Duck – 250 allowed in winter now
  • Northern Shoveler – 7,500 allowed at fall peak
  • Ruddy Duck – 13,000 allowed at peak (this is one of the peak sites in the US; counts higher than this will require some documentation of count methodology)
  • Eared Grebe – 7 in spring, 8 in fall; the only site in Michigan which allows more than 0)
  • Shorebirds – substantially relaxed filters compared to inland southern Lower Peninsula counties, especially for species like Red Knot, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, Baird’s Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, etc.)
  • Red-necked Phalarope – only site in Michigan where allowed – up to 20 in late Aug/early Sept
  • Common Raven – allowed year round, up to 4 when family groups around
  • American Pipit – up to 500 in fall, one of best sites in Michigan
  • Swallows – all species except Purple Martin allowed at exceptional levels in August and into September
  • Grasshopper Sparrow – up to 35 during breeding season; highest filter in Michigan
  • Savannah Sparrow – up to 125 during fall when they are abundant on the roadside
  • Brewer’s Blackbird – up to 50 during March through October, highest filter in Michigan
  • Orchard Oriole – up to 5 during breeding

The huge number of ducks there actually make it difficult to find some of the species that are there in lower numbers, like American wigeons. Trying to scan a flock of several hundred shovelers to find the few odd ducks is not something that I am good at.

Each of the lagoons there is approximately 1 mile square, and seeing most of the surface of both lagoons covered in resting waterfowl is a sight worth seeing, even if I don’t manage to see a lifer. Plus, you can also get an idea about the diversity of bird species to be seen there!

Anyway, back to the photos, in this case, three of the hundreds of coots there.

American coots

American coots

Working the vegetation around the lagoon was a flock of palm warblers, here’s one looking for, and finding breakfast.

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

And, I had never noticed how much palm warblers and American pipits looked alike in their fall plumage until I found this pipit near the warblers.

American pipit

American pipit

The differences are a lack of facial coloring and heavier chest barring on the pipits.

Next, a teal, but I couldn’t tell if it was a green or blue winged at the angle I shot this at.

Unidentified teal

Unidentified teal

I believe it’s a blue-winged, but I’m not 100% on that. Next up is my shot of the day, although the species is fairly common.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

That’s straight out of the camera using the 300 mm prime lens, no cropping at all.

With all the other waterfowl around, there are plenty of mallards also.

Female mallard landing

Female mallard landing

Next up, one of the thousands of ruddy ducks.

Ruddy duck

Ruddy duck

And, while they are a bit drab in the fall, here’s a few more of the northern shovelers.

Northern shovelers in flight

Northern shovelers in flight

This male was showing a little of the colors on his wings…

Male Northern shoveler

Male Northern shoveler

…but, I thought that an in flight photo would allow you to see the colors better….

Northern shovelers in flight

Northern shovelers in flight

Northern shovelers in flight

Northern shovelers in flight

….until this guy posed for me.

Male Northern shoveler

Male Northern shoveler

I can’t wait for next spring when the waterfowl are in their full breeding plumage again!

Here’s my gull portrait for this trip.

Herring gull

Herring gull

As you know, I have two Canon 60 D bodies, the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens), and a Canon 300 mm prime lens. So, for my last two trips, I’ve had both bodies set-up for birding, each with one of the long lenses on it. I spotted a northern harrier working the grassy cells and managed to get in location as the harrier approached me. I grabbed the camera with the 300 mm lens on it, thinking it would be the best choice for a bird in flight.

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

But, that lens refused to lock onto the harrier and track it…

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

…until the harrier was past me for a butt shot.

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

I should have used the Beast.

A short time later, this great blue heron landed almost on top of me…

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

…then decided that it should hide, so I used both lenses for these, see if you can tell which lens shot which image.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

I cropped the center third out of the overall images for all three of those, just because there was no need to include all the boring vegetation in the images.

A short time later, I found an egret perched in a pine, and did the same, used both lenses for these images, none of which have been cropped.

Great egret

Great egret

Great egret

Great egret

Great egret

Great egret

Great egret

Great egret

There may be some difference if I were to print these images in an extremely large size, but I can’t detect much difference in image quality between the two lenses in these images, or those of the heron.

I hate to keep harping on those two lenses, but it’s a quandary that I face every day as I’m choosing which lens to carry. In good light, the Beast holds its own, but as the light level falls off, then, you can really see how much better that the 300 mm prime lens is, if I can get a photo with it.

