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

The waiting game

I said in my last post that I stood on the boardwalk at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve for several hours waiting to get photos of the least bittern which I needed for the My Photo Life List that I’m working on. It didn’t used to be in my nature to stand in one spot like that, I’m the type of person that prefers to keep moving. There had been better lighting during one of my earlier visits to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and I had seen the least bittern, but it flew past me as I was talking to some one that I see regularly there. So, he and I were chatting, and I didn’t notice the bittern approaching until it was too late for me to get a photo. I did however see where the bittern dove into the vegetation, and that gave me a few clues as to its behavior. I also walked up and down the boardwalk several times, shooting other subjects that I saw as I walked, but I wasn’t able to get the bittern.

Over the past year or so, instead of walking or driving around the places that I go, I tend to sit in one spot longer all the time. For one thing, there are spots within the places that I go where I find that I’m much more likely to get the photographs that I’d like to be able to get in those spots than moving from spot to spot and wasting time covering “unproductive” areas between. However, when I’m staying in one spot, I always have the feeling that I’m missing things that I’d otherwise see and be able to photograph.

Male American goldfinch

I have the feeling that I may be missing things because the truth is, I do miss things when I’m not moving. I know this because I see things happening in the distance out of camera range that I wish that I had been able to photograph, but there’s no way that I can be everywhere all the time.

The day when I stood in place waiting for the bittern was a very cloudy day, with fog and even a few sprinkles of rain at times. It wasn’t a good day for photography at all, except that the poor weather kept most people away from the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, leaving it all to me alone. I thought that it would give me a good chance of catching the bittern, or any other critters that shy away from people. I have a photo to illustrate the weather that morning.

The B. C. Cobb power plant in Muskegon

That’s the B. C. Cobb power plant near Muskegon, a coal-fired plant that was decommissioned earlier this year, and is slated for demolition in the near future. You can also see the end of the boardwalk that runs through the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and how it ends in an elevated viewing platform. The Muskegon River runs between the nature preserve and the power plant.

So, I was standing there waiting for the bittern when I spotted a bald eagle flying past…

Bald eagle in flight

…and even though it was out of range of a good photo, I shot a few photos of the eagle as it spiraled down.

Bald eagle in flight

What I can’t show you is the eagle diving down to the river and snatching a fish from the river. I could see the event happen through an opening in the cattails, but there’s no way that I could have gotten a focus lock on the eagle as it caught its lunch, darn!

Had I been out on the end of the boardwalk, I would have had a front-row seat of an event that I’d absolutely love to photograph. But then, I wouldn’t have gotten the poor photos of the bittern that I was able to shoot a few minutes later.

Least bittern in flight


Least bittern in flight

I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve stood out there at the end of the boardwalk, hoping for something to happen such as the eagle fishing, but I usually see only gulls flying past, occasionally a tern perhaps, or an eagle at a higher altitude on its way to another location.

As it was, I amused myself by shooting other poor images of things that I saw while waiting for the bittern.

Great blue heron in flight


Great blue heron in flight

Isn’t it amazing how the position of the heron’s wings makes the entire bird have a different look about it?

Wood ducks staying hidden

That’s as far out in the open as any of the family of wood ducks would come. If you look very closely at that photo, there are three wood ducks in the frame.

Muskrat working on its den

Because there were no other people there at the nature preserve, and because I was standing still most of the time, I was able to watch the wildlife there in action going about their business in a way that isn’t possible when the wildlife is on alert due to the presence of humans.

I knew that would be the case, it’s the reason that I purchased the portable hide earlier this year, although I still haven’t tested it out yet, I should do that soon. I can never decide where the best spot to just sit would be though, even though I’m learning the best spots within the places that I go.

Here’s another example.

Assorted wildflowers in bloom

That was shot along the road that runs back to one of my favorite spots to sit, the man-made lakes at the south end of the Muskegon County wastewater facility. The lakes are behind the trees in the far right of the frame, and there’s a line of cottonwood trees that always hold birds along the road up to the lakes. In addition, there’s a creek that crosses the fields that you can see in the image above, right at the far end of the line of cottonwood trees.

While I’m waiting for birds, or letting them settle down after some one else has driven down the road, I can shoot macros of the wildflowers you can see in the photo above, and insects that are attracted to the flowers.

