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

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.

Great crested flycatcher

Great crested flycatcher

 

Great crested flycatcher

Great crested flycatcher

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.

Michigan

Michigan

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 itย 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…

Miner's Castle

Miner’s Castle

 

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

and the Porcupine Mountains.

Presque Isle River Falls

Presque Isle River Falls

 

The view from Summit Peak

The view from Summit Peak

With so much beautiful scenery competing for lens time, I may have a hard time pulling myself away long enough to look for birds. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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.

Male scarlet tanager beginning to molt

Male scarlet tanager beginning to molt

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.ย 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…

Whitetail bucks on the run

Whitetail bucks on the run

 

Whitetail bucks on the run

Whitetail bucks on the run

…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.

Starlings

Starlings

Despite their collaboration, they couldn’t figure out how to operate the controls of the crane to complete their test of the it.

More starlings

More starlings

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?

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

 

Merlin

Merlin

 

American kestrel

Male American kestrel

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.

Female American kestrel

Female American kestrel

That may actually be a juvenile, but it still shows the difference between the sexes. The males haveย 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…

Least sandpipers

Least sandpipers

…and a pectoral sandpiper…

Pectoral sandpiper

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. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

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…

Solitary sandpiper

Solitary sandpiper

…then, I’ll shoot a photo of something else…

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

…then begin shooting the next species of shorebird.

Baird's sandpiper

Juvenile Baird’s sandpiper

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.

Lesser yellowlegs at take-off

Lesser yellowlegs at take-off

 

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

 

Lesser yellowlegs preparing to land

Lesser yellowlegs preparing to land

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.

Male ring-necked duck

Male ring-necked duck

 

Male ring-necked duck

Male ring-necked duck

Still, when one poses for me, I find it impossible not to photograph it.

Male redhead duck

Male redhead duck

Even if its feathers are all out-of-place and falling out.

Male redhead duck

Male redhead duck

When a duck will walk out of the water, shake itself…

Male redhead duck

Male redhead duck

…then dry its wings, I guess that I just have to shoot it.

Male redhead duck

Male redhead duck

If they would only pose so nicely when they were in full breeding plumage, I’d be a very happy camper! ๐Ÿ™‚

The same applies to this species of bird as well, as far as the posing nicely.

Belted kingfisher

Belted kingfisher

They look a little like the creature from the black lagoon when seen head on.

Belted kingfisher

Belted kingfisher

This one is showing lots of color, but of course, it wouldn’t allow me to get close enough for a really good photo.

Belted kingfisher

Belted kingfisher

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.

Bee balm

Bee balm

 

Blue vervain

Blue vervain

 

Purple loosestrife

Purple loosestrife

 

Unidentified flowering object

Unidentified flowering object

 

Spotted bee balm or horsemint

Spotted bee balm or horsemint

I just wish that there were more opportunities to shoot landscapes there.

The Muskegon-Newaygo drain

The Muskegon-Newaygo drain

 

The clay pit

The clay pit

 

Just a cloudscape

Just a cloudscape

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.

Great blue heron flipping a minnow that it had caught

Great blue heron flipping a minnow that it had caught

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…

Great blue heron hunting

Great blue heron hunting

… it was never long before the heron grabbed another snack…

Great blue heron catching another minnow

Great blue heron catching another minnow

…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.

Great blue heron flipping a minnow so that it was facing the right way to be swallowed

Great blue heron flipping a minnow so that it was facing the right way to be swallowed

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!

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29 responses

  1. Wow!!! Great post. Ive never really shot too many bird pictures but this makes me want to start

    August 23, 2016 at 1:00 pm

    • Thank you very much! Photographing birds can be addicting, if you love a challenge. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      August 24, 2016 at 8:09 am

      • Haha I sure do enjoy the challenge. Do you mind checking my blog out? I just started blogging so any advice would be much appreciated :).

        https://daytodayphotographyblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/23/at-the-bulb/

        August 24, 2016 at 11:25 am

      • I did check out your blog, it looks good to me. However, I’m no expert when it comes to blogging. My blog is limping along, and I have lost readers over the past year or two, rather than gaining new ones.

        August 25, 2016 at 2:11 am

  2. You so work so hard at your posts, I admire you. I loved that last picture of the heron sorting out his catch.

    August 23, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    • Thank you very much Susan! Some day, I’ll get an even better shot of a heron with its catch.

      August 24, 2016 at 1:23 am

  3. I empathize with you on shooting landscape, especially those beautiful scenes of Upper Peninsula, versus finding birds to shoot. By the way, what kind of long lens are you thinking of acquiring? They are all so expensive!

    August 23, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    • Thank you very much! There are some good landscape opportunities in the lower peninsula, but the western end of the UP is filled with them. One could easily spend an entire summer in the Pictured Rocks area and still miss many of the great landscapes to be shot there. So, birds would be secondary.

      The next lens I get will be the new version of the 100-400 mm L series lens. Then some day, if everything goes well, I may purchase the 500 mm f/4 lens from Canon as well.

      August 24, 2016 at 1:27 am

  4. Amazing number of birds that you have seen and recorded and all the photos in this post are just wonderful. It’s handy to have the map and your explanations of the areas involved- I’ve Google mapped it all too so getting to know parts of America now especially those places in your beautiful landscape shots. The merlin, the heron fishing and the duck shaking are my favourite bird photos today- thank you.

