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

  • Juvenile bald eagle
  • Canada goose
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Sunrise over the ice
  • American robin
  • Snow scene before dawn
  • The first sunrise of 2017
  • Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca
  • Herring gull, 400 mm, not cropped
  • Great egret preening

Latest

The light that I’ve been waiting for!

I may as well start at the beginning for a change, since it’s rare that one of my first photos of a day is also one of best, unless it’s a sunrise photo.

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

With the eagle perched there and willing to pose for me, I switched camera bodies and long lens/tele-converter set-ups to shoot this one.

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

As I sat there watching the eagle, it assumed an aggressive posture to warn away other raptors, letting me know that another raptor was in the area.

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

 

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

It turned out that a red-tailed hawk that was being mobbed by crows had landed in the same tree as the eagle. I didn’t get a good shot of the hawk though, here’s the best that I could do.

Red-tailed hawk sharing a tree with a bald eagle

Red-tailed hawk sharing a tree with a bald eagle

If the hawk thought that landing near an eagle would discourage the crows, it was mistaken, for the crows paid no attention to the eagle, and the eagle paid no attention to the crows.

American crow landing near a juvenile bald eagle

American crow landing near a juvenile bald eagle

The eagle was focused on the hawk, and giving the hawk “the look”, which meant that the eagle thought that the hawk should move on.

American crow landing near a juvenile bald eagle

American crow landing near a juvenile bald eagle

It wasn’t long before the hawk took off, taking its entourage of crows with it, leaving the eagle by itself again.

Juvenile bald eagle with a red-tailed hawk and crow flying behind it

Juvenile bald eagle with a red-tailed hawk and crow flying behind it

Some of those were shot with the new 7D body, some with the older one. Some were shot with the 100-400 mm lens and 2 X tele-converter, some with the 400 mm lens and the same tele-converter. In good light, both set-ups are about equal as far as image quality.

I had very high hopes for the day, there was great light, very light winds, but very few birds. I saw very few mallards or Canada geese on Saturday, I have no idea where they had all moved to. I did find gulls to practice on though.

I was using the newer body with the 100-400 mm lens with the 1.4 X tele-converter for these next two. That set-up works great when I get very close to birds, I can zoom out to get the entire bird…

Herring gull at 140mm

Herring gull at 140mm

…or zoom in for a head shot.

Herring gull at 560 mm

Herring gull at 560 mm

I used the same set-up to get the best images of a snow bunting that I’ve ever shot.

Snow bunting

Snow bunting

They may not have the wow factor of some other species of birds, but I love their markings…

Snow bunting

Snow bunting

…and it was nice of this one to do its yoga exercises while I was shooting photos.

Snow bunting

Snow bunting

They’ve created a short nature trail at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, and so I walked it on Saturday for the first time. I missed the other birds because I was trying for only very good images, but I did get a chickadee…

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

…if I had been quicker, I may have gotten a shot of it as it tried to perch on my hat, but I had to settle for this one.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Stepping out of the woods and into one of the fields, I was greeted by two red-tailed hawks hunting together, probably a mated pair.

Red-tailed hawk number 1 in flight

Red-tailed hawk number 1 in flight

 

Red-tailed hawk number 2 in flight

Red-tailed hawk number 2 in flight

 

Red-tailed hawk number 2 in flight

Red-tailed hawk number 2 in flight

I had very high hopes for this weekend, as you can see in my photos so far, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky most of the time. However, two things limited the number of images that I shot. One was a lack of birds at the wastewater facility, and the other is that I’ve come down with a nasty cold or the flu. It’s hard to get close to birds when your nose is running all the time, and you’re coughing and sneezing most of the time as well. Yesterday, Sunday, I started at the Muskegon Lake Nature preserve hoping to sneak up on a few of the smaller birds there, but between how much noise I was making due to the cold, and just how cruddy I felt, I had to give it up and return to the wastewater facility where I could do most of my birding from my Subaru. I saw some promising signs that the waterfowl are returning, however, they stayed well out of camera range.

I must apologize to the people whose blogs I follow and comment on also, I’ve had a headache for the past three days which only gets worse when I try to comprehend what they have written. I’ll try to get caught up once I’m feeling better.

It’s now Tuesday morning, and this cold is still kicking my butt. That hasn’t been helped by returning to work yesterday. The hardest thing to deal with is trying to get enough sleep with the long hours that I have to work. At least I got a nap yesterday while waiting for the truck to be unloaded then reloaded on the other side of the state. I’ll probably do the same thing today.

Anyway, I’m going to throw in a few more photos that don’t require any comments from me, then call it good for this post.

Starling

Starling

 

Starling

Starling

 

Starling

Starling

 

Ring-billed gull finding lunch

Ring-billed gull finding lunch

 

Ring-billed gull finding lunch

Ring-billed gull finding lunch

 

Ring-billed gull finding lunch

Ring-billed gull finding lunch

 

Gadwall duck

Gadwall duck

 

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

 

Male mallard

Male mallard

 

Canada goose

Canada goose

 

Female mallard

Female mallard

 

Male mallard

Male mallard

 

Signs of spring

Signs of spring

 

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

 

White-breasted nuthatch hopping

White-breasted nuthatch hopping

 

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

 

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

 

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

 

Common merganser

Common merganser

 

Common merganser taking off

Common merganser taking off

 

Common merganser taking off

Common merganser taking off

 

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

It may take me a while before I’m able to catch up on every one else’s posts, and the same will apply to comments that people may leave to this post also. Last night, I came home, ate supper, did the dishes, and went straight to bed, I’ll probably do the same tonight the way that I feel right now.

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

Killing time until spring

It was another mostly dreary weekend, that is for all of Saturday and most of Sunday. I went to a local park that I hadn’t been to in a while on Saturday, then went to the Muskegon County wastewater facility on Sunday. It was Sunday afternoon when gale force winds finally blew the clouds away to give me the best light that I’ve had for photography since the end of November.

Canada goose

Canada goose

I’ve shot more interesting photos of a Canada goose before, but I think that the photo above is the best technically as far as sharpness and exposure. The goose appears to pop out of the background, almost to the point of looking as if I combined two photos into one. That was shot with the 400 mm prime lens.

Unfortunately, because of the extremely strong winds, all the birds were hunkered down to stay out of the wind. They were having such a difficult time flying that I didn’t have the heart to try to get close to them which would make them take flight. But, in the few photos that I did shoot, I realized that I’ve just been killing time while waiting for good light all of this past winter.

The two days this past weekend couldn’t have been more different. On Saturday, it was cool and a bit foggy, with just a hint of a breeze now and then. Rather than walking in the park closest to me as I usually do, I went a few miles away to Palmer Park, which I used to walk on a regular basis.  However, the trail that I most wanted to take was the boardwalk that ran through a swamp and connected trails maintained by Kent County with trails maintained by the City of Wyoming, Michigan. The last few times I walked there, the boardwalk was closed due to damage caused by flooding, mostly to the footings that held the boardwalk up over the swamp. But, rather than repair the boardwalk, I found that it had been ripped out completely.

I also found that most of the birds were feeding high in the tops of trees. We had a couple of very windy days towards the end of last week, and I believe that the birds were taking advantage of there being no wind to look for food in the tops of trees. I even walked the trail that runs right on the edge of the park, where there are houses right next to the trail, with many of the homes having bird feeders in the backyard. I didn’t see a single bird on any of the many feeders that I saw. Most of our winter resident birds use bird feeders, but they don’t live on seeds alone, they eat mostly insects in the wild, and I think that’s what they were doing on Saturday.

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

That’s the only photo that I shot of a bird other than a few mallards which I’ll get to later. Because of the weather conditions and the light, it wasn’t worth shooting any other photos of birds in the treetops. It was very nice to hear them and watch them at times, but any photos would have been as bad as the one above.

I chose to walk Palmer Park because I knew that there would be other things to photograph besides birds, and that I’d also be able to try out the 100-400 mm lens on subjects that would require that I used its ability to focus up close. The strength of the 300 mm lens is that it functions almost like a macro lens because it focuses at such a short distance. According to the specifications, the 100-400 mm lens should focus as well as close as the 300 mm lens. I’m not convinced that it does though, it doesn’t seem to be as sharp as the 300 mm lens up close.

Before I get to the photos, I’ve been reading Allen’s blog, New Hampshire Garden Solutions, for years now, and I still can’t identify any of the mosses, fungi, or lichens that I see. Still, I find them both beautiful and interesting, and good subjects for photography.

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

It must be that this winter suits this moss quite well, as I’ve never seen so many of the spore bearing parts of moss as I saw here.

Happy moss

Happy moss

I’m probably wrong, but I think these are turkey tails.

Turkey tails?

Turkey tails?

I tried and failed to get them all in focus at the same time, but I still like this photo.

Turkey tails? take 2

Turkey tails? take 2

I’m afraid that this tree isn’t long for this world, as I say, I don’t know much about fungi, but this looks deadly to the tree to me.

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

The tree is almost 18 inches in diameter, and the entire side was covered with the fungus, here’s a closer look at it.

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

It’s hard to believe that I almost missed this very brightly covered one, but it was hiding in a difficult to get to spot.

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Maybe my photos would have been better if it hadn’t been this kind of day.

The closest thing to sunshine all day

The closest thing to sunshine all day

You never know what critters you’ll find in the woods if you look hard enough.

Spring tailed critter

Spring tailed critter

Speaking of spring, I have no idea what this plant is, but it looks as if it’s getting ready to bloom.

Flower buds in the snow

Flower buds in the snow

I spent some time admiring the artwork produced by insects in a fallen log…

Insect artwork

Insect artwork

…and looking for a good background to shoot these alder catkins.

Alder catkins

Alder catkins

I found a few mallards in one of the small ponds, and was all set to catch them at take off. However, they refused to take flight while I was ready, they walked back into the reeds that surround the pond. I gave up waiting, but as I began to walk away, then they burst into flight. I was lucky, one pair circled me before moving on to the next pond.

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

 

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

 

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

 

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

I suppose that those aren’t too bad considering the conditions, dreary and a bit foggy, but compare them to this one from Sunday when I finally had some good light for a change.

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

Have I said that I love the 7D Mk II and the way that it can track flying birds?

Male belted kingfisher in flight

Male belted kingfisher in flight

It took me a little over a year to fully understand how to get the auto-focusing system set-up for what and how I shoot, but it was worth it! This was shot with the new 400 mm prime lens, as were the mallards in good light just above.

I learned something again on this day, I had thought that the 400 mm prime lens wasn’t as good as the 100-400 mm lens is in tracking birds in flight, but it all depends on the light. With good light, the 400 mm lens does just fine, since I got a good focus lock on the kingfisher while it was in the open, the 400 mm lens continued to track it as it flew through some cattails.

Male belted kingfisher in flight

Male belted kingfisher in flight

It stayed locked onto the kingfisher as it prepared to land on one of the cattails…

Male belted kingfisher in flight

Male belted kingfisher in flight

…but even at ten frames per second, I didn’t catch the actual landing…

Male belted kingfisher in flight

Male belted kingfisher in flight

…and I had to settle for these.

Male belted kingfisher in flight

Male belted kingfisher in flight

That’s when I knew that I’ve been just killing time, waiting for better light for photography!

