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

  • Great crested flycatcher
  • Two lesser yellowlegs fighting
  • Juvenile great blue heron
  • Juvenile bank swallow
  • Dragonfly, the cropped version
  • Bald eagle in flight
  • Moth mullein
  • Male dickcissel singing
  • Day lily
  • Grasshopper sparrow

Latest

Where do I go now?

Well, I just checked the count that I’m keeping of species of birds for the My Photo Life list project that I’m working on, and it stands at 226 species of birds that I have photos of. Of those, I have done posts on 196 species, and I have one saved as a draft which puts the number at 197. That’s not counting the possibility that the photos that I think are a sharp-tailed sandpiper actually are of that species. It’s no wonder that I’m not adding any more species to the list lately, I’m almost 2/3 of the way through the list from the Audubon Society that I’m working from.

Great crested flycatcher

Great crested flycatcher

 

Great crested flycatcher

Great crested flycatcher

I’ve known from the beginning that I would have to spend time in two parts of Michigan that I seldom visit, the southeast side of the state, near Detroit, and the Upper Peninsula, or UP as it’s called here.

The area around Detroit has a few wading and shorebirds, along with warblers and other species, that have the very northern extent of their range in the extreme southern part of Michigan. Another reason is one of simple geography, or topography, or maybe another of the ographies, I’m not sure which one applies here. But, the area around Detroit is somewhat unique, it’s where the water from the three upper Great Lakes funnels into Lake Erie. Maybe a map will be helpful.

Michigan

Michigan

The lower peninsula of Michigan is mitten shaped, as you can see on the map, and the thumb of the mitten juts out into Lake Huron. All the water from the three upper Great Lakes flows through the St. Clair River, which empties into Lake St. Clair, the small, almost heart-shaped lake near Detroit. The City of Detroit is on the southwest shore of Lake St. Clair. Where the St. Clair River empties into Lake St. Clair, a river delta has formed, creating several large, marshy islands, one of which, Harsen’s Island, has a portion of it designated as a wildlife preserve. The water then flows down the Detroit River to Lake Erie. Near where the Detroit River empties into Lake Erie, is the famous Point Mouillee State Game Area, a birder’s paradise, or so I’ve heard. The entire area from the southern tip of Lake Huron, to Lake Erie is mostly marshy, which is why it attracts wading and shorebirds, along with ducks and geese.

Other factors in why the east side of Michigan attracts more species of birds is because the birds don’t have to cross the open waters of any of the Great Lakes on their way north. They can fly into southern Michigan, then cross just a river to get to Canada, and continue their journey north. Also, the winters are a bit milder near Detroit, and spring comes earlier there, because Detroit doesn’t receive the lake effect snow that we get here on the west side of the state.

Then there’s the UP, home to some of the other species that I’ll need if I’m ever going to complete the list. The one thing that prevents me from going there is simply distance. It’s about a five-hour drive just to reach the Mackinac Bridge to cross over to the UP, if traveling conditions are good. Of course, it takes just as long to get back home again, which means that driving alone takes one full day of a two-day weekend.

One thing about the UP which would also hinder me from finding birds for my list is the scenery there. A few of you may remember my vacation to the UP a few years ago, with my photos from the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore…

Miner's Castle

Miner’s Castle

 

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

and the Porcupine Mountains.

Presque Isle River Falls

Presque Isle River Falls

 

The view from Summit Peak

The view from Summit Peak

With so much beautiful scenery competing for lens time, I may have a hard time pulling myself away long enough to look for birds.😉

Since it’s only a three-hour drive to the parts of Michigan near Detroit that I will have to visit to get a few more species of birds to cross off from my list, I should be planning to spend some weekends there, especially this fall. However, fall isn’t my favorite time of the year for birding, as I have to deal with all of the juvenile birds that haven’t grown their adult feathers yet, and even many of the adults look completely different in the fall than they do in the spring.

Male scarlet tanager beginning to molt

Male scarlet tanager beginning to molt

That guy was well on his way of changing from the brilliant red from which he got his name to the dull yellow feathers that he’ll have until next spring.

If I’m going to travel across the sate for an entire weekend, then I also need a place to stay. Since the southeast corner of Michigan is the home of the automobile industry in the United States, the entire area, from the state line to well north of Detroit is built up, so there are few places to camp. I could stay in a motel, and that’s probably what I’ll do when I do visit that part of the state, but for right now, I’m saving my money for other things. There are plenty of places to camp in the UP, if I ever find the time to go that far. I may find that staying in a motel would give me more time in the woods though.

There are still a few species that I could add to my list that are seen around Muskegon, or even closer to home, but that number is dwindling. According to the records from eBird, there have been 298 species of birds seen at the Muskegon County wastewater facility for example. That number includes the once in a lifetime sightings, such as the sharp-tailed sandpiper. The most species seen and recorded there by any one person is 271 species. So, I still have a few more that I can pick up there.

One thing that I have to keep in mind is that simply seeing them isn’t enough under the rules for the project that I’ve set out for myself, I have to get a photo good enough that proves that I’ve actually seen that species. Take the sharp-tailed sandpiper as a good example of that. From the online records and photos shot by others, I’m now 90% certain that my photos of that species are the sharp-tailed sandpiper, but 90% isn’t good enough for me.

Another thing to consider is that some “sightings” of birds are actually times when people heard the distinct song or call of a species of bird, but never actually laid eyes on the bird.

It’s funny, I’m not really a numbers guy, or at least I wasn’t until I began the My Photo Life List project. After seeing the circus that arrives with the sighting of a rare species of bird, I often question my commitment to completing that project. I was some one who enjoyed being outdoors, and seeing the variety of wildlife, of all types, that there is to be seen. However, as I saw and photographed more and more birds that I couldn’t identify from memory, I would look those species up to make an identification. I had no idea at the time that there were 350 species of birds seen in Michigan on a regular basis, and several dozen more “strays” that had been seen only once or a few times over the last 100 years. I thought that I was doing good at around 100 species. That’s far more than the average person, and some people would comment to my blog about the variety of birds that I saw.

I also found that it was much easier to identify the species of bird that I saw if I had a good photo of it. That way, I could take my time and compare my photo of a bird to those in field guides, either online or in book form.

One thing led to another, and now I find myself chasing rare species of birds, although I refuse to join the circus, at least not for very long. I don’t have the patience to set-up a spotting scope and check out hundreds of very similar birds, hoping to find one rare species in amongst the more common species that make up the flock. Gulls are a great example of that, so are shorebirds for that matter.

I saw an online video for what is called digiscoping photography, where you mount your camera to a spotting scope to photograph the things that you can see with the spotting scope. I thought that it would be a good way to extend the range of my camera and lenses that I currently own, but purchasing everything required would cost almost as much as a longer lens for my camera. While I would be able to get photos of birds and other animals that I see at greater distances than I can shoot good photos of now…

Whitetail bucks on the run

Whitetail bucks on the run

 

Whitetail bucks on the run

Whitetail bucks on the run

…the results wouldn’t be much better than what I did for those photos, cropping way to much to get a good photo. Despite their price, spotting scopes don’t have the same quality of glass as do camera lenses, and spotting scopes don’t have a diaphragm for the aperture setting, nor auto-focus, for that matter. If I’m going to plunk down thousands of dollars for optics, then it will be for a true camera lens, not a spotting scope and accessories for photography.

Anyway, getting back to the numbers. I have no compunction to count the number of birds that I see in a flock, such as the swallows from a recent post, or these starlings attempting to verify the weight capacity of this crane.

Starlings

Starlings

Despite their collaboration, they couldn’t figure out how to operate the controls of the crane to complete their test of the it.

More starlings

More starlings

As I’ve said before, the Muskegon area in general, and particularly the wastewater facility has spoiled me. Where else could I go and see all three of the falcon species somewhat common in Michigan?

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

 

Merlin

Merlin

 

American kestrel

Male American kestrel

Although it irks me that I have never gotten photos of all three species in one day. In this case, I shot the peregrine and the Merlin on the same day, but I had to go back to an earlier trip to get the photo of the kestrel.

Of the three species of falcons, the kestrels are definitely the hardest to get a good photo of. Not only are they the smallest of the three, but they are also the most camera-shy of the falcons. On one of my visits to Muskegon a few weeks ago, I saw five or six kestrels all in one small area. Despite my best efforts, all I got was one poor photo of a female kestrel in flight.

Female American kestrel

Female American kestrel

That may actually be a juvenile, but it still shows the difference between the sexes. The males have blue-grey patches on their sides, the females are all brown.

That’s where photography is so very helpful, being able to catch a bird as small and fast as the kestrels are, and being able to study the photo to make a positive ID. Still, I have to be careful, because photos can lie in some ways. Take the shorebirds, there’s not many differences between a least sandpiper…

Least sandpipers

Least sandpipers

…and a pectoral sandpiper…

Pectoral sandpiper

Pectoral sandpiper

…at least, not at first glance. The biggest difference is in their size, a least sandpiper is about the size of a sparrow, a pectoral sandpiper is about the size of an American robin. When I crop the photos down, the size difference doesn’t show, you have nothing to judge the relative size of the two species. Then, the small details become important, like the fact that the pectoral sandpipers’ feathers are edged in white, whereas the least sandpipers’ feathers aren’t, or at least not to the same degree.

One thing that I have learned to try to do when photographing shorebirds is to shoot a photo of something other than a shorebird to use as a placeholder of sorts when I switch between species of shorebirds. A great blue heron flying past me works very well for that.😉

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

The idea is that I don’t have dozens and dozens of uninterrupted photos of various species of shorebirds to sort through as I try to remember which species was which as I was shooting them. I’ll concentrate on one species until I think that I have a good photo of it…

Solitary sandpiper

Solitary sandpiper

…then, I’ll shoot a photo of something else…

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

…then begin shooting the next species of shorebird.

Baird's sandpiper

Juvenile Baird’s sandpiper

That has worked very well for me, as opposed to my earlier efforts when I ended up trying to sort photos and identify the birds in the photos at the same time. Now, I can concentrate on a single species, getting the best possible photos of it.

Lesser yellowlegs at take-off

Lesser yellowlegs at take-off

 

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

 

Lesser yellowlegs preparing to land

Lesser yellowlegs preparing to land

I’ve gotten most of the duck species completed, but I have more goose species to find and photograph yet, and other than the southeast corner of Michigan, Muskegon remains my best bet for finding them. You haven’t been seeing many photos of ducks here in my blog recently, that’s because the males are molting at this time of the year.

Male ring-necked duck

Male ring-necked duck

 

Male ring-necked duck

Male ring-necked duck

Still, when one poses for me, I find it impossible not to photograph it.

Male redhead duck

Male redhead duck

Even if its feathers are all out-of-place and falling out.

Male redhead duck

Male redhead duck

When a duck will walk out of the water, shake itself…

Male redhead duck

Male redhead duck

…then dry its wings, I guess that I just have to shoot it.

Male redhead duck

Male redhead duck

If they would only pose so nicely when they were in full breeding plumage, I’d be a very happy camper!🙂

The same applies to this species of bird as well, as far as the posing nicely.

Belted kingfisher

Belted kingfisher

They look a little like the creature from the black lagoon when seen head on.

Belted kingfisher

Belted kingfisher

This one is showing lots of color, but of course, it wouldn’t allow me to get close enough for a really good photo.

Belted kingfisher

Belted kingfisher

Another thing about the wastewater facility that I have learned over time is that it’s also a good place to shoot flowers if the birds don’t cooperate.

Bee balm

Bee balm

 

Blue vervain

Blue vervain

 

Purple loosestrife

Purple loosestrife

 

Unidentified flowering object

Unidentified flowering object

 

Spotted bee balm or horsemint

Spotted bee balm or horsemint

I just wish that there were more opportunities to shoot landscapes there.

The Muskegon-Newaygo drain

The Muskegon-Newaygo drain

 

The clay pit

The clay pit

 

Just a cloudscape

Just a cloudscape

The past few weekends, I’ve had some dramatic lighting due to the weather, but no scenic places to take advantage of the lighting. I probably should have gone someplace else, but then, I would have missed this.

Great blue heron flipping a minnow that it had caught

Great blue heron flipping a minnow that it had caught

To my surprise the heron didn’t take off as soon as it saw me, I guess that there were too many minnows in that small pond and the heron was hungry. They always seem to be hungry, but this one was catching minnows one right after another…

Great blue heron hunting

Great blue heron hunting

… it was never long before the heron grabbed another snack…

Great blue heron catching another minnow

Great blue heron catching another minnow

…so I sat there shooting away until I got a better photo of the heron flipping a minnow in its beak so that the minnow was facing the right way for the heron to swallow it.

Great blue heron flipping a minnow so that it was facing the right way to be swallowed

Great blue heron flipping a minnow so that it was facing the right way to be swallowed

Another of those “if only” times. If only the light had been better. If only the pond wasn’t down in a steep valley so that I could have gotten down to the heron’s level. If only it hadn’t been a juvenile heron. If only I had been able to get closer. Still, I’m happy with those shots. I took what I had learned the week before as far as camera settings to get those photos, and despite the lack of light and all the other “if only”s, they turned well enough so that you can see the minnow in midair.