I’m going to jump ahead here, to my last two photos of the day, shot at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. The vegetation is extremely thick there, there are places along the trails where you can’t see more than four feet, unless you’re looking down the trail. I was carrying the Beast, and found a warbler in the very dense leaves.

Wilson's warbler

Wilson’s warbler

I know, horrible image, but I didn’t even let the camera and lens steady up before I hit the shutter release as I had been too slow on previous attempts to get the warbler’s picture. A few seconds later, I was able to get this one.

Wilson's warbler

Wilson’s warbler

Still not great, but at least I can ID the warbler from these images, something that I couldn’t do with the naked eye because of how poor the light was. I also know from experience that the 300 mm prime lens would never have been able to focus on the warbler where it was perched among the leaves in that low of light. If I had the time to manually focus, then, the an image from the 300 mm prime lens would have been much better than the one that I did get from the Beast.

So, which lens I should carry depends a great deal on the light on a given day, plus the conditions that I can expect to find the birds in. I’m hoping that someday, when I can afford a Canon 7 D Mk II body, that the 300 mm prime lens will focus much better on that body with its better auto-focusing system. For now, I have to make do as best I can with what I have. Therefore, the question remains, should I take the Beast to get an image even if it is a poor one, or take the 300 mm prime lens which could very well cause me to miss a photo if conditions aren’t right for it.

Anyway, back to the wastewater facility for these last two.

Green heron

Green heron

Green heron

Green heron

By the time that I arrived at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, it was mid-afternoon, hardly prime time for birding, so I shot these.

Hawkweed?

Hawkweed?

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Stacked dragonflies

Stacked dragonflies

Berries

Berries

Asters and bees

Asters and bees

That last one was shot with the Beast set at 150 mm. I saw the green bees on the flowers, and zoomed in for a few shots of the bees, but the images came out horrible. The Beast does not do well up close, but, I still had a hard time figuring out why the images were so bad. Then it dawned on me, I was shooting almost straight down at the flowers and bees. I know that when I’m shooting birds flying almost directly overhead that I have to turn off the Optical Stabilization of the Beast, or I get blurry images. I think that I should have turned off the OS for the photos of the bees as well, since the lens was pointed straight down.

My last two photos from the day, an unidentified flycatcher perched in a sumac tree.

Fall flycatcher

Fall flycatcher

I did zoom in on the flycatcher, but I still can’t ID it.

Fall flycatcher

Fall flycatcher

Not a great day, not a bad day, just an enjoyable day. I still have another post to do on yet another trip to Muskegon, I would have combined the two into one post, but the next one will be heavy on bald eagles. 🙂

However, I’m thinking that unless I see something special show up on eBird as far as new to me species of birds, that I won’t be going to Muskegon as often this winter. The waterfowl are still in their fall plumage, and will be for a few more months. So, while there are thousands and thousands of them to photograph, in some respects, it is rather pointless, since I’d rather have photos of the from in the spring.

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

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23 responses

  1. I particularly enjoyed the palm warbler and the other birds perching on the rocks.

    October 16, 2014 at 4:43 am

    • Thanks Susan! Shooting the birds on the very light rocks was a challenge, I’m glad you enjoyed them.

      October 16, 2014 at 10:49 am

  2. Beautiful photos, as usual. I always enjoy viewing them and reading about how you shot those pictures.

    October 16, 2014 at 7:58 am

    • Thank you very much!

      October 16, 2014 at 10:49 am

  3. Love the palm warbler on the rocks – an interesting background for this little bird. And the eye-level shots of the GBH are amazing.

    Two questions….the female and male shovelers have different color eyes. Or is that just the angle? The female has a very wise, knowing look. Cracked me up.

    In your bird tallies, you’ve say a particular number are ‘allowed’. How can that be controlled? Don’t they just show up?

    Traveling thru northern WI yesterday, we saw five whooping cranes fly over us. I was excited. We had some discussion as to whether they were sandhill or whooping, but
    settled on whooping due to the wing tip pattern. Anyway…..

    Good post.

    October 16, 2014 at 9:18 am

    • Thanks Judy!

      Yes, the shovelers have different colored eyes, which is common in waterfowl.

