Muskegon Birding, February 28th, 2015, Two lifers
I haven’t made it out very often lately, between work and the weather. Last weekend, I went to the Airzoo in Kalamazoo to shoot photos of the planes in the museum there, and I’m still working on a post on that trip.
We’ve shattered the record for the coldest February on record, a full two degrees colder than the previous record, set in 1978. That’s been reason enough to stay indoors where it’s warm. 😉 But, with the promise of some sunshine, and reports of some rare birds coming from the Muskegon area, I’d been hibernating long enough, and just had to get out to shoot some photos. Low temperature this morning, -4 F (-20 C), the 7th time in the last 14 days we’ve been below zero.
Sure enough, it was sunny while I was driving towards Muskegon, and the sunshine even managed to hold long enough for me to shoot photos of one of two lifers that I saw this day, a black scoter.
But, it soon clouded over right along Lake Michigan, which was a shame, as there were plenty of waterfowl around for me to photograph.
I realized that I’ve posted quite a few images of the male white-wing scoters in the past, so here’s a series of photos of a female, diving, then surfacing to eat what she had found.
I thought that this female long-tailed duck was going to dry her wings after coming up from a dive…
…but that was as far as she went, then she said “The heck with it, it’s too cold to generate any kind of a breeze”.
With halfway decent light for a change, I got better photos of common goldeneyes as well.
Although, I have to admit that I used Lightroom to improve those, and most of the images in this post.
The ducks were quite skittish, so I sat in my car, waiting for them to return close enough for good photos. That worked fairly well, other than a steady stream of people stopping by to look for the rare birds. Every time some one pulled into the parking lot, the ducks would all swim to the north side of the channel, well out of camera range. I’d wait, the ducks would come back towards me, and I’d get a few photos before the next car arrived. On the other hand, the mute swans would swim over when some one pulled up, looking for a handout, as a few people feed the swans and ducks.
I probably should have zoomed out a bit for that one. 😉
There was one redhead duck that never went very far, however, he refused to pose, as he was trying to sleep.
And, this female red-breasted merganser refused to look at me, even though I was so close that this image hasn’t been cropped at all.
I did catch her drying off though….
…before she moved away to do some preening.
The males were more skittish, and so I got one fair photo of one of them.
As the ducks were returning after their swim to the other side of the channel, I got a redhead and a greater scaup together….
…then, I shot each one individually.
I think that you can see how quickly the light was changing, from almost sunny, to cloudy, then sunny again, for a few seconds. That soon came to an end, and by the time that I had walked out to the end of the breakwater to catch the common eider, the snow had begun.
Not bad, two lifers in one trip! I have to give a shout out to the two serious birders who helped me spot both of the lifers, I think that I would have found them anyway, but having some one with a spotting scope point them out sure speeds things up.
On my way back to my Forester (and hoping that I didn’t lose any fingers to frostbite), I shot a few more photos there at the Muskegon Lake channel.
This female goldeneye had just surfaced with a crayfish, and wasn’t about to leave it behind when I spooked her, so she took it along with her.
This male followed her.
One last photo from the Muskegon Lake channel, here’s a long-tailed duck and a mallard to show you how tiny long-tailed ducks are.
Looking toward the east, I could see that the clouds were hugging the Lake Michigan shore, and that inland, it was sunny. So, I headed over to the other end of Muskegon Lake to visit the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. It was sunnier there than at the channel, but it wasn’t any warmer, and there’s nothing to block the wind, so I didn’t linger long enough to shoot a single photo. Instead, I headed even farther inland, to the Muskegon County wastewater treatment facility. I finally used my long-term visitor’s pass!
Unfortunately, with all the snow that has fallen around Muskegon, the trails, and even some of the two-tracks were blocked, unless I wanted to do some serious drift busting, and I didn’t. Not on foot, or in my Subaru, not as deep as some of the drifts were. So, I think that this is a good spot for this HDR image, even though I shot it later in the day.
I’m not sure that I needed to do a HDR, but it so fast and easy now to do them on my new iMac while never exiting Lightroom, that I figure that it was better safe than sorry. I shot a number of them, that’s the only one worth posting though. I kept getting distracted by birds, mostly eagles.
There were numerous bald eagles there, how many I can’t say for sure, but at least a dozen, maybe more. Most of them were hanging around the landfill, fighting the gulls, crows, and ravens for scraps. But every once in a while, one of the eagles would go off to other areas in search of food. I had plenty of opportunities to shoot bad photos of eagles in flight, as they weren’t cooperative in the least. Once, while I was shooting snow scenes, an eagle was soaring very close to me, but the light was all wrong at the time. I kept an eye on the eagle, hoping that it would continue moving slowly in the same direction it had been as it circled near me. Eventually, the eagle did move to the other side of me, I set the camera with the short lens on it down in my car, grabbed the camera with the long lens, and the eagle immediately took off in a straight line to get back to where the light was wrong. I hopped into my car and took off trying to pass the eagle to get the light right, the eagle won, only because it took the direct route, and I had to stay on the plowed road.
Darn, I need a lot of practice shooting flying birds, it’s been so long that my timing was way off, as you will see. Anyway, here’s a better shot of the eagle above.
With some sunshine, I was able to get a few good photos of other birds as well.
And, it wasn’t just waterfowl.
There’s nothing like some good light for a change to improve my photos! Well, good light, and now Lightroom. 😉
My best shot of an eagle from the day, and it has a twig “growing” out of its beak. 😦
No problem, I can fix that in Lightroom now.
Removing the twig was cool, but it’s getting the exposure correct that I really love about Lightroom. Bald eagles in the sun are tough to photograph well, if you expose to get their chocolate-brown bodies correct, then the their heads and tails are usually blown out. If you expose for their heads and tails, then, you usually lose the details of their feathers on their bodies. I look at that last one and I think “That’s exactly what a bald eagle looks like!”. A funny (to me) story about that eagle. It was perched in the tree so long that I shot a number of photos using just the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens). I then added the 1.4 X tele-converter to the Beast, but I never got a usable photo. I did get a good shot of the eagle’s tail as it flew off though, but I’m not going to post it.
As I was switching back to just the Beast, I happened to look up to where the eagle had been, and it was back again. This time, I just drove a little closer to it to get those last two photos, rather than add the tele-converter again. 😉
I was disappointed that I didn’t find a snowy owl to photograph in the sun, I think that they have all left to return home above the Arctic Circle for mating season. But, I did find this eagle who was willing to act as a stand in for the owls though.
I think that the eagle was confused, I thought that they soared overhead looking down for prey, this one was on the ground watching the gulls fly overhead. Maybe it had been watching the snowy owls hunting from the ground all winter long and decided to give that technique a try, 😉
Anyway, that wraps this one up, I have several posts to do from my trip to the Airzoo, so it’s probably alright that I haven’t been shooting many photos during the week.
That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!