My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Posts tagged “Hawks

Muskegon, December 6th, am I spoiled? Part I

This post is about a trip that I made to Muskegon on December 6th, and I have to ask myself, am I getting spoiled by all the somewhat rare birds that I see so often? Maybe the better way to phrase the question is am I getting spoiled by everything that I see in nature that few people get to witness in a lifetime?

Seeing a bald eagle isn’t as rare of an occurrence as it used to be here in Michigan, but how many people ever see seven eagles together squabbling over a kill?

Seven bald eagles together

Seven bald eagles together

Or, as in my last post, get photos of bald eagles, a golden eagle, snowy owl, snow bunting, rough-legged hawk, and a red-tailed hawk all in the same day, no matter how poor the quality of the photos were.

And speaking of my photos, I was thoroughly disappointed in the quality of them in my last post, except for the heron in flight, and most of the photos that will appear in this post.

Warning: One of my long-winded rants is to follow!

As you know, I’m planning to purchase a Canon 7D Mk II early next year, in hopes that it will improve my images. To make sure that I’m making a wise purchase that will actually help me to improve my photos, I have been watching some online video reviews of that camera. That may well lead to another rant, but I’ll stick to just one right now.

One of the videos that I watched was titled something along the lines of “Photographing wildlife using the new Canon 7D Mk II”, so I thought that I would find it helpful, not really.

It turned out that some guy who worked for an online photography magazine, and didn’t seem to know much about photography, joined one of Canon’s paid professional wildlife photographers with pre-production versions of the 7D Mk II.

They didn’t go to some wilderness location to shoot actual wildlife, they went to an animal ranch where they shot semi-tame mountain lions and wolves. They were out at mid-morning, with great lighting, and first a handler brought out a mountain lion and fed it treats to keep it performing for the photographers, who didn’t have to worry about bad lighting or the big cat running off. Next up, another handler brought out two wolves, and fed them treats to perform for the photogs, who were just a few feet away from the “wildlife”. The longest lens the photographers used were 70-200 mm.

I was thinking, that’s not the real world as far as wildlife photography that I know and do, any one can shoot good photos under the conditions that were shown in this video.

That video isn’t the only one that I’ve watched where the “wildlife” photographers were shooting in a controlled environment, another example is that many of the great images of raptors are shot at rehab centers for the raptors. The photographers can use a short lens, stick the camera right in an raptor’s face, and shoot away. They have the bird positioned for the best possible light and background, so of course they get great photos.

In fact, the more that I try to learn how the experts get such great photos, the more that I learn that most of them shoot in at least somewhat controlled circumstances these days. I think that I read or heard of one award-winning wildlife photographer being “busted” for having shot many of his images at zoos.

Well, I really don’t see much difference between shooting at a zoo, a raptor rehab center, or an animal ranch were trained wildlife is trotted out to perform for photographers.

So, the question is, how can I attempt to get photos of equal quality when I’m chasing totally wild critters as they go about their business? I can’t, although I’m always disappointed in that. I suppose that I’ll always be trying, even though logic tells me that it’s a losing battle.

However, that brings up something else, the dichotomy within myself. On one hand, I want to shoot the very best images that I can, on the other, I love watching wildlife in “action” and capturing those moments to share with others who never get the chance to see what I do.

Here’s an example of that, how many people have seen a bald eagle slip and fall on the ice? Watch the eagle on the far right.

Bald eagles one chasing a scrap of food blown in the wind

Bald eagles, one chasing a scrap of food blown in the wind

Bald eagle fall down, go boom

Bald eagle fall down, go boom

(Yes, I know that I used poor grammar in the caption, it’s from the old Tweety Bird cartoons)

Notice all the other eagles watching the one fall.

Bald eagle getting up after falling

Bald eagle getting up after falling

Missing from those still photos are the sounds that the eagles were making, I swear that I heard a few snickers coming from the others as the one crashed on the ice. ;)

Okay, that may be stretching it, but the eagles were very vocal, especially in this next sequence. In the flock, there was one adult, with the rest of the eagles being juveniles of varying ages. I think that the juvenile eagle with the kill was one of the adult’s offspring, and that the adult tried to chase the other juveniles off in this series.

Seven bald eagles over a kill

Seven bald eagles over a kill

Notice the postures of the other eagles.

Seven bald eagles over a kill

Seven bald eagles over a kill

Seven bald eagles over a kill

Seven bald eagles over a kill

The adult was using the wind to provide most of the lift to keep it airborne, it hardly flapped its wings at all.

Seven bald eagles over a kill

Seven bald eagles over a kill

It then let the wind take it backwards…

Seven bald eagles over a kill

Seven bald eagles over a kill

…where it made a very graceful landing on the ice.

Seven bald eagles over a kill

Seven bald eagles over a kill

Seven bald eagles over a kill

Seven bald eagles over a kill

I also had photos of the adult skating across the ice by spreading its wings and letting the wind blow it across the ice, and a series of one of the other juveniles attempting to chase the one with the kill away from the food. But, the question is, how interesting would people who read my blog find those photos, when there are so many of the same flock of eagles?

Another question is, how could I improve those photos? Well, I could have gotten the white balance correct for the conditions at the time. Those were shot just as daylight was providing just enough light to let me shoot those with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens), and the images were not cropped at all. I suppose that I could have cropped a little, but the main point was all the eagles together on the ice.

At least I got the white balance better on those than my first shot of the morning, an eagle flying over a flock of several thousand Canada geese.

Canada geese with bald eagle flying overhead

Canada geese with bald eagle flying overhead

In my defense, I had anticipated a sunny morning, so I had my cameras set to sunny for white balance, and didn’t have time to switch the setting in time to capture the eagle over the geese. All that ice didn’t help either, turning everything blue, I suppose that I may have been able to fix that with software, we’ll see in a few months. This is one time when setting the white balance to auto may have been the best choice, as I tried both the cloudy and shade settings, and everything still looks too blue because of the early morning light on the ice. And, since it was daybreak as I shot the flock of eagles, the light was changing rapidly, as you’ll see.

This is one of those bad photos that I love, the eagle with the kill decided that it had enough of the other eagles trying to take its food away from it, and took off hoping to find some peace and quiet. As all the other eagles were taking off, one was left standing on the ice watching the others as if asking “Hey, where is everybody going?”.

Bald eagles taking off

Bald eagles taking off

The eagle with the food was soon followed by two other eagles…

Bald eagles in flight

Bald eagles in flight

…then three…

Bald eagles in flight

Bald eagles in flight

…and eventually, the entire flock.

Bald eagles in flight

Bald eagles in flight

The one with the food landed, and the squabbling began all over again.

Bald eagles fighting over food

Bald eagles fighting over food

These next two images, while very poor, show how brave, or foolhardy, a crow can be.

American crow walking past an eagle

American crow walking past an eagle

I’m not sure, but I think that the eagle is the golden eagle, but the light was too poor for me to be able to make a positive ID. It doesn’t matter, either species of eagle could have had the crow for breakfast if it were a mind to. So, how did the crow know that it was safe to walk that close to the eagle?

American crow walking past an eagle

American crow walking past an eagle

I drove over to the Swanson/Laketon fields in hopes of finding some snow geese, no luck there, but there were four more eagles there as this poor photo shows.

Four bald eagles in a field

Four bald eagles in a field

I know that these four can not be part of the flock on the ice, there’s no way that they could have flown past me without my having seen them. Besides, I shot poor photos of one of those four flying past me, coming from the opposite direction of where I had left the flock of seven just a few minutes before. So, that’s thirteen eagle seen so far, the seven fighting for food, the eighth on the ice, out of the frame, the eagle with the crow walking past it, now these four. But still, no photos that I would consider to be very good at all.

