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

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.

The Kalamazoo Airzoo

The Kalamazoo Airzoo

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.

Male Black Scoter

Male 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.

Male White-winged scoter

Male White-winged scoter

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.

Female White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

I thought that this female long-tailed duck was going to dry her wings after coming up from a dive…

Female long-tailed duck

Female long-tailed duck

Female long-tailed duck

Female long-tailed duck

Female long-tailed duck

Female long-tailed duck

…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”.

Female long-tailed duck

Female long-tailed duck

With halfway decent light for a change, I got better photos of common goldeneyes as well.

Female common goldeneye duck

Female common goldeneye duck

Male common goldeneye ducks

Male common goldeneye ducks

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.

Mute swan

Mute swan

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.

Sleeping male redhead duck

Sleeping male redhead duck

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.

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

I did catch her drying off though….

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

…before she moved away to do some preening.

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

The males were more skittish, and so I got one fair photo of one of them.

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

As the ducks were returning after their swim to the other side of the channel, I got a redhead and a greater scaup together….

Male redhead duck and greater scaup

Male redhead duck and greater scaup

…then, I shot each one individually.

Male greater scaup

Male greater scaup

Male redhead duck

Male redhead duck

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.

Common eider

Common eider

Common eider

Common eider

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.

Common mergansers

Common mergansers

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.

Female common goldeneye in flight

Female common goldeneye in flight

This male followed her.

Male common goldeneye in flight

Male common goldeneye in flight

Male common goldeneye in flight

Male common goldeneye in flight

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.

Long-tailed duck and mallard

Long-tailed duck and mallard

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.

Snow scene

Snow scene

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.

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

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.

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

With some sunshine, I was able to get a few good photos of other birds as well.

Female common goldeneye

Female common goldeneye

Male gadwall

Male gadwall

Male gadwall in flight

Male gadwall in flight

Male greater scaup

Male greater scaup

Female gadwall

Female gadwall

And, it wasn’t just waterfowl.

IMG_3450

Unidentified gull, probably a juvenile ring-billed

 

Horned lark with a kernel of corn

Horned lark with a kernel of corn

Horned lark

Horned lark

Pigeons, or rock dove

Pigeons, or rock dove

There’s nothing like some good light for a change to improve my photos! Well, good light, and now Lightroom. 😉

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

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.

Bald eagle sans twig

Bald eagle sans twig

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.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

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!

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30 responses

  1. Nice captures, great post.

    March 1, 2015 at 5:47 pm

    • Thank you Victor!

      March 1, 2015 at 10:10 pm

  2. Congratulations on getting two lifers! The last shot of the Bald Eagle is superb and I like the male Red-headed Duck shot very much too. I can’t imagine how cold it must be where you are! I hope it starts to warm up a little very soon.

    March 1, 2015 at 8:05 pm

    • Thanks Clare! It may warm up by next week, I sure hope so!

      March 1, 2015 at 10:11 pm

      • I do too!

        March 2, 2015 at 8:46 am

  3. Considering it’s been so darn cold where you are I am surprised that you stayed outside for so long and you managed to get so many lovely bird shots, especially of the eagle. The Michigan wildlife and humans must be tough! I didn’t even see one bird in my yard yesterday despite the warm, sunny day and ample food so I think your post is impressive. i would like to be able to remove objects like power lines, ugly signs and natural features like twigs that detract from the shape of a bird or other main subject in a picture. One day perhaps I’ll get my head around all these editing programs. It’s obvious you are having fun with it! 🙂

    March 1, 2015 at 8:09 pm

    • Thanks Jane! I cheated and stayed in my vehicle as much as I could, returning to it often to warm my hands up again. Lightroom isn’t difficult to learn, once you have it set-up, but I cheated there also, and watched several online tutorials to help me through.

      March 1, 2015 at 11:14 pm

  4. Extreme close up on the Mute Swan is the winner for me. Your waterfowl shots are always the best. Your learning curve on computer/Light room, etc. is so short……I really envy your ability to pick up all this new stuff so quickly.

    March 1, 2015 at 10:01 pm

    • Thanks Judy! My parents taught us to love to learn, and I still do, especially when it can make my photos better.

      March 1, 2015 at 10:20 pm

  5. The bald eagle shots are amazing…I was not aware Kalamazoo had an air museum, I plant to make it a priority to visit next time I am in the city.

    March 1, 2015 at 11:56 pm

    • Thank you Charlie!

