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

Archive for January, 2013

Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis

The Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is a North American bird in the genus Cardinalis; it is also known colloquially as the redbird or common cardinal. It can be found in southern Canada, through the eastern United States from Maine to Texas and south through Mexico. It is found in woodlands, gardens, shrub lands, and swamps.

The Northern Cardinal is a mid-sized songbird with a body length of 21 centimeters (8.3 inches). It has a distinctive crest on the head and a mask on the face which is black in the male and gray in the female. The male is a vibrant red, while the female is a dull red-brown shade. The Northern Cardinal is mainly granivorous, but also feeds on insects and fruit. The male behaves territorially, marking out his territory with song. During courtship, the male feeds seed to the female beak-to-beak. A clutch of three to four eggs is laid, and two to four clutches are produced each year.

The females tend to be shy and retiring, staying hidden in thickets most of the time. The males are very aggressive when it comes to defending their territories, and can often be seen perched near the top of a tree while singing to let other males know who the boss is.

Cardinals will readily come to a backyard feeder, and they are often the birds people most want to attract when they do begin feeding birds.

On to the photos.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

 

Juvenile male northern cardinal

Juvenile male northern cardinal

Juvenile male northern cardinal

Juvenile male northern cardinal

Juvenile male northern cardinal

Juvenile male northern cardinal

Juvenile male northern cardinal

Juvenile male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Juvenile male northern cardinal

Juvenile male northern cardinal

Juvenile female northern cardinal

Juvenile female northern cardinal

Juvenile female northern cardinal

Juvenile female northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

DSC_0191

Male northern cardinal

Juvenile female northern cardinal

Juvenile female northern cardinal

Juvenile female northern cardinal

Juvenile female northern cardinal

Juvenile female northern cardinal

Juvenile female northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

This is number 17 in my photo life list, only 333 to go!

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


Red-tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis

I’m moving the red-tailed hawks up in the schedule, just for Emily of Bella Remy Photography.

The Red-tailed Hawk is one of the most widely distributed hawks in the Americas. It breeds from central Alaska, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories east to southern Quebec and the Maritime Provinces of Canada, and south to Florida, the West Indies, and Central America. The winter range stretches from southern Canada south throughout the remainder of the breeding range.

Its preferred habitat is mixed forest and field, with high bluffs or trees that may be used as perch sites. It occupies a wide range of habitats and altitudes, including deserts, grasslands, coastal regions, mountains, foothills of mountains,  coniferous and deciduous woodlands, tropical rainforests, agricultural fields and urban areas. It is second only to the Peregrine Falcon in the use of diverse habitats in North America. It lives throughout the North American continent, except in areas of unbroken forest or the high Arctic.

The Red-tailed Hawk is widespread in North America, partially due to historic settlement patterns, which have benefited it. The clearing of forests in the Northeast created hunting areas, while the preservation of woodlots left the species with viable nest sites. The planting of trees in the west allowed the Red-tailed Hawk to expand its range by creating nest sites where there had been none. The construction of highways with utility poles alongside treeless medians provided perfect habitat for perch-hunting. Unlike some other raptors, the Red-tailed Hawk are seemingly unfazed by considerable human activity and can nest and live in close proximity to large numbers of humans. Thus, the species can also be found in cities, where common prey such as rock pigeons and brown rats may support their populations.

On to the photos.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Juvenile Red-tailed hawk

Juvenile Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

 

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

DSC_9273

Red-tailed hawk in flight

DSC_9274

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Most of those shots are of my two “pet” red-tailed hawks. No, I didn’t capture and keep them, except in photos. Both of them were hatched in a nest near to where I lived, one year apart from one another. They grew up with me chasing them around to photograph them, and became quite used to my presence over time.

This is number 16 in my photo life list, only 334 to go!

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


Brown Creeper, Certhia americana

The Brown Creeper (Certhia americana), also known as the American Tree Creeper, is a small songbird, the only North American member of the treecreeper family Certhiidae.

Adults are brown on the upper parts with light spotting, resembling a piece of tree bark, with white underparts. They have a long thin bill with a slight downward curve and a long stiff tail used for support as the bird creeps upwards much as do woodpeckers.

They forage on tree trunks and branches, typically spiraling upwards from the bottom of a tree trunk, and then flying down to the bottom of another tree. They hop in quick, short motions, with their body flattened against the bark, probing with their beak for insects. They will rarely feed on the ground. They mainly eat small insects and spiders found in the bark, but sometimes they will eat seeds in winter.

These little buggers have given me fits over the years, trying to capture a good photo of them. They never sit still, they are small, and they are so well camouflaged that in most of the photos of them that I have taken, it is difficult to pick the creepers out from the bark of the tree that they were on. They also seem to prefer the shady side of the tree when I point a camera at them.

Then, just as I was beginning this series, one of them slipped up, and let me get these shots of it.

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

You can see how they use their long (for a small bird) forked tail for support, and their curved bills to probe for food.

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

This is number 15 in my photo life list, only 335 to go!

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


Pileated Woodpecker, Dryocopus pileatus

The Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) is a very large North American woodpecker, roughly crow-sized, inhabiting deciduous forests in eastern North America, the Great Lakes, the boreal forests of Canada, and parts of the Pacific coast. It is also the largest woodpecker in the United States, excepting the possibly extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

These birds mainly eat insects, especially carpenter ants and wood-boring beetle larvae. They also eat fruits, nuts, and berries, including poison ivy berries. Pileated Woodpeckers will often chip out large and roughly rectangular holes in trees while searching out insects, especially ant galleries. They also will lap up ants by reaching with their long tongue into crevices. They are self-assured on the vertical surfaces of large trees but can seem awkward while feeding on small branches and vines. Pileated woodpeckers may also forage on or near the ground, especially around fallen, dead trees, which can contain a smorgasbord of insect life. They may forage around the sides of human homes or even cars and can occasionally be attracted to suet-type feeders. Although they are less likely feeder visitors than smaller woodpeckers, Pileateds may regularly be attracted to them in areas experiencing harsh winter conditions.

Usually, Pileated woodpeckers excavate their large nests in the cavities of dead trees. Woodpeckers make such large holes in dead trees that the holes can cause a small tree to break in half. The roost of a Pileated Woodpecker usually has multiple entrance holes. Pileated Woodpeckers raise their young every year in a hole in a tree. In April, the hole made by the male attracts a female for mating and raising their young. Once the brood is raised, the Pileated Woodpeckers abandon the hole and will not use it the next year. When abandoned, these holes—made similarly by all woodpeckers—provide good homes in future years for many forest song birds and a wide variety of other animals. Locally, owls and tree-nesting ducks may largely rely on holes made by Pileateds in which to lay their nests. Even mammals such as raccoons may use them. Other woodpeckers and smaller birds such as wrens may be attracted to Pileated holes to feed on the insects found in them. Ecologically, the entire woodpecker family is important to the well-being of many other bird species. The Pileated Woodpecker will also nest in nest boxes about 15 ft (4.6 m) off the ground.

A Pileated Woodpecker pair stays together on its territory all year round and is a non-migratory species. It will defend the territory in all seasons, but will tolerate floaters during the winter. When clashing with other pileateds, they engage in much chasing, calling, striking with the wings, and jabbing with the bill.

Like most woodpeckers, male pileateds engage in drumming.  While it may look like the same action as when they are looking for insects, drumming is most commonly to proclaim a territory. Hollow trees with a very hard outer shell of wood are often used to make the loudest sound possible, most often in the spring. I don’t know about pileateds, but other woodpecker species will use the same tree or limb for drumming on a recurring basis.

On to the photos.

