Seeking Refuge

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.

You all know my soft spot for frogs.

You all know my soft spot for frogs.

It looks easy being green.

It looks easy being green.

Since it was early, there was still plenty of dew.  I thought this web was pretty awesome.

Dew-covered web

Dew-covered web

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.

White-tailed doe

White-tailed doe

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.

Unidentified warbler.

Unidentified warbler.

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.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

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.

Unidentified shorebird

Unidentified shorebird

Is it possible that is a lesser yellowlegs?

Shore bird

Shore bird

White egrets were everywhere we turned.

Great egret

Great egret

I attempted a photo of a flying egret.

Egret in flight.

Egret in flight.

Another great egret took off from the water and landed in this small tree.

Egret in tree.

Egret in tree.

We saw several pied-billed grebes.  They were really fun to watch.

Pied-billed grebe

Pied-billed grebe

Pied-billed grebe

Pied-billed grebe

Oh, and this sparrow.  Not a good photo.  I am hoping maybe it is a Savannah sparrow?

Savannah sparrow?

Savannah sparrow?

There were more shorebirds.

Bad shorebird photo

Bad shorebird photo

And another fairly bad shorebird photo.

And another fairly bad shorebird photo.

I was hoping to see a dunlin, but I don’t think we did.

At least this monarch butterfly posed nicely for me.

Open

Open

Close

Close

Open

Open

I watched a great blue heron flying. I’m still mastering the art of photographing flying birds.

Heron coming in for a landing.

Heron coming in for a landing.

It landed atop this tall tree.

Heron landing.

Heron landing.

Heron settling in.

Heron settling in.

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.

Northern shovelers

Northern shovelers

There was also this shorebird in the pond, perhaps a lesser yellowlegs?

Lesser yellowlegs?

Lesser yellowlegs?

Fall seemed to arrive overnight.  There was plenty of color in the trees around the cells.

A touch of fall color.

A touch of fall color.

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.

Downy woodpecker

Downy woodpecker

And another small warbler.

Unidentified warbler

Unidentified 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.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight?

Juvenile bald eagle in flight?

Juvenile bald eagle in flight?

Juvenile bald eagle in flight?

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.

Lake Erie shoreline

Lake Erie shoreline

We could see West Sister Island.

West Sister Island

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.

Ring-billed gull

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.

Great blue heron and great egret

Great blue heron and great egret

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Egret

Egret

Mark was impressed with the size of some of the cottonwood trees.  A photo can’t really convey their massive size.

Huge cottonwood tree

Huge cottonwood tree

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!

Unidentified bird...

Unidentified bird…

Yellow warbler?

Yellow warbler?

We did see a fox squirrel eating berries.

Fox squirrel eating berries.

Fox squirrel eating berries.

I liked this close-up, except for the tiny twig going right across his eye.

Fox squirrel eating berries.

Fox squirrel eating berries.

On our way out we stopped at the visitor’s center where this carving of bald eagles greets visitors.

Carved bald eagles

Carved bald eagles

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.

Napping raccoon

Napping raccoon

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.

Sailboat on Lake Erie.

Sailboat on Lake Erie.

Mark thought it looked like the hole in this rock was filled with blood.

It's a bloody hole!

It’s a bloody hole!

The only bird – besides Canada geese – was this one. Perhaps a yellow-rumped warbler?

Yellow-rumped warbler?

Yellow-rumped warbler?

A glimpse of yellow butt.

A glimpse of yellow butt.

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!

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11 Responses to Seeking Refuge

  1. Bob Zeller says:

    Oh gosh, when you said you put the “whole kit and kaboodle” on, I hope you didn’t mean you put all three filters on at once. Each one has it’s own use. Personally I never use the UV filter. The fluorescent filter is to conver incandescent lighting in doors. The best one of the three is the polarizing filter and I hope yours is the circular type. It has a double “lens” that you turn the outer one to achieve the desired result, and it is best used if the sun is coming from the side. I don’t think the sun hood had anything to do with the blurring. In fact, those hoods prevent those undesired flares that are caused by extraneous light hitting the lens. If you had all of those filters ‘stacked’. Well, there is your blur problem. 🙂

