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

Archive for April, 2016

They were wrong again

The weather forecast for Sunday had been cool and rainy, but I’m getting to be a pretty good short-term weather forecaster in my own way. By using the various weather maps in motion that are available online, I could tell that the predicted rain wouldn’t arrive until mid-afternoon at the earliest, and that the bulk of the rain would pass to the north of either my home area, or the Muskegon area. In the meantime, there would be sun or only thin clouds overhead, good conditions for photography. So, I headed over to Muskegon for another fun-filled day of chasing birds mostly, but a couple of other subjects forced me to shoot photos of them as well.

I’m going to start with a photo that I am personally very happy to have gotten, even though it isn’t that great of an image.

Brown thrasher singing

Brown thrasher singing

That photo is an example of one that you can only get in the spring, as brown thrashers spend most of their time in the densest thickets that they can find, and this is the view that you normally have of one, if you can see them at all.

Brown thrasher

Brown thrasher

Brown thrashers are related to mockingbirds and catbirds, and all three species mimic the songs of other species of birds. All three species also prefer to spend their time close to the ground and in thickets where it’s difficult to spot them, which is made even more difficult because they are also very wary and shy birds. So, getting a photo of one of the thrashers out in the open is a rare thing, at least for me.

The one in the first photo was so intent on calling up a possible mate that it stayed perched there long enough for me to shoot a good many photos, and to also try shooting a video to capture its song.

But, if I’m going to try to record birds as they sing, I need a better microphone, one that is more directional, so that I don’t get all the background noise as I’m recording. I have one picked out, it’s just a matter of time and money before I purchase it, there are other things that I would like to have before I make that purchase.

Anyway, I got to the wastewater facility before dawn, hoping for a good sunrise to photograph. It was a subtlety beautiful sunrise, but I’m not going to post the photo that I shot, as it looks very similar to others that I have recently posted. Instead, I’ll bore you with a couple of my ducks at sunrise photos. I knew that in the very low light that I’d never be able to freeze the wings of this lesser scaup as it dried them, but I was going for a more artistic photo.

Lesser scaup at sunrise

Lesser scaup at sunrise

I’m still working on getting these photos right…

Ruddy duck at sunrise

Ruddy duck at sunrise

…as I can’t decide whether to go for the silhouette as in that last one…

Ruddy duck at sunrise

Ruddy duck at sunrise

…or to get some of the color of the subject as in that one. I’d love to find a duck that would hold perfectly still so that I could experiment with HDR images, but that’s not likely to happen. Still, I love the colors on the water, and the ripples, as the water reflects the colors of dawn.

As you can see, there was some color to the dawn, but it wasn’t until later that the light became truly magical. Remembering Michael Melford’s advice to shoot whatever you see when you get magic light, I rushed to find some sort of appealing composition to shoot, this was my first attempt.

Lone tree just after sunrise

Lone tree just after sunrise

If only I had noticed the tire tracks before I had shot this one, oh well. The good light held for a while, and these two are my other attempts to capture it.

Lone silo at dawn

Lone silo at dawn

 

Lone silo at dawn 2

Lone silo at dawn 2

I probably should have chosen a focal length somewhere between those two photos, but I had one more shot at capturing the scene.

Late dawn over a man-made creek

Late dawn over a man-made creek

I really wished that I had been at a more photogenic area than the flat plain that surrounds the Muskegon County wastewater facility, but that’s the way it goes, and if I had been somewhere else, I would have missed some other events that only happen in the spring.

Just as I was trying to get a good portrait of a bufflehead a few weeks ago, and those efforts were foiled by the bufflehead deciding to engage in their mating displays, I was going to go for a portrait of a lesser scaup, when four males decided to “court” the lone female with them.

Lesser scaup mating activity

Lesser scaup mating activity

Again, I had the 2X tele-converter behind the 300 mm lens, so I had a good deal of difficulty keeping up with the scaup, keeping them in focus, and dealing with the short depth of field at 600 mm.

Lesser scaup mating activity

Lesser scaup mating activity

But, I think that I did a fair job of it.

Lesser scaup mating activity

Lesser scaup mating activity

Capturing the crazed look in the eyes and on the faces of the males.

Lesser scaup mating activity

Lesser scaup mating activity

And, even getting the colors of the male’s heads in some of the photos.

Lesser scaup mating activity

Lesser scaup mating activity

 

Lesser scaup mating activity

Lesser scaup mating activity

It was really quite humorous to watch the action unfold.

Lesser scaup mating activity

Lesser scaup mating activity

In a way, it may be a good thing that what were supposed to be opportunities to shoot portraits turned into action shots instead, I’m getting better at following the action at 600 mm, and the photos are turning out better as well. I never thought of the combination of the 300 mm lens and 2X extender as being suitable for action photography, but it did quite well with the scaup. But then, they move a little slower than the bufflehead do, so I will still have to be careful in my decisions to use that combination. I suppose that it’s like anything else when it comes to photography, the more that you use it, the better the results are.

I shot a few other photos of the waterfowl, but I tried to limit myself since I’ve been posting quite a few of them lately. I finally was able to get the purple sheen on the head of a blue-winged teal to show in some of my images, and wouldn’t you know…

Male blue-winged teal

Male blue-winged teal

…the rest of him was behind a rock.

Male blue-winged teal

Male blue-winged teal

In these two images, the coot on the left was acting as if it were looking to share the other coot’s food…

American coots

American coots

…and when that didn’t work, it was eyeing another coot’s food, that didn’t work either. It ended up having to dive for its own lunch.

American coots

American coots

I still need a better photo of a gadwall that really captures the patterns in their feathers, but I think that this is my best so far.

Male gadwall

Male gadwall

More shorebirds are arriving, there were plenty of yellowlegs, both greater and lesser, but I didn’t shoot any photos since I couldn’t get very close to them. I did catch a spotted sandpiper…

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

 

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

…and, I did a flock shot of these dunlin to mark their arrival.

Dunlin

Dunlin

Sorry about the weird composition, I cropped out some of the plumbing in the lower part of the frame.

It’s too bad that gulls aren’t very popular subjects for photos, as they are the family of birds that I do best with, whether they are flying…

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

…or if I’m shooting portraits.

Ring-billed gull

Ring-billed gull

Maybe it’s because they look so angry all the time…

Ring-billed gull

Ring-billed gull

…that they aren’t more popular.

Ring-billed gull

Ring-billed gull

They still make great practice subjects though.