While at the Swanson/Laketon fields, I shot my favorite silo to capture the mood of the morning in a HDR image.

Sunrise near Muskegon

Sunrise near Muskegon

The 14th eagle of the morning let me shoot a few better photos, this is the same eagle on the same fence post as in my last post.

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

You may be able to tell that I had to shoot with the eagle between myself and the early morning sun, and that I moved around, trying to get the best light and background. You may also be able to tell that it was a bit windy.

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

As I was shooting the eagle, a huge flock of starlings flew past, resulting in this horrible photo.

Starlings in flight

Starlings in flight

My only reasons for including it is to show what I saw, and when I returned to photographing the eagle, I could tell that it was unhappy about being upstaged by a flock of starlings.

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

Then, it gave me my best photo ever of a bald eagle in flight, sort of. These two have not been cropped at all.

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

Just my luck! This eagle has chosen a fence post that borders the county landfill as one of its favorite places to perch, and when I catch the eagle in flight, it’s with the landfill in the background, sigh.

That gets back to how I began this post. On one hand, I had eagles up the wazoo, up to fourteen at this point, and I saw plenty more over the course of the day. But, as the day went on, it was too difficult to keep track of which ones I had already seen, and which ones were “new”, so I stopped counting.

On the other hand, I saw fourteen eagles and got only fair shots of one of them, with bad lighting and background. I could have easily gone to the Blandford Nature Center, where they rehab raptors, and shot great images there without having to work for the photos.

I also tend to forget that most people never see fourteen (or more) eagles in a year, let alone one day, but that’s Muskegon for you. There are several breeding pairs of eagles in the Muskegon area to begin with, then, as the inland lakes begin to freeze over, the eagles that reside in those areas migrate out to the Lake Michigan shoreline so as to be able to find fish, their favorite food.

Some of you may remember a post I did a few years ago in the spring, when another photographer and I watched nearly three dozen eagles in action, fishing a small patch of open water on Mona Lake. I try not to become jaded, but after a while it becomes “Oh, another eagle, I want to see something new”. That’s probably a bad thing, but it does say a lot about the comeback that the eagles have made here in Michigan. It’s no longer a surprise to see one anywhere, anytime. It’s not even unusual to see several of them together any longer.

Still, the photographer in me wants far better photos than any that I have gotten to this point, and I tend to forget that it was just over a month ago that I shot some really good photos of two eagles.

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

Sorry, I had to throw that one in to remind myself that I do shoot good photos from time to time.

I know that I’ve done several posts along the same lines as this one, bemoaning the fact that the critters and weather don’t often cooperate in ways that would enable me to shoot better images more often. It’s also something that I struggle with as I’m choosing which photos to save and put into my blog posts.

I could put more emphasis on just posting very few, but higher quality images….

Snowy owl watching a bald eagle flying overhead

Snowy owl watching a bald eagle flying overhead

…for how many people have seen a snowy owl, let alone one watching a bald eagle soaring overhead. I deleted the photo of the eagle, as I’ve posted enough of them already, and it wasn’t very good.

I did shoot a few videos on this trip, the “goose explosion” in my last post was one of them, here’s another, of the snowy owl.

I removed the 1.4 X tele-converter from behind the 300 mm prime lens for that video.

Here’s the flock of eagles from earlier, as shot with the Beast.

All my videos seem to share three common elements, the wind, the sounds of geese honking, and the need for improvement on my part in shooting video. ;) Add a fourth thing to that list, most of my videos have been rather boring. All the owl did was turn its head back and forth, and the eagles were taking a break from their fighting while I shot the video of them.

However, that ties into my rant about wildlife photographers that shoot under controlled conditions, there wasn’t an animal handler just out of view tossing treats to either the eagles or the owl to keep them within range of my camera. I never know what’s going to happen, or when it’s going to happen.

Snowy owl yawning

Snowy owl yawning

And, when it does happen, the critter may be moving at the time, resulting in a slightly blurred image.

Snowy owl yawning

Snowy owl yawning

By the way, that was the second snowy owl of the day, here’s the first, shot at very long-range and cropped as much as I dared to.

Snowy owl on ice

Snowy owl on ice

So, am I spoiled? Yes I am! I live 45 miles from a place where I can watch over a dozen bald eagles, see at least two snowy owls, and all the other wildlife that I’ve posted photos of over the past few years. I’m not as spoiled as the “wildlife” photographers who shoot captive critters though, and I’ll probably never be able to match the quality of their photos.

However, I still have a long way to go in improving my photography skills. I try to analyze things that I did right, and things that I did wrong after every photo outing that I make, even my daily walks around home.

One thing that stands out about this trip is that I need to think ahead more, and be better prepared. I have two camera bodies, and two fairly long lenses, but up to this point, I’ve been using both set-ups the same way to account for the differences in performance between the Beast and the 300 mm prime lens as far as how sharp that each lens is at different distances.

One thing that I did right, when I first saw the second snowy owl, was that I shot a few photos in jpeg using each camera set-up. Then, since the owl wasn’t going anywhere soon, I switched over and shot RAW using the Beast for all the rest of the images, in anticipation of being able to edit my images in the future. What I should have also done was to set-up the second camera body to shoot action photos in case the owl had decided to fly away, which you know that it did eventually. But silly me, I still had both set-ups dialed in for portraits, so when the owl did fly away, I only was able to get one fair shot of it.

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

I was sitting there in my vehicle watching the owl as it looked around…

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

…fluffed itself against the cold wind…

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

…and did some preening…

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

..and I sat there just watching it, rather than getting ready for what I should have known was going to happen, leaving me with photos like this one.

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

If I had set-up the second body to shoot the owl when it flew off, I could have gotten a much better image, as I did here.

Northern shovelers landing

Northern shovelers landing

To be continued…..

That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Muskegon, November 30th, in a fog

This post is about a trip that I made to Muskegon on November 30th, and it will be relatively short. The weather report had promised a nice morning, with a front arriving during the mid-afternoon, bringing some rain. They were wrong, it was already raining lightly by the time that I got to Muskegon just after sunrise. Making things worse as far as photography, there was also a fog developing, which became so thick at times that it was hard to see the birds, as you will see. I did get the bird that I went after though, a snowy owl.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

But, back to the beginning of the day, two bad images of a rough-legged hawk taking flight.

Rough-legged hawk taking flight

Rough-legged hawk taking flight

Rough-legged hawk taking flight

Rough-legged hawk taking flight

Here’s a red-tailed hawk for comparison.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

I also shot these very poor photos of a snow bunting, which ticks me off, since this is the first time that I’ve seen one out in the open.

Snow bunting

Snow bunting

I tried the noise reduction software that came with my camera on this next image, it didn’t help.

Snow bunting

Snow bunting

I saw a number of bald eagles, and shot photos equally as poor as the ones so far, but one eagle did perch close enough to me for a few photos of it playing with its food.

Bald eagle eating breakfast

Bald eagle eating breakfast

You can see that the eagle had been banded (ringed), which I didn’t know still took place with bald eagles, since they have become so numerous around here. Anyway, here’s a uncropped image of the eagle moving so that I couldn’t see what it had killed that morning.

Bald eagle eating breakfast

Bald eagle eating breakfast

By the way, these were shot with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens), and as well as that lens performs in good light, in poor light, it doesn’t do well as you can see. One more from it, of the eagle letting me know that it didn’t appreciate being photographed as it ate.

Bald eagle eating breakfast

Bald eagle eating breakfast

I also had the Canon 300 mm L series prime lens set-up with the 1.4 X tele-converter on the second camera body, and used it for this one.

