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

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.

Map of the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve


And then, a photo to get things started.

Swamp sparrow

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.

The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

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.

The Cobb power plant near Muskegon, Michigan

I titled this post “From the boardwalk” because at least half of the paths look like this…

The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve boardwalk

…or this view along the river…

The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve boardwalk

…or this section of boardwalk across the marsh.

The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve boardwalk

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 path at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

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.

Grey catbird bringing home the bacon


Where the bacon ended up going (juvenile grey catbird)

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.

The bike path through the Muskegon Lake Nature 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…

observation deck at the MLNP

…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.

Green heron in flight

Because of the height of the observation deck…

Green heron in flight

…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…

Great blue heron in flight

…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…

Blue jay

…or standing in one place on the boardwalk waiting to see what appears in the marsh for me to photograph.

Muskrat eating a cattail

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.

Muskrat bringing cattails back to its den

Also from the boardwalk, I shot this series of images showing a first year male red-winged blackbird bathing.

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…

First year male red-winged blackbird bathing

…however, I have all the time in the world to get the camera settings right to produce the images that I want…

First year male red-winged blackbird bathing

…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.

First year male red-winged blackbird bathing

As small as the preserve is, and with so many people using it, I’m always surprised when I see deer there.

Whitetail doe

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.

Whitetail doe


Whitetail doe

After she finished her snack, I was able to shoot a better photo of her.

Whitetail doe

Here are a few of the other subjects that I’ve photographed there recently.

Cottontail rabbit


Female snapping turtle laying eggs


Honeysuckle flowers





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.

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.

Barn swallow

It was singing a toe tapping song as you can see from that last image. 😉

Barn swallow

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.

Least bittern


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…

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…

Least bittern in flight


Least bittern in flight

…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…

Panorama from the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

…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!


17 responses

  1. What a wonderful place to take photographs and how well you do it. It is a rare treat for me to look at them.

    June 23, 2018 at 3:10 pm

  2. Thanks for this Jerry. It is good to get a picture of where you get your pictures and it is a bonus when your views come out so attractively.

    June 23, 2018 at 6:15 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! I forget that even long time readers of my blog may not remember the photos of places that I go, this post was the first of several similar posts I’ll do. I suppose I could go back and repost my older posts again, but this will be a way to see what if any changes happen over time.

      June 24, 2018 at 6:29 am

  3. There sure is a lot to like in this post, Jerry. But my favorite photo has to be that cute dancing barn swallow. You sure captured him in perfect light to bring out the many colors.

    I love the sequences you manage to shoot that show how your subjects eat – it’s interesting that the muskrat only eats the tender insides of the stalks. Nice to know they have suncdh a discerning palate.

    Hope you do shoot more panoramas. I really liked your closing photo.

    June 24, 2018 at 8:13 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! That little chatterbox of a swallow made my day, it’s one of those small things that I’ll look back on and smile. That’s because he didn’t seem to be singing to attract a mate, but simply because it was a great day, and he was very happy. I’ve never heard a swallow sing so long, or with such enthusiasm before.

      It could be that the native Americans learned from the muskrats as far as what part of the cattail to eat. They used the tuberous middle of cattails the same way we use potatoes, and I’ve heard that they taste similar to potatoes as well.

      I probably will shoot more panoramas in the future, but I’m still learning how to shoot the photos and use Lightroom to stitch them together correctly It’s actually quite easy to do the stitching, if the photos are shot correctly to begin with.

      June 24, 2018 at 1:39 pm

  4. Thank you for the guided tour showing where you take some of your wonderful photos. Love the boardwalk and the way it gives you access to taking all those interesting photos of birds, insects, flowers and all the other creatures you find there. The photo with the redwing blackbird having a bath is lovely and keeping the water drops in focus too is amazing. My favourite photo has to be that all singing and dancing barn swallow!

    June 24, 2018 at 1:52 pm

    • Thank you very much Marianne! I’m glad that you liked the tour as much as you did, it really isn’t a photogenic place, but wildlife loves it. It’s funny, I didn’t care if I got good photos of the red-winged blackbird or not because they are so common here. That gave me room to experiment more with my camera settings. But, most of the times when I play with settings as I do shoot common subjects, I learn things that carry forward when I shoot other subjects.

      That little barn swallow was the happiest bird that I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of happy birds. He seemed to be trying to tell the entire world that life was good and that it was a great day to be alive.

      June 24, 2018 at 3:11 pm

  5. Wow, what a great place! Imagine the work it must have taken to put up all those boardwalks!
    Michigan is much better about that sort of thing than New Hampshire is. We’re lucky to get a path.
    You got some excellent shots there too. I think I’d be spending a lot of time wandering the property.
    Great shots of the deer and the rabbit, and that toe tapping swallow!

    June 24, 2018 at 4:33 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! That particular preserve is controlled by a private group, not the State of Michigan. However, all across the state there are similar things, one that comes to mind is a series of boardwalks connecting many small islands in Ludington State Park. People here in Michigan do love the outdoors and show it in the way that we are wiling to pay for such places and access.

      That swallow was the happiest bird that I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of happy birds before. He sure made my day, every time I see that image, I’ll remember him fondly.

      June 24, 2018 at 5:21 pm

  6. It is good to see where you visit so often and where you see so much wildlife. I love the shot of the juvenile catbird and the bathing red-winged blackbird series. The swallow is wonderful and I always enjoy seeing green herons. So many excellent shots!

    June 24, 2018 at 8:44 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! This is one of the little preserves near quite a bit of human development that is changing my mind about where the best places are for photography. The variety of species there is surprising, and I’m able to get close to most of them.

      June 25, 2018 at 6:46 am

  7. Beautiful shots of the Barn Swallow and a nice overview of the preserve!

    June 25, 2018 at 4:45 am

    • Thank you very much Bob!

      June 25, 2018 at 6:43 am

  8. Just beautiful, Jerry! Your work is amazing!!

    June 26, 2018 at 9:52 pm

    • Thanks again Donna!

      June 27, 2018 at 6:56 am

  9. Jerry, another outstanding post, so interesting to read, with beautiful photos and subjects. I feel so lucky to be among your readers.

    The Least Bittern is supposed to be very elusive, and I am amazed that you were able to get such good shots of it. The Virginia Rail ones are also in that category, but I haven’t seen one yet and am not familiar with it.

    By the way, you do have an eye for landscape photography as exemplified by some of the marvelous photos in this post of the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve and its surroundings.

    June 27, 2018 at 5:47 pm

    • Thank you very much Hien! I was able to get the photos of both the rail and the bittern by standing around for hours waiting for them to make an appearance. That’s why I keep going back to that same place, there are other things for me to shoot while I’m waiting, or I wouldn’t be able to do it.

      My landscape photos are improving as I learn what makes a good image versus just shooting a snapshot of a place that looks good to the eye. I still don’t use my wide-angle lenses enough to be truly good at seeing what they will see, but I am getting better with practice.

      June 28, 2018 at 5:00 am

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