Saturday, June 11, 2011

Near Disaster

What the heck is this, you ask? Well, this is what happens when you set your camera and tripod down, don't pull one of the legs out all the way, and it tips over when your back is turned, smashing onto a tile floor.

We had just returned from the Kirtland's Warbler bus tour, and the rain that had dogged us all morning had finally come and it was pouring. I needed to get to my van so I could go get ice for my cooler and make lunch before the seminars began. I stopped in the hotel lobby to ask the T-shirt vendor if they had a bag I could put over my camera--I'd left all that stuff in the van. I had set the tripod down and turned to reach for the bag when the fellow said "Watch out!" and I turned in time to see it hit the floor. It made a tremendous crash, the lens cap went shooting across the room, and there was a sudden silence as everyone turned to look. I said something silly like, "That was unfortunate", picked the thing up, thanked the women who had retrieved my lens cap, and slunk out of the hotel.

So in the van I started looking over my gear. The camera seemed fine. My 300mm lens, however, was not happy, and that was one of the first pictures I took with it. I tried all sorts of different combinations, took the 1.4x converter off, tried both camera bodies, all with the same effect. I was mad. Never in 30 years have I dropped a camera. I also rarely use a strap or a tripod. Only now, when I took my hand off of it for a second, did I have an accident.

I cussed and swore and cried a little. I considered going home. I put all the gear away and sulked. But after a few minutes I got the lens out again and looked it over. I noticed something seemed loose inside. I gave it a good shake--what was there to lose? I hooked it back up to a camera and fiddled with it, and realized that the problem had something to do with the image stabilizer in the lens. After messing around with it, I got it to start working again. Whew! So I made myself a sandwich, ate a quick lunch, and went back in to listen to the welcome speech. I decided though to skip the first seminar, go get gas and ice, and then test the lens.

The hotel is right on the beach, so I took the camera down to the shore to see what was hanging around. First I saw this Spotted Sandpiper working its way towards the pier. I can see, looking at this bird, how woodcocks and snipes are in the shorebird family. The have very similar facial features.

As I moved closer to the water I saw a Kildeer, who spotted me as well.

It made a half-hearted attempt at the broken wing display then flew off. I looked for a nest or young birds but didn't see either.

I then turned my attention to the water where I saw a group of Common Mergansers. I had never seen the male before--my experience with them was always mom with chicks, at which point dad is long gone.

Satisfied that my camera was going to be able to limp along for the rest of the weekend, I went back into the hotel to catch the next talk, one on warbler ID. I was surprised to learn that there are 37 species of warbler in Michigan, and I ticked off in my head the ones I had seen. But there were many I had not, and one that struck me as particularly handsome was the Chestnut-sided. Ooo! I thought, I want to see that bird!

After the warbler talk I decided to skip the last seminar and head back to the campground. The big dinner with Don and Lillian Stokes of Stokes Nature Guides fame was that evening. I needed to get changed and regroup. I ended up taking a nap, but had about 10 minutes before I needed to leave. I grabbed my camera sans tripod and made the short walk into the woods. There, tumbling and spinning through the trees, was a female Black and White Warbler. I love the pattern on her tail coverts, it reminds me of the Empire State Building.

I also saw a Magnolia and Yellow-rumped Warbler, then spotted this young fellow in the tree directly before and above me.

A Chestnut-sided Warbler! I'm telling you, I need to wish for a million dollars, because here was the bird just a few hours before I was hoping I would get to see. And thanks to Roger Erikkson, who had give the warbler presentation, I knew this was a first year male--his chestnut stripe was broken in the middle.

And then, as if on cue, a breeding male showed up, his solid chestnut stripe and bolder markings showing the difference very clearly.

Dinner that night was fabulous, Don and Lillian hawked their new book, and I returned to the campground late and crashed. Rain moved in with some thunder, making for a restless night. I had signed up to take a car pool trip to look for grassland birds in the morning, and I wondered if I had enough rain gear with me!

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