A Sterling Fall Day

We haven’t had many chances to enjoy fall due to a lot of wet, cold, gloomy weather and that crazy little thing called W-O-R-K. So when I saw the forecast was looking good for this weekend, I decided to follow the advice of Jerry at Quiet Solo Pursuits and check out e-bird to see where the birds are being sighted around southeast Michigan. I was pretty excited to see there were many species being seen at Sterling State Park a mere 25 miles northeast of our home.

Despite the fact that we were both up until after midnight last night (waayyy past our bedtime), Mark was willing to go on a morning jaunt with me. To make a quicker exit, I decided to forgo hair and makeup, stuck a Detroit Red Wings baseball cap over my wild hair and off we went.

William C. Sterling State Park is the only state park on the shores of Lake Erie. We walked the Sterling-Marsh trail which, according to the map, is 6 miles in length. (Just for the record, I’m not sure we walked 6 miles, but we did walk a long, long way.) Though the forecast had called for a high in the 60’s today, it was breezy and brisk near the shore of Lake Erie and I was plenty glad for my hooded sweatshirt. The morning started with sun, but the wind soon blew in plenty of clouds so the light kept changing throughout our walk. We began by enjoying some nice fall color.

A young tree blazing with color.

A young tree blazing with color.

The first lagoon we walked beside had plenty of sea gulls.

Ring-billed gull taking off from the lagoon.

Ring-billed gull taking off from the lagoon.

I have concluded that at this point in my life, I am not cut out to be a stellar photographer.  So, my photos are more for informational and illustrative purposes, and I’m okay with that.  That being said, I DID learn from my experience last month at the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (see my post on that outing here) and did make some adjustments as I shot today’s photos.  I think you will notice a decided improvement.  I even managed a few shots of flying birds!

We could see this flock of ducks way out in the middle of the lagoon, almost too far away for my zoom.  This shot is severely cropped, but it turned out to be a flock of (what I believe to be) ruddy ducks in their winter plumage.  Another first for me!

Ruddy ducks, winter plumage.

Ruddy ducks, winter plumage.

(Sorry for the blur, a result of all that cropping so you can actually see what the ducks are!  Like I said, merely for informational and illustrative purposes.)

There were some little birds flitting around in the brushy growth along the shore of the lagoon.  We waited and waited, hoping it would come out in the open so I could get a photo.  This is what I ended up with.  Typical for most of the small birds we saw today, with the exception that this one isn’t blurry as most of them were! 🙂

Camouflaged little bird hiding its face from me.

Camouflaged little bird hiding its face from me.

Before we started hiking for real, we stopped at the restroom at the boat launch.  In the creek next to the launch was this great egret.  Taking my lessons from the wildlife refuge, I changed my ISO so the white didn’t get blown out and was fairly satisfied with the result.  I’m still not great but at least I AM learning!

Snowy egret

Great egret.

Then the egret took off, giving me another opportunity to experiment on a flying bird.  This is a bit blurry, but better than some of my previous flying bird attempts.

Snowy egret taking off from Sandy Creek.

Great egret taking off from Sandy Creek.

The Sterling-Marsh trail goes between and around three lagoons with a long portion of the trail on a break-wall between two of them.  There was plenty of pretty fall color to see along the way.  I thought these berries were especially eye-catching.  Mark thinks they are snowberry.  Of course, the breeze kicked up just as I tried to take a photo, so I was surprised this turned out.

Snowberry?

Snowberry?

There were more small birds playing hide and seek.

Confusing fall warbler.

Confusing (yellow-rumped) fall warbler.

Species we saw that Mark was able to identify were black and white warbler, yellow-breasted chat, and golden-crowned kinglet.  Unfortunately, getting photos was harder than just seeing them with our eyes. (The photos of all of those were BLURRY!! LOL)

There was more fall color to enjoy.

Ahhh, fall!

Ahhh, fall!

A small yellow butterfly did its part to bring color to the day.

Pretty yellow butterfly.

Pretty yellow butterfly.

