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

New park, new bird, but terrible weather

I’m starting this post on Monday, May 7th. It’s been almost a full week since I’ve had enough time off from work to go out with my camera, part of that is because of the change in my work schedule. I should mention that it’s going very well so far, one of the many things that I like about this new schedule is that my start times each day are closer to being the same, rather than having me bounce all over the place as my last schedule had me doing. Once I’ve adapted to this new schedule, I would be able to make it out on a day like today, when there’s good light and very little wind, to shoot macro images.

I will have Thursday and Friday off from work this week, however, the weather is looking iffy for both days. That’s subject to change at the current time though.

I may be crazy, since it’s the best time of year to catch migrating birds, but I’m thinking of taking at least a one day road trip to shoot mainly landscapes. This will be my first two-day weekend in almost seven months, since I began working for my present employer. I’d like to celebrate in a way, by doing something that I really haven’t had time for in those months. We’ll see, it will depend on the weather forecast as the time approaches.

Well, the first of my two days in a row off from work has come and is almost gone, but I’m going to begin this post with an image from an earlier outing.

 

Starling

I would write that my day began at dawn at Harbor Island in Grand Haven, Michigan, but there was no dawn. We had storms roll through the area the night before, and we were still socked in under clouds that were too stubborn to leave, along with mist and fog, absolutely horrible conditions for bird photography. Maybe I should have gone on a landscape expedition instead, but then I would have missed seeing and photographing another lifer for me, which I will get to shortly.

The weather forecast was for improving conditions, but they didn’t improve as quickly as the forecast led me to believe that they would. I fooled around at Harbor Island, struggling to get enough light for any photos at all.

Northern flicker

There were birds everywhere, but no light to photograph them in, I even tried using the flash, trying to get the ISO settings low enough to get at least a poor photo…

Warbling vireo

…but even then, I couldn’t get a shutter speed fast enough so that the birds weren’t blurred a bit in most of the photos that I shot.

Warbling vireo

And, the dull overcast sky was a very poor background whenever a bird was perched overhead…

Male brown thrasher singing

…the only reason that I’m posting these photos is that I love listening to the brown thrashers singing…

Male brown thrasher singing

…along with their cousins, the grey catbirds as well.

Grey catbird

Both of those species are related to mockingbirds, and all of them use snippets of other birds’ songs as part of the symphonies that they create as they sing their own songs.

I saw more signs of spring, both young mallards…

Mallard duckling

 

Mallard duckling

…and an occasional flower.

Daffodil

Almost two hours after the supposed sunrise, I was still struggling when photographing most of the few birds that I could even get a photo of.

Male American redstart

Not only did the poor light mean that I had to shoot at ISO settings much higher than I wanted, the light was so poor that my camera and lens had trouble auto-focusing on these small birds.

Blue-headed vireo

This chickadee was kind enough to pose long enough for me to dial in the flash settings for a fair shot of it.

Black-capped chickadee

It was very frustrating to have so many returning birds so close to me, and not be able to get photos of them. It was also quite chilly, so rather than walk the entire Harbor Island area at one time as I normally do, I walked part of it, returned to my vehicle, parked in another part of the park, and then would take another short walk. The time spent moving my vehicle gave me time to warm back up between the very short walks.

It finally warmed up enough so that I didn’t need to return to my vehicle, at least not as often, so I decided to move to another park very close to Harbor Island, the East Grand River Park, which is also in Grand Haven, Michigan.

I’ve seen bird reports from this park before, but when I looked at the park on a map, it looked too small to hold very many birds. Boy, was I wrong about that! The park is small, less than 5 acres total, and that includes a playground area and a fenced in dog park, along with a boat launch. I’d estimate that the best birding portion of the park is less than two acres in size, but it’s a birding cornucopia! By the way, the Eat Grand River Park is also right next to the Grand Haven Municipal wastewater facility, wouldn’t you know?

I was still struggling against not enough light to work with…

Black and white warbler

…but the variety of species of birds there…

Northern parula, a species of warbler

…including this hard to find northern parula…

Northern parula, a species of warbler

…was something that I had to see with my own eyes to believe.

Northern parole in flight

I missed more species than I was able to capture…

Male scarlet tanager

…but as small as the park is…

Male scarlet tanager

…and as thick as the brush is…

Cape May warbler

…meant that I could get close to the birds, even if I had to shoot at a bad angle.