So, I suppose that until next spring at the earliest, I’ll continue to go to the same old places when I do get a chance to get outside. I’ll have to see what this fall and winter hold for me, both the weather, and if I’m able to purchase the long zoom lens that I’d like, and still have money left over to pay for motel rooms if I travel to the other side of the state.

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

Now more than ever!

As I ended the last post, I was sitting on a large rock near the bottom of the dyke that was built to create the storage lagoons at the Muskegon County wastewater facility. I wasn’t wearing camo, I wasn’t really trying to hide, as there’s nothing there to hide behind. All I was doing was sitting quietly, moving as little as possible, at about the same distance from the water as I have been from some birds that I knew were likely to show up close to where I was sitting. I figured that if they will allow me to approach to within 25 feet or so to them on other occasions, then the birds shouldn’t mind my being that close to them as I sat there. It worked!

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

Sort of.

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

It was funny, this juvenile gull came in for a landing…

Juvenile gull

Juvenile gull

…heard the camera shutter clicking away, and looked back to see what was making the noise…

Juvenile gull

Juvenile gull

…and got a sheepish look on its face as it saw me there.

Juvenile gull

Juvenile gull

The gull didn’t stick around long, I guess that my presence wasn’t to its liking.

Not only did I learn that just sitting quietly was enough to keep some species of birds returning to one of their favorite places to forage for food…

Killdeer in flight

Killdeer in flight

…I had plenty of time to dial in all the settings to catch birds in flight…

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

…and, I could catch birds flying towards me…

Blue winged teal in flight

Blue winged teal in flight

…they were jostling to see which one could lead the way…

Blue winged teal in flight

Blue winged teal in flight

…but as they got closer, I picked one…

Blue winged teal in flight

Blue winged teal in flight

…until they veered off as they hit the water.

JVIS1702

I was hoping that they’d swim closer to me, but they weren’t ready for that yet, they kept their distance from that point on, I assume that they saw me as they were landing, which is why they veered to one side.

I’ll admit that it got to be a bit boring at times, just sitting there, so much so that I shot this photo of a bug that I saw, however, not wanting to scare the birds that I had waited to return after I sat down, I didn’t get close enough to the bug.

Unidentified bug

Unidentified bug

For the most part though, the lesser yellowlegs kept me entertained with their frequent battles over the small area of shoreline that I was watching. I’m not sure why they would fight over that spot, when there are miles of similar shoreline around the two man-made lagoons, but they did. The fights usually began with a face-off.

Two lesser yellowlegs about to fight

Two lesser yellowlegs about to fight

Then, there would be some posturing by both birds…

Two lesser yellowlegs about to fight

Two lesser yellowlegs about to fight

 

Two lesser yellowlegs about to fight

Two lesser yellowlegs about to fight

…the posturing often included jumping up into the air…

JVIS1874

Two lesser yellowlegs about to fight

…the one dropping a feather or something to distract its opponent was a nice touch…

Two lesser yellowlegs about to fight

Two lesser yellowlegs about to fight

…and once in a while, one would charge the other that was leaping…

Two lesser yellowlegs about to fight

Two lesser yellowlegs about to fight

…then, the real fighting would start…

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

 

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

 

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

 

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

The fights didn’t last long, but they happened frequently, which is how I was able to get those images. The fights would end when one of the combatants would simply fly away.

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

While I’m pleased as punch with those images, I know that I can do better still, although most of you have seen enough of the yellowlegs to last a lifetime in this and my previous post.😉

On the plus side, I was able to keep most of both of the birds in the frame which was difficult as quick as the action was, and how violent the fights were.

The downside is that I should have been using a zoom lens that would have allowed me to zoom out at times to keep all of both birds in the frame all of the time.

On the plus side, I got the shutter speed almost perfect, the images are sharp, yet there’s still a little motion blur that helps to convey the action taking place. There is no downside to that.🙂

By manually setting the ISO to 640, I was able to shoot at the shutter speeds required, and still retain enough depth of field to keep both of the birds in focus, even though I was close enough to the birds that  those images are cropped just a little, or not at all, depending on the positions of the birds. With the 7D Mk II, ISO 640 still provided great resolution, there’s good detail in all of those images.

I tried several different arrays of focus point(s), I couldn’t keep a single focus point on either of the birds once the fighting began, so I ended up getting my best shots using all of the focus points in the zone mode. It helped that I was close to being on the same level as the birds, If I had been up on the bank, the auto-focus would have focused on the water, not the birds.

I had close to perfect conditions, even though the sun was high, there are very few shadows, the light bouncing off from the water provided a source of fill light to help kill any shadows. The coloration of the birds, dark on top, white on the bottom, helped with that also.

What it all adds up to is that I know that I’m on the right track, and that the plans that I’m making for the future are good ones. Now, more than ever, I wish that I had the time to devote to photography.

I may not have reached my goal, of being able to photograph the behavior of bird(s) very well, but I’m getting close enough to be able to taste it.

Killdeer in flight

Killdeer in flight

That was shot as I was dialing in the settings that I used later.

I am so looking forward to the time when I can spend a day, or a large part of a day, just sitting in a hide, or as I did on this day, just sitting quietly, shooting what transpires around me.

While I was too close to the yellowlegs at times, I could have used a longer set-up to shoot portraits of some of the other birds that didn’t come as close to me.

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

So, I can see myself sitting there with two set-ups, one for better portraits of birds, the other one, to catch the action shots.

Female mallard in flight

Female mallard in flight

However, I don’t want to sit all day, every day, so I’d like the time to go for longer hikes as well. I would have missed the eagles from the last post…

Two juvenile bald eagles fighting

Two juvenile bald eagles fighting

…if I had sat by the lagoon all day.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’d like to purchase a full-frame camera in the future, and now I’m seeing how those plans fit into my over goals. I can also see what I need to do in the future as well. I could have used a tripod with a gimbal head as I was sitting near the lagoon, I found myself resting my elbows on my knees for many of the bird in flight photos.

Juvenile gull in flight

Juvenile gull in flight

That wasn’t a good idea, although I was able to hold the camera and long lens steady, bracing myself that way limited my range of motion when I was sitting. Also, the camera and lens gets heavy after a while, so I’d set it down on the rocks next to me, and I missed a few photo ops because of that. If the camera was at the ready on a tripod, I may not have missed them. The videos of the yellowlegs that I put in the last post would have been much better if I had used a tripod as well.

I have an excellent tripod, for landscapes and other subjects that are motionless, but with the three-way head that I have, it’s terrible for following any type of motion. It certainly wouldn’t have worked for the action shots or the video that I shot while sitting by the lagoon. I did think about using it for the portraits that I shot, but sitting there, I was able to steady the camera quite well for those images.

I can also tell that my plan of waiting for Canon to introduce a full-frame body that has the same features as the 7D Mk II does, but a less expensive one than the 1DX, is also a wise choice.

With a full-frame body, I’ll lose a little in focal length over what I have with a crop sensor body, so I can see that deciding which body to use for portraits, and which one to use for action shots will depend on the subject and the conditions at the time. I’ll have to balance low-light performance vs. focal length while choosing which set-up to use on various subjects.

I know that all this talk of camera gear and set-ups is boring to most people who read my blog, but it is taking over my life.

For my longer hikes, I’d like to be able to cut down on how much gear that I have to carry with me. That also fits with what I’m planning to purchase in the future as well.

I could have used the 100-400 mm Series zoom lens on the 7D while I was shooting the yellowlegs in action, and it will make an ideal set-up for carrying while I’m on longer hikes, versus what I carry now. I’ll have a full-frame body with the Canon 24-105 mm lens for landscapes and other subjects that require a wider lens. I could probably get by with just those two cameras and lenses, but compared to what I carry now, I could easily throw in either the 100 mm macro lens, or an even wider lens than the 24-105 mm lens. Being able to cover from 24 mm to 400 mm with just two lenses would be a huge weight savings for me over what I try to carry now. Absolute image quality may suffer a little, but my new motto is that if it’s good enough to shoot photos for Nat Geo, then it’s good enough for me.😉

It’s not that I’ll ever have a photo published in Nat Geo, it’s about taking pride in what I’m doing, and loving what I’m doing. I always try to do the best that I can, I may hate driving truck for a living, but I still try to do it the best that I can, and I take pride in my abilities. The difference between nature photography and anything else that I’ve ever done, either for employment or as a hobby, is that nature photography brings together everything that I love with very few downsides.

I can’t put into words how much I would enjoy having all day, every day to photograph the beauty of nature, from dew covered spider webs in the morning…

Spider web covered with dew

Spider web covered with dew

 

Spider web covered with dew 2

Spider web covered with dew 2

…to beautiful sunsets that defy description…

Almost full moon at sunset

Almost full moon at sunset

 

Sunset at home

Sunset at home

…although, I would have preferred a more scenic setting than the parking lot of my apartment complex for the foreground in the sunset photos.

Sunset at home

Sunset at home

But, that’s what I get when I have a schedule to conform to as far as being ready to go to work the next morning.😦

It’s a funny thing, there are days like this last Saturday when I struggle to come up with even a single good photo worthy of posting here, then the very next day, great photos are everywhere, or so it seems. Of course, some of that is due to the weather, some is due to where I go, but I think that a lot of it has to do with how I feel.

Since I began the current work schedule that I have right now, I’ve been feeling that Saturdays are almost a waste. Because I get home so late on Friday evenings, I’m late getting out of bed on Saturdays, and I miss the best light. On most Saturdays, I’ve been walking around home so that I can get outside as soon as I can, then going to Muskegon on Sundays. For most of this summer, Saturdays have been the days when I experiment, lately it has been using my wide-angle lenses more. It seems to be helping, even though I don’t have a photo to show for it yet, but that’s because I need so much more practice shooting wide yet.

Earlier this summer, there were plenty of birds to photograph, and since I’ve been saving these images for months now, It’s time to use them up.

Male Baltimore oriole singing

Male Baltimore oriole singing

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen an oriole, I think that they are on their way south for winter already. These guys are still around, although I don’t hear them singing very often any longer.

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing

It’s easy to tell a male cardinal from a female, but with catbirds…

Male grey catbird

Male grey catbird

…I can’t tell the sexes apart until a male starts singing his songs.

Male grey catbird singing

Male grey catbird singing

The same applies to chipping sparrows also.

Male chipping sparrow

Male chipping sparrow

The only way that I could tell that it was a male was because he turned around to belt out a few verses of his song.

Male chipping sparrow singing

Male chipping sparrow singing

Oh, I guess that I do have one of my experiments shooting with a wide-angle lens to post.

Hairy vetch about to bloom

Hairy vetch about to bloom

Maybe posting those photos now was a bad idea, for they remind me of how quickly this summer has raced past me, and of all the things that I’ve missed since I don’t get outside very often any longer. I’d expound on that further, but it depresses me a little, plus, it’s time to go to work again.

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

Does it matter?

On Saturday, due to the weather forecast, I switched my usual routine from walking around home, to going to Muskegon to look for a rare bird that had been spotted there. The rare bird was a sharp-tailed sandpiper, a native of Asia, but which according to what little I could learn about it, sometimes shows up in odd places. I may or may not have gotten a photo of it, but it’s almost a certainty that I saw it. I’ll get to the details in just a few.

First, we had been in near drought conditions earlier this summer, but near the end of July, that ended with a good dose of rain. The rain then ended, and we hadn’t received any more until last Friday, but when it finally started coming down again, it made up for lost time so to speak. Rainfall totals from around West Michigan ranged from around an inch to well over 5 inches, with some localized flooding south of where I live. One constant has been the heat and humidity this summer, which has been tough to take after two cool summers in a row.

Owing to the hours that I had worked the night before, I got a late start on Saturday, and was made even later by a major traffic jam caused by road “construction” on the main freeway that I take to Muskegon. I put construction in quotes, because every year for the past few years, they have closed two of the three lanes of the expressway down to supposedly repair it, always on weekends, and it always creates very long traffic back-ups with all the traffic headed north. Once they “finish” the “repairs”, the road is bumpier than it was before they began. That seems to be the new normal around Michigan, working on the same sections of road year after year, with the roadway in worse shape afterwards than it was to begin with. That, and ripping up sections of roadway that is in fair shape to replace the pavement, while leaving miles of absolutely horrible pavement to crumble away even more. But, enough of that little rant.

Anyway, arriving at the wastewater facility, I spotted a belted kingfisher, which flew off before I could even get the camera pointed out the window of my car. This heron didn’t stick around long either…

Juvenile great blue heron

Juvenile great blue heron

…but at least I got that shot before it flew off.

Even though I knew that it wasn’t where the sharp-tailed sandpiper had been seen on the previous days, I stopped at one of the grassy cells to see what other shorebirds that I could find. There was nothing out of the ordinary, but I did shoot this semi-palmated sandpiper shaking the mud off from something it had found to eat.

