Sunday, July 5, 2009

Happy 4th of July! - 04 July 2009

I can honestly say that I'm glad the month of June is over. I could've been convinced that it was called National Do Not Bird Month, since I failed to take a single photograph the entire month. Family responsibilities and a crazy work schedule prevented any chances to bird. So it was nice to finally get away for a long weekend here on Mackinac Island, MI with a chance to do a 'little' birding and photography.

Robin and I drove up to the condo on Wednesday afternoon with the idea of heading to Mackinac Island on Thursday morning. The drive north was uneventful, but an Osprey and Black Tern along the Dead Stream River portion of US-127 was a nice start to the long weekend. After dinner at Pearl's in Elk Rapids, we headed along US-31 to Eastport and then east on M-88 to Central Lake. Again, little in the way of birds, but I did see a few Grasshopper Sparrows and an Eastern Meadowlark next to White's Farm just north of Elk Rapids.

It was raining early Thursday morning, but I managed to hear a Baltimore Oriole outside the condo, and also picked up Common Grackle, Song Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, and Wild Turkey. After breakfast we headed north along I-75 to Mackinac City and Sheppler's Ferry service. We arrived just as the boat was loading up, so our timing was perfect. It was still cloudy and cool, and there was a chop on the Straits, but the ride was nice. Double-crested Cormorants, roosting on the lighthouse in the harbor, were the only birds of interest as we arrived.

We unloaded from the ferry and headed toward the Grand Hotel to have lunch at the Gatehouse Restaurant. Along the way we heard Red-eyed Vireos and Chipping Sparrows singing in the maples, and enjoyed the last of the flowering Lilac bushes. The walk to Mission Point Resort yielded numerous Cedar Waxwings, American Redstarts, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and what I suspected to be a Bay-breasted Warbler (but was another Redstart). Yellow Warblers were also abundant in the many trees and bushes lining the resort. It was still overcast and chilly, and skies would not be clearing until late Friday.

As we ate breakfast Friday morning and looked out over Mission Point I spotted a Common Loon swimming close to shore. A number of Common Terns were working the shoreline, so I grabbed the camera and headed down for a quick look-see. Small marshes dotted the shoreline and yielded several more Yellow Warblers, a Song Sparrow, and Common Grackles. Though it was still cloudy, I spent several minutes photographing the Common Terns as they flew against the winds and dove for unseen aquatic treats. Several female Common Mergansers were swimming and roosting nearby and offered a photo or two. It felt good to play w/ the camera again!

Skies finally started clearing around 7pm Friday night, so I grabbed the camera and ran down to the shoreline to shoot more terns. I spent better part of 20 minutes trying to track the birds as they flew erratically and dove for food. I shot several hundred frames with only a few keepers. Robin and I were then surprised to see a female Common Merganser arrive with 10 little merganser-lings! Absolutely adorable! We watched as they raced each other and attempted to feed below the surface. They (and mom) ignored our presence and played and swam while I snapped away. Too cute!

On Saturday we celebrated our Nation's Independence Day with breakfast overlooking the point. Skies were clear, and a cool breeze blew. With forecasts in the upper 70's it was going to be a perfect day. I grabbed the flash unit and headed down to the outside of our building where a family a Cliff Swallows had built a nest under the eaves. I also managed photos of a nearby American Redstart, and a few of several Cedar Waxwings. The Mourning Doves were also looking for attention.

We then headed into town to look for a media reader so that I could download photos to the laptop. I spent the better part of the afternoon trying to get the Impecca CBR85 to work, and finally managed once I swapped USB cords (the supplied cord had a short).

A late-afternoon Bocci Ball game on the lawn was interrupted by a wedding ceremony, so I attempted to soak my bare feet in the waters of Lake Huron. I forgot what a tender-foot I was since I had trouble walking across gravel/pebble/boulders in bare feet. And once I reached the water it was unusually warm. Still, while knee-deep in lake water I took several hundred more frames of the Common Terns as they flew by and fed just a few feet away. It was not until I was reviewing images that I discovered that they were feeding off of hatching mayflies. I managed to capture this one image of an emerging mayfly exclaiming "Alive at Last!" unaware of how short life can truly be....

On a slightly more technical note, I spent several hours studying my flight shots of Common Terns. One of their distinguishing ID field marks is the dark outer primary feathers that are not found on their look-alike cousins the Forster's Tern. These are the first four feathers of the wing tip. Some of the birds had 4 dark primary tips, while others had 5. Curiously, I found that the undersides of the first 5 - 6 primaries are dark on the same birds. Note that this is an extremely difficult field mark to see unless you're able stop wing motion, so other field marks like gray body feathers and dark orange-red bills are necessary to ID the birds. But seeing the dark primary feathers got me thinking whether I was seeing age-differences between individuals, or possible molt conditions. Either way, I'll be heading back to the water's edge this evening (Sunday) to take more photos, and follow-up w/ some research.

Saturday night culminated with a fabulous fireworks display downtown. Instead of fighting the huge island crowds, I hiked up to the top of the hill overlooking the city and set the camera up to photograph the fireworks display. Setting the camera to Manual, I took 4-second exposures at f/10 and ISO 200. Once the fireworks started, I snapped away frame after frame until the show ended. I was happy w/ my results, capturing a few dozen keeper images of the evenings pyro-display. It was also neat seeing other firework shows along the northern lower peninsula and Boise Blanc Island from our vantage point.

On Sunday morning I went to church at St. Anne's and sat behind Governor Granholm! That was kinda neat. The rest of the day was spent resting and walking about town. Wow, the place emptied out after Saturday night. I spent the later part of the afternoon shooting more terns, but clouds moved in and they moved out, so it was a bit of a bust. Still, great trip! And I was glad to be back photographing! Now, if I can get out to digiscope I'll be even more happy...


Cathy Carroll said...

Jerry, fantastic blog entry and photos of the terns. I was wondering what they were feeding on. I always have trouble with Common and Forster's terns. You give a very good lesson with the last tern photo. Thanks.

Charles Owens Gallery said...

Oh My...The flight shot of the common Tern about to grab a quick snack on the wing...OH MY MY MY

As I stand in the valley of photographers and look longingly at the mountain top, Is that Jerry I see reaching the summit...

Jeff Schultz said...

Really like the Tern shots! The first one is my fav!! We need to hit the Moo sometime!!

Kevin said...

Great Turn shots Jerry , + Fireworks!!
Shorebirds around the corner my friend!!


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