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

Muskegon Nov. 2nd, 2014 Ducks and raptors galore

This post is about the trip that I made to Muskegon on November 2nd, 2014, the same weekend as my last post from Pickerel Lake. It was the last nice weekend this year as far as weather, it’s been getting progressively wetter and colder since then. There’s a snowstorm happening outside as I’m beginning this post, and this one is just a warm up for the worse one predicted to hit tomorrow. 😦

I went walking today, in the snow, and did some thinking. I took my vacation this spring towards the end of May. After the long, cold, snowy winter last winter, there were still snow drifts on the ground in places up north. When I went north the first weekend in October of this year, there were snowflakes and sleet falling, although it melted as fast as it fell. However, snow has been falling steadily here for several days, and covering the ground. That means that there only five months this year when I didn’t see some snow on the ground, and only four months between snowfalls. Yuck!

However, this post is about a day when we still had nice weather. So, with good weather and a wide range of species of birds to photograph, you all know what that means, a long post with too many photos. 😉

I’m going to start the photos in this post with one that I did wrong.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

What I did wrong was to go for a good shot of the heron first, then as an afterthought, shot this one that almost included the heron and a flock of northern shovelers that had been much closer to the heron.

Northern shovelers and great blue heron

Northern shovelers and great blue heron

Also in the same area, a female hooded merganser.

Female hooded merganser

Female hooded merganser

Next up, I spotted a pair of gadwalls swimming up one of the drainage ditches, and I was able to get ahead of them, hide in the weeds above them, and wait for them to get close.

Male gadwall duck

Male gadwall duck

You can tell that the male had spotted me, and the next photo was of him headed back behind the weeds. The female continue on for a few good photos of her, I’ll include one of them.

Female gadwall duck

Female gadwall duck

The male bolted, I got one bad photo of him in flight.

Male gadwall duck in flight

Male gadwall duck in flight

I only included that one because it does show his wing colors, even if he’s out of focus, and I haven’t posted many images of gadwalls.

Next up, a flock of northern shovelers with one female blue-winged teal for a size comparison.

Northern shovelers and one female blue-winged teal

Northern shovelers and one female blue-winged teal

It’s easy to tell the teal from the shovelers, she’s half their size, and of course she has a more petite bill. Here’s a closer shot of her.

Female blue-winged teal

Female blue-winged teal

And yes, that’s ice on the water, and that was a relatively warm day this November, as you’ll see later when I get to the shots where you can see the heat waves above the ground.

Anyway, here’s a scaup, I can’t tell if it is a lesser or greater, in front of a ring-necked duck. As you can see, they are close to the same size, and also in coloration. But, if you look closely, you’ll see that the scaup has lighter sides, and darker head than the ring-necked.

Scaup leading a ring-necked duck

Scaup leading a ring-necked duck

Sometimes it is easier to learn to ID birds when you see two species together like that. Here’s the ring-necked duck zoomed in and cropped more.

Ring-necked duck

Ring-necked duck

Bufflehead ducks are one of the smaller species of ducks, but they are chubby little things with short, wide wings, as you can see here.

Juvenile bufflehead duck

Juvenile bufflehead duck

Juvenile bufflehead duck

Juvenile bufflehead duck

By comparison, the northern shovelers look svelte in flight.

Northern shovelers in flight

Northern shovelers in flight

Switching over to raptors, here’s a red-tailed hawk.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

I had tried to get a photo of that hawk a few minutes before, but it flew off before I could get a good image of it. So, it surprised me when it landed even closer to me than it had been before. I told it I had been hoping for an eagle.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

So, it did its best eagle impersonation for me.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Switching gears again, this time to songbirds, here’s an American pipit with a blue-winged teal in the background.

American pipit

American pipit

But, I found the teal distracting, so the pipit hung around until the teal was gone.

American pipit

American pipit

Don’t you just love it when the birds cooperate? Speaking of which, I think that this is my best shot of a ruddy duck so far.

Female ruddy duck

Female ruddy duck

I caught her just as she surfaced with a mouthful of food.

I have a still photo of northern shovelers feeding, but, I have also shot a much better video than the one that I had in my last post from Muskegon. In that one, the sound of the IS system in the 300 mm prime lens was all that you could hear. In this one, you can hear the shovelers, since I used the 70-200 mm lens, which has no stabilization system. The shovelers are filter feeders, their bills have about 110 fine projections (called lamellae) along the edges, for straining food from water, and you can hear them this time.

I was hoping that they would get into one of their feeding frenzies, but no such luck.

Not all the birds were so cooperative, I think that this male bufflehead was doing the duck equivalent of flipping me off.

Male bufflehead duck

Male bufflehead duck

Especially by the way he smirked at me over his shoulder as he and his buddy were swimming away from me.

Male bufflehead duck

Male bufflehead duck

Here’s an American coot for the record.

American coot

American coot

The Wilson’s snipe was still hanging around, in nearly the same spot as the last time.

