Where do I go now?
Well, I just checked the count that I’m keeping of species of birds for the My Photo Life list project that I’m working on, and it stands at 226 species of birds that I have photos of. Of those, I have done posts on 196 species, and I have one saved as a draft which puts the number at 197. That’s not counting the possibility that the photos that I think are a sharp-tailed sandpiper actually are of that species. It’s no wonder that I’m not adding any more species to the list lately, I’m almost 2/3 of the way through the list from the Audubon Society that I’m working from.
I’ve known from the beginning that I would have to spend time in two parts of Michigan that I seldom visit, the southeast side of the state, near Detroit, and the Upper Peninsula, or UP as it’s called here.
The area around Detroit has a few wading and shorebirds, along with warblers and other species, that have the very northern extent of their range in the extreme southern part of Michigan. Another reason is one of simple geography, or topography, or maybe another of the ographies, I’m not sure which one applies here. But, the area around Detroit is somewhat unique, it’s where the water from the three upper Great Lakes funnels into Lake Erie. Maybe a map will be helpful.
The lower peninsula of Michigan is mitten shaped, as you can see on the map, and the thumb of the mitten juts out into Lake Huron. All the water from the three upper Great Lakes flows through the St. Clair River, which empties into Lake St. Clair, the small, almost heart-shaped lake near Detroit. The City of Detroit is on the southwest shore of Lake St. Clair. Where the St. Clair River empties into Lake St. Clair, a river delta has formed, creating several large, marshy islands, one of which, Harsen’s Island, has a portion of it designated as a wildlife preserve. The water then flows down the Detroit River to Lake Erie. Near where the Detroit River empties into Lake Erie, is the famous Point Mouillee State Game Area, a birder’s paradise, or so I’ve heard. The entire area from the southern tip of Lake Huron, to Lake Erie is mostly marshy, which is why it attracts wading and shorebirds, along with ducks and geese.
Other factors in why the east side of Michigan attracts more species of birds is because the birds don’t have to cross the open waters of any of the Great Lakes on their way north. They can fly into southern Michigan, then cross just a river to get to Canada, and continue their journey north. Also, the winters are a bit milder near Detroit, and spring comes earlier there, because Detroit doesn’t receive the lake effect snow that we get here on the west side of the state.
Then there’s the UP, home to some of the other species that I’ll need if I’m ever going to complete the list. The one thing that prevents me from going there is simply distance. It’s about a five-hour drive just to reach the Mackinac Bridge to cross over to the UP, if traveling conditions are good. Of course, it takes just as long to get back home again, which means that driving alone takes one full day of a two-day weekend.
One thing about the UP which would also hinder me from finding birds for my list is the scenery there. A few of you may remember my vacation to the UP a few years ago, with my photos from the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore…
and the Porcupine Mountains.
With so much beautiful scenery competing for lens time, I may have a hard time pulling myself away long enough to look for birds. 😉
Since it’s only a three-hour drive to the parts of Michigan near Detroit that I will have to visit to get a few more species of birds to cross off from my list, I should be planning to spend some weekends there, especially this fall. However, fall isn’t my favorite time of the year for birding, as I have to deal with all of the juvenile birds that haven’t grown their adult feathers yet, and even many of the adults look completely different in the fall than they do in the spring.
That guy was well on his way of changing from the brilliant red from which he got his name to the dull yellow feathers that he’ll have until next spring.
If I’m going to travel across the sate for an entire weekend, then I also need a place to stay. Since the southeast corner of Michigan is the home of the automobile industry in the United States, the entire area, from the state line to well north of Detroit is built up, so there are few places to camp. I could stay in a motel, and that’s probably what I’ll do when I do visit that part of the state, but for right now, I’m saving my money for other things. There are plenty of places to camp in the UP, if I ever find the time to go that far. I may find that staying in a motel would give me more time in the woods though.
There are still a few species that I could add to my list that are seen around Muskegon, or even closer to home, but that number is dwindling. According to the records from eBird, there have been 298 species of birds seen at the Muskegon County wastewater facility for example. That number includes the once in a lifetime sightings, such as the sharp-tailed sandpiper. The most species seen and recorded there by any one person is 271 species. So, I still have a few more that I can pick up there.
One thing that I have to keep in mind is that simply seeing them isn’t enough under the rules for the project that I’ve set out for myself, I have to get a photo good enough that proves that I’ve actually seen that species. Take the sharp-tailed sandpiper as a good example of that. From the online records and photos shot by others, I’m now 90% certain that my photos of that species are the sharp-tailed sandpiper, but 90% isn’t good enough for me.
Another thing to consider is that some “sightings” of birds are actually times when people heard the distinct song or call of a species of bird, but never actually laid eyes on the bird.
It’s funny, I’m not really a numbers guy, or at least I wasn’t until I began the My Photo Life List project. After seeing the circus that arrives with the sighting of a rare species of bird, I often question my commitment to completing that project. I was some one who enjoyed being outdoors, and seeing the variety of wildlife, of all types, that there is to be seen. However, as I saw and photographed more and more birds that I couldn’t identify from memory, I would look those species up to make an identification. I had no idea at the time that there were 350 species of birds seen in Michigan on a regular basis, and several dozen more “strays” that had been seen only once or a few times over the last 100 years. I thought that I was doing good at around 100 species. That’s far more than the average person, and some people would comment to my blog about the variety of birds that I saw.
I also found that it was much easier to identify the species of bird that I saw if I had a good photo of it. That way, I could take my time and compare my photo of a bird to those in field guides, either online or in book form.
