Swimming on the Wrong Side of the Sun

November 25, 2019

Male Northern Shoveler at the Muskegon County Wastewater site
I love their huge beaks!

Almost all the snow had melted from our big, unexpected snowfall on November 13th when my husband and I decided to take advantage of an unusually ‘balmy’ day for a picture walk. Temperatures were expected to be in the low 40’s– a relative heat wave compared to what we had been experiencing and it wasn’t supposed to rain or snow! So we headed up to the Muskegon County Wastewater Treatment Plant to see what we could find. With all of it’s man-made ponds, the wastewater site is a great place for birding!

A lovely pair of Mallards
A well-camouflaged Wilson’s Snipe at the Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery

Until a few years ago, neither of us had any idea that a wastewater treatment site could be a great place to find birds. On our first visit there two years ago, we got to see an elusive Snowy Owl and were really hoping to see another one. What we found instead were tons of Northern Shovelers, a few Ruddy Ducks, the usual cluster of Mallards, lots of Buffleheads, a few Lesser Scaups, and a boatload of Geese and Gulls. Many of the birds we saw, however, were too far out in the water to get a decent shot, or they were swimming along the edges on the wrong side of the sun!

Killdeer at the Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery
Juvenile Bald Eagle flying overhead at the Muskegon Wastewater site
Juvenile Bald Eagle and an adult Bald Eagle cavorting overhead
at the Muskegon Wastewater site

It’s a real challenge this time of year to even get out of the house and take pictures let alone find something interesting to photograph. The weather always plays a role in my decision making and it’s often too cold, too wet or too icy to go mucking about with expensive camera equipment. The upside, though, to winter photography is freshly fallen snow. It provides the perfect backdrop for all the birds who are out and about braving the elements along with you– and the bare trees make them infinitely more visible!

A beautiful Carolina Wren singing its heart out behind our house.
House Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Tufted Titmouse

In spite of the vagaries of winter weather, I usually manage to get out for a picture walk on most of our winter days. More often than not, though, I lug my camera around for hours without finding much of anything. Fortunately, I’m easily entertained and all it really takes to keep me going, is one good shot — whether it’s a tiny wren, a solitary eagle, a wild turkey or even a common duck (just as long as it’s not swimming around on the wrong side of the sun!).

Juvenile Mute Swan in the waning sun
I love all the different colors and textures of the feathers on this wild turkey! (Kensington Metropark, Milford MI)
Three Amigos heading out of town before Thanksgiving!

Picture Walk or Regular Walk?

November 9, 2018

Once in awhile, I just go on a ‘regular’ walk, not a picture walk. After my 600 picture marathon the other day, I thought it might be a nice  to just go on a ‘regular’  walk– and not stop every two feet to  take a picture! With that goal in mind, Mel and I strapped on our binoculars and headed out the door for a leisurely ‘regular’ walk down the Portage Bike Trail.

Just  before heading out the door, though,  I grabbed my  camera (I couldn’t help myself!). It wasn’t my usual camera, the Nikon with the super long lens– just my little Canon, the one that got me hooked on  nature photography in the first place, the one that takes reasonably good pictures, but is extremely frustrating for me to use (hard to locate target at a distance and hard to hold the camera steady when it is fully zoomed in).

Nonetheless, I grabbed it, mostly because it’s lightweight– and it meant that I was mostly going a regular walk, NOT a  picture walk.  BIG mistake! I missed getting the best shots  of a red tailed hawk, mallards, a bluebird, a cardinal, a bluejay, a pair of gadwalls, a northern flicker, downy woodpeckers and a belted kingfisher! Even though I missed out on a lot of good shots, the pictures I did get were worth posting because they afforded me the opportunity to share some really fun facts!

trail 11-8-2018 2-43-47 PM
It was a super beautiful fall day for a walk!

mallard 11-8-2018 2-39-33 PM
This mallard was ‘dabbling’ in the water nearby and occasionally glanced our way as we stared down at her.

red bellied woodpecker 11-8-2018 2-55-11 PM
I couldn’t get this red bellied woodpecker to look at me, but I decided to include his picture because I always thought it was odd that they were called ‘red bellied’ when their red head was much more obvious. This woodpeckers ‘red belly’ is very pale and rarely seen because it usually has it pressed up against a tree!

KINGFISHER 11-8-2018 3-29-43 PM
This belted kingfisher was really far away and I’m surprised my little Canon got such a good  picture!  Kingfishers hover over the water hummingbird style looking for fish, then dive head first into the water to snatch their prey with a dagger like bill. Since fish are rather slippery, the kingfisher first wacks its catch sideways against the tree or whatever it is sitting on. Presumably this stuns the fish and makes it easier to maneuver it and eat it.