The swallows have returned also, I tried for some good shots, these are the best that I could do.

Female tree swallow

Female tree swallow

I could tell that I was watching a mated pair, otherwise I couldn’t tell which was the female, and which was the male…

Male tree swallow

Male tree swallow

…and, I could only tell the male because he began to sing as his mate worked on the nest.

Male tree swallow singing

Male tree swallow singing

He sure was a happy little guy!

Male tree swallow singing

Male tree swallow singing

I decided that it was time to move on, so I headed up to the headquarters of the Muskegon State Game Area in hopes of getting better photos of swallows, or better still, bluebirds. I didn’t find either, or any other birds to speak of, my only photos from that portion of the day are these two not so good images of a violet.

Violet

Violet

 

Violet

Violet

It’s funny, the last two years that has been a great place for birds, but I’m having trouble finding any birds there this year. It may be because of the time of day, I’ll have to try that spot earlier in the day soon.

That’s because my next stop was the Lane’s Landing section for the Muskegon SGA again, and a saw only a few birds there also. I did see a particularly pretty dandelion though.

Dandelion

Dandelion

And, one of the few birds that I did see was a northern flicker, which just happened to fly right past me for these two photos.

Northern flicker in flight

Northern flicker in flight

 

Northern flicker in flight

Northern flicker in flight

This was the most frustrating part of the day. I could hear sandhill cranes, the unmistakable call of an American bittern, a sora, and a Virginia rail, but never caught so much as a glimpse of any of them. I did find this turtle crossing the trail…

Map? turtle

Map turtle

…as well as this garter snake.

Garter snake

Garter snake

I should have gotten down to the snake’s level, but it was a warm day, and it seemed to be in a hurry, trailing prey of some type, so it never stopped for very long. Snakes smell with their tongues as well as their nostrils, and this one …

Garter snake

Garter snake

…definitely looked to be trailing something as it tasted the trail that whatever it was following had left.

I see that I’m up to my self-imposed limit on photos, I guess that I’ll have to break that rule, for I have a few more photos to go.

Song sparrow singing

Song sparrow singing

I had planned on stopping at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, but it was getting to be mid-afternoon, so I went the Bear Lake channel instead.

Of course, every one has seen a male mallard…

Male mallard

Male mallard

But, have you ever seen a mallard do a faceplant?

Male mallard faceplant

Male mallard faceplant

Things are beginning to green up around here, which means that it’s time for me to spend more time looking for songbirds, and less time on the waterfowl. The weather forecast for this weekend leaves much to be desired, but it was the same for the last two weekends, and we had at least half a day of great weather despite the gloomy forecasts. I hope that the same thing happen this weekend as well.

Instead of starting the day at the wastewater facility, I’ll be starting out at Lane’s Landing, both for the birds, and the possibility of a good landscape photo or two. Maybe a better idea would be to try Duck Lake State Park a few more times before the crowds of summer make that an impossible place for birding.

Anyway, there’s just a few days left until I begin my vacation, and I’m really looking forward to this one. I’ll be spending a week, or most of it, up north in search of migrating birds, new places to see and photograph, along with returning to some of my favorite places in Michigan. I just hope that the weather is seasonable for the week that I have off from work, not too hot or too cold, and with mostly dry weather.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Common eider (Somateria mollissima)

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Common eider (Somateria mollissima)

The common eider (Somateria mollissima) is a large (50–71 cm (20–28 in) in body length) sea-duck that is distributed over the northern coasts of Europe, North America and eastern Siberia. It breeds in Arctic and some northern temperate regions, but winters somewhat farther south in temperate zones, when it can form large flocks on coastal waters. It can fly at speeds up to 113 km/h (70 mph).

The common eider is both the largest of the four eider species and the largest duck found in Europe and in North America (except for the Muscovy duck which only reaches North America in a wild state in southernmost Texas and south Florida). It measures 50 to 71 cm (20 to 28 in) in length, weighs 0.81 to 3.04 kg (1.8 to 6.7 lb) and spans 80–110 cm (31–43 in) across the wings. The average weight of 22 males in the North Atlantic was 2.21 kg (4.9 lb) while 32 females weighed an average of 1.92 kg (4.2 lb). It is characterized by its bulky shape and large, wedge-shaped bill. The male is unmistakable, with its black and white plumage and green nape. The female is a brown bird, but can still be readily distinguished from all ducks, except other eider species, on the basis of size and head shape. The drake’s display call is a strange almost human-like “ah-ooo,” while the hen utters hoarse quacks. The species is often readily approachable.

This species dives for crustaceans and molluscs, with mussels being a favoured food. The eider will eat mussels by swallowing them whole; the shells are then crushed in their gizzard and excreted. When eating a crab, the eider will remove all of its claws and legs, and then eat the body in a similar fashion.

It is abundant, with populations of about 1.5–2 million birds in both North America and Europe, and also large but unknown numbers in eastern Siberia.

Eiders are colonial breeders. They nest on coastal islands in colonies ranging in size of less than 100 to upwards of 10,000-15,000 individuals. Female eiders frequently exhibit a high degree of natal philopatry, where they return to breed on the same island where they were hatched. This can lead to a high degree of relatedness between individuals nesting on the same island, as well as the development of kin-based female social structures. This relatedness has likely played a role in the evolution of co-operative breeding behaviours amongst eiders. Examples of these behaviours include laying eggs in the nests of related individuals and crèching, where female eiders team up and share the work of rearing ducklings.

A particularly famous colony of eiders lives on the Farne Islands in Northumberland, England. These birds were the subject of one of the first ever bird protection laws, established by Saint Cuthbert in the year 676. About 1,000 pairs still nest there every year. Because St. Cuthbert is the patron saint of Northumberland, it was natural that the eider should be chosen as the county’s emblem bird; the birds are still often called Cuddy’s ducks in the area, “Cuddy” being the familiar form of “Cuthbert”.

 

 

On to my photos:

These photos were shot in March of 2015 at the Muskegon Lake channel to Lake Michigan. I was holding off doing this post, hoping for better photos, and possibly getting photos of a male, but this species is such a rare visitor to Michigan that it is highly unlikely that I’ll ever see this species again. In fact, it wasn’t even on the list from the Audubon Society that I’m working from originally, I had to add it to the list.

Common eider

Common eider

 

Common eider

Common eider

 

Common eider

Common eider

 

Common eider

Common eider

 

Common eider

Common eider

 

Common eider

Common eider

 

Common eider

Common eider

 

Common eider

Common eider

 

Common eider

Common eider

 

This is number 195 in my photo life list, only 155 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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Different tactics, different settings, different results?

