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

Does it matter?

On Saturday, due to the weather forecast, I switched my usual routine from walking around home, to going to Muskegon to look for a rare bird that had been spotted there. The rare bird was a sharp-tailed sandpiper, a native of Asia, but which according to what little I could learn about it, sometimes shows up in odd places. I may or may not have gotten a photo of it, but it’s almost a certainty that I saw it. I’ll get to the details in just a few.

First, we had been in near drought conditions earlier this summer, but near the end of July, that ended with a good dose of rain. The rain then ended, and we hadn’t received any more until last Friday, but when it finally started coming down again, it made up for lost time so to speak. Rainfall totals from around West Michigan ranged from around an inch to well over 5 inches, with some localized flooding south of where I live. One constant has been the heat and humidity this summer, which has been tough to take after two cool summers in a row.

Owing to the hours that I had worked the night before, I got a late start on Saturday, and was made even later by a major traffic jam caused by road “construction” on the main freeway that I take to Muskegon. I put construction in quotes, because every year for the past few years, they have closed two of the three lanes of the expressway down to supposedly repair it, always on weekends, and it always creates very long traffic back-ups with all the traffic headed north. Once they “finish” the “repairs”, the road is bumpier than it was before they began. That seems to be the new normal around Michigan, working on the same sections of road year after year, with the roadway in worse shape afterwards than it was to begin with. That, and ripping up sections of roadway that is in fair shape to replace the pavement, while leaving miles of absolutely horrible pavement to crumble away even more. But, enough of that little rant.

Anyway, arriving at the wastewater facility, I spotted a belted kingfisher, which flew off before I could even get the camera pointed out the window of my car. This heron didn’t stick around long either…

Juvenile great blue heron

Juvenile great blue heron

…but at least I got that shot before it flew off.

Even though I knew that it wasn’t where the sharp-tailed sandpiper had been seen on the previous days, I stopped at one of the grassy cells to see what other shorebirds that I could find. There was nothing out of the ordinary, but I did shoot this semi-palmated sandpiper shaking the mud off from something it had found to eat.

Semi-palmated sandpiper

Semi-palmated sandpiper

On my way to where the rare sandpiper had been seen, I spotted a peregrine falcon hot on the tail feathers of a pigeon.

Peregrine falcon chasing a pigeon

Peregrine falcon chasing a pigeon

From what I could see, the pigeon escaped.

You may have been able to tell that the weather was variable, sunny one minute, and heavy dark clouds the next. That made photograph more challenging, and wouldn’t you know, it was during a period of the heavy dark clouds that I saw the falcon chasing the pigeon. it’s the way my luck always seems to go.

I knew that I was going to have trouble identifying the sharp-tailed sandpiper when it turned out that I was the shorebird expert among the group of people looking for it. I had to point out this black-bellied plover…

Black-bellied plover

Black-bellied plover

…almost in full breeding plumage…

Black-bellied plover

Black-bellied plover

…as well as this Wilson’s phalarope between two lesser yellowlegs…

Wilson's phalarope between two lesser yellowlegs

Wilson’s phalarope between two lesser yellowlegs

…to the others looking for the rare sandpiper.

It’s pretty bad when I’m the shorebird expert in a group, when the others all had spotting scopes and their field guides out as they searched for the sandpiper. To make matters worse, the fly by that the falcon had done had driven many of the shorebirds into hiding. It took some time before they began to emerge from the vegetation and begin feeding again.

Of course to make things even more difficult, there were dozens of shorebirds running around once they felt safe to venture out into the open again. If I got a photo of the rare sharp-tailed sandpiper, then this is it.

Sharp-tailed sandpiper?

Sharp-tailed sandpiper?

 

Sharp-tailed sandpiper?

Sharp-tailed sandpiper?

But, the question is, does it matter if I got a photo of it or not?

That species isn’t on the list of birds that are regularly seen in Michigan that I’m working from as I try to photograph all of those species, since it is such a rare bird in this hemisphere. On one hand, it would be pretty cool to say that I got to see such a rare visitor, but on the other hand, outside of the birding world, what difference does it make.

