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

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.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

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.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

With good light, I had one of my better days, oh, I said that already, but here’s one of my personal bests.

Female northern shoveler

Female northern shoveler

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.

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

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.

Male ruddy duck

Male ruddy duck

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….

Bonaparte's gull

Bonaparte’s gull

…a little later, I shot a better one.

Bonaparte's gull

Bonaparte’s gull

Unfortunately, the Wilson’s snipe was hanging out in about the worst possible spot for a photo, because of the catch fence.

Wilson's snipe

Wilson’s snipe

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…

Many mallards in flight

Many mallards in flight

…and here’s the mallards flying past a few of the northern shovelers…

Many mallards flying over northern shovelers

Many mallards flying over northern shovelers

…and, here’s a few of the northern shovelers in a feeding frenzy.

Northern shoveler feeding frenzy

Northern shoveler 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?

Juvenile herring gull

Juvenile herring gull

A pair of female bufflehead swan by.

Female bufflehead

Female bufflehead

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.

Male ring-necked duck

Male ring-necked duck

I have a few good photos of ruddy ducks, but these are so good that I just have to post them.

Female ruddy duck

Female ruddy duck

Female ruddy duck

Female ruddy duck

Female ruddy duck

Female ruddy duck

To show you a comparison in sizes of ducks, here’s a green-winged teal with two ruddy ducks.

Female Green-winged teal and ruddy ducks

Female Green-winged teal and 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

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…

Tundra swan

Tundra swan

…until I spotted one with the yellow patch…

Tundra swans

Tundra swans

…then, zoomed in on that one.

Tundra swan

Tundra swan

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.

Tundra swans

Tundra swans

So, when I shot this one that I didn’t have to crop at all, I was doing my happy dance.

Tundra swan

Tundra swan

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.

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

I shot much better one later in the day.

In the meantime, here’s a female blue-winged teal.

Female blue-winged teal

Female blue-winged teal

A drive over to the Swanson/Laketon fields netted me a great blue heron…

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

…snow buntings….

Snow bunting

Snow bunting

Snow bunting

Snow bunting

…a horned lark…

Horned lark

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.

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

Next up, two photos of a greater yellowlegs.

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

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.

Mixed waterfowl

Mixed waterfowl

Slight differences in size and coloration allowed me to ID these four ducks relatively quickly, and here’s the teal by herself.

Female green-winged teal

Female green-winged teal

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.

Male gadwall duck

Male gadwall duck

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….

American pipit

American pipit

…or two.

American pipit

American pipit

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…

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

…instead of photos like these two…

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

…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.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

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…

Peregrine falcon attacking a northern harrier

Peregrine falcon attacking a northern harrier

Peregrine falcon attacking a northern harrier

Peregrine falcon attacking a northern 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…

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

…then dove on the harrier again…

Peregrine falcon attacking a northern harrier

Peregrine falcon attacking a northern harrier

Peregrine falcon attacking a northern harrier

Peregrine falcon attacking a northern harrier

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.

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

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…

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

…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!

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20 responses

  1. I particularly enjoyed the shots of the peregrine falcon and the ones of the great blue heron in flight, well photographed.

    November 8, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    • Thank you very much Susan!

      November 8, 2014 at 5:04 pm

  2. Beautiful bird photography! The videos were a real bonus and the noise of the geese is amazing. Perhaps you could get someone to video you doing your happy dance and then post that! I’m only joking! I think I would be very unnerved by being stared at by a peregrine falcon – those eyes!

    November 8, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    • Thank you Clare! I doubt if any one would want to see a video of me, happy dance or otherwise. 😉 Having that falcon stare at me was the most intense moment that I have ever had behind a camera.

      November 8, 2014 at 5:06 pm

  3. I love the different colors of the water in these shots, Jerry! The sun was in the perfect spot in many of them to bring out the deep blues, especially in the photo of the greater yellow legs. I’ve paid a lot of attention to that over the many times I’ve shot river waves, and I’ve noticed that the blue comes through best when the sun is behind me.

    Speaking of blue, I wonder what the blue in the background is in the shot of the female mallard, two female northern shovelers, and female green-winged teal. Is it natural?

    I’ve seen some flocks of geese but never that big and never that loud!

    Is the sound in the northern shoveler video the sound that they actually make? It seems like an odd sound for a duck, but maybe they were just chatting with each other about food.

    The falcon / harrier fight must have been something to see. That falcon doesn’t look very pleased to see you. I wonder if they ever do attack humans. I imagine it could do some serious damage with talons like those.