Unidentified bee on a purple coneflower

After I had a good image of the bee, I was hoping that it would move to a different flower so as not to distract from the flower itself. But, the bee stayed put.

Unidentified bee on a purple coneflower


Purple coneflower


Purple coneflower


Unidentified flowering object


Unidentified flowering object




Queen Anne’s lace


Viceroy butterfly


Viceroy butterfly

Along the line of cottonwood trees, I can shoot the birds that perch there.

American crow


American kestrel






Northern flicker

And, back at the man-made lakes, I can shoot the birds that I find there.

Juvenile tree swallow in flight


Great egret in flight


Great egret in flight


Great egret

Keen observers may notice that the egret is perched on the same tree as the juvenile green heron from my last post.

It’s about a quarter of a mile from where I shot the landscape photo of the wildflowers to where I sit at the man-made lake. So, when I think about sitting someplace along the road, I can never decide where the exact spot to sit for the best images would be. The spot from where I shot the egret above is where I set-up my tripod with the gimbal head on it a few weeks ago to shoot the swans in the man-made lake.

That would be a good spot to sit in my hide, but there’s a fence that blocks access to the lake to deal with, along with vegetation that grows between the lake and the fence that I have to shoot through openings in the vegetation to get the shots there that I do. That requires that I move around some, depending on where the subject happens to be. I’ve thought about going over the fence to get closer to the lake, it’s obvious that many other people have done that. However, because it’s a man-made lake dug out using a crane, the banks of the lake are too steep to set-up my tripod any closer to the lake than what the fence is.

The line of cottonwood trees almost always provide an opportunity for a photo or two, but it’s seldom the same tree, so I’d have a hard time choosing one or two trees to watch. If I were forced to sit someplace along the line of trees, it would be near the creek that flows at the end of the line of trees.

Juvenile raccoon

The raccoon’s mother and sibling had already moved back into the vegetation and out of sight by the time I got the camera ready.

And, if I set the hide up near the wildflowers, I’d probably end up with just a few more photos of the dickcissel that likes that spot.


Going back to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, I’d look like a fool setting up my tripod and portable hide on the boardwalk as dozens of people per day walked or rode their bikes past me as I sat in the hide. With my luck, one of the cyclists would plow into me and damage my camera and/or lens if I did try setting up there.

On the dry land portion of the preserve, the vegetation is so thick in most places that one can only see a few feet in any direction while sitting in one spot. It’s much easier to walk slowly along the trails there and look through openings in the vegetation to see and photograph the birds there.

Song sparrow


Brown thrasher


Brown thrasher


Cedar waxwing

The only clearing of any size there at the preserve is around the picnic pavilion, and I have sat at the picnic tables there to shoot some of the photos that I’ve taken there.

However, a strange phenomenon occurs whenever I try to get serious about photographing the birds from the picnic pavilion, no one uses the pavilion until I get set-up for some good photos. Of all the times that I’ve been to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, I can only remember seeing two people at the pavilion when I arrived there, no matter what time of day it was. Those two people are Brian Johnson, whom I’ve mentioned in my blog before. He does his bird banding using the pavilion as his base of operations when banding birds. The other person is a woman who I bump into regularly, she’s a fellow nature photographer who will fill the bird feeders there at the preserve, then shoot photos of the birds as they come to the feeders. So, most of the time I have the pavilion to myself.

But it never seems to fail, if I bring all the gear I’d need to shoot some very good photos of the birds around the pavilion, then people decide that it’s time for a picnic, or to just sit and talk. If I take just one long lens and no tele-converter with me, then I can sit at the pavilion for hours and no one shows up there, other than to walk past on the trail there. I get a few good photos that way, but not as good as I could get if I were fully prepared with all the equipment required.

You may think that I’m being paranoid, and maybe I am, but I don’t think so. I’ll tell one story of what happened there at the pavilion. I arrived early in the morning, and taken both of my long lenses on both cameras, a wide-angle lens, and both tele-converters back to the pavilion. I had just gotten sat down, when four elderly people decided to have their morning coffee at the pavilion, so after a few minutes of listening to them chattering away, I moved on. They got up and followed me after just a minute or two. As slowly as I was walking, they stayed behind me, chattering away the entire time. So, I took a dead-end trail, and waited until they finally passed by. I then returned to the pavilion and began to get set-up again, and the four elderly people returned and sat down again, still chattering away. I gave up, and returned to my car, putting most of the gear away, as those four followed me, chattering the entire way. I half expected them to follow me back into the preserve, but they didn’t.

