A Perfectly Ducky Day

Yesterday (Saturday, April 11) was unusual for two reasons; first, it was sunny! Mother Nature has been very stingy with the sunshine as of late, so waking up to a sunny morning was a very welcome change. Second, we had nothing urgent or pressing on our calendar so didn’t have to rush around. I celebrated this by having a second cup of coffee, a fact I would regret later on.

Mark was game for a little birding expedition, so I looked on the e-bird website to see what the local birders were reporting. Mark didn’t feel like making the 20+ mile drive to Sterling State Park so we decided to check out the Erie Marsh Preserve.

Erie Marsh Preserve is owned by The Nature Conservancy and has been undergoing a major reclamation project since 2013. We live, literally, less than 5 miles from the Lake Erie shoreline and according to Google maps, we are only about that distance from Erie Marsh Preserve. You would think that would mean we could easily find it. Um….no.

We never did find the entrance to Erie Marsh Preserve but in our search we stumbled upon a large watershed area between Lake Erie and I75. There was a convenient spot to pull off and a walking trail on a raised dike-like border around the pond. We were ecstatic to see the pond was teeming with waterfowl. On the south end of the pond on the other side of the dike was a large area filled with reeds and tall marsh grasses and then a bay that leads out to Lake Erie. This, too, was filled with ducks.

The first thing I noticed as we approached was a large bird sitting on a tree limb in the middle of the bay. At first, Mark thought it was a cormorant perched there so I took a couple of photos for identification purposes. After we got home and I loaded the pictures on the computer, we could see right away it was not a cormorant, but most likely a juvenile bald eagle.

Juvenile bald eagle (?)

Juvenile bald eagle (?)

That photo is cropped considerably.

I have had my Canon PowerShot SX50 for nearly a year now, and I truly love my little camera. But on days like this, its limits are painfully obvious and I long for just a “little” more powerful zoom. Waterfowl are NOT cooperative species to photograph and have a tendency to take off or swim quickly in the opposite direction when a human approaches. Needless to say, I was very disappointed with most of my images when we got home, even though I knew what to expect. Most of the time I knew I was pushing past the zoom limit of my camera and would say “this is just to help us with I.D.” So, please don’t expect too much of the photos in this post and be kind. 🙂

Along with the bald eagle, the bay side also had a good number of northern shovelers and blue-winged teals.

Northern shovelers & blue-winged teals.

Northern shovelers & blue-winged teals.

Blue-winged teal.

Blue-winged teal.

The entire time we were there, the pond was busier than O’Hare Airport, with ducks taking off and landing constantly. There were plenty of other birds flying overhead, too, which gave me plenty of opportunities to practice my “flying bird” photo skills, and I have to say that I can see definite improvement from six months ago!

One of the first subjects I practiced on was this bald eagle. I was thrilled the images weren’t blurry!!

Bald eagle in flight.

Bald eagle in flight.

Bald eagle in flight.

Bald eagle in flight.

There were four mute swans on the pond and every little bit, for some reason, they would get agitated with one another and chase each other. I got this shot when one of the chases was going on.

Mute swan on the chase.

Mute swan on the chase.

At other times, they were perfectly sedate.

Mute swan.

Mute swan.

There were plenty of Canada geese around, too, and for some reason the mute swans would get a bee in their butts at the geese and a chase would ensue. I was able to photograph a series of one of these chases, and was pretty happy with the results.

Mute swan chasing Canada goose.

Mute swan chasing Canada goose.

Literally a "wild goose chase".

Literally a “wild goose chase”.

Wild goose chase.

Wild goose chase.

In that series of photos you can see how close we were to I75 — I mean seriously we were right next to the expressway!  What’s funny is that right after this, they landed within a few feet of one another again.

I also had a chance to photograph a small flock of sandhill cranes that flew overhead.

Sandhill cranes in flight.

Sandhill cranes in flight.

Far from perfect, but if you go back and check out some of my photos from last fall, you’ll see that I’ve come a long way in the flying bird department! 🙂

About the only cooperative subject was this horned grebe, and even though I took nearly two dozen shots of it, I ended up with only one that is blog-worthy. :/

Horned grebe.

Horned grebe.

Horned grebe.

Horned grebe.

We also saw American coots.

American coots.

American coots.

And this pair of buffleheads were having so much fun diving. They would dive over and over and over again. It was fun watching them but unfortunately meant that I did not achieve good photos of the action.

Bufflehead pair.

Bufflehead pair.

When we had seen all there was to see at the pond, we drove to the lakeshore.  I grew up on Erie Rd. and it ends at the coal-fired power plant and the lake.  There is a small parking lot and access to the beach.  When I was a teenager, my friends and I would ride our bikes here.  Back then the beach was mostly strewn with garbage and dead fish.  Today, I was thrilled to see lots more birds!!