This series also makes me realize that all of the money that I’ve spent on better photo gear and the time that I’ve put into learning how to get the best out of it has all been worth it as well. There are two reasons that I’ve been working so hard to improve my photos, one is to capture action series like the one above, the other is to get better images to help me identify birds.

In my last post, I showed the differences between a crow and a raven, in this post, I’ll show the differences between a juvenile bald eagle…

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

…and a juvenile golden eagle.

Juvenile golden eagle in flight

Juvenile golden eagle in flight

The first clue was actually behavior, the golden eagle was hunting over a field the same way that a hawk would, gliding over the field and pausing to hover over one spot from time to time as it looked for lunch. Bald eagles seldom hunt that way, they prefer to perch and keep an eye out for prey.

The second clue is the golden brown feathers on the neck of the golden eagle, barely visible in this shot, but they are what gave the golden eagle its name.

The next clue is that the white on the underside of the golden eagle’s wings are in more of a distinctive pattern, rather than the mottled white of the juvenile bald eagle.

Then, there are their beaks, the bald eagle has a massive beak that joins its face above its eye, while the golden eagle has a smaller beak that meets its face below its eye.

Finally, there’s the white band on the golden eagle’s tail, young bald eagles may show some white on their tails, but never in a distinct band like the golden eagle has.

I’ve had a couple of very long days at work this week, but this weekend is supposed to be a fantastic early spring weekend with warm temperatures and plenty of sunlight. I sure hope so, as I’ve been getting ready mentally all week-long since I saw the forecast. The very long work days have meant that I haven’t had much time to work on this post, and the warm sunny weekend that they forecast is here. So, here’s the rest of the photos that I shot this past weekend.

American kestrel in flight

American kestrel in flight

 

Herring gull

Herring gull

 

Herring gull

Herring gull

 

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

 

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

 

Bald eagles on ice

Bald eagles on ice

 

American crow in flight

American crow in flight

 

Mallards not flying

Mallards not flying

 

Starlings in flight

Starlings in flight

 

Starlings in flight

Starlings in flight

And with those, I’m out of here. I’m going to finish the last of my coffee, and get out there in the sun to shoot a few good photos for a change.

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

The first signs of spring

In my last post, I had a terrible photo of a male horned lark, the only reason that I included it was because he was singing his spring song. The very next day, Sunday, I heard this little guy singing his spring song also!

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

It was nice of him to take a split second off from trying to find something to eat to pose so nicely for me. Maybe it was because the sun came out as I was photographing him, and that prompted him to stop and sing a few bars in the warmth of the sun.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

I am so spoiled by my camera gear these days, and I’ve learned what sounded like overkill when I heard that the 7D Mk II had 65 focus points does indeed make it easier to get a better image.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

So does getting closer…

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

…and even closer.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

That’s where having so many focus points comes in handy, I was able to put one of them on the squirrel’s eye so that its eyes were perfectly in focus. Those were shot at 400 mm and were not cropped at all. So, if I had left the one focus point that I used in the center, the composition wouldn’t have been as good and I would have had more empty space in the image. It may look like I used the single focus point in the center, but I moved it up one row, and shifted it two to the right for that image.

I shot this one at 170 mm and didn’t crop it…

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

…but I don’t like that image as well because you can see the reflection of snow in the squirrel’s eye as well as my own reflection if I were to zoom in on the image. I like this one better, even though the light wasn’t as good.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

I suppose that the reason that I’m so impressed by how useful all of the 65 focusing points available in the 7D is that there is so much hype in the marketing of cameras and lenses that when I find out that something that I thought was just hype turns out not to be, it sticks in my mind.

I had made a mistake the previous day. In my testing the 100-400 mm and 400 mm lenses indoors, the 400 mm lens outperformed the 100-400 mm lens by a wide margin as far as sharpness. So, I tried the 400 mm lens with the 1.4 X tele-converter behind it for all of my bird portrait shots that day. However, in my indoor tests, I was manually focusing on a subject that didn’t move, and had nothing around it to distract the auto-focusing system as there often is when shooting in the real world.

Since my indoor tests, I’ve noticed that the 400 mm prime lens doesn’t auto-focus as quickly or as accurately as the 100-400 mm zoom lens does, and on top of that, even once the 400 mm prime lens does focus on a subject, it is still prone to hunting for a focus even after that, unlike the 100-400 mm lens which locks on a subject and stays locked in.

That’s the reason that the photo of the horned lark singing came out as fuzzy as it is.

Horned lark singing!

Horned lark singing!

On the other hand, when there’s nothing around a subject to distract the auto-focusing system, the 400 mm prime lens with the tele-converter does extremely well.

Morning dove

Morning dove

Also, with the proper settings for both the camera and the lens, the 10-400 zoom lens does extremely well for birds in flight.

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

 

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

 

Bald eagle in flight over the landfill

Bald eagle in flight over the landfill

 

American crow in flight

American crow in flight

What that all means is that I’m not going to be able to dedicate one of the two lenses to birds in flight, and the other to portrait shots as I had planned. I’m going to have to size up the situation and choose which of the two lenses will perform the best under the conditions at the time. That’s not all bad though, it’s great to have two lenses that perform as well as these two do.

To some degree, that means that I have to take that into account as far as the way that I set-up each of the two 7D bodies as well. Fortunately, because of how versatile and programmable the 7D is, that won’t be a huge problem either.

Anyway, here’s the rest of the photos that I shot on Saturday at the wastewater facility near Muskegon.

Male common goldeneye

Male common goldeneye

 

Male common goldeneye and female ring-necked duck

Male common goldeneye and female ring-necked duck

 

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird

And, here are the rest of the photos from Sunday around home.

Blue jay in the wind

Blue jay in the wind

 

Depth of field test

Depth of field test

 

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

I have my next order for camera gear ready to submit as soon as my income tax refund clears my bank account. This order will be accessories for the second 7D, memory cards, a screen protector, extra batteries, and a battery grip. I thought about doing without the battery grip, but in using one body with a grip and the second without, I almost have to add a grip to the second body. I really miss the extra support that I can give the camera with the battery grip on it, no matter which way I have the camera orientated. That’s another of those things that seem like overkill until you’ve tried it.

You may wonder what my hurry is, I’m going on vacation in the middle of May and I want to be as fully prepared for the week as I can possibly be. Last year, I was using the 300 mm lens with the 1.4 X tele-converter most of the time, and that set-up was the pits for the small birds like warblers that stay in the brush most of the time. I had to switch over to the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) to get a set-up that could catch those smaller birds. But then, my photos of the larger birds in flight didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped because the Beast simply does not do well when the subject is in motion.

Based on what I’ve seen from my two new longer lenses so far, the 100-400 mm lens will be the one that I choose when chasing warblers and other small birds. The 400 mm lens will be the one that I choose when I’m shooting larger birds such as eagles, whether stationary or in flight. The beauty of the newer lenses is that either of them will work in a pinch for the subjects that they may not be best suited for.

I got by last year with the limited memory cards and batteries, but again, I want to be fully prepared for this year’s vacation. I may do something else different this year as well. I’m thinking of getting a motel room one for night during the middle of the week so that I have electricity available to recharge the camera batteries, and where I can safely set-up my Macbook pro and download the photos that I’ve shot so far that week to make it easier to keep the photos organized.

Just thinking of my vacation, even though it’s still several months away, has put me into the planning mode. Trying to decide what to bring with me, and what to leave home this year. I do know that the way that I slowed down a little and made sure that I took care of myself last year worked out very well. I may have missed a few opportunities for photographs while I was taking the time to eat real meals, but I’m sure that I made up for that “lost time” later in the week when rather than being run down, I was alert and on the go to the very end of my week up north. I just hope that the weather is half as good as it has been the past few years.

That reminds me, I have a pair of hiking boots that I’ve only worn a few times since I purchased them, and the boots that I’ve been wearing are about worn out. I should switch over now and get used to the new pair before my vacation since I’ll be on my feet most of the time that week.

In the meantime, here’s a few leftovers from last fall.

The color purple

The color purple

The next two show the difference between a raven…

Common raven in flight

Common raven in flight

…and a crow, mostly the size and shape of their beaks.

American crow in flight

American crow in flight

I have a number of images of a great egret leftover from when I was fine tuning my settings for birds in flight, this is as good of time as any to use them up.

Great egret sticking the landing

Great egret sticking the landing

 

Great egret in flight

Great egret in flight

 

Great egret in flight

Great egret in flight

 

Great egret in flight

Great egret in flight

I have a few from last fall from around home to use up also.

Fall color 1

Fall color 1

 

Fall color 2

Fall color 2

 

The color red

The color red

 

Crown vetch

Crown vetch

 

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

 

Downy woodpecker in flight

Downy woodpecker in flight

 

Downy woodpecker

Downy woodpecker

 

Blue jay

Blue jay

It will be really nice when the sun makes its way higher above the horizon during the day to produce quality light for photography again!

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

There’s one odd thing that I should mention. When I ordered the second 7D body from B&H Photo, the way that I could get the cheapest price was to purchase the body with some accessories in a bundle, with them choosing the accessories. They were a 4T external hard drive, a 64 MB SD card, and a Lowepro camera backpack. I have set-up the external hard drive as a redundant back-up to the other 4T external drive that I already had. The SD card will come in handy, one can never have too many memory cards, especially when traveling. I haven’t had time to fully check out the backpack, since I already have two, however, this newest one looks as if it could be the one that I end up using most of all. I think that I can get the second body, my macro lens, and my 15-85 mm lens in this newest backpack, and it has room for lunch and a few other items in it as well. I think that it will work well on longer hikes when I take the minimum of gear with me and spend most of a day out in the woods.

But, the odd thing about the accessory package is that there were several hundred dollars worth of stuff in it, but by choosing that option, I got $300 off from the list price of the 7D. It makes no sense to me. I’m sure that B&H chose the items based on their excess stock, at least the items I received will be useful, unlike most of the packages I’ve seen bundled with a camera or lens.

I didn’t order the extra batteries from B&H though, because they have to go in a separate package and the shipping charges were more than I wanted to pay. I can pick up the batteries here locally.

Anyway, I’m about set for my vacation as far as photo gear. As far as my wish list goes, it has gotten much shorter the past few months, and I’m really in no hurry to purchase the items that remain on the list. I can get by quite well with the wide-angle lenses that I currently have for the time being. So, with that out of the way, time for a few more photos from last summer.

The color green

The color green

 

Jewelweed

Jewelweed

 

Male Indigo bunting

Male Indigo bunting

 

Turkey

Turkey

 

Asiatic dayflower

Asiatic dayflower

That wraps this post up, except for one last thing to say. In a way, it’s pretty sad that I make it out for both days of a weekend, and yet still have to fill the post with mostly leftover images from earlier in the year. Hopefully, that will change as soon as the weather around here improves.

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

Here comes the sun

It’s official, West Michigan was the cloudiest place on Earth last week with not a single minute of sunshine for the entire week. This week is shaping up to be very much the same, but with snow showers rather than the mist, drizzle and rain that we had last week because the temperature has dropped below freezing. I could post the statistics to let you know just how gloomy that it’s been around here, but that would only make me more depressed than I am already about the weather.

