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

I was afraid of that

Well, I went back to the Muskegon River area where I had gone and shot the landscape photos from my last post. But, I got a late start, and missed the chance to photograph a glorious sunrise, although it was wonderful to view as I drove north towards the river. I also managed to find the three nature preserves that I hadn’t been able to locate on my last trip up there, but more on them later.

Even though I was too late to catch the color that had been in the sky earlier, I still wanted to return to the same spot to explore other compositions for future reference. That didn’t happen, as the river was several feet higher than the previous week, and I would have needed to wear my waders or hack through brush to get to the same place. It wouldn’t have mattered if I had found the exact location that I had shot the last images from, with the river being so much higher, the scene would have been completely different anyway.

So, I settled for this shot of an ox-eye daisy…

Ox-eye daisy?

…and this photo looking downstream after the sun was above the horizon.

Morning on the Muskegon River

I mentioned in my last post that this spot on the river is between two dams used to generate electricity, so the water level of the river fluctuates depending on the demands for electricity, and the amount of water being released by the dams.

After I shot the two photos above, I stopped at the dam farthest upstream, as there’s a very small park there, and that led to my surprise of the day, which I’ll get to in a second or two. First, here’s a photo of a sign at the little park by the dam that has a map of the area on it to help give you a better idea of what this area is like.

Dam sign

The access site from where I shot the landscape photos in this post and my last post is a few miles downstream of the place on the map labeled “You are here”. I was checking out the park, and spotted these flowers there…

Unidentified white flowers

…when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a large bird carrying a stick fly behind some trees. I had just read the sign and had noticed that there was an osprey nest platform in the area, little did I know that it was right there in the park.

Osprey at its nest

I returned to my car to install the 1.4 X tele-converter to get better photos of the osprey.

Osprey at its nest

But, I was on the ground looking up at the nest, not the best angle for photography.

I’m not sure if the osprey on the nest was the bird that I had seen carrying a stick to the nest, or if it was that bird’s mate which was perched in a nearby tree screeching away at something.

Osprey

I thought about setting up my tripod with the gimbal head on it to shoot more photos of the osprey…

Osprey

…but due to the layout of the park and where the nest was located, I think that late afternoon would be the best time to photograph them.

Osprey

And as it was, I shot almost 100 images of them as I dealt with the shadows caused by the light coming from the wrong direction.

Osprey

Since they have nested there, I can return at my leisure to shoot more images of them whenever I have the time to do so.

Osprey

To tell you the truth, it felt to me as I was cheating by hanging out there by the osprey nest, but they didn’t seem to be a bit bothered by my presence at all. They’re probably quite used to people being there in the park. Even shooting with the light the way it was at the time, I got what are easily my best images to date of the osprey, and I didn’t have to work to get them.

On the other hand, my instincts for finding places to photograph birds are still as good as ever, as the area around the Muskegon River has the habitat required for many species of birds. In fact, an extremely rare to Michigan sighting of a Mississippi kite happened last week just a few miles downstream from this area that I’m beginning to explore.

Speaking of exploring, as much as I wanted to shoot more photos of the osprey, I had other places I wanted to check on to see if they would be suitable as a place to go where I could set-up my portable hide and spend a day shooting wildlife.

My first stop turned out to be a bust, it looked like public land on the maps, but it turned out that it was private and well-marked as such. My second stop was one of the nature preserves that I hadn’t been able to locate on my last outing to the area, the Coolbough Natural Area.

Sign for the Coolbough Natural Area

I walked the loop around the wetlands area that you can see on the map above, because I thought that it would be the most likely area to find a place to set-up the portable hide.

As a place to go for a pleasant walk in the woods, I couldn’t think of a much better place to go than this is. I saw only one other person during my walk around the most well used trails from what I could tell from how worn the trails were. Or I should say, from how little wear there was to most of the side trails, as the wetlands loop was easily the most used trail in this natural area. It was quiet, except for occasional singing birds, and there are many types of habitat in this natural area to see as you walk through it.

But, I didn’t find a spot that would make it worthwhile to sit in a hide, as there’s nothing there to concentrate the wildlife in any one small area. Not even the ponds, which I thought would be the most likely spot to set-up the hide.

