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

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.

Black swan from Australia

Black swan from Australia

 

Mandarin duck from Asia

Mandarin duck from Asia

 

Mandarin duck from Asia

Mandarin duck from Asia

Our native wood ducks may be just as colorful…

Wood ducks

Wood ducks

…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…

Great horned owl

Great horned owl

…and this sleeping eastern screech-owl…

Eastern screech owl

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.

Trumpeter swan waiting for breakfast

Trumpeter swan waiting for breakfast

 

Trumpeter swan waiting for breakfast

Trumpeter swan waiting for breakfast

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.

Trumpeter swan

Trumpeter swan

Seeing a bird that stands nearly 6 feet tall is an imposing sight! Their wingspan is pretty impressive also.

Trumpeter swan

Trumpeter swan

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.

Waterfowl feeding frenzy

Waterfowl 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…

Lesser yellowlegs flight ballet

Lesser yellowlegs flight ballet

…but those can’t compete with a mandarin duck…

Mandarin duck

Mandarin duck

…an un-cropped head shot of a trumpeter swan without resorting to using tele-converters to get closer to them…

Trumpeter swan

Trumpeter swan

…or even a close-up of a greater scaup.

Male greater scaup

Male 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…

Female greater scaup

Female greater scaup

…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.

Blue jay

Blue jay

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.

Osprey

Osprey

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!

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

 

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

 

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

 

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

 

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

 

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

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.

Trumpeter swans fighting

Trumpeter swans fighting

The waterfowl butt bite!

Trumpeter swans fighting

Trumpeter swans fighting

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.

The victor!

The victor!

 

The victor!

The victor!

 

The victor!

The victor!

 

The victor!

The victor!

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.

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

I turned as the goose passed me, then got it centered in the viewfinder again.

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

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.

Herring gull yawning

Herring gull yawning

The gull moved even closer to the falcon.

Herring gull and peregrine falcon

Herring gull and peregrine 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.

Herring gull and peregrine falcon

Herring gull and peregrine falcon

The gull perched next to the falcon must have thought the same thing, for it left soon after.

Herring gull and peregrine falcon

Herring gull and peregrine falcon

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.

Peregrine falcon enjoying leftovers

Peregrine falcon enjoying leftovers

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.

Herring gull attacking a peregrine falcon

Herring gull attacking a peregrine falcon

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.

Herring gull attacking a peregrine falcon

Herring gull attacking a peregrine falcon

The falcon was juking and jiving…

Herring gull attacking a peregrine falcon

Herring gull attacking a peregrine falcon

…trying to lose the gull.

Herring gull attacking a peregrine falcon

Herring gull attacking a peregrine falcon

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.

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

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!

Advertisements

24 responses

  1. Very interesting to know and see what you made of a bird sanctuary, wonderful photographs as always.

    October 27, 2016 at 2:57 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! The sanctuary wasn’t all that I hoped that it would be, that’s for sure.

      October 27, 2016 at 2:46 pm

  2. Love your third shot of the male Mallard in flight!

    October 27, 2016 at 7:20 am

    • Thank you very much Bob!

      October 27, 2016 at 2:46 pm

  3. Maybe I missed it, but where do the non-native birds at the Kellogg Center come from? Are they captive there, or do they just hang around? I’m assuming that the owls were just there for rehab, and are released once they are well. At least, I hope so.

    Love to your sequence of the two trumpeter swans fighting or playing. To see two such enormous birds as this engaged in a fight must have been thrilling, and noisy.

    But, you do what you best. The mallards in flight were terrific. Glad you discovered the Kellogg Sanctuary, even if it wasn’t exactly your cup of tea.

    October 27, 2016 at 8:15 am

    • hank you very much Judy! I missed how the black swan and Mandarin duck came to be at the sanctuary as well. Maybe some one told me, but I was too busy drooling over the Mandarin duck to have it sink in.

      The raptors that will be released when healed aren’t put out for public display. The owls that I photographed, along with other owls, hawks, and an eagle, all had injuries too serious for them to ever be released. Most had lost all or part of a wing, one barred owl had lost an eye. It’s really a sad place to me, I hate even thinking about those poor birds.

      I’ve seen the swans both battling for real, and the play battles like the one that I photographed, and they are something to see and hear. They make a lot of noise with their honking, and with their wings and feet slapping the water, you’ll notice the sounds for sure if you’re ever close to one of their battles.

      The Kellogg Bird Sanctuary was worth a day and the price of admission, but i don’t know if I’ll ever go back. Other the the Mandarin duck and the black swan, there really wasn’t much to see that I can’t see in dozens of other places.

      October 27, 2016 at 3:09 pm

  4. Vicki

    great photos, I would love to see a black swan, also a Mandarin duck. I wonder why one of the Trumpeter Swans had that big patch of yellow on his bill? I’ve only seen black bills on these swans. Your photos of the mallard in flight are beautiful, as is the first one of the Canada goose taking off. There is a raptor centre close to where I live but I can’t bring myself to go there.

    October 27, 2016 at 9:56 am

    • Thank you very much Vicki! I hope that you do get to see a black swan and Mandarin duck, they’re beautiful birds. I forgot to put it in the post, but the swans with the yellow on their bills are European Whooper swan/trumpeter swan hybrids. The whoopers and trumpeters are very closely related, some scientists consider them to be the same species.

      This is the second time that I’ve been to a raptor rehab center, I’ll never visit either one, or any other again, it’s just too sad to see such proud birds wasting away.