Cape May warbler

In fact, I zoomed out a little for this image, to show more of the environment that this kinglet was in at the time.

Ruby-crowned kinglet

Also, because the park is so small, I had several opportunities to photograph this lifer for me…

Bay-breasted warbler

…which was a good thing, because the first series of photos that I shot of it were so poor that I couldn’t use them.

He must have needed a break, because he sat there long enough for me to get a little closer, and to find a better hole in the brush to shoot through.

Bay-breasted warbler

He also did some preening, but as slow as my shutter speeds were, most of the photos I shot while he was preening are junk, but here’s a wing stretch.

Bay-breasted warbler

With so many small birds around…

Black and white warbler

…if there had been better light, I would have gotten better shots of them taking off…

Black and white warbler in flight

…but the very poor light was against me. That, and the park is as bad as the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve as far as trying to find holes through the vegetation to shoot through.

Male Baltimore oriole

As I looked for birds to shoot, I also tried to figure out why such a small park would attract so many birds, and other than it’s where the Grand River narrows which shortens the birds’ flight across open water, I couldn’t see that much different about East River Park than many other areas of the region. But then, I’m not a bird, so maybe there’s more to it than that.

By then, I needed a break, as I was getting arm weary from moving the camera and 100-400 mm lens around as I tried to get photos of the birds so far that morning. So, I headed north to Muskegon, with the intention of stopping at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. However, the parking lot there was full, including several school busses, and I didn’t want to deal with any crowds as I attempted to shoot photos.

Instead, I went to Muskegon State Park, where I did something dumb. As I said, my arms were tired from horsing the 100-400 mm lens around all morning as I tried to keep up with the small birds that I’d been chasing, so I took the 400 mm prime lens with me as I walked the Lost Lake trail and Snug Harbor portions of Muskegon State Park.

While the 400 mm lens is lighter, and I believe that it’s also slightly sharper than the 100-400 mm lens, it won’t focus any closer than 11 feet from me. I missed a few small birds because I was too close to them for that lens to focus on the birds. The shots that I missed were no big deal, but it was still something that I needed to try for future reference. The 100-400 mm lens has to be my walking around lens. Fortunately, I had also taken a 60D body and 100 mm macro lens with me.

I’ve never been able to figure the Lost Lake Trail out, it looks good for birding, yet I seldom see any birds when I walk it. I hear birds in the distance, but I seldom see any. But, I wanted to walk that trail because I read that it had been improved, which it hasn’t been that I could see. Also, I often find subjects for macro and close-up photography along that trail, and it’s just a pleasant walk on top of that.

So, without any birds to photograph, the only photos from the Lost Lake Trail portion of the day are these photos shot with the macro set-up.

May apples sprouting and sedges blooming

It was nice to see green again after the long, cold winter. I used the swiveling screen of the 60D body to shoot this image…

Unidentified sedge flowers

…as well as these ferns emerging from the ground…

Unidentified fern

…I got a little too close to that one, I did better with this one…

Unidentified fern

…and I didn’t have to lay in the mud to get the close-ups as I would have if I’d been looking through the viewfinder when I shot those.

My only photos from the Snug Harbor portion of Muskegon State Park are these…

Canada goose drying its wings

…I had seen the goose bathing, and I tried to get into the perfect position for this series…

Canada goose drying its wings

…but I was still so close that I cut the goose’s wings off…

Canada goose drying its wings

…still, I’m impressed with what my 7D camera with the 400 mm prime lens can do when it comes to shooting action photos.

I could do a little bragging at this point, but I won’t. The light had improved, as you can see in the images of the goose, but it still wasn’t that great. I took a drive the last few miles from Snug Harbor to Lake Michigan, so I could look out over the lake to see if the promised clear skies were on their way. There were a few breaks in the clouds, and wanting to feed my hunger to shoot more landscape photos, I shot this with the newer 16-35 mm lens.

Muskegon State Park sand dunes

I wanted something more interesting than the dead tree in the foreground, but that was the best thing that I could come up with that also allowed me to show the curves and lines of the dunes the way that I wanted in the image that I had in mind. I did try to work the scene a little, I set-up in several spots, and even took other photos, but that’s the best I could come up with.