By the way, some one who knew a great deal more about shorebirds than I showed up as I was looking for the sandpiper, and he confirmed what the bird in the photo was, both looking through his scope and looking at my photos. Still, it isย a guess as to whether or not that is a sharp-tailed sandpiper or not. I wish that I had been there when the true bird experts had been there earlier in the week.

That brings up another question, what kind of jobs do those people have that allow them to rush off in search of a rare bird the second that one is spotted somewhere? From what I read, there was a group of around 80 people looking for the sandpiper on Friday when it was confirmed that it was indeed a sharp-tailed sandpiper.

If I am ever able to complete the list of birds seen regularly in Michigan, I’ll be a happy camper. I’m more of an all round nature buff and wannabe photographer than competitive birder.

I did go looking for the Forster’s terns that had been seen on the breakwater at Grand Haven, Michigan, after I had finished at the wastewater facility on Saturday. I didn’t find the Forster’s terns, but I did find this.

Semi-palmated sandpiper

Semi-palmated sandpiper

You can see that it has slightly webbed feet, that’s where it got its name from.

Semi-palmated sandpiper

Semi-palmated sandpiper

When it began to rain, the sandpiper and I took shelter together behind the tower for the beacon on the end of the breakwater.

Semi-palmated sandpiper

Semi-palmated sandpiper

The rain let up a little, so I decided to head back to my car, but I stopped on the way to shoot this juvenile common tern.

Juvenile common tern

Juvenile common tern

You can see how small that the common tern is in relation to the herring gull behind it. When the tern took flight, I shot a few more photos of it.

Juvenile common tern

Juvenile common tern

So, Saturday turned out to be a bit of a bust, I’m 75% sure that the photos of the sharp-tailed sandpiper are indeed the sandpiper, it was more of a let down to miss the Forster’s terns, as they are on my list and I’d like to check them off. Also, I didn’t get a single image that I’m really pleased with, other than the semi-palmated sandpiper. I made up for that on Sunday.

Killdeer in flight

Killdeer in flight

That was just the warm up!

With every one else looking for the sharp-tailed sandpiper…

The rare bird circus

The rare bird circus

…with people having driven from surrounding states in hopes of getting a look at the rare bird. I saw license plates from Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota on the cars there, and that’s just a small part of the crowd.

I went to the opposite corner of the wastewater facility to the southeast corner of the east storage lagoon to get away from the crowd, and to test something for the future. Instead of just sitting in my car and waiting to see what would come along, I knew that where I was at always seems to hold birds, they must like something about that spot. So, I scrambled down the bank which is covered with broken rocks, and found myself a nice large rock to sit on and hope that a few birds would return. It didn’t take long for the killdeer above to return, and shortly after it arrived, so did a lesser yellowlegs.

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

My hope had been to catch birds in flight returning, so that they’d be flying at me…

Killdeer in flight

Killdeer in flight

…rather than away from me.

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

But, I found that most birds came in at an angle.

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

I was a bit surprised by the birds that flew past me as I sat there.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

 

American crow in flight

American crow in flight

 

Tree swallow in flight

Tree swallow in flight

 

Female mallard in flight

Female mallard in flight

 

Eastern meadowlark in flight

Eastern meadowlark in flight

The images are fair, nothing to write home about though, so I decided to get really serious about getting the camera set-up for the very best images that I can possibly get. It turns out that those settings worked for action other than birds in flight. One of the lesser yellowlegs began squawking, so I shot a few photos of that…

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

…and while he was at it, I shot this video of him.

He was moving so quickly that I had a tough time keeping it in the frame and in focus, just like shooting stills, almost. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I assume it was a he, for it wasn’t long before it began chasing the other yellowlegs away.