Gadwalls 11-8-2018 2-32-09 PM
Male Gadwalls.  Gadwalls are dabbling ducks—they ride fairly high in the water and  tip forward to graze on submerged plants that they can reach with their outstretched necks. They rarely dive. Gadwall sometimes steal food from American Coots.

flicker 11-8-2018 3-47-06 PM
Northern Flicker. Although it can climb up the trunks of trees and hammer on wood like other woodpeckers, the Northern Flicker prefers to find food on the ground. Ants are its main food, and the flicker digs in the dirt to find them. It uses its long barbed tongue to lap up the ants.

downy woodpecker 11-8-2018 3-24-54 PM
Downy Woodpecker. The Downy Woodpecker eats foods that larger woodpeckers cannot reach, such as insects living on or in the stems of weeds.

bluejay 11-8-2018 3-51-25 PM
Bluejay. I couldn’t believe the size of the acorn that this bluejay was trying to bury!!  Their fondness for acorns is credited with helping spread oak trees after the last glacial period.

Baltimore Oriole nest 11-8-2018 2-40-54 PM
Baltimore Oriole nest. Baltimore Orioles rank among the world’s most accomplished nest-builders. Female orioles weave nests that hang like pendants. You can spot these hanging nests most easily when the trees have lost their leaves. The female builds the nest in about a week, meticulously weaving long, flexible strands of grass — and adding in man-made materials she finds close at hand.

 

 

 

 

A Cold and Windy November Walk

November 8, 2018

Yesterday I ventured out to the Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery in Mattawan, Michigan to take a picture walk, but it was so cold and so windy (wind chill of 30 degrees) that a lot of the pictures I took didn’t turn out well. The wind was periodically strong enough that just holding my camera, with its very long lens, was a bit of a challenge. And, at times, I couldn’t hold it steady enough because I was just too darned cold! Of the nearly 600 pictures I took, more than half of them didn’t make the cut. (Even on a good day, though, I tend to take an excessive number of pictures–mostly because I’m still learning and I think maybe picture number two will be better than picture number one. It only becomes a problem, though, when picture 100 might be better than picture 99!!)

pectoral sandpipers 11-7-2018 1-55-42 PM
“Pectoral Sandpipers are a medium-sized, chunky shorebird that is found most commonly on mudflats with short grass or weedy vegetation and seems more at home in the grass than in the water.”

In spite of the cold and windy weather, I was pleasantly surprised, and happy to see so many different birds braving the weather along with me– the Killdeer, the Lesser Yellowlegs, the Pectoral Sandpipers, the Buffleheads and the Mallards were still out on the mud flats and the ponds like they were a few days ago, AND there was a pair of Gadwalls hidden among the other birds! They were well camouflaged!!

lesser yellow legs 11-7-2018 2-17-47 PM
The Lesser Yellowlegs were also in great abundance, but they tended to hang out more in the shallow waters rather than in the mudflats like the killdeer.

killdeer 11-2-2018 8-38-22 AM (2)
“Killdeer get their name from the shrill, wailing kill-deer call they give so often. Eighteenth-century naturalists also noticed how noisy Killdeer are, giving them names such as the Chattering Plover and the Noisy Plover.” LISTEN HERE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4u6ax5P-o8

lesser yellow legs 11-7-2018 2-35-37 PM
“The Lesser Yellowlegs is a slender, long-legged shorebird that readily shows off the brightly colored legs that give it its name. It is an active feeder, often running through the shallow water to chase its prey.”

GADWALL

gadwall 11-7-2018 3-05-09 PM
Here are the Gadwalls. Mrs. Gadwall is in the picture above and Mr. Gadwall is underneath. They were swimming on the far side of the pond in among the mallards and were hard to spot. “They associate with many other duck species, and on a quick scan you may miss the males because of their subdued brown appearance—keep an eye out for their black rear ends, white wing-patch (formed by the inner secondary feathers), and intricately patterned, not streaked or spotted, plumage.”

American Tree Sparrow 11-7-2018 2-58-40 PM
I managed to capture this one little tree sparrow all puffed up against the wind and cold–just like me!!

Late in the day, on my way home from the fish hatchery,  I decided to keep driving south another 20 minutes to the town of  Schoolcraft, where a fellow birder had said I might find flocks of Sandhill Cranes out in the farm fields—and I did!  Thank you Andrea Zinkus!

sandhill cranes 11-7-2018 4-22-32 PM
“Sandhill Cranes are known for their dancing skills. Courting cranes stretch their wings, pump their heads, bow, and leap into the air in a graceful and energetic dance.”

sandhill cranes 11-7-2018 3-58-39 PM

sandhill cranes 11-7-2018 4-23-53 PM
Sandhill Cranes make a very distinctive sound. If you’ve never heard it before, take a LISTEN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HeIMak-ohVk

sandhill cranes 11-7-2018 4-22-033

sandhill cranes 11-7-2018 4-22-17 PM
More displays of the Sandhill Crane’s many dance moves!!

sandhill crane with one leg 11-7-2018 4-11-48 PM
A parting shot. Take a close look at this Sandhill Crane. He only has one leg!!