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…
…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.
On my way to where the rare sandpiper had been seen, I spotted a peregrine falcon hot on the tail feathers of 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…
…almost in full breeding plumage…
…as well as this 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.
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 is 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.
You can see that it has slightly webbed feet, that’s where it got its name from.
When it began to rain, the sandpiper and I took shelter together behind the tower for the beacon on the end of the breakwater.
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.
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.
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.
That was just the warm up!
With every one else looking for the sharp-tailed sandpiper…
…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.
My hope had been to catch birds in flight returning, so that they’d be flying at me…
…rather than away from me.
But, I found that most birds came in at an angle.
I was a bit surprised by the birds that flew past me as I sat there.
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…
…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. 😉
I assume it was a he, for it wasn’t long before it began chasing the other yellowlegs away.
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…
…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.
I calmed down, got a good focus lock on one of the eagles, then shoot these next two.
But trying to anticipate their flight paths as they fought was more than I could do.
So, I had to settle for a few images of each eagle in flight by itself.
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.
Once the fights began, wings, feet, and beaks were all used during the combat…
…along with displays that I’m sure are meant to intimidate the opponent.
Finally! I’m getting the action shots that I’ve always wanted, and worked so hard to become good at getting regularly!
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!