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

It started to rain shortly after that, so I took a drive around other parts of the wastewater facility, but once the rain ended, I returned to the same spot to shoot this one…

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

…and plenty of others as you will see later. When I saw the images, I was surprised how violent the yellowlegs were, because watching it with the naked eye, they move too quickly to make out what’s really happening.

Okay, I said that while it was raining that I took a drive around other parts of the facility. Seeing two juvenile bald eagles engaged in air to air combat, I threw the camera up to my eye to shoot this horrible photo.

Two juvenile bald eagles fighting

Two juvenile bald eagles fighting

I calmed down, got a good focus lock on one of the eagles, then shoot these next two.

Two juvenile bald eagles fighting

Two juvenile bald eagles fighting

But trying to anticipate their flight paths as they fought was more than I could do.

Two juvenile bald eagles fighting

Two juvenile bald eagles fighting

So, I had to settle for a few images of each eagle in flight by itself.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

I had shot a few other photos while waiting for the sun to come back out, but I’ll save those for a later post. For now, a couple of more of the yellowlegs fighting. The fights would begin with a face off.

Two lesser yellowlegs about to fight

Two lesser yellowlegs about to fight

Once the fights began, wings, feet, and beaks were all used during the combat…

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

…along with displays that I’m sure are meant to intimidate the opponent.

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

Finally! I’m getting the action shots that I’ve always wanted, and worked so hard to become good at getting regularly!

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

I’ll tell you though, those birds can move extremely fast when they are dodging another bird’s blows from its wings, or thrusts with its beak! If anything, I was a bit too close, since I had trouble keeping them in the frame, but I learned so much this afternoon about how to shoot those photos, that I’ll take these the way that they are.

As good as these are, I have some that are better yet, but you’ll have to wait until the next post to see them, unless you’re bored by so many images of the yellowlegs fighting.

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

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27 responses

  1. It sounds like you are describing the road conditions in CT as well. The video was a nice addition. My favorite photo was the “rare bird circus”. Humans can be so interesting.

    August 14, 2016 at 10:18 pm

    • Thank you very much Maria! I could have spent the day shooting photos and videos of all the bird watchers coming and going, but I prefer the birds to the watchers. ๐Ÿ™‚

      August 15, 2016 at 6:53 am

      • You are right about birds versus people. I could watch the sandpipers for hours. I love the way they run along the surf line. Your observation about the roads really made me laugh. Hope your travels are smoother this week. Have a good one.

        August 15, 2016 at 7:19 am

      • Thanks again, I love watching most birds, but you’re right, sandpipers and plovers playing in the surf are special.

        August 15, 2016 at 10:45 pm

      • I moved inland and sometimes miss it. It was nice to see your photos. I wanted to ask you if I might use your photo of the dragonfly where you can see the facets in the eyes? I will reference you.

        August 15, 2016 at 10:51 pm

      • Yes, you may use the dragonfly photo.

        August 15, 2016 at 11:22 pm

  2. Loved all those shots of birds in action, the video was great too.

    August 15, 2016 at 3:39 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! I need more work on my videos, but that one wasn’t too bad.

      August 15, 2016 at 6:54 am

  3. Great post!

    August 15, 2016 at 4:38 am

    • Thank you!

      August 15, 2016 at 6:54 am

  4. Very interesting post, and I like those action shots of the lesser yellow legs and eagles. I have been too busy at work and it’s been too hot to go out, so I really admire your perseverance and appreciate your sharing with us all these wonderful images. As for that sharp-tailed sandpiper, I’ve never see one but I compared your shots to those at Audubon and I think you found one.

    August 15, 2016 at 7:24 am

    • Thank you very much! It’s been hot here also, which is why I sat rather than walking. The next time, I’m going to have to find a shady spot instead of on a rock that had been soaking up the heat from the sun for a few hours. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But, as long as I’m outside with a camera in my hand with things around me to photograph, then I’m happy.

      The more that I look at the photo that could possibly be the sharp-tailed sandpiper, the more convinced I am that it really is one.

      August 15, 2016 at 10:50 pm

  5. Wonderful photographs!

    August 15, 2016 at 8:53 am

    • Thank you very much Belinda!