    I like the shots of the flying mallard and heron.

    November 8, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    • Thanks Allen, it was one of my better days, and I tried to be in the right places at the right times to get the best light. Now, if I could only train the birds to be where I want them when I want them to be there, I’ll get even better photos. 😉

      Yes, the blue behind the four female ducks is natural, it is the reflection off from the water on the other side of the catch fence coming through the openings in the fence that made such a poor background for that photo. Or, if you meant is it natural for three different species of ducks to feed together, that’s natural also.

      The video was part of a small flock of geese, I missed the first two waves of the flock as they took off, because it didn’t occur to me to try to shoot a video until then.

      The sound in the shoveler video is the noise from the image stabilization gyro in the 300 mm prime lens. I don’t know if I got a bad one or if that’s the way they all are, but it is extremely loud for a lens, and it also drains the battery of my camera faster than any of my other lenses. I think that the lenses I should be using for videos are my shorter lenses, but I’ll explain that when I try them.

      I’ve become too much of a hard core photographer, I saw the falcon make a pass at the harrier and the first thought through my head was photo-op! Then, it was trying to get both birds in the frame, timing the falcon’s dives, and trying to get a good focus on the harrier, since it was the larger bird. It was only after I shot the photos that it dawned on me that I had seen something few people get to see.

      Every bird seems to have a distinct personality, and that particular falcon’s was evil. Peregrines are always intense, but this one was beyond intense. I’m sure that peregrines would attack humans if they got close to young ones in a nest or a similar circumstance, they’ve been known to kill other large raptors and even great horned owls.

      The mallard would have been even better if I had turned the OS of the Beast off, or at least to the action mode. I got the exposure dead on correct, but the images are softer than they should have been due to the OS fighting the motion of the camera as I panned with the mallard.

      November 8, 2014 at 5:28 pm

  4. Like Allen, I really liked the ducks in the water. You were lucky and skilful to get such great colour combinations and just enough movement on the water. The flying ducks were pretty good too.

    November 8, 2014 at 5:47 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom!

      November 8, 2014 at 6:58 pm

  5. With so many birds in one post, it’s a birdwatcher’s delight. It was lovely to read this on my Sunday off. Thanks for sharing this impressive selection. 🙂

    November 8, 2014 at 10:05 pm

    • One of these days I’m going to photograph at least one of every species of bird that I see, no matter how bad the photos are. This post contained about 1/3 of the species seen. That reminds me why I don’t do every species, the posts I’d do would be extremely long. 😉

      November 8, 2014 at 11:31 pm

  6. Csisza

    Bonaparte’ s gull is my favorite! 🙂

    November 9, 2014 at 6:31 am

    • Thank you, they are cute!

      November 9, 2014 at 6:51 am

  7. Enjoyed all of the photos, but the very first one was my favorite. Loved all the horizontal lines.

    The peregrine falcon staredown will keep me awake at night. Thanks. ;-((

    Still love your waterfowl shots the best. They are very calming. Great post, Jerry.

    November 9, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    • Thank you Judy! I knew that there was something about that first photo that I liked, glad that you pointed out the horizontal lines.

      I do most of my sleeping during the day, otherwise the falcon may have kept me awake a few nights. 😉

      November 9, 2014 at 10:30 pm

  8. Wowy-kazowy what an amazing day you had!! I’m trying to not be jealous! 🙂 That place in Muskegon is a real jewel. Those peregrine shots are awesome! Funny, but until you described the experience, I was thinking it looked like it had a playful look on its face!

    I enjoyed the videos. Oh, and the first shoveler photo, I had to click on it to see the bead of water – that was pretty incredible! Really great post, Jerry!

    November 9, 2014 at 9:49 pm

    • Thank you Amy! However, if you were to visit the wastewater facility where I shot most of those, your opinion about Muskegon would probably change. 😉

      November 9, 2014 at 10:34 pm

  9. theoccidentalreader

    I cannot choose one favorite, however, I am impressed with all of the great blue heron photos and think the greater yellowlegs are adorable. Very nice post!

    November 10, 2014 at 5:04 am

    • Thank you very much! I was worried that I put too many heron photos in, but most people seemed to like them.

      November 10, 2014 at 6:20 am

  10. Oooh, a peregrine! What a magnificent bird! (Just not in my backyard, please!!!) Also, those two shots of the mallard in flight would make a great gif. Flap, flap!

    November 11, 2014 at 11:12 am

    • Thank you again, Lori! I’ll have to practice up on my flying mallard shots, those could have been much sharper.

      November 11, 2014 at 9:22 pm