Two nice weekends in a row! Unfortunately, it looks like that trend has passed, and that we’re going to have another cool, wet period for a while. Just a few days ago, the meteorologists were saying that it was going to stay nice through the end of April. Oh well, complaining about the weather won’t change it. At least I got to take advantage of the nicest day that we’ve had here in Michigan over the last 6 months.

On Sunday, I started at the Muskegon County wastewater facility again, thinking that I should try some different tactics to get closer to the waterfowl there, and to also use some different camera settings as well. I think that those choices worked out well enough as a test.

Male mallards in flight

Male mallards in flight

It’s great when they synchronize their wing beats, and the early morning sunlight certainly helps out too.

Male mallards in flight

Male mallards in flight

I’ve been doing foolish things, like using the same basic set-up for the 7D Mk II and the 300 mm L series lens with 1.4 X tele-converter that worked best with the 60D with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) on it for birds in flight. Not any more, I’m learning to take advantage of what the 7D Mk II can do, and do so much better than the 60D. I won’t bore you with all the details, but you should soon see an improvement in the quality of my action photos.

I had planned to shoot quite a few action photos after the way that the ducks behaved the last time that I was there, but they were much more mellow this time, spending more time feeding and less time flying around the lagoons.

But, maybe I should go back to the beginning of the day to start this. When I arrived just before first light, I could see only a few ducks, I thought that most had moved on. There weren’t enough clouds for a colorful sunrise, but I set-up and shot this one anyway, just because of the color of the Earth shadow that morning.

The Earth’s shadow or Earth shadow (also sometimes known as the dark segment) are names for the shadow that the Earth itself casts on its atmosphere. This shadow is often visible from the surface of the Earth, as a dark band in the sky near the horizon. This atmospheric phenomenon can sometimes be seen twice a day, around the times of sunset and sunrise.

Whereas the phenomenon of night (a function of being in the shadow of the Earth) is very familiar to all, the effect of the Earth’s shadow on the atmosphere is quite often visible in the sky, and yet often goes unrecognized. This shadow is visible to observers as it falls on the atmosphere of the Earth during the twilight hours. When the weather conditions and the observer’s viewing point permit a clear sight of the horizon, the shadow can be seen as a dark blue or greyish-blue band.

Assuming the sky is clear, the Earth’s shadow is visible in the opposite half of the sky to the sunset or sunrise, and is seen right above the horizon as a dark blue band. A related phenomenon is the “Belt of Venus” or “anti-twilight arch”, a pink band that is visible above the dark blue of the Earth’s shadow, in the same part of the sky. No defined line divides the Earth’s shadow and the Belt of Venus; one colored band blends into the other in the sky.

When the sun is near the horizon at sunset or sunrise, the light from the sun is red; this is because the light is reaching the observer through an especially thick layer of the atmosphere, which works as a filter, scattering all but the red light.

From the viewpoint of the observer, the red sunlight directly illuminates small particles in the lower atmosphere on the other side of the sky from the sun. The red light is back-scattered to the observer, and that is why the Belt of Venus appears pink.

Sunrise over the lagoon

Sunrise over the lagoon

Nary a duck in sight. As it grew lighter, the ducks started coming back to the lagoon, where they had been, I have no idea, but small flocks flew in from time to time.

A ducky sunrise

A ducky sunrise

The colors were too good not to shoot quite a few photos at the time, but I’ll only include one more.

Ducky sunrise 2

Ducky sunrise 2

Okay, I lied, there’s one more to share.

Bufflehead at dawn

Bufflehead at dawn

As soon as it got a little lighter, I began adjusting the settings on the camera, and shooting a few of the Bonaparte’s gulls that flew past me.

Bonaparte's gull in flight

Bonaparte’s gull in flight

This worked out okay, as they don’t fly very fast unless they have a reason to speed it up.

Bonaparte's gull in flight

Bonaparte’s gull in flight

As the sun rose higher, I moved on to faster subjects.

Bufflehead taking flight

Bufflehead taking flight

 

Gadwalls in flight

Gadwalls in flight

As a matter of fact, I tried many times to get a good photo of one of the gadwalls, as they have nicely colored patches on their wings that can only be seen when they’re flying. I never did manage a good one, this one would have been better if a northern shoveler hadn’t flown past the gadwall as I was shooting.

Male northern shoveler and gadwall

Male northern shoveler and gadwall

Most of my action photos that morning were butt shots, the ducks flying away from me, because unless I spooked them, they were content to confine their movements to swimming. I have tons of the bird portrait equivalent of the butt shot, the over the shoulder look back as the ducks swim away from me, like this lesser scaup is doing.

Male lesser scaup

Male lesser scaup

That doesn’t make it a horrible photo, you can see the purple sheen to the scaup’s head and neck, and you have a good idea of their overall colors in that as well. But, I want better, so I parked my brand new pretty blue Subaru where there were a few weeds to help obscure it from the view of the ducks, and I waited, just as I would if I were in a hide. I put the 2 X Tele-converter behind the 300 mm lens and waited a while longer. Eventually, a horned grebe swam past.

Male horned grebe

Male horned grebe

Then, I got two male bufflehead showing off their rainbow faces.

Male bufflehead

Male bufflehead

I thought that these would be my best of a male ruddy duck in full breeding plumage, I was wrong, as you’ll see later, but I still love these.

Male ruddy duck

Male ruddy duck

These are cropped much less than I usually have to crop a photo of a ruddy duck, since they are so small.

Male ruddy duck

Male ruddy duck

Occasionally, a gull would fly past, so I shot a few for practice.

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

A coot swam past me, one of hundreds, but this was the one that came the closest to me.

American coot

American coot

As a pair of northern shovelers swam past, the male had an itch that had to be scratched.

Northern shovelers

Northern shovelers

He looks much more dignified when not scratching. 🙂

Northern shovelers

Northern shovelers

Next up, a redhead duck

Male redhead duck

Male redhead duck

 

Male redhead duck

Male redhead duck

Then came the even better photos of a ruddy duck.

Male ruddy duck

Male ruddy duck

 

Male ruddy duck

Male ruddy duck

I can’t stop myself from posting these next two, as you can see how the ruddy ducks dive…

Male ruddy duck diving

Male ruddy duck diving

..with just their cute little tail out the water for a split second as they dive.

