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

Archive for March, 2013

Snowy Owl, Bubo scandiacus

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

Snowy Owl Bubo scandiacus

The Snowy Owl  is a large owl of the typical owl family Strigidae. It is one of the largest species of owl and, in North America, is on average the heaviest owl species. The adult male is virtually pure white, but females and young birds have some dark scalloping, the young are heavily barred, and dark spotting may even predominate. Its thick plumage, heavily feathered taloned feet, and coloration render the Snowy Owl well-adapted for life north of the Arctic Circle.

The Snowy Owl is typically found in the northern circumpolar region, where it makes its summer home north of latitude 60 degrees north. However, it is a particularly nomadic bird, and because population fluctuations in its prey species can force it to relocate, it has been known to breed at more southerly latitudes.

This species of owl nests on the ground, building a scrape on top of a mound or boulder. A site with good visibility such as the top of mound with ready access to hunting areas, and a lack of snow is chosen. Gravel bars and abandoned eagle nests may be used. The female scrapes a small hollow before laying the eggs. Breeding occurs in May, and depending on the amount of prey available, clutch sizes range from 5 to 14 eggs, which are laid singly, approximately every other day over the course of several days. Hatching takes place approximately five weeks after laying, and the pure white young are cared for by both parents. Although the young hatch asynchronously, with the largest in the brood sometimes 10 to 15 times as heavy as the smallest, there is little sibling conflict and no evidence of siblicide. Both the male and the female defend the nest and their young from predators, sometimes by distraction displays. Males may mate with two females which may nest about a kilometer apart. Some individuals stay on the breeding grounds while others migrate.

Snowy Owls nest in the Arctic tundra of the northern most stretches of Alaska, Canada, and Eurasia. They winter south through Canada and northern Eurasia, with irruptions occurring further south in some years. Notable is the huge mass southern migration in the winter of 2011/2012, when thousands of Snowy Owls were spotted in various locations across the United States, due to the dramatic drop in the number of lemmings available within the owl’s typical range.

This powerful bird relies primarily on lemmings and other small rodents for food during the breeding season, but at times of low prey density, or during the ptarmigan nesting period, they may switch to favoring juvenile ptarmigan. They are opportunistic hunters and prey species may vary considerably, especially in winter. They feed on a wide variety of small mammals such as meadow voles and deer mice, but will take advantage of larger prey, frequently following trap lines to find food. Some of the larger mammal prey includes hares, muskrats, marmots, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, prairie dogs, rats, moles, and entrapped fur bearers. Birds preyed upon include ptarmigan, other ducks, geese, shorebirds, pheasants, grouse, coots, grebes, gulls, songbirds, and even other raptors, including other owl species. Most of the owls’ hunting is done in the “sit and wait” style; prey may be captured on the ground, in the air or fish may be snatched off the surface of bodies of water using their sharp talons. Each bird must capture roughly 7 to 12 mice per day to meet its food requirement and can eat more than 1,600 lemmings per year.

Snowy Owls, like many other birds, swallow their small prey whole. Strong stomach juices digest the flesh, while the indigestible bones, teeth, fur, and feathers are compacted into oval pellets that the bird regurgitates 18 to 24 hours after feeding. Regurgitation often takes place at regular perches, where dozens of pellets may be found. Biologists frequently examine these pellets to determine the quantity and types of prey the birds have eaten. When large prey are eaten in small pieces, pellets will not be produced.

On to my photos:

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

This is number 63 in my photo life list, only 287 to go!

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

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Buying camera gear on a budget, advice from a non-expert

Note, this post is aimed at nature photographers, although many of my points apply to all photography.

Since I want to upgrade my photographic equipment, I have been reading tons of reviews of cameras and lenses lately, and in my opinion, most of them are well-intentioned, but miss the mark.

One of the few that I think was well done comes as no surprise to me, it was Kerry Mark Leibowitz’s review of his Nikon D 800 on his Lightscapes Nature Photography Blog. If you read it, you’ll get a feeling for his thought process as he weighed the pros and cons of making the purchase in the first place, taking into account the camera’s capabilities as compared to his subject matter and style of shooting. The other thing that may strike you about his post, is that he used the images taken by his camera to judge the quality of the lenses that he uses.