I shouldn’t be depressed at all, I just ordered the second Canon 7D Mk II and it should arrive later this week. But, with the weather forecast calling for the same old cloudy skies for the next week, it takes most of the thrill out of looking forward to the camera’s arrival. Still, it will give me time to get the new one fully set-up the way that I want it. The one that I already have will be the bird in flight body, and the new one will be used for bird portraits, landscapes, and macros.

I may sell one of the 60D bodies that I have, but I know that I’ll be keeping one of them as a back-up just in case one of the 7D bodies stops functioning. I thought of selling the beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) but it is a good back-up lens in case something happens to one of my newer lenses. I’d hate to be on a trip somewhere and have an equipment malfunction that would curtail the types of photos that I could shoot, and one never knows when that may happen.

I did some shopping this past Saturday, I picked up a copy of Sibley’s guide to birds so I finally have a good field guide to reference while I’m birding. The store where I got that used to carry binoculars and spotting scopes, but they have stopped carrying those items. So, I also stopped at the camera store, they do sell those items, but they only stock them in their Kalamazoo, Michigan branch, so I couldn’t try any of them out, darn.

I did something stupid while I was there as well, I played with the new Canon 5D Mk IV. I shouldn’t have done that. The low light, high ISO performance of that camera is leaps and bounds above what the cropped sensor 7D can do.

In a recent post, I bemoaned the fact that there’s no good way to be sure of the performance of any item of camera gear, but there is one way. As I’ve also said more than a few times recently, I’m following the North American Nature Photographer’s Facebook page. Not every one that posts there spells out the equipment that they used to get the images that they post, but enough do so that you can learn what stuff works well, and what produces just so-so results. I have to say, that the 5D Mk IV camera produces some stunning images, much better than one would assume it is capable of considering the way that critics panned it when it was released. Maybe someday, right now, I’m about set for camera gear.

Anyway, on to the photos, and I’ll start with sunrise a couple of weeks ago, one of the few days that there was any sunshine at all.

Sunrise over the ice

Sunrise over the ice

I purposely included more of the rocks in the foreground, for the patterns on them made by the frost. It was a very chilly start to the day. A few minutes later, the colors in the sky grew more intense.

Fire on ice 1

Fire on ice 1

 

Fire on ice 2

Fire on ice 2

The first image that included the rocks in the foreground was shot with the 60D mounted on my tripod, and is a HDR image of three bracketed images merged together. The second two images were shot with the 7D and 100-400 mm lens because I could tell that the light wasn’t going to stay like that long enough to get set-up for a proper shot. Also, you can see a hint of the haze that formed that day due to how cold it had gotten overnight, and warmer air and sunshine trying to warm things up.

It will be interesting to see how the HDR landscape images produced by the 7D turn out compared to what I get from the 60D. I could be wrong, but I think that the difference will be very small if it’s even noticeable. What I’m really looking forward to is using the 7D for macro photos, I think that there will be more of a difference in image quality then. That’s because of the 7D’s better auto-focusing and high ISO performance over the 60D. I can’t wait until spring when I get to try that combination out.

By the way, I’ve had a new schedule at work for almost a month now, I’m back to working days rather than nights. I’m not sure how long it will last, but it’s a better schedule for now. I have to work more hours, but as bad as the weather has been, that’s not all bad this time of year. In fact, I’m working so many more hours that I don’t have time to do anything other than eat and sleep when I get home. I haven’t had much time to work on my blog, or to leave proper comments on other people’s blog the past few weeks.

Anyway, the second Canon 7D Mk II has arrived, and I was able to take it out for a test yesterday, and should make it out later today. I don’t think that I have all the settings of the new body quite the same as the older body yet, but that will come. It worked out well having one body and long lens set for portraits…

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

…and the second body and lens set-up for birds in flight at all times, whether it was for a single bird…

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

…or a flock of birds.

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

 

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

 

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

I went almost the entire day without switching lenses or tele-converters, although I did put the 100 mm macro lens on the new 7D body for these.

Lichens

Lichens

 

Lichens and ???

Lichens and ???

 

Dried fungi and Lichens

Dried fungi and Lichens

 

Lichens

Lichens

 

Lichens

Lichens

I know very little about lichens, so I don’t know how many different species of them there are in these photos. For example, I don’t know if the black ones are a different species than the orange ones, I believe that they are from their shape and size, but I’m not sure.

I had some problems shooting those, the wind was very strong yesterday, and the small trees that the lichens grew on were swaying in the wind. I also missed the set-up for the camera slightly for those as well. However, the important thing is that once I’m used to shooting macros with the 7D rather than the 60D, it will be easier, and with better results.

That applies to about everything concerning the new 7D body, I have to remember to set-up Lightroom to make the adjustments to the images automatically from the new body the way that I have it set-up for the other 7D and the 60D bodies also.

I could go on and on about camera and lens settings, but as I’ve said before, every piece of camera equipment has quirks, and one must learn to work around them. That applies to the 7D, and the new 400 mm lens. I will also say that not everything that was true during my indoor tests of that lens holds true when using it in the field.

Anyway, since I don’t have much time, here’s a few more photos from the last three weeks.

Belted kingfisher

Belted kingfisher

 

Belted kingfisher

Belted kingfisher

 

Sunrise on goldenrod

Sunrise on goldenrod

 

Sunrise on teasel

Sunrise on teasel

 

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

 

Canada geese landing on a very frosty morning

Canada geese landing on a very frosty morning

 

Frosty feather

Frosty feather

 

Male common goldeneyes

Male common goldeneyes

 

Male common goldeneye

Male common goldeneye

 

Male common goldeneye

Male common goldeneye

 

Male common goldeneye

Male common goldeneye

 

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

Downy woodpecker

Downy woodpecker

 

Ice patterns

Ice patterns

 

Oriental bittersweet berries

Oriental bittersweet berries

 

Another frosty morning

Another frosty morning

 

Horned lark singing!

Horned lark singing!

 

Canada geese resting

Canada geese resting

 

Bald eagle at a distance

Bald eagle at a distance

 

Bald eagle surveying the landfill

Bald eagle surveying the landfill

 

Morning dove

Morning dove

 

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

 

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

 

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

 

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

 

Female ring-necked duck

Female ring-necked duck

 

Female ring-necked duck

Female ring-necked duck

I should apologize for the quality of a few of these, but I don’t have the time to explain what I did wrong for each of the poorer photos. Most of the time it was because the light was wrong, for the rest, it was because I was working on those quirks that I have spoken about before.

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

Flashes of brilliance

You’ve already seen the photos of the snow buntings that I shot last weekend at the Muskegon wastewater facility. I have a few more from that day to get to in a while, but first, some images that I shot around home. It had been a dreary night Saturday as I made the run from here to the Detroit area and back for work, but the forecast was for a nice day ahead. I stopped on the way home from work to grab a bite to eat, then took a nap while waiting for the sun to come out. I awoke to bright sunlight flooding my apartment, but it was already just after noon, not the best time to find birds.

Although the 100-400 mm lens would have been a better choice to carry because of its versatility, I chose to take the new 400 mm prime lens instead, just to see what it could do in good light for the first time since I purchased it.

American robin

American robin

That was actually one of the last images that I shot, but I think that it represents just how good that 400 mm lens can be. I decided to start with that one because it shows that with a good sharp lens that captures the details of a subject very well it produces an image that begins to take on a three-dimensional look.

I knew that the first photos that I shot yesterday wouldn’t be very good, since the minimum focus distance of the 400 mm lens is so long. I had to crop this first image much more than I would have liked to.

Unidentified mosses

Unidentified mosses

 

Unidentified mosses

Unidentified mosses

Still, it was nice to see something green for a change.

I’m not sure if it’s because I move the camera a bit as the shutter is going, or if the 400 mm lens needs more time to get a solid focus lock, but I see that I need to work on both. Here’s another robin photo that isn’t as sharp as it should be…

American robin

American robin

…and here’s the next photo that I shot. You can see that the second is much better as far as sharpness, but the robin’s pose isn’t as good as in the first of these two.

American robin

American robin

My original plan was to use the 400 mm lens for bird in flight photos, and the 100-400 mm lens for portrait photos, now I’m not as sure about that. The 100-400 mm lens definitely focuses faster than the 400 mm lens, which is better for birds in flight. I had the chance to test the 400 mm lens out again for birds in flight yesterday, for I saw a raptor coming towards me, and I had the time to switch the camera over to the birds in flight settings that I have saved in the camera.

Merlin in flight

Merlin in flight

My first few photos in the burst were okay, as you can see by that one and this one.

Merlin in flight

Merlin in flight

But the images later in the burst I fired were much better as far as sharpness when the auto-focus had a good solid lock on the merlin.

Merlin in flight

Merlin in flight

But by that time, the merlin had changed direction slightly to avoid me, so the light wasn’t quite as good.

You know, I am getting spoiled by what my latest camera equipment is capable of. I would have been very happy with either of the first two images not that long ago, now, I want them all to be as sharp as the last one is. Look at how sharp the eye and the face of the merlin are in that last image, it’s better than I could do on a perched bird a few years ago.

Enough bragging, sort of. The merlin landed towards the top of tree not that far away from me, so I went over to see if I could find an opening through the branches to get a photo of it perched. I shot a few at 400 mm, but then, I slipped the 1.4 X tele-converter behind the lens for this one.

Merlin

Merlin

That confirms what my indoor testing from my last post told me, there’s almost no drop-off in image quality when using the 1.4 extender behind the 400 mm lens in good light. It’s hard to see in these small version of the images, but check out the details in the feathers on the Merlin’s forehead and throat in the next image.

Merlin

Merlin

The merlin was in no hurry to move on, it even decided to check its talons out for me.

Merlin

Merlin

I shot these next two as a test of sorts, to see if there’s any fall-off in performance at greater distances.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

 

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Both of those were cropped a lot more than I usually crop an image, just to see if I’d be able to shoot a rare bird at a longer distance and still be able to identify the bird. I think that the verdict is yes.

I don’t normally photograph English sparrows because they are an introduced and invasive species that are displacing some of our native sparrows, but I wanted to shoot as many photos in good light as I could.

English sparrow

English sparrow

Breaking news!

I still plan to put the photos from last weekend in this post, but first, I got another species for the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on. It wasn’t easy, and the photos are poor, but by using what I earned about using the 400 mm lens and 2 X teleconverter, I was able to get these photos of a Ross’s goose. I even used my tripod for these, although I couldn’t use live view focusing because the geese were moving as they looked for food.

Ross's goose in front of snow geese

Ross’s goose in front of snow geese

The Ross’s goose is the smaller one with the shorter neck standing in front of the three snow geese lined up behind it.

Ross's goose in front of snow geese

Ross’s goose in front of snow geese

I’m now just 4 species short of being two-thirds of the way through the list from the Audubon Society that I’m working from.

I think that I may be becoming a serious birder. As you can see, the Ross’s goose was in a flock of snow geese, just as the greater white-fronted geese were in a huge flock of Canada geese.

Mostly snow geese

Mostly snow geese

Seeing just the orange bill or foot of one of the greater white-fronted geese was enough to make me stay put and continue to scan the flock until I was able to pick the greater white-fronted geese out of the flock.