Male ruddy duck diving

Male ruddy duck diving

I suppose that I should post this one too, as it shows that a male shoveler’s head can look blue when the light is right.

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

While I may have better images of each of these species, I have never gotten as many good images of all of them in one day before. That goes for the flying gulls as well.

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

I was also trying different settings when using the 2 X extender, to get these photos as sharp as they are, every little bit helps. That goes for these, also.

Killdeer

Killdeer

This horned lark didn’t show his horns, instead, he sang for me!

Male horned lark singing

Male horned lark singing

I wished that I had been ready to shoot a video to also capture the lark’s cheery song, but I wasn’t quick enough. 😦

I stopped at what are known as the clay ponds, where I saw a pie-billed grebe, but it saw me at the same time, which made for this photo.

Pie-billed grebe sinking out of sight

Pie-billed grebe sinking out of sight

Other waterfowl will fly, still others will dive, but pie-billed grebes will most often just sink straight down out of sight, as this one was doing.

I did catch a female belted kingfisher in flight though.

Female belted kingfisher

Female belted kingfisher

As well as this double-crested cormorant.

Double-crested cormorant in flight

Double-crested cormorant in flight

The biggest surprise of the day was this great horned owl, although I didn’t get a clear shot of it.

Great horned owl

Great horned owl

That could be because as I was trying to sneak up on it from behind, a flock of crows were in full attack mode from the front. I tried for a photo, but the owl stuck to flying in cover as much as it could, here’s the best that I could do.

Great horned owl being mobbed by crows

Great horned owl being mobbed by crows

You can just make out one of the owl’s wings to the left of the power pole as two crows dive on it, with a third crow circling for another attack.

Crows will mob most predators, but they have a special hatred for great horned owls, because the owls are the number one killer of crows. You can tell when crows are mobbing an owl, just by the crows’ “voices”, which are a call to action to every other crow in the area. Plenty of crow reinforcements were on their way, but the pine trees in the photo above were on the other side of a creek from me. To get closer, I had to go back to my vehicle and circle around to find a bridge, by that time, the owl and crows had moved on.

My last photos from the wastewater facility are two of red-tailed hawks, one was perched…

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

…the other did a fly by.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

A quick check of the headquarters area of the Muskegon State Game Area didn’t produce any bird photos, just these signs of spring.

Poplar catkin

Poplar catkin

 

Spring beauties

Spring beauties

 

Spring beauties

Spring beauties

From the SGA, I headed to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, where I shot this image of a chickadee that didn’t need to be cropped at all.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

By then, it was early afternoon, and not many birds active, but I found two more…

Yellow-Romped warbler

Yellow-Romped warbler

…and an eastern phoebe gathering twigs for its nest.

Eastern phoebe

Eastern phoebe

I spent most of my time there on the boardwalk over the marshy area looking a Virginia rail that had been seen there earlier in the week, or the marsh wren that I had heard several weeks ago. I could hear rustling sounds in the reeds and cattails, and occasionally hear splashing sounds, along with seeing the vegetation moving, but all I could find was this muskrat hiding as it groomed itself.

Muskrat

Muskrat

The last photo from this day was also a surprise.

Scilla or Siberian squill?

Scilla or Siberian squill?

I’m not sure of my identification of the flower, as I didn’t know that any of them grew here in Michigan.

All in all, a very good day. It’s too bad that this coming weekend looks to be cloudy with rain, as I was spoiled by this one day.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Orchard Oriole, Icterus spurius

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Orchard Oriole, Icterus spurius

The orchard oriole (Icterus spurius) is the smallest North American species of icterid blackbird.

The breeding habitat is semi-open areas with deciduous trees. The orchard oriole breeds in spring across eastern North America from near the Canada–United States border south to central Mexico. A 2009 study also found breeding in the thorn forest of Baja California Sur and the coast of Sinaloa during the summer “monsoon”. This region had previously been thought to be only a migratory stopover (Rohwer, Hobson, and Rohwer, 2009). These birds enjoy living in shaded trees within parks along lakes and streams. The nest is a tightly woven pouch attached to a fork on a horizontal branch. Their nests tend to sit close together.

While in breeding season, they eat insects and spiders. When the season changes, their diet also includes ripe fruit, which quickly passes through their digestive tract. During the winter, their diet consists of fruit, nectar, insects and seeds.

When in flight, orchard orioles generally swoop close to the ground and fly at or below treetop level

During courtship, females display themselves in three ways. The first is by bowing their head and torso toward the male. Seesawing, the second courtship display, involves repetitively alternating lowering and raising the head and tail. The third display is begging, which is fast-paced fluttering of wings halfway extended, followed by a high whistle.

 

On to my photos:

The photos of the adult male were shot in May of 2015 at the Muskegon County wastewater facility. They aren’t very good, but they are enough to make a positive ID of the species. The female and juvenile were shot around home here the past few years. Why I never see an adult male around home when the species is obviously around baffles me.

Adult male Orchard Oriole, Icterus spurius

Adult male Orchard Oriole, Icterus spurius

 

Adult male Orchard Oriole, Icterus spurius

Adult male Orchard Oriole, Icterus spurius

 

Adult male Orchard Oriole, Icterus spurius

Adult male Orchard Oriole, Icterus spurius

 

Juvenile male Orchard Oriole, Icterus spurius

Female Orchard Oriole, Icterus spurius

 

Juvenile male Orchard Oriole, Icterus spurius

Female Orchard Oriole, Icterus spurius

 

Juvenile male Orchard Oriole, Icterus spurius

Female Orchard Oriole, Icterus spurius

 

Female Orchard Oriole, Icterus spurius

Juvenile male Orchard Oriole, Icterus spurius

 

Female Orchard Oriole, Icterus spurius

Juvenile male Orchard Oriole, Icterus spurius

This is number 194 in my photo life list, only 156 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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Turning the corner, again!

It looks like our winter is finally over here in Michigan, although one can’t be absolutely sure of that until the middle of May. We got more snow during the first two weeks of April than we got in the months of November and December combined this winter. It was cold enough for snow yesterday during most of the day, but it began to warm up in the afternoon, so the snow changed over to a steady rain for the rest of the day, with the temperature just above freezing. I spent the day cleaning my apartment and doing some other chores, so I suppose that the day wasn’t completely wasted.