Bald eagle eating breakfast

Bald eagle eating breakfast

I have to say that the Beast produced images that look almost exactly as the scene looked, fog and all, but that the 300 mm lens was able to cut through the fog, and produce a much better image, most of the time. Later, I saw a golden eagle, and the 300 mm prime produced a sharper, clearer image, but the color of the golden eagle’s neck didn’t reproduce accurately, so I’ll I have use the ones from the Beast.

Golden eagle

Golden eagle

Golden eagle

Golden eagle

Golden eagle

Golden eagle

I even tried running an image through Photomatix HDR software to get rid of the noise, and for more accurate color, but it didn’t help.

Golden eagle, cloned HDR image

Golden eagle, cloned HDR image

That’s funny, the software not helping, because I saw this scene…

Foggy morning

Foggy morning

…and tried a HDR image of it…

Foggy morning

Foggy morning

…and Photomatix removed most of what little fog that the fog that the wide-angle lens had captured. I had forgotten that telephoto lenses make a fog look thicker than it is, and wide-angle lenses make the fog look less thick. Darn, I liked the scene as it appeared to the naked eye, with fog partially obscuring the silo and woods behind it.

You’re probably wondering if I was able to shoot any good photos, sort of, I got close enough to the snowy owl to get a few good ones.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

But, I made a mistake while shooting those. Because of the poor light, I opened up the aperture of the Beast so that I could shoot at a lower ISO setting. Then, to make sure that I got the owl’s face perfectly in focus, I switched from using the center focusing point to the highest one available on my 60D. The owl was ten to 12 feet above me, so I was shooting up at more of an angle than it looks in these photos. I was worried that if I used the center focusing point, I’d get the owl’s chest in focus but not its face. It did work great while the owl was perched.

I had shot quite a few photos of the owl, then stepped back a short distance while I reviewed a few images to see how well that they had come out. It was then that the owl decided to give me a great photo-op, by circling around me, which I completely blew!

In the first place, swinging the Beast around isn’t easy. In the second place, the owl was so close to me that I couldn’t get him all in the frame at 500 mm. To make things worse, do you know how hard it is to find a white bird against a white sky? And, to top everything off, I still had the camera set to use the highest focusing point.

I couldn’t figure out why the camera wouldn’t focus on the owl as it flew past me at first, then, I remembered the focusing point, and tried to keep the right one on the owl instead of keeping the owl in the center of the viewfinder.

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

I did get it’s far wing in focus, sort of. The camera didn’t like focusing on a white bird against a white sky very much either.

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

But, the real killer was this one.

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

I had the upper focusing point on the owl, but then, most of the owl was out of the frame. The owl had made a tight circle around me, landed in the same spot it had taken off from, but didn’t stick around long after. He took off for the far side of the field, and I was left to kick myself repeatedly for not getting better photos because of my stupidity.

You may ask why I didn’t switch the focus point as the owl flew around me, I didn’t have the time. The owl’s flight lasted less than 10 seconds, and I have to push three buttons to change focusing points.

Anyway, I did get very good shots of a great blue heron, although the first one isn’t that great. I was as surprised to see a heron still there, and the heron was surprised to see a human out on a day such as it was.

Great blue heron taking off

Great blue heron taking off

Two things about that photo, one, I didn’t have a chance to get set before I began shooting, so I missed the composition that I would have liked. Two, that was also shot with the Beast in the fog, why these came out so clear is beyond me, but I’m glad that they did.

Great blue heron taking flight

Great blue heron taking flight

Great blue heron taking flight

Great blue heron taking flight

The heron kept coming almost straight at me.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Needless to say, none of those were cropped at all. I only wish that the black drainage pipe wasn’t there, I wonder if I could Photoshop that out? ;) Those were shot at ISO 3200, the eagles at ISO 1600, there are times when I’m not quite sure why images end up looking as they do. The eagles at a lower ISO were horrible, this heron came out well.

Anyway, I also shot a whitetail deer running.

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

And, I caught two mature bald eagles having a conversation.

Adult bald eagles

Adult bald eagles

Adult bald eagles

Adult bald eagles

But, not long after that, I decided to pack it in and give up for the day, since the weather was going downhill even more than it had been. I did find another heron though on my way out.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Okay then, with the promise of better weather yesterday, December 6th, I returned to Muskegon again. All the way over as I was driving, I could see a bright full moon as it was about to set in the west. Guess what happened? Just as I got off from the expressway, the clouds rolled in for a few hours.

So, I got to the Muskegon County wastewater facility just at dawn, as I had planed, but instead of sun, I got cloudy skies. I shot over 600 photos, but I’m going to have to decide how many to bore all of you with that look like this.

Seven bald eagles squabbling over food

Seven bald eagles squabbling over food

As I sat there shooting the eagles, I got images of them threatening to pounce on the others, them sliding around on the ice, and one of the eagles falling as it slid on the ice, and so on. But, they were all shot in the pre-dawn light as the one above. I haven’t decided how many to use. There were actually eight eagles in sight, but one stayed out of the frame the entire time. No matter how poor the images are, it still impressive to see so many eagles all together like that, and watch how they interact.

I did get a snowy owl in better light, but wasn’t able to get as close to it.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

I also shot another video of the huge number of geese there.

I lost the focus about half-way through, but the sound is still impressive.

I guess that this one is finished, I don’t have much else to say that isn’t boring.

That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Muskegon Nov. 9th, 2014, shooting in the rain

This post is about the trip that I made to Muskegon on November 9th, 2014, and it will be a relatively short post compared to some of the others that I have done recently. It was cold, windy, and with frequent rain showers that day, hardly good weather for photography.

However, bad weather for photography often presents the most opportunities to shoot photos, a bit of a quandary for some one like me.

Since I began my blog, I have often shot the most interesting photos in really crappy weather, and I’ve often written that bad weather is the best time to observe wildlife in action. Critters have no choice but to continue to live as they always do during spells of bad weather, and with fewer people outside, I can get closer to the action than on nice sunny days when there are more people around.

So, to begin with, when I arrived at the grassy cells of the Muskegon wastewater facility, I stopped at the far edge along a drainage ditch to scope the area out to see if anything was around so that I wouldn’t spook it. As I was looking the area over, a great blue heron came gliding towards me, and landed close enough for me to shoot this photo, which hasn’t been cropped at all.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Apparently, the heron didn’t like the sound of my camera, for it quickly wound up for take off….

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

…but it didn’t go far.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

You can see the raindrops hitting the water in the creek, to give you some idea of the conditions that I was shooting under. And, given those conditions, I’m happy with the resulting photos, which were shot with my Canon 60 D and the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens).

How bad was the weather? This video that I shot later in the day will give you a better idea of what the weather was like.

Not a nice day at all, or a good day for photography! And, my talk about the weather isn’t just an excuse for the poor quality of most of the images that will be in this post, it also brings up why I’m drooling over one of the new Canon 7D Mark II cameras.

The 7D is a highly specialized tool, designed for sports and action photography in low light situations. It has the best weather sealing of any camera on the market today, and it has several other features that would have been useful on a day like this one. The super fast auto-focusing system, that works much better than my camera in low light situations would have been nice, as would its capabilities at high ISO settings.

But, the 7D is too much camera for most people, there’s no reason to spend what a 7D costs unless you’re as crazy as I am to be out on a blustery, rainy day, trying to shoot flying birds, such as an eagle coming at me carrying a dead mallard in its talons, and landing on a power pole.

Bald eagle with its kill

Bald eagle with its kill

The eagle looked at me…

Bald eagle with its kill

Bald eagle with its kill

…then at a flock of gulls approaching…

Bald eagle with its kill

Bald eagle with its kill

…and decided that it could find a better place to finish lunch than being mobbed by gulls hoping to steal the mallard from the eagle, or with a photographer shooting pictures of it…

Bald eagle with its kill

Bald eagle with its kill

…but it paused and looked at me as if to ask “Hey Mr. Photographer, are you getting this?”…

Bald eagle with its kill

Bald eagle with its kill

…and with that, the eagle was gone.