It was very much the same with the Ross’s geese, I saw two white geese within the flock that appeared to be much smaller than all the others. My first thought was that they may have been juveniles, but I also knew from researching the birds that I still need to complete my list that a Ross’s goose looks like a miniature snow goose, so I continued to keep an eye on the smaller geese in this flock.

I was also very lucky in this instance, there were two other serious birders there watching the same flock through binoculars. After a few minutes, one of them walked back to where I was parked and asked me if I noticed the differences in size, and if I had been able to make a positive identification of the smaller geese. I told him that I had noticed the size difference, but that I hadn’t made a positive ID. We then all got out of our vehicles and setup our tripods, them for their spotting scopes, me for my camera.

As far away from us as the geese were, I couldn’t tell for sure which of the smaller geese were the ones that we thought were Ross’s geese through the viewfinder, so I’d follow one of them, shooting photos hoping to be able to zoom in and tell for sure. I didn’t lock the tripod head solidly, I left it slightly loose so that I could follow the goose that I wanted to photograph as it moved around. This worked very well, keeping the shutter speed fast enough as I would have if I had been shooting handheld.

It helped that the serious birders had a field guide with them, and we could compare the photos that we shot with the field guide. I say the photos that we shot because one of the serious birders had an adaptor that let him mount his iPhone to his spotting scope to shoot photos through the scope. That’s known as digiscoping, and his photos were almost on par with the ones that I shot.

There have been other times in the past when I lucked out and received assistance from a serious birder with a good spotting scope in picking out the species of bird that I was looking for at the time. I may need to consider getting a good spotting scope for myself in the future.

The last three species of birds that I’ve added to my photo life list have been species of geese and all of the species have been in flocks of other species of geese. The cackling geese and greater white-fronted geese were in large flocks of Canada geese, and the Ross’s geese were in with the snow geese. For that matter, most of my photos of snow geese…

Snow goose, blue morph

Snow goose, blue morph

 

Blue morph snow geese, adult and juvenile

Blue morph snow geese, adult and juvenile

…up until this day also had Canada geese in the frame along with the snow geese.

I’ve said in the past that I don’t have the patience to sit there scanning a flock of birds through a spotting scope hoping to find another species within the flock, but that seems to be changing. It helps that in the case of all three species of geese that I’ve found lately, I first noticed the difference with the naked eye, or by scanning the flock through the viewfinder of the camera. I can see that a spotting scope would come in very handy for that.

And, if I’m going to purchase a good spotting scope, then I may as well purchase an adaptor to allow me to mount my camera to it to shoot photos through it as well. At the very least, having a good scope would allow me to ID birds at a distance, then I could decide if the species was worth getting closer to for better photos than I could shoot through the scope.

One thing is certain, I need to pick-up a good field guide to carry with me so that I don’t have to rely on my memory, or the kind gestures of other birders.

It doesn’t really matter what order I post photos in, so I may as well use up the ones from this week before going back to the week before, especially since the first bird that I saw when I arrived at the wastewater facility was this snowy owl.

Snowy owl in the fog

Snowy owl in the fog

The fog made photography difficult just after sunrise, but at least the owl had its eyes open then. I tracked it down later in the day when there was slightly better light for this photo.

Snowy owl in the fog

Snowy owl in the fog

That was another test of sorts, I used the 400 mm lens on one of the 60D bodies to see how well it would work for bird portraits. There’s not much difference in image quality between the 60D and the 7D Mk II when using just the 400 mm lens, but the auto-focusing of the 60D can’t hold a candle to what the 7D can do. I can’t even auto-focus with just the 1.4 X tele-converter and the 400 mm lens on the 60D.

I returned later when the light had improved a little more to shoot these with the 400 mm lens and 2 X extender on the 7D.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

The better the light is, the more they close their eyes and squint as they look around.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

I said that the snowy owl was the first bird that I saw that day, here’s the second.

American crow in the fog

American crow in the fog

Dense fog, and I shoot photos of a white bird, and a black bird, but that’s me, always pushing to get photos no matter how poor conditions are at the time.

The same applies to this juvenile red-tailed hawk.

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Actually, I’m impressed by how sharp that one is despite the fog. The same can’t be said for this photo as the hawk took off though.

Juvenile red-tailed hawk taking off

Juvenile red-tailed hawk taking off

If only there had been some light and fewer branches for that one. I have to be careful what I wish for, because I found another red-tailed hawk later…

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

…but that was shot near the landfill, and you can see the trash in the background. By the way, the hawks don’t seem to go for the scraps of food in the landfill as the gulls, crows, and eagles do, I never see them on the ground as they would be if they did. They appear to be hunting rodents that just happen to live near the landfill, that applies to the rough-legged hawks as well.

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

This is the artsy attempt of the day.

Emerging from the fog

Emerging from the fog

I suppose that I could use up the previous week’s photos, but I think that I’d rather go further back in time to last summer to use these photos up instead. That’s just to remind me that this winter won’t last forever, and that it won’t be long until I can photograph these subjects again, but better.

Unidentified moth

Unidentified plume moth

 

jvis5848

White campion?

 

Eastern meadowlark

Eastern meadowlark

 

Eastern meadowlark in flight

Eastern meadowlark in flight

 

Green

Green

 

Grey catbird

Grey catbird

 

Grey catbird hopping

Grey catbird hopping

 

More green

More green

 

Bee

Bee

 

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

After a week of warmer temperatures, but with almost constant fog, mist, drizzle or rain, this week has been very depressing. I needed to see a few images from when the weather was nicer.

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

When it’s too cold outside

Since my work schedule has me up in the wee hours of the morning, and it’s too cold to spend much time outside even after the sun comes up, I was sitting around thinking about photography and how to improve the images I shoot. These days, I almost always use a tripod for landscape photos, so that I can dial the ISO down to 100 for the best image quality, and let the shutter stay open as long as necessary, since landscapes don’t generally move to blur the image.

Snow scene before dawn

Snow scene before dawn

That was shot on my way to the Muskegon County wastewater facility well before the sun came up. I know that because here’s the view that I had as the sun came over the horizon once I had arrived at the wastewater facility.

Sunrise January 8, 2017

Sunrise January 8, 2017

That scene lasted for only a few seconds, long before I could get somewhere for a better shot of the sunrise, the color was gone.

It turned out to be another very slow day as far as photography, I shot a couple of more snow scenes.

The creek still flows

The creek still flows

 

Looking down the trail

Looking down the trail

On this day, instead of shooting only fair photos of flying Canada geese, I shot fair photos of mallards in flight as soon as there was enough light to do so.

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

 

Mallards taking off

Mallards taking off

 

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

 

Female mallard in flight

Female mallard in flight

 

Female mallard in flight

Female mallard in flight

 

Female mallard in flight

Female mallard in flight

I suppose that those aren’t too bad considering how gloomy it was and that they were all shot with the ISO set to 6400 trying to get enough light into the camera. I did find a few eagles, only one perched though, and it was in a bad spot.

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

 

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

There was a flock of crows on the other side of the road keeping their eyes on the eagle, here’s one of them.

American crow

American crow

A brief thin spot in the clouds allowed me to shoot this mourning dove at 800 mm, the 400 mm lens plus the 2 X tele-converter.

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

In fact, I spent most of the day practicing my manual focusing techniques with that combination.

Fidgety Herring gull

Fidgety Herring gull

 

Horned lark that wouldn't stop moving

Horned lark that wouldn’t stop moving

 

American tree sparrow that finally posed for me.

American tree sparrow that finally posed for me.

Those were the best that I could do yesterday, and I saw no point in going back today, which is Monday as I begin this post. By the way, none of the photos from the morning dove on were cropped at all, that’s why I’m trying to get better with the 400 mm lens with the 2 X tele-converter behind it.

Instead, I decided to do some indoor testing relating to the thoughts that I began this post with, how for landscapes, I use a tripod and can therefore set the ISO much lower. At first I couldn’t think of a suitable indoor subject for such a test. Over the past few winters, I’ve used a few different ones indoors as I experimented with my macro lens, my wide-angle lenses, or the extension tubes that I have. None of the subjects that I used for those tests really represented birds or wildlife well, even though one of the test subjects was a rubber ducky. The problem with it for testing is that it doesn’t have the fine detail of a real bird’s feathers. Then it hit me, I have a stuffed animal that an ex-girlfriend gave me 40 years ago.

My stuffed dog

My stuffed dog

That was shot with the 100-400 mm lens set to 400 mm, the camera ISO set to 100 and a several second exposure.

I learned a good deal in my testing, some of the things that I learned surprised me, but one thing that didn’t was that the 100-400 mm lens isn’t quite 400 mm even when zoomed all the way. That was confirmed when I switched to the 400 mm lens.

400 mm prime lens

400 mm prime lens

I hadn’t moved the dog or my tripod, yet the 400 mm lens gets a little closer than the 100-400 mm lens does. It’s common for zoom lenses not being quite the focal lengths that they are rated as.

But, here’s where the subject of image quality gets tricky. When I zoomed in on the stuffed dog’s eye in Lightroom, the 400 mm prime lens was significantly sharper than the 100-400 mm lens, even though it’s hard to see much difference in the full size photos. But, I prefer the color rendition of the 100-400 mm lens.

One of the things that surprised me right off the bat was how wobbly my tripod set-up is when using the long, heavy lenses. I had to set the shutter release to a two second delay to let everything stop moving before the shutter fired. The tripod legs are steady enough, as well as the head that I have on the tripod, but the quick release system that I have, along with the way that it mounts on the lenses seems to be where all the motion came from.

Also, the three-way head that I have may be rated to carry the weight of the long lenses, but getting aimed at the exact spot I wanted was a pain. I’m already planning to upgrade to a more suitable tripod system for my longer lenses, so that’s not really an issue, but it did open my eyes a little to how important that will be if I do begin using a tripod more often when shooting birds and wildlife.

Neither lens would auto-focus accurately in the low light in my kitchen, in order to get a sharp image, I had to manually focus to get a good sharp image. That led to the next surprise, the 100-400 mm lens is a royal pain in the you know where to manually focus. I think that it’s because of how fast it is to auto-focus, it requires only minute adjustments of the focus ring to make large differences in where it is focused at. I gave up testing that lens, and worked with just the 400 mm prime from there on for the most part. The 400 mm lens is a bit slower to auto-focus, and it requires that I turn the focus ring much more to make significant changes to where it is focused at, much like an old film era lens.

Next up, I added the 1.4 X tele-converter to the 400 mm prime lens. I found that I couldn’t manually focus accurately through the viewfinder, but if I went into the live view mode, and zoomed in on where I wanted the image to be in focus, I could pull off images like this.

400 mm lens and 1.4 X extender

400 mm lens and 1.4 X extender

That surprised me also, the 1.4 X extender didn’t seem to work well with that lens when I tried it in the field, but there was almost no loss of sharpness when mounted on the tripod.

Of course the next step was to switch to the 2 X extender on the 400 mm prime lens for this image.

400 mm prime lens and 2 X extender

400 mm prime lens and 2 X extender

There is a little fall-off in sharpness, but it still performed much better than I had expected, and better than cropping an image down to make the subject appear as close. That confirms the limited testing that I’ve done in the field with that lens so far.

