I cheated, and it was fun for a day
The bird sanctuary that I wrote about in my last post is the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, located near Augusta, Michigan, about an hour southeast from where I live. W. K. Kellogg founded the sanctuary when he heard of the drastic decline of Canada geese that was occurring because of the loss of habitat and over hunting. Later, it became the home of a breeding program for trumpeter swans, also due to the drastic declines in the number of birds of that species also. Here’s the short version of the history of the sanctuary from their website.
“In June 1927, cereal maker W. K. Kellogg purchased the land surrounding Wintergreen Lake, fencing off 180 acres to create the W. K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary. The goal was to teach an appreciation of the natural beauty of native wildlife, while providing a place to breed game birds.
In 1928, Kellogg deeded this land over to the Michigan State College of Agriculture (now Michigan State University) to ensure that the Sanctuary would serve as a practical training school for animal care and land management. This move opened the doors to further field research work for college students, which enhanced the programs that were put on for the general public.
The W. K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary was created with waterfowl as a high priority. Breeding of waterfowl was crucial to re-establishing populations of game birds. In particular, the Sanctuary was instrumental with assisting in the repopulation of Canada Geese and Trumpeter Swans, though other waterfowl played, and still play, an important role in the ecosystem.”
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I take a great deal of pride in the fact that all of the birds and wildlife that you’ve seen photos of here are totally wild critters. Some of the places where I’ve photographed them aren’t wild, the wastewater facility near Muskegon for example, but all of the critters are wild, and I haven’t used bait to get them to come close to me.
Now then, with that said, I had some misgivings about going to the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, because from the website, parts of it sounded like it was a zoo of sorts. On the other hand, parts of the website was about all the wild waterfowl that spend time there during migration. Which part is true? They both are, but I had to see for myself.
And, while I think that I’m doing very well with the wild birds that I find in Michigan, once, just once, I’d like to shoot a few images of some of the more exotic birds that are colorful enough to make the average person say “Wow!” and that I see in so many of other people’s photos. So, I gave in to temptation, and gave it a shot or two.
Our native wood ducks may be just as colorful…
…but they don’t have the fancy feathers of the Mandarin duck. By the way, those are wild ducks, as you can tell by the fact that they are moving away from me and about to disappear from my sight behind the lily pad leaves.
The Kellogg Bird Sanctuary also has a raptor rehabilitation operation, and once, just once, I wanted to get close-ups of the raptors that they have there, but the strange thing is that other than this great horned owl…
…and this sleeping eastern screech-owl…
…I couldn’t make myself shoot photos of the birds in the rehab center. They were the most despondent and dejected looking birds that I have ever seen in my life. They looked absolutely miserable, not able to fly, not able to really live, just existing and waiting for their next feeding. I know that none of these birds would be able to survive in the wild due to their injuries, yet seeing them made me very sad, and not because they had been injured, but because of the way that they had to live in small cages with nothing to do but be there for the people walking past their cages to look at. It was worse than any zoo that I’ve ever seen.
I suppose that it doesn’t bother most people who have never seen these birds in the wild, but it put a damper on my entire day there at the sanctuary.
Let me go back to the beginning of the day. I was the first visitor there, arriving just after they had opened the gates at 9 AM. I stopped at the visitor center to pay the entrance fee, and I also chatted with the woman who explained a bit about the sanctuary, and where the best places to take photos may be. I walked down by the lake, and there were trumpeter swans, mallards, and Canada geese all around me. Pretty cool I thought. But then, I heard a strange sound, and I saw that it was one of the trumpeter swans playing with a five gallon bucket that is used as a feeding station for the swans.
It wasn’t long before a worker came along and filled all the feeding bins that have been placed all around the one end of the lake, which made all the swans very happy.
Most of the swans are wild, but they hang around there at the sanctuary because of the easy access to food which is provided for them.
By the way, I wouldn’t be posting these photos if I hadn’t already gotten photos of truly wild trumpeter swans in the past. I’ve seen them many times in the Pigeon River Country, around the Muskegon area, and even in a few un-named wetlands during my travels around Michigan. They are huge birds, but I never realized how big they were until I saw one standing next to me, and it was almost as tall as I am.
Seeing a bird that stands nearly 6 feet tall is an imposing sight! Their wingspan is pretty impressive also.
I honestly didn’t know how tame the swans had become, or that they were fed regularly by the staff at the sanctuary. I did know that they allowed the public to feed corn purchased there to the waterfowl though, so I should have guessed that the swans geese, and mallards had become very tame. Every time a visitor came along with a bucket of corn, there was a feeding frenzy.
So, why did I go if I suspected that there would be exotic birds along with native birds that were very tame? I want to be able to judge just how good my images are compared to those shot by other people, and it helps to compare apples to apples, not apples to oranges.
I can go to the places that I normally do, and get what I think are some very good images…
…but those can’t compete with a mandarin duck…
…an un-cropped head shot of a trumpeter swan without resorting to using tele-converters to get closer to them…
…or even a close-up of a greater scaup.