Pileated woodpecker

Male Pileated woodpecker

Pileated woodpecker

Male Pileated woodpecker

Pileated woodpecker

Male Pileated woodpecker

Pileated woodpecker

Male Pileated woodpecker

Pileated woodpecker

Male Pileated woodpecker

A horrible shot of two pileated woodpeckers

A horrible shot of two pileated woodpeckers

Pileated woodpecker

Male Pileated woodpecker

Pileated woodpecker

Male Pileated woodpecker

I didn’t know that there was a difference in the coloration between the males and females until I started this post. The male has a red stripe on its lower jaw that is black on the females. So, I am going to have to get a few better photos of females to add to this. Oh, one other thing, it is said that Walter Lang based his cartoon character, Woody Woodpecker, on pileated woodpeckers.

This is number 14 in my photo life list, only 336 to go!

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


After the snow

The tittle of this one is a little misleading, it should be “After the cold arrived”. We went through a several week-long stretch of it snowing nearly every day, but it would warm up enough to melt the snow at about the same rate as it fell. That all changed last weekend.

Last Saturday afternoon, temperatures were very warm for a West Michigan winter, approaching 55 degrees Farenheit (13 C). That night, a front passed through, along with some extremely high winds. There were gusts along the lake shore in excess of 70 MPH, and around here, the wind was strong enough to do quite a bit of damage. The wind peeled the shingles off from some roofs, siding was torn off from a few houses, and many power lines were knocked down by falling trees. With the wind came the cold.

As I was out for my walk on Sunday afternoon, my camera froze up as I was trying to shoot photos of something that will appear in another post. It was that cold, around 10 degrees Farenheit (-12 C), with the wind blowing out of the west at around 30 MPH.

It was much the same on Monday and Tuesday, although the wind was dying down slowly over time. On Tuesday, we set a record for the lowest high temperature for that date of 9 degrees F. At night, it was getting down to around -10 F (-23 C).

The reason for my rambling on about the weather is this, when will meteorologists stop relying on computer models which are flawed, and learn from experience?

The forecasts for the first part of this last week were for large amounts of lake effect snow to fall, several inches per day, the National Weather Service had issued warnings and advisories because of their predictions for large amounts of snow.

We got very little, just a couple of inches as the front passed through Saturday night, but very little lake effect snow after that, for a few days.

I know that I have written about this before, when the winds are as high as they were for the time that the warnings were in effect, we get little or no lake effect snow! The air crossing the lakes doesn’t have the time to pick up very much moisture when driven by winds that high! The high winds also “kill” any lift in the lower atmosphere, and you need lift to produce snowfall.

Late on Tuesday afternoon/early evening, the winds finally began to slack off. The National Weather Service cancelled all the warnings and advisories, and we got dumped on! Along the lake shore, there were times when it was snowing at a rate of 3 inches per hour, I know, I was trying to drive through those snow squalls for work. There were times when driving at 15 MPH was too fast, no one could see. People were driving off the road and into the ditches because they didn’t see the turns in the roads.

So it went on Wednesday as well, all told, we picked up over a foot of snow where I live, and well over two feet nearer to the lake from Tuesday evening to Thursday morning. That was after all the warnings and advisories had been cancelled.

This was not an isolated instance of the meteorologists getting it wrong. This happens at least once every winter, usually three or four times. We do not get lake effect snow when the winds are much over 25 MPH.

The meteorologists are college educated, and it’s their job to learn weather patterns. Yet, they rely solely on the computer models, and look like fools when they miss the forecasts like they do. You’d think that they would get tired of looking like fools, you’d think that they would learn from experience, but I guess not. If a weather geek like myself can figure this out, why can’t the meteorologists?

Don’t get me wrong, I think that the NWS does a fine job most of the time, but they sure seem to miss the mark when it comes to lake effect snow.

Anyway, here’s a few photos from this last week. I am going to start with a photo of the very rare, very deadly, albino tree snake. They hang in trees, waiting for an unsuspecting victim to walk under them, then the drop out off the trees to make their “kill”. Unlike vampires which go for the jugular in the front of the neck, the albino tree snakes almost always go for the back of a victim’s neck. If you don’t violently shake them off as you feel their cold fangs on your neck, they will slither down inside your clothing and wrap your spine in their icy grip!

Albino tree snake waiting to pounce

Albino tree snake waiting to pounce

Here’s a couple of a broken tree limb, I liked the patterns in the wood.

Patterns in wood

Patterns in wood

Patterns in wood

Patterns in wood

Of course I had to shoot a few of the snow on trees.

Snow on pines

Snow on pines

Snow on pines

Snow on pines

Snow on pines

Snow on pines

And, snow in general.

Snowy path

Snowy path

Snow

Snow

Snow

Snow

Snow scene at the creek

Snow scene at the creek

I’m not sure if this one “works” or not.

Strange

Strange

I couldn’t resist this one, even though it is very cliched.

Split rail fence covered in snow

Split rail fence covered in snow

There were a few birds braving the cold and snow (like they have a choice) within range of my camera.

Dark eyed junco

Dark eyed junco

Northern cardinal

Northern cardinal

Turkeys

Turkeys

Tom turkey getting worked up for spring already

Tom turkey getting worked up for spring already

I found out that 1/800 of a second at 10 degrees wasn’t enough to freeze the motion of a downy woodpecker!

Downy woodpecker

Downy woodpecker

But, it would freeze a fox squirrel enjoying the sunshine.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

It would also freeze the Michelin Man in place, although I have no idea why he was hanging out in the woods like he was.

Natural snowman

Natural snowman

We had some beautiful days, despite the cold!

Sunny day

Sunny day

clouds

clouds

It seems that many people have posted photos of queen anne lace covered in snow, and being the contrarian that I am, I shot a few of it not covered in snow.

Queen anne lace

Queen anne lace

Queen anne lace

Queen anne lace

Queen anne lace

Queen anne lace

And finally, one that I hope I never see again, the aero-med helicopter on a run to pick up one of the many people injured in car crashes this last week.

Helicoptor

helicopter

I did get a few more shots of birds, but they are actually fairly good, so I am going to use them for photographic life list project, which I will get back to after this post. On that subject, I am going to cheat again, and recycle the photos of the pileated woodpecker that I posted a few weeks ago, so if you want to skip that one, you have my permission. 😉

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


Before the snow

I’m going to take a short break in posting to my photographic life list, and post a few photos I took earlier this winter, before the snow began to stick around. The photos are mostly odds and ends, no great stories behind them, and they were taken in various places, not that it really matters. I’m going to start with a couple of a tree limb with what I thought was an interesting pattern.

Tattooed tree limb

Tattooed tree limb

Tattooed tree limb

Tattooed tree limb

Kind of a strange one, frost “exploding” as it melted off from a roof.

roof

roof

Then, a simple muskrat, only because I haven’t posted one for a while.

Muskrat

Muskrat

More patterns in wood that I found interesting.

Insect tracks in a dead tree

Insect tracks in a dead tree

The tree was an ash tree, killed by this, although it probably had help from a few others of its kind.

Emerald ash borer

Emerald ash borer

That’s an emerald ash borer, and they are an invasive species that are wiping out most of the ash trees in Michigan. I am happy to say that the one in the picture met a quick demise right after that photo was taken. A few weeks later, the county parks department removed all the dead and dying ash trees in the park where that was taken.

Then, a red squirrel during one of the few moments it wasn’t in motion.

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

Red squirrels are always on the go, while their larger cousins seem to like posing for the camera.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Hmmm. More patterns in wood, but in this small version, I can’t see the frost coating the log.

DSC_6192

Frost on a log

Next up, the proverbial odd duck, a female mallard. I couldn’t tell if she was a hybrid, or partially albino.

Odd duck

Odd duck

Odd duck

Odd duck

Another fox squirrel posing for a portrait.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Here’s a Canada goose exiting the water and drying its wings.

Canada goose

Canada goose

A few shots of whitetail deer.

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe and fawn

Whitetail doe and fawn

Whitetail doe and fawn

Whitetail doe and fawn

Whitetail doe and fawn

Whitetail doe and fawn

Whitetail button buck

Whitetail button buck

Whitetail doe feeding

Whitetail doe feeding

The Lake Michigan beach on a sunny winter day.