Bald eagle with its kill

Bald eagle with its kill

Bald eagle with its kill

Bald eagle with its kill

I’m under no illusions that a 7D would have produced great photos of the eagle, but there would have been a significant improvement in the image quality if I had been using it, rather than my 60D, which doesn’t handle high ISO settings as well as the 7D does.

I could be like most people, and stay home in bad weather, but I see the most interesting things when it’s nasty outside.

Later on, I saw a peregrine falcon go zooming past me, resulting in this terrible photo.

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

I watched as the falcon made repeated dives through a flock of gulls off in the distance, but none of the dives resulted in a kill. Then, I saw the falcon and a gull coming at me at a high rate of speed, too fast for me to get a photo. It was as they passed me that I saw that the falcon must have ticked off a gull, for the gull was chasing the falcon, rather than the other way around.

Gull chasing a peregrine falcon

Gull chasing a peregrine falcon

With a stiff tailwind, the gull did a respectable job of staying close to the falcon for quite a way, but the falcon’s speed eventually allowed it to pull away from the gull.

Gull chasing a peregrine falcon

Gull chasing a peregrine falcon

I see something as interesting as that, and of course it had to be on a rotten day to capture it. ;) However, that seems to be about normal for me, which is why a Canon 7D would be a wise choice as my camera.

That doesn’t hold true for most other photographers though, like I said earlier, the 7D is a specialized tool for sports and wildlife photographers. Some one shooting landscapes or portraits would be much better off with a different camera than the one that is best for the subjects that I shoot.

Nikon and Sony are way ahead of Canon as far as sensors, even the sensor in the brand new 7D Mark II comes up short against the cameras produced by the other two brands. That’s what makes choosing the right camera for yourself so tricky, it’s about more than the absolute image quality that can be recorded by the sensor. You have to be able to get the shot before the sensor records it, and that’s where Canon seems to have made most of the improvements in the 7D Mark II, with one of the best auto-focusing systems on the market today.

I went with Canon for more than just the camera bodies. In researching lenses, it was Canon’s lens selection that made me switch from Nikon to Canon, as they seemed to have the best selection of lenses that fit my needs. A camera body is worthless without a lens, and vice versa.

But, enough of that other than to say that just because I’m drooling over a 7D Mark II doesn’t mean that it is the best camera for you, it probably isn’t.

Back to the photos that I wished I had a 7D for, a male ring-necked duck in the rain.

Male ring-necked duck

Male ring-necked duck

The rain let up now and then, and during one of those times, I shot this series of a rough legged hawk.

Rough legged hawk in flight

Rough legged hawk in flight

Rough legged hawk in flight

Rough legged hawk in flight

Rough legged hawk

Rough legged hawk

Rough legged hawk in flight

Rough legged hawk in flight

I included all of those because they show the way that the rough legged hawks hunt, which is completely different from the red-tailed hawks. The rough legged hawks will hover over a spot, touch down, look around, then repeat that over and over.

The red-tailed hawks either soar overhead until they spot prey, or perch somewhere to watch for prey, like this red-tailed hawk.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

There were plenty of waterfowl around, but in the poor light that day, I didn’t shoot very many photos, however, since green-winged teal are a new species for me, here’s a few of them that I saved.

Green-winged teal

Green-winged teal

Male green-winged teal

Male green-winged teal

Male green-winged teal

Male green-winged teal

Male green-winged teal

Male green-winged teal

During one of the brighter moments, I saw a flock of tundra swans flying over.

Tundra swans in flight

Tundra swans in flight

Tundra swans in flight

Tundra swans in flight

It’s good to see so many of them, when they were close to extinction not that long ago.

Finally, three photos of a horned grebe, the first, just after it surfaced.

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Then, it spotted me.

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Then, dove out of sight.

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Okay, I lied, one more image to show how bad the weather was, a male bufflehead duck battling the waves.

Male bufflehead duck

Male bufflehead duck

You know it’s a windy day when the waves on the small man-made lakes are over a foot in height!

I shot one other video that day, it’s horrible to say the best about it. I think that I’ll post it anyway, for several reasons. It will give you an even better idea how bad the weather was. You can tell that the wind was buffeting me, and that I was not able to stand still in the wind. As it starts, it shows a large number of gulls soaring in the wind, but then, a flock of northern shovelers fly between myself and the gulls. At about the eight second point of the video, you can see that the ducks and gulls seem to take evasive action, and a bird swoop through the flock of ducks from a completely different direction than what the gulls and ducks are moving. It comes in the upper right hand corner of the frame, then exits out of the frame very quickly.

It may have been the falcon again, but I’m not sure, but something caused the flock of ducks to split apart as they took evasive action.

And, that leads me to the last thing that I have to say in this post. Once I purchase a 7D next spring, I’ll have three camera bodies, the 7D and two 60D bodies. I could sell one of the 60D bodies, but I doubt that I will. The 7D will be my wildlife body, one 60D I’ll use for landscapes and macros so that I don’t have to change settings back and forth all the time. Also, the 60D has the vari-angle display, that I love for landscapes and macros, the 7D doesn’t have that feature.

I think that I’ll keep the second 60D body set-up for videos, to shoot more of them in the future. As you can see, I need lots of practice at shooting videos. ;) It would help if things didn’t happen to distract me from my intended subjects as in the last video. I go to shoot gulls, a flock of ducks fly past, causing me to focus on them, rather than the gulls. Then, something causes the flock of ducks to split up and change directions, as all the time, I’m fighting the wind and trying to capture the scene and keep the fast moving ducks in the frame.

That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Muskegon Nov. 2nd, 2014 Ducks and raptors galore

This post is about the trip that I made to Muskegon on November 2nd, 2014, the same weekend as my last post from Pickerel Lake. It was the last nice weekend this year as far as weather, it’s been getting progressively wetter and colder since then. There’s a snowstorm happening outside as I’m beginning this post, and this one is just a warm up for the worse one predicted to hit tomorrow. :(

I went walking today, in the snow, and did some thinking. I took my vacation this spring towards the end of May. After the long, cold, snowy winter last winter, there were still snow drifts on the ground in places up north. When I went north the first weekend in October of this year, there were snowflakes and sleet falling, although it melted as fast as it fell. However, snow has been falling steadily here for several days, and covering the ground. That means that there only five months this year when I didn’t see some snow on the ground, and only four months between snowfalls. Yuck!

However, this post is about a day when we still had nice weather. So, with good weather and a wide range of species of birds to photograph, you all know what that means, a long post with too many photos. ;)

I’m going to start the photos in this post with one that I did wrong.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

What I did wrong was to go for a good shot of the heron first, then as an afterthought, shot this one that almost included the heron and a flock of northern shovelers that had been much closer to the heron.

Northern shovelers and great blue heron

Northern shovelers and great blue heron

Also in the same area, a female hooded merganser.

Female hooded merganser

Female hooded merganser

Next up, I spotted a pair of gadwalls swimming up one of the drainage ditches, and I was able to get ahead of them, hide in the weeds above them, and wait for them to get close.

Male gadwall duck

Male gadwall duck

You can tell that the male had spotted me, and the next photo was of him headed back behind the weeds. The female continue on for a few good photos of her, I’ll include one of them.

Female gadwall duck

Female gadwall duck

The male bolted, I got one bad photo of him in flight.

Male gadwall duck in flight

Male gadwall duck in flight

I only included that one because it does show his wing colors, even if he’s out of focus, and I haven’t posted many images of gadwalls.

Next up, a flock of northern shovelers with one female blue-winged teal for a size comparison.