Sterling-Marsh trail is very popular for walkers, joggers and bicyclists.  I got so caught up in looking for tiny birds, I nearly got run over a couple of times.  I should pause a moment here and explain that even though we saw plenty of birds and water fowl, the walking trail is really not photography friendly.  The lagoons and creeks are rimmed with tall grasses and bushy growth, making getting clear shots very difficult.  I was so excited when we came to the center lagoon and saw plenty of waterfowl, but it was hard to find a place to get a clear photo.

I was nearly giddy seeing this pair of wood ducks – another first for me – but they were swimming away so quickly and there was so much growth around the lagoon, that I only managed a couple quick photos.  At least they turned out pretty well!

Pair of wood ducks.

Pair of wood ducks.

Pair of wood ducks.

Pair of wood ducks.

Aren’t they just so gorgeous?!

We could see a flock of mute swans at the far end of the lagoon.  Thankfully there was an opening in the growth around the bank so there was a clear view for photos. (I also stood atop a nearby bench for a better view.)  A couple walking past with their dog said the families had been there all year and that in the spring they were able to see the parents carrying the cygnets on their backs.  We will definitely want to go back in the spring!

Mute swan.

Mute swan.

Family of mute swans.

Family of mute swans.

Since the small birds – such as the golden-crowned kinglets – were uncooperative subjects, I took pictures of berries…

I love the rich red color of these berries.

I love the rich red color of these berries.

And the creek….

A very fall-looking view.

A very fall-looking view.

And the path….

Sterling-Marsh walking path.

Sterling-Marsh walking path.

And more berries.

Berries.

Berries.

This red-bellied woodpecker was a bit more cooperative.  He landed in a tree…

Red-bellied woodpecker.

Red-bellied woodpecker.

Then started looking for berries.

Red-bellied woodpecker looking for lunch.

Red-bellied woodpecker looking for lunch.

Finding what he was looking for…

Hey, berries!

Hey, berries!

He takes a bite.

Yum, yum!

Yum, yum!

I know that one is a bit blurry, but I liked it anyway. 🙂  You can tell how breezy it was by the way his feathers are blowing.

This is one of my favorite photos of the day.  I think it’s just a cowbird, but something about the starkness of the image really appeals to me.

Brown-headed cowbird in stark relief.

Brown-headed cowbird in stark relief.

Very Halloween-ish, wouldn’t you say?

Mark spotted two great blue herons perched in a tree over the creek.  I had to try and sneak through the trees to get a (somewhat) clear shot.  This is one of the best photos I took for the day, I think.

Great blue heron hiding from my camera.

Great blue heron hiding from my camera.

When that heron flew off, his partner stood up and took notice.  I still find it amazing how these birds perch on such slender branches!

Great blue heron ready to take off.

Great blue heron ready to take off.

Farther along we saw a small flock of mallards.  I know they are “just mallards” but I couldn’t resist a photo.  I always think they are such sweet creatures.

Mallard ducks.

Mallard ducks.

Later we saw three ducks together.  One immediately swam into the reeds, out of sight.  I’m not sure what these are.  Perhaps “just mallards”?

Unidentified water fowl.

Female mallard and blue-winged teal.

There was also a great egret perched high atop a tree.

Snowy egret.

Great egret.

Sterling State Park is wedged between the Monroe Power Plant to the south and the Fermi nuclear power plant to the north.  Not exactly the most picturesque views when you look at the skyline.  In the middle of the lagoons was this observation tower which was canopied by high-tension power lines.

Observation tower.

Observation tower.

This was the view from the top.

Rather uninspiring view from the top.

Rather uninspiring view from the top.

Kind of anticlimactic, huh?

Here’s another unidentified water fowl.  They all sort of look a like this time of year.

Unidentified duck.

Unidentified duck. (Possibly first-year green-winged teal.)

By this point we were starting to get tired and hungry and  set our sights on making our way back to the parking lot.  I stopped my fruitless hunt for tiny birds I can’t photograph anyway.  When we made it to the bridge between the north and south lagoons, I saw this double-crested cormorant.

Double-crested cormorant.