The wetland area of the Coolbough Natural Area

I sat where I shot that photo from for some time to see if anything would show up there at the pond, but other than a good number of red-winged blackbirds, I saw only a few other species of songbirds, and no waterfowl or wading birds at all. I was a little surprised that there weren’t even any mallards or Canada geese there, although I’m sure that the pond does have a few visitors from time to time.

Given the weather that day, it would have been a good day to have taken my macro photography gear and spent my time looking for and photographing wildflowers, but I didn’t know what I would find since it was my first time there.

Lady’s slipper

That was shot with the 16-35 mm lens, but I should have brought my macro lens. The 16-35 mm lens worked fine for that image, but other things that I saw really needed the macro lens.

Slime mold?

I made do with the 100-400 mm lens along with the 16-35 mm lens while I walked the trail.

Unidentified fluttering object

 

Wild geranium?

 

Eastern box turtle

Finally, my one photo of a bird from during my walk.

Eastern wood pewee

If I were a birder that was only interested in counting the number of species of birds that I saw through my binoculars, the Coolbough Natural Area would be a great place to go, but as a photographer, it was tough to get close to any of the birds that I saw and heard during my walk there. The birds are free to spread out and so they do, and there’s no single place where one is likely to get close to the birds there.

I suppose that I could change the way I go about getting photos of birds, I did see a bluebird gathering food for its young, and I saw where the bluebird carried the food it had collected back to its nest. I could set-up the hide near the bluebird’s nest and photograph it as it came and went, but that idea doesn’t appeal to me. I’d rather not sit in a hide all day for a few images of one species of bird, even if the images turned out to be excellent. I’ll have more thoughts on this subject later.

My next stop was the Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary…

Sign for the Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary

…where I shot two poor landscape photos…

The Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary

…to show that it was mostly open meadow…

The Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary

…which is rare in Michigan.

Maybe I’m missing something, the powers that be claim that this open oak/pine savanna was common in this part of Michigan before the Europeans arrived here. But, they have to do prescribed burns every few years to maintain these open areas, or the forest would take over. You can see by these photos that there are a good number of trees that have sprouted since the last time this area was burned, and it won’t be long before they have to do another controlled burn there to keep the area as it is. That’s all I’m going to say on the subject, or I’ll get in trouble if I state my opinion on the subject.

As an area for birding, this was a complete bust, I should have taken my macro lens and shot the tiny meadow wildflowers there.

My next stop was similar…

Sign for the Karner Blue Nature Sanctuary

…in that it was mostly open meadows with only small wooded areas. However, as a place for birding, it would be a better choice than the Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary as there are more wooded areas and it is a much larger preserve as well.

Neither of the sanctuaries controlled by the Michigan Nature Association have parking areas or trails of any type, you have to pull off the side of the road to park, and you’re free to roam around both of the sanctuaries. I doubt if any one other than dyed in the wool wildflower lovers ever visit either of these sanctuaries. That’s not all bad, and for my purposes, either of them would be perfect, if there was any wildlife to photograph there. You know, that sounds misleading, as there’s plenty of insects to go with the wildflowers that I could have photographed, but I was looking for places to go to photograph birds and other types of wildlife.

Whitetail deer fawn

The fawn was shot at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, which was my final stop for the day. Since I saw that the male ducks were just beginning to molt into their eclipse plumage, I was hoping to get a few good images of the ducks in flight that showed all the colors of the breeding plumage.

Male mallard in flight

The light made for pleasing images…

Male blue-winged teal in flight

…but I couldn’t catch a duck where the colors on its wings really popped…

Male northern shoveler yoga

…with the exception of this male northern shoveler…

Male northern shoveler in flight

…and even then, I’m not happy with that image.

I still find it hard to believe that 1/2000 second isn’t a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the motion of a duck’s wings, unless they are so far from me that I have to crop the images considerably to make the bird appear as large in the frame as I’d like. Those were cropped a little, but not much, because the ducks had been resting on shore, and I was able to get close to them before they took flight. The motion blur at that fast of a shutter speed does tell you how fast the ducks flap their wings at take off though.

Okay then, of course I’ll return to the small park near the dam where the osprey nest…

Osprey

…is located to shoot better images of the adults, along with the young osprey as the grow.

I think that I’ll return to the Coolbough Natural Area from time to time when there’s good light and light winds so that I can shoot images of the wildflowers there, with maybe an occasional bird if I’m lucky.