There’s one of the real keys to getting great photographs, the lenses that you mount to the camera, much more so than the camera that you use!

Most people who make photographic gear recommendations start with the camera, telling you about all the great bells and whistles that you can get with each camera. However, if you read the same person’s tips for getting better photos, you’ll find that the tell you to disable or turn off most of those bells and whistles and shoot manually!

So, why pay for the bells and whistles if they are not going to improve the quality of your photographs?

The truth is that even an entry-level DSLR from any of the major manufacturers is quite capable of producing high quality photos, when you use a quality lens!

Most of the people offering advice on purchasing camera equipment will make a suggestion as to which of the “kit” lenses to buy when you purchase the camera.

Here’s a truism for you, none of the “kit” lenses typically sold with a DSLR is going to produce top quality photos, and if you read the reviewer’s tips to photography, you’ll see that.

Even if you purchase a mid-level DSLR, the kit lenses that you have to choose from are entry-level lenses designed to keep costs down, which also keeps the quality of photos taken with them down.

Here’s another truism, when you consider the total costs you end up having tied up in camera equipment, the camera body is one of the lowest costs items in your camera bag.

Another recommendation made by many experts is that you should start with entry-level equipment, then work your way up by replacing one item at a time, and defraying the cost by selling (at a loss) the entry-level stuff you purchased. Sorry, but selling at a loss is not the way to buy on a budget.

So, let’s stop and think for a second.

A camera is useless without a lens, and a lens is useless without a camera, you need both. The camera holds the sensor that records the image used to create the photograph, parts of the auto-focus system, and the shutter, which is just a part of the exposure control system.

The lens contains all the optics used to create the image that the sensor in the camera records, along with the aperture, which is part of the exposure control system, most of the auto-focus system, and in most brands, the image stabilization system, if so equipped.

The camera can only record the image produced by the lens, so I would say that the lens is the most important part of the whole, if quality photos is your goal.

A top of the line camera when used with an entry-level lens will not yield the same quality of photo as an entry-level camera using a quality lens!

There’s one more thing to consider, camera bodies become outdated much quicker than the lenses do! A camera body is current for about five years before being completely outclassed by the newer models, but lenses stay current for much longer, perhaps for decades.

So, that’s where you should start looking if you’re thinking of buying a DSLR system, the lenses that best suit your needs and budget, then, choose a camera to go with the lenses that you need, not the other way around.

OK, you’re in the market for a camera, the first question to ask yourself is do you actually need a DSLR to start with.

Unless high quality photos are your primary concern, you may well be better off with a good mid-level compact digital camera, especially if you’re planning on carrying a camera while hiking, backpacking, or other strenuous outdoor activities. A DSLR and the lenses are both expensive, and heavy to lug around. The compact digital cameras are much lighter, easier to carry, and produce photos that are surprisingly good. I have a Canon Powershot that I carry while kayaking so that I don’t risk having my expensive DSLR meet an untimely death by going for a swim. I love that little camera, it produces photos almost equal to my DSLR.

Every one who uses a DSLR and multiple lenses has a story about how they left one or more of their lenses home to save weight, and then it turned out that the lens that they needed most was the one left at home. With a compact digital, that’s never an issue.

The images produced by the mid-level and higher compact digital cameras is very good, especially considering their ease of use, and relative cost when compared to a DSLR and a battery of lenses to match the compact digital’s capabilities.

If you do decide that a DSLR is just the ticket for you, don’t bother looking at camera bodies until you decide on the lenses that best fit your needs.

This is the hard way, I know that, the vast array of lenses on the market can be overwhelming at first. I think that’s why most people start by choosing a camera, as that limits the number of lenses you have to choose from. If you pick a “Brand A” camera, then you are limited to the lines of lenses that fit the “Brand A” camera.

But, what if the lens that you’ll use most isn’t available for a “Brand A” camera, or if a lens is available, it is way outside your budget? Actually, you’ll probably find the latter to be true, as most manufacturers offer lenses for just about every purpose, the question becomes, can you afford the lens that you want, for the type of photography that you do the most.

I am not going to attempt to recommend lenses to any one, we’re all different, shoot different subjects, and have different styles in the way that we shoot. On top of those reasons, we also have different expectations and budgets as well.