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    • Actually, I did not put all three on, but I did put on two of them, which was probably the problem. 🙂 The way the reviews made it look was that the UV filter was for lens protection only and then I put the lens hood on (it all screwed one into the other) and then the polarizing filter. When I took the lens hood off, I also took off the UV filter and just left the polarizing filter on, which is probably why the photos from the second half of the day were a lot better. All the reviews had said the hood was great for bright days, and we definitely had a BRIGHT day, so I was hoping for better results with the hood. It was surprisingly more heavy so I thought that might have affected things a bit. Live and learn!!! LOL Thanks for the encouragement and information, Bob!! I always appreciate you.

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  2. Welcome to my world. 😉

    The juvenile bald eagle is a juvenile bald eagle, the yellow bill alone is proof positive.

    I think that you have both lesser and greater yellowlegs in there somewhere. And, I think that the yellow warbler ID is correct, but I won’t venture a guess on the rest of them.

    I don’t know if the accessories had anything to do with your poor image quality, I would say that you were bitten by the “water bug” for lack of a better term. Shooting subjects in, on, or across water is extremely difficult. The sunlight reflecting off from the water drives the exposure system of a camera nuts to begin with. You have to adjust the exposure for almost every shot, as the slightest change in all the angles involved can make drastic changes to the exposure. Even if you get the exposure correct, your photos probably will not be sharp anyway. You’ve heard the expression “sunlight shimmering off the water”? Well, that’s due to the way that sunlight reflects off from water, especially if the water isn’t as smooth as glass. That results in what I call confused light being sent to the sensor of your camera, and confused light is bad light.

    The ways to overcome it are to get closer, not always possible. Get there earlier, before the sun is high enough to cause that effect. Or, find a way to shoot so that you’re not dealing with as much reflected light, like circling a subject that is closer to one side of the body of water than from where you first see it. I have thousands of bad photos taken over the five years it took me to learn how to shoot birds, it’s not as easy as Bob Z makes it look. 😉

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    • Oh yes, water + sun were definitely factors. There was water, water EVERYWHERE and the sun was very bright. (It actually got hot during the course of the day.) My first egret photos were all terrible because of white bird + bright sun = yucky photos. When I was trying to photograph the shovelers, I literally had a shaft of sunlight going right into my right eye. I couldn’t even focus on them. I was trying to hold my camera up with one hand and shade my eye with the other, which was darn near impossible to do! I was hoping to get there early enough to have some of that “golden hour” time but it was probably 8:45 when we got there which I guess was too late – especially since the viewing platform was quite a long hike away from the parking area.

      Unfortunately it wasn’t possible to get closer to most of the birds. I did sneak down to the edge of the pond with the shovelers but I think I was probably breaking the rules when I did so. 🙂 I knew I was too far away and the photo quality too poor to get good I.D’s of the shorebirds. At least I did see many new-to-me birds, even if my photos aren’t good. Shovelers, pied-billed grebes and the shorebirds were all new species I haven’t seen before.

      Glad to know I was right about the bald eagle! 🙂

      Thanks, Jerry, for all your help!

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  3. Bob Zeller says:

    One important thing I neglected to mention, that Jerry touched on is that the polarizing filter, when you learn to use it, can soften those bright sun reflections. I would recommend putting it on then going out on your back yard and experiment with it. And I must thank Jerry for that compliment on my birds in flight photos. 🙂

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    • I will definitely experiment some more. I certainly need to learn a lot more about how to photograph birds in the water with bright sunlight!! At first last night I was so discouraged, I was ready to give it all up but, but I am determined to learn this!! I can do it!!!! 🙂

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  4. kathydoremus says:

    Looks like a wonderful place! Thanks for sharing your day with us. 🙂

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    • It was really awesome. If you have a wildlife refuge near you, I encourage you to check it out! We had such a great day (even if my photos suck lemons :/ ) ! I walk every day but I’m a little sore today because we walked miles and miles yesterday!

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  5. tootlepedal says:

    Well worth visiting even if you weren’t happy with the shots.

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  6. Pingback: A Sterling Fall Day | 45 Degrees North

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