I also learned a few things about my Canon 7D Mk II that I didn’t know before I did this testing. I had the ISO set manually to 100 for these test shots, or so I thought. When I went into live view to focus, I would see ISO 16000 appear in the screen while I was focusing. That makes sense, the camera had to turn up the ISO to form the live view image for me to see. Most of the time, I would switch live view off before I pressed the shutter release, but there was one time that I forgot to switch it off. Then, the  camera stayed at ISO 16000 even though I have it set in the menu system to never go higher than 12800. But, the results weren’t that bad.

800 mm ISO 16000

800 mm ISO 16000

You can’t see the noise in the image as it appears here, but when I zoomed in using Lightroom, I could see the noise then, not as much as I thought there would be, but there was some.

Yet another surprise was that when I forgot to turn off live view before taking the shot is that the camera crops the image slightly as you can see by comparing the last two photos. When I viewed the images in the camera, it showed the entire image with bars across the image, but when the images were sent to Lightroom, all that was sent were the parts of the image within the bars.

I went back and tried the 100-400 mm lens again, using live view, but that was my last surprise, that lens can not match the 400 mm prime lens in sharpness, at least not in this test. I would have guessed that the two lenses were about equal, that’s what I had found from using both in the field. I should repeat this testing someday when there’s good light outside to see if I get the same results.

Having had more time to think about my unscientific testing, I should have turned off the Image Stabilization of the 100-400 mm lens since it was mounted on a tripod. The experts say that isn’t necessary to turn it off, but I always do on my short lenses when I’m shooting landscapes, and it seems to work better.

I did switch the lenses to manual focus while I was manually focusing. Despite what Canon says about manual over-ride, I found that the camera would fight me as I manually focused, and it would attempt to set the focus where it wanted.

Okay then, this very unscientific testing did confirm my original thoughts, that if I were to use a tripod and set the ISO much lower, I can get better quality images that way, if the subject sits still long enough.

It also confirms something that I’ve been thinking about as I read lab reviews of lenses, they don’t always equate into real world results. For example, the 100-400 mm lens failed in what I was trying to do inside, but as I’ve used that lens as I normally do outside, it has stunned me with how good it is. I would have rated it equal to or better than the 400 mm prime lens from the images it has produced in the field. I suppose that lab tests have their place, they tell you how well a piece of camera gear will perform in the lab under controlled conditions.

You can’t trust the reviews done by many of the professional photographers, because many of them either receive some form of compensation from the manufacturers, or are angling to be one of those who receive some form of compensation from the manufacturers.

It’s also hard to trust user reviews as well, since one never knows if the person doing the review is being honest, or if they even know how to use the equipment that they are reviewing.

You could rent a lens for a week or two, but I’m not sure that one would become familiar enough with a lens in such a short period of time. If you were to rent it for a long enough count of time to become sure of its capabilities and shortfalls, you may as well have purchased it in the first place.

The manufacturer’s specifications don’t help much either. For example, many manufacturer’s give a spec for the least amount of light required for a camera to auto-focus, what they don’t tell you is how inaccurate the auto-focus becomes as the amount of light approaches that lowest limit. That’s what happened when I started the test that I did, both lenses seemed to auto-focus, however, the fuzzy photos that I got told me otherwise.

As always, I learned a great deal during this little exercise, about my camera, the lenses, and my tripod system. One thing that still puzzles me though is why there isn’t more noise visible in the image shot at ISO 16000. I have to use Lightroom to remove noise in photos shot at ISO 6400 or higher normally. That one is a real head scratcher.

I’ve heard that Live view focusing is the most accurate, because you are seeing what the sensor actually sees as it’s about to capture the image. You’re not using the focusing screen or relying on an auto-focus sensor to make the determination if the lens is in focus or not. I will say one thing though after this test, just how good the auto-focusing systems are today is amazing, despite their weaknesses.

So, another week has gone by, and I’ve made another trip to the Muskegon wastewater facility. It was a rare, almost sunny day, however a ground inversion in the atmosphere created a haze in the light, scattering it in ways that didn’t lead to the best photos. I tried to get my best images ever of a snow bunting using what I had learned from my indoor testing, but I couldn’t use live view focusing for them because they move around so much. Still, these aren’t bad considering that I was manually focusing the 400 mm lens with the 2 X extender behind it.

Snow bunting

Snow bunting

 

Snow bunting

Snow bunting

I’ll save the rest of the photos from my most recent trip for the next post, I’ll fill this one out with a few more images shot over the summer and fall. Heck, some go all the way back to spring.

???

Wood sorrel?

 

Lily of the valley?

Lily of the valley

 

Hawkweed?

Hawkweed?

 

Another that I've forgotten

Another that I’ve forgotten

 

Male brownheaded cowbird

Male brown-headed cowbird

 

I don't know what it is, but it's pretty

I don’t know what it is, but it’s pretty

 

White Pine

White Pine

 

From the viburnum family

From the viburnum family

 

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

 

Blue-eyed grass

Blue-eyed grass

 

Caterpillar

Caterpillar

 

Female brownheaded cowbird

Female brown-headed cowbird

Looking at these photos from last year make me wish that spring was here already! It’s been even gloomier here than usual this past week, other than on Sunday when I shot the snow buntings. It’s been warmer since then, which was nice, but the warm air has led to the snow melting, and that in turn has led to foggy days and nights with the moisture from the melting snow in the atmosphere. I am so ready for spring!

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

New Years Day 2017

Well, 2017 started on an optimistic note, nary a cloud in the sky at dawn when I arrived at the Muskegon County wastewater facility.

The first sunrise of 2017

The first sunrise of 2017

But as you can see, things are still frozen over around here, although we’ve lost most of the snow that’s fallen so far this winter.

New Years Day 2017

New Years Day 2017

I had high-hopes that I’d be able to test out the new 400 mm lens in good light, and I suppose you could say that I did, but not in the way that I had hoped. Although I tried very hard, I could not get close to a perched bird, not even one of the many starlings there.

Starling

Starling

I couldn’t even get close to a flying gull.

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

It’s a pretty pathetic day when that’s the best that I could do as far as flying gulls.

I titled one of my recent posts “I remember my failures”, but I also remember my successes, and I was getting some very good photos last fall before the clouds, snow, and cold set in for the winter, like this one.

Black-bellied plover, winter plumage

Black-bellied plover, winter plumage

It’s very difficult to match that photo when there are few birds around to begin with, and the few species of birds left for the winter are busy trying to stay alive, and don’t have time to pose for me. I think that I need an attitude adjustment, each photo that I shoot doesn’t have to be better than the one that I shot before. Still, there were several times on Sunday when I considered going somewhere else in hopes of finding birds that I could get closer to.

I was even wondering if it was worth it to go to the wastewater facility as often as I do, because I know that I can get better photos at other locations, even if the photos are of fewer species of birds. But, there is one reason for me to keep going back to the wastewater facility, to get photos of species of birds that I have never photographed before. On Christmas Day, I finally got photos of a northern shrike for example.

Anyway, I was a bit bored despite the good light on Sunday, so I decided to test out the new 400 mm lens on a few of the Canada geese flying in and out of the grassy cells, mostly because I couldn’t find any other birds to shoot.

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

 

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

 

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

 

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

I’m happy to report that the new lens does very well, when I get everything right. The 100-400 mm lens is easier to use, but the 400 mm lens can produce sharper images of birds in flight as you can see. I’m finding that there’s more of a learning curve to the 400 mm lens though.

I shot those photos while I was as close to a huge flock of geese as I could get without causing them to all take off as a flock, and picking and choosing which small flocks to shoot as the smaller flocks came and went.

What I wanted to do was find a way to photograph the entire flock, which numbered in the hundreds, I even shot a few photos as I would a landscape, with a very short lens, but then the geese were nothing but brown lumps in a brown field. I was scanning the flock with the 400 mm lens, trying to find a way to convey just how many geese there were there, when I saw a bit of orange in the flock. At first, I dismissed it as a mallard, but it didn’t look like it was the bill or foot of a mallard, so I kept watching that spot.

One greater white-fronted goose in a flock of Canada geese

One greater white-fronted goose in a flock of Canada geese

That image was cropped, and I don’t know if you can pick out the orange bill of the greater white-fronted goose or not. I still wasn’t sure if I was seeing a mallard or some other species of duck, so I continued to watch that spot, and eventually, two greater white-fronted geese stepped out into the open, here they are at 400 mm and not cropped.

Two greater white-fronted geese in a mixed flock

Two greater white-fronted geese in a mixed flock

I cropped this next one, also shot at 400 mm.

Two greater white-fronted geese in a mixed flock

Two greater white-fronted geese in a mixed flock

While those images may have been good enough for me to use in the My Photo Life List that I’m working on, I wanted better photos, so I put the 2 X tele-converter behind the 400 mm lens for these two photos.

Two greater white-fronted geese in a mixed flock

Two greater white-fronted geese in a mixed flock

 

Two greater white-fronted geese in a mixed flock

Two greater white-fronted geese in a mixed flock

Not great, but there’s no doubt that they are greater white-fronted geese, and not a domesticated species that had escaped into the wild. Another species that I can cross off from my list, not a bad way to start the new year.

I would have preferred that I could have isolated just the greater white-fronted geese with none of the Canada geese in the frame, but I had to take what they gave me. Most of the time they were out of sight within the huge flock of Canada geese.

Not to brag, but I still have excellent eyesight, several other serious birders had checked out the flock of Canada geese without seeing the two greater white-fronted geese in the flock. I made the mistake of telling one of the other birders of my find, and it wasn’t long before there were several other cars surrounding me. So, I moved down to the next cell, and found one northern pintail duck hanging out with the mallards and Canada geese.

Northern pintail drake, mallards, and Canada geese

Northern pintail drake, mallards, and Canada geese

The pintail is to the left in the frame, I wanted a better photo, but that’s the best I could do.

A little later, I was scanning another portion of the flock of geese, when I spotted another northern pintail, see if you can pick it out of the flock.

Northern pintail duck surrounded by Canada geese

Northern pintail duck surrounded by Canada geese

Here’s the 800 mm and cropped version.

Northern pintail duck surrounded by Canada geese

Northern pintail duck surrounded by Canada geese

So, I guess that you could say that I did test out the new 400 mm lens, using it as a 800 mm manually focused lens to pick out individual birds out of the flock. Manually focusing is a pain, especially when the bird is moving, even if the movement is slow.

Common goldeneye

Common goldeneye

But, I did have good light, which helped, that’s one of my better photos of that species because I got the green of its head and its small crest in that image. I also got one of my better photos of a gadwall duck.

Gadwall duck

Gadwall duck

I’d rather not post photos of bird’s butts as they fly away from me, but there are times when I have little choice.

Gadwall duck in flight

Gadwall duck in flight

Maybe someday, I’ll get a really good photo of that species.

The same holds true of the kestrels…

Male American kestrel

Male American kestrel

…they’re so small and wary, that I find it impossible to sneak up as close to one as is required for a good photo. You can see that he had already spotted me and was watching intently to see if I’d try to get closer. As I was trying to switch to bird in flight settings, he took off before I could.

Here’s the last three photos from New Years Day.

Juvenile ruddy duck

Juvenile ruddy duck

 

Common goldeneye

Common goldeneye

 

Common goldeneye

Common goldeneye

I knew none of those would be great portraits, it was the light on the water in each photo that made me decide to shoot those.