Northern shovelers and one female blue-winged teal

Northern shovelers and one female blue-winged teal

It’s easy to tell the teal from the shovelers, she’s half their size, and of course she has a more petite bill. Here’s a closer shot of her.

Female blue-winged teal

Female blue-winged teal

And yes, that’s ice on the water, and that was a relatively warm day this November, as you’ll see later when I get to the shots where you can see the heat waves above the ground.

Anyway, here’s a scaup, I can’t tell if it is a lesser or greater, in front of a ring-necked duck. As you can see, they are close to the same size, and also in coloration. But, if you look closely, you’ll see that the scaup has lighter sides, and darker head than the ring-necked.

Scaup leading a ring-necked duck

Scaup leading a ring-necked duck

Sometimes it is easier to learn to ID birds when you see two species together like that. Here’s the ring-necked duck zoomed in and cropped more.

Ring-necked duck

Ring-necked duck

Bufflehead ducks are one of the smaller species of ducks, but they are chubby little things with short, wide wings, as you can see here.

Juvenile bufflehead duck

Juvenile bufflehead duck

Juvenile bufflehead duck

Juvenile bufflehead duck

By comparison, the northern shovelers look svelte in flight.

Northern shovelers in flight

Northern shovelers in flight

Switching over to raptors, here’s a red-tailed hawk.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

I had tried to get a photo of that hawk a few minutes before, but it flew off before I could get a good image of it. So, it surprised me when it landed even closer to me than it had been before. I told it I had been hoping for an eagle.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

So, it did its best eagle impersonation for me.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Switching gears again, this time to songbirds, here’s an American pipit with a blue-winged teal in the background.

American pipit

American pipit

But, I found the teal distracting, so the pipit hung around until the teal was gone.

American pipit

American pipit

Don’t you just love it when the birds cooperate? Speaking of which, I think that this is my best shot of a ruddy duck so far.

Female ruddy duck

Female ruddy duck

I caught her just as she surfaced with a mouthful of food.

I have a still photo of northern shovelers feeding, but, I have also shot a much better video than the one that I had in my last post from Muskegon. In that one, the sound of the IS system in the 300 mm prime lens was all that you could hear. In this one, you can hear the shovelers, since I used the 70-200 mm lens, which has no stabilization system. The shovelers are filter feeders, their bills have about 110 fine projections (called lamellae) along the edges, for straining food from water, and you can hear them this time.

I was hoping that they would get into one of their feeding frenzies, but no such luck.

Not all the birds were so cooperative, I think that this male bufflehead was doing the duck equivalent of flipping me off.

Male bufflehead duck

Male bufflehead duck

Especially by the way he smirked at me over his shoulder as he and his buddy were swimming away from me.

Male bufflehead duck

Male bufflehead duck

Here’s an American coot for the record.

American coot

American coot

The Wilson’s snipe was still hanging around, in nearly the same spot as the last time.

Wilson's snipe

Wilson’s snipe

While I was watching the snipe, hoping it would move to a more photogenic area, I spotted a real prize, a male green-winged teal in breeding plumage.

Male green-winged teal

Male green-winged teal

Male green-winged teal

Male green-winged teal

Yes! Another species I can cross off my list of species that I need photos of.

A short while later, I saw an approaching hawk, but I could tell that it wasn’t a red-tailed.

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

It was a rough-legged hawk, as you can probably tell from the caption. ;)

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

From where I saw that hawk, to the grassy cells, is well over a mile, but when I got to the grassy cells, I found what had to be another rough-legged hawk. It would hover for a while, drop down, touch the ground, then immediately take off again.

Rough-legged hawk

Rough-legged hawk

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

You can see the heat waves rising from the ground in these shots, as well as this one, which I shot at the same time, but in another direction.

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Three species of hawks in one day, even if the photos aren’t great, not a bad day.

So, with the atmospheric conditions getting worse, I tried to get closer to my subjects. Here’s a great blue heron modeling the latest in leggings for herons.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

While I was watching that heron, another landed on the slope above the first.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

I think that the second one showed up to distract me as the first one caught something to eat.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

And, as the first heron finished swallowing its catch, the second one flew off, so I missed the action shots.

How many species am I up to in this post? I’ve lost count, but, time to add another, a greater yellowlegs.

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

In my last post from Muskegon, I jumped ahead and posted a video of Canada geese flying past me, well, here’s the first wave of the geese as they took flight.

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

It was as the second wave flew past me that I got the idea to shoot the video in the other post.

Time to add another species to the list for today, a horned grebe.

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

I spotted to adult eagles in a tree ahead of me as I was driving past the lagoons, but when I got there, some one else had exited their vehicle and was trying to sneak up on the eagles. That doesn’t work, so I knew that the eagles wouldn’t be there long. I slid my Forester around, got into position as one eagle took flight, and managed to get one shot of the eagle still perched.

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

I hadn’t had time to get a good focus on the eagle, and I still hadn’t as it leapt into the air.

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

I did finally get a good focus lock on the eagle.

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

One more, just because it’s an eagle.

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

I was lucky there, when the other person spooked the eagle, it launched almost straight at me at first. Now I know what an eagle’s prey sees!

My best photo of a juvenile bufflehead ever.

Juvenile bufflehead duck

Juvenile bufflehead duck

A photo of one of the rough-legged hawks perched for a change.

Rough-legged hawk

Rough-legged hawk

And, a red-tailed hawk nearby to compare to the rough-legged hawk.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

I headed back to where I had seen the green-winged teal earlier, hoping that they were in a better spot for photos. I shot these mallards there, yet another species to add to the list for the day.

Mallards in the sun

Mallards in the sun

The teal were still there, but not for long, here’s a male on take off.

Male green-winged teal

Male green-winged teal on take off

Male green-winged teal in flight

Male green-winged teal in flight

The female teal which had jumped into the air first, caught and passed the male.

Green-winged teal in flight

Green-winged teal in flight

But, I wasn’t able to catch their distinctive green wing patches, darn, better luck next time.

Should I include another heron? What the heck, why not.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

I found the gadwalls again.

Female gadwall duck

Female gadwall duck

Male gadwall duck

Male gadwall duck

That’s it from the wastewater facility. Since I wasn’t seeing anything new, I drove the length of Muskegon Lake to visit Pere Marquette Park for the next few photos, starting with an inquisitive ring-billed gull.

Ring-billed gull

Ring-billed gull

I was going to walk down the breakwater, but it was a bit chilly to get splashed on.

The south breakwall at Muskegon

The south breakwater at Muskegon

So, I watched some kite surfers for a while instead.

Kite surfers

Kite surfers

Other than the gulls, there were no birds to photograph, so I looked for other things.

Lichens

Lichens

Lichens

Lichens

The flag flying over the Muskegon Coast Guard Station…

American flag in the wind

American flag in the wind

…makes a fitting prelude to my next photo. Long time readers of my blog have seen this before, but with many new readers, it’s time to post photos of the USS Silversides again. The Silversides is a World War II era submarine docked in Muskegon at the Great Lakes Naval Memorial & Museum. She sank the second highest total tonnage of any sub during WW II, and is now a floating museum, after having been used as a training ship after the war.

Uss Silversides

USS Silversides

The conning tower of the USS Silversides

The conning tower of the USS Silversides

The old girl still looks pretty good for being almost 75 years old and having sustained heavy battle damage several times during the war!

Well, another day done, and a fine day it was. I could prattle on longer, but I won’t, this post is long enough already. So, I’ll just say that this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Millennium Park, October 11th, 2014

Kent County’s Millennium Park is a unique, ambitious project to reclaim 1,500 acres of heavily used land for public recreation. It is the largest park close to where I live, and a good spot for birding. I’ve been there a couple of times before, so I won’t go into great detail about the park in this post.