      August 15, 2016 at 10:51 pm

  6. Brilliant photos especially showing the two lesser yellowlegs fighting. Is there a reason why they are being aggressive at this time of year or is this ‘normal’ behaviour for them? Great to catch all the different flying styles of the birds and the amazing action shots of those bald eagles. Love the semi- palmated sandpiper posing for you and looking coyly at the camera and the video was very special.

    August 15, 2016 at 11:45 am

    • Thank you very much Marianne! Many of the shorebirds squabble over the areas where they are feeding, but I thought that it was limited to wing flapping and squawking until I saw the close-up photos that I shot. It’s funny, one minute there will be a flock all feeding together nicely, then one will go after the rest of the flock and chase them away. I’ll have to shoot photos of the other species to see if they are also as aggressive. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      The semi-palmated sandpiper posing taught me a great deal which I hope to incorporate in future images.

      August 15, 2016 at 11:05 pm

  7. It sounds like you got a rare one. After finding a few rare plants I think I can imagine how you felt.
    Those lesser yellowlegs are loud birds! And mean too, apparently. I suppose all birds must fight at one time or another, especially over food You got some great action shots of them!
    Great shots of the sandpiper too. Nice of it to let you get so close!
    I’m so glad that people don’t flock together like that to see plants. The forest would be trampled.

    August 15, 2016 at 5:07 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! Since I’m not 100% sure my photo is actually a sharp-tailed sandpiper, that took some of the thrill out of it. Also, I’ve tracked down so many rare birds already, what’s one more? You may remember that for a while, I had the only recorded verified sighting of a white-eyed vireo in Kent County, which made me a bit of a celebrity in the Michigan birding world for a short time.

      I remember that a few years ago, some rare plant that only blossoms one in a coon’s age and stinks to high heaven when it does flower, blossomed at Michigan State University, and people came from all over the world to see it. But you’re right, it was a zoo near where the rare bird was seen at times, I shot that photo during a lull in the action. That was on Saturday, I guess it was worse on Friday, when the sandpiper was first seen, then again on Sunday, when I saw people doing things that I’d never even consider just to see a bird, like wading through the raw sewage to set their spotting scopes up 10 feet closer to where the bird had been seen last. Not me.

      August 15, 2016 at 11:19 pm

  8. I enjoyed your road rant a lot. I enjoyed the yellow legs fighting and I enjoyed the flying birds….in fact I enjoyed the whole post.

    August 15, 2016 at 7:12 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! I supposed road repair is about the same everywhere, but we have a saying here. There’s two season in Michigan, winter, and road construction. One of these days, I may be able to match your flying bird photos.

      August 15, 2016 at 11:08 pm

      • A bit of false modesty there Jerry as your pictures are much better than mine. Our roads vary between bumpy and very bumpy depending on season.

        August 16, 2016 at 7:01 pm

      • But you’re shooting smaller, quicker birds, so with the degree of difficulty factored in, yours win.

        August 16, 2016 at 11:23 pm

  9. I found the Yellowleg fighting photos really interesting. I will have to look more closely at the wading birds round here to see if they are just as aggressive. I love the video!

    August 17, 2016 at 9:09 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I know that some of the other species of shorebirds chase each other away from the best feeding areas, but I don’t know if those fights are as hardcore as what the yellowlegs fights turned out to be when I saw the photos. I couldn’t follow the action well enough with the naked eye.

      August 17, 2016 at 11:47 pm

  10. The photos are beautiful, Jerry, no matter what the weather. The killdeer is one we see here on the farm up in the foothills. We are not that far from water.

    The bird circus was a good catch too!

    August 20, 2016 at 4:00 pm

    • Thank you very much Lavinia! The birding circus got to be too much for me, I’m not one for crowds, especially when I’m outside.

      August 20, 2016 at 6:24 pm

  11. Great blog.Thanks Again. Really Cool.

    August 24, 2016 at 2:56 pm