Semi-palmated sandpiper

Semi-palmated sandpiper

On my way to where the rare sandpiper had been seen, I spotted a peregrine falcon hot on the tail feathers of a pigeon.

Peregrine falcon chasing a pigeon

Peregrine falcon chasing a pigeon

From what I could see, the pigeon escaped.

You may have been able to tell that the weather was variable, sunny one minute, and heavy dark clouds the next. That made photograph more challenging, and wouldn’t you know, it was during a period of the heavy dark clouds that I saw the falcon chasing the pigeon. it’s the way my luck always seems to go.

I knew that I was going to have trouble identifying the sharp-tailed sandpiper when it turned out that I was the shorebird expert among the group of people looking for it. I had to point out this black-bellied plover…

Black-bellied plover

Black-bellied plover

…almost in full breeding plumage…

Black-bellied plover

Black-bellied plover

…as well as this Wilson’s phalarope between two lesser yellowlegs…

Wilson's phalarope between two lesser yellowlegs

Wilson’s phalarope between two lesser yellowlegs

…to the others looking for the rare sandpiper.

It’s pretty bad when I’m the shorebird expert in a group, when the others all had spotting scopes and their field guides out as they searched for the sandpiper. To make matters worse, the fly by that the falcon had done had driven many of the shorebirds into hiding. It took some time before they began to emerge from the vegetation and begin feeding again.

Of course to make things even more difficult, there were dozens of shorebirds running around once they felt safe to venture out into the open again. If I got a photo of the rare sharp-tailed sandpiper, then this is it.

Sharp-tailed sandpiper?

Sharp-tailed sandpiper?

 

Sharp-tailed sandpiper?

Sharp-tailed sandpiper?

But, the question is, does it matter if I got a photo of it or not?

That species isn’t on the list of birds that are regularly seen in Michigan that I’m working from as I try to photograph all of those species, since it is such a rare bird in this hemisphere. On one hand, it would be pretty cool to say that I got to see such a rare visitor, but on the other hand, outside of the birding world, what difference does it make.

By the way, some one who knew a great deal more about shorebirds than I showed up as I was looking for the sandpiper, and he confirmed what the bird in the photo was, both looking through his scope and looking at my photos. Still, it is a guess as to whether or not that is a sharp-tailed sandpiper or not. I wish that I had been there when the true bird experts had been there earlier in the week.

That brings up another question, what kind of jobs do those people have that allow them to rush off in search of a rare bird the second that one is spotted somewhere? From what I read, there was a group of around 80 people looking for the sandpiper on Friday when it was confirmed that it was indeed a sharp-tailed sandpiper.

If I am ever able to complete the list of birds seen regularly in Michigan, I’ll be a happy camper. I’m more of an all round nature buff and wannabe photographer than competitive birder.

I did go looking for the Forster’s terns that had been seen on the breakwater at Grand Haven, Michigan, after I had finished at the wastewater facility on Saturday. I didn’t find the Forster’s terns, but I did find this.

Semi-palmated sandpiper

Semi-palmated sandpiper

You can see that it has slightly webbed feet, that’s where it got its name from.

Semi-palmated sandpiper

Semi-palmated sandpiper

When it began to rain, the sandpiper and I took shelter together behind the tower for the beacon on the end of the breakwater.

Semi-palmated sandpiper

Semi-palmated sandpiper

The rain let up a little, so I decided to head back to my car, but I stopped on the way to shoot this juvenile common tern.

Juvenile common tern

Juvenile common tern

You can see how small that the common tern is in relation to the herring gull behind it. When the tern took flight, I shot a few more photos of it.

Juvenile common tern

Juvenile common tern

So, Saturday turned out to be a bit of a bust, I’m 75% sure that the photos of the sharp-tailed sandpiper are indeed the sandpiper, it was more of a let down to miss the Forster’s terns, as they are on my list and I’d like to check them off. Also, I didn’t get a single image that I’m really pleased with, other than the semi-palmated sandpiper. I made up for that on Sunday.

Killdeer in flight

Killdeer in flight

That was just the warm up!

With every one else looking for the sharp-tailed sandpiper…

The rare bird circus

The rare bird circus

…with people having driven from surrounding states in hopes of getting a look at the rare bird. I saw license plates from Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota on the cars there, and that’s just a small part of the crowd.

I went to the opposite corner of the wastewater facility to the southeast corner of the east storage lagoon to get away from the crowd, and to test something for the future. Instead of just sitting in my car and waiting to see what would come along, I knew that where I was at always seems to hold birds, they must like something about that spot. So, I scrambled down the bank which is covered with broken rocks, and found myself a nice large rock to sit on and hope that a few birds would return. It didn’t take long for the killdeer above to return, and shortly after it arrived, so did a lesser yellowlegs.

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

My hope had been to catch birds in flight returning, so that they’d be flying at me…

Killdeer in flight

Killdeer in flight

…rather than away from me.

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

But, I found that most birds came in at an angle.

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

I was a bit surprised by the birds that flew past me as I sat there.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

 

American crow in flight

American crow in flight

 

Tree swallow in flight

Tree swallow in flight

 

Female mallard in flight

Female mallard in flight

 

Eastern meadowlark in flight

Eastern meadowlark in flight

The images are fair, nothing to write home about though, so I decided to get really serious about getting the camera set-up for the very best images that I can possibly get. It turns out that those settings worked for action other than birds in flight. One of the lesser yellowlegs began squawking, so I shot a few photos of that…

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

…and while he was at it, I shot this video of him.

He was moving so quickly that I had a tough time keeping it in the frame and in focus, just like shooting stills, almost.😉

I assume it was a he, for it wasn’t long before it began chasing the other yellowlegs away.

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

It started to rain shortly after that, so I took a drive around other parts of the wastewater facility, but once the rain ended, I returned to the same spot to shoot this one…

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

…and plenty of others as you will see later. When I saw the images, I was surprised how violent the yellowlegs were, because watching it with the naked eye, they move too quickly to make out what’s really happening.

Okay, I said that while it was raining that I took a drive around other parts of the facility. Seeing two juvenile bald eagles engaged in air to air combat, I threw the camera up to my eye to shoot this horrible photo.

Two juvenile bald eagles fighting

Two juvenile bald eagles fighting

I calmed down, got a good focus lock on one of the eagles, then shoot these next two.

Two juvenile bald eagles fighting

Two juvenile bald eagles fighting

But trying to anticipate their flight paths as they fought was more than I could do.

Two juvenile bald eagles fighting

Two juvenile bald eagles fighting

So, I had to settle for a few images of each eagle in flight by itself.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

I had shot a few other photos while waiting for the sun to come back out, but I’ll save those for a later post. For now, a couple of more of the yellowlegs fighting. The fights would begin with a face off.

Two lesser yellowlegs about to fight

Two lesser yellowlegs about to fight

Once the fights began, wings, feet, and beaks were all used during the combat…

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

…along with displays that I’m sure are meant to intimidate the opponent.

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

Finally! I’m getting the action shots that I’ve always wanted, and worked so hard to become good at getting regularly!

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

I’ll tell you though, those birds can move extremely fast when they are dodging another bird’s blows from its wings, or thrusts with its beak! If anything, I was a bit too close, since I had trouble keeping them in the frame, but I learned so much this afternoon about how to shoot those photos, that I’ll take these the way that they are.

As good as these are, I have some that are better yet, but you’ll have to wait until the next post to see them, unless you’re bored by so many images of the yellowlegs fighting.

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

Slow down, get closer, shoot lots of junk

I’m going to attempt to use up a few of the many photos that I have saved for blogging, I’ll see how that goes given how little time that I have for blogging these days. Before I get too far along though, I have to say that I like the larger paychecks that I’ve been getting since I started this new dedicated run that I have now. With the extra money coming in, I’ve been adding more goodies to the wish list that I have of photo gear that I’d like to purchase some day.

I’m in no hurry to make those purchases though, except for the long telephoto zoom lens. That lens would come in handy, because there have been times recently that I’ve found myself too close to the subject to get all of it in the frame, but not close enough for just a head and shoulders shot unless I cropped the image considerably. The rabbit from my last post was one example of that, I actually backed away from the rabbit to get the photo that I posted, to get all of the rabbit in the frame.

Since I brought up the rabbit, I have to say a few words about the battery grip that I purchased last month, I love it! Not only does it make using the camera in the portrait orientation much easier…

Pickerel weed flowers

Pickerel weed flowers

…but it assists me in holding the camera steadier no matter which way I have the camera oriented.

Juvenile bank swallow

Juvenile bank swallow

In addition, I have learned that even though it holds two batteries to extend the life of the batteries, it can be used with just one battery, and that if I do use two, they do not need to have the same level of charge in them. That means as the batteries run down, I can swap out one of them to a fully charged battery, then alternate the two batteries so that I don’t have to charge two at the same time. I’m getting used to the second set of control buttons on the battery grip as well. When I first began using it and would turn the camera to the portrait position, I’d fumble around reaching for the buttons where they used to be. Not any more, it’s becoming natural for me to use the second set of buttons on the grip now, even when I’m changing focus points or changing other camera settings.

I find myself shooting more images of the same subject to get the best possible photo. Take the swallow above, when it held its head differently, so that the light hit it at a different angle, the swallow had a mean  or angry appearance.

Juvenile bank swallow

Juvenile bank swallow

And, swallows aren’t generally mean or angry, unless they are defending their nest, then they become fearless and will attack much larger predators. I probably have a photo of that saved somewhere that I’ll find eventually, but for right now, here’s another photo of how swallows look to me most of the time.

Juvenile tree swallow

Juvenile tree swallow

I love swallows, especially when there’s a flock of them flying around me engaging in their cheerful chattering as they fly around picking off the bugs in the way that they do.

Shooting more photos of the same subject is especially important when the subjects seems to be constantly moving. This applies mostly to birds, but also insects.

Milkweed bug

Milkweed bug

Photography is all about the light, and getting enough of it to the camera’s sensor to produce a good image. If you open up the aperture of the lens to let more light in, then you lose depth of field, and the entire subject may not be sharp if you do, especially with macro photos like the one above, or this one.

Unidentified fly

Unidentified fly

Even at f/16, the far wing of the fly is getting blurry because I didn’t have enough depth of field for how large the fly was as close to it as I was.

If you leave the shutter open longer to let more light into the camera, then you can get motion blur if the subject(s) move at all, and some subjects always seem to be moving.

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

And, the more subjects that you have in the frame…

Juvenile starlings and killdeer

Juvenile starlings and killdeer

…the tougher that it becomes to keep them all sharp. In that photo, the second killdeer in the left corner was running into the frame as I shot it. My intent was to shoot the starlings, but competition for food brought the killdeer over to see what the starlings were finding to eat.

I’ll get to the third part of the exposure triad, ISO, in a minute, but I’m going to get sidetracked for a short time first.

The one type of photo that I still struggle mightily on is trying to convey just how many birds I see during my excursions to the Muskegon area. Here’s one example, 23 assorted shorebirds and one lone mallard, not to mention one or two swallows zooming through the frame.

Mallard and shorebirds

Mallard and shorebirds

Here’s another example, sandhill cranes and Canada geese.

Sandhill cranes and Canada geese

Sandhill cranes and Canada geese

You can see two groups of birds in that one, I wonder if the cranes follow the geese around to pick off the insects that the geese disturb as the geese feed on the vegetation? That is a tough question, for geese will eat insects, but they are mostly vegetarians. Sandhill cranes do eat some vegetation, but their main food source is insects. I’m getting even more sidetracked, so I better get back to the number of birds that I see.

A few assorted swallows

A few assorted swallows

Those are mostly tree swallows, but I recall seeing a few barn swallows and perhaps bank swallows as well. It’s really hard to tell when there are so many of them. I tried to get closer so that I could go to a shorter lens for more depth of field, but every time I did get closer, the flock would take flight. Of course I tried to get photos of that as well, but none of them turned out well. I found it easier to shoot the other swallows perched on the power lines.

A few more swallows

A few more swallows

The amount of wildlife that I see around Muskegon, especially at the wastewater facility is astounding! Remember, the wastewater facility is 11,000 acres in size, and only a small portion of that is used for treating waste water.

I was parked near the old gravel pit there, shooting photos of something or another in the lake that was formed when they dug the gravel out. I don’t remember what I was shooting photos of at the time, but I do remember that I was switching tele-converters when a herd of whitetail bucks crossed the road ahead of where I had parked. I managed to finish making the switch, and shot this extremely poor photo through the windshield of my car.

Whitetail buck

Whitetail buck

Of course it had the smallest rack of any of the other bucks that had already disappeared into the brush.😉 Still, it’s something to see several bucks all at one time, when in many parts of Michigan, seeing just one is something special. I could do an entire post on how the Michigan DNR manages the deer herd, but I won’t, I have to get back on topic here, which is ISO.

You get the sharpest images with the greatest amount of detail at the lowest ISO settings, just as in the days of film.