I did check the online maps before I went though, and had decided to check out a different section of the park to start my day there. When I arrived, I couldn’t find the parking lot for that section of the park, so I parked along the road to do a quick check of that section.

I had just started down the trail, when I spotted a tiny raptor crossing the sky above me, but I was too slow to get a shot of it. As I was looking around, hoping that the unknown raptor would appear again, I saw this squirrel laying flat on the crossbar of a power pole. I thought it strange for a squirrel to be out there in the open with no food around, and when the squirrel started moving, I found out why it was acting so strangely, it was drunk.

Drunken fox squirrel

Drunken fox squirrel

It must have been eating fermented berries and not feeling very well. ;)

A few feet later, a cedar waxwing that posed for me, but in a shadow.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

The trail I was on looped around a small pond drained by a small creek. As I was walking near the creek, I heard something crashing through the brush on the other side of the creek. I caught a glimpse of a deer, and managed to get to a relatively open spot before the deer to wait for it.

Young whitetail buck

Young whitetail buck

The was the second of two shots the bucks stood for before he took off back into the thick stuff. But, that was enough to convince me that I needed to spend more time in the area, and that I should find a better place to park than along the road. I paused along the way for this flower.

Unidentified flowering object

Unidentified flowering object

And, the drunken squirrel had made it to the top of the power pole.

Drunken fox squirrel

Drunken fox squirrel

That seemed like a poor place to sober up, for there was a red-tailed hawk perched near my Subaru when I returned to it.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

And, after I found a parking lot on the other end of that part of the park, as soon as I started down the trail, I found another hawk, this one was hiding.

Red-tailed hawk hiding

Red-tailed hawk hiding

I know, far from my best hawk photos, but I still thought it strange for the drunken squirrel to be on top of the power pole with so many hungry predators all around it.

Next up, a species of bird that I find it very hard to get a good shot of, a brown creeper.

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

Not only are they always on the move…

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

…they stay on the shady side of trees for the most part…

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

…and their color blends in well with tree bark. I must have worn this one out, for it perched behind a few leaves and actually stayed there.

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

I watched for quite a while, waiting for it to come out into the open, but it didn’t move until I tried to get a good angle on it so there wouldn’t be the leaves in the way, then it was gone.

Next up, a monarch butterfly. I shot a few images of it with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens)…

Monarch butterfly on asters

Monarch butterfly on asters

..then, I started to walk away, since I have posted too many photos of monarchs lately. But, I made myself go back, switch to the second camera body with the Tokina macro lens on it, and shoot way too many more photos of the butterfly.

Monarch butterfly on asters

Monarch butterfly on asters

Monarch butterfly on asters

Monarch butterfly on asters

I have many more, but I won’t bore you with all of them now, I’ll dole them out over several posts.

The part of the park I was walking in was a newer addition to the park overall, and the trails didn’t go far. So, I headed over to the core of Millennium Park to check that out.

It wasn’t long before I managed a shot of a white-crowned sparrow.

White-crowned sparrow

White-crowned sparrow

I got to the narrow isthmus of land between two man-made lakes and spent some time watching the double crested cormorants that perch on the far side of one of the lakes.

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

Well, that one isn’t perched, but these two were squabbling over a choice perch.

Double crested cormorants

Double crested cormorants

There was a pair of mute swans.

Mute swans

Mute swans

Then, I spotted two small birds flying up into the trees near the cormorants, pausing for a while, then swooping down to catch something.

Merlin

Merlin

They were merlins, a lifer for me, or at least I suspected that they were. This image isn’t great, but it does help me nail down my identification of the pair of falcons as merlin.

Merlin in flight

Merlin in flight

The checkerboard pattern under the wings confirms my hunch, along with their small size. Another lifer on my list!

While I was shooting more photos of the merlin, a cormorant came crashing into a tree.

Double crested cormorant crashing

Double crested cormorant crashing

I am happy to report that the cormorant survived the crash, but it was touch and go there for a few seconds. ;)

Anyway, here’s a wide view of the far end of the lake.

Lake at Milennium Park

Lake at Millennium Park

That one, and the next few photos were all shot with my newer 10-18 mm lens, more for practice than anything else. I say practice, because I’m still not very good at being able to tell what an image shot from my two short lenses will look like when I view them full size on the computer. But, I’ll go into more detail on that in a later post. I thought that this oak tree would be a piece of cake, but other than capturing its color, it really isn’t a good photo.

Early oak colors

Early oak colors

In almost every review that I’ve seen of the 10-18 mm lens, they included an image shot with the lens pointed almost directly at the sun, and I’ve been amazed by the photos. I assumed that they had been doctored, now, I’m not so sure. The blown out area in the top center of this photo is from the sun, but somehow, the rest of the image came out very well as far as the exposure.

Into the sun

Into the sun

Arriving at an old railroad trestle that has been converted into a walking/cycling bridge over the Grand River, I shot this one. There’s very little barrel or other distortion that normally comes with lower cost super wide-angle lenses. I almost wish that the lens had a little distortion, so you could tell that I was using a 10 mm lens. ;)

Old railroad trestle

Old railroad trestle

The subject matter, the Grand River, isn’t great in these next two, but I’m happy with how they turned out, which is better than what the scene looked to the naked eye. The green leaves looked dull and washed out in real life, The lens and camera deepened the colors and added some contrast.

The Grand River looking upstream

The Grand River looking upstream

The Grand River looking  downstream

The Grand River looking downstream

Just a short distance from the bridge, I hit a bird bonanza, all of these were shot as I stood in one place.

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

Female downy woodpecker

Female downy woodpecker

Female downy woodpecker

Female downy woodpecker

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse in flight

Tufted titmouse in flight

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

This red squirrel was on the other side of the trail and must have been there in the open the entire time I was shooting birds.

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

I decided to take a few steps closer and then crop this image.

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

As you can probably tell, it was a fantastic day, I think the red squirrel was sitting there soaking up the autumn sun. It isn’t often that one sits still for very long. Speaking of not sitting still….

Juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

…I tried for some time to get a good shot of the sapsucker, but most of them looked like this.

Juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

The sapsucker would not sit for me to get a good photo. But, a little farther down the trail, I spied a yellow-rumped warbler feeding on berries….

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

…the warbler spotted me…

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

…and struck a pose for me.

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

But, the wind moved something around which either change the exposure, or was between myself and the warbler, which is why the last one looks a bit odd. Things worked out okay, the warbler moved to a better spot for this one.

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

This next one was another short lens practice shot, but I think that it marks a change in the way that I shoot landscapes, even though it’s a ho-hum photo.

Reflections

Reflections

When I first got to where I shot that one, there were ripples on the water from the wind, and there were reflections of the clouds obscuring the reflections of the trees. That didn’t stop me from shooting several poor photos though. Then, I stopped to think about what I was doing, and what I wanted the scene to look like in an image. I waited for the wind to die down, and for the clouds to move so their reflections weren’t mixed with the reflections of the trees, and I’m actually happy with the way that one came out. The subject isn’t special, but that image is a huge improvement over the first few images I shot there. It could be that there is some hope for me yet. ;)

Next up, a song sparrow that paused for a photo…

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

…before hopping down to the ground to eat.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

I got back to where the cormorants hang out, and decided to get some practice shooting flying birds.

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

This one was directing traffic.

Double crested cormorant

Double crested cormorant

There were a few turtles watching the cormorants.

Turtles

Turtles

Two more flight photos.

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

On my way back to my car, I got this juvenile pied-billed grebe.

Pied-billed grebe

Pied-billed grebe

If its head and bill look too large for its body, it’s because the grebe was already beginning to sink into the water to hide from the big bad photographer. ;) A grebe’s first choice is to dive away from danger, their second choice is to run across the surface of the water. They only fly when they are forced to because the first two options won’t do.