I woke up this morning (Monday) and was surprised to see that the temperature had continued to rise overnight, and that it’s as warm outside as it has been over these last few weeks of winter. The forecast for the next week is for the temperature to climb to average, or maybe even a little above, but best of all, little to no precipitation in any form for the next week. That’s good, we need to dry out around here, as we’ve received far more precipitation than average so far this year. Best of all, I should have some sunshine for a change when I get outside to shoot a few photos this week, I hope.

Well, I did make it outside on Monday, our first sunny day in what seems like forever. I didn’t shoot many photos, at least not by my typical standards, but I think that most of the wildlife was recovering from winter’s last gasps. Take this grey squirrel for example…

Grey squirrel basking in the sun

Grey squirrel basking in the sun

…it wanted to spread out on the roof of a storage building at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve and nap while absorbing the heat from the sun hitting the roof, but some fool photographer kept disturbing its nap. 🙂

Even the rabbits were out in broad daylight taking in the sun!

Cottontail rabbit

Cottontail rabbit

The way that the day started…

A foggy sunrise

A foggy sunrise

…I was afraid that the fog that formed right about dawn would hold on most of the day. I’ve taken more dramatic sunrise photos in the past, but I love that one, I think that I did a good job of capturing the mood of the day at that time.

Being the complete idiot that I am, I decided that waterfowl portraits wouldn’t come out well, because of the fog and low light, so instead, I went for more action shots.

Northern shovelers taking flight

Northern shovelers taking flight

It’s hard for me to remember that just a few years ago, I had difficulty identifying many of the ducks in Michigan. Then, I began the My Photo Life List project, where I’m trying to get photos of every species of bird regularly seen in Michigan. But even before that, I found that I was learning a great deal about the behavior of birds and wildlife from my attempts to photograph them. That hasn’t changed at all, in fact, when I think about it, almost every photo that I shoot teaches me at least a little about wildlife behavior.

A few months ago, I did a post on the fact that it gets easier to identify birds the more often that one sees them. I’m to the point now that I can make a pretty good guess as to the species of a duck even when the light is so low that my eyes can’t discern any colors. Because I’ve seen the ducks through the viewfinder of my camera so many times, I can tell by the size, shape, and profile of a duck what species it is. Then there’s behavior, and that’s where the photo above comes in.

I noted in an earlier post that mallards and blue-winged teal, to name two species, launch themselves nearly straight up out of the water when they’re taking off. As you have seen in recent posts, other species, such as the bufflehead and ruddy ducks, run across the surface of the water to build up speed as they take off. The northern shovelers are somewhere in the middle. They don’t run to gain speed, they burst out of the water, but at a lower angle than mallards or the blue-winged teal. That’s another way of identifying waterfowl at a distance or in low light.

So, I wanted to catch a northern shoveler at the point of take-off to show you what I mean. Unfortunately, the birds don’t burst into flight on cue. I’d point the camera at a duck, just waiting for it to take off, and they never did, or I was too slow on the shutter release to get the shot that I wanted if they did take off. Even more frustrating were the times when I held the camera on a duck until I decided that it wasn’t going to fly, and as soon as I lowered the camera, off it went.

Then it dawned on me, the females take flight before the males 99% of the time, maybe more, and that pretty much applies to all species of waterfowl.

Applying that knowledge, I’d get a focus lock on a male with a partner, and as soon as I heard her take off, I’d start shooting, which resulted in this photo.

Northern shovelers taking flight

Northern shovelers taking flight

I got what I was after! That’s just as the first flap of its wings lifted the shoveler out of the water, and you can see the angle at which he is moving. I even got a good bonus shot.

Male northern shoveler in flight

Male northern shoveler in flight

I tried again later in the day when the light was better, but by then, it was siesta time for the ducks, and they’d just look at me as they swam away from me.

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

Anyway, once you learn a little about the ducks, it becomes much easier to identify them even at long distances.

But, there’s more to learn than just that. I shot this photo a few weeks ago, but I didn’t post it here as I didn’t think any one else would be interested. Maybe you’re not, but here it is anyway.

Male bufflehead taking flight

Male bufflehead taking flight

Two things struck me about that photo, one, male bufflehead have pink feet, which I didn’t know before. Two, I was amazed at the amount of water that the bufflehead is displacing with its feet in that photo, when I first saw the photo, my thought was that they must have very strong legs for such a small duck. Then, I shot this one on Monday.

Male bufflehead taking flight

Male bufflehead taking flight

Wow! Look at the size of those feet, they’re larger than a mallard’s feet, and a mallard is almost twice the size of a bufflehead. No wonder the little buggers can move so much water when they’re taking off, big, strong legs and feet, and that makes sense, since they dive for their food, and mallards seldom do. And because they use their powerful legs to get airborne, they can have shorter, more compact wings which is also helpful while they are diving.

Oh, I got a good bonus shot to go with that one too.

Male bufflehead in flight

Male bufflehead in flight

I’ll admit that the things that I learn through photography are not great earthshaking things that would warrant more scientific study, but what I do learn are the little things that aren’t included in most field guides about birds for example. In my observations and efforts to get closer to wildlife, I do pick up on things, such as the fact that it is almost always the females that bolt first when danger approaches. The more that I learn about bird behavior by trying to photograph them, the easier it becomes to get better photos, and the better that my photos become, the more that I learn about the birds.

Anyway, after several years of trying, I finally got a good photo of a horned lark that shows how they came by their name.

Horned lark

Horned lark

I shot a few more photos while at the wastewater facility, and here they are.

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

 

Female gadwall in flight

Female gadwall in flight

 

Redheads

Redheads

 

Killdeer making little ones

Killdeer making little ones

 

Killdeer pair

Killdeer pair

I wasn’t having much luck getting close to any of the birds at the wastewater facility, so I headed over to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve to see what I could find there. The first thing that I noticed is that the honeysuckle bushes are beginning to leaf out.

Early honeysuckle leaves

Early honeysuckle leaves

I also shot a number of catkins? opening, but I forgot which of these were on what trees.

Willow catkin?

Willow catkin?

 

Willow catkin?

Willow catkin?

 

???Catkin

???Catkin

I’m going to have to learn which plants are which, then shoot photos of more of the plants to remind me of what parts go with which plant. Maybe one of these days I’ll have the time to learn plants the way that I’m trying to learn birds and photography now.

The chickadees were out in force, and I wanted to catch one with maple flowers in the same shot, this was the best that I could do.