So, that’s all of my photos from New Years Day, unless I were to bore you with a bunch of photos of the Canada geese in flight, and I’ve already put enough of those photos in this post.

Proofreading this post has made me realize just how spoiled I’ve become, both in the subjects that I shoot, and in the quality of the images that I get. While other than the greater white-fronted geese, the birds in this post may be very common for me to see, they aren’t for most people. And as far as image quality, the Canada geese in flight photos from this post show just how far I’ve come as a photographer the last few years. They’re sharp, in focus, and most of all, exposed properly so that you can see the details in their feathers, both under and on the tops of their wings.

Some of that is due to better equipment, using the 7D Mk II rather than the 60D, and better lenses, but most of the improvement has been because I’m learning how to get the photos that I’ve always wanted.

Probably the biggest lesson that I’ve learned is that every piece of photo equipment has certain quirks in the way that it operates and performs. I could easily do an entire post about the quirks that I’ve found with my gear, but I’ll give you a couple of examples. The 100-400 mm lens shows a wider depth of field at similar settings than the other three long lenses that I own, while the new 400 mm prime lens requires 1/3 to 2/3 stop more light in exposure compensation than my other lenses. I have no idea why those things are true, but they are.

In the past, I’d fight those quirks, thinking that I could force the equipment to perform exactly like the textbook says it should perform, but I’ve learned to accept those quirks and set the camera accordingly. If I’m using the 100-400 mm lens, I simply open the aperture one stop to get the depth of field that I want for an image. If I’m using the 400 mm prime lens, I add that 1/3 to 2/3 stop more light in the exposure compensation to get to the same exposure as my other lenses.

That may be the most important photography tip that I can pass along, learn your equipment and how it operates. Just because some one else uses certain settings to get a great image doesn’t mean that you’ll get the same results at those same settings.

Anyway, after the fairly nice day on New Years Day, we’ve been back in the deep freeze with almost constant snowfall. The snow hasn’t added up to very much, since it’s all been the light, fluffy lake effect snow, but with the clouds and the cold, I haven’t been out at all this week. I even volunteered to work Monday, which is normally a day off for me.

The forecast for this coming weekend is the same, cold, cloudy, and more light snow. So, I guess that I’ll have to fill this post out with photos from last summer and fall. That leads me to one last (for this post) comment on photo gear. Recently I said that purchasing the 300 mm lens was probably a mistake, after giving it more thought, I’ve changed my mind. While it may not be as good for birds…

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

 

American robin

American robin

…as either of my newest lenses, it’s an excellent lens for shooting subjects very close to me, such as flowers.

Bindweed

Bindweed

 

I forgot again

I forgot again

 

Sweet pea

Sweet pea

 

Dandelion seeds

Dandelion seeds

That lens is also excellent for insects as well.

Damselfly

Damselfly

 

Skipper

Skipper

Up close, the 300 mm lens is as good as any lens I own, it’s only at distances more than 25 feet that its performance begins to drop off. So, when I go somewhere such as Aman Park or Loda Lake to photograph flowers, and of course the insects on the flowers, I can take the 300 mm lens since it’s like a long-range macro lens. The extra distance that I can shoot insects from with the 300 mm lens versus the 100 mm macro lens means that I can get the shot without spooking the insects as I would if I used the macro lens. And, while the 300 mm lens may not be my best lens for birds, it does an acceptable job on birds.

That leads me another one of those quirks I was writing about earlier. According to the specifications, the 100-400 mm lens is supposed to be at least as good as the 300 mm lens at close distances, but in the limited number of times I’ve tried the 100-400 mm lens out on very close subjects, it hasn’t been able to match what I can do with the 300 mm lens.

However, flowers and insects are still several moths away, and thinking about photographing them only makes the current weather outside more miserable, so I’d better end this post now before I whine about the weather even more than I already do.

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

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

The green-winged teal (Anas carolinensis or Anas crecca carolinensis) is a common and widespread duck that breeds in the northern areas of North America except on the Aleutian Islands. It was considered conspecific with the common teal (A. crecca) for some time but the issue is still being reviewed by the American Ornithologists’ Union; based on this the IUCN and BirdLife International do not accept it as a separate species at present. However, nearly all other authorities consider it distinct based on behavioral, morphological, and molecular evidence. The scientific name is from Latin Anas, “duck” and carolinensis, “of Carolina”.

This dabbling duck is strongly migratory and winters far south of its breeding range. It is highly gregarious outside of the breeding season and will form large flocks. In flight, the fast, twisting flocks resemble waders.

This is the smallest North American dabbling duck. The breeding male has grey flanks and back, with a yellow rear end and a white-edged green speculum, obvious in flight or at rest. It has a chestnut head with a green eye patch. It is distinguished from drake common teals (the Eurasian relative of this bird) by a vertical white stripe on side of breast, the lack of both a horizontal white scapular stripe and the lack of thin buff lines on its head.

The females are light brown, with plumage much like a female mallard. They can be distinguished from most ducks on size, shape, and the speculum. Separation from female common teal is problematic.

In non-breeding (eclipse) plumage, the drake looks more like the female.

It is a common duck of sheltered wetlands, such as taiga bogs, and usually feeds by dabbling for plant food or grazing. It nests on the ground, near water and under cover. While its conservation status is not evaluated by IUCN at present due to non-recognition of the taxon, it is plentiful enough to make it a species of Least Concern if it were; it is far more plentiful than the common teal.[8] It can be seen in vast numbers in the Marismas Nacionales of western Mexico, a main wintering area.

This is a noisy species. The male has a clear whistle, whereas the female has a feeble quack.

The American green-winged teal breeds from the Aleutian Islands, northern Alaska, Mackenzie River delta, northern Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Labrador south to central California, central Nebraska, central Kansas, southern Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland, and the Maritime Provinces.

The American green-winged teal winters from southern Alaska and southern British Columbia east to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and south to Central America. It also winters in Hawaii

Nesting chronology varies geographically. In North Dakota, green-winged teal generally begin nesting in late April. In the Northwest Territories, Canada, green-winged teal begin nesting between late May and early July. At Minto Lakes, Alaska, green-winged teal initiate nesting as early as June 1 and as late as July 20.

Green-winged teal become sexually mature their first winter. They lay 5 to 16 eggs. The incubation period is 21 to 23 days.

Green-winged teals often fledge 34 to 35 days after hatching or usually before 6 weeks of age. Young green-winged teal have the fastest growth rate of all ducks.

Male green-winged teal leave females at the start of incubation and congregate on safe waters to molt. Some populations undergo an extensive molt migration while others remain on or near breeding grounds. Females molt on breeding grounds.

Green-winged teal are among the earliest spring migrants. They arrive on nesting areas almost as soon as the snow melts. In early February, green-winged teal begin to depart their winter grounds, and continue through April. In central regions green-winged teal begin to arrive early in March with peak numbers in early April.

In northern areas of the United States, green-winged teal migrating to wintering grounds appear in early September through mid-December. They begin migrating into most central regions during September and often remain through December. On their more southerly winter areas, green-winged teal arrive as early as late September, but most do not appear until late November.

Green-winged teal inhabit inland lakes, marshes, ponds, pools, and shallow streams with dense emergent and aquatic vegetation. They prefer shallow waters and small ponds and pools during the breeding season. Green-winged teal are often found resting on mudbanks or stumps, or perching on low limbs of dead trees. These ducks nest in depressions on dry ground located at the base of shrubs, under a log, or in dense grass. The nests are usually 2 to 300 ft (0.61 to 91.44 m) from water. Green-winged teal avoid treeless or brushless habitats. Green-winged teal winter in both freshwater or brackish marshes, ponds, streams, and estuaries. As they are smaller birds, they tend to stay in the calmer water.

Green-winged teal, more than any other species of duck, prefer to seek food on mud flats. Where mud flats are lacking, they prefer shallow marshes or temporarily flooded agricultural lands. They usually eat vegetative matter consisting of seeds, stems, and leaves of aquatic and emergent vegetation. Green-winged teal appear to prefer the small seeds of nutgrasses (Cyperus spp.), millets (Panicum spp.), and sedges to larger seeds, but they also consume corn, wheat, barley, and buttonbush (Cephalanthus spp.) seeds. In marshes, sloughs, and ponds, green-winged teal select the seeds of bulrushes, pondweeds, and spikerushes (Eleocharis spp.). To a lesser extent they feed upon the vegetative parts of muskgrass (Chara spp.), pondweeds, widgeongrass (Ruppia maritima), and duckweeds (Lemna spp.). They will occasionally eat insects, mollusks, and crustaceans. Occasionally during spring months, green-winged teal will gorge on maggots of decaying fish which are found around ponds.

 

On to my photos:

These photos were shot at the Muskegon County wastewater facility over the past few years.

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

 

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

 

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

 

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

 

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

 

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

 

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca in flight

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca in flight

 

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

This is number 200 in my photo life list, only 150 to go!

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

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I’m tired of planning

First of all, I hope that every one had a Merry Christmas and that the new year is beginning well for you!

Although I know that I have much more of it to do, for right now, I’m tired of planning for the future and researching camera gear, I want to get out and shoot some good photos!

I have found a few more places to check out when the weather gets better, but there’s something that really irks me that I run into many times when checking out places online. A perfect example of this is the Detroit River International  Wildlife Sanctuary, it sounded like a great place to go to find waterfowl, shorebirds, and wading birds. The website for the sanctuary has descriptions of the trails and the boardwalks that have been built to allow people to see and photograph the abundant wildlife there, but then you get to the kicker. Most of the sanctuary is closed to the public, including many of the trails and boardwalks, due to a lack of staffing in this instance, except for when they have an open house to hit visitors up for donations.

This is something that I run into time and time again, especially with places managed by the Federal Government and certain non-profit organizations, they have a website that tells you how great the place is, and what’s to be found there, but then I find that it’s closed to the public all or most of the time.

I understand that there are places that are too environmentally sensitive to allow unchecked public access, but what irks me is that to the Federal Government and these certain non-profit groups, most of the lands they hold are deemed too environmentally sensitive to allow any public access. At the same time, they are hitting me up for money because according to them, our public lands are under attack and they need money to fend off those attacks. My question is, why bother protecting public land when the public isn’t allowed access to them? And, as they continued to close off more and more areas to the public, then the people who want to get out and connect with nature are forced to use less and less land where public access is allowed, making those places more crowded all the time. Then, the overcrowding becomes an excuse to further limit access to public lands.

Maybe it bothers me so much because I’ve seen that scenario play out in one of what used to be my favorite parts of Michigan, what is now known as the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. That area was once two Michigan State Parks, and a few Michigan State Forest Campgrounds, along with some Michigan State Forest public land. Then, the Federal Government took control of the existing parks, and began adding more land, which I thought was a good thing. However, as time went on, more and more of the area was closed to the public, or you were only allowed to access it in certain places. The last time that I was up there, it was so crowded in the few areas where the public was allowed that I vowed never to return again. Oh well, there are plenty of places to go in Michigan, so if I have to cross a few places off from my list, it’s really not that big of a deal. I’d better quit here, while I’m behind, because I know many readers don’t agree with me on this subject.