To wrap this one up, a shot of the other grebes close to where the one above was, but these were on the other side of the lake, frolicking in the late afternoon sun.

Pied-billed grebes

Pied-billed grebes

A great day to be outside, the merlin were a lifer for me, and a good selection of other birds to photograph, what more could I ask for?

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Muskegon trip September 21st, 2014

This post is about the trip that I made to Muskegon on September 21st, 2014. Since I had been to Muskegon the week before, I was going to skip a week, but I’m glad that I didn’t, for I was able to get two lifers on this trip.

The reason that I decided to go again this week was the weather, the forecast called for scattered rain showers and a stiff northwest wind, and that’s what we got. I had considered going for a hike, as the weather doesn’t bother me that much, but I don’t want to take any chances with my camera gear. The good thing about the Muskegon County wastewater treatment facility is that you can do your birding by vehicle if you want.

In fact, the first few times that I went there, I thought that drive-by birding was the only way to get close to birds there. The birds are used to vehicles moving slowly along the roads and two-tracks, but they would instantly flush if I stepped out of my car. I have since learned how to stalk the birds using the bits of vegetation, rocks, and other obstructions as cover.

The weather meant that most of my early photos aren’t very good, but bad weather often means good birding, especially early in the morning. I arrived just after dawn, and it was raining as I drove to the area known as the grassy cells. On my way, a small falcon flew past me, I was hoping that it was a merlin, but it turned out to be a kestrel.

American kestrel

American kestrel

I never noticed this before, but their markings make it look as if they have eyes in the back of their heads.

American kestrel

American kestrel

Kestrels are about the same size as a dove, so you’ll have to excuse the poor quality of those photos, taken in low light while it was raining.

Just as I arrived at the grassy cell that I had planned at starting at, the rain let up, although the wind was still quite fierce. Just as I had hoped, that cell was full of shorebirds of many species. I’ll start with a juvenile black-bellied plover.

Juvenile black-bellied plover

Juvenile black-bellied plover

Juvenile black-bellied plover

Juvenile black-bellied plover

I may have identified them as juvenile golden plovers in my last post, I’ll have to go back and check. The differences between the species are slight, as with many shorebirds. But, speaking of golden plovers, one of the adults came running towards me and got so close to me that these images were only cropped for composition.

American golden plover

American golden plover

American golden plover

American golden plover

As I was shooting those, I noticed a pair of Wilson’s snipe coming out of a clump of reeds where they had been taking cover from the weather.

Wilson's snipe

Wilson’s snipe

There’s quite a bit of difference in the coloration of the two snipe, I wasn’t sure if they were the same species or not, so I shot many photos of each of them just in case. ;)

Wilson's snipe

Wilson’s snipe

Wilson's snipe

Wilson’s snipe

Wilson's snipe

Wilson’s snipe

Wilson's snipe

Wilson’s snipe

Wilson's snipe

Wilson’s snipe

I had been looking for them all summer long, but it turns out that I was arriving far too late to catch them out in the open. Snipe feed at dawn and dusk, and sleep most of the day. They were lifer number one.

Since I was there, and this greater yellowlegs was there, I shot a few photos of it.

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

It soon began to rain again, so I drove around, checking on what species of birds were where, so that I could come back later for photos. It was while I was driving that I spotted the second lifer for the day, a green-winged teal in with a small flock of blue-winged teal.

I have to ask you to excuse the quality of these photos again. There are a number of reasons for the poor quality of these. I spotted the teal while I was driving, but knew that they would likely flush as soon as my vehicle stopped moving. My Subaru has power windows, so I hit the down button with my left hand as I was grabbing my camera with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) on it with my right hand. Trying to manuever a lens that long inside of a car is not easy! But, I got it shifted to my left hand as the window was coming down, and shut the ignition of my Subaru off with my right hand. As I expected, the teal flushed, meaning that I had to shoot them in flight from within my vehicle. It was still raining also.

Blue-winged teal in front, green-winged teal following

Blue-winged teal in front, green-winged teal following

Blue-winged teal sometimes show patches of green on their wings, so I wasn’t 100% sure that the second teal was a green-winged, but the smaller size and lighter belly, tell me that it was.

Green-winged teal in flight

Green-winged teal in flight

That’s barely good enough for me to use in the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on, but I hope that the photos I got break the ice so to speak. I’ll save the photos of the teal for now, and hope to replace them with better ones, like males of the species in their full breeding plumage.

Next up, another terrible photo.

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

I didn’t expect the eagle to be there, it was busy choosing from the brunch menu as I shot that photo through the windshield of my car. As soon as I opened the door to step out for a better photo, the eagle took flight, as did most of the waterfowl and gulls that the eagle had been watching.

Just a few ducks

Just a few ducks

By the way, the eagle chose ring-billed gull for brunch, but I missed that photo, and one of the eagle carry the gull off to a place where it wouldn’t be bothered by photographers.

I drove back to the grassy cells during a break in the rain and the sky lightened up a little. On my way, I shot a few herons.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Earlier this year, it was rare for me to see a great blue heron, even in the Muskegon area, there’s no lack of them now.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

You would think that when I saw this….

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

…that I’d be ready for this…

Great blue heron leaping into flight

Great blue heron leaping into flight

…and possibly, even this.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

I don’t know if the heron didn’t see me or what, but it was angling towards me at first, then made that sudden turn away from me for the typical butt shot.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

This other heron was watching all that unfold.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

You can tell that this is a different heron by the markings on their faces.

I spotted a pair of sandhill cranes, but one of the many mallards that were near the cranes spooked before I could get a good shot of the cranes. They tried their best to blend in with the flock of mallards…

Sandhill crane and mallards

Sandhill crane and mallards

Sandhill crane and mallards

Sandhill crane and mallards

…but that didn’t work out very well.

Sandhill crane and mallards

Sandhill crane and mallards

I found the named bald eagle whose name I can’t remember perched in his favorite tree.

Bald eagle, not cropped

Bald eagle, not cropped

Bald eagle, the cropped version

Bald eagle, the cropped version

As I drove around, I spent more time checking the ducks, hoping to find more green-winged teal, but I had no luck with that. I did get a fair shot of a female blue-winged teal by herself….

Female blue-winged teal

Female blue-winged teal

…and another hiding out in a flock of mallards.

Female blue-winged teal and two mallards

Female blue-winged teal and two mallards

I know that I post too many of this type of photo…

A few Canada geese

A few Canada geese

…but the number of birds there is something that I find very impressive. That was less than 1/4 of the geese in that one field, and there were several fields with just as many or more geese.

That was on my way to the area known as the Swanson/Laketon fields. While driving down a two-track between cornfields, I found this heron blocking my way, but it took flight as soon as I opened my window.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

And I spotted this northern harrier nearby.

Northern harrier

Northern harrier

Other than a few dozen turkey vultures, and a few thousand more geese, I wasn’t ale to find many other birds, so I returned to the main portion of the wastewater facility where I found a female wood duck.

Female wood duck

Female wood duck

Female wood duck

Female wood duck

And, yet another heron did a fly by.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

I have to apologize again for the poor quality of the next three images. One of the kestrels was hunting over one of the grassy cells, and fairly close to me. I shot dozens of photos trying to get good ones, but the weather was just too bad. The photos may not be good, but I really enjoyed watching the kestrel in action. They will hover for a while, then dip, dive, and put on a great display of flying ability as they hunt.

American kestrel in flight

American kestrel in flight

American kestrel in flight

American kestrel in flight

American kestrel in flight

American kestrel in flight

I did better with this pair of sandhill cranes.

Sandhill cranes

Sandhill cranes

Of course, standing birds are much easier to photograph than flying ones, like this bird, another northern harrier.