One thing led to another, and now I find myself chasing rare species of birds, although I refuse to join the circus, at least not for very long. I don’t have the patience to set-up a spotting scope and check out hundreds of very similar birds, hoping to find one rare species in amongst the more common species that make up the flock. Gulls are a great example of that, so are shorebirds for that matter.
I saw an online video for what is called digiscoping photography, where you mount your camera to a spotting scope to photograph the things that you can see with the spotting scope. I thought that it would be a good way to extend the range of my camera and lenses that I currently own, but purchasing everything required would cost almost as much as a longer lens for my camera. While I would be able to get photos of birds and other animals that I see at greater distances than I can shoot good photos of now…
…the results wouldn’t be much better than what I did for those photos, cropping way to much to get a good photo. Despite their price, spotting scopes don’t have the same quality of glass as do camera lenses, and spotting scopes don’t have a diaphragm for the aperture setting, nor auto-focus, for that matter. If I’m going to plunk down thousands of dollars for optics, then it will be for a true camera lens, not a spotting scope and accessories for photography.
Anyway, getting back to the numbers. I have no compunction to count the number of birds that I see in a flock, such as the swallows from a recent post, or these starlings attempting to verify the weight capacity of this crane.
Despite their collaboration, they couldn’t figure out how to operate the controls of the crane to complete their test of the it.
As I’ve said before, the Muskegon area in general, and particularly the wastewater facility has spoiled me. Where else could I go and see all three of the falcon species somewhat common in Michigan?
Although it irks me that I have never gotten photos of all three species in one day. In this case, I shot the peregrine and the Merlin on the same day, but I had to go back to an earlier trip to get the photo of the kestrel.
Of the three species of falcons, the kestrels are definitely the hardest to get a good photo of. Not only are they the smallest of the three, but they are also the most camera-shy of the falcons. On one of my visits to Muskegon a few weeks ago, I saw five or six kestrels all in one small area. Despite my best efforts, all I got was one poor photo of a female kestrel in flight.
That may actually be a juvenile, but it still shows the difference between the sexes. The males have blue-grey patches on their sides, the females are all brown.
That’s where photography is so very helpful, being able to catch a bird as small and fast as the kestrels are, and being able to study the photo to make a positive ID. Still, I have to be careful, because photos can lie in some ways. Take the shorebirds, there’s not many differences between a least sandpiper…
…and a pectoral sandpiper…
…at least, not at first glance. The biggest difference is in their size, a least sandpiper is about the size of a sparrow, a pectoral sandpiper is about the size of an American robin. When I crop the photos down, the size difference doesn’t show, you have nothing to judge the relative size of the two species. Then, the small details become important, like the fact that the pectoral sandpipers’ feathers are edged in white, whereas the least sandpipers’ feathers aren’t, or at least not to the same degree.
One thing that I have learned to try to do when photographing shorebirds is to shoot a photo of something other than a shorebird to use as a placeholder of sorts when I switch between species of shorebirds. A great blue heron flying past me works very well for that. 😉
The idea is that I don’t have dozens and dozens of uninterrupted photos of various species of shorebirds to sort through as I try to remember which species was which as I was shooting them. I’ll concentrate on one species until I think that I have a good photo of it…
…then, I’ll shoot a photo of something else…
…then begin shooting the next species of shorebird.
That has worked very well for me, as opposed to my earlier efforts when I ended up trying to sort photos and identify the birds in the photos at the same time. Now, I can concentrate on a single species, getting the best possible photos of it.
I’ve gotten most of the duck species completed, but I have more goose species to find and photograph yet, and other than the southeast corner of Michigan, Muskegon remains my best bet for finding them. You haven’t been seeing many photos of ducks here in my blog recently, that’s because the males are molting at this time of the year.
Still, when one poses for me, I find it impossible not to photograph it.
Even if its feathers are all out-of-place and falling out.
When a duck will walk out of the water, shake itself…
…then dry its wings, I guess that I just have to shoot it.
If they would only pose so nicely when they were in full breeding plumage, I’d be a very happy camper! 🙂
The same applies to this species of bird as well, as far as the posing nicely.
They look a little like the creature from the black lagoon when seen head on.
This one is showing lots of color, but of course, it wouldn’t allow me to get close enough for a really good photo.
Another thing about the wastewater facility that I have learned over time is that it’s also a good place to shoot flowers if the birds don’t cooperate.
I just wish that there were more opportunities to shoot landscapes there.
The past few weekends, I’ve had some dramatic lighting due to the weather, but no scenic places to take advantage of the lighting. I probably should have gone someplace else, but then, I would have missed this.
To my surprise the heron didn’t take off as soon as it saw me, I guess that there were too many minnows in that small pond and the heron was hungry. They always seem to be hungry, but this one was catching minnows one right after another…
… it was never long before the heron grabbed another snack…
…so I sat there shooting away until I got a better photo of the heron flipping a minnow in its beak so that the minnow was facing the right way for the heron to swallow it.
Another of those “if only” times. If only the light had been better. If only the pond wasn’t down in a steep valley so that I could have gotten down to the heron’s level. If only it hadn’t been a juvenile heron. If only I had been able to get closer. Still, I’m happy with those shots. I took what I had learned the week before as far as camera settings to get those photos, and despite the lack of light and all the other “if only”s, they turned well enough so that you can see the minnow in midair.
So, I suppose that until next spring at the earliest, I’ll continue to go to the same old places when I do get a chance to get outside. I’ll have to see what this fall and winter hold for me, both the weather, and if I’m able to purchase the long zoom lens that I’d like, and still have money left over to pay for motel rooms if I travel to the other side of the state.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!