I went to the Muskegon Wastewater facility on Christmas day, hoping to get some decent light to test out the new 400 mm lens in, but that didn’t happen. It was another dreary day here in West Michigan, and for most of the time that I was there, I couldn’t get a bird to sit still long enough to get any photo of them. It was not one of my better days, I almost got my Subaru stuck trying to drive on one of the roads that hadn’t been plowed in a while.

Eventually, there was a little bit more light, and a willing gull for me to use as a model when testing the new lens. Here’s the gull with the new 400 mm lens, and the image hasn’t been cropped at all.

Herring gull, 400 mm, not cropped

Herring gull, 400 mm, not cropped

I added the 1.4 X tele-converter to get to 560 mm for this one, which wasn’t cropped at all either.

Herring gull, 560 mm, not cropped

Herring gull, 560 mm, not cropped

The test didn’t go quite like I planned, as soon as I added the extender, I could only use the center focus point, so I couldn’t get the images as close to the same as I would have liked. Auto-focus doesn’t work at all when I swapped the extenders, going to the 2 X extender. But, out of habit, and wanting to keep the composition as close as I could for this photo, I still had the center focus point on the gull’s eye.

Herring gull, 800 mm, not cropped

Herring gull, 800 mm, not cropped

Not bad, it isn’t quite as sharp as without the extender, so the next step happened when I got home, when I cropped some of the photos. Here’s an image at 800 mm and cropped for a head shot.

Herring gull, 800 mm, cropped

Herring gull, 800 mm, cropped

Here’s an image shot at 400 mm and cropped to the exact same image size as the last one.

Herring gull, 400 mm, cropped to the same image size as the last one

Herring gull, 400 mm, cropped to the same image size as the last one

It’s still sharper than the image that I shot at 800 mm, but that changes when I cropped a 400 mm image down to get as close to the gull as I had at 800 mm.

Herring gull, 400 mm, cropped to get the gull the same size

Herring gull, 400 mm, cropped to get the gull the same size

The image shot at 800 mm and cropped slightly is sharper than the last one. For my use here, you wouldn’t know the difference, but if I were to print them out, the 800 mm image cropped would be superior to the 400 mm cropped image, by a wide margin. If there would have been better light, any of these images would have been even better!

I also tested the new 400 mm lens out on flying birds, with the same difficulty, no light, at least for most of the day. So, here’s an image of a mallard landing to show how much of a wake they make as they land.

Male mallard landing

Male mallard landing

As in the case of the portrait shots, eventually I got a little better light for flying birds.

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

I never noticed the radio antenna in the background when I was shooting the series, luckily, the 400 mm lens tracked the mallards well as I continued to shoot.

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

I don’t think that the 400 mm lens focuses as quickly as the 100-400 mm lens, but the 400 mm lens seems to do okay. I had no trouble acquiring the intended subject, and it did track the subjects well.

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

 

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

 

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

 

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

 

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

I love the fact the gull’s eyes in these last few photos are sharper than what I could get of a perched bird’s eye using either the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) or the 300 mm lens, with or without an extender, even at the higher ISO setting that I had to use for these.

It occurs to me as I think about comparing my two newest lenses, the two of them together weigh just a few ounces more than the Beast did alone. The 100-400 mm lens is well-balanced as I said before, and I can track birds in flight well with it. The new 400 mm lens is much lighter, lighter than even the 300 mm lens since the 400 mm doesn’t have Image Stabilization. The 400 mm lens points well, by that I mean that as I raise the camera to my eye, I’m on target and ready to shoot as soon as the auto-focus does its thing. That could be because of how long and skinny that lens is compared to the others, but all the weight is in the camera, not the lens, or so it seems as I use it. It will take me a while to get used to the balance of this set-up.

Anyway, I’ve now have two quality long lenses so that once I get a second body, I can have one set for portraits, and one for action. This is an example of why that’s important. In the middle of shooting some of the flying gull photos you’ve seen in this post, I spotted a kestrel. I thought that I had changed the camera settings, but I was wrong.

American kestrel shot with the wrong settings

American kestrel shot with the wrong settings

The camera settings were whacked, and I missed a good photo of the kestrel because I was too busy trying not to spook the bird to check the settings as I was shooting.

I have some more photos from Sunday, but first, there was almost good light for a short time today!

No white in sight!

No white in sight!

I was going to say that the new 400 mm lens wouldn’t be good for small birds, but I could be wrong about that. I started out shooting some goldfinches that were really too far away for a great image, but they turned out better than I thought that they would.

American goldfinch eating teasel seeds

American goldfinch eating teasel seeds

 

American goldfinch eating teasel seeds

American goldfinch eating teasel seeds

 

American goldfinch eating teasel seeds

American goldfinch eating teasel seeds

 

American goldfinch eating teasel seeds

American goldfinch eating teasel seeds

One of the last photos of the day was this one, when I was much closer to one of the goldfinches, but the light wasn’t as good by then.

American goldfinch eating leaf buds

American goldfinch eating leaf buds

I’ve seen squirrels eat the leaf buds from trees before, but never a bird, but that’s what the goldfinch is munching on, a leaf bud.

If only I had more time, I could have done better with the birds today, but I had to wait for the rain to come to an end before venturing out. When I did make it outside, I found a different world than what there was yesterday, a record high temperature for the date, and most of the snow was going fast. That left small lakes everywhere there wasn’t a new creek flowing to get rid of the rain and melting snow. Too bad it won’t last, even all day today, by tomorrow we’re back in the freezer again.

Anyway, I was able to shoot a few images with the ISO set under 2000, unlike most of the day before. And, you probably won’t be able to tell from these photos as they appear here, but the new lens exceeded my expectations when it came to the smaller birds.

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

I had to try this, to see how well the new lens can pick birds out of the brush.

Blue jay hiding

Blue jay hiding

Just for the heck of it, I tried this shot to see how close the new lens would focus down to, way too far away for lichens.

Lichens

Lichens

It was the next two photos which changed my mind about the new lens and smaller birds.

Male House finch

Male House finch

When I can dial the ISO down, the new lens is even sharper than the 100-400 mm lens, and that’s saying a lot!

Male House finch

Male House finch

It’s no wonder that the 400 mm f/5.6 lens from Canon has the reputation of being the lens for birders. Now, I can’t wait to see what it can do in very good light.

I think that the color reproduction is outstanding as well, but it seems to need a little more light when I set the exposure compensation.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Also, I don’t think that I get as much depth of field with the 400 mm lens as I do with the 100-400 mm lens, even though in theory, they should be exactly the same.

Blue jay

Blue jay

Overall, I’d say that the new 400 mm lens will make a great companion to the 100-400 mm lens when I’m out specifically for birds.

Blue jay in flight

Blue jay in flight

 

Juvenile turkey on the run

Juvenile turkey on the run

You can see that not all of the snow is gone, but a healthy chunk of it is gone. It was also the sunniest day so far this month, 17 of the first 25 days of December we had 0% of possible sunshine. It’s not hard to beat 0%.

That takes me back to Sunday, which was one of those 17 days with no sunshine.

Coyote

Coyote

I’ve seen coyotes before, but I believe that the one above is my first photo of one, they normally disappear before I can get a shot. The same is true of foxes.

Red fox on the run

Red fox on the run

You can see that this one was picking them up…

Red fox on the run

Red fox on the run

…and laying them down as it ran for cover.

Red fox on the run

Red fox on the run

There were two foxes, out on the center dyke of all places, completely surrounded by water except for that narrow dyke that separates the two lagoons. The one in the photos ran across the lagoon, the other ran along the base of the dyke so I didn’t have a clear view of it. Maybe they were lying in wait for a gull or a goose? It seemed like an odd place to foxes to hang out, I was on the center dyke looking for snow buntings, which weren’t there. All of the small flocks of snow buntings had joined into one huge flock…

Snow buntings

Snow buntings

…and that’s only a small portion of the flock. I shot one video, but in the middle of the buntings flying past me, I got the great idea to try to focus on those in flight, it did not go well.

So, I shot a second one, letting the buntings flit around while I tried to remain still.

Holding a camera with a 400 mm lens still at arm’s length so I can see the camera’s rear screen isn’t easy. I tried to cut the shaky part at the end off using Canon’s software, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it. Still, I think that you can see what I mean when I say that these birds are in perpetual motion.

Some one saw a snowy owl at the wastewater facility earlier in the week, but I couldn’t find it. That isn’t because my eyes are going bad, for I was able to spot this bird flying across a field more than 100 yards away from me, see where it landed, and then get close enough for a few poor images of it.

Northern shrike

Northern shrike

That’s a species that I needed for the My Photo Life List project, even though I have seen northern shrikes in the past, I’ve never photographed one. They are smaller than a blue jay, so to spot one at the distance that I was from it tells me my eyesight is still good. I watched it fly back across the field, but the photos that I took when I got to that spot weren’t as good because it was even farther away from me. I watched it hunt for a while, but I didn’t want to get greedy. I’ve found that once I’ve gotten poor photos of a species, better ones usually follow soon after.

Northern shrike

Northern shrike

Now that I know where the shrike hangs out, I hope to get better photos of it soon.

That doesn’t always work though, I still struggle when it comes to kingfishers.

Male belted kingfisher

Male belted kingfisher

I know where he hangs out, but that doesn’t help me get any closer to him, he’s far too wary for that to happen.

I have two more photos from Sunday (Christmas Day) left, and here they are.

Rock dove (feral pigeon)

Rock dove (feral pigeon)

 

Muskrat

Muskrat

All in all, not a bad weekend of using the new lens despite the lack of light most of the time. I can tell that there are a few things that I’ll have to get used as I use it more, but I rate it as a winner for sure. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to test the new 400 mm lens out in some good light this coming weekend, New Years Day is forecast to be sunny, but I’m not sure that I believe it.

Anyway, as I finish this one up, I’d like to wish every one a Happy New Years, and may 2017 bring you everything that you’re wishing for!

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

I remember my failures

After publishing my last regular post on Sunday, I went out for a walk in the snowstorm, without a camera. I remember that I’ve done that in the past when it was snowing heavily, but it seemed so weird this time.

I will say this, I stayed much warmer, and the cold and snow didn’t bother me as much, because I was moving faster, and I concentrated on keeping myself warm and dry, not my camera and lens. Winter isn’t so bad after all. 😉

It may be that by the time I get around to publishing this post, my newest bit of camera gear will have arrived. I absolutely love the images that I’ve been shooting with the 100-400 mm lens that I purchased a few months ago, it’s been a great reminder that the lens used on a camera is more important than the camera itself in may ways. But before I ramble on about lenses, first I have to pat myself on the back a little.

One thing that I’m proud of is that I don’t go overboard when editing my images, even the HDR images that I create. I generally add a little clarity and vibrance to the images, very little when compared to what the experts recommend. I very seldom touch the color saturation, although I’ve found that the 7D Mk II needs a little help in that department when I’m shooting almost directly into the sun, which I shouldn’t be doing anyway.

I crop the photos when needed, and fix the lack of dynamic range that digital cameras have. That is, I usually bring down the highlights and raise the shadows a little. If I shot the photo at a high ISO setting, then I’ll reduce the noise, and that’s it.