Lake Michigan beach

Lake Michigan beach

Underwater leaf

Underwater leaf

Fish bone

Fish bone

Windblown sand on the Lake Michigan beach

Windblown sand on the Lake Michigan beach

Small temporary stream flowing into Lake Michigan

Small temporary stream flowing into Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan beach

Lake Michigan beach

Lake Michigan beach

Lake Michigan beach

And, a few more odds and ends to wrap this up.

The last dandelion?

The last dandelion?

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Most are of ice covering mud puddles.

Patterns in ice

Patterns in ice

Patterns in ice

Patterns in ice

Patterns in ice

Patterns in ice

Patterns in ice

Patterns in ice

Patterns in ice

Patterns in ice

Patterns in ice

Patterns in ice

Patterns in ice

Patterns in ice

Patterns in ice

Patterns in ice

Patterns in ice

Patterns in ice

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


Dark-eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis

These little members of the sparrow family are some of the most common birds throughout North America. When I was younger, many people referred to them as snowbirds, but I have no idea where that came from. In west Michigan, there are a few around all summer long, but large flocks of juncos arrive here in late fall to spend the winter here. Maybe that’s how they became known as snowbirds.

Adults generally have gray heads, necks, and breasts, gray or brown backs and wings, and a white belly, but show a confusing amount of variation in plumage details. Their white outer tail feathers flash distinctively in flight and while hopping on the ground. The bill is usually pale pinkish.

They are most often seen on the ground, searching for seeds which make up the majority of their diet.

Dark eyed junco eating dandelion seeds

Dark eyed junco eating dandelion seeds

During the winter, they often join in mixed species flocks along with chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, and others as the flocks search for food near the edges of woods. The juncos are typically found on the ground or near it, with the other species flitting about in the trees above the juncos.

Because they spend so much time on the ground, and are rather shy birds, getting good clear shots of them has proven difficult for me, but I do have a couple of recent shots.

Dark eyed junco

Dark eyed junco

Dark eyed junco

Dark eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

 

I could go back and search my archives for a few more, but none are as good as that last one. I think that one of the good things about doing a photo lifers list is that as I get better photos of species of birds, I’ll be able to come back to these pages to add the newer photos quite easily.

This is number 13 in my photo life list, only 337 to go!

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


Hermit Thrush, Catharus guttatus

The Hermit Thrush is another species of bird known more for its song than a flamboyant appearance. The Hermit Thrush’s song is ethereal and flute-like, consisting of a beginning note, then several descending musical phrases in a minor key, repeated at different pitches. They often sing from a high open location.

The song of the Hermit Thrush is audible in the “Garden” stage of Super Mario Galaxy for the Nintendo Wii.

A slightly altered song of the Hermit Thrush was used for the Mockingjay’s song in the early scenes of the Hunger Games film. The Hermit Thrush’s song, as well as the House Wren and Mourning Warbler are all very common in modern-day media.

Their breeding habitat is coniferous or mixed woods across Canada, Alaska, and the northeastern and western United States. They make a cup nest on the ground or relatively low in a tree.

Hermit Thrushes migrate to wintering grounds in the southern United States and south to Central America but some remain in northern coastal US states and southern Ontario. Although they usually only breed in forests, Hermit Thrushes will sometimes winter in parks and wooded suburban neighborhoods.

They forage on the forest floor, also in trees or shrubs, mainly eating insects and berries.

On to the photos.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

This is number twelve in my photo life list, only 338 to go!

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


Eastern Phoebe

The Eastern Phoebe is a plump songbird with a medium-length tail. It appears large-headed for a bird of its size. The head often appears flat on top, but phoebes sometimes raise the feathers up into a peak. Like most small flycatchers, they have short, thin bills used for catching insects.

I do hope that I have identified these correctly, if not, please let me know!

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Juvenile Eastern Phoebe in flight

Juvenile Eastern Phoebe in flight

Juvenile Eastern Phoebe with its catch

Juvenile Eastern Phoebe with its catch

Eleven down, 339 to go!

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


Osprey, Pandion haliaetus

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), sometimes known as the sea hawk, fish eagle or fish hawk, is a diurnal, fish-eating bird of prey. It is a large raptor, reaching more than 60 cm (24 in) in length and 180 cm (71 in) across the wings. It is brown on the upper parts and predominantly greyish on the head and underparts, with a black eye patch and wings.

The Osprey tolerates a wide variety of habitats, nesting in any location near a body of water providing an adequate food supply. It is found on all continents except Antarctica although in South America it occurs only as a non-breeding migrant.

As its other common name suggests, the Osprey’s diet consists almost exclusively of fish. It possesses specialised physical characteristics and exhibits unique behaviour to assist in hunting and catching prey. As a result of these unique characteristics, it has been given its own taxonomic genus, Pandion and family, Pandionidae.

Fish make up 99% of the Osprey’s diet. They are particularly well adapted to this diet, with reversible outer toes, sharp spicules on the underside of the toes, nostrils that can close to keep out water during dives, and backwards-facing scales on the talons which act as barbs to help hold its catch.

People often mistake an osprey for an eagle when seen in flight, but an eagle has much broader wings that are held flat and straight, while an osprey’s wings are much narrower, and gull like.

I don’t have many photos of ospreys, so I am going to use a couple of an osprey in flight from this last summer for now. As the osprey population in Michigan continues to rebound, I hope to add some better ones soon!

Osprey in flight

Osprey in flight

Osprey in flight

Osprey in flight

Osprey in flight

Osprey in flight

Osprey in flight

Osprey in flight

Osprey in flight

Osprey in flight

Osprey in flight

Osprey in flight

Osprey in flight

Osprey in flight

This is number ten in my photo life list, only 340 to go!

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


American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos

American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos, otherwise known as the common crow is a familiar bird to most people.

American Crows are large, intelligent, all-black birds, recent research has found them capable not only of tool use but of tool construction as well. Crows are now considered to be among the world’s most intelligent animals. Inquisitive and sometimes mischievous, crows are good learners and problem-solvers, often raiding garbage cans and picking over discarded food containers. Crows have been shown to have the ability to visually recognize individual humans, and to transmit information about “bad” humans by squawking. Crows, and their cousins, Jays and Magpies, have taken it upon themselves to be the early warning system of the animal kingdom, alerting anything within earshot at the first signs of danger.

They’re also aggressive and often chase away larger birds including hawks, owls and herons. This is especially true of crows defending their nest or young. Crows will even attack humans that venture to close to the nest!

Since great horned owls are the number one predator of crows, the owls are number one on the crows you know what list. Often when an owl is spotted by a crow, it will alert other crows in the area, and they will join together to cause the owl as much misery as possible. There have been many times when paying attention to the crows has led me to an owl I would have otherwise missed. And, it always a treat to watch the acrobatic displays performed by the crows as they repeatedly buzz an owl that they have “treed”!

American Crows are very social, sometimes forming flocks in the millions at times. Most people are familiar with their with hoarse, cawing voices, but being very social birds, they make a wide variety of calls or vocalizations. Crows have also been observed to respond to calls of other species; this behavior is, it is presumed, learned because it varies regionally. Crows’ vocalizations are complex and poorly understood, and also vary regionally. They may also mimic the calls of other species of birds and small mammals.

They are common sights in treetops, fields, and roadsides, and in habitats ranging from open woods and empty beaches to town centers. They usually feed on the ground and eat almost anything – typically earthworms, insects and other small animals, seeds, and fruit but also garbage, carrion, and chicks they rob from nests. Their flight style is unique, a patient, methodical flapping that is rarely broken up with glides.

Throughout history, crows have appeared in human mythology and folklore, often as the harbinger of death, but in other cultures, as jesters, pranksters, or trickster.

On to the photos.