    August 23, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    • Thank you very much Marianne! I used to include more maps in my posts, but fewer photos, mainly because I didn’t get enough good photos back then. But, I’ll have to post a map or two every now and then so readers can follow along.

      August 24, 2016 at 1:29 am

  5. Why not take 2 weeks off and do birds and landscapes in the UP? Now that would be a vacation! Just the Presque Isle River Falls
    and the pictured rocks would be enough for me.
    The landscapes / cloudscapes are beautiful and so is that shot of all the bee balm. I never see it growing like that here. I never see the spotted bee balm either.
    I don’t know what the mystery flower is but It looks to be in the pea (legume) family.
    Great shots of the heron flipping minnows!

    August 23, 2016 at 6:15 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! I would take two weeks of vacation, if they were paid weeks off, but the place that I work now only allows me one week for the time being. Still, I’m considering doing just what you suggested next fall. I hope that I can pull it off.

      The only way that I see bee balm growing is in small, dense patches like that. I assume that it’s because it reseeds itself.

      I meant to shoot more photos of the mystery flower and the plants it grew from, but I got distracted by wildlife and never made it back to the flowers.

      Someday, I’ll catch an adult heron in good light flipping larger fish that way, until then, the ones I got of the juvenile will have to do. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      August 24, 2016 at 1:51 am

  6. Another cracking post, Jerry. You are an example of thoughtfulness to us all. I liked your ‘just a cloudscape’ very much but I think that I enjoyed the starlings on the crane best of all.

    August 23, 2016 at 6:27 pm

    • Thank you very Much Tom! Some how, I knew that the starlings would appeal to you. For the “just a cloudscape” photo, I was desperately looking for something to include in the foreground, other than a handy mud puddle. But, since it’s open, flat farm fields there, I couldn’t find anything.

      August 24, 2016 at 1:32 am

      • Luckily we weren’t looking at the foreground.

        August 24, 2016 at 5:53 pm

      • You may have been if I had found something to include there.

        August 25, 2016 at 1:29 am

      • True.

        August 25, 2016 at 6:43 pm

  7. Terrific post and wonderful photographs!

    August 23, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    • Thank you very much Belinda!

      August 24, 2016 at 1:32 am

  8. Brilliant post Jerry! I found the map useful too – it gives me more of an idea of the distances involved between the places you want to visit and your home. I loved the cloud-scape and the Muskegon-Newaygo drain shot. The flowers are all beautiful an the heron flipping its minnows is fascinating.

    August 23, 2016 at 7:45 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I should have included maps more often in the past, but I got out of the habit of adding them, because I wanted more room for the birds and flowers photos.

      August 24, 2016 at 1:46 am

  9. Your blog is amazing. I yearn for those times when I can slow down and block out the rat race that I have to interact with until I’m free of those commitments. Your blog transports me to my favorite places. You are also an awesome teacher about all the good things about Michigan! Thanks!

    August 23, 2016 at 8:16 pm

    • Thank you very much James! I should visit more places in Michigan, it is a beautiful state. Every time that I try though, I get either perfect tourist weather with cloudless blue skies, bad for landscape photography, or steady rain for days, never anything in between. But once I retire, then I’ll have the time to follow the weather, and shoot landscapes when the light is right for them, and birds when the light is right for them.

      August 24, 2016 at 1:44 am

  10. The merlin capture is my favorite! ๐Ÿ™‚

    August 28, 2016 at 11:09 am

    • Thanks again Donna! For some reason your comments went to the spam box, which is the reason for my delay in replying.

      August 29, 2016 at 9:18 am

  11. You are certainly in a great wildlife viewing area! I am continually amazed at the photos that you get. Whether the lighting is perfect or not, those photos are still striking, and you often get the personalities of your subjects included in them.

    The Creature from the Black Lagoon! I remember seeing that movie in 3D. Great analogy for the little belted Kingfisher viewed head on. ๐Ÿ™‚

    August 28, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    • Thanks again Lavinia! If there’s anything that I’m really good at, it’s finding critters to photograph. And, I do try to capture each one’s personality, I’m happy that you noticed.

      With their bulging eyes and wide mouth, the first thing that I thought of when I saw the kingfisher was the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

      August 28, 2016 at 6:32 pm

  12. Had to laugh at the starting photos. What a special hell it must be for that crane operator to step into a cab covered with bird crap on Monday. As if Mondays aren’t bad enough for most workers.

    The other thing that occurred to me is that I would love to see a kestrel in flight close up. That female you shot was gorgeous.

    If you go to eastern MI, check out the primitive campground at the Brighton Rec Area. The campsites are huge, and there’s lots of trails and water nearby. No idea what dates it might be open or closed. We don’t go over to that side of the state much either, so I don’t have any other camping recommendations for you.

    Hope you get an extra day off this weekend to wander and enjoy.

    August 29, 2016 at 8:37 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! You have to remember what that crane is being used for at the wastewater facility. I doubt if a little bird poop bothers the operator very much. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Yeah, I’d love to get the photo that you’d like to see of a kestrel, they’re one of our most beautiful birds, but extremely wary.

      One of these days when the weather isn’t very nice, I’ll have to drive over to the other side of the state and check out the Brighton Rec. area, Sterling SP, and a couple of other places, but I think that a motel would be my best option. No time needed to set-up or take down a campsite means more time to collect the photos that I want, and less time on that side of the state. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      August 29, 2016 at 9:14 am