What I can do is point out the questions you should be asking yourself as you shop for lenses.

The first may be obvious, but needs to be stated, what is your overall budget? Be realistic, or you’ll be disappointed. Quality lenses cost more, just as quality cameras cost more. The good thing about interchangeable lenses is that you don’t need to purchase every lens you’ll want right off the bat. Buy the lens that you’ll get the most use out of to start with, and you can add other lenses as your budget allows. Don’t forget to save some of your budget for the accessories that you’ll need, such as extra batteries, memory card(s), and filters. Don’t spend the money on a quality lens, then effectively throw that money down the drain by using inferior quality filters on your lenses.

What range of focal lengths do you need? And, what range will you use most often? It pays to spend the most money on the lens(es) you’ll be using the most. If you do mostly landscape photography, that will be on the shorter end of the focal length range, if you shoot mainly wildlife, that will be on the longer end of the range, but not always.

How often do you use a tripod? If you’re doing serious landscape photography, the answer should be 100% of the time, or close to it. Some wildlife photographers do as well, while others shoot handheld most of the time.

How much weight do you want to lug around with you, and how far are you going to have to lug it?

What is the minimum maximum aperture you can live with? If you shoot in low light situations very often, maximum aperture may be one of your deciding keys as far as the lenses you purchase.

Do you need a zoom lens, or would a prime lens be a better choice for you? A quality prime lens will always out perform a quality zoom lens as far as absolute photo quality is concerned. The reason is simple, a zoom lens requires more elements than does a prime lens, and every element creates some distortion and loss of light no matter how high the quality is. On the plus side, zoom lenses do require you to carry fewer lenses, and they make composing a photo much easier.

Will a teleconverter (extender) work for you? These are a relatively low-cost way of getting a much longer focal length lens, but they do have their downsides as far as reducing image quality, functioning correctly while using auto-focus, and reducing the effective maximum aperture of the lens they are used with. Not all lenses or camera bodies are compatible with teleconverters either, making them less of an option to many people, but they are something to take into account.

OK, so how do you use your answers to help you pick and choose the right lenses for you? I’m going to talk about a few of the choices I have been looking at as I have been researching my next purchases. I am looking to upgrade from a Nikon D 50 body and a 70-300 mm lens. I shoot mainly wildlife, and 90%+ of my photos are taken at 300 mm. However, I would like to do more landscape photography in the future. As it is now, even set at 70 mm, the lens I currently have is too long for landscapes most of the time, I use my Canon Powershot under those circumstances.

One lens that I have been considering is the Sigma 150-500 mm lens, but that thing is a tank, or I should say, it’s like a tank’s cannon. I’m not sure if the quality of photos it will produce would make it worthwhile to haul that thing around with me. I do almost all of my photography while hiking or at least walking, and even being a big guy, I think that the Sigma is heavier and larger than I want to use as my walking around lens. For some one who normally shoots from a blind (or hide as they say now) this could be a good lens choice.

Canon makes five different 70-200 mm “L” series lenses, ranging from the EF 70-200 mm f/4L USM at $709.99 to the EF 70-200 mm f/2.8L IS II USM at $2499.00. Three of the five have Image Stabilization, and you can get either a f/2.8 or f/4 version with or without Image Stabilization. So how does one decide which one to buy? If money were no object, the answer would be easy, especially since many people would find that they used this lens most of the time, it would be the EF 70-200 mm f/2.8L IS II USM. However, I’m not most people. I shoot mainly wildlife photos, and the 200 mm maximum focal length is far too short for my purposes. And, at 70 mm on the low end, it is probably too long for most landscape work, just as my current lens is.

But this lens does make a good example of how to pick and choose a lens. Can one live with the f/4 version, and bump up the ISO of their camera in low light situations? Or would the added noise be too much for their tastes, making the f/2.8 version a better choice? If some one shoots using a tripod all of the time, then they may opt for the version that doesn’t have image stabilization, while the IS would be very important to some one who normally shoots handheld. Whether using a tripod or not comes into play as far as deciding as to how much of a difference the maximum aperture makes as well. There’s a reason that manufacturers offer so many choices.