American Crows

American Crows

American Crow

American Crow

American Crow

American Crow

American Crow, playing woodpecker

American Crow, playing woodpecker

American Crow, playing woodpecker

American Crow, playing woodpecker

American Crow

American Crow

American Crow

American Crow

American Crow

American Crow

American Crow

American Crow

American crow

American crow

American Crow

American Crow

American Crow

American Crow

 

 

This is number nine in my photo life list, only 341 to go!

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


Eastern Bluebirds

Surprisingly, I don’t have many recent photos of eastern bluebirds, but I do have a few to share with you.

I think that most people are familiar with bluebirds, so I don’t have a lot to say about them, other than that the biggest problem that I have when trying to photograph them is getting them to stand out against a blue sky, they really are sky-blue in color.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Female Eastern Bluebird

Female Eastern Bluebird

Male Eastern Bluebird

Male Eastern Bluebird

Female Eastern Bluebird

Female Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird in flight

Eastern Bluebird in flight

Sorry about that last one, I’ll have to try to do better from now on. 😉

Eight down, 342 to go, at least I’m making progress even if the photos aren’t great.

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


Western Grebe

A large, elegant, black-and-white grebe, the Western Grebe breeds in lakes and ponds across the American West and winters primarily off the Pacific Coast. The very similar Clark’s Grebe was long thought to be the same species. Both species have a dramatic, choreographed courtship display, in which the birds rush across the water with their long necks extended.

These two photos aren’t very good, but western grebes aren’t Michigan residents, or even regular migrants here, so I had to take what I could get at the time.

Western grebe

Western grebe

Western grebe

Western grebe

They may not be great photos, but they count towards my photographic life list!

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


Northern Shovelers

Northern shovelers are easily recognized by their over sized bill, that is wider at the tip than at the base.

Here’s a blurb about them from Wikipedia:

This species is unmistakable in the northern hemisphere due to its large spatulate bill. The breeding drake has an iridescent dark green head, white breast and chestnut belly and flanks. In flight, pale blue forewing feathers are revealed, separated from the green speculum a white border. In early fall the male will have a white crescent on each side of the face. In non-breeding (eclipse) plumage, the drake resembles the female.

The female is a drab mottled brown like other dabblers, with plumage much like a female Mallard, but easily distinguished by the long broad bill, which is gray tinged with orange on cutting edge and lower mandible. The female’s forewing is gray.

Northern Shovelers feed by dabbling for plant food, often by swinging its bill from side to side and using the bill to strain food from the water. They use their highly specialized bill (from which their name is derived) to forage for aquatic invertebrates – a carnivorous diet. Their wide-flat bill is equipped with well-developed lamellae – small, comb-like structures on the edge of the bill that act like sieves, allowing the birds to skim crustaceans and plankton from the water’s surface. This adaptation, more specialized in shovelers, gives them an advantage over other puddle ducks, with which they do not have to compete for food resources during most of the year. Thus, mud-bottomed marshes rich in invertebrate life are their habitat of choices.”

Here’s a few of my photos of them.

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler taking off

Male northern shoveler taking off

Male northern shoveler in flight

Male northern shoveler in flight

Male northern shoveler in flight

Male northern shoveler in flight

A pair of northern shovelers

A pair of northern shovelers

A pair of northern shovelers

A pair of northern shovelers

Female northern shoveler

Female northern shoveler

.

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


Northern Harrier

The Northern Harrier is often called a marsh hawk, as marshes are their favorite hunting grounds. They are about the same size as a red-tailed hawk, but the northern harriers have a white band around the base of their tail that makes them relatively easy to identify. Here’s a few interesting facts about northern harriers, they are one of the few raptors to nest on the ground. Also, these are the only hawk-like bird known to practice polygyny, one male mates with several females. When incubating eggs, the female sits on the nest while the male hunts and brings food to her and the chicks. Up to five females have been known to mate with one male in a season. That’s got to keep him busy, feeding that many mouths!

I have to apologize for the photos for this post, they aren’t the greatest, but they do show the manner in which northern harriers hunt for the small mammals that make up the majority of their diet.

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

Male northern harrier

Male northern harrier

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

 

I do hope to add some better photos soon, but I can’t say when that will be.

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


Sandhill crane

Another of my favorite birds based almost as much on their call as their appearance. Much as the call of the loon has come to symbolize unspoiled wilderness, to me, the warbled croaking of sandhill cranes has come to symbolize the increasing populations of many birds that were once threatened with extinction.

Sandhill cranes are one of the tallest, if not the tallest bird of North America, they are even larger than great blue herons.

Heres a blurb from Wikipedia:

This crane frequently gives a loud trumpeting call that suggests a French-style “r” rolled in the throat, and they can be heard from a long distance. Mated pairs of cranes engage in “unison calling.” The cranes stand close together, calling in a synchronized and complex duet. The female makes two calls for every single call of the male.

The sandhill crane’s large wingspan, typically 1.65 to 2.1 m (5.4 to 6.9 ft), makes this a very skilled soaring bird similar in style to hawks and eagles. Utilizing thermals to obtain lift, they can stay aloft for many hours, requiring only occasional flapping of their wings and consequently expending little energy. With migratory flocks containing hundreds of birds, they can create clear outlines of the normally invisible rising columns of air (thermals) that they ride.

Watching large flocks of cranes form up as they prepare to migrate is truly a thing of beauty, they are such graceful birds! I would like to say that I have photos of their mating “dance”, but so far, that has eluded me. So, here are a few photos of them that I do have.

Sandhill cranes

Sandhill cranes

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Female sandhill crane

Female sandhill crane

Male sandhill crane

Male sandhill crane

Sandhill cranes

Sandhill cranes

Sandhill cranes

Sandhill cranes

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


Warning, I’m going to cheat, and other random thoughts

I have begun my project of creating a photographic life list of birds, as you may have seen with my posts on American Robins and grey catbirds. In addition, I linked my recent post about American Goldfinches to my life list.

I don’t want to flood every one with multiple posts per day, but on the other hand, I am chomping at the bit to get some of the list filled in. It bugs me to have started something and to have it sitting there “empty”.

This is especially true because I have recently posted photos of sandhill cranes, a northern harrier, and a few other species that I don’t see on a regular basis. So, I am going to do posts on those, and you can just ignore them if you would like, since you’ve already seen most, or all of the photos in those posts. I’m sorry, I know no other way of doing it.

Between the way that WordPress functions, and how large of an undertaking I have taken upon myself, I hope that you will understand. Just doing the pages that list the families and species of birds was 55 pages here on WordPress. I could do the individuals as pages, but they don’t get publicized like posts do, and doing it that way would also make it much more difficult to find the pages later on if and when I go to update them.

Sorry, but here’s a list of the species where I am going to recycle some of my recent photos.

Sandhill cranes

Northern Harrier

Northern shovelers

Western Grebe

So you can ignore those posts if you wish. I hate to do that, I have even stopped following blogs because the bloggers post multiple times per day, but this is a one time shot for me. I will be posting everyday or two after these for a while, as I have this last summers photos saved and at the ready!

On other subjects, we’ve had a few sunny but cold days here in a row, and I am almost convinced that the reason for some of my bad photos has been due to my exposing my camera to drastic changes in temperature. Time will tell if I’m right on that.

I heard the first spring song of a bird yesterday, January 18th. It wasn’t singing in earnest yet, just getting warmed up for spring when it gets here, still, it was good to hear it.

As I was listening to the song, I was watching a red-bellied woodpecker saving energy. It would watch as a downy woodpecker was searching for food under the edges of bark and such, and when the red-bellied thought that the downy had found something, it would swoop in to chase the smaller downy away, what a bully! (no photos, they were too far away)

As I was watching those two in action, I noticed a female northern cardinal less than 30 feet from me, on my side of a bush, perched right out in the open. I slowly pulled my hand out of my pocket, switched the camera on, and of course, off she went, no photo!

Birds are so darned good at fouling up good photo ops, even bad photo ops. Take this great blue heron for example.

