Muskegon Oct. 26th, 2014 Filling the frame with falcon
This post is about the trip that I made to Muskegon on October 26th, 2014, and yes, I’m still that far behind in my postings.
This was a particularly productive trip, for while I didn’t get any lifers, I did get photos of two species of birds that I had seen before, but didn’t have images good enough to use in a post in the My Life List project that I’m working on. In addition, I was able to get better images of several species that I have already posted to that project. In fact, I would say that I was able to shoot a number of personal best images of several species on this trip! You know what that means, way too many photos. 😉
The one that I’m going to begin with isn’t one of my best, but I really like it, and it was the first shot of the day.
And, since I don’t bother shooting the thousands of geese that I see during my trips to Muskegon, here’s another of the heron, flying past a few of the geese.
With good light, I had one of my better days, oh, I said that already, but here’s one of my personal bests.
I had saved a second photo of her, since she was so good at balancing that drop of water on top of her head, (Upon seeing the preview of this post, I can see that the drop of water that the shoveler has on her head doesn’t really show up well, I’ll have to try to get even closer the next time) but to keep this post as short as possible, I’ll skip that one, and go with this one instead.
I probably have better images of a male northern shoveler, shot when it was in full breeding plumage, but that one will have to do for this day. Speaking of breeding plumage, here’s a male ruddy duck looking quite dapper.
If only he had stuck his tail up like they often do, that would be super cute, rather than just really cute.
I was able to get a so-so photo of a Bonaparte’s gull….
…a little later, I shot a better one.
Unfortunately, the Wilson’s snipe was hanging out in about the worst possible spot for a photo, because of the catch fence.
But, you can see, that didn’t stop me from shooting the photo, or posting it. 😉 I did so because I’m still amazed with both the variety and numbers of birds that I see on my trips to Muskegon. And, speaking of numbers, here’s a few mallards…
…and here’s the mallards flying past a few of the northern shovelers…
…and, here’s a few of the northern shovelers in a feeding frenzy.
I had an image that included about a dozen American coots hanging around the shovelers, but the coots didn’t show up well in the image, so I won’t post that one.
Now, I’m going to do something silly. During my next trip to Muskegon, I shot a few videos, the first that I’ve used the Canon 60 D to shoot. So, this one is really rough, I’ve already learned not to use the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) to shoot videos. 😉 But, it will give you an idea how many geese are in a small flock in Muskegon during the fall, more from the sound that the geese than can be seen in the frame.
And, I keep shooting images of the northern shoveler feeding frenzies, but still photos just don’t convey what’s happening. This is a small feeding frenzy, I hope to do better in the future, but that’s uncertain, due to winter setting in.
I used the 300 mm prime lens for the shovelers, but even that lens was too long. I had to move the camera around to catch the ducks as they joined the frenzy. That’s one of the cool things about the shovelers, a few will begin circling, then more and more of them will join in, until they number in the hundreds some of the time. All going round and round as they stir up things to eat.
If there’s a day when the light is good enough, I’ll try to do a better job with both the geese and the shovelers.
Okay, back to the stills, is this the spokesbird for Angry Birds?
A pair of female bufflehead swan by.
Now, the first of a species that I needed photos for the My Photo Life List project. Actually, I have photos of ring-necked ducks, but they were shot with my old Nikon, and very poor quality, this is my first good photo of one.
I have a few good photos of ruddy ducks, but these are so good that I just have to post them.
To show you a comparison in sizes of ducks, here’s a green-winged teal with two ruddy ducks.
As you can see, the teal is only slightly larger than the ruddy ducks, which are the smallest ducks in North America.
Next up, another species I needed photos of, tundra swans.
Tundra swans are virtually identical to trumpeter swans, the surest way to tell them apart, other than sound, is that some tundra swans have a small patch of yellow near their eye. Of course, sounds don’t do me any good in photos, so I began zooming in on swans…
…until I spotted one with the yellow patch…
…then, zoomed in on that one.
I was very fortunate to find a few of the Tundra swans close to shore, since most of them stay out towards the middle of the lagoon.
So, when I shot this one that I didn’t have to crop at all, I was doing my happy dance.
I have a few photos of the Tundra swans out in the center of the lagoon, just like the flock shot above, but since one can’t ID them with 100% certainty, those photos don’t count.
I’m going to skip my first photo of a peregrine falcon, since it isn’t very good.
I shot much better one later in the day.
In the meantime, here’s a female blue-winged teal.
A drive over to the Swanson/Laketon fields netted me a great blue heron…
…a horned lark…
… and a male mallard in flight, although I forgot to switch the OS to the proper mode, so these aren’t very good.
Next up, two photos of a greater yellowlegs.
Which brings up something that I should mention, the more that I see shorebirds, and other categories of hard to ID birds, the better I get at making the ID. When I first began photographing shorebirds, I struggled for hours with an online field guide and my photos, trying to figure out what species of birds I had photographed. I could tell that the bird above was a greater yellowlegs even before I zoomed in on it.