Heal all?

Heal all?

 

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

As you boost the ISO, you lose the fine details, and you also introduce noise into the images, which looks much like grain from the days of film.

I can go up to ISO 6400 with the 7D and come up with a fair image.

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

But even then, it requires removing the noise in the image using Lightroom, and I’ve lost the fine details in the cardinal’s feathers. With the 60D body, I limit the ISO to 3200 or I lose too much detail. Yes, I could go higher if I absolutely had to, but the results would be poor. So, in very low light situations, it becomes even more important to shoot more photos of the same subject to come up with one where I don’t have motion blur at slow shutter speeds, and to get enough depth of field to get the entire bird in focus.

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

I just missed on that one, she was moving around and I thought that I had that streak of sunlight on her eye, but by the time the shutter went off, she had turned a bit more.

Just as with the swallow from earlier, it is really amazing to me how slight changes in the light, and a subject’s posture changes the appearance of the subject in the finished photo. I find that trying to time the exact moment to press the shutter is virtually impossible unless the subject is completely motionless. That very seldom happens.

When I get as close to birds and small mammals as I did to the cardinal or this guy…

Cottontail rabbit

Cottontail rabbit

…most of the time, I can see them breathing. Even if they are otherwise still, just the slight movement as they breathe can change their appearance in an image. That may sound hard to believe, but it’s true, even that small amount of motion changes how the light plays on their feathers or fur.

In the title of this post, I said shoot lots of junk. Well, most of them aren’t really junk for me any longer, but there is usually an image or two that stand out from all the rest of the same subject as being better than the rest, even if the subject didn’t appear to have moved.

It can be a bit boring to look through 20 or so very similar images of a subject, but I’m finding that it is worth it. Besides, you never know what you’ll come up with if you can keep the camera on a bird and keep shooting.

American goldfinch landing

American goldfinch landing

He dropped from a higher branch and never spread his wings until he slowed down to land. The shots that I took as he dropped weren’t very good, for that matter, neither is that one. Still, one of these days I may end up with a good one.

I have plenty of goldfinch photos saved, so I suppose that I’ll throw in another one here.

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Okay, I’ve been writing about how critters move, but flowers do as well, if there’s even a hint of a breeze.

Rosebuds

Rosebuds

For a while, I religiously used my tripod when shooting flowers, but that didn’t work well for me. It did eliminate camera shake, but that doesn’t stop the subject from moving, and if you’re shooting flowers outside, then there’s a good chance that they are moving. It isn’t so bad with low growing flowers.

Bindweed

Bindweed

But on flowers growing on long spindly stems, it can be a huge problem to deal with.

Chicory

Chicory

For me, I’ve found that it works better to shoot handheld, and attempt to sway with the flowers as the wind moves them, with the camera in the servo mode of auto-focusing, so that the camera tries to keep the moving flower in focus. That may not be the correct way, and it is one of those times when many of the photos are junk, but I can usually get one or two good images that way. Sometimes, I just give up and move on, hoping that conditions are better at another time.

Insects present even more difficulties, as they are on vegetation that may be moving in the wind to begin with…

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

…and, they may be flapping their wings as well.

Eastern swallowtail butterfly

Eastern swallowtail butterfly

Then, the only way that I’ve found to get that shot is to keep the shutter speed high, and shoot plenty of shots hoping for a good one.

I’ve gotten to the point where I dislike having to hope for a good photo, as most of the time I’ve learned how to get the shot that I want. That is, unless the subjects refuse to cooperate.

I’ve posted a few photos of various small birds attacking larger predator birds, a few have actually been good. However, one thing that I’d like to be able to photograph well is the fact that as smaller birds attack them, crows fight back. It’s hard to tell in this poor photo, but the crow had turned upside down in flight to ward off the attack of a kingbird.

Eastern kingbird attacking an American crow

Eastern kingbird attacking an American crow

I haven’t gotten a shot of it yet this year, but there are times when the smaller birds will land on a raptor in flight and ride along with it as they continue to attack it. Well, maybe the red-winged blackbird attacking the turkey from earlier this summer almost counts.

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

Except that the turkey wasn’t flying.

Crows don’t allow that to happen, maybe because they are more agile in flight.

Eastern kingbird attacking an American crow

Eastern kingbird attacking an American crow

However, every time that I’ve witnessed that, it’s been with the sun at the wrong angle and too far away.

Eastern kingbird attacking an American crow

Eastern kingbird attacking an American crow

One of these days, I should hang out near a kingbird or red-winged blackbird’s nest and wait for a crow to come along.😉 It would have to be a sunny day with clear skies, not a day with a milky overcast as that day was.

That’s when slowing down becomes important, at least for me. I used to walk more for exercise, so what I photographed as I walked was purely luck. I’ve been slowing down more all the time, and I don’t think that it’s just a coincidence that my photos have been improving. I’ve said before that I’d like to be able to sit in a hide to get even closer to the subjects that I shoot, I’m looking forward to the day when I can do that. Until then, what I’m doing is learning the best places to just sit and wait for subjects to come closer to me. That’s how I got the photo of the belted kingfisher in the last post. As a matter of fact, I was sitting in the same spot then as when I shot the poor photo of the whitetail buck earlier in this post.

They say that variety is the spice of life, and I suppose that I agree with that. But when it comes to places that work best as places to sit, I’m finding that small areas where a variety of different types of habitat come together usually produce the widest variety of photo opportunities for me. That makes sense, you won’t find a red-tailed hawk…

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

…in the middle of a large, unbroken tract of forest, as the red-tailed hawks prefer to hunt open fields.

( I was shooting almost directly into the sun when I shot that hawk, I moved around to the other side thinking the light would be better, but I’m not as pleased with the photos that I shot then.)

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Anyway, one key component to the places to sit seems to be water. Not only to attract shorebirds…

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

…ducks…

Female mallard following a male green winged teal in flight

Female mallard following a male green winged teal in flight

…and amphibians…

Snapping turtle

Snapping turtle

…all wildlife depends on water for life in one way or another.

Fox squirrel drinking from a creek

Fox squirrel drinking from a creek

It isn’t that I’ve run out of photos, not by a long shot, but I’m going to end this post here, because I’ve run out of time, again.

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

Not to brag too much

I was hoping to have finished another post by now to use up a few of the many photos that I still have saved and would like to put into posts here. That may not happen though, because of the hours that I worked the last week. It doesn’t help when I’m also shooting some of the best photos that I’ve ever shot.

Dragonfly, the cropped version

Dragonfly, the cropped version

For the record, here’s the uncropped version.

Dragonfly, the uncropped version

Dragonfly, the uncropped version

Since I had a willing model, I also tried a few different angles, here’s one of them.

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

I had a pretty good time today, although I saw mostly the same species of birds that I have been seeing lately, the one exception was this Baird’s sandpiper.

Baird's sandpiper

Baird’s sandpiper

I’ve had the Canon 7D Mk II for just over a year now, and I probably made some mistakes when I first started using it. I used settings similar to what I had been using with the 60D bodies, and I came up with those settings while using the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) and the Canon L series lenses which never seemed to auto-focus very well on the 60D. I’ve been doing a lot of experimenting around home on Saturdays, when it’s doubtful that I’ll see anything special to shoot.

I may not have posted many photos of them lately, but I’ve posted tons of photos of cardinals over the years, so when one perched out in the open to feed on sumac, it was time for some testing.

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

I liked that look, but I really wanted her to show me her crest, which she did eventually, even though it wasn’t much of a crest.

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

She was also a sloppy eater.

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

I learned that when using the 300 mm L series lens, even with the 1.4 X tele-converter behind it, I can open the aperture up all the way and still get sharp photos with the 7D.

Anyway, I don’t want to ramble on about the technical side of these photos, but like I’ve been saying, I’m shooting some of the best photos ever lately.

Solitary sandpiper

Solitary sandpiper

I was trying to see what the sandpiper was eating, but I wasn’t able to catch whatever it found to eat.

Solitary sandpiper

Solitary sandpiper

I’m doing quite well on flowers also, if I do say so myself.

St. John's wort

St. John’s wort

 

Iron weed

Iron weed

 

Purple loosestrife

Purple loosestrife

 

Buttonbush

Buttonbush

And, when I hang around the flowers, I’ve been catching a few bees quite well too.

Honeybee on purple loosestrife

Honeybee on purple loosestrife

 

Honeybee on buttonbush

Honeybee on buttonbush

 

Bumblebee on horse nettle

Bumblebee on horse nettle

 

Bumblebee in flight

Bumblebee in flight

I only wish that all my images were that good, however, I still shoot some photos for the record so to speak, like these two juvenile bald eagles sharing a fence.

Juvenile bald eagle number 1

Juvenile bald eagle number 1

It isn’t every day that one sees two eagles that close together. I thought of going to a shorter lens to get them both in the frame, but then the eagles wouldn’t have been recognizable.

Juvenile bald eagle number 2

Juvenile bald eagle number 2

Then, there are those species of birds that refuse to play nice, and do their best to avoid the camera.

Female belted kingfisher

Female belted kingfisher

As it was, I considered myself lucky that she stuck around long enough for me to switch from the 1.4 X extender to the 2 X for that image. I knew that she wouldn’t hang around much longer, so I was switching back hoping to catch her in flight when I heard the splash that she made as she dove for a fish. She missed the fish from what I could tell, but she also moved to a different part of the lake to watch for her next chance to catch her lunch.

Give me a critter that will sit still for a few seconds, and I can usually get a pretty good image of it these days.

Cottontail rabbit

Cottontail rabbit

Even my “for the record” photos of animals doing things most people never see are getting better, as this series of a chipmunk up in a tree eating berries show.

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

I had a good deal of fun with this gal…

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

….following her through the leaves…

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

…as she tried to stay hidden…

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

…yet, wolf down a few berries when she found them…

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

…and, you can tell that chipmunks are closely related to squirrels from this series.

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

I can’t wait until these guys…

Juvenile wood duck

Juvenile wood duck

…grow up and get their adult feathers…

Juvenile wood duck

Juvenile wood duck

…although I know that I’ll never catch them out in the open like that once they do reach maturity.

The same things apply to this species as well.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

It must have been a good year for great blue herons this year, because after a couple of years of seeing very few of them…

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

 

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

 

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

…this year, they’re everywhere.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

 

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

 

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Hmmm, I’ve just gotten started on this post and I’ve almost hit my limit for photos already, so here’s a couple of more from today.

Grasshopper

Grasshopper

 

Damselfly

Damselfly

 

Damselfly

Damselfly

You know, it just dawned on me. The 60D bodies did not work well with the two L series lenses that I use for birding, yet the Canon 100 mm macro L series lens works like a champ on the 60D body.

Eastern swallowtail butterfly

Eastern swallowtail butterfly

I’m not going to try to figure out why that is, I’m just going to sit back and enjoy the results, I hope that you do too.

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

Torn

On one hand, this summer seems to be racing past me at an alarming speed, on the other hand, I’m beginning to look forward to fall, cooler weather, and the beautiful display of colors that the trees put on each year. The only problem with fall is that it’s followed by our long dreary west Michigan winters. I don’t want to think about that yet, but it won’t be long now at the rate that summer is flying by.

I feel as though I’ve missed a great deal this summer, especially flowers. Since I only get outside two days a week now due to my job, I’ll see the buds of flowers one week, and the spent flowers the next.

To drive that point home, this weekend I went to the Muskegon County Wastewater facility, and I found more signs of autumn’s approach.

It seems very early for eagles to begin moving from their breeding territories to the Muskegon area for the winter, but that’s what I found on Sunday.

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

The eagle was perched when I first spotted it.

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

It looked me over…

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

…but it didn’t seem very concerned about my being there, eagles seldom are. So, since I had both the sun and wind at my back, a good set-up if the eagle took flight, I hung around for a while, and it wasn’t too long before the eagle decided that it was time to harass the gulls and ducks again.

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

I’ll get back to the other signs of autumn in just a bit, but first, I’ve had a request from a reader who asked why I wasn’t posting any photos of dew covered spider webs.

Dew covered spider web at dawn

Dew covered spider web at dawn

There are several reasons why that’s the only one so far this summer. The weather hasn’t cooperated, when it’s hot and muggy, dew doesn’t form overnight. I’m also getting out a little late, because of my work schedule this year. Those images are best shot at dawn, when the sun is low on the horizon, and I haven’t arrived early enough on most weekends. I really meant to shoot more of the spider webs on the day that I shot that one, but it was the day when I found the sandhill cranes, so I spent the early part of the day shooting the cranes.

Since I’ve gone back to find the spider web photo, I may as well throw this one from the same day in as well.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

When I walked around home on Saturday, I found that most of the red-winged blackbirds have left this area, to join with others to form large flocks that will migrate south together. Since I can hardly show you a photo of what wasn’t there, I’ll have to show you a photo of what was there that also shows that fall is coming.