I think that for me, the EF 70-200 mm f/4L USM at $709.99 is the best bet, as I doubt that this lens will get a lot of use, and when it does, I’ll use my tripod to make up for its lack of IS, and slower aperture. That saves me $1789 to put towards lenses that I will use more often, like a super telephoto for when I am photographing small birds.

And, speaking of super telephoto lenses, Canon makes 4 different 400 mm lenses ranging in price from $1,339 to $11,499 depending on the maximum aperture and whether or not they have Image Stabilization. I am leaning towards the EF 400 mm f/5.6L USM, the least expensive of the four. Why? Because my ultimate goal is to go even longer, to a 500 mm or 600 mm lens eventually, and the more money I save now, the sooner I’ll get to my ultimate goal.

But what about Canon’s almost legendary 100-400 mm zoom? It’s only a few hundred dollars more. By all accounts, they are a great lens, but the 400 mm prime beats it as far as image quality, which is what I’m after. I could be wrong, but I doubt if I would ever use the zoom feature, just as with the lens I currently own, I’d have to 100-400 zoomed to 400 all of the time. The 400 mm prime is a little smaller and lighter as well, and that makes a difference to some one who normally hikes 5 to 6 miles a day on the weekends.

I do wish the 400 mm prime had IS, but to get it, I would have to move up to the $6,469 model, and I don’t think that IS is worth that kind of cash, but I could be wrong.

For a landscape lens, I’m leaning towards the EF-S 15-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM as it is a highly rated lens, and will work well for landscape photography on a crop sensor camera. At $799.99, I would rate it as a best buy.

So for just the three lenses I am looking at, the total comes to $2,848.98, throw in three high-end filters, and I’ll be around 3 grand for a total, and I still don’t have a camera yet. But, I will have three quality lenses that will cover all my requirements for years to come. And they will continue to work for me even after I upgrade camera bodies again in the future. That’s part of my overall plan as well, to buy a relatively low-end camera now, then upgrade again in a few years. I’ll hold onto the camera that I buy now, as it is always a good thing to have a second/spare body.

But, what will work for me probably won’t work for you, so you owe it to yourself to do the research, and come up with what does work for you. There are bargains out there, you just have to look for them. Start with quality glass that will last, then upgrade your camera as manufacturers continue to improve them.

I haven’t touched on buying used equipment, I have nothing against doing that, but from what I have seen while looking is that people are asking new prices for used equipment. I may be cheap, but I’m not willing to take a risk on a piece of used equipment when I can buy the same thing new for just one or two hundred dollars more. That, and there are few quality lenses on the market, people who have them tend to hang on to them because they are quality lenses.

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


House Wren, Troglodytes aedon

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

House Wren

The House Wren is a very small songbird of the wren family, its range is from Canada to southern most South America, and is thus the most widely distributed bird in the Americas. It occurs in most suburban areas in its range and it is the single most common wren.

This bird’s rich bubbly song is commonly heard during the nesting season but rarely afterwards. In fact, the best way to locate house wrens is to listen for the male’s almost constant singing during the nesting season, as they are easier to hear than see.

Bubbly and energetic, just like their songs. Look for House Wrens hopping quickly through tangles and low branches and, in spring and summer, frequently pausing to deliver cheerful trilling songs.In summer, House Wrens are at home in open forests, forest edges, and areas with scattered grass and trees. Backyards, farmyards, and city parks are perfect for them. In winter they become more secretive, preferring brushy tangles, thickets, and hedgerows.

The nesting habits do not seem to differ significantly between the Northern and Southern House Wrens at least. They usually construct a large cup nest in various sorts of cavities, taking about a week to build. The nest is made from small dry sticks and is usually lined with a variety of different materials. These include: feather, hair, wool, spider cocoons, strips of bark, rootlets, moss, and trash. The male wren finds dry sticks, which he adds to the nest. Once he is done, the female inspects at the nest; but if she does not approve of the construction, she will throw any unwanted sticks to the ground. After this process, the female lines the nest. Nest cavities are usually a few meters above ground at most, they may be natural, old woodpecker nests, or man-made, often using bird houses. House Wrens will gladly use nest boxes, or you may find their twig-filled nests in old cans, boots, or boxes lying around in your garage. As the season progresses their nests can become infested with mites and other parasites that feed on the wren nestlings. Perhaps to fight this problem, wrens often add spider egg sacs into the materials they build their nests from. In lab studies, once the spiders hatched, they helped the wrens by devouring the nest parasites.

