I got an unexpected day off Friday thanks to heavy fog that lingered throughout the morning, forcing our school district to canceled school. I spent a good part of my day doing laundry and toodeling around on the inter-webs and then decided to research an adventure for the weekend.
When Mark got home from work, I presented him with my idea of spending Saturday at the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, which is only about 30 miles from where we live, out near Sandusky, OH. Despite last weekend’s misadventure where I took us to the completely wrong city, Mark readily agreed to my plan. (I could say that last weekend’s misadventure is a “story for another day” but really, it is NOT.)
Back before we went on our Vermont vacation, I had ordered an accessory kit for my Cannon Powershot SX50. The kit included a UV filter, a polarizing filter, a fluorescent light filter, an adapter ring, and a rubber lens hood. After I bought the kit, I had second thoughts. I’ve had fairly good success with my camera so far and I was really worried about messing it all up, so I did not attempt to attach any of the filters or lens hood before our vacation. Well, I got the bright idea to put all the new kit on before we went to the wildlife refuge.
I am going to skip ahead here and admit that this turned out to be a HUGE mistake. When I got home and uploaded my photos, I could have burst into tears!!!! I took almost 180 shots during our time out and many of them turned out to be blurry, soft, out of focus and awful. So, prepare to be amazed at the fairly terrible photos in this post. 😦 But, more on that later.
I had read up on Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and nearby Magee Marsh and found that the refuge is home to many shore birds. Since Jerry at Quiet Solo Pursuits had recently mentioned that shore birds are most active early in the morning, I got up BEFORE 7 a.m. – on a SATURDAY, during the school year!! This is quite a sacrifice. When I peeked out the window just after 6:30 and saw there was no fog, I knew we were good to get on the road early. We packed a picnic lunch and were on the road just after sunrise. We did drive into heavy fog as we headed east on Ohio State Rt. 2, but thankfully we drove back out of it by time we reached the visitor’s center of the wildlife refuge.
I did not take a photo of the visitor’s center but I should have because it is a lovely, impressive three-story structure that is very “green”, built with many renewable resources and fueled partly with solar panels. I’m not sure what all they use that big building for because when we went inside the actual “visitor’s” part was pretty small.
We parked near a small shelter than had restrooms, picnic tables, and maps. We picked up several maps and brochures and then started our hike on the trail directly behind the visitor’s center. There was a small lily pond where we saw these frogs sunning themselves.
Since it was early, there was still plenty of dew. I thought this web was pretty awesome.
We hiked through the south wood where Mark spotted this deer. This photo is probably not good because a.) there wasn’t much light and b.) I had my white balance set for bright sun.
The entire area of the refuge is part of what used to be the Great Black Swamp, so there is plenty of marshy, swampy areas and small canals crossing back and forth. (They are actually able to control the water levels in the refuge.) Lake Erie is not far away and the huge Crane Creek runs right through the middle of the refuge. There are many pond-like cells throughout. I do not think I would want to hike here in the height of summer and mosquito season.
We came out of the wood near one of these pond cells and it was filled with great blue heron and great egrets. Unfortunately all the photos I took at this point were crap. We were making our way toward the observation platform that is located on a trail between two cells when we came across another couple with binoculars, camera and tripod. There were many small birds flitting in and out of the brush along the trail. This was the one useable photo I got.
If I learned anything during this outing, it is that I will never get good photos of tiny birds with my bad eyesight and my current camera. I simply cannot focus on them fast enough. (Also, I want to add that my field guide actually has a section dedicated to “confusing fall warblers”.)
As we neared the viewing platform we saw this heron perched in a tree.
I was so happy at the viewing platform to see several shorebirds. Unfortunately, my photos are not good. I am blaming the accessory kit but part of the problem was probably the very bright sunlight and the fact that the birds were fairly far away.
Is it possible that is a lesser yellowlegs?
White egrets were everywhere we turned.
I attempted a photo of a flying egret.
Another great egret took off from the water and landed in this small tree.
We saw several pied-billed grebes. They were really fun to watch.
Oh, and this sparrow. Not a good photo. I am hoping maybe it is a Savannah sparrow?
There were more shorebirds.