By now, it was mid-afternoon, and Lake Michigan was still completely clouded over, so I started for home. But, as I was driving past the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, I saw that the parking lot had emptied, and the skies had cleared up, it had finally become the nice day that the weather forecast had promised.

yellow warbler enjoying the sunshine

I missed a rose-breasted grosbeak which I saw in the parking lot, and was my reason for walking the MLNP, but I found a few other birds to photograph.

Palm warbler

 

First year white-throated sparrow with a snack

 

Eastern wood pewee

And, to wrap up the photos for this post…

White-crowned sparrow

…and ask why I couldn’t have light like that for the entire day?

You may be asking why I’m blogging on the second of my two days off instead of being out with my camera, and the reason is the weather. As bad as it was for most of the day yesterday, it’s even worse today. It’s raining, the temperature has dropped 20 degrees Fahrenheit from yesterday, and there’s a stiff wind out of the east making it feel even colder than what it actually is according to the thermometer. It’s the middle of May, but it feels as raw as an early March day. That’s something that I’d rather not deal with, so I ran some errands that I’ve been putting off, and I’ve done a few things around home.

So, to sum this post up, most of the photos are very poor, but it may well be another year before I see some of the species of birds in this post again. It is the middle of May, and many species are already behind their normal schedule on their migration to the north. The number of migrating birds that I saw on this one day was astounding, which means that most of the birds are in a hurry to make up for the time that they’ve lost waiting for warmer weather. I hope to run into a few stragglers next week, but I can’t count on that, or that the weather will be that much better. So. I’ve had to make do with the photos that I was able to get, no matter how poor they are.

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

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22 responses

  1. Wiki

    Hello ,

    I saw your tweet about animals and thought I will check your website. I like it!

    I love pets. I have two beautiful thai cats called Tammy(female) and Yommo(male). Yommo is 1 year older than Tommy. He acts like a bigger brother for her. 🙂
    I have even created an Instagram account for them ( https://www.instagram.com/tayo_home/ ) and probably soon they will have more followers than me (kinda funny).

    I have subscribed to your newsletter. 🙂

    Keep up the good work on your blog.

    Regards
    Wiki

    May 11, 2018 at 5:11 pm

  2. Too bad it has to rain on days off. We haven’t had two sunny days together on a weekend in as long as I can remember, but usually one will be sunny.
    I like the scarlet tanager. I never see them in person and only rarely on blogs.
    The woolly ferns are most likely either cinnamon or interrupted ferns. Both have woolly fiddleheads.
    I like the shot of the dunes. I hope you do get some time and weather to shoot some landscapes.
    Congrats on another lifer!

    May 11, 2018 at 5:40 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! I should have planned for the weather improving as the day went on, however early morning is the best time for birding, and birds are what I was after. I’m sure that with two days off rather than just one, things will work out for me over the course of the summer.

      I forget that you’re color blind and that the bright red tanagers blend in with the background for you. That makes your ability to find things in the woods all that much more remarkable.

      I don’t know what species the ferns were, but even I could tell that they were two different species from the size of the fiddleheads and other things about them. There are times when I think that I should carry markers so that I can return to the same plant over time to help me ID them.

      I liked the dune shot also as far as the dunes themselves, but I wish that the trees in the background had been fully leafed out. I should go back in a few weeks, and maybe even go at sunrise to catch some color in the sky as the sun rises above the dunes.

      Although I’m adding to my life list at a slower pace, I’m still adding to it, which is all that matters.

      May 11, 2018 at 11:02 pm

  3. I would be happy to take most of your ‘poor’ shots and pass them off as my best work. You have set yourself high standards, Jerry. Your eye for spotting birds is still excellent. I look forward to your landscape days.

    May 11, 2018 at 6:08 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! You’re being too kind, as your at least my equal when it comes to photographing birds, in all kinds of weather.

      If the weather cooperates, I feel a landscape trip coming next week when I have two days off from work again.

      May 11, 2018 at 11:15 pm

  4. My goodness such beautiful photos of so many different coloured birds. I don’t know how you could have improved any of these photos they are all brilliant. I like the sand dune one too and the dead tree! I wonder why the new park has such a great variety of birds – it could be so many things and who knows what birds like. Hope the weather cheers up for your next ‘expedition’ and look forward to seeing more birds and landscapes.