House Wrens are feisty and pugnacious animals considering their tiny size. They are known to occasionally destroy the eggs of other birds nesting in their territory by puncturing the eggshell. They are also known to fill up other birds’ nests within its territory with sticks to make them unusable.

House wrens lack the fairly prominent pale eyebrow of other species of wrens.

They eat a wide variety of insects and spiders, including beetles, caterpillars, earwigs, and daddy longlegs, as well as smaller numbers of more mobile insects such as flies, leafhoppers, and springtails. Also eats snail shells, probably for the calcium they contain and to provide grit for digestion.

On to my photos:

House wren

House wren

House wren

House wren

House wren

House wren

IMG_4916

House wren

House wren

Juvenile House wren

Juvenile House wren

Juvenile House wren

Juvenile House wren

Male house wren giving me the stinkeye

Male house wren giving me the stinkeye

Female house wren giving me the stinkeye

Female house wren giving me the stinkeye

 

This is number 62 in my photo life list, only 288 to go!

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

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Red-breasted Merganser, Mergus serrator

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

Red-breasted Merganser, Mergus serrator

I could not find very much information about this species online, other than that they are diving ducks that mainly eat small fish, but also aquatic insects, crustaceans, and frogs. I already knew that, and Wikipedia and “All About Birds” seem to be at odds with each other in respect to the breeding preferences of the red-breasted merganser. Wikipedia says that they prefer freshwater, “All About Birds” states that they prefer salt water more the other species of mergansers.

They have a spiky crest and long thin red bill with serrated edges. The male has a dark head with a green sheen, a white neck with a rusty breast, a black back, and white underparts. Adult females have a rusty head and a greyish body. The juvenile is like the female, but lacks the white collar and has a smaller white wing patch.

On to my photos:

Male red-breasted merganser shaking off the water

Male red-breasted merganser shaking off the water

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser taking flight

Male red-breasted merganser taking flight

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser taking flight

Female red-breasted merganser taking flight

Female red-breasted merganser in flight

Female red-breasted merganser in flight

Female red-breasted merganser in flight

Female red-breasted merganser in flight

Female red-breasted merganser in flight

Female red-breasted merganser in flight

Male red-breasted mergansers in flight

Male red-breasted mergansers in flight

Male red-breasted merganser in flight

Male red-breasted merganser in flight

Male red-breasted merganser landing

Male red-breasted merganser landing

Male red-breasted merganser landing

Male red-breasted merganser landing

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser with a droopy crest

Male red-breasted merganser with a droopy crest

This is number 61 in my photo life list, only 289 to go!

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

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How to Have Fun When You’re Bored and Have a Fever

This is another special guest post by my friend and fellow nature stalker, Jan, and she’s thrown in some of her photos of George and Martha, the mute swans, and a few of the other visitors to the pond she frequents. So, no need for me to babble on, take it away Jan!

Apparently I didn’t duck fast enough because a flu bug slammed me right between the eyes a few days ago.  So I found myself stuck inside, bored to tears, and running a fever of about 101… and I had a small group of photos that I’d taken a couple of days before in lousy lighting.  Playtime!

I’d gone to the lake early in the evening.  It was overcast.  It was cold.  It was drizzling off and on.  It was windy.  (I think I just figured out how I got the flu.)  The swans, who are named George and Martha (not my fault), were taking a break from harassing two geese, so I started taking photos.  When I got them uploaded that night, I hated them all.  The lighting was horrible, and the backgrounds were a depressing dark gray, not to mention that I couldn’t seem to get the swans to strike any amazing poses.  For some reason I didn’t delete them.

Once the boredom hit, I started playing around with those photos, adjusting shadows and highlights.  It was a nice surprise when those one-click-away-from-the-recycling-bin photos actually started to look halfway decent!

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

The rest of the photos here were all taken the following day.  It was one of those days when it was alternating between cloudy and sunny so quickly that a beautiful shot could turn to a poorly lit one by the time you hit the shutter button.   But despite the cold, the wind, and impending snow showers, somehow the waterfowl were feeling spring in the air.  Personally, my numb fingers and I disagreed with them.