      March 2, 2015 at 5:50 am

  6. Wonderful waterfowl pictures but I liked the shots of the bald eagles the best such a majestic bird. Hope your weather warms up soon, I would hate such low temperatures.

    March 2, 2015 at 4:08 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! We hate the cold as well, but there’s not much that can be done about it.

      March 2, 2015 at 5:51 am

  7. A very nice group of waterfowl shots. Particularly enjoyed the scoters!

    March 2, 2015 at 5:14 am

    • Thanks Bob!

      March 2, 2015 at 5:50 am

  8. I don’t think I’ve seen as cloudy a winter as we’ve had this year, but you’re making the best of it. Not that you have much choice.

    Interesting to see the difference in duck sizes. I’m always surprised by that.

    Great shots of the eagles! I’m glad you figured out how to de-twig that one in Lightroom. I usually just reject photos that I have to edit that much because I don’t have the patience to paint out the offending whatever, but your attempt looks great. I never would have known it if you hadn’t said so, and that’s the whole point!

    Stay warm. I’ll be seeing what the skunk cabbage are doing this week. If they’re up I think we can breathe a little easier.

    March 2, 2015 at 7:46 am

    • Thanks Allen! It has been a long, cold, cloudy, and all around miserable winter. I hope to do more photos showing the relative sizes not only of ducks, but other birds as well. Seeing a long-tailed duck next to a swan, you’d think that the duck was really a cygnet, the same with ruddy ducks. Both species are less than half the size of a mallard.

      Removing the twig from the eagle photo was really quite easy, since there was uniformly blue sky all around.It only took a couple of strokes of the brush, and the twig was gone.

      I don’t know if I’d mention skunk cabbage and breathing easier in the same sentence. 😉

      March 3, 2015 at 12:04 am

  9. So many ducks!!! Thanks!!! (Only one raptor but since it’s the majestic Bald Eagle, I’m good. 😉 ) BTW, how does the sound of the eagle’s wings compare to the mute swan? The swan makes an amazing sound on take-off. I haven’t been close to an eagle in the wild for many years and I don’t remember. Hawks and owls are so quiet–same with the eagle?

    March 2, 2015 at 9:50 am

    • Thanks Lori! The eagles were too good to pass up. That’s a good question about the noise they may or may not make, I had never thought of that. I’ve never heard them make noise in flight though, and it would make sense that they would be quiet in flight, as not to scare their prey away. They’re certainly not like swans, which you can hear coming before you see them most of the time.

      March 2, 2015 at 11:55 pm

      • On further reflection, eagles probably have the same adaptation to make those enormous wings as quiet as possible. Why swans need “loud” wings is another story altogether. Hmm.

        March 3, 2015 at 3:48 pm

      • That makes sense, the eagle’s feathers and wings that is. I’m not sure why, but many waterfowl make noise as the fly, not just swans. Maybe it’s a way for them to locate one another and/or avoid collisions.

        March 4, 2015 at 3:00 am

  10. So many water birds!!
    And eagles!
    I love water birds and your photos are beautiful.

    March 2, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    • Thank you Cornel! I hope to post even better photos as the weather improves.

      March 2, 2015 at 11:56 pm

  11. I too enjoyed the swan close up. I was impressed throughout by the clarity of your work in this post.

    March 2, 2015 at 6:51 pm

    • Thanks Tom! The clarity of these photos is due to the magic of Lightroom, which seems to be able to turn my moderately priced lens into a top notch lens.

      March 2, 2015 at 11:58 pm

  12. Enjoyed your post Jerry, your captures were beautiful!

    March 2, 2015 at 8:41 pm

    • Thank you Donna!

      March 2, 2015 at 11:58 pm

  13. TPJ

    So little open water here we have had few ducks. BTW, what is a lifer??

    March 3, 2015 at 5:56 pm

    • Sorry that you don’t have many ducks this winter, the numbers here are way down also. Most serious birds keep what is called a “life list” of the species of birds that they have seen, mostly for bragging rights. When they see a new to them species of bird, it is called a lifer. It means something slightly different to me, it is a species of bird that I have never photographed well enough to positively identify the bird by my photos before. I look at it this way, any one can say that they saw a rare bird, I back that up with photos or I don’t count the species in my life list.

      March 4, 2015 at 3:08 am

      • TPJ

        Thanks. Of course now I need to start my ‘lifer’ list. ☺️

        March 4, 2015 at 9:14 pm