Great blue heron trapped in the branches

Great blue heron trapped in the branches

The heron was coming up out of the creek when I caught sight of it, and needing practice at shooting birds in flight, I had a go at it. I was panning with the heron as it was rising almost straight up, and I was leading it slightly to allow for shutter lag. Just as I pressed the shutter release, the heron’s upward motion was stopped as it got its wings tangled up in the small branches, so some of the heron was cut off in that photo.

It has always amazed me at how a bird as large as a great blue heron, with its 6 foot wingspan can negotiate thick brush the way that they do. That’s the first time that I’ve seen one get tangled up like that!

Once it freed itself, I shot a couple more bad photos, just to have some to post.

blurry great blue heron

blurry great blue heron

Blurry great blue heron

Blurry great blue heron

All three of those were shot at 1/100 of a second, with my lens zoomed all the way to 300mm.

There are a couple of reasons that I posted those, even though they are rather blurry.

One reason is because I have never seen a heron having so much trouble making it through the brush.

And, the other reason has to do with image stabilization, and my questions about it.

I have read that some lenses with image stabilization have two different levels of stabilization, for lack of a better term. Some have a switch that you can use to set to IS off, full IS, or IS that only functions on one plane, usually vertical.

The reason that is given for the last setting is so that the lens can be used to track subjects moving horizontally, such as birds in flight, or sporting events.

Having never used a lens with IS built-in, I wonder what would happen if I tried to take a photo of a moving subject if I had the lens set to full IS? Does the image stabilization “fight” the movement of the subject and cause a bad photo?

Because I normally shoot handheld while on the move and take a good deal of action shots, I would probably have the IS turned off all the time if it doesn’t work on moving targets. Knowing me, I’d forget to turn it at times when I could make use of the IS.

So what I am wondering, in my own long-winded way, is whether or not it would be worth it for me to spend the extra money on lenses with image stabilization? I now have a tripod that I can use for landscape work and for other times when absolute stability of the camera is a necessity. Since the difference in price between what is essentially the same with lens or without image stabilization is $400 to $500, and I’m on a limited budget, would it be worth that price difference to gain one or two stops in shutter speed? I am leaning towards no.

Well, that’s all for this one, thanks for stopping by! And, once again, I apologize in advance for posting in rapid succession.


Grey Catbird

This is one of my favorite species of birds. This seemingly dull grey bird is really anything but dull, what it lacks in color it makes up for in its song. That’s why I love the catbird as much as I do. Catbirds are most often heard rather than seen, and even when many people hear it, they aren’t able to identify it. While I have been doing this blog, I have mentioned several times how much enjoyment I get while fly-fishing and listening to a catbird singing in the brush along the river as I fish.

Most songbirds sing “pop tunes”, they sing the same short song over and over, as passed down through the generations. Not the grey catbird, they sit hidden in the brush and compose “symphonies” as they go, using bits and pieces of other bird’s songs, add their own vocalizations,  weaving them altogether as they sing for hours.

Here’s a blurb from Wikipedia about catbirds:

This species is named for its cat-like call. Like many members of the Mimidae (most famously mockingbirds), it also mimics the songs of other birds, as well as those of Hylidae (tree frogs), and even mechanical sounds. Because of its well-developed songbird syrinx, it is able to make two sounds at the same time. The alarm call resembles the quiet calls of a male mallard.

A Gray Catbird’s song is easily distinguished from that of the Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) or Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) because the mockingbird repeats its phrases or “strophes” 3 to 4 times, the thrasher usually twice, but the catbird sings most phrases only once. The catbird’s song is usually described as more raspy and less musical than that of a mockingbird.

In contrast to the many songbirds that choose a prominent perch from which to sing, the catbird often elects to sing from inside a bush or small tree, where it is obscured from view by the foliage.

That last paragraph can be taken as a clue as to how difficult it can be to get a good photo of a catbird, they are shy birds that prefer to remain hidden from view. I find that most of the time, I have to “go in after them”, that is, get right into the thick brush that is their preferred habitat. That often means that they are seen in deep shade, making photographing them even more difficult.

Enough excuses, here’s a few photos, since I went on at length about the catbird’s singing, it is only fitting that I begin with a photo of one in song.

Grey Catbird

Grey Catbird

Juvenile Grey Catbird

Juvenile Grey Catbird

Juvenile Grey Catbird

Juvenile Grey Catbird

Grey Catbird

Grey Catbird

I see you!

Grey Catbird

Grey Catbird

From the inside looking out.

Grey Catbird

Grey Catbird

And to wrap this up (for now) a shot of a curious catbird poking its head out of the leaves to see who was silly enough to enter its tangled world.

Grey Catbird

Grey Catbird

This is number two in my photo life list, only 348 to go!

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


American Robin

I am going to do my first post in the series My Photographic Life List on one of those ubiquitous birds that are so common that we tend to take their beauty for granted. Like mallards and gulls, they also make great practice subjects to hone your photography skills on, because they are so common, yet another reason to love them. In many northern areas, they are considered to be the harbingers of spring, being among the first of the migrating songbirds to return to their summer breeding grounds. And, once they arrive, they soon fill the air with their lovely song, especially at dawn and dusk.

Here’s a blurb about robins from Wikipedia,

“The American Robin or North American Robin (Turdus migratorius) is a migratory songbird of the thrush family. It is named after the European Robin because of its reddish-orange breast, though the two species are not closely related, with the European robin belonging to the flycatcher family. The American Robin is widely distributed throughout North America, wintering south of Canada from Florida to central Mexico and along the Pacific Coast. It is the state bird of Connecticut, Michigan, and Wisconsin. According to some sources, the American Robin ranks behind only the Red-winged Blackbird (and just ahead of the introduced European Starling) as the most abundant, extant land bird in North America. It has seven subspecies, but only T. m. confinis in the southwest is particularly distinctive, with pale gray-brown underparts.

The American Robin is active mostly during the day and assembles in large flocks at night. Its diet consists of invertebrates (such as beetle grubs, earthworms, and caterpillars), fruits and berries. It is one of the earliest bird species to lay eggs, beginning to breed shortly after returning to its summer range from its winter range. Its nest consists of long coarse grass, twigs, paper, and feathers, and is smeared with mud and often cushioned with grass or other soft materials. It is among the first birds to sing at dawn, and its song consists of several discrete units that are repeated.”

On to the photos!

American robin

American robin

American robins

American robins

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

Juvenile American robin

Juvenile American robin

Juvenile American robin

Juvenile American robin

Juvenile American robin

Juvenile American robin

Juvenile American robin

Juvenile American robin

Juvenile American robin

Juvenile American robin

And, to wrap this up, the “Moldy robin”. 🙂 I have never seen an albino robin, although I have heard that they are rather common. I assume that this robin was an offspring of an albino, but I could be wrong.

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

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


Who knew? Biting off more than I can chew?

Let me start by saying that the Internet is certainly a great resource for learning about nature!

I learned of the golden eagle, western grebe and other rare bird sightings (for Michigan) around Muskegon from the blog of a member of the Muskegon County Nature Club, which is an affiliate of the Michigan Audubon Society.

(Before I forget, you can call the Muskegon County Wastewater treatment facility to get a one day pass for birding, but they have also started issuing two-year passes to members of recognized conservation groups. I will have to go to there one day during the week to fill out a form, but it will be much easier than calling ahead for each visit. You can click on the link for more info)

Anyway, after my trip and seeing the golden eagle, I did a little more research online to see how common they were to Michigan, and discovered another good online resource! The Sable Dunes Audubon Society.

I was amazed at the number of birds being seen in Michigan! I’ve lived here all my life, and thought that I knew at least a little about what birds could be seen here on a regular basis, but I guess not.

Golden eagles, Ross’ geese, tundra swans, purple sandpipers, harlequin ducks, even snowy owls on the Ludington breakwater! Who would have thought?

In my defense, the reason these species are showing up more often is because their numbers are increasing. I had heard of those species, and knew that they sometimes passed through Michigan, but it used to be extremely rare, not so much any more.