On a somewhat humorous side note, the male scaup, there were two pair there, were extremely nervous about being so close to humans, and I think, being so close to the huge swans. However, the females…
…were all for easy food in the form of the corn that people threw to them to eat, so the males hung around their mates, even though they would have preferred to have been elsewhere from the way that they acted. Also, the four scaup were the only wild birds that would come close for the easy food, all the other wild birds stayed out in the middle of the lake, well away from people, who had to use spotting scopes to identify the ducks that were there, just like at the other places that I go.
Wait, I almost forgot, during times when there were no people there other than me, blue jays would come out of the woods to look for any kernels of corn that the ducks had missed, and there weren’t many kernels of corn missed by the ducks.
And, I shot one other wild bird that day, an osprey on the far side of the lake when I took the trail that runs around the lake.
But, back to why I was willing to sacrifice my principles for one day, to compare my photos to those shot by other people who may not have the same principles that I do. I hate to brag, but my images are getting very close to matching the best that I’ve seen, other than the images shot with the very high-resolution sensor cameras, such as the Nikon D810, the Canon 5DS R, or the top of the line Sony camera. My Canon 7D Mk II is absolutely deadly on flying birds when conditions are right!
I could have filled a memory card with good to excellent images of the mallards in flight if I had chosen to. As it was, it was difficult to sort through the ones that I did shoot to pick out the best of them based on wing position, the expression on the duck’s face, and the background behind the mallard.
I did make one mistake though, I mentioned that I walked the trail around the lake, so I brought one of the 60D bodies with the 15-85 mm lens on it, hoping to shoot a few landscape photos of the autumn leaves. I didn’t see many scenes worth shooting, and the two or three that I did shoot are rather boring, so I’m not going to post them. What I should have done instead was to bring the 70-200 mm lens for the times when the action was taking place so close to me that 100 mm of the 100-400 mm lens was still too long.
The waterfowl butt bite!
It seems to be the universal mark of victory over your opponent, especially when you have several of your opponent’s feathers to prove that you won.
I could have used the shorter lens to get both of the combatants in the frame at the same time, then zoomed in on the victor.
This seems to be a game that the swans played. There were several times when I watched one swan sneak up on another, give it a playful nip, which would result in a chase like the one above.
That’s not the only time that I could have used a shorter lens, a flock of geese took off heading straight towards me, from behind me. I turned, got zoomed in to around 200 mm, and began shooting, tracking one goose as it came towards me. I zoomed out as it approached, this one was shot at 114 mm, just before the viewfinder was filled with nothing but the brown of the goose.
I turned as the goose passed me, then got it centered in the viewfinder again.
Who would have thought that I could have used a wide-angle lens for birds in flight?
Normally, I’m trying to stretch the focal length of the lens that I’m using by adding a tele-converter to get closer to the subject.
Speaking of subject, I’m going to change it completely, and switch over to some photos that I shot on Sunday, the day before I went to the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary.
Okay, you may remember that I said that I had some photos of a peregrine falcon interacting with gulls that I wanted to post, and here’s the first. The gull on the left isn’t screaming at the falcon as they often do, the gull was yawning, as if to tell the falcon that it wasn’t scared at all by having the falcon so close.
The gull moved even closer to the falcon.
Then, another gull flew past, and from the way the falcon is looking at the gull, I can’t help but think that the falcon was sizing up the drumsticks of the gull, and thinking that maybe it was time for a snack.
The gull perched next to the falcon must have thought the same thing, for it left soon after.
Those were shot at 800 mm, the 100-400 mm lens and 2 X tele-converter.
I left to chase an eagle, but it took off long before I got close to it. At the same time, all the gulls began to go crazy, I thought that the eagle flying over them set them off, but it may have been the falcon. I say that because when I got to the other side of the same cell that the falcon and gulls had been in, the falcon was eating something that it had stolen from one of the gulls.
Most people think of gulls as scavengers, and they are, but they are also very good hunters, and they kill many small birds, especially during migration. So, I don’t know which bird made the kill in the first place, it could have been the eagle, one of the gulls, or the falcon. All I know is what I saw, and that was the falcon picking the scraps of meat left on the carcass of what looked to have been a pigeon.
That photo was also shot at 800 mm, and it was only cropped a little, if at all. I shot quite a few photos of the falcon eating, then I removed the tele-converter, and it was a good thing that I did. I hadn’t completely finished getting the camera ready to go again when a gull began to attack the falcon. They were out of camera range by the time I was ready to go. However, the falcon turned around and came towards the rear of my car with the gull right on its tail. I couldn’t get myself turned around in the seat fast enough to catch them coming at me, and I had a devil of a time getting them in the viewfinder as they passed me heading away from me.
Peregrine falcons may be the fastest creature on Earth in a dive, but in level flight, the gull was staying right on the falcon’s tail.
The falcon was juking and jiving…
…trying to lose the gull.
It was at this point that I could no longer keep them in the frame together, the gull pulled up, and where the falcon went, I couldn’t see. All I know is that I saw it land a short time later, without the carcass of whatever it had been eating.
So, what does that final series have to do with my day at the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary? I’ll get to that, and more, in my next post.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!