Black-capped chickadee and maple flowers

Black-capped chickadee and maple flowers

A little later on, I bumped into another bird photographer that I have spoken to a few times in the past when we were birding the same places. He couldn’t resist showing me his new camera and lens for birding, a Nikon D810 camera with a Nikon 200-500 mm lens. The D810 is the high-resolution camera body that doesn’t have a low pass filter, and I have to say, you can really see an improvement in the amount of details that the Nikon captured when compared to what my 7D Mk II does.

That’s not really a fair comparison though, my 7D is a crop sensor body, while the Nikon 810 is a full frame camera.

While we were chatting, we were shooting photos of golden-crowned kinglets in the brush near us.

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

I paid more attention to how well the other guy’s outfit functioned than the birds at first, but then I got serious.

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

I would say that the 7D was quicker to focus on the birds, as was expected, but when the other guy got a photo of one of these quick little buggers, the image quality was noticeably better, as you would also expect. All in all, we spent around a half an hour chatting about birds, places to go, and photography while shooting the kinglets, a very pleasant way to spend the early part of the afternoon. Seeing the images produced by the full frame sensor Nikon body only strengthened my resolve to add a full frame sensor body to my arsenal of camera gear, one of these days.

Anyway, I managed to make it outside on Thursday after work to shoot these images.

The first bumblebee of 2016

The first bumblebee of 2016

 

The first bumblebee of 2016

The first bumblebee of 2016

 

Red squirrel eating willow catkins

Red squirrel eating willow catkins

I wanted a better photo of the red squirrel, but a person walking their dog spooked the squirrel, so that was the best that I could do quickly.

Another bee

Another bee

The weather forecast for this coming weekend looks to be about perfect, with sunny, pleasantly warm days, and cool nights. So, I’m going to use up all the photos that I have saved for posting, but hadn’t posted yet. These are the ones left from around home.

Crocus

Crocus

 

Moss

Moss

I spotted the resident pair of red-tailed hawks doing a little pair bonding, but they were quite a way away from me.

Red-tailed hawks flirting

Red-tailed hawks flirting

 

Red-tailed hawks flirting

Red-tailed hawks flirting

One of them headed my way, and this is the resulting photo.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

This next batch of photos are ones that I shot in the Muskegon area, but didn’t have the room in my previous posts to insert them.

Turkey

Turkey gobbling

 

Common goldeneye

Common goldeneye

 

Mallard

Mallard

 

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

 

Eastern phoebe

Eastern phoebe

 

Downy woodpecker

Downy woodpecker

This post was kind of a rush job, I haven’t had much time to work on it, sorry about that. But, with the great weather forecast, I’m sure that I’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors the next few days shooting more photos, so I won’t have time to do much blogging then, either.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Barrow’s Goldeneye, Bucephala islandica

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Barrow’s Goldeneye, Bucephala islandica

Barrow’s goldeneye (Bucephala islandica) is a medium-sized sea duck of the genus Bucephala, the goldeneyes. This bird was named after Sir John Barrow.

Adults are similar in appearance to the common goldeneye. Adult males have a dark head with a purplish gloss and a white crescent at the front of the face. Adult females have a mostly yellow bill. The male Barrow’s goldeneye differs from the male common goldeneye in the fact that the common goldeneye has a round white patches on the face, less black on the back of the bird, and a larger bill. For the females, the common goldeneye has a less rounded head, and a bill in which only the tip is yellow.

Their breeding habitat consists of wooded lakes and ponds primarily in northwestern North America, but also in scattered locations in eastern Canada and Iceland. Females return to the same breeding sites year after year and also tend to use the same nesting sites. The males stay with their mate through the winter and defend their territory during the breeding season, then leave for the molting site. Mating pairs often stay intact even though the male and female are apart for long periods of time over the summer during molting times. The pair then reunites at wintering areas.

They are migratory and most winter in protected coastal waters or open inland waters. Barrow’s goldeneye, along with many other species of sea ducks, rely on urbanized, coastal estuaries as important places on their migration patterns. These estuaries provide excellent wintering and stopping places during the ducks’ migration.

These diving birds forage underwater. They eat aquatic insects, crustaceans and pond vegetation. The main staples of the bird’s diet are Gammarus oceanicus and Calliopus laeviusculus, which are both marine crustaceans. A large part of their diet consists of mussels and gastropods.

The Barrow’s goldeneye is considered an arboreal bird species because much of its nesting is done in cavities found in mature trees. The birds will also nest in burrows or protected sites on the ground. Barrow’s goldeneyes tend not to share habitat with the much more numerous common goldeneye. Barrow’s goldeneye tend to be territorial towards other birds venturing into their domain. This is especially true among the drakes. Confrontations may occur in the form of fighting. Drakes often do a form of territorial display along the boundaries of their territory. This is both true on land and in the water. These territorial displays average about 6 minutes in length and often trigger other males to perform their own show.

Very little is known about the breeding sites and patterns of the Barrow’s goldeneye. After the breeding season, the birds migrate to specific molting sites to undergo molting, the loss and regeneration of feathers which causes them to be flightless for anywhere from 20–40 days. These molting sites are often wetlands that are more drought resistant and plentiful in food, along with being less influenced by humans and predators.

The Barrow’s goldeneye was greatly affected by the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. The spill greatly impacted the bird’s wintering areas, and numbers of the birds in these areas decreased after the spill. The birds’ exposure to the oil spill mainly occurred in the shallow water mussel beds along the coast.

The Barrow’s goldeneye is a relatively quiet bird that generally only makes vocalizations during the breeding season and courtship. These can include low volume squeaks, grunts and croaks. During flights, the fast movement of the bird’s wings creates a low whistling sound

 

 

On to my photos:

These photos were shot way back in February of 2014 at the channel that runs from Muskegon Lake to Lake Michigan. These aren’t very good, but they are enough to make a positive ID of the species.

Barrow's Goldeneye, Bucephala islandica

Barrow’s Goldeneye, Bucephala islandica

 

Barrow's Goldeneye, Bucephala islandica

Barrow’s Goldeneye, Bucephala islandica

 

Barrow's Goldeneye, Bucephala islandica

Barrow’s Goldeneye, Bucephala islandica

 

Barrow's Goldeneye, Bucephala islandica

Barrow’s Goldeneye, Bucephala islandica

 

Barrow's Goldeneye, Bucephala islandica

Barrow’s Goldeneye, Bucephala islandica

 

Barrow's Goldeneye, Bucephala islandica

Barrow’s Goldeneye, Bucephala islandica

 

Barrow's Goldeneye, Bucephala islandica

Barrow’s Goldeneye, Bucephala islandica

 

This is number 193 in my photo life list, only 157 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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April Fools, The signs were wrong

From all the signs, it looked like we were going to have an early spring here in West Michigan, but the signs were wrong. March may go into the record books as warmer than average, but there were also several extended cold stretches to go with the warmth. Two snowstorms which dropped large amounts of snow passed just to the north of where I live, fortunately, as I’d rather not deal with over a foot of snow at work, or at home. March was also much wetter than average, it seemed like that when the weather was warm enough to enjoy being outside, then it was raining to spoil that.