Woodland sunflower

Woodland sunflower

Jumping around again, the drought that we were almost having has been broken, and in a big way in some places. A slow-moving system dropped up to 4 inches (10 cm) of rain in places over the past few days. On Saturday around home, I had to dodge the rain showers to get my walk in, on Sunday, I got sprinkled on by passing clouds a couple of times, but the clouds weren’t a solid overcast as they had been on Saturday.

I think that it’s because of the very low light that every photo that I shot on Saturday appears to me as if I had shot them inside…

American goldfinch eating thistle seeds

American goldfinch eating thistle seeds

…even though they weren’t.

St. John's wort

St. John’s wort

Anyway, back to the wastewater facility on Sunday. When I arrived, I found that large flocks of shorebirds had beaten me there, and were waiting to have their photo taken. While there are killdeer here all summer long…

Killdeer

Killdeer

…the number of them that I saw on Sunday was amazing. That applies to the lesser yellowlegs as well.

JVIS9707

Lesser yellowlegs

There have been a few of them around all summer, but their numbers had increased dramatically on Sunday, they were everywhere. Joining them were a few solitary sandpipers.

Solitary sandpiper

Solitary sandpiper

 

Solitary sandpiper

Solitary sandpiper

Along with a few semi-palmated plovers…

Semi-palmated plover

Semi-palmated plover

 

Semi-palmated plover

Semi-palmated plover

…and flocks of least sandpipers.

Least sandpiper

Least sandpiper

That one was on the run, to get to something to eat that it saw ahead of it.

Least sandpiper

Least sandpiper

I’ve written about how hard it can be to identify shorebirds in the past, but as with other types of birds, it gets easier with practice. It gets even easier when there are several different species around the same place, for example, here’s a solitary sandpiper…

Solitary sandpiper

Solitary sandpiper

…and here’s a lesser yellowlegs striking the same pose at about the same distance.

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Telling the two apart gets very easy when you see them together, even if you can’t see the color of their legs or the white eye-ring of the solitary sandpiper.

Lesser yellowlegs in front of a solitary sandpiper

Lesser yellowlegs in front of a solitary sandpiper

Then, if you see one bird that’s a bit lighter than all the others of the same species, it becomes easier to make the correct ID, such as with this solitary sandpiper which is a lighter brown than the others that I have put in this post.

Solitary sandpiper

Solitary sandpiper

If you’re really lucky, the bird that you’re trying to identify will raise its wings for you.

Solitary sandpiper

Solitary sandpiper

Then, you can see all of the patterns in their plumage, such as the barred pattern in the outer tail feathers of the sandpiper. (Sorry, I missed the composition in that one, I was shooting the least sandpiper that you can just make out in the upper right of the frame when the solitary sandpiper lifted its wings also. I shot quickly to catch it, too quickly for a great shot, but at least I caught it)

It also helps to get good photos to assist in making the identification, and I lucked out on Sunday. With so many shorebirds competing for food, getting good photos was relatively easy. With a limited amount of space to find food, the shorebirds allowed me to approach closer than they usually do when there’s only a few around. The exception to that were the greater yellowlegs…

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

…which preferred to wade in the shallow water rather than forage for food along the edges.

Speaking of getting closer, I wish that I had been able to get closer to this green heron.

Green heron

Green heron

I was checking out one of the artificial creeks that drain the wastewater facility, I saw a few ducks that I wanted to get a better look at. About then, a great blue heron that I hadn’t seen took off, and since I wasn’t ready, I missed the chance for a photo of it. When I looked for the ducks again, they had disappeared, but I knew that they hadn’t flown away. So, I sat there a few minutes trying to figure out where the ducks had gone, when the green heron came out of the vegetation along the drain to perch on the machinery that controls the flow of the drain.

About then, the great blue heron returned…

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

…but didn’t stick around long. I don’t remember why I wasn’t able to get any photos the second time that it flew away, I just remember being mad at myself for missing it. I sat there a while longer, shooting a few more images of the green heron.

Green heron

Green heron

I hoped that it would either return to feeding in the drain, but that didn’t happen.

Green heron

Green heron

Unlike the shorebird images that were cropped only slightly or not at all, the photos of the green heron had to be cropped to the limit, and so the quality isn’t very good.

Before I forget, the ducks did reappear, they were just mallards that had moved under the grass hanging over the drain to hide from me.

Switching gears yet again, that brings up another point. I said that the shorebird images either weren’t cropped at all, or had just been cropped a little, mainly to get the composition better.

One thing about Sunday bugs me, I got very close to a great blue heron.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

I started with the 2 X tele-converter behind the 300 mm lens, but that wasn’t long enough for a head shot, and it was too long to get the entire heron in the frame.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

The longer that I sat there, the closer the heron came to me, and it spent more time out in the open as well, even though it stopped from time to time to see what I was up to.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Since the heron had moved closer, and I was thinking that it was going to fly off pretty soon, I switched to the 1.4 X tele-converter to get a few images with the entire heron almost filling the frame, and to be ready if it did take off.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

 

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

I thought that I was shooting some eye-popping images of the heron, boy was I surprised when I saw those on the computer. I know that the 2 X extender isn’t as sharp as a tack, but I’ve shot much better images of other subjects with it. The eagle and the shorebirds were all shot with that same set-up, and those images are much better than these of the heron. So is this one shot with the same set-up, and I cropped this one a little.

Starling

Starling

The images shot with the 1.4 X extender really left me disappointed, because behind the 300 mm lens, it has produced my very best images. The photos of the heron aren’t bad, but they’re not as good as I expected them to be given that I was close to the heron, had plenty of time, and shot dozens of images of it. I know that it was close to noon when I shot the heron, but I shot the starling just a few minutes prior to spotting the heron. I know that the heron was a juvenile, could it be the subject just wasn’t very photogenic?

I know that it’s the time of the year when the wood ducks aren’t very photogenic.

Wood ducks in eclipse plumage

Wood ducks in eclipse plumage

They would have never let me get that close to them if they had been in breeding plumage. What I didn’t know though was that they still make a fine display in flight.

Wood ducks in flight

Wood ducks in flight

If I had known that, I would have tried harder when I shot that one. It was a half-hearted attempt on my part, because I assumed that I’d be deleting it later. I can do much better than that on birds in flight.

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Even on dark birds in poor light.

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

 

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

Anyway, I’m seeing hints of fall now, and I know that I should spend an entire day or two with my wide-angle lenses getting used to seeing through them so that I’ll be ready to shoot landscapes when the leaves change color. It’s not like I don’t have plenty of photos saved from this summer that I could use up if I “wasted” those days shooting photos that I’ll never post here, yet I can’t bring myself to leave the wildlife set-up behind, because I never know when the chance for a shot like this is going to come along.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

I have shot a few good landscape photos over the summer, but in most of them, I’ve relied too heavily on the clouds or the sunrise to add interest to the images. I need to spend more time with the wide-angle lenses learning how to use them properly, something that I’ve been saying since I purchased them.

For that matter, I should also use the 70-200 mm lens that I have a bit more as well. I used it to shoot some of the wave and lighthouse photos from a few weeks ago, and it will come in handy this fall also.

Oh well, one nice thing about driving truck for a living, I’ll have plenty of time to think about it as I’m crisscrossing the state every day.

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

Waiting on the weather

We’re having a warm summer here in West Michigan this year, and as I mentioned in the last post, it has also been drier than average as well. As luck would have it, it’s early on a Sunday morning as I start this post, and it’s raining outside. I know that we needed the rain, but why did it have to come on the one day of the week when I have the full day for photography?

I braved the heat yesterday to go for a medium length walk around home, and I did manage to shoot a few good photos. There was almost no breeze at all, which made the heat seem worse than it would have otherwise, but that made it a good day to shoot flowers.

Moth mullein

Moth mullein

They say that diffuse light is best for flowers, and I agree that it can be very good, but if one chooses the correct flower at just the right angle, you can also capture how sparkly many flowers appear in full sun.

Asiatic dayflower

Asiatic day flower

Even a flower like the lowly horse nettle.

JVIS9275

Horse nettle

I have a huge backlog of photos saved to be put into posts, which is a good thing in some ways. It means that as I shoot better photos of a particular subject, I can use it, rather than one of the earlier images which may not be as good.

As luck would have it, while I was out on Sunday, I shot a pair of images to compare the same flowers shot in diffused light…

Pickerel weed, diffused light

Pickerel weed, diffused light

…and in full sunlight.

Pickerel weed, full sunlight

Pickerel weed, full sunlight

But, it wasn’t a great test, as the ISO setting of the image in full sun was much lower than the one shot in diffused light. I should have had my tripod with me and set the ISO manually for a better comparison. I probably should have used the macro lens as well, those were shot with the 300 mm lens.

But, since the weather was so changeable yesterday, I had the 15-85 mm lens on the 60D to shoot landscapes if I saw a scene that I thought warranted a photo or two.

Threatening clouds

Threatening clouds

That was shot in the parking lot of the Little Black Lake Park, a new to me park that I’ve never been to before. It’s on the other side of Little Black Lake from the P.J. Hoffmaster State Park, just south of Muskegon. It had just stopped raining there when I shot that, but there were still thunderstorms all around me, so I paced the parking lot for a while. A little later, after I decided it was safe to for me to do so, I walked the park, and shot this image as well.

Little Black Lake

Little Black Lake

It does make putting together a coherent blog post a little more difficult though, as I’m pulling photos from different trips over the course of the past few months. I did weed out quite a few of my earlier photos on Saturday, since it was too hot to be outside for any length of time unless I was sitting in the shade.

I was doing just that while it was so hot on Saturday, siting in the shade, hoping that a few goldfinches would come to feed on the seeds of various flowers that I was close to.

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

 

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

I spotted an animal moving towards me in the vegetation that I was watching, at first I thought that it was probably a cat. As it continued getting closer, I saw that it was a fox. I sat very still, and even though I could have gotten a fair shot or two through the brush, I held off, not wanting to alert the fox to my presence with the sound of the shutter going off.

Like most members of the canine family, foxes depend on scent and sounds when they are hunting, and to alert them to danger. I could see that the fox was tracking something, possibly this bunny that I had seen in the area earlier.

Cottontail rabbit

Cottontail rabbit

By then, the fox was less than 20 feet from me, and less than 4 feet from the edge of the vegetation, if it had been tracking that bunny, it would have had to come out into the open to follow the scent trail. I sat very still with the camera half-way to my eye, and guess what happened. A cyclist came by, and despite my signs asking him to stop, he went blasting right on by me, which of course spooked the fox, who took off running across the field.

Red fox on the run

Red fox on the run

I’d better change the subject quickly, or I’ll go off on a rant about cyclists, and I’d better not, as a few of the regular readers and commenters to my blog are passionate cyclists.

Anyway, I thought that I had a good photo of a male cardinal preening, but when I saw the photos, I almost deleted them because it looks as if some one decapitated the poor cardinal and stuck the severed head back on the body in the wrong position.

Male northern cardinal preening

Male northern cardinal preening

It’s funny how different a two-dimensional photo looks when compared to what I saw in three dimensions as the cardinal preened. Here’s a later photo showing that the cardinal was fine, and that it was just a trick of the camera that made it look as if he had lost his head.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Maybe I’m bragging a little here, but all of the poor photos that I’ve shot in bad weather and posted here have been good practice towards being able to get a good photo in such conditions.

On my way to the Little Black Lake Park, before the rain had let up completely, I shot these two photos of a red-shouldered hawk.

Juvenile red-shouldered hawk

Juvenile red-shouldered hawk

I was well braced, but these were still shot handheld at 1/80 second with the 300 mm lens and the 1.4 X extender.

Juvenile red-shouldered hawk

Juvenile red-shouldered hawk

In fact, for most of the day on Sunday, I was shooting in low light, as you can tell from the landscape images earlier in this post.

Little Black Lake Park is supposed to be a good spot for birding, but I saw very few there on Sunday. The only one that I was able to photograph is this song sparrow bringing food to its young.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Before I began getting serious about birding, it was rare for me to see a song sparrow, now they seem to be ubiquitous, I see them everywhere there’s water nearby.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

I did see a bird of a different kind as I was waiting for the rain to end completely. This is probably a DC-3 given the color scheme…

DC-3 or C-47 "Goony bird"?

DC-3 or C-47 “Gooney bird”?

…but it could have been a converted version of the C-47, they are essentially the same plane other than slight modifications to the military version. After WW II, many of the C-47’s were sold for civilian use, which makes it tough to tell which variant any one plane is.

The lack of birds was probably due to the weather, I’ll have to return when there aren’t storms in the area.

I did see a few deer, I shot this fawn from a distance, which I normally don’t do.

Whitetail fawn

Whitetail fawn

I think that in this image, you can see how small the fawn still is compared to the vegetation.

I almost went back to my car to get my tripod and the macro lens to shoot water drops on the flowers…

Swamp rose?

Swamp rose?

…but the mosquitoes were ferocious!