Then, to top it off, I found a list prepared by the Michigan Audubon Society that lists every species of bird that there have been confirmed sightings of here in Michigan. The list was huge! It lists 444 species, although it includes several extinct species, and a few species that have only been seen in Michigan a few times when a member of that species was blown here by a storm, or wandered off from its species known migration routes. Still, that’s a lot of birds!

I have been playing around with the idea of a photographic life list, birders often keep life lists to keep track of the species they have seen, and I was going to do one with photographs of every species. I even started it, creating the Bird Gallery page, but as little as I did, it was already getting out of hand.

I have been trying to think of a good way to lay it out and organize it to make it actually useful to people, but I have been struggling with it.

I also have a problem remembering all the species of birds that I have seen when I have tried to work on the list, then there’s the time-consuming work of going through my old photos trying to pick out which photos to use. Without Internet access this last summer, the idea of a photographic life list got shoved to the back burner so to speak.

The species list from the Audubon Society will be a big help. The list groups the species by families, and I will be able to check off each species as I make my own list. I would love to be able to get photos of every species on the Audubon list eventually, but I doubt that it will happen. It does present me with a goal though, and I do love a challenge!

I still haven’t figured out what to do about the species of birds that I have seen in other parts of the country, and either have no photos, or photos from film cameras, but I think that the list of Michigan species will keep me so busy for the rest of my life that I won’t have time for any out-of-state birds. 😉

I am going to start over from scratch as far as my photographic life list. (To make it more of a challenge) What I am going to do is start a series of posts dedicated to a single species of bird. I will also create a page that lists all the families of birds from the Audubon list, as 400+ species is too large for one page. The family names will be links to a page that lists the species within that family. Then, on that page, the species list will be links that will take people to the post that I have done on that individual species.

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


I may be on to something!

Sorry if WordPress sent you an earlier Email notification of this post, I hit enter when I shouldn’t have.

Anyway, I have been engaged in the dangerous (for me) practice of thinking, specifically about why so many of my photos on my recent trip to Muskegon to attempt to photograph golden eagles turned out so badly. That led to the whiny post where I speculated about why that happened.

One day, I’ll get reasonably good photos, then the very next day, get photos that are worthless, and I have been trying to figure out why that is. I may be on to something, and it may be something rather simple that I completely overlooked.

It is winter here in West Michigan where I live, and it’s cold outside. I had dismissed the cold as being a factor, as I often get great photos in the winter. It isn’t the cold per se, it is the change in temperature that I am subjecting my camera and lens to that may be causing my problems. Why do I say that?

I was thinking back to my trip last year to photograph the snowy owl, a day when it was extremely cold and windy. Other than the snowy owl shots I got, and the eagle photo from the whiny post…

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

…most of the photos I took that day came out poor as well. Thinking about that trip, it was when I learned about “drive by birding”, driving slowly until you spot a bird, and then photographing birds through the windows of your vehicle.

Of course I didn’t want to freeze to death while I was birding, so I had the heat on in my vehicle. I would stop, roll down the window I needed to take the photograph through, stick my camera out the window, into the cold, and snap a few photos, then, bring the camera back into the nice warm car.

The exceptions to that were when I shot the owl, and the eagle photo above.

The owl was perched out in the open, with a crowd of onlookers and photographers around it. I parked and joined the crowd, and spent 10 to 15 minutes talking with others in the crowd before I took my turn to step up and photograph the owl.

For the eagle photo, I spotted a large number of eagles and other birds in the area, many of them in flight, so I exited my vehicle in order to get some action shots. I was outside of my vehicle for some time before I shot the eagle photo. My earlier shots while I was there didn’t turn out nearly as well.

OK, so this last weekend I didn’t shoot through the windows of my vehicle as often, most of the time I got out of my car for the photos, but I was never outside for more than a few minutes for any of the photos.

For the snow buntings, I parked and started walking towards where I saw them, and I thought that I was really lucky in that one flock flew over to very near me, maybe it wasn’t so lucky after all. While it wasn’t as cold this year, I was still bringing my camera from the nice warm car out into the colder air outside.

It was much the same for the northern shoveler photos. I spotted them, parked, and snuck up on them on foot, but it was only 50 feet or less, and again, I was bringing my camera out of a warm car into the relative cold outside. And, neither time was I outside long enough for all the parts of my camera and lens to get to the outside air temperature.

But, I have the same problem of inconsistent photo quality while I do my daily walk, I’m not getting in and out of a warm vehicle. Well, it’s winter here, and on most days there has been either snow, rain, or drizzle falling, so I keep my camera tucked inside my parka as I walk. I spot something to photograph, pull the camera out of the snug warm comfort inside my parka, shoot the photos, then return the camera to the warmth inside of the parka again.

If it is sunny outside, a very rare thing, I don’t worry about the camera getting cold, so I carry it outside of my parka.

That brings me to today. It was sunny but cold outside as I set off for my walk. I considered tucking the camera in my parka, but it decided against it. As I walked along, I was running down a checklist of sorts of all the things that could be causing my problem of inconsistent photo quality.

Sunshine? No, I do get most of my best shots on sunny days, but it was sunny last year for the snowy owl trip, and this year for the golden eagle trip, so sunshine can’t be the answer.

Hmmm.

Cold? I don’t think so, I get many great photos in cold weather.

Hmmm.

But wait, those great photos come when I’ve been outside for a while, long enough for my camera to have gotten to the same temperature as the air is.

Hmmm.

Maybe it is condensation on the lens from the change in temperature, possibility here.

Then, I remembered this photo I took a few days ago.

Ice

Ice

That was a slug of ice that was pushed up out of an open metal fencepost as water trapped in the fencepost froze.

Hmmm.

Maybe the change in temperature that I am subjecting my camera to as it goes from warm to cold and back again is causing different parts of the camera and lens to expand and contract a different rates with the temperature change, causing distortion?

Hmmm.

Wouldn’t I see that in the viewfinder as I was composing the shots, or if the problem was condensation on the lens, wouldn’t I see that?

Hmmm.

A couple of weeks ago, I stopped off at the local camera store that I shop at to look over some of the options as far as updating my equipment. The salesman got out a Canon 60D and got it ready for me to play with. As soon as I brought it up to my eye and looked through the viewfinder, I said “Wow, I can see! This is huge compared to my camera”

The salesman replied, “Yeah, if I remember correctly, looking through the viewfinder of your D50 is like looking through a tunnel”.

“It sure is compared to this!”

Hmmm.

I think I’m getting somewhere, I’d better shoot a couple of shots today as a test of sorts.

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker in flight

Red-bellied woodpecker in flight

Not bad, not too shabby at all! They may not be sharp as a tack, but they’ve been cropped considerably, and none of the photos I took on Saturday were of a good enough quality to crop at all.

OK, it’s cold, check. It’s sunny, check. The camera has been exposed to the cold long enough so that it is the same temperature as the air, check. I get good photos, check, and possible checkmate!

So, this is what I think has been happening.

Everything expands with warmth, and contracts with cold, except for water. That’s where the photo of the slug of ice comes into play, it reminded me how much different materials expand and contract when temperatures change. (Water is the only substance known to man that expands as it goes from the liquid to solid state.) But the principle is the same in other materials, when you change the temperature of any material, it expands or contracts depending on if the temperature is going up or down. That includes the glass, plastic, and metal that a camera and lens are made of, especially the lens.

Lenses are built to extremely precise measurements, and it doesn’t take very much to throw a lens out of “whack”.

When I stick my warm camera out of my car window, or pull it out of my parka, the most exposed parts of the camera and lens immediately begin to contract as they meet the cold air, while the innermost workings are still warm, and haven’t begun to contract yet. I’m almost positive that is causing some distortion, especially in the lens.

Add a little possible condensation on the front of the lens, and I get a bad photo.