However, I didn’t find a spot at any of the three nature preserves that would make it worthwhile to take the portable hide, set it up, and spend hours in it, as the wildlife is abundant at all three preserves, but it’s also spread out too much to make using the hide a viable plan of action for getting good images of the wildlife.

I was afraid of that. As I have speculated in the past, the small preserves on the edges of human development force the wildlife to concentrate in those small preserves, making them much better choices for photography. For example, on the day after the one that produced the images that you’ve seen so far, I spent a few hours at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve again, and there was never a time when there weren’t several birds in sight at all times.

Cedar waxwing

This waxwing was eating the few ripe berries on the bush it was perched in.

Cedar waxwing

There was never a time at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve when I couldn’t see close to 20 species of birds if I looked around. Of course, most of the birds were out of camera range, but you never know when one will fly past.

Great blue heron in flight

That’s not even my best flying bird of the day, but it goes well with the cedar waxwing images above it. There’s an advantage to having shot plenty of good images of a species, I don’t feel the need to shoot a perfect image every time that I get a chance to photograph that species again. So, I can get more creative and artistic as with the waxwing. I didn’t zoom in all the way for the first image of it, and I also stopped down the lens for more depth of field to achieve a photo that looks similar to an Audubon watercolor in my opinion, I love that image even if I was able to zoom in more for the second image of the waxwing. I also like the look of the heron image, it looks like a painting rather than a photograph.

I’m beginning to think that the place that I go doesn’t matter as much as my approach to photographing wildlife. As I said, I could take the portable hide to where the bluebird nest is and finally get good images of a bluebird, but I’ve never done anything like that before. Sure, when an opportunity too good to pass up, like the osprey nest in the small park, comes along, I take advantage of it. But, I’ve never purposely tracked down a bird’s nest just to shoot images of the birds that built the nest.

It would be easy enough for me to do this time of year…

Female red-winged blackbird gathering damselflies to feed to her young

…all I have to do is watch where an adult took the food that it was gathering for its young, and keep watching until I spotted the nest. Then, I could set-up the portable hide and wait for the adults to return time and time again as they feed their young.

Or, I could do something that I noticed that some one else has done, put up a bird feeder out in the woods somewhere and wait for the birds to come to the feeder.

That still seems like cheating to me, it isn’t as if I have a feeder outside my house where I’d be sitting and watching the birds as we used to do at my parents home. And, I’ve always taken pride in the fact that 99.9% of the wildlife that I’ve shot photos of were completely wild birds shot in natural settings. The photo of the red-winged blackbird may not be the perfect image of that species…

Female red-winged blackbird gathering damselflies to feed to her young

…but there’s something to be said for less than perfect images that are good, and show the behavior of the subject, as with these last two photos. It looks to me as the blackbird was plucking newly “hatched” damselflies from the water as the damselflies emerged from the water to dry their wings after they had transformed from nymphs to their adult stage. So, in one photo, you can tell several things at one time. The damselflies have no color yet, which is what leads me to believe that they had just emerged from the nymphal stage of their life cycle. They are easy pickings for the blackbird until their wings dry and they are ready to take flight for the first time. Because the damselflies are easy pickings, I’m sure that young red-winged blackbirds are fed a steady diet of damselflies.

Anyway, I find an osprey nest, and it’s located in a tiny park between a busy road and a working hydro-electric dam in an area that’s quite noisy, and not a good place to shoot videos. I have no need for the portable hide there, as the osprey don’t seem to mind humans being close to them.

I find a natural area that’s very quiet and would be a great location to shoot videos at, but I couldn’t find a spot within the natural area that would make it worthwhile for me to set-up the hide and spend time sitting in it.

Isn’t that the way it goes, I really was afraid of that.

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

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18 responses

  1. A very interesting post with wonderful photographs. I especially enjoyed the picture of the river and the reflections in it that you captured so well and the osprey photographs. What a majestic bird it is, I look forward to seeing more.

    June 12, 2018 at 5:14 pm

    • Thank you very much Susan! I can assure you that you’ll be seeing more osprey images here soon, along with whatever else I happen to find.

      June 12, 2018 at 5:30 pm

  2. Nice shots of the river and the osprey.
    I’ve never seen a lady’s slipper such a dark red, but I’d like to. I wonder if it’s a pink lady’s slipper that turned out red.
    That is a slime mold I think, but I’m not sure which one. That’s a geranium too.
    I’m guessing the Native Americans used fire to keep the land open just as we do today, which would account for Europeans finding it that way and thinking it was natural.
    That’s a great shot of the fawn but my favorites are of the cedar waxwing. They’re excellent!