Water drops on unidentified flowers

Water drops on unidentified flowers

The insect repellant that I have seems to have lost its effectiveness, I don’t know if it’s because it’s a year old, or if it is because I keep it in my Forester, and it has gotten very hot a number of times. After the rain ended, there was no wind at all, which would have made macro photos easier, but also made the mosquitoes worse.

After I purchased a good tripod, I went through a phase when I tried to use it for every macro photo of a flower that I shot. Using the tripod did eliminate camera shake, but it didn’t stop the flowers from moving in the wind, so I became very frustrated and don’t use the tripod as much as I should when conditions are right. As thick as the skeeters were, I’d have gotten frustrated again if I had taken the time to set-up the tripod to shoot those photos.

My next stop on Sunday was Lake Harbor Park, where I shot a few photos of crows. I’m not sure, but I think that the adults were teaching their young how to safely scavenge around humans.

American crow

American crow

Some one posted a link to a video in the comments to my last post about how well crows can solve problems. (Sorry, I don’t know the person’s name, just that their blog is https://lletty.wordpress.com/ )

American crows

American crows

I had seen that video before, but it led me to a full length episode of the program Nature from the BBC on crows.

American crow

American crow

I’ve always known that crows were social and very intelligent birds, but the more scientists study them, the more that they learn just how intelligent they are. If you have a spare hour to watch the video, here’s a link to it.

Here are a few of the other things that I found to photograph at Lake Harbor Park.

Unidentified flowering object

Unidentified flowering object

The mallards there are used to being fed, here’s one coming at me to see if I had food for her.

Female mallard coming in for a landing

Female mallard coming in for a landing

On the other hand, this mother mallard seem very intent on finding wild food for her young, they could barely keep up with her as fast as she was swimming.

Female mallard and ducklings

Female mallard and ducklings

I wish that I could have gotten closer to these trumpet vine flowers, but they were ringed by rose bushes full of thorns, in the low light, it probably didn’t make much difference how close I was able to get.

Trumpet vine flowers

Trumpet vine flowers

With all the close-ups of gulls that I’ve shot and posted, I hardly need to post this one, but I really like it for some reason that I can’t put my finger on.

Ring-billed gull

Ring-billed gull

One male mallard was just beginning to sprout a few new green feathers on its head, it will be a month or two yet before they are back to the colorful ducks most people think of when they hear mallard.

Male mallard going green

Male mallard going green

I remember how hard I used to work trying to get a good photo of a grey squirrel that was black. These days, it’s a piece of cake, even in low light. Either my equipment is much better, or I’ve finally learned how, maybe it’s both. By the way, grey squirrels around here come in two colors, grey, which is how they came to get their name, or black, like this one. Of course it helped that some one left a pile of sunflower seeds for the squirrel to eat, and no, it wasn’t me, I just took advantage of it.

Grey squirrel, black morph

Grey squirrel, black morph

On my way to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, there were a few young turkeys along the road, so I stopped to shoot a few photos.

Turkey poults

Turkey poults

Here’s their mother.

Female turkey

Female turkey

And, since the mother turkeys usually keep their young well hidden from sight, here’s another photo of the poults, since it’s rare to see them.

Turkey poults

Turkey poults

The mother must have wanted to cross the road very badly, for like I said, it’s rare to see the poults when they are that young, even though turkeys have become very common here.

It was a tough day for birding, even at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve I was only able to catch a few birds. I’ve posted a lot of photos of the marsh wrens this summer, and because they were one of the few species of birds that I found on this day, I’m forced to post a few more.😉

Marsh wren

Marsh wren

I thought that the photo above would be a good one, but there’s a stick in front of the wren’s face. I was quick enough to get this shot a little later…

Marsh wren

Marsh wren

…before the wren hid again.

Marsh wren hiding

Marsh wren hiding

The only reason I used that last photo is because there was some one standing next to me using a 7D Mk II with a Canon L series 70-200 mm f/2.8 lens with a 2 X tele-converter behind it, and his set-up couldn’t keep up with the wren as well as mine. I considered that same set-up for birding, I’m glad that I chose what I did instead. Also, it is yet another example of how difficult it is to photograph smaller birds well. It doesn’t take them long to hide once they know that they’re being photographed.

One of the other birds that I was able to get a photo of was this young robin that has already learned that mayflies aren’t just for trout. (Trout feed heavily on mayflies when they are available.)

Juvenile robin with a mayfly

Juvenile robin with a may fly

If you’re wondering what mayflies look like, here’s a close-up of one that I shot on an earlier trip.

Unidentified mayfly

Unidentified may fly

They often hold their front legs up like that right after they have transformed from their larval stage to an adult. They’re odd-looking things, even for the world of insects, but the trout, and now I find birds, love to eat them.

Along with being able to get good photos of the black morph grey squirrels, I’m also very pleased that I can get photos of birds with food in their beaks where you can identify what type of insect it is. Like this eastern Phoebe with a dragonfly to take back to her young.

Eastern Phoebe with a dragonfly for her young

Eastern Phoebe with a dragonfly for her young

I’ve been able to photograph several birds with dragonflies in their beaks, I had no idea that so many dragonflies were taken by the birds, since dragonflies are wary and very quick. Anyway, that’s another reason that I love photographing nature, I can learn so much from the photos when they are good ones.

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

Why didn’t I?

In almost every image that I shoot, once I load it to my computer and look at it in Lightroom, I see a flaw that I could have easily avoided if I had taken the time to analyze the scene that I was shooting in the first place. Take the image of the day lily that I put in my last post.

Day lily

Day lily

There’s the one dried leaf towards the bottom of the frame that stuck out like a sore thumb when I first viewed the image. I was able to use Lightroom to darken it down a little so that it’s not quite so obvious, but I could have easily plucked that leaf off if I had been paying attention in the first place. I made the same mistake in this image.

Day lily

Day lily

I should have done some judicious pruning before shooting that image as well.

I think that a lot of it has to do with the fact that my first love is shooting wildlife, mostly birds, and that I often have very little time to get any photo. Some times, I just luck out.

Male dickcissel singing

Male dickcissel singing

However, even when it comes to birds, I’m trying to be more aware of what’s in the background, and I swear, the birds know that, and what I’m attempting to do. I spotted a male cardinal singing, and so I shot a photo or two from where I was when I first spotted him. Since he didn’t fly off right away, I looked the scene over, and sure enough, there were branches right behind him. I could see that if I moved to my left a little, then there would be nothing behind him but blue sky, so that’s what I did, moved to the left. As the camera was acquiring focus, I could see the cardinal walking along the branch he was perched on until the branches were directly behind him again.

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing

Argh! I didn’t try moving back to my right so that the branches behind the cardinal in that photo wouldn’t have been there. He probably would have walked back down the branch back to where he started anyway.

Even in the image of the dickcissel above, the tip of the branch he is perched on is sticking out of his shoulder. I tried to remove it in Lightroom, with limited success.

Male dickcissel singing

Male dickcissel singing

I need more practice in both shooting photos in the first place, then in editing them later.

You may say that I’m being overly critical, but it’s the small details that separate a good image from a great image. I need to take more time when I’m shooting flowers or landscapes to be sure that the image that I’ve shot is the best it can be, and not shoot those subjects the same way as I do birds or other wildlife.

Then, there are the times when shooting a video would have been a much better choice than shooting still photos.

For those of you who don’t know, squirrels build two types of “nests”. During the colder months, they gather dried leaves and pile them up in the crotch of a tree or where a number of branches come together. Then, when the squirrel wants to sleep, it simply burrows into the pile of leaves, which act as insulation to keep the squirrel dry and warm.

That works fine for an adult squirrel, but their young are born blind and helpless, just as most mammals are. So, when a female is about to give birth, she builds a different type of nest, one very similar to a bird’s nest, using branches that she cuts off with her teeth. The branches are then woven loosely together, and the result is lined with leaves. That way, the newborn squirrels are in no danger of falling out of the nest while their mother is off feeding.

So, I found a female fox squirrel working on a nest in which to give birth, and I shot dozens of photos of her in action. This is one of those times when a video would have been so much better. How do I know that? Because in setting this up, the thing that comes to mind is to say that if you’ve ever seen a video of a dog trying to get a long stick through a narrow doorway, that’s what I was reminded of as I watched the squirrel in action.

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Oops, almost dropped it.

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Come back here.

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

I need a better grip on this branch.

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

I’ve got it now!

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Still can’t get it past the other branches.

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

More to the left.

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Maybe if I hold it here instead?

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

And so it went. The thought to shoot that as a video occurred to me later, so I returned to that spot. By then, she was in a different part of the tree, where I could just make her out, and the light was horrible as well. Nature seldom gives you more than one chance to get it right in the first place, whether it be still photos or videos, unless you have plenty of time to spend outside.

As I’ve said before, shooting video with a long lens handheld is no easy task, most of the videos that I’ve attempted are too shaky for me to post here. If I use my tripod, it works fine for stationary subjects, because I have a tripod head best suited for still photography. For video, I should have a tripod head that allows for smooth movement as I follow a subject. That means purchasing yet another tripod head, and even though the heads for videos can be locked for stills, I wonder how effective that would be. I have the feeling that I’d end up trying to carry two tripod heads and switching back and forth, or much more likely, trying to make do with the wrong one for what I’m attempting to do at the time.

I suppose that I should bite the bullet and spend the $600 for a Wimberly gimbal head like the professionals use that will work for both video and stills, maybe some day.😉

That, and along with the theme of my last post, I’m looking forward to the days when I can spend as much time as needed to get the photo that I’d like to get, and not feel the need to rush off to the next photo-op. An example of that would be that when there’s a day with good light, and very little wind, to spend the time shooting wildflowers.

Unidentified flowering object

Unidentified flowering object

Along with their many visitors.

Honeybee on an unidentified flowering object

Honeybee on an unidentified flowering object

I missed the grasshopper on the back of the flower, it took off when I moved. But as I was looking for it, or a better one of the flowers to photograph, I saw the most beautiful bee that I’ve ever seen.

 Unidentified bee on an unidentified flowering object

Unidentified bee on an unidentified flowering object

I tried for a better image.

 Unidentified bee on an unidentified flowering object

Unidentified bee on an unidentified flowering object

But, I really should have put a tele-converter or extension tubes behind the 100 mm macro lens so that I could get closer to that tiny bee.

As small as the individual flowers were, I was quite proud of the images of them that I got, they were just over 1/8 of an inch (3 mm) across at their base.

Unidentified flowering object

Unidentified flowering object

If I would have sat there for a while with the proper set-up, the tiny bee may have returned for a better image of it, at the least, I would have gotten better images of the flowers. Even if I hadn’t, what could be better than sitting in a field of beautiful wildflowers with nothing else to do but enjoy and admire them?

I think that I’m having an epiphany at the moment, maybe it isn’t that I don’t have the time to shoot great photos, maybe I have the perception that I don’t have the time that it would take to shoot the subjects that I do in a much better way.

I have slowed down quite a bit already, and it is paying dividends. But, there’s always the nagging thought in the back of my mind that there’s a better photo around the next bend in the trail, or the next location that I plan on visiting. I need to work on that as much as anything.

I’m still learning, and maybe the next big milestone in my education is the idea that great images don’t just jump into your camera when you’re in the right place at the right time every now and then.

I can always come up with excuses as to why I shouldn’t spend more time on any given subject that I’m shooting. The light is wrong, the background is wrong, there’s too much wind, the subject isn’t perfect, and so it goes.

There are ways to work around those problems, and I’ve done so when I’ve really wanted a particular photo. I’ve said in the past that I love solving the problems that are presented to me when it comes to photography, maybe I need to take that a few steps further.

As I’m thinking about this, I’ve just remembered what the next photo that I shot after the flowers above was, it was this upland sandpiper that flew past me as I returned to my car.

Upland sandpiper in flight

Upland sandpiper in flight

That may not have been totally luck, but close to it. I do keep the 7D body with a long lens set-up ready at all times for just such an occasion, and the sandpiper flew past me right after I had set down the 60D body and macro lens, freeing my hands for that shot. However, I can’t rely on such luck all the time if I expect to shoot images like that on a regular basis.

I’ve been trying to get past the notion that there’s always a better photo somewhere else, take the sandhill cranes for example. I sat there waiting for them to take flight, hoping to get good images of them, but it was a poor day to do so. That’s because there was no wind at all, which meant that the cranes took flight in any direction that they felt like when they decided to leave the marsh to go to their feeding locations for the day. Any bird that runs to build up speed as it takes to the air…

Sandhill cranes taking flight

Sandhill cranes taking flight

…will always take off or land going into the wind for the added lift that they get from the air going across their wings, just as airplanes do.

That meant that I wasted most of the time that I sat there watching the cranes and waiting for them to fly, as none of the photos that I shot are all that great compared to what they could have been if the cranes had taken off at a different angle, towards me rather than slightly away from me. Instead of waiting around to get poor photos of the cranes, I should have been shooting more wildflowers that morning since there was no wind.

Appendaged waterleaf?

Appendaged waterleaf?