I’ve complained about the way that people behave in the past, but I’ve gotten tired of complaining about it. I still have people walk right in front of me as I’m trying to get a photo, and people who shout “What are you taking pictures of?” as I’m trying to shoot photos. So, I try to avoid people as much as I can when I’m out with my camera.

I had hoped to go searching for a really good place to get set-up in the portable hide, with all the gear that I’d need for good photos, but because of my health issues this spring, a lack of time, and wanting to avoid insect repellent for the summer, those plans have been put on hold for the time being.

I’ve heard that there used to be an elderly gentleman who would bring some sort of portable hide with him to the wastewater facility, and that he was able to shoot some fabulous photos that way. About this time last year, I spent a good portion of one day sitting on a large rock watching and photographing lesser yellowlegs in action and perched.

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

Those are things that I keep in mind this year as I’m photographing the things that I see. There may well come a time when setting up the hide that I have at the wastewater facility is the way to get some even better images than the two yellowlegs fighting that I’ve just shared. I could get much better photos than that one this year since I have better lenses and I’ve learned how to take advantage of the power of the 7D Mk II.

I have been keeping my eyes and ears open, hoping to learn of a good place that I could go to set-up the hide, and the tripod with the gimbal head on it. I may not have used the portable hide yet, but from my limited use of the gimbal head, I know that using it more often would result in better images. However, I don’t want to turn this into another post of photography equipment and techniques.

I do have some spots in mind where I could make full use of the equipment that I have, under the right conditions. Once we get a hard frost, and the insect population falls off, then I’ll begin my search for a place where I can just sit and wait in earnest. Actually, I think that I’ll have to find several places, depending on the season of the year, time of day, and weather conditions. Probably the biggest item of the list of things that I need to find is a lack of people.

If I’m going to attempt to just sit in one spot, I don’t want other people walking or driving by at just the wrong time to spoil the opportunity. And, if I find a good quiet spot, I may well begin to shoot more videos of the things that I see. That’s when the gimbal head will be an essential thing to use, as it will allow me to produce videos that aren’t ruined by my inability to hold the camera absolutely steady as required for good video.

I’ve learned another trick to get better images when using the 2 X tele-converter on the slow lenses that I have, use live view focusing whenever I can.

Pectoral sandpiper

I won’t go into the reasons for that, but I know that if I were to use the tripod mounted gimbal head whenever I’m using the 2 X extender, and switch to live view focusing, then the quality of the images that I shoot will be better. But, only for still subjects, as live view focusing is slower than molasses in January when using the 2 X extender.

Well, I went back to the technical side of photography, I’m sorry, I can’t help it. When I’m thinking about places where I could set-up the portable hide and tripod with the gimbal head, then the photo equipment that I have, and how to get the best out of it, weighs heavily on the decisions that I make. It would be worthless to go to a place where every thing that I saw was out of range all of the time. And, knowing me, I know that I wouldn’t be able to sit still for very long if I weren’t getting at least an occasional image now and then.

There are limits as to how long I can play the waiting game.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


19 responses

  1. Fantastic photos, Jerry–

    July 28, 2017 at 8:39 am

    • Thank you very much Jet!

      July 28, 2017 at 9:02 am

  2. I don’t know how you would be able to resist the temptation to get up and wander around if you were using your hide. For me, the second-guessing of its location would drive me insane. But, I suppose you actually have to use it several times to see if you can make it work for you.

    Enjoyed all the non-bird photos in this post. Can’t help but think that it’s really a shame that adorable baby raccoons grow into the large menaces that they all become.

    Keep up the good work.

    July 28, 2017 at 9:11 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! You’re right, I’ll be second guessing my location whenever I use the hide, but I’m sure that it will work out at least some of the time. And, there’s no rule stating how long I have to sit in any one place either.

      I haven’t been shooting enough macros of flowers and insects this year, for one thing, I wait until I have great conditions for them now. I used to settle for poor shots on windy or very cloudy days, but I’m tired of taking poor photos.