There had been many tree swallows at the pond, but I was unable to get any photos.  After we parked at the power plant, a swallow obligingly landed on a nesting box — just for me. 🙂

Tree swallow.

Tree swallow.

There was also a small pond of water where we saw more American coots and other waterfowl.  This photo is just to give you an idea of the large number and variety of ducks.

Ducks, ducks everywhere!

Ducks, ducks everywhere!

We walked along the beach where we saw plenty of cormorants and gulls flying by.  (This is about the time I was really sorry about that second cup of coffee, LOL.  No public restroom in sight!)  This rather alarming sign also greets visitors.  It’s stationed above the water outtake for the power plant.  People die here — this is a very frightening thought!

Alarming warning sign.

Alarming warning sign.

We went as far as we could going south so then turned and went back north toward Luna Pier.  There is a trail that goes through some trees and comes back out on the north side of the beach.  We found where all the cormorants and gulls were hanging out.

Where all the cool birds hang out.

Where all the cool birds hang out.

From this area we could also get to the side of the watershed area we had seen when first walking in.  I quietly snuck up as close as I could and was so excited to see redhead ducks!

Redhead ducks!!

Redhead ducks!!

Redhead and other ducks.

Redhead and other ducks.

There were also a lot of ring-necked ducks.

Ring-necked ducks.

Ring-necked ducks.

In these photos there is another type of duck we could not identify — despite using THREE different field guides.  It is the one that is light colored and seems to have a light-greenish head.  Anyone want to give me their thoughts?  Identification help is always much appreciated!

We had seen several belted kingfishers and I was hoping one would land in an opportune spot.  One did land near us, but not the best angle for a good photo.  I took one anyway, just to say that I did. 🙂

Belted kingfisher.

Belted kingfisher.

I was having such a grand time, I could have stayed watching the ducks all day!  But, we were both getting hungry, and we had an engagement party to attend later in the afternoon.  Going home was inevitable.  I got one last shot before we got in the FJ, of a northern flicker sitting high in a tree.

Northern flicker saying goodbye.

Northern flicker saying goodbye.

Overall it was an astounding day for me.  I lost track of the number of different species we saw for the day, many of them new-to-me species including the redhead, American coot, horned grebe, and bufflehead.  I was able to add 13 more species to my 2015 Big Bird List, bringing my total for the year to 54 so far, and this doesn’t include any of the gulls because I haven’t taken time to identify them yet.  I’m afraid there are some I forgot because I did not get photos of everything and I kept telling Mark to remember what we saw, but after we got home neither one of us was capable of remembering them all!  (That’s what happens when you get old, LOL.)  Next trip, we are taking a pocket pad and pencil!

Even if my photos aren’t that good, I’m glad I have them to help me remember our perfectly ducky-good day!!

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10 Responses to A Perfectly Ducky Day

  1. Congratulations on all the lifers, and your improving photography skills! The eagle in the first photo is definitely an eagle, not a hawk, more than likely, you’re correct in your ID. But, there is an outside chance of it being a Golden, although they don’t hang out around water as much as bald eagles do.

    Light ducks with a green head are more than likely goldeneyes, but it could have been an American widgeon.

    No matter how much zoom you have, or how long your lens is, you always want more! 😉

    Like

    • Yeah, and Mark doesn’t want to hear about it! LOL

      I was leaning toward my “unidentified” as being an American widgeon because of the shape of the head and the shape of the tail feathers and back wing tips. We realized quickly that many of these ducks were in the middle between their winter plumage and full breeding plumage, so that made it a bit tricky. Mark also wondered if the eagle could be a Golden, but there was a reason he decided against that after comparing against our field guides, but I can’t remember what that was.

      Thanks, Jerry! I’m glad you can see I’ve improved a little bit — mostly with your help!

      Like

  2. kathydoremus says:

    What a wonderful day! Lovely group of photos. 🙂

    Like

  3. Tiny says:

    What a great “ducky-day” you had! So many different birds! And flying birds are not easy to capture. I know… after shooting so much blue sky or tree tops without a bird in sight 🙂 You did really well!

    Like

    • I appreciate that, Tiny! That means a lot to me. Your photos are so wonderful and I’m really just starting to learn my way around my little camera. It was so exciting to see so many different species, even if I wasn’t sure of what we saw until we got home and looked at the photos! LOL My eyesight is not the greatest. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. avian101 says:

    I would consider that a very productive photo day. Good number of lifers. Nice Amy! 🙂

    Like

  5. tootlepedal says:

    How nice to find such a fruitful spot by accident….and to be able to use ‘wild goose chase’ as a title.

    Like

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