Wilson's snipe

Wilson’s snipe

While I was watching the snipe, hoping it would move to a more photogenic area, I spotted a real prize, a male green-winged teal in breeding plumage.

Male green-winged teal

Male green-winged teal

Male green-winged teal

Male green-winged teal

Yes! Another species I can cross off my list of species that I need photos of.

A short while later, I saw an approaching hawk, but I could tell that it wasn’t a red-tailed.

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

It was a rough-legged hawk, as you can probably tell from the caption. 😉

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

From where I saw that hawk, to the grassy cells, is well over a mile, but when I got to the grassy cells, I found what had to be another rough-legged hawk. It would hover for a while, drop down, touch the ground, then immediately take off again.

Rough-legged hawk

Rough-legged hawk

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

You can see the heat waves rising from the ground in these shots, as well as this one, which I shot at the same time, but in another direction.

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Three species of hawks in one day, even if the photos aren’t great, not a bad day.

So, with the atmospheric conditions getting worse, I tried to get closer to my subjects. Here’s a great blue heron modeling the latest in leggings for herons.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

While I was watching that heron, another landed on the slope above the first.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

I think that the second one showed up to distract me as the first one caught something to eat.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

And, as the first heron finished swallowing its catch, the second one flew off, so I missed the action shots.

How many species am I up to in this post? I’ve lost count, but, time to add another, a greater yellowlegs.

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

In my last post from Muskegon, I jumped ahead and posted a video of Canada geese flying past me, well, here’s the first wave of the geese as they took flight.

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

It was as the second wave flew past me that I got the idea to shoot the video in the other post.

Time to add another species to the list for today, a horned grebe.

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

I spotted to adult eagles in a tree ahead of me as I was driving past the lagoons, but when I got there, some one else had exited their vehicle and was trying to sneak up on the eagles. That doesn’t work, so I knew that the eagles wouldn’t be there long. I slid my Forester around, got into position as one eagle took flight, and managed to get one shot of the eagle still perched.

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

I hadn’t had time to get a good focus on the eagle, and I still hadn’t as it leapt into the air.

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

I did finally get a good focus lock on the eagle.

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

One more, just because it’s an eagle.

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

I was lucky there, when the other person spooked the eagle, it launched almost straight at me at first. Now I know what an eagle’s prey sees!

My best photo of a juvenile bufflehead ever.

Juvenile bufflehead duck

Juvenile bufflehead duck

A photo of one of the rough-legged hawks perched for a change.

Rough-legged hawk

Rough-legged hawk

And, a red-tailed hawk nearby to compare to the rough-legged hawk.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

I headed back to where I had seen the green-winged teal earlier, hoping that they were in a better spot for photos. I shot these mallards there, yet another species to add to the list for the day.

Mallards in the sun

Mallards in the sun

The teal were still there, but not for long, here’s a male on take off.

Male green-winged teal

Male green-winged teal on take off

Male green-winged teal in flight

Male green-winged teal in flight

The female teal which had jumped into the air first, caught and passed the male.

Green-winged teal in flight

Green-winged teal in flight

But, I wasn’t able to catch their distinctive green wing patches, darn, better luck next time.

Should I include another heron? What the heck, why not.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

I found the gadwalls again.

Female gadwall duck

Female gadwall duck

Male gadwall duck

Male gadwall duck

That’s it from the wastewater facility. Since I wasn’t seeing anything new, I drove the length of Muskegon Lake to visit Pere Marquette Park for the next few photos, starting with an inquisitive ring-billed gull.

Ring-billed gull

Ring-billed gull

I was going to walk down the breakwater, but it was a bit chilly to get splashed on.

The south breakwall at Muskegon

The south breakwater at Muskegon

So, I watched some kite surfers for a while instead.

Kite surfers

Kite surfers

Other than the gulls, there were no birds to photograph, so I looked for other things.

Lichens

Lichens

Lichens

Lichens

The flag flying over the Muskegon Coast Guard Station…

American flag in the wind

American flag in the wind

…makes a fitting prelude to my next photo. Long time readers of my blog have seen this before, but with many new readers, it’s time to post photos of the USS Silversides again. The Silversides is a World War II era submarine docked in Muskegon at the Great Lakes Naval Memorial & Museum. She sank the second highest total tonnage of any sub during WW II, and is now a floating museum, after having been used as a training ship after the war.

Uss Silversides

USS Silversides

The conning tower of the USS Silversides

The conning tower of the USS Silversides

The old girl still looks pretty good for being almost 75 years old and having sustained heavy battle damage several times during the war!

Well, another day done, and a fine day it was. I could prattle on longer, but I won’t, this post is long enough already. So, I’ll just say that this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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21 responses

  1. You saw a lot, love the raptors, nice shots.

    November 16, 2014 at 10:21 pm

    • Thank you very much! The Muskegon area is the best birding area in West Michigan, so it’s rather easy to photograph birds there.