    May 12, 2018 at 1:26 pm

    • Thank you very much Marianne! I couldn’t improve on those photos by much, but the colors look drab and washed out in the photos that I shot in the morning. Therefore, you can’t see how beautiful the birds really are.

      I don’t know why that park attracts so many birds, other than if they stop there, they have a shorter span of open water to fly across as they cross the Grand River.

      It looks like I may get two very good days off this next week, so you’ll see plenty of both birds and landscapes, with a few flowers and insects for good measure.

      May 12, 2018 at 2:46 pm

      • Looking forward to your next post already!

        May 13, 2018 at 4:25 am

  5. I don’t know why you think your photographs are poor, I think they are magnificent. I especially enjoyed the duckings.

    May 12, 2018 at 1:46 pm

    • Thank you very much Susan! Think that the photos are poor because in the photos shot in the morning, the colors are washed out from lack of light, and therefore you can’t see how vibrant the birds really are in real life.

      May 12, 2018 at 2:42 pm

  6. The colors on that male tanager are really vibrant! Your photos are beautiful, Jerry, even the ones where you say you were challenged by the lighting.

    You have an incredible variety of birdlife in your area!

    May 13, 2018 at 4:10 pm

    • Thanks again Lavinia! I love seeing the tanagers, and other than the fact that they live deep in the foliage, they stand out well enough that they’re easy to spot.

      Many of the species of birds from this post are only migrants here, seen in the spring and fall, but nest farther north. That’s why I was willing to post such poor photos of them.

      May 13, 2018 at 5:27 pm

  7. Jerry, you have seen more kinds of birds in two days than I have seen in a year! One of these days, I will have to come up and follow in your footsteps. 🙂

    That Northern Parula is a really beautiful bird in a subdued way, compared to the Scarlet Tanager anyway. By the way, I’ve been trying to find the Scarlet Tanager this year but it’s nowhere to be seen. Maybe the weird weather has messed up its migration schedule.

    Needless to say, all of your images are outstanding as always.

    May 13, 2018 at 7:30 pm

    • Thank you very much Hien! No need to come here, I follow a photographer on Facebook from your neck of the words, and he finds the same species of warblers as I do, plus a few more. Spotting the small warblers as they bounce around in the brush takes practice, photographing them takes lots of practice and patience.

      Actually, the northern Parula are considered one of the most beautiful warblers, they are bright blue, and then deep yellow that goes to almost orange on their throat, along with their other markings. Had there been any light when I shot that one, it would have looked much more vibrant than in my images.

      The weather is definitely changing the normal migration patterns of the birds. Due to the cold early spring, many species were late getting started, and now all the species seem to be moving in huge flocks all at one time. We’ve also had a series of storms that have caused the birds to pause their migration lest they be blown away, it’s really a great spring to get out there this year, especially the morning after storms move through an area.

      May 14, 2018 at 5:24 am

  8. Fascinating post . the birds are amazing.Jal

    May 14, 2018 at 12:33 am

    • Thank you very much!

      May 14, 2018 at 5:13 am

  9. Your shot of the starling is beautiful and I love the Scarlet Tanager!

    May 14, 2018 at 6:29 am

    • Thank you very much Bob!

      May 14, 2018 at 3:24 pm

  10. Congratulations on the lifer, Jerry! What a shame the weather reduced the amount of time you could go out with your camera last week. I hope this week’s weather will be better for you. Despite the poor light in the morning you still managed to produce some lovely shots of so many birds. I am always amazed at the bright colours of so many of your birds in the US. Ours are quite subdued and even drab in comparison!

    May 14, 2018 at 6:03 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! It’s the time of year for adding lifers to my list as the birds migrate north. It’s been raining here on and off for over a week, which has really put a damper on my ability to get out and shoot any photos at all.

      However, the forecast for my next two days off from work is looking good, and in good light, just how colorful many of the birds from this post are will show up better, if I can find them again.

      May 14, 2018 at 6:28 pm

  11. So many beautiful captures, Jerry! Congrats on the Bay-breasted Warbler (happy dancing), quite stunning, I have never seen this one.

    May 15, 2018 at 11:33 am

    • Thank you very much Donna! This is the time of the year to see many warblers as they return from down south, but the trees aren’t fully leafed out yet, so you can actually spot the warblers.

      May 15, 2018 at 2:33 pm

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