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier

Northern harrier

Northern harrier in flight

So, that wraps up another trip to Muskegon. I’m not sure yet what I’ll be doing this weekend, I should go on a warbler hunt, but yet another trip to the Muskegon area is very tempting because of the variety of species there. With the good weather forecast for this weekend, I may be able to get better photos than the ones in this post. The hawk migration is on, with many broadwing and other hawks being reported from the dunes in Muskegon State Park. I could also hunt warblers at Lane’s Landing and other places within the Muskegon State Game Area.

I know that the first weekend in October, if the weather forecast is suitable, I’ll be heading up north for fall foliage photos.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

 


Muskegon trip September 14th

This post is about the trip that I made to Muskegon on September 14th, 2014. I hit the Muskegon County wastewater treatment facility, Lane’s Landing in the Muskegon State Game Area, and the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. In other words, one of my typical Muskegon area trips.

The weather forecast was a cool, sunny day, and I was up early and on my way before the sun had come up. Pre-dawn light may be good for landscapes and some other subjects, but not so good for birds when using the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens). I somehow spotted this red-shouldered hawk looking for breakfast as I was driving to wastewater facility.

Red-shouldered hawk

Red-shouldered hawk

Low light is even worse when trying to shoot flying birds.

Red-shouldered hawk in flight

Red-shouldered hawk in flight

So, I arrived at the wastewater facility just as the sun was coming up, but the waterfowl had beaten me there.

A duck hunter's dream

A duck hunter’s dream

Most of the ducks were northern shovelers, blue-winged teal, and mallards, but there were a few others that I’ll get to later.

That reminds me, this post is going to be even heavier on photos than is usual for me, which means way too many, sorry. I shot some of my worst recent photos, and some of my best, the worst were of interesting things, of course. The best were of some more common species, but they’re too good to delete.

Anyway, I drove to what are known as the grassy cells while trying to see any birds in the low light. I found this song sparrow, and hopped out of my Forester for this shot….

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

…while looking for other birds as I stood by my vehicle, I saw this pair of sandhill cranes…

Female sandhill crane

Female sandhill crane

Male sandhill crane

Male sandhill crane

…I couldn’t believe that I had seen the sparrow before I saw the cranes, the light was that low. So, I stood there a little longer, and noticed birds much smaller than the cranes out feeding on the mudflats, a flock of American golden plovers. Here’s my best shot of an adult.

Adult American golden plover, non-breeding plumage

Adult American golden plover, non-breeding plumage

I was able to get photos of a juvenile last year, and there will be a few more of them later, from when the light improved slightly. But, when I returned for the better photos of the juveniles, the adults stayed out of camera range, darn. Maybe next spring I’ll catch adults in their breeding plumage, which is very colorful for a shorebird.

I watched the mudflats for any movement, and noticed that there were also many killdeer running across the mud.

Killdeer

Killdeer

And, a great blue heron flew almost directly overhead…

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

…as what I think was an adult male looked on from the next cell…

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

…and a third heron rose up out of another cell.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

I think that so many large birds flying over it made this horned lark nervous.

Horned lark

Horned lark

If you remember, I said that the forecast was for sunny skies, but, it had cooled off so much overnight that a thick layer of lake effect clouds had formed which hung around until after noon. I shot this shot just to see if I could pull it off in the very low light.

Double crested cormorant

Double crested cormorant

It turned out better than I had hoped. I went back to the large lagoon where I started, and shot a few of the newly arrived waterfowl.

Blue-winged teal

Blue-winged teal

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

What could be cuter than a ruddy duck with its tail up?

Ruddy duck

Ruddy duck

A pair of them.

Ruddy duck pair

Ruddy duck pair

There was almost a break in the clouds, and I shot these Savannah sparrows then.

Savannah sparrow

Savannah sparrow

Savannah sparrow

Savannah sparrow

I caught a least sandpiper taking a bath….

Least sandpiper

Least sandpiper

…to dry off, it jumped straight up out of the water and flapped its wings, hovering in place.

Least sandpiper

Least sandpiper

A short time later, another was bathing….

Least sandpipers

Least sandpipers

…and the other two you see came running to see if the one taking a bath was stirring up any goodies to eat…

Least sandpipers

Least sandpipers

…but the one taking a bath was splashing so much that the other two decided not to get too close.

I didn’t see as many red-tailed hawks as on my last trip, but there were still a few around.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

There were also a few of the semipalmated plovers around yet, also.

Semipalmated plover

Semipalmated plover

It started getting a little brighter, finally, so I went back to the grassy cells looking for the golden plovers. The juveniles were there close to me.

Juvenile American golden plover

Juvenile American golden plover

Juvenile American golden plover

Juvenile American golden plover

Talk about tough lighting, as you can see, the sun had come out a little, and blue sky was reflecting off from the water. A few seconds later, the clouds blocked out the sun, and the water reflected black clouds.

Juvenile American golden plover

Juvenile American golden plover

Juvenile American golden plover

Juvenile American golden plover

A heron, maybe one of the ones from earlier came swooping in.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

As much as I wanted to hang around waiting for better light, I headed up to the Lane’s Landing area in the Muskegon State Game Area. That could be considered a mistake, for I saw fewer birds there than any other time that I’ve been there. But, there were other things to shoot.

Unidentified blue flowers

Unidentified blue flowers

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

I did see a few cedar waxwings, so I shot one just to say that I was able to get a bird at Lane’s Landing.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Then, it was on to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. The birding started out slow there too, so I shot a few other subjects.

Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

Even though I have a hard time getting a good shot of a monarch butterfly, I thought that I’d try for a double.

Monarch butterflies

Monarch butterflies

Monarch butterflies

Monarch butterflies

But the way the wind was blowing, I gave up and went for a single.

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

I started seeing birds.

Caspian tern in flight

Caspian tern in flight

Caspian tern in flight

Caspian tern in flight

Unidentified sparrow

Unidentified sparrow

And, I got what I thought was a relatively good image of a flicker.

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

They are wary birds, I seldom get close to them. So, I was shocked when one perched right in front of me, in the open, in good light, and started posing like a model!

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

On the other hand, a juvenile catbird saw that I was about to shoot its picture, and took off running through the foliage…

Juvenile grey catbird

Juvenile grey catbird

…and thought that it had found a place to hide. But, I had the Beast, and there’s no hiding from it!

Juvenile grey catbird

Juvenile grey catbird

I wonder if this counts as a new species, a banded chickadee?

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

I was shocked when the first flicker posed for me, I nearly had a hear attack when a second one did the same!

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

It looked me over, decided that I wasn’t a threat, and then went looking for ants.

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

I’m including this next one to show you how well they blend into the grass as they feed on ants, their favorite food.

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

This is how close it got to me.

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Next up, three images of a viceroy butterfly, because I can’t choose the best of the three.

Viceroy butterfly

Viceroy butterfly

Viceroy butterfly

Viceroy butterfly

Viceroy butterfly

Viceroy butterfly

By then, it was late afternoon, and I was tired. But, there were these tiny white flowers growing on bushes near the parking lot. I tried to get a good photo of one using the Tokina macro lens.

Unidentified white flowers

Unidentified white flowers

But, I was too tired to fight the wind, so I switched to the 10-18 mm lens to get a “flock shot” and about that time, a monarch butterfly landed in front of me.

Monarch butterfly on white flowers

Monarch butterfly on white flowers

I was going to switch back to the macro lens, but the monarch flew off, so here’s the flowers.

Unidentified white flowers

Unidentified white flowers

There were plenty of bees on the flowers, so I decided to see how close I could get with the 10-18 mm lens.

Honey bee

Honey bee

Again, I’m sorry for including too many photos, but I didn’t feel like breaking them up into two posts. I won’t bore you any longer, so this is the end.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

 


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