Double-crested cormorant.

Who doesn’t love a wooly bear?  Since he isn’t very fat, does that mean winter won’t be so bad, after all?

Wooly bear caterpillar predicting a mild winter.

Wooly bear caterpillar predicting a mild winter.

I got my best flying bird photo of the day, a Bonaparte’s gull.

Bonaparte's gull in flight.

Bonaparte’s gull in flight.

One of the reasons I wanted to come to Sterling was because e-bird had said there were dunlins spotted here in the past week.  I am STILL on my quest for dunlins.  We didn’t see any shore birds at all around the lagoons, so we headed to the beach where there was not a single bird of any kind, shore or otherwise, to be found.

Looking south down the beach.

Looking south down the beach.

If you look to the far right, you can see the smoke stacks of the Monroe Power Plant.

Looking north up the beach.

Looking north up the beach.

That point of land is all fenced off and the map says it belongs to the Army corps of engineers, so I just know there is something really interesting behind that tall fence!

If you look at the two photos, you can see what I meant about the weather – the top photo you can see the sun shining down on the water, the bottom photo, it looks dark.  They were taken only moments apart.  By then the wind had really picked up and it was downright cold.  I was more than ready to get in the car and get warmed up.

I know I put way too many photos in this post, but since I have so little to write about these days, I figured I’d better make hay while the sun shines.  Maybe I should have split this into two posts, but that sounds like way too much work.  Anyway, those of you who love me, will forgive too many photos, right? 😉

I hope you enjoyed this visit to Sterling State Park.  Have a blessed day!

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11 Responses to A Sterling Fall Day

  1. Bob Zeller says:

    Fun post and great photos. I love them all. But, not to be picky, your egret is a Great Egret, not a Snowy. I thought you’d like to know. I love the shots though. You are right, hard to get the right exposure on those whites. But they look good to me. 🙂

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  2. I still think that you’re too tough on yourself, shooting birds, especially the small one takes lots of practice.
    Your ruddy ducks are indeed ruddy ducks. The sparrow is a song sparrow or possibly a white throated. The warbler is a yellow-rumped. In the “Unidentified water fowl” image, the one in the foreground is a female mallard, the one in the background is a blue-winged teal. And, I believe that you’re “Unidentified duck” is a first year male green-winged teal. Great shots of the wood ducks, better than any I’ve ever gotten of a male! So, you’re photos can’t be all that bad, I was able to ID most of the birds!

    And, I love this post, as Sterling State Park is on my list of places to go on your side of the state, and now I have a better idea of what to expect when I get there.

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    • Oh, thank you so much, Jerry! I appreciate the help with the ID’s. That’s exciting that I saw a green-winged and blue-winged teal! Two more firsts for me!!! I knew that one in the background with the female mallard was not a mallard but I didn’t know what it might be. I need to invest in a better field guide for here at home, our nice one is up north. There was a third duck with those other two but it zipped into the reeds and wouldn’t come back out and I could have sworn it was a grebe because it had a short bill, but would those three be together, do you think? I guess it doesn’t matter since it continued to hide.

      Sterling SP is a great place for birds but it is NOT the quietest place on earth – lots of traffic noise from planes, trains and automobiles. Don’t go on a weekend in the summer because they have a huge campground that gets packed and the boat ramp is always busy. When we left the ramp area parking lot was completely full. The trail around the lagoons was very busy with foot and bike traffic. I want to go back in the spring if we get a chance.

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  3. kathydoremus says:

    Looks like a great place to visit. Love the picture of the Blue Heron – I have never seen one in person before. Glad you were able to get out and enjoy some beauty!

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    • Thanks, Kathy! It was pretty and a great place for birding. I am discovering so many cool places close to my home that I never knew about before thanks to my blogging friends who have encouraged me to open up my horizons!

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  4. avian101 says:

    Looks like a great place for birds for I can see. It makes a good habitat for all kinds of birds. Good bird shooting Amy! Thanks for the tour! 🙂

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  5. tootlepedal says:

    I did enjoy your visit to the park and especially the wood ducks.

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