April isn’t looking much better, the forecast for the first ten days of this month are for well below average temperatures, and well above average precipitation, with some of that precipitation coming as snow, yuck!

Thankfully, while this past winter wasn’t as cold or snowy as the previous two winters were, it appears like this one is going to make up for the mild start by hanging on for an extra month.

If only every day could be like Easter Sunday was, when I had very good light and a wide variety of subjects to photograph, from large birds…

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

…to smaller birds…

Male Red-winged blackbird

Male Red-winged blackbird

 

Male Red-winged blackbird

Male Red-winged blackbird

…to some of the first flowers of the year.

Tiny white wildflowers

Tiny white wildflowers

I even found a snowy owl, one that didn’t want to pose for me.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Before I could get any closer, it took off, and was promptly attacked by one of the many red-winged blackbirds.

Snowy owl being attacked by a red-winged blackbird

Snowy owl being attacked by a red-winged blackbird

You have to admire the courage of the red-winged blackbirds, they will attack anything that enters their territory, even the large predators like the owl.

Anyway, the owl landed on a piece of the equipment at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, not my favorite setting to shoot photos, and, the owl was really out of camera range. That was a shame, as this one was more animated than most of them that I’ve seen.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

I think that it may have been panting in the heat that day, since snowy owls live in the arctic most of the year, it may have found a warm spring day here too warm.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Those two were shot with the 300 mm lens and 2 X tele-converter, and cropped quite a bit. I put the Tamron 1.4 X tele-converter behind the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) to get a little closer.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

That was last weekend, on Sunday of this week, this is what I woke up to.

April Fools Day snow

April Fools Day snow

While a couple of inches of snow is really no big deal, and it was beautiful, I really didn’t feel like trudging through it, since it is April, and we’re supposed to be done with the white stuff by now.

Actually, that isn’t true, we do have some snow in April of most years, but here in Michigan, we’ve dealt with so much snow for so long, that we feel as if the snow should be done with by April. This is the reality of April in Michigan.

Daffodils and snow

Daffodils and snow

So, with the weather forecast for the day calling for clouds and possibly more snow here where I live, but a warm front just to the south where I’d find less snow, more sun,  and much warmer temperatures, I decided that a road trip was in order.

It was an amazing day weather-wise, with a temperature difference of over 30 degrees Fahrenheit (15 C) in less than 100 miles (160 KM) in distance. Just to the north of where I live, it never got more than a few degrees above freezing and they did get more snow. To the south, where I went, it turned out to be a pleasant, although very windy, day, with plenty of sunshine as the day wore on. The wind proved bothersome, but it was much better than snow. I would have liked to have gotten a better photo of the daffodils, but the wind whipping them around made it impossible.

Still, it was good to see some green grass as another sign that spring will eventually get here.

Early spring in southwest Michigan

Early spring in southwest Michigan

Beside the weather, another reason that I decided to head south was to photograph the lighthouse at South Haven, Michigan…

South Haven, Michigan lighthouse

South Haven, Michigan lighthouse

…and I climbed a dune there for this photo.

Lake Michigan near South Haven, Michigan

Lake Michigan near South Haven, Michigan

Yes, that’s my brand new pretty blue Subaru in the parking lot, I couldn’t resist it. 😉 That photo also serves as a reminder of why I go to the Lake Michigan beaches during the colder months. In the summer, that parking lot would be full, with thousands of people walking the beach and the dunes.

Anyway, the other lighthouse that I wanted to photograph is the one at the twin cities of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, Michigan. When I arrived there, I found that the lighthouse was undergoing so repair, so the composition that I liked best…

The lighthouse at Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, Michigan

The lighthouse at Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, Michigan

…included the equipment being used during the repairs, so I settled on a tight shot.

The lighthouse at Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, Michigan

The lighthouse at Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, Michigan

Since those two lighthouses aren’t as photogenic as many of the others in Michigan, I didn’t put much effort into the photos, and it shows. Oh well, I’ve crossed them off from my list of lighthouses in Michigan to photograph.

Along the way, I stopped at two state parks, Warren Dunes and Grand Mere to check them out, along with a host of smaller parks and nature preserves that I found during my trip, another reason that I headed south for a change. While most of them showed some promise as far as being places that could yield some good photos, the reality is that I probably won’t return except under similar weather conditions. While I didn’t run into many people on this day, during nicer weather, people escaping from Chicago crowd our southwestern Michigan parks since they are so close.

I have one more landscape photo to add, even though it’s not very good.

Grand Mere State Park in the background

Grand Mere State Park in the background

That one sort of sums up the landscapes in southern Michigan. I checked several locations out, trying to find a good view of the towing dunes in Grand Mere State Park, that was the best that I could do. In the foreground is the access road that leads to I-94, the expressway that runs between Detroit, Michigan, and Chicago, Illinois, which you can also see in the photo. There’s a sliver of the green waters of Lake Michigan, a small patch of blue water from one of the inland lakes there, and trees everywhere. Try as I did, I couldn’t find an opening in the trees anywhere from where I could see the dunes but not the expressway.

I’ve driven past that spot hundreds of times for work, and had never noticed the dunes before, because the expressway is down in the valley so one can’t see over the trees. It doesn’t help that I get frustrated and choose the wrong lens when I get to a spot like that. Because I chose to shoot with a wide-angle lens, the dunes in the background look less impressive that they really are. If I had used a short telephoto lens, I would have been able to convey how tall and steep the dunes are, but then, I wouldn’t have gotten more than one dune in the frame at a time, nor the inland lake or Lake Michigan. I really need to think those scenes out better before shooting poor photos like that.

I was at the lake that you can just make out in that photo, and the dunes were hidden from view by the trees. But, while at the lake, I shot a few good photos of a flicker.

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

 

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

You can tell that it was bit breezy in this next photo.

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Earlier, on my way to the lighthouse in South Haven, I found a kestrel to photograph poorly.