I also let some things get to me that I shouldn’t. I never found their nest, mostly because I wasn’t really looking for it, but there were a pair of green herons flying across one of the small waterways near Grand Haven…

Green heron in flight

Green heron in flight

…I could tell that they were bringing food to their young…

Green heron in flight

Green heron in flight

…if I had hung around there longer I may have gotten a good photo of them. I may have even gotten to see their young, and the adults feeding them. But, a bass boat…

Breaking the morning calm

Breaking the morning calm

…went blasting down the channel, and I let it ruin my mood, when I should have stuck around that spot for a while longer. The herons would have gone right back to bringing food to their young, they had no other option. I should know by now that such things are going to happen, I’m not out in a wilderness somewhere when I’m out shooting photos, so I don’t know why I let a small thing like the bass boat going past make me decide to pack it in where I’m at, and move to another location, where something similar is bound to happen.

I need to become more patient, that is if I’m ever going to shoot the photos that I’d like to someday. That doesn’t apply to just the quality of the images, but also the subject matter as well. I’d like to chronicle several species of birds raising their young, from while the parent(s) are incubating the eggs, as in this earlier photo of an Eastern Kingbird…

Female eastern kingbird on her nest

Female eastern kingbird on her nest

…to when the birds first hatch…

Newly hatched eastern kingbird

Newly hatched eastern kingbird

…and catch the parents feeding the youngsters. I rarely hang around a nest for very long at the present time, because I’m standing out in the open where the parents can see me, and become very upset with my presence.

It’s tough enough being a bird as it is, they don’t need me adding to their problems. However, if I were in a hide where I didn’t upset the birds, and I could record the live’s of the young as they grow and eventually learn to fly.

Before I forget, I have returned to that nest one other time, and the mother was there keeping the youngsters warm on a cool morning.

Eastern kingbird

Eastern kingbird

I’d also like to find a scene or scenes that I could shoot over the course of all four seasons, and in different weather conditions. I’m sort of doing that now at several places that I go, like Lost Lake…

Lost Lake on a foggy day

Lost Lake on a foggy day

…Duck Lake…

Duck Lake State Park after the rain

Duck Lake State Park after the rain

… around home…

Still green in the drought

Still green in the drought

(I shot that one to record how green everything still is, even though we haven’t gotten as much rain as we usually do, and we’re on the edge of a drought)

…and even at the wastewater facility.

Cloudscape after the snow

Cloudscape after the snow

However, what I’m really looking for are scenes that I could shoot from the exact same spot time after time to record not only the changing of the seasons and the different moods depending on the weather, but also any changes that occur.

Switching gears somewhat, it’s funny that I’m complaining about a lack of time as I sit here today trying to think of somewhere cool that I could go for the day. It’s been a hot summer here in Michigan so far, with quite a few days when the temperature rose above 90 degrees (32 C). Today may end up being the hottest day of the year so far, and while I tolerate heat a little better than I used to, it’s still not something that I look forward to.

I could go somewhere along Lake Michigan, where the breeze off from the lake will be about 10 to 15 degrees cooler, but every one else and their brother will be doing the same thing.

It’s also a bit funny that the last photo so far, of the cloudscape, was taken the day before I left on my vacation back in May, on a day when it had snowed earlier. That week turned out to be the turning point in our weather, from a cold spring to a hot summer. It’s also been drier than average, we’re on the verge of a mild drought, but you wouldn’t know it from looking around.

Some of the grasses have flowered…

Unidentified grass

Unidentified grass

 

Unidentified grass

Unidentified grass

…and they’re turning brown, but the trees don’t look stressed yet, and there are plenty of wildflowers blooming.

????

????

 

Wild rose

Wild rose

 

Dame's rocket

Dame’s rocket

 

Wild rose

Wild rose

 

Sow thistle

Sow thistle

 

Sweet pea

Sweet pea

 

Money wort or creeping Jenny

Money wort or creeping Jenny

 

IMG_5920

Money wort or creeping Jenny

With all the flowers blooming, I’ve seen and shot quite a few bees…

Honeybee

Honeybee

 

Unidentified black bee licking a bindweed flower

Unidentified black bee licking a bindweed flower

…and other bee-like insects.

Unidentified fly on a rose

Unidentified fly on a rose

However, I haven’t been seeing many butterflies so far this year, here’s one that I managed to get a photo of.

Unidentified skipper

Unidentified skipper

Well, I guess that it’s time to go out and face the heat, I hope that I don’t melt.😉

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

All I’m really lacking is time

While I wish that I wasn’t working as many hours as I am right now, the good side of that is larger paychecks. Even though I’m only getting out on the weekends, I’m shooting more photos than I can post weekly any way. There’s just so much to photograph at this time of year, it’s hard to miss getting a few good shots every day on the days when I can get out.

Day lily

Day lily

I promised Tom (Mr. Tootlepedal) a photo, so I won’t keep him in suspense any longer, here it is.

English sparrow

English sparrow

Since English sparrows are an introduced, invasive species here in the United States, and are displacing our native sparrows, I seldom photograph them. However, when one of them poses as close as that one did, even I can’t resist pressing the shutter release.

With the run that I have now at work, I start at 10 A.M., I thought that it would be okay for the weekends, I’d just get up earlier than I do during the week. However, I usually get home so late on Friday nights that getting out at first light on Saturday isn’t easy. That, and I found that when I tried getting up early, I wasn’t as steady as I am when I’ve had a good night of sleep. When I’m trying to shoot photos like these…

Honeybee on spotted knapweed

Honeybee on spotted knapweed

…I find that I need to have had enough rest the night before.

Honeybee on spotted knapweed

Honeybee on spotted knapweed

On Sunday, I finally dragged myself out of bed before sunrise, but not enough before sunrise to make it somewhere in the Muskegon area to shoot landscapes there. So, I stopped on my way to shoot this photo.

Barn at surise

Barn at sunrise

I had been checking out that scene on my way home from Muskegon each week, I thought that it would make a fair landscape photo when the light was right. I know, I have the horizon almost centered in the shot, I tried other compositions…

Barn at surise 2

Barn at sunrise 2

…but, I didn’t like them as well. Not too bad for being out of practice. I did a little better later on, after a few rain showers had moved through the area.

Duck Lake State Park after the rain

Duck Lake State Park after the rain

There had been sunny skies early in the day, I was hoping to capture the approach of the predicted storms, but it didn’t work out for that because the clouds rolled in long before the weak storms came along.

IMG_6626_7_8

Duck Lake State Park after the storm 2

Instead, I caught the storms moving out of the area, with the sun just beginning to hit the Duck Lake area while I was there.

It was a strange day, the storms were duds, but almost as soon as the rain ended, the sun came out, as you can see, and the wind began to pick-up, a lot!

I had been birding before the storms, but as fierce as the wind became in a very short time, I gave up on any idea of shooting birds any more that day.

Duck Lake State Park is about half way between Muskegon and White Lake, so I decided to head to White Lake, since I hadn’t been there in a while. I stopped on my way to the breakwater to shoot a photo of the lighthouse there.

The lighthouse on the White Lake channel

The lighthouse on the White Lake channel

One look at the breakwater told me that I wasn’t going out on it this day.

Waves breaking over the breakwater at White Lake

Waves breaking over the breakwater at White Lake

Even though the wind had just come up, Lake Michigan was getting roiled up already…

Lake Michigan on a windy day

Lake Michigan on a windy day

…the wind was from the south, blowing the waves in a northerly direction, until they hit the breakwater, where would “bounce” off from it, and crash into other waves coming from the south…

IMG_6685

Lake Michigan on a windy day 2

 

…with the wind blowing the spray across the breakwater as if it was snow drifting in the wind.

Spray drifting across the breakwater

Spray drifting across the breakwater

It was hard to stay dry.😉

The wave that almost got me

The wave that almost got me

 

More wave action

More wave action

So, I went back and shot a better photo of the lighthouse…

The White Lake lighthouse

The White Lake lighthouse

…and the flowers planted in the yard around the lighthouse.

The grounds at the White Lake lighthouse

The grounds at the White Lake lighthouse

I knew that none of the images that I had shot so far truly conveyed how large the waves were, so I headed back to Muskegon to see if I could do any better there…

Lake Michigan wave action at Muskegon

Lake Michigan wave action at Muskegon

…not really.

Lake Michigan wave action at Muskegon

Lake Michigan wave action at Muskegon 2

So, my next stop was Grand Haven, I’ve seen photos of waves going right over the top of the lighthouse there, but not on this day.

The lighthouse at Grand Haven, Michigan

The lighthouse at Grand Haven, Michigan

 

The lighthouse at Grand Haven, Michigan 2

The lighthouse at Grand Haven, Michigan 2

Between the wind and the waves crashing over the breakwaters, it was hard to hear anything else, but this thing made enough noise that I could hear it.

US Coast Guard helicopter

US Coast Guard helicopter

I’ve been told by aviation aficionados that you should never use a high enough shutter speed to completely freeze the motion of any aircraft’s propellers, so when the helicopter came past me again, I slowed down the shutter a little…

US Coast Guard helicopter 2

US Coast Guard helicopter 2

…but, probably not enough. As low as they were flying…

US Coast Guard helicopter 3

US Coast Guard helicopter 3

…I assumed that some idiot had been washed off from the breakwater.

People do get washed off from the breakwaters along Lake Michigan on a regular basis, because some people make a game of trying to get out to the end on days like this one. Here’s a series of photos showing the game in action. When they see a wave coming…

So they run to the next support for the catwalk

They run to the next support for the catwalk

and hold on for dear life

and hold on for dear life

as the wave crashes over them

as the wave crashes over them

The wave game

The wave game

The wave game 2

The wave game 2

The wave game 2

The wave game 3

I know that you had to look closely to see it, but the wave went over the head of the guy next to the light. You wouldn’t catch me out there, I’m not afraid of water, but I have a healthy respect for moving water, it’s a lot more powerful than most people realize.

Anyway, I did get in some birding earlier in the day, so I’ll post a few of the photos from then, starting with a lesser yellowlegs.

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

 

American black duck

American black duck

 

American black duck in flight

American black duck in flight

 

Mute swan

Mute swan

The sandhill cranes weren’t in the marsh when I arrived, so later in the day they came looking for me, first one…

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

 

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

…then, in small flocks of three…

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

…or four.

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Darn, I’ve about reached my limit for photos, and still have a few to go. I suppose that I’ll add them to the pile to be posted later, except for this one, a slightly better photo of a bobolink.

Bobolink

Bobolink

I’d rather not sit and whine about how little time that I have for photography presently, but it limiting what and where I shoot. As I said, the upside is a little more money each week, I’m not sure that it’s worth the trade-off, but it is what it is for the time being. Because of that, my next few posts may be shorter, at least as far as what I type, but with the same number of photos.

Speaking of that, I know that most of the photos in this post aren’t that great, but they are a record of my day, and the weather. There are times when that has to be enough. I rushed this post, I didn’t spend as much time editing the images that I included, so that plays a part as well.

I love what Lightroom can do for my images, but there are times after a day of shooting that I’d rather wait to do the serious editing, but I have little time for that now either. The good news is that while editing my images, I’m learning how to shoot them so they don’t need as much editing, but I always seem to miss something as I’m shooting.

Well, it’s time for me to get something to eat and then head off to work, so this will have to do.

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

For right now

For the time being, I have decided to scout a few locations, but I think that it would be better if I didn’t bother trying to set-up any type of blind or hide. I’m working so many hours during the week that my only time to get outside is on weekends. I need the exercise that I get from walking, so while I may scout some areas for in the future, I’ll have to keep doing things more or less the way that I have been for now. It’s been working well enough for shots like this.

Grasshopper sparrow

Grasshopper sparrow

You may ask how I’m sure that the bird is a grasshopper sparrow, and not the similarly colored Savannah sparrow…

Savannah sparrow

Savannah sparrow

…it’s because I heard them both sing, getting this close-up of the grasshopper sparrow as he did.

Grasshopper sparrow

Grasshopper sparrow

Those were both shot yesterday, Sunday, July 10, as I start this post, at the Muskegon County wastewater facility. It hadn’t been my plan to go there, it wasn’t even my intended destination when I left my apartment. However, it was cool, even chilly outside, and as I approached Muskegon, the temperature dropped another 10 degrees due to the natural air conditioning provided by Lake Michigan. I had worn only a light T-shirt because it was forecast to get very warm in the afternoon, which it did. At the wastewater facility, I can use my car as a hide and stay warm as an added benefit, so when I felt how cool it was as I was driving, I turned off to go to the wastewater facility rather than the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve.

Like I say, I hadn’t intended to go there, the waterfowl are molting, so they make poor subjects for photos, and there’s only a few shorebirds there, either the ones that nest here, or I think that some immature birds of other species spend their first summer there before migrating all the way north to their breeding range the next year. I’m not sure about the second half of that, I’d love to talk to an expert on shorebirds to verify it. There are a few individuals of several species that don’t normally breed in Michigan hanging around at the wastewater facility.

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived there, the sandhill cranes had also.