I was hoping to see a dunlin, but I don’t think we did.
At least this monarch butterfly posed nicely for me.
I watched a great blue heron flying. I’m still mastering the art of photographing flying birds.
It landed atop this tall tree.
As we made our slow way back toward the parking area, there was another small pond cell with a great egret and several northern shovelers. The cat tails were so high, I could not get a clear shot so I made my way closer to the shore of the pond. Needless to say, I was disappointed with these photos.
There was also this shorebird in the pond, perhaps a lesser yellowlegs?
Fall seemed to arrive overnight. There was plenty of color in the trees around the cells.
About this time, Mark started experiencing pain in his hip and back, so I couldn’t take as much time with photos because he wanted to get back to the picnic area and sit down. I did see a downy woodpecker.
And another small warbler.
Then I practiced on another flying bird. I thought for sure this was a juvenile bald eagle but Mark is not sure he agrees.
Okay, so they really aren’t good, but at least I am getting maybe a tiny bit better on flying birds? Maybe? No, probably not.
We got back to the parking area and had our picnic lunch. This is when I decided to take a look at my photos on the LCD screen of my camera and about had a meltdown when I saw how many of them were blurry. The rubber lens hood definitely added weight to my camera and so possibly this was part of the problem. I don’t know, I just know I decided then and there to take it off. But it was too late to go back and re-take all those photos. 😦
After lunch we drove up to Magee Marsh which is not formally part of the national refuge but abuts it. Magee Marsh attracts tens of thousands of visitors during the “biggest week in American birding” the second week of May. If you go to their (Magee Marsh’s) web site, you will see photos of people stacked six deep along the boardwalk for as far as your eye can see, trying to catch a glimpse of the many warblers that use the marsh during spring migration.
We parked near Lake Erie and walked along the shore a bit.
We could see West Sister Island.
West Sister Island is part of the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and has a rookery for great blue herons, great egrets, black-crowned night herons, and double-crested cormorants. There is no public access to the island.
It’s kind of sad to me that the best photo of the day was of a ring-billed gull.
We strolled a good portion of the boardwalk and I got a few fairly decent photos of a great blue heron and a great egret.
Mark was impressed with the size of some of the cottonwood trees. A photo can’t really convey their massive size.
Again there were many little birds flitting about but I was unable to get a good shot. Those stinkers love to stay on top of the leaves where you can’t focus on them!
We did see a fox squirrel eating berries.
I liked this close-up, except for the tiny twig going right across his eye.
On our way out we stopped at the visitor’s center where this carving of bald eagles greets visitors.
We had a nice little walk around their pond area. Mark spotted fur high up in a tree and asked me to zoom in on it. It looks like a raccoon was sleeping up there.
We left Magee Marsh and headed west on Rt. 2 toward home. Since it was only 2 o’clock and we still had a bit of energy left, Mark decided to stop at Metzger Marsh where we walked along the jetty/sea wall. There were plenty of people fishing off the peer and it was a good day for a sail.
Mark thought it looked like the hole in this rock was filled with blood.
The only bird – besides Canada geese – was this one. Perhaps a yellow-rumped warbler?
If you are up to the task, it is possible to walk the jetty all the way to Magee Marsh. We only walked a short way. The path was strewn with large hunks of gravel that were very hard to walk on and Mark was still aching so we only went part way, sat for a bit watching the lake, then headed back to the parking lot.
It was obvious from looking at my photos after I got home that removing the lens hood made a difference for the better. Needless to say though, I was still bitterly disappointed. I took the whole kit and caboodle off my camera and I doubt I will mess with it again. I’m not even sure I trust the polarizing filter. I don’t know, maybe I was just having a bad day. Maybe I had gotten “the big head” from so many of my facebook friends loving my photos. Maybe it was partly the bright sun, maybe partly the strong breeze. All I know is I still have a lot to learn and a long way to go. I also don’t want the poor photos to detract from the fact that we had a FANTABULOUS day.
I quickly fell in love with Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and will definitely visit again. Hopefully with better photographic results!
Sorry this was so long and so many (bad) photos. Thanks for hanging with me till the end! 🙂 God bless!