      I should have explained eBirds better. It was set-up by Cornell University for average citizens to file reports on the species and number of birds seen. Scientists then use that data to study bird populations, ranges, and migration patterns. So, they want the data to be correct.

      If I go for a walk in Creekside part and submit sightings to eBirds saying that I saw ten robins, it will go through without question, because seeing ten robins in Kent County is normal. But, if I were to say that I saw a whooping crane, eBrids would kick it back to me and say prove it, there are no whooping cranes in Kent County.I would then have to satisfy the people who moderate eBirds in this area that I had indeed seen a whooping crane, photos are the best proof. If I couldn’t prove that I had seen the whooper, then that report would be deleted.

      So, those numbers from my post are what the moderators consider within the normal range of the number of birds that are often seen, such as the 13,500 or whatever ruddy ducks. The moderators at eBirds know that seeing that many ruddy ducks at the wastewater facility isn’t unusual, so there’s no need to prove it.

      Anyway, congrats on the whoopers! They are increasing in Wisconsin, I hope that some move to this side of the lake.

      October 16, 2014 at 3:18 pm

  4. great snaps !

    October 16, 2014 at 10:45 am

    • Thank you, glad you liked them!

      October 16, 2014 at 10:50 am

  5. I loved being able to see the lovely green-blue colour on the Northern Shovelers wings. I enjoyed all the photos very much.

    October 16, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    • Thank you Clare! It will be a few months, but I’ll get some images of the shovelers when they really show some colors!

      October 17, 2014 at 3:01 am

  6. Love your shot of the Savannah Sparrow!

    October 16, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    • Thanks! It’s always great to have a bird pose for me ten feet from the lens.

      October 17, 2014 at 3:02 am

  7. You got some great bird shots this time Jerry. I like the shots of the heron looking right at you-you don’t see that on many blogs! I agree with everyone else on the palm warbler shot but I also like the shot of the savannah sparrow.
    Whenever I see a duck I think “oh, another mallard,” but a lot of your shots of ducks show me that I could be fooled, especially at a distance. Some of these seem to have almost the same markings as female mallards. I’m going to have to look a little closer-I might be seeing ducks other than mallards without even knowing it.
    The unknown fungus is a stinkhorn, possibly elegant stinkhorn (Mutinus elegans.) That’s a great example-you don’t see many stinkhorns.

    October 16, 2014 at 5:37 pm

    • Thanks Allen! As a matter of fact, I was joking with another birder that all ducks look like female mallards in the fall. And as luck would have it, my next post from Muskegon will have some images of the other species of ducks near female mallards to show every one the differences in size and color patterns. Mallards are larger ducks compared to many species, and there are other differences as well. Also, thanks for the ID on the stinkhorn, they seem to be relatively common where I live.

      October 17, 2014 at 3:10 am

  8. You are a mine of information as well as a provider of visual treats for your readers. I am a palm warbler fan too but I liked your staked dragonflies as well.

    October 16, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    • Thanks Tom!

      October 17, 2014 at 3:03 am

  9. You are so blessed to have such a great birding spot close by! Lots of great photos here, I really liked the dragonflies and that shot of the berries with the shadow and light. Always jealous of the green herons! I will photograph one someday! The blue heron “hiding” gave me a good laugh!

    October 16, 2014 at 8:42 pm

    • Thank you Amy! You’ll have to check out eBirds for some good spots near you. I know that there are some, as I have done a little checking to see where to go on your side of the state for the birds that never appear here.

      October 17, 2014 at 3:04 am

  10. Man, what a great photo roundup from your trip! I really like the Palm Warbler on the rocks foraging- they’re often the last warblers seen here in central Ohio this time of year (if you don’t count the Yellow-Rumped Warblers, which sometimes winter over).

    October 18, 2014 at 12:28 am

    • Thanks Tracy! I don’t count yellow warblers, there’s too darned many of them! 😉

      October 18, 2014 at 2:25 am

  11. Aw, love the warbler & pipit! So cute! And for some reason, looking at the intense gaze of the gull and the herons, I kept thinking of dinosaurs. Velociraptors, actually. 😉

    October 18, 2014 at 8:02 am

    • Thanks Lori! The birds and velociraptors do share common ancestors.

      October 18, 2014 at 5:06 pm

      • I’ll keep that in mind when going out to stock the feeder. 😉

        October 22, 2014 at 1:01 pm