American kestrel in flight

American kestrel in flight

It was hovering over an open field in a city park, right in town. That’s the other great thing about Michigan, wildlife is almost always close by, even in the cities.

American kestrel in flight

American kestrel in flight

I had driven the back roads down along Lake Michigan until I was only a few miles from Indiana, I decided to take a different route home, heading inland, or east, for a while before turning north again. That’s farm country in Michigan, and I was hoping to find waterfowl feeding in the flooded portions of the farm fields. I did, mostly bufflehead…

Male bufflehead

Male bufflehead

…mallards…

Mallards

Mallards

…and Canada geese.

Canada goose

Canada goose

I was hoping to find a flock of a species of goose that I need for the My Photo Life List project, and at one point, I thought that I had…

Domestic X Mallard hybrids

Domestic X Mallard hybrids

…but they turned out to be domestic ducks that had some mallard in them.

I did see quite a few sandhill cranes, but only one close enough for a fair photo.

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

One of the flooded areas held a pair of wood ducks…

Wood ducks

Wood ducks

…here’s the male…

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

…and the female.

Female wood duck

Female wood duck

It’s amazing the way that they can stick to the shady areas when it was such a sunny day by then, but they are good at not being seen.

That wraps up my trip to the southwestern corner of Michigan. I’m very glad that I decided to take this little road trip, as other than for work, it’s a part of the state that I’ve never visited before. I found some good birding spots, but I doubt if I’ll ever return, unless there’s a similar day as far as the weather. They may be good birding spots, but no better than those closer to where I live. The scenery was better than I had expected, but still not as good as farther to the north, and I relate better to the scenery of northern Michigan, and fewer people there as well.

Oh, one more thing, on my way back home, there was a detour because a very large tree had blown over in the very strong wind that day, completely blocking the road. The detour was no big deal, I only mention the incident because of the wind, so even with sunshine and warmer temperatures, it wasn’t that nice of a day.

It’s mid-afternoon on Monday as I’m working on this part of this post, and the temperature finally climbed above the freezing mark for the day. There were snowflakes in the air as I ran some errands earlier today, and they continued to fall as I kept an eye out for the UPS driver. He’s been here, to deliver the faster, higher capacity memory cards for my cameras that I’ll need while I’m on vacation next month. One of my errands this morning was to the Subaru dealer to pick-up new roof racks for my brand new pretty blue Subaru, as the ones from my old Subaru didn’t fit the new one.

I’m now just about all set for my vacation next month, if the weather will cooperate. I sure hope that it isn’t like two years ago, when there were still a few piles of snow in the woods, and drifts of snow left along the highways.

Well, it’s now very early Thursday, before I head off to work. The weather hasn’t improved even a smidgen, and it may even be worse this upcoming weekend. It may not get above freezing here on Saturday, which is okay in a way, since I have to work. But the forecast for both Sunday and Monday, when I don’t have to work, the forecast is for rain and snow mixed, more yuck! We’ve had at least a trace of snow every day so far in April, and more snow for the month than we got in December. I’m not sure what, if anything, that I’ll do this weekend, I’ll try to think of something.

Luckily, I have a few photos from around home left to fill out this post, from when I thought that spring had arrived.

Song sparrow singing

Song sparrow singing

The weather this year hasn’t fooled just the humans, but the birds as well. When I read through the rare bird alerts that I receive, they are almost totally species of birds that are arriving back here much earlier than they normally do, not some rare migrant that isn’t typically seen in Michigan.

Take this fellow…

Eastern towhee

Eastern towhee

…he arrived here well over a month before that species normally does. I’m sorry about the poor photo with the brush in the way, but I heard him singing and didn’t have much time to get a photo before some one walking their dog would spook the towhee away, as I saw them coming as I was looking for this guy. That’s exactly what happened, as expected, the towhee went even deeper into the brush as the person walking their dog got closer.

That brings up another point, I’m going to have to find better places to shoot photos of birds, without as many humans around, if I’m going to take the time to set-up a hide to try to get closer to the birds. That will  mean getting off the beaten path more often to find places where it would be worthwhile to set-up a hide and just sit for hours. Eventually, I may end up doing species specific set-ups where my goal is to get the best possible photos of one species, then move on to another species later. But, I’ll have more thoughts on this in later posts, for now, a few more photos to wrap this post up.

Witch hazel

Witch hazel

 

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

 

Eastern meadowlark

Eastern meadowlark

 

Eastern meadowlark

Eastern meadowlark

 

Common grackle

Common grackle

 

Common grackle

Common grackle

Another day of mixed rain and snow driven by strong cold winds out of the north, still more yuck! That’s the forecast for the entire weekend as well, however, things may begin to improve around here towards the middle of next week. I sure hope so, this last blast of winter (I hope) sure has been a cruel April Fools joke on all of us who were looking for spring.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

The marsh wren (Cistothorus palustris) is a small North American songbird of the wren family. It is sometimes called long-billed marsh wren to distinguish it from the sedge wren, also known as short-billed marsh wren.

Adults have brown upperparts with a light brown belly and flanks and a white throat and breast. The back is black with white stripes. They have a dark cap with a white line over the eyes and a short thin bill.

The male’s song is a loud gurgle used to declare ownership of territory, western males have a more varied repertoire.

Their breeding habitat is marshes with tall vegetation such as cattails across North America. In the western United States, some birds are permanent residents. Other birds migrate to marshes and salt marshes in the southern United States and Mexico.

These birds forage actively in vegetation, sometimes flying up to catch insects in flight. They mainly eat insects, also spiders and snails.

The nest is an oval lump attached to marsh vegetation, entered from the side. The clutch is normally four to six eggs, though the number can range from three to ten. The male builds many unused nests in his territory. He may puncture the eggs and fatally peck the nestlings of other birds nesting nearby, including his own species (even his own offspring) and red-winged blackbirds, yellow-headed blackbirds, and least bitterns.

This bird is still common, although its numbers have declined with the loss of suitable wetland habitat. Wholesale draining of marshes will lead to local extinction.

 

On to my photos:

These photos were shot at the area known as Lane’s Landing along the Muskegon River back in August of 2014. I think that this species ranks as one of the ones that I worked the hardest at to get photos of. They are a small bird that never stops moving, and never ventures out of the reeds and cattails of the marshes in which they live, as you’ll be able to tell from the photos.

Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

 

Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

 

Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

 

Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

 

Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

 

Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

 

Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

 

Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

These next two were shot at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve during the fall of 2015.

Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

 

Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

 

This is number 192 in my photo life list, only 158 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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