      I never think of raccoons as menacing, I think that even the adults are cute. They’re intelligent and curious by nature, and closely related to dogs.

      July 28, 2017 at 8:29 pm

  3. Even when I look closely at a flower I don’t see all the detail that you get in your photos so I just love all those flower shots. I read an article recently about en plein air artists, who not only have to deal with the vagaries of the weather but the trouble from fellow humans too! The artists recommend using a tent to protect themselves from the weather, flying insects and nosy bystanders…maybe you should use your hide!

    July 28, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    • Thank you very much Marianne! I tend to go on and on about how much better my bird photos are becoming, but now that you mention it, I think that my macro photos have improved even more. I’m loving the details that my camera and lens are getting these days.

      I’m going to try the hide this weekend if there’s any chance that it will help me in any way. The real solution is to find some out of the way places with nobody around to spook the wildlife.

      July 28, 2017 at 8:32 pm

  4. Your photographs are so good it is a delight to scroll through your post. I loved the muskrat and the lesser yellow legs particularly.

    July 28, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    • Thank you very much Susan! I try for as much variety in my subjects as I can get, so that there’s something for every one.

      July 28, 2017 at 8:42 pm

  5. Lots of people who use hides salt the ground first by putting food out for for many days in advance of setting up the hide so they know that the birds or animals will come to the hide and they don’t have to bother with taking the hide to the birds. I very much sympathise with your static feeling about missing things if you don’t move about. However, in the midst of all this angst, you somehow contrive to keep on taking superb pictures.

    July 28, 2017 at 6:35 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! I could be wrong, but I think that I can let nature do the “salting” for me, and hide near where critters find the natural food to eat. I know that if I’m not shooting photos while in the hide that I’ll be wondering what’s going on in other locations, but I think that the hide will prove its worth eventually.

      July 28, 2017 at 8:45 pm

  6. I can relate to your worries about missing wildlife because you are at the wrong place at the wrong time! I don’t think you’ll ever get rid of those thoughts but once you’ve experimented with the hide, trying out different locations at different times of the day I’m sure you’ll find you’ll worry a little less! I love that second Merlin shot! The muted colours of the bird really appeal to me.

    July 29, 2017 at 1:25 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I’m sure that you’re right, that once I begin using the hide I find that it works so well that I’ll want to use it more often. The merlin is cute, it’s hard to believe that they’re falcons and therefore skilled killers.

      July 29, 2017 at 6:24 pm

      • They are beautiful birds. I have heard that there has been a Merlin nesting near me this year. I would love to see it!

        July 29, 2017 at 6:57 pm

      • I hope that you’re able to track it down.

        July 29, 2017 at 7:59 pm

      • Me too!

        July 29, 2017 at 8:23 pm

  7. Though plants don’t move they do disappear and then reappear later in a different spot so I can understand the urge to be on the move. I move around probably more than a lot of people would think.
    I don’t recognize that white flower and couldn’t find it online. At first I thought it was white sweet clover but I don’t think so. Black cohosh is similar too but I don’t think it’s the right time of year for it.
    You’d think birds would be able to find enough food without fighting over a spot but I know they do fight and bicker quite a lot.
    I think my favorite shots in this post are of the merlin. What eyes on that bird!

    July 29, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! You’re right, plants don’t move, but finding good ones to photograph almost requires that the photographer be on the move. I returned to where I shot the macros from that post today, planning on shooting better images, but most of the flowers have either finished for the year, or are suffering from the drought that we’re having. I didn’t photograph the leaves of the plant that produced the white flowers, but I did look and note that they are long, narrow pale green leaves with smooth edges.

      In my opinion, birds are a lot like some people, always spoiling for a fight whether a fight is warranted or not.

      I should surrender and go to a wildlife rehabilitation center to get good close-ups of birds like the merlin, as I doubt if I’ll ever get any closer to one than those photos. It’s not easy to sneak up on birds that have much better eyesight than I have.

      July 29, 2017 at 6:33 pm

  8. nice shots!beautiful is an understatement!

    July 31, 2017 at 2:06 am

    • Thank you very much Christietina!

      July 31, 2017 at 7:02 am