IMG_1884-001

It’s tough trying to preen in 30 mph winds.

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Coot yoga.

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Young female Redhead Duck.

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“Mallard, you WISH your feet were this cool!”

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The wind was making this basketweave pattern on the water. I have no idea how that would happen!

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Redhead Duck

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Redhead Ducks are very exuberant about bathing.

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Jerry said it looks like the two Mallards are laughing at the third one for showing off.

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I was happy to finally get a shot of a Coot flapping its wings, but the look on that Redhead Duck is priceless!

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What you don’t want to see if you’re a goose.

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George, celebrating his latest goose-chasing success.

Me again, I hope that you have enjoyed Jan’s post and photos as much as I do, and will join me in encouraging her to start a blog of her own!

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


When the going gets tough…

When the going gets tough…there are two ways of finishing that.

One, is that the weak wimp out. I was thinking of going to Grand Haven, Michigan today, to see the waterfowl there, as Grand Haven is similar to Muskegon, but they’re seeing some different species there. It was anther cold day, the high temperature barely crept above the freezing mark. That didn’t bother me, it was the very strong north wind blowing that caused me to change my mind and stick closer to home. The stiff north wind clears out the clouds for a change…

That kind of day

That kind of day

…but I could remember almost freezing my fingers and nose off during my last trip to Muskegon, and today was almost an exact duplicate. So I wimped out and opted for a walk in a local park that runs along Buck Creek, where I was somewhat sheltered from the wind.

The other way to finish the opening statement is, the tough get better!

For some reason, where I went didn’t matter to me, I had the feeling that it was going to be a very good if not great day, and it was! I don’t want to sound like I am bragging too much, but I did some of my best bird photography today! I am almost tempted to post a couple of the photos full size and resolution, but I won’t, you’ll have to trust me I suppose.

The day started as good as my gut feeling told me it would.

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Next, was a slightly unusual sight, a dark-eyed junco singing from a treetop.

Dark eyed junco singing

Dark-eyed junco singing

As if shooting photos of flying birds out in the open wasn’t tough enough, lately, I have been practicing shooting through the branches of trees because it happens so many times that it is the only way to get a shot of a bird, so here’s a few of my practice shots from today.

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

The park I walked today is the same park where I have been chasing both the Carolina and winter wrens around the last few weeks, and guess what I got good photos of…

Male Carolina wren

Male Carolina wren

Male Carolina wren in full song

Male Carolina wren in full song

Male Carolina wren

Male Carolina wren

Male Carolina wren

Male Carolina wren

Male Carolina wren

Male Carolina wren

Female Carolina wren

Female Carolina wren

OK, so the photo of the female isn’t the greatest, I got the pair of them together, so I know that there is a pair! You can see that I had to go in after the female, she stayed buried deep in the brush, while the male perched out in the open while he serenaded her. (By the way, these photos will be inserted into the post on Carolina wrens in the My Photo Life List series)

Next up, a song sparrow.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

The birding slowed down for a while after that, so I amused myself by photographing the ice and snow.

Ice

Ice

Ice

Ice

Ice

Ice

Ice

Ice

Snow bust

Snow bust

I thought that some one had stood in one place for so long that they had been buried up to their neck in snow. 🙂

Then the birding picked up again.

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Those are without a doubt the very best photos of a dark-eyed junco that I have ever taken, and again, not to brag, but some of the best that I have ever seen. (They will be added to the Dark-eyed junco post)

A red-tailed hawk flew past to have its picture taken.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Then, I found the flock of American tree sparrows again, and this time I did it right, or at least I think so. I was shooting almost directly into the sun, but luckily, I got close enough to some of them to use my flash for fill, to come up with photos like this.

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

With out some fill in flash, that photo, along with the rest of the ones I took, would have been just silhouettes of the sparrows.

Then, to wrap up an excellent day, both a male northern cardinal and a fox squirrel posed for me.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Oh, that reminds me, other than cropping, nothing was done to any of the photos in this post as far as post processing other than one photo of the ice I tweaked the exposure slightly, other than that, what you see is what came out of the camera today! It was that kind of day, things went so well that I know that I’ll have a sting of bad luck to make up for it.