It isn’t just the appearance of the birds, it’s also the way that they behave, their calls, and where they are found. It’s the same with all species of birds, the more often I see them, the easier it becomes to ID them quickly, even if I don’t have a good look at them.
Here’s a female mallard, two female northern shovelers, and a female green-winged teal.
Slight differences in size and coloration allowed me to ID these four ducks relatively quickly, and here’s the teal by herself.
Here’s a male gadwall, I can tell by the length of the feathers on its back, and because I got a look at its face before it turned away from me. The only other rather drab ducks with that kind of plumage on their backs are wigeons, but they have white foreheads, and this duck didn’t.
The first time that I saw an American pipit, I thought that I was seeing an odd robin, but it was too small, and the colors were quite a bit different from even the oddest robin I had ever seen. Now, I know a pipit when I see one….
By the way, as if it makes a difference, the second photo wasn’t cropped at all, I just wish the light had been better.
But, my point on seeing birds often to make identifying them easier is one reason that I’ll continue to go back to Muskegon, even if I don’t get many lifers this winter. Another reason is to get better images of the birds that I have already gotten photos of…
…instead of photos like these two…
…which aren’t great, but the harrier was really out of the Beast’s range.
So, I stood on the man-made hill overlooking the grassy cells, looking for the harrier if it made a return appearance, when this heron flew right past me, so I had to shoot it, even if the photo isn’t one of my best.
But, that leads me to the third reason to keep going back to Muskegon, action shots that I probably wouldn’t get anywhere else. The harrier did return, I was watching it to see what pattern it was hunting in so I could get ahead of it and get good photos, when a falcon began attacking the harrier…
Unfortunately, I was 150 yards or so away from the action, so I had to crop these a lot more than I wanted, but you get the idea.
The falcon broke off its first attack to circle and gain altitude…
…then dove on the harrier again…
I don’t think that the falcon was trying to kill the harrier, although it may have been able to from what I’ve read about peregrine falcons. I think that the falcon wanted the grassy cells all to itself as a hunting ground.
The harrier wasn’t as fast as the falcon, but they are very agile flyers, so it was able to escape the attacks, it eventually gained altitude, and flew off to the open farm fields to the north of the grassy cells.
Wow, that was cool, even if my photos aren’t very good, so I decided to hang around a bit longer. It wasn’t long before I saw the falcon in hot pursuit of another bird, I think that the intended prey was a male mallard, but they were too far away for me to be sure. I know that whatever the falcon was chasing was one fast bird, which is one reason I suspect the intended victim of the falcon was a mallard.
In straight, level flight, waterfowl in general, and mallards in particular, are some of the fastest fliers in the bird world. I’ve had geese pass me on the road while I’ve been driving at 45 to 50 MPH, and mallards are as fast or faster than geese.
Anyway, whatever the falcon was chasing could pull away from the falcon, and it headed towards a wooded area, so I followed in my vehicle to see if I could determine the outcome of the chase. I couldn’t, so I returned to the man-made hill to see what else may happen. Some how, the falcon was there waiting for me, which is when I had shot the close-up of the falcon earlier in this post.
Other people had been seeing and photographing falcons there, and some one got a photo of one of the falcons (I’m not sure, but I think there were a couple of them) from close enough that they could read the numbers on the bands on the falcon’s legs.
In that photo, you can’t read the numbers on the bands, but you can see them. Since I’m not positive how many falcons have been hanging around Muskegon, I’m not positive that the one I shot is the same one the other person photographed. However, the people at the Muskegon County Nature Club sent the numbers from the bands to whom ever it is that records such information, and it came back that the falcon was a female that hatched this summer in northern Indiana, about 175 miles from Muskegon.
I have no idea why a young female falcon would fly from northern Indiana to Muskegon, Michigan in the fall, but one did. Like I say, I’m not positive that this is the one, but I do know that when the falcon stared at me…
…I felt something that no other critter has made me feel. I’ve been eyeball to eyeball with eagles, hawks, owls, and even other falcons through my camera lens many times, and I take that as a cue to shoot away to catch the moment. However, that falcon’s stare was so powerful that I had to tell myself to shoot the photos that I did, and I don’t even know how to describe what I felt at that moment.
By the way, I was shooting the close-ups of the falcon through the sunroof of my Subaru. The salesman that I bought the Forester from thought that it was amusing that I insisted that any vehicle I bought had a sunroof just for such times. 😉
Back to the falcon, I could tell it was curious about what I was and what I was doing, but there was also something very menacing about the way it stared at me, as if it was considering attacking me. I was glad that I was inside my vehicle at the time.
Well, that’s about it for this one. A few great photos, a couple almost winner action shots, all in all, another great day! I have to keep going back to Muskegon, one of these days, one of my almost winner opportunities is going to be the winning opportunity. In my last post, I had the two juvenile eagles fighting, in this post, the falcon harassing the harrier, and in my next post from Muskegon, I’ll have photos of a bald eagle diving straight at me. But, that was another almost winner moment, as neither the light or the background was ideal for great photos.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!