      October 27, 2016 at 2:56 pm

      • Vicki

        thank you for that information regarding the hybrid swan, that is very interesting.

        October 27, 2016 at 4:20 pm

      • Thanks for reminding me that I had forgotten to mention that in my post.

        October 28, 2016 at 12:28 am

  5. I hate to see birds in cages too. Sometimes it may be better to euthanize birds who have been so severely injured they can’t fly. It depends on where they are housed and how they are cared for. Your shots of the flying mallards are fantastic and your photos and commentary on the Trumpeter Swans and the Herring Gull and Peregrine very interesting. I’ve seen Mandarins and Black Swans too – beautiful birds!

    October 27, 2016 at 5:28 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I agree, there are times when it would be better to euthanize the birds, rather than have them suffer for years in captivity.

      I would have shot a few of the other species of flying ducks, but the males of those species haven’t gotten their breeding plumage yet. The mallards were a warm up for next spring.

      While shooting in a somewhat controlled environment like the sanctuary was fun for a day, I see so much more interesting things from wild birds, like the gulls and falcon.

      October 28, 2016 at 12:31 am

  6. I could go to any number of wildflower gardens and shoot the plants in them with hardly any effort at all, but part of the thrill for me is finding them in their native surroundings, so I can understand your thoughts about the bird sanctuary. But at least the injured birds that would never make it in the wild can still live on and maybe people who see them will have a greater appreciation for them and want to see them in the wild. The more people go into the woods the less likely they are to destroy them.
    The black swan is pretty but what an odd curl to its feathers. The Mandarin duck is also a pretty bird but I like our wood ducks. At least I have a chance of seeing them.
    You got some great close ups of the birds, especially that great horned owl! I can’t imagine getting a shot like that in nature.
    The shots of that mallards in flight are outstanding! I doubt you’ll have any trouble selling one of those.

    October 27, 2016 at 5:44 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! I felt like a jerk the entire time that I was there photographing the waterfowl, but you’re right, it’s the only way most people will ever see those species of birds, unless seeing them at the sanctuary prompts them to spend more time in nature.

      I know what you mean about the wood ducks, any time that I get a photo of them I feel lucky, because they are so wary of humans. The swan and the Mandarin duck were just too easy to photograph, yet the photos are stunning, at least I think so.

      I wasn’t thinking of selling ht mallard in flight photos when I shot them, what I was concentrating on was getting the best possible photos, but again, you may be right, I probably could sell them.

      October 28, 2016 at 12:55 am

  7. I love all the photos but especially the ones of the Mandarin ducks, the Trumpeter swan…what a size.. and the sequence of action photos. Everyone loves to see wildlife in their natural surroundings but it isn’t always possible. I think Mr Kellogg had his heart in the right place when he set up his Sanctuary.

    October 27, 2016 at 6:08 pm

    • Thank you very much Marianne! As many times as I’ve seen swans, I never realized how tall they are until I saw one standing very close to me. They look large in the water compared to ducks, but they are really huge.

      I think that you’re correct, back when the sanctuary was first started, that it was fine for the day. But times have changed, I would hope that the management at the sanctuary would adapt to the times.

      October 28, 2016 at 12:48 am

  8. I would say that the outing was worth it just for the first mandarin duck shot which was truly magnificent. It may not have required great stalking skills but it did require great photographic expertise.

    October 27, 2016 at 6:13 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! As beautiful as the Mandarin duck was, it didn’t require much skill on my part to get the photos that I did.

      October 28, 2016 at 12:50 am

      • I think that you are so used to seeing possibilities and framing the picture that you don’t always recognise your skill in pictures that you think of as routine.

        October 28, 2016 at 4:54 pm

      • Maybe, but the Mandarin duck photos were the easiest that I’ve ever shot

        October 28, 2016 at 11:37 pm

  9. These are beautiful photos, Jerry. The Mandarin ducks are pretty colorful characters, and I love the ones of Mallard Airlines in full flight.

    I used to volunteer at a nature enter when I was in my early teens. My job was to feed thawed mice to the residents which included hawks and owls that could never go back to the wild. They had been injured by cars, shotguns, etc. Some could fly somewhat, and lived in huge outdoor pens. Others, like the hawk with one wing, were tethered. At that point in their lives, they were there to help educate the public to the dangers humans pose to wildlife. Yes, it is hard to watch.

    October 30, 2016 at 9:11 pm

    • Thank you very much Lavinia! I really liked your calling the mallards in flight the Mallard Airlines, very fitting and very funny!

      This was the second place that I’ve seen that did rehab, and both had small cages with just one dead snag for the birds to perch on. The cages seemed small, and there was nothing in them other than one bird, a shelter for them, and the perch for them to sit on. I’d get very depressed if I had to see that every day. I’m glad that you helped out at such a place though.

      October 31, 2016 at 3:56 am

  10. So many beauties, Jerry! The mallards in flight, wow gorgeous and great in detail! And just love those mandarin ducks, what colors indeed. I’ve photographed exotic birds and would you believe my only wood duck capture at the Baltimore Zoo. I, too, don’t ‘count’ them since they are not in the wild, but they still make for gorgeous shots. 🙂

    November 4, 2016 at 3:32 pm

    • Thank you again Donna! Shooting a mostly tame bird in somewhat controlled conditions just isn’t the same as shooting it in the wild, so I know what you mean about the wood ducks.

      November 5, 2016 at 12:16 am