One more thing before I wrap this one up, my friend Jan is preparing another post on the swans and ducks she sees, there’s some great photos and stories coming up from her!

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


American Kestrel, Falco sparverius

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

American Kestrel, Falco sparverius

The American Kestrel , sometimes colloquially known as the Sparrow Hawk, is a small falcon, and the only kestrel found in the Americas. It is the most common falcon in North America, and is found in a wide variety of habitats. At 19–21 centimeters (7–8 in) long, it is also the smallest falcon in North America. It exhibits sexual dimorphism in size and plumage, although both sexes have a rufous back with noticeable barring. Juveniles are similar in plumage to adults.

American Kestrels feed largely on small animals such as grasshoppers, dragonflies, lizards, mice, and voles. They will occasionally eat other small birds. The kestrel has also been reported to have killed larger animals such as snakes, bats, and squirrels. The kestrel maintains high population densities, in part because of the broad scope of its diet. The American Kestrel’s primary mode of hunting is by perching and waiting for prey to come near. The bird is characteristically seen along roadsides or fields perched on objects such as trees, overhead power lines, or fence posts. It also hunts by hovering in the air with rapid wing beats and scanning the ground for prey. Other hunting techniques include low flight over fields, or chasing insects in the air.

Its breeding range extends from central and western Alaska across northern Canada to Nova Scotia, and south throughout North America, into central Mexico and the Caribbean. It is a local breeder in Central America and is widely distributed throughout South America. Most birds breeding in Canada and the northern United States migrate south in the winter. It is an occasional vagrant to western Europe.

On to my photos, and since all the photos of kestrels that I have managed so far all look the same, I’m only posting three for right now:

Update! During my vacation to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the fall of 2013, I managed a few good shots of a kestrel which I am adding to the end of this post.

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel in flight

American Kestrel in flight

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

 

This is number 57 in my photo life list, only 293 to go!

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

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American Coot, Fulica americana

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

American Coot, Fulica americana

The American Coot is a bird of the family Rallidae. Though commonly mistaken to be ducks, American Coots come from a distinct family. Unlike ducks, Coots have broad lobes of skin that fold back with each step in order to facilitate walking on dry land. They live near water, typically inhabiting wetlands and open water bodies in North America. Groups of these black-feathered, white-billed birds are called covers or rafts. The oldest known Coot lived to be 22 years old.

The American coot is a migratory bird that occupies most of North America. They live in the Southwestern United States, Mexico, and the pacific coast year round, and only occupy the northeastern regions during the summer breeding season. In the winter they can be found as far south as Panama.  They generally build floating nests and lay 8-12 eggs per clutch.  American coots eat primarily algae and other aquatic plants but they do eat animals (both vertebrates and invertebrates) when available.

Much research has been done on the breeding habits of American Coots. Studies have found that mothers will preferentially feed offspring with the brightest plume feathers, a characteristic known as chick ornaments. American coots are also susceptible to conspecific brood parasitism, and have evolved rules to identify which offspring are theirs and which are from parasitic females.

The American Coot is a highly gregarious species, particularly in the winter, when its flocks can number in the thousands.

The American Coot can dive for food but can also forage and scavenge on land. It is omnivorous, eating plant material, insects, fish, and other aquatic animals. Its principle source of food is aquatic vegetation, especially algae. During breeding season, Coots are more likely to eat aquatic insects and mollusks, which constitute the majority of a chick’s diet.

Coot mate pairings are monogamous throughout their life, given they have a suitable territory. A typical reproductive cycle involves multiple stages: pairing, nesting, copulation, egg deposition, incubation, and hatching. The American Coot typically has long courtship periods. This courtship period is characterized by billing, bowing, and nibbling. Males generally initiate billing, which is the touching of bills between individuals. As the pair bond becomes more evident, both males and females will initiate billing only with each other and not other males or females. After a pair bond is cemented, the mating pair looks for a territory to build a nest in. A pair bond becomes permanent when a nesting territory is secured.

On to my photos, and since coots have appeared many times in my blog in the past, and I’m sure will continue to show up here, I’m only going to post two recent photos for now.