    June 12, 2018 at 5:56 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! I thought that lady’s slippers were pink also, and there were a few pink ones nearby, but well past their prime so I didn’t include a pink version.

      I wish that I had my macro lens with me for the slime mold, and if I had thought about it, tried doing a time lapse of it while I was shooting other things. But, that chance will come again one of these days.

      My guess would be that there was a huge wildfire that had burned so hot that all the organic material in the soil was destroyed at one time where the Europeans found the prairies, and possibly, the native Americans did some burning as well. There were similar fires in northern Michigan in the days after the timber boom that left thousands of acres of land barren and that are just beginning to show signs of recovery almost 200 years later. But, we couldn’t let such a fire continue to burn these days, so I suppose occasional prescribed burns are the best we can do, but it still smacks of us controlling nature to fit our desires more than letting nature take its course.

      If only the grass hadn’t been in front of the fawn’s left eye, but I suppose that was wishing for too much. On the other hand, cedar waxwings seem to pose for me, and long enough to change camera settings to control the overall look of the images of them that I shoot.

      June 12, 2018 at 6:20 pm

  3. If I had seen that screeching osprey through my camera lens, I think I would have high-tailed it out of there. He/she sure was one fearsome-looking bird.

    Nice that you’ve found new places to shoot. I look forward to following them through the seasons.

    Nice post, Jerry.

    June 12, 2018 at 11:35 pm

    • Thank you very much Judy! The osprey aren’t very threatening, at least not to me. I think that they look rather cartoonish with those big eyes set in the front of their small heads.

      I’m still looking for a good place to go, these aren’t bad, but I’d like to find a wider variety of wildlife to photograph.

      June 13, 2018 at 7:02 am

  4. Love those telephoto duck shots!!!

    June 13, 2018 at 11:05 am

    • Thank you very much Lori!

      June 13, 2018 at 2:12 pm

  5. It is very interesting to get some details of the places that you visit. It is good to see your wonderful pictures in context. I agree that it might be hard to sit for hours in one place just for the sake of a single bird. I like to wander about and see different things.

    June 13, 2018 at 6:01 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! I should do more of this style of post in the future so that readers do have a better idea about the places I go.

      Once I retire, I may sit in a blind for hours for a single bird, but until then, I’ll keep wandering the way that both of us do.

      June 13, 2018 at 10:33 pm

  6. Lovely to see all the places you have visited and all have potential for more wonderful photos. Great to see the closeups of the osprey, they seem to do lots of ‘shouting’ but not much action and they try to look ‘fierce’ but don’t succeed! The cedar waxwing is such a handsome bird and very photogenic as is the fawn…such a lovely photo.

    June 14, 2018 at 12:11 pm

    • Thank you very much Marianne! I think that you’ll see a good many action shots of the osprey in the future as they bring fish to the nest and feed their young. The cedar waxwings can make almost any photographer look good because they’re very photogenic.

      June 14, 2018 at 7:47 pm

  7. I love the shot of the cedar waxwing feeding on fruit! The colours are so subtle and the bird is sitting in the centre of the diamond shape gap formed by the twigs. I would love to see an osprey up so close! Another great series of shots, Jerry.

    June 14, 2018 at 8:29 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I’ve been very lucky lately, birds willing to pose for me and good light, I wish that it would never end, but I know it will.

      June 14, 2018 at 10:39 pm

  8. From that awesome shot of the ox-eye daisy to those of the female red-winged blackbird, I sense a new enthusiasm in your photography. Better light and colors, and great composition in every photo. But the most important thing is that you seem to like doing it also, and in the end that’s all that counts. Bravo!

    June 16, 2018 at 7:55 pm

    • Thank you very much Hien! With good light finally, and too many subjects to shoot during my time off from work, I’d say yes, my enthusiasm is at an all time high right now. It also helps that my images continue to improve, both technically, and in many cases, artistically.

      June 17, 2018 at 6:53 am

  9. The first unidentified white flowers I suppose they are hawthorn flowers.

    June 22, 2018 at 4:21 pm

    • I think that you’re right,, thank you very much Cornell!

      June 22, 2018 at 11:44 pm

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