I don’t see the distortion or condensation when looking through the viewfinder, because the image I see through it is so tiny that neither the distortion or any condensation are bad enough to show up in that small of an image, but when the photo is blown up on the computer screen, it’s readily apparent.

I had another somewhat related thought as well. When I roll down the window of my car, there’s warm air from inside meeting the cold air outside, and that creates an atmospheric disturbance, much like the heat waves you can see during the summer. That’s not good when you’re shooting photographs, but I don’t think that’s the only problem, just a small part of the problem. I think the major problem is the distortion caused by the rapid cooling, and contracting, of the outermost parts of my lens as it hits cold air.

I’ll have to play around some more to be sure if I have found the answer, but I think that I’m on the right track to solving the problem.

I couldn’t find any other birds willing to pose for test shots today, so here’s a couple of ice photos.

Ice

Ice

Ice

Ice

Baby

Baby

Those don’t look that impressive at the size they are in this post, they look better if you click them for a larger view. But even if you don’t, trust me, they are far better than any of the photos I took on the eagle trip!

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


Geese gone wild!

Last spring, I did a post on the way that geese play, It’s good to be goose! In that one, it was goslings who started the fun and games before some of the adults joined in.

This past fall, I witnessed a similar situation, when a good many of the geese around a pond suddenly began playing in ways I had never seen before. It started with a couple of the geese splashing around, as they often do.

Canada goose playing

Canada goose playing

But then, geese began running across the top of the water to build up speed, only to throw themselves into the water as if they were trying to make the biggest splash they could!

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

I really couldn’t see what was going on at first, until I tracked this goose, the skipping goose.

Canada goose playing

Canada goose playing

It was partially flying and partially skipping across the water.

Canada goose playing

Canada goose playing

Canada goose playing

Canada goose playing

Canada goose playing

Canada goose playing

Canada goose playing

Canada goose playing

Then, it went back to just running across the water, building up a head of steam.

Canada goose playing

Canada goose playing

Only to throw itself sideways into the water.

Canada goose playing

Canada goose playing

It popped back up looking quite happy with itself as to how big of a splash it had made!

Canada goose playing

Canada goose playing

More and more geese joined in on the fun!

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

Notice the goose to the left making like a submarine periscope!

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

Part of the game involved running over the geese that hadn’t joined in on the game! Also, take a look at the one in the upper right corner, which was shooting itself out of the water, only to dive right back under!

Canada goose choosing a target

Canada goose choosing a target

Target in sight, building up speed

Target in sight, building up speed

Target has been run over

Target has been run over

and the “attacks” would end in a slide.

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

It seemed as if the entire pond had erupted in geese!

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

I see another collision about to happen!

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

Sure enough, the lead goose didn’t dive deep enough, fast enough!

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

And they both end up in a heap!

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

Some were porpoising!

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

There were geese going every which way!

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

All trying to see who could make the biggest splash as the dove or slide sideways across the water.

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

Others took a different approach, rolling over on their backs.

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

And a flap of their wings while upside down would make some of the biggest splashes.

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

It was a great day for a dip!

Canada geese playing

Canada geese playing

This was one of those times that I wish I had shot video with sound! Hearing all those geese honking as they played, their big webbed feet and wings slapping the water as they ran, and of course their splashdown all added to my enjoyment!

I have no idea what triggers the geese to start playing like this, but it sure is fun to watch!

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


The continuing sage of Lonesome George, the end?

I still have a couple of posts to do about things that happened at the pond where Lonesome George was, but they don’t really revolve around him, so I am going to wrap up the Lonesome George series. I have to tell you, this is a tough one for me to write.

The last day that I saw Lonesome George was October 14, 2012. I wish that I could tell you all what happened to him, but I can’t. It was a cold, windy, rainy day that day, and most of the geese that had been staying at the pond during the day had stopped coming, leaving George by himself most of the time.

The next day, when I didn’t see George, my heart sank. I forced myself to go around and around the pond in concentric circles, looking for clues to tell me what had happened to George, hoping that I wouldn’t find a pile of feathers somewhere that were the remains of George, I didn’t. I expanded my search, covering nearly all the open ground within walking distance of the pond, hoping to see George someplace, or at least see signs that would tell me what had happened to him, but there was nothing.

I wish that I could tell you that I saw him testing his injured wing, and that it had healed enough that I had watched George fly away, but I can’t. I don’t think that he was killed by predators, there were no signs of that at all. So what happened to him, I don’t know. Maybe some one had finally found an animal rescue site that came and got George, maybe he did fly off, or maybe he walked to one of the other lakes in the area.

In some ways, it was like losing a close friend.

However, for much of the summer, I felt like a heel, as if I were taking advantage of George’s injury just for the sake of getting photographs for my blog. I had tried, as had other people, to find some one to rescue George, with no success.

For some one who had been raised to believe that allowing an animal to suffer was one of the worst sins one could commit, it bothered me, and made me feel helpless, that there was little I could do for George. I should have done more.

But then, George didn’t seem to be suffering, either. In fact, by the end of the summer, he was for all intents and purposes, a normal Canada goose, except he couldn’t fly. He would hang out with other geese when he wanted, even leading the flock around at times, then at other times, he’d go off by himself for a while, for reasons I can’t explain.

When other birds would be flying within sight of George, he seemed to always be watching them intently, and I would wonder what was going through his goose brain. Was he remembering back to when he could fly? Was he remembering places he had been? Was he wishing that he could fly off to other places like the other birds? Or, was he simply on the lookout for possible danger?

And then, there’s Molly the mallard, who stuck by George like glue for the first two months after George was injured. I’m fairly certain that Molly was an older mallard, past her breeding age, by her coloring. Was it maternal instinct that kept her at George’s side, was it friendship, or both? And what about George? He seemed to enjoy having Molly around, and it looked as though he was going to protect her from the evil heron when she felt threatened by it.

But by the end of summer, as George spent more time with the other geese, and Molly spent more time with other mallards, their relationship seemed to come to an end.

Then, there’s Craig the cormorant, was he protecting George from the evil heron, or do cormorants and herons not get along at any time? It was strange, looking over the hill around the pond to see George, Molly, and Craig hanging out together for close to a month. There were other cormorants in the area as evidenced by the fact that some of the other would stop by that pond from time to time, so if Craig was looking for company, why didn’t he join the other cormorants, rather than hanging out with George and Molly?

I could go on at length about all that I learned by hanging out watching George, but I won’t, at least not now.

For now, I just want to say goodbye George, I am going to miss you!

Lonesome George

Lonesome George


You getting any good pictures?

“You getting any good pictures?”

I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked that while I have been out in the woods with my camera. It’s usually the first thing that people say to me when they see me toting my heavy Nikon.

There are times when I’d like to answer “No, I lug this very expensive boat anchor around with me for 6 miles a day just to take the worst photos that I can”, but I don’t.

If you’ve seen the photos from my last few posts, you may well think that is exactly what I do. 😉

Instead, I usually say that I’ll have to wait until I see them on the computer before I know if I’ve gotten any good ones. That’s certainly true for me, I wonder if other photographers have the same experience, of not knowing if a photo is good or not until they see it blown up on a computer screen?

I have an excuse for some of those though, they were mainly action shots with birds chasing other birds around. Action shots are seldom easy, it’s darned hard to be in exactly the right place at exactly the right time, and not scare the subjects of your photos away, so I have a much lower standard as far as the quality of action shots that I post here.

Then, it can be easy to get into a debate as to what constitutes a great photo versus which photos evoke the largest amount of praise. Often, the subject of the photo plays more of a role as far as people’s perception of a good photo, more so than the technical merits of the actual photo.

Seldom does how hard I had to work for a photo have any bearing on what people see as great photos.

So what is a great photo, to me, it all depends. Of course I am going to illustrate this with some photos, good, bad, and down right ugly.

To start with, here’s what I think is one of the very best photos that I have ever taken, both on the technical side, and the subject.

BTW, you can click any of these photos for a larger view.