As I’ve said a few times, I joined the North American Nature Photographers Association on Facebook so that I can compare my images to those that other people shoot. While the majority of the images that I see there are quite well done, there are some that are so heavily edited that they look nothing like what one would ever see in nature.  It’s difficult to pick out what I think are the worst “sins” that some photographers make, but pushing the color saturation well past the point of what I think is correct is one of them. Then there are the HDR images that are way overdone in the first place, then the photographer compounds the mistake by pushing the color saturation even further. Another one of the things that I see which I don’t care for is vignetting the image to the point where the edges of the photo are very dark, and the corners are almost black.

I should take a few of my images, edit them in ways that I think are wrong, and show every one what I’m talking about, but every one’s taste varies. Me, I go for the most realistic look that I can get in an image. I think that I’m doing very well in that regard.

I do hate to brag, but I’ve come a long way over the past couple of years in both getting the photo as good as it can be in the camera, and in editing the images afterward. Some of that is due to equipment, good glass is everything is one thing that I’ve learned.

Oh, by the way, that reminds me, a while back I did a post on something that I heard a lot from people when I showed them my photos. They’d say “You must have a really good camera” and that would tick me off a little. As my images have improved, I don’t hear that any longer, instead, I hear “You’re really good”.

Okay then, I’ve been putting a lot of thought, as always, into how I can improve on the images that I get now. Most of that involves improving the things that I do already, but there’s one thing I could accomplish with more camera gear to improve my images, and that is to have a second long set-up ready to go at all times. It’s great when a bird stays in one place and let’s me shoot away…

Great egret preening

Great egret preening

…but many times, I approach a bird hoping to get a good portrait shot, but the bird takes flight…

Great egret at take off

Great egret at take off

…before I can. So there I am with the camera and lens set incorrectly for an action shot because I was hoping to shoot a portrait first. It’s even worse when I’m using a tele-converter behind the lens to get a longer focal length, as the extender slows or disables the auto-focus system.

I do tend to remember my failures. I remember this spring, hoping to get a good portrait of a male bufflehead duck, so I put the 2 X extender behind the 300 mm lens. Just as I was getting ready to shoot a portrait, the male buffleheads went into their courting display to impress the female nearby. I did manage a few fair photos of their display, but I could have done much better if I had been prepared for it. I could recount dozens of other examples of when I guessed incorrectly as to what the wildlife I was preparing to photograph was about to do as I got ready to photograph them.

It takes me several seconds to change camera and lens settings, dealing with tele-converters only lengthens that to well over a minute, and the action is over before I can make the required changes. And, unless I want to work as many hours per day as I can for the rest of my life, it looks like I’m stuck using tele-converters to get close-ups of my subjects. If I had two long set-ups ready to go, one for portraits, one for action, I could swap cameras quicker than I can change all the settings required.

So with that in mind, I once again researched the possible long lenses, and I’ve settled on the Canon 400 mm f/5.6 lens. I’ve put that lens on my want list, then taken it off again numerous times. I’d love a lens with a wider maximum aperture, but to go to a 400mm f/4 lens would cost well over $5,000 more, and I’m not going to spend that much for one more stop of light. I could go with a Sigma 500 mm f/4 lens, but that’s also $4,000 more than the Canon 400 mm, and it doesn’t function with the Canon tele-converters that I have. They may be cheap, but it would put the total cost close to $5,000, and I’d rather not carry two more tele-converters with me all the time.

I also explored spotting scopes and the adaptors that can be used to mount a camera to them, and once again, the total cost of one of those set-ups would be about $5,000, funny how that works.

As for the camera body for the second long set-up, I’ll go with another 7D Mk II, as it’s the best option that Canon makes for wildlife photographers. The 5D Mk IV offers better low-light performance and dynamic range, but with lower resolution, which in a way, equates to sharpness. The 5DS R has slightly higher resolution than my 7D, but with worse low-light performance. And, both of the 5D models are over $2,000 more than the 7D costs.

The 7D Mk II does everything that I want a camera to do, other than high-resolution landscapes, and I’ve been producing some great photos with it this past summer.

I went to the Muskegon County wastewater facility on Monday, just as the most recent snowstorm was ending. I’ll show you a few snowy scenes later, but the first photos that I shot play into what I was talking about as far as having a second long set-up for birds. As I turned off from the main road and into the entrance of the wastewater facility, I was met by this eagle.

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

I only had the time to get the camera turned on, I didn’t have time to change any settings or to add the 1.4 X tele-converter, which I should have done for a better image. So, I ended up with yet another so-so photo of an eagle.

Anyway, here are three landscape photos that I shot, these are all HDR images to overcome the lack of dynamic range of my camera.

Winter wonderland 1

Winter wonderland 1

 

Winter wonderland 2

Winter wonderland 2

 

Winter wonderland 3

Winter wonderland 3

Most of the roads, if you want to call them that, at the wastewater facility hadn’t been plowed, and the foot of fresh snow was testing the all wheel drive capability of my Subaru. So, I wasn’t able to get in the correct position to shoot some of the snow scenes that may have been better.

I found a large flock of American tree sparrows…

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

…but that’s the only photo that I’ll share right now.

I also found several large flocks of snow buntings, at first, I tried to shoot a good close-up…

Snow buntings

Snow buntings

…but that wasn’t working because they seldom sit still. Instead, I tried for a few flock shots.

Snow buntings

Snow buntings

These little birds are in perpetual motion as they look for seeds, you can see that three of the four in the foreground are running to where one had found seeds.

Snow buntings

Snow buntings

You can also see that they grab the vegetation sticking out of the snow to pull it up which may expose more seeds for them to eat. They’re fun birds to watch, but difficult to photograph, because on a whim, the entire flock will take flight, and move on to the next spot to feed.

I also saw a small flock of tundra swans in the distance.

Tundra swans in flight

Tundra swans in flight

As quickly as the open water is freezing over, I’ll wager that they were that they’re getting ready to head farther south.

There were two eagles sitting out on the edge of the ice, but too far away for a good photo. When a third eagle flew over to harass one of the first two…

Bald eagles in flight

Bald eagles in flight

…I couldn’t resist shooting a short burst off the action.

My only other photo of the day is this one of a rough-legged hawk in flight, looking the wrong way.

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

I’m getting a bad feeling about this coming winter, even worse than I had before. In some ways, it makes little sense to purchase any more camera gear when the weather is going to be too bad to get out and use that gear very often. On the other hand, the 400 mm lens is on sale, plus I have a rewards card from B&H Photo that has to be used before it expires, which will reduce the cost, plus any time that I get to use it will help me get used to it for when better weather does arrive.

More about the weather, up until yesterday, the 16th, we had 55 minutes of sunshine for the entire month of December, which averaged out to a little more than 4 minutes per day. But the majority of that came on the one Monday when I went out and shot a few of the photos from my last post. There’s already enough snow on the ground that the only places that I’ll be able to get to are those where the roads have been plowed. The forecast for the next ten days is the same, cold and snow, with the only difference between days is how cold, and how much snow will fall.

And since I wrote that last segment, it’s been more of the same. We were under a winter weather advisory for most of the past weekend as yet another Arctic front passed through the area bringing more snow, more cold, and more clouds. The good news is that the cold air may retreat later this week, and we may see temperatures slightly above freezing for a few days this next week. Although the temperature may get above freezing, we’ll still have a white Christmas here as the temperature won’t be warm enough to melt the snow already on the ground, and we’ll have more fall this week anyway.

Wednesday marks the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year as far as sunlight, from then on, the amount of sunlight each day will begin increasing again. At least that’s something to look forward to.

I’m also looking forward to the new 400 mm lens being delivered today, I’d be home staying out of the cold even if I didn’t have to wait for the lens to be delivered. With the wind chill around zero (-17 C) and a foot of fresh snow on the ground, I’ve been doing research into places to go when the weather does warm up. I’ve found quite a few, however most of them are farther north than I can go for a weekend, unless I want to spend most of my time off driving to and from the places I’ve found. But, I have found a few much closer to home where I’m likely to find species of birds that I need to add to the My Photo Life List project.

Well, the new 400 mm lens arrived very late in the afternoon, after I had gone to bed in fact. Fortunately, I heard the buzzer when the delivery driver arrived, and I was able to leap out of bed and let him in before he gave up. My first impressions are that the lens is relatively small and light compared to the 100-400 mm lens, it’s even lighter than the 300 mm lens because it doesn’t have Image Stabilization. In fact, it’s so light that I wonder how well I’ll be able to track large birds in flight with it, only time will tell.

One of the reasons that I didn’t purchase this lens earlier is because of its long minimum focusing distance, around 12 feet. That’s not close enough for small birds in thick vegetation, but it will be fine for my trips to the Muskegon wastewater facility or the channel to Lake Michigan, where the birds are typically larger, and I shoot them at longer distances. I’ve shot one photo with it so far, a photo of my computer screen. The long minimum focusing distance was apparent even then, at first I thought that the auto-focusing wasn’t working because I was too close to the computer. I took a step back, and shot this at 1/60 second and ISO 12800 handheld.

Test shot

Test shot

Not bad for no IS, I can’t wait to try it out in good light.

I did get to tryout out in good light today, but I couldn’t find anything to photograph. All the water in the ponds and creek is frozen, so no mallards or geese, and with a sustained wind of nearly 30 MPH, with higher gusts, I knew that most birds would be hunkered down to stay warm. So, I found an icicle to photograph.

Icicle on a rare day with blue skies

Icicle on a rare day with blue skies

It’s only the first full day of winter, and I’m already suffering from cabin fever. Since the weather hasn’t been very good, I’ve been working more to fill the void. I’ve also been planning, for this next year and beyond. I’ve submitted my vacation request at work, for the third week of May again this year. That’s a long way off, and I’ll have to see what the weather will be like as that week approaches, but I plan to go up north for a week of camping and birding as I have the past several years.

Because I slowed down and took better care of myself last year, it was one of the best vacations that I’ve ever had. I plan to do the same thing this year, in the same area if the weather allows. I’ve even found a few more places in the Alpena, Michigan area that should be good for both birding and scenery photos.

Next year, I’ll be eligible for two weeks of vacation if I can gut it out where I work, then I’ll take one week off in the spring, and save the second week, probably for early fall for another trip to the upper peninsula as I did a few years ago. I could prattle on and on about my plans, and all that they mean, but it’s time to finish this post up with some photos from last fall.

Bee, fly, and asters

Bee, fly, and asters

 

Bee on an aster

Bee on an aster

 

Bee between asters

Bee between asters

 

Unidentified fly object

Unidentified fly object

 

Unidentified fly object

Unidentified fly object

 

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

 

Blue jay

Blue jay

 

Fall colors in the sun

Fall colors in the sun

 

Fall colors in the rain

Fall colors in the rain

 

Fall colors in the rain 2

Fall colors in the rain 2

 

Grapes in the fall

Grapes in the fall

Here’s a few more photos.

Petunias

Petunias

 

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

 

More fall colors

More fall colors

 

Crown vetch

Crown vetch

 

Still more fall colors

Still more fall colors

 

Cooper's hawk in flight

Cooper’s hawk in flight

 

Falling leaf

Falling leaf

 

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

 

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

It looks as if the weather is going to improve this weekend, I hope to get outside at least on Sunday.

I almost forgot, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone!

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