American Coot

American Coot

American Coot

American Coot

American coot

American coot

American coot

American coot

American coot

American coot

American coot with snail stuck to its beak

American coot with snail stuck to its beak

This is number 56 in my photo life list, only 294 to go!

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

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White-winged Scoter, Melanitta fusca

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

White-winged Scoter, Melanitta fusca

The White-winged Scoter breeds over the far north of North America. It winters further south in temperate zones, on the Great Lakes, the coasts of the northern USA and the southern coasts of Canada, and Asia as far south as China. It forms large flocks on suitable coastal waters. These are tightly packed, and the birds tend to take off together.

The lined nest is built on the ground close to the sea, lakes or rivers, in woodland or tundra. 5-11 eggs are laid. The pinkish eggs average 46.9 mm (1.8 inches) in breadth, 68.2 mm (2.7 inches) in length and 82.4 grams (2.9 oz) in weight. The incubation period can range from 25 to 30 days. After about 21 days, neighboring females may start to behave aggressively towards other nesting females, resulting in confusion and mixing of broods. By the time she is done brooding, a female may be tending to as much as 40 offspring due to the mixing from these conflicts. The female will tend to her brood for up to 3 weeks and then abandon them, but the young will usually stay together from another 3 weeks. Flight capacity is thought to be gained at 63 to 77 days of age.

In freshwater, this species primarily feeds on crustaceans and insects, while in saltwater areas, it feeds on molluscs and crustaceans. The favorite foods of the American (sub)species are an amphipod Hyalella azteca in freshwater, and rock clams Protothaca staminea, Atlantic Siliqua and Arctic wedge clams Mesodesma arctatus.

On to my photos:

White-winged Scoters

White-winged Scoters

White-winged Scoters

White-winged Scoters

White-winged Scoters

White-winged Scoters

DSC_7256

Female White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

White-winged scoters in flight

White-winged scoters in flight

White-winged scoters in flight

White-winged scoters in flight

White-winged scoters in flight

White-winged scoters in flight

Female White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

Male White-winged scoter

Male White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

Male White-winged scoter

Male White-winged scoter

Male White-winged scoter

Male White-winged scoter

This is number 55 in my photo life list, only 295 to go!

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

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Common Grackle, Quiscalus quiscula

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

Common Grackle, Quiscalus quiscula

The common grackle forages on the ground, in shallow water or in shrubs; it will steal food from other birds. It is omnivorous, eating insects, minnows, frogs, eggs, berries, seeds, grain and even small birds and mice. Grackles at outdoor eating areas often wait eagerly until someone drops some food. They will rush forward and try to grab it, often snatching food out of the beak of another bird. Grackles prefer to eat from the ground at bird feeders, making scattered seed an excellent choice of food for them. In shopping centers, grackles can be regularly seen foraging for bugs, especially after a lawn trimming.

Along with some other species of grackles, the common grackle is known to practice “anting,” rubbing insects on its feathers to apply liquids such as formic acid secreted by the insects.

This bird’s song is particularly harsh, especially when these birds, in a flock, are calling. Songs vary from, year round “Chewink Chewink” to a more complex breeding season “Ooo whew,whew,whew,whew,whew” call that gets faster and faster and ends with a loud “Crewhewwhew!” The grackle can also mimic the sounds of other birds or even humans, though not as precisely as mockingbirds, which is known to share its habitat in the Southeastern United States.

In the breeding season, males tip their heads back and fluff up feathers to display and keep other males away. This same behavior is used as a defensive posture to attempt to intimidate predators. Male common grackles are less aggressive toward one another, and more cooperative and social, than the larger boat-tailed grackle species.

Grackles tend to congregate in large groups, popularly referred to as a plague. This enables them to detect birds invading their territory, and predators, which are mobbed en masse to deter the intruders.

Unlike many birds, the grackle benefits from the expansion of human populations due to its resourceful and opportunistic nature. Common grackles are considered a serious threat to crops by some, and notoriously difficult to exterminate and usually require the use of hawks or similar large birds of prey.

On to my photos:

Male common grackle

Male common grackle

Common grackle

Common grackle

Common grackle

Common grackle

Common grackle

Common grackle

Common grackle

Common grackle

 

This is number 54 in my photo life list, only 296 to go!

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

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