Red-tailed hawk portrait

Red-tailed hawk portrait

I love that photo, it’s sharp, fairly well composed, the lighting is a little harsh, but no shadows to speak of, and I love the expression on the hawk’s face.

OK, but here’s one that draws more praise.

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

To me, that one is good, but not great.  But, because it’s an eagle, people seem to go gaga over that one.

It isn’t as sharp as I would like, I think that is somewhat due to the weird atmospheric conditions that day. It was cold, with a 35 MPH wind blowing out of the southeast, the windchill that day was well below 0 degrees farenheit. Other than the bone chilling cold to deal with, it was a rather easy photo to take. I was surrounded by eagles, I could pick and choose which one to shoot when it was in the best position as far as lighting. The exposure on the eagle’s wing could have been better, but overall, I would rate this one as very good, not great.

There was enough light, I was in the right spot, and I didn’t have to adjust anything on my camera to get that shot, it really was point and shoot.

Then, there’s this horrid photo of a barred owl.

Barred owl

Barred owl

I wouldn’t post that last one except for this post, and the fact that I worked my rear end off to get that really bad photo. I think that I worked harder to get that one than on any other photo that I have ever posted here.

First, the weather conditions, it was just below freezing, with a mixture of drizzle and snow falling from an extremely dark, overcast sky. Throw in a little wind so that the tree the owl was perched in, and the trees between us were all moving, making it that much more difficult. I had to find the owl, some blue jays had alerted me to the owl’s presence, but it was hiding behind the truck of the tree from where I was at first. The area between myself and the owl was filled with small trees and all their branches getting in the way. I worked my way around until I had a small gap in the branches to shoot through, I was not at all happy with view that I had of the owl, but I had to take what I could get. Because of the weather and lighting, I think that I adjusted nearly every setting on my camera to get a photo that was even recognizable as an owl. In fact, the only way that I could tell it was an owl was by its shape, the round head and stocky body. I couldn’t see any markings with the naked eye. Because of the long shutter time, I had to brace myself as well as I could, holding the camera on the owl as it and the branches between us swayed in the wind, and time the shot for the best view of the owl I could get.

So, was the shot of the owl a good photo? Yes and no. I worked my butt off for it, and you can see that it is a barred owl. That’s more than I hoped for while I was shooting it, I thought that the owl would end up as a dark, unrecognizable blob.  I learned a lot taking that photo, so in some respects, it’s a pretty good photo, for the lessons I learned have served me well since then. But, I wouldn’t normally post such a shot.

Which brings us to yesterday, and the photos I took, none of which came out as well as I expected.

First the skunk.

Skunk

Skunk

I was close enough, and the light was right, yet the photo didn’t come out as sharp as it should have. Being black and white, a skunk is a high contrast subject to shoot, but I have my camera set to spot metering most of the time, which seems to work out very well for other high contrast subjects, like wild turkeys….

Wild turkey

Wild turkey

…and Canada geese…

Canada goose in flight up close and personal

Canada goose in flight up close and personal

Maybe that’s what I did wrong. The sitting skunk should have been an easy shot, a sitting goose if you will. 😉 Maybe I should have gotten it to move in order to get a good shot.

Then, there’s the snow buntings, I knew I was a bit far away, but I thought that I would be able to crop down at least a little to get them to show up better, but the photos were so bad, I couldn’t crop them at all.

Snow buntings

Snow buntings

Maybe there wasn’t enough contrast between the buntings and the bare ground? I thought that I had lucked out in the regard, I have chased the buntings around while they’ve been feeding in the grass, and never gotten a clear shot of one. That is, other than this one taken on an earlier trip.

Snow bunting

Snow bunting

I have no explanation as to why none of the photos of the snow buntings didn’t come out better yesterday. I did crop that earlier photo, but it was good enough to do so, none that I took yesterday were. That last one may not be great, but I would rank it as good.

Next, the northern shovelers. I got close enough that I didn’t even have to zoom all the way to 300mm, which normally produces some of my best shots. The light was great, shutter speeds were very high, and while I was happy to catch how beautiful they are….

Male northern shoveler taking off

Male northern shoveler taking off

…I think that the photos should have been even sharper. Even the water drops look a bit fuzzy. I will admit that they are the best shots I have gotten of shovelers so far, but all the rest of my attempts were made under far less than ideal conditions. I could see having nothing but water in the background affecting the exposure, the reflected light from water can often wreak havoc on exposures, but the exposure is good, it’s the sharpness that’s missing.

Then, there’s the eagle.

Golden eagle

Golden eagle

I knew that the eagle was out of range of the 70-300mm lens I have, but I thought that I would be able to crop it down a little to make up for that.  But, like the buntings, the photos are just too fuzzy to crop even a little.

Maybe it was the weather. It was warm, variably cloudy, but very windy and hazy. With the sudden warm spell, all the snow and ice were melting, contributing a haze to the air. I could also see dust be driven by the wind as well.

I could see those factors coming into play on the long shots, but not the shots of the skunk, buntings, or even the shovelers. I thought that I was too close to them for the dust and haze to have any effect on my photos, maybe it did?

Or, was it my Nikon having a bad day? I have related how much trouble I’ve had with it since I first began using it in earnest, so I’m not going to rehash all that here.

I will say this, the Nikon seems to perform at its best when I am shooting a lot of pictures, and due to the weather and lack of photo ops, I haven’t been taking many pictures the last two months.

Maybe I was having an off day?

Maybe, but I don’t think so. I felt as if I was really on top of things, and that I was filling the memory card of the Nikon with one great shot after another.

I would really like to figure out where the trouble lies. One day I get great photos…

Female mallard

Female mallard

American robin

American robin

Herring gull jumping waves

Herring gull jumping waves

…and the next day, I get junk, like I did yesterday.

I know that it’s a poor carpenter who blames his tools, but I really think that it is the camera and lens that I am using that is the problem. I had an Email conversation with Kerry who does the Lightscapes Nature Photography Blog, and he tried the same lens that I used, he called it “atrocious”. That lens also ranks at the bottom of every list of customer reviews as far as Nikkor lenses currently being sold that I checked. (BTW, Kerry is a great guy who took the time to answer far more than my basic questions about his equipment, as well as an extremely talented photographer)

I could purchase a new, better lens for the D 50 body I have, but that would tie me into sticking with Nikon equipment, probably for the rest of my life, and I’m not all that excited about their current lines of cameras or lenses. Besides, I’m not sure that at all of the problems I have are just the lens, I think that the camera itself has some issues.

One good thing about being on a budget, I’m going to have a lot of time to make up my mind as to what I end up purchasing.

I’m looking at online reviews of different cameras and lenses, but not finding them very helpful. I can tell that some of the users are clueless about photography, no matter what their budget is for equipment.

Luckily, I follow blogs written by some very talented photographers whose opinions I can trust, as I see the photos that they produce, and I am receiving some good tips and suggestions from them as well.

Unless I hit the lottery, I am leaning towards a Canon 60D body, with an 18-135mm lens to start. The lens won’t be “long” enough, so I’ll have to carry both cameras with me for a while, to use the Nikon on the longer shots.

The second lens I purchase will probably be the EF400f/5.6L USM which may sound strange, but the lens I have now is almost always set to 300mm anyway. That lens looks like an affordable way to get an excellent quality longer lens, and I doubt that I will have a problem using a prime lens, even that long of a lens.

My wish list lens would be the EF70-200f/4L USM, just for mid-range shots, and because I’m not sure about the quality of the kit lens that comes with the camera.

I may also put either a 1.4X or 2X teleconverter on the list, I’ll have to check the compatibility with the lenses I’m thinking of buying. I’m not sure I’d need one, but that remains to be seen.

Anyway, I do know this, I need equipment that produces results like this….

Juvenile ring-billed gull

Juvenile ring-billed gull

…all the time, not just when the camera and lens is in the right mood!

That way, when people ask me if I’m getting any good pictures, I can say yes!

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