From the boardwalk
I’m going to attempt to stick with one topic for this post, the photos that I’ve shot recently at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. I’m sure that I did a post on this nature preserve in the past, but I think that it’s time for me to do an updated post on it, since it’s one of the places that I visit regularly.
To begin with, here’s a map that I swiped off from the internet.
And then, a photo to get things started.
I have better images, but the swamp sparrow is a fitting subject to start with. As you can see from the map, the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve is a peninsula jutting out into the Muskegon River delta where the river meets Muskegon Lake. Actually, with the water levels of Lake Michigan, and therefore all the connected bodies of water like Muskegon Lake, much higher than they were a few years ago, the preserve is more of an island than a peninsula until the water levels drop again. There’s water flowing under both of the two bridges that you can use to get from the parking lot to the preserve itself.
Most of the preserve is marshy or under water completely, and the dry land portions are thick tangles of vegetation that has taken hold since the area was cleaned up after being used as a dump for years. It’s a perfect example of nature reclaiming land that had been abused by man in the past. I don’t know how large the overall size of the preserve is, I would estimate that the parts of it that are dry land are between 5 and 10 acres total, not very large at all. Most of the preserve is marsh, as this photo shot from the bridge to enter the preserve shows.
You can see on the map, as well as in my photos to follow, that it’s far from a wilderness area. To the east is one of the few north/south roads that has a bridge to cross the Muskegon river, and it’s a state highway that carries a good deal of traffic. To the west is a condominium development and a mariana. To the south is the main part of the north branch of the Muskegon River where it enters Muskegon Lake, and across the river is the old Cobb coal-fired power plant that is being decommissioned now.
I titled this post “From the boardwalk” because at least half of the paths look like this…
…or this view along the river…
…or this section of boardwalk across the marsh.
I’d guess that the total length of the paths I usually walk is less than a mile, but I normally spend several hours there because I move very slowly. That’s because the vegetation is so thick there that I take a few steps, try to look through any openings in the vegetation, then move a few more steps. This is the way the path typically looks in the summer.
The bad news is that it’s had to see the birds as they hide in the vegetation, the good news is that if you do see one, it’s almost always very close.
The preserve is at the north end of a much longer system of paths meant for walkers, joggers, and cyclists in the greater Muskegon area, and therefore is a very popular place. Most people never see the birds or other wildlife there, but the wildlife sees them, and has become accustomed to having people nearby up to a point. It isn’t as if the wildlife is tame, but human activity and noise doesn’t bother the wildlife as much as in more natural settings. That also helps me get close to what I’m trying to photograph. Here’s a view of the main bike/walking path through the preserve.
That was shot from one of the two raised observation decks that have been built there at the preserve. The first raised observation deck is on dry land…
…and I thought that it would be a great place to photograph birds that live in the leaf canopy from, however, I seldom see any birds in the trees next to the deck. The second observation deck is built out over the marsh, and once in a while, I hang out there to photograph birds flying past that deck.
Because of the height of the observation deck…
…I’m not shooting at such a high angle upwards, so it looks like I’m at about the same elevation as the birds flying past me. That’s unlike this image…
…which I shot with the heron directly over me as I shot it.
Most of the time that I’m there, I’m either in the thick vegetation on the dry land portion of the preserve photographing songbirds…
…or standing in one place on the boardwalk waiting to see what appears in the marsh for me to photograph.
In that photo, you can see that the muskrat tears the cattail stalks apart to eat the center portion of the cattail, leaving the outer sheath of the leaves. Here’s a photo of another muskrat bring cattails back to its den.
Also from the boardwalk, I shot this series of images showing a first year male red-winged blackbird bathing.
Because of the height of the boardwalk I have to shoot down to photograph subjects such as the muskrat or this red-winged blackbird…
…however, I have all the time in the world to get the camera settings right to produce the images that I want…
…getting the shutter speed high enough to freeze the blackbird’s head, but showing the motion blur of the bird’s body and the water drops.
As small as the preserve is, and with so many people using it, I’m always surprised when I see deer there.
For this series, I was standing in the dense vegetation waiting for birds to land close to me, when the deer came into view. She knew I was there, but that didn’t stop her from sampling the food there.
After she finished her snack, I was able to shoot a better photo of her.
Here are a few of the other subjects that I’ve photographed there recently.
There aren’t that many mosquitos at the preserve, not when you look at all the still water and vegetation around, and I think that the lack of them is due to the large number of damsel and dragonflies, along with insect-eating birds, such as this barn swallow.
It must have been full and also very happy, for it landed on the railing of the boardwalk next to me and began singing away.
It was singing a toe tapping song as you can see from that last image. 😉
I mentioned the height of the boardwalk earlier in this post, that’s good in a way, because you can see down through the reeds and other aquatic vegetation whereas, if the boardwalk was lower to the water, you’d only be able to see a wall of reeds as you walked along the boardwalk. Because of that fact, I’ve been able to photograph a number of species of birds that are difficult to photograph because of their preferred habitat. The list of species I’ve shot there includes the Virginia Rail, marsh wren, and least bittern.
It may not look like it from my photos here, but I had to use manual focus to get those shots, as the auto-focusing system of camera and lens couldn’t pick the bird out from the thick vegetation that it was in. The least bittern may be the most difficult species of bird to photograph that I’ve run into so far, but the Virginia rail…
…was a very close runner-up.
I take that back, the Virginia rail is a more difficult species to photograph, because it stays in the reeds all the time, while the least bitterns do fly above the reeds…
…but one has to be quick to catch them during one of their short flights.
Gee, I’ve reached my self-imposed quota of photos for a post, and I still have quite a few left. So, I’m going to add this one…
…because it’s one of my first attempts at shooting a panorama and was made with three images shot with the 16-35 mm lens and stitched together in Lightroom. As easy as Lightroom makes it to create a panorama, it’s something that I need to do more of in the future so that I become better at setting up to shoot them. I really should have zoomed in more, and added another image if I had then needed it. But, that’s getting off topic.
Anyway, I do have enough photos for another post shot at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and I’m sure to return there, but I think that my next post will be from yesterday, when I returned to the osprey nest in hopes of getting good images of them.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!