      November 16, 2014 at 10:30 pm

  2. Thanks for the comparison shots. They really do help in identifying and seeing distinguishing features.

    November 17, 2014 at 12:51 am

    • Thank you! At first I was trying to get one type of duck or bird at a time, so there’d be no confusion when I posted a single species. Now that I have most of the ducks done, getting different species in the same photo is okay, and it does help people ID them, even me.

      November 17, 2014 at 2:41 am

  3. Love the rich colour of that lichen. There are too many lovely bird pics to comment on. I do find herons such graceful, regal looking birds. Despite all the ducks I’ve seen in my life I still get a kick out of watching them. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s how smooth and glossy they are or maybe it’s the lacy patterns. And of course the raptors are so majestic and perfectly designed for their predatory behaviour. As I said, there are too many birds to comment on! 🙂

    November 17, 2014 at 2:53 am

    • Thank you Jane! You’ve summed up why I go chasing birds all the time, except that most ducks are social birds, and it’s fun to watch them interact.

      November 17, 2014 at 10:42 am

  4. Great bird shots, I liked especially the great blue heron and the hawk. I enjoyed your video too.

    November 17, 2014 at 3:09 am

    • Thank you very much Susan. I hope that you found this video better than my first attempts.

      November 17, 2014 at 10:43 am

  5. A great selection of photos. Can’t decide which I like best!

    November 17, 2014 at 6:27 am

    • Thanks Bob!

      November 17, 2014 at 10:47 am

  6. I can’t think of another blog where I can see eagles, submarines and lichens, all in one post!
    That lichen is a real beauty. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it, but it looks a lot like the ones that grow along the seashore in England.
    Those northern shovelers don’t sound a lot different than your lens stabilization did to me. They make an odd sound.
    I hope you’ll see a little more than 5 snowless months this year. I don’t know if I could take that!

    November 17, 2014 at 7:11 am

    • Thanks Allen, and thank you for reminding me of a few of the reasons that I do put up with the long winters of West Michigan, the variety of photos subjects.
      The lichens were growing on the broken rocks used to build the breakwaters, and that’s the only place I’ve seen them also.

      The sounds of the northern shovelers comes from the way that they take in water, then expel it, filtering out the nutrients, along with their feathers rustling as they move around.

      I live about 300 miles from Lake Superior, but here’s a tidbit for you. The last measurable ice was recorded on the lake on June 10th this year. They’ve already begun measuring the ice extent again in November. It’s going to be another long, cold winter, so next spring will come late around here.

      November 17, 2014 at 11:00 am

  7. Waterfowl, yay!!! I don’t know which is cuter, the gadwall or the merganser. U get all the exotics up there. Although all ducks are cute ducks, frankly. IMHO, of course. Happy (if that’s the correct term) first snows!

    November 17, 2014 at 8:35 am

    • Loved the pipit with the very ethereal teal in the background. Distracting, perhaps, but it made for a really fine image.

      The videos are fun – hope you post them more often.

      Stay warm.

      November 17, 2014 at 9:22 am

      • Thank you Judy! I’ve only shot a handful of videos so far, but I’ve found that it is completely different than shooting stills. I do hope to shoot more though, I love shooting bird portraits, but recording their behavior appeals to me as well.

        November 17, 2014 at 10:52 am

    • Thanks Lori! Over the winter, there will be even more ducks, as the long-tailed, northern pintails, and goldeneyes show up, just to name a few more.

      November 17, 2014 at 10:49 am

  8. If you get another very cold hard winter then maybe we will get another warm wet winter like last year. I don’t want to complain but a little snow would be a welcome sight this year.

    Another great set of pictures, particularly the lichen. What a stunning thing it is.

    November 17, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    • Thanks Tom! If it were possible, I’d gladly trade you a few inches of our snow for some warmer weather here. 😉

      November 18, 2014 at 8:11 am

  9. I agree with Tom. We could do with a little more cold than last winter. None of the pests or weeds died, they just kept going! I loved the video – the noise the birds make is lovely – like a bubbling stream. All the duck/water bird photos are good but especially the juvenile bufflehead with its bright eye, the male green-winged teal with its green wing colour and rust and green head, the… no! I’ll just list them all as I can’t choose. I was only thinking the other day when you commented that it was snowing already, that you’d only had 5 months without snow on the ground and that I’d really find that hard to put up with.

    November 18, 2014 at 10:55 am

    • Thanks Clare! Like I told Tom, I’d be happy to send some of our snow your way, we have more than enough already. Some places near where I live will have received close to two feet of the white stuff by Wednesday evening.

      I hope to shoot more videos as time goes on, as they do give people a better sense of what I see rather than just still photos.

      November 18, 2014 at 4:48 pm

      • I look forward to more videos – it’s not just what you see but what you hear as well.

        November 19, 2014 at 12:07 pm