Sandhill cranes

Sandhill cranes

There were about 40 of them, milling around, and doing a lot of preening as they are also molting into their fall and winter plumage as well. I did shoot a short video of them, but I probably won’t post it, as the cranes were surprisingly quiet yesterday.

So, I sat there for a very long time, I’m not sure just how long I was there, but it had just gotten light when I arrived, and the sun was fully up when the first few cranes left to go to the area where they feed during the day. I wasn’t going to post these photos, since they aren’t very good, but since they also show a fearless red-winged blackbird taking on the small flock of cranes, I decided to throw these in this post anyway.

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a flock of sandhill cranes

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a flock of sandhill cranes

 

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a flock of sandhill cranes

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a flock of sandhill cranes

 

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a flock of sandhill cranes

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a flock of sandhill cranes

So, I sat there quite a while, watching the cranes, and shooting a few other things between the hundreds of shots of the cranes. It was a great learning experience, both watching the cranes, and noticing how much the light changed the appearance of things as the sun rose higher in the sky.

Spotted knapweed

Spotted knapweed

A Canada goose came flying directly at me, not a good angle for a great image, but it was a good way to warm up to shoot more flying birds later in the day.

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

It was also odd to see a lone goose, they are also in the process of forming flocks for their migration south.

There was also a wood duck playing around in the marsh for a while.

Wood duck

Wood duck

I was hoping that it would swim over closer to me, but no luck there. It’s already in its fall plumage, so I suppose it’s no big deal anyway. As the sun rose higher, I shot a few more of the spotted knapweed.

Spotted knapweed

Spotted knapweed

And, when a few of the cranes spread their wings, I shot them in anticipation that they would be taking flight soon.

Sandhill cranes

Sandhill cranes

 

Sandhill cranes

Sandhill cranes

I’ve complained about how slow the auto-focus of the 300 mm lens is when I have the 1.4 X tele-converter behind it, which is 99% of the time. One thing that I could do to speed the auto-focusing up would be to use the range limiting switch on the lens more often. I have two options with that lens, either the full range that the lens will focus in, or if I slide the limiting switch over, it limits the lens to focusing from 3 meters ( Approx. 10 feet) to infinity, rather than 1.5 meters to infinity.  The lens seems to be programmed to focus up close first if the switch is set to the full range, but it seems to go to the longer end of its range first if I use the switch. However, this morning was a perfect example of why I keep forgetting that. One minute I was shooting photos of wildlife…

Female mallard in flight

Female mallard in flight

…the next minute, I was shooting the flowers…

Spotted knapweed and guests

Spotted knapweed and guests

…up close.

I’ve tried to make use of the range limiting switch, but I’m usually going back and forth so often that I give up, and leave it set to the full range most of the time. That’s especially true when I’m in thick vegetation, and there’s the chance that I’ll be shooting a bird closer than 3 meters. You’d be surprised how often that happens.

Grey catbird at my feet

Grey catbird at my feet

That image wasn’t cropped at all, how I managed to walk up on a catbird that close is beyond me, they are normally quite shy. The images of the grasshopper sparrow at the top of this post weren’t cropped either, although I was using the 2 X tele-converter behind the 300 mm lens for them. If I had the lens set to limit the focusing range, I may have well missed the shot of the sparrow. I also used that combination for this one.

Bumblebee on spotted knapweed

Bumblebee on spotted knapweed

I have no qualms at all about using that combination, despite what some people say about the loss of image quality. The 2 X extender is like any other piece of photography gear, you need to learn how to get the best out of it. I’ve learned a few tricks that help me get good sharp images while using it, one is bumping up the shutter speed to at least 1/1000 second. Even though the effective focal length of the extender on the 300 mm lens is 600 mm which in theory means that 1/600 second should be fast enough, I find that faster shutter speeds help a lot. That’s even though the 300 mm lens has image stabilization, but I don’t think that the IS of the lens is “tuned” correctly for the 2 X extender.

The other things that I do is to get the focus close manually first, then let the auto-focus take over. If the 300 mm lens and 1.4 X extender are slow, then with the 2 X extender, it’s like a sedated snail as far as how quickly it auto-focuses. Then, once the lens seems to have gotten a good focus on the subject, I’ve learned to wait a split second or two longer to let it refine the focus lock. The camera may say that it has the subject in focus, and it may look like it through the viewfinder, but if I hesitate just a bit, the images are even sharper…

Red-tailed hawk trying to hide behind wires

Red-tailed hawk trying to hide behind wires

…even if there’s an obstruction in the way, especially if the subject moves at all.

Red-tailed hawk taking flight

Red-tailed hawk taking flight

The downsides to the 2 X extender besides the slow focusing are that I lose 2 stops of light with it, which means I can only use the center focus point even with the 7D Mk II. I’ve gotten a few good bird in flight images with that set-up, but it isn’t easy. The other downside is that I can’t effectively use a polarizing filter when using the 2 X extender, as the filter reduces the light coming into the camera another 2 stops, for a total loss of 4 stops of light. The 7D will auto-focus with the polarizing filter on the lens, but then the auto-focus is ridiculously slow, and also inaccurate. Still, I now consider it to be an indispensable part of my arsenal of gear which helps me get better images all the time.

I don’t want this post to be all my prattling about photo gear, but there’s one more quirk to the 300 mm lens with the 2 X tele-converter behind it that I’d like to share. It is slower than molasses in January to acquire focus in the first place, but once it achieves a focus lock, it seems to track movement quite well. I still remember shooting the bufflehead ducks earlier this spring as they were engaged in their mating rituals, and I’ve also captured a few other action scenes with that combination. Why it will track motion faster than it will focus in the first place is beyond me, it’s all in the way that the camera, extender, and lens are programmed, just like the way that some lenses have been tuned by Canon so that the IS of the lens functions better when using an extender.

Still, I wanted to learn just how fast the 300 mm lens was by itself, so when I went to my brother’s house for the 4th of July, I shot a few photos of his radio controlled boat.

My brother's boat

My brother’s boat

The test was a success, I learned exactly how fast the Canon 7D and the 300 mm lens are as far as tracking fast-moving subjects, and they’re extremely fast.

Another test shot

Another test shot

After that, a flock of swimming ducks was a piece of cake.

Pekin ducks

Pekin ducks

Anyway, once I do get around to setting up a hide somewhere, one of the first species of birds that I’m going to go after is this one.

Belted kingfisher

Belted kingfisher

 

Belted kingfisher

Belted kingfisher

 

Belted kingfisher

Belted kingfisher

They are extremely wary and always on alert, it’s telling that those are among my best images of kingfishers despite how many times I’ve tried to get close to one. They seem to know what the effective range of my camera gear is, and stay just out of range even as my equipment and skills improve. I’m usually very good at sneaking up on a bird, and catching the surprised look on its face when it sees me.

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

And, other birds seem to be very relaxed even when I’m close to them.

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

Then, there are the other species of birds that no matter how hard I try, I can’t get a good photo of them.

Bobolinks

Bobolinks

I shot these mid-morning, and it was already getting so hot outside that atmospheric distortions were giving me fits.

Bobolinks

Bobolinks

No matter how good of a camera one uses, or how long of a lens one has, you can not overcome all of the bad conditions for photography, although I continue to try. It’s one of the things that I love about photography, solving the problems that nature presents to us as we try to photograph various things. This next photo is a good example of that, even though the photo isn’t anything special other than what I had to do to get it.

Wood frog

Wood frog

That was shot on a very dreary, rainy, foggy day, when there wasn’t enough natural light to shoot a photo. I used the 60D and 100 mm macro lens, and what I have learned about setting the camera up from using the 7D to use the built-in flash of the 60D to get that image. I’m not going to list all the settings that I changed, other than to say that I used manual mode for that one. It’s something that I do when confronted with tough lighting situations, but other than during those times, I still see no great advantage to using manual vs either aperture or shutter priority.

Maybe when I do get to the point where I’m sitting in a hide shooting one specific subject I’ll use the manual mode more often, but when walking around and shooting quickly most of the time, I find that the other two modes are a touch faster to use. Still, it pays to learn how to shoot in manual for times when there’s no other way to get a photo, such as in the case of the frog.  Shooting in manual requires practice, just as all things having to do with photography do, so it pays to stay in practice.

Since I’ve talked about the range limiting switch of the 300 mm lens, and have now mentioned the 100 mm macro lens, I should prattle on a bit more son that subject. The 100 mm macro lens has a three position range limiting switch, and I use it quite often. The positions are the full range of the lens, from minimum focusing distance to infinity. Then, there’s a setting that limits how close the lens will focus, but allows it to go to infinity, it’s the setting that I rarely use. The third setting allows the lens to focus from its minimum distance out to only 1.6 feet (49 CM), and that’s the setting that I use when I want to get really close to a subject, such as this tiny toad.

Tiny toad

Tiny toad

You can tell how small the toad was in relation to the leaf it’s on, and the cap of an acorn in the background. It was a tough fight, but in the end, I managed this photo of the toad, in part, by using the range limiting switch on the lens.

Tiny toad

Tiny toad

I also used that setting for this image.

Dragonfly portrait

Dragonfly portrait

I find that when I’m getting so close as to shoot true macro photos, that using the range limiting switch helps out a great deal.

Although, due to a number of factors, one being a lack of focus points available with the 60D body, I sometimes switch the auto-focus off, manually focus, and move back and forth until the subject is in focus.

Blue-eyed grass

Blue-eyed grass

It helps that a when I’m using the macro lens I can reach the depth of field preview button on the 60D to make sure what I want to have in focus really is in focus.

Pink pogonia orchid

Pink pogonia orchid

This may be the most obvious statement that I’ve ever made here, but it pays to learn how to use every feature that your camera has. For example, the 60D body has an articulated view screen, and I used it and live view focusing to get this image.

Bladderwort after the rain

Bladderwort after the rain

The alternative to using the articulated screen would have been to lay down in the water to get that angle if I had used the camera’s viewfinder. I’ll do a lot of things to get a photo, but laying on my belly in six inches of water is not one of them, at least not so far.😉 There was more than my comfort in play then as well, I didn’t want to lay on any of the rare plants that grow in that location either. Unfortunately, I miss-timed the water drop, a split-second earlier, and that image would have been much better.

Well, I’ve done it again. I didn’t mean to dwell on the photography aspect in this post as much as I did, but it seems like every one of my posts evolves in that direction once I start it. I can’t help it, recalling how I got the shot has become very important to me, for it helps to have that information so ingrained in my mind that using the camera is like an extension of myself. I think that it’s one of the most important things as far as my getting better photos all the time. I no longer have to think as much about how to get the shot, it’s becoming automatic, even though it takes a little while to set the camera and lens to the settings required. Sometimes, that means having the camera set-up in advance, anticipating what type of photos that I’ll be shooting.

However, trying to anticipate what type of photo I’ll be shooting has its downsides as well. On a recent walk through the park near where I live, I paused to take a drink from my water bottle. Just then, two goldfinches got into one of their territorial disputes, which they settle on the wing. I was close enough that it would have made a great photo, if I hadn’t had my water bottle in my hand. I had to settle for this shot of the winner.

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

I’ve thought time and time again that I should have my camera set-up for songbirds in flight as I walk that part of the park, so having missed the goldfinches, I did set-up the camera for what I anticipated I’d be shooting. It was just after that when a fox stuck its head and shoulders out of the tall grass to take a look around. As soon as the fox saw me, it was off like a shot. There I was, having planned on shooting birds flying overhead against the bright blue sky that morning, with a fox running down the road in front of me. I saw a focus point light up telling me the camera had a focus, so I fired, but it was the wrong focus point.

Out of focus red fox

Out of focus red fox

I finally got the right focus point on the fox to get this poor shot.

Red fox on the run

Red fox on the run

That’s the way that the entire day went, which is why I did a post about bad days a while back. I used to let bad days like that affect me a lot more than I do now, because I know that it’s just one day, and that the next day, I’ll be back to shooting good photos again.

Honeybee and crown vetch

Honeybee and crown vetch

Good, but not great, however I’m pretty sure that great will come in the future. I have to be quicker when it comes to changing settings, like going to shutter priority with a faster shutter speed to freeze the motion of the bee in that last image. Or, changing the auto-focusing mode of the camera so that I would have gotten a better shot of the fox.

With all the photos that I shoot that I’d have it all down pat by now, but it requires split-second decision-making and knowing exactly where the right controls are on the camera, and how to change them as quickly as needed. Those things will come in time as I grow more familiar with my equipment, especially the 7D Mk II, which is opening up an entire new world for me.

When it comes to the photos that I shoot most of the time, the 7D won’t do anything that the 60D will, however, because of the way that the controls are laid out, and the way that I’ve been able to customize them to suit me, I can change settings more quickly to be able to experiment more with the 7D, to learn what works and what doesn’t. Until I get to where I have the time to sit by a few flowers and dedicate myself to getting the best possible image of a bee in flight, being able to change settings as quickly as needed is very important for right now.

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

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