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

Archive for April, 2013

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Empidonax flaviventris

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.

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Empidonax flaviventris

The Yellow-bellied Flycatcher is a small insect-eating bird of the tyrant flycatcher family.

Adults have greenish upper parts and yellowish underparts (especially on the throat), with a dusky wash on the chest. They have a white or yellow eye ring that lacks the teardrop projection of Pacific-slope or Cordilleran Flycatchers, white or yellowish wing bars that contrast strongly against the black wings, a broad, flat bill, and a relatively short tail when compared to other members of the genus. The upper mandible of the bill is dark, while the lower mandible is orange-pink.

Their breeding habitat is wet northern woods, especially spruce bogs, across Canada and the northeastern United States. They make a cup nest in sphagnum moss on or near the ground.

These birds migrate to southern Mexico and Central America.

Yellow-bellied Flycatchers wait on a perch low or in the middle of a tree and fly out to catch insects in flight, sometimes hovering over foliage. They sometimes eat berries or seeds.

The Yellow-bellied Flycatcher’s song can be transcribed as a rough, descending “TSE-berk,” which can be similar to the more common Least Flycatcher’s snappier, more evenly pitched “che-bek.” The three primary call notes of Yellow-bellied Flycatcher are a clear, ascending “chu-wee,” a sharp, gruff “peekk”, and a soft, descending “pyu.”

On to my photos:

Yellow-bellied flycatcher

Yellow-bellied flycatcher

Yellow-bellied flycatcher

Yellow-bellied flycatcher

Yellow-bellied flycatcher

Yellow-bellied flycatcher

This is number 91 in my photo life list, only 259 to go!

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

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No trillium, just another new bird

On Sunday I went to Aman Park, I have done a couple of posts about it already, and I think that I have it listed on my Hiking Places page. To me, the biggest attraction of Aman Park is the huge numbers of wildflowers that bloom there in the spring, including acres of trillium.

This will be a short post, as although there were many of the wildflowers starting to bloom, not included among them were the trillium. This is mostly an update for Allen (New Hampshire Garden Solutions) and others who have asked about the trillium. The weather wasn’t the greatest either, and I could do an entire post on how poor the forecasts have been of late, but I won’t.

Since the trillium weren’t blooming, and most of my shots were taken under a very heavy overcast sky, I’ll just have to go back later and do this park justice, I’ll even get to play with my new 15-85 mm lens to get the seas of trillium blooming in the frame!

I knew that I was probably early, but with the flooding, I was worried that this year’s blooms would be destroyed, but it’s looking good!

So, on to the photos, starting with a red-bellied woodpecker playing peek-a-boo with passing walkers.

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

The bird was nice enough to continue its game long enough for me to adjust the exposure to make up for the horrible lighting, +2/3 stop worked best.

Later, a bluebird waved to me after it spotted me sneaking up behind it.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird waving hello

Eastern Bluebird waving hello

Eastern Bluebird waving hello

Eastern Bluebird waving hello

Now then, a sampling of the flowers, since I will be going back soon. No need to bore you all with what would be a double post.

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Trillium bud

Trillium bud

Trout lily next to dozens of trillium waiting to bloom

Trout lily next to dozens of trillium waiting to bloom

Bloodwort

Bloodwort

Dutchman's breeches

Dutchman’s breeches

Dutchman's breeches

Dutchman’s breeches

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Bloodwort

Bloodwort

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Trout lilies

Trout lilies

I must be getting old, I know I knew all of these before, but for the life of me, I can’t recall them when I need to. I see that I also missed all the spring beauties that were blooming as well, I won’t forget them in the next one!

At one point I sat down to take a break, and to watch and listen to the birds. This guy came along, another to add to my life list, a black and white warbler.

Black and white warbler

Black and white warbler

Black and white warbler

Black and white warbler

There were dozens of other warblers up in the treetops, but getting good photos of them was out of the question, so I just sat there and enjoyed the music they were making.

The only other thing of note was this rather strange looking fungi growing on a log that had fallen over.

Fungi

Fungi

I think that it’s the bottom of the fungi you can see now that the log fell over, I was going to get a different angle on it, but got distracted by all the flowers and birds.

Anyway, like I said, a short one this time, I have a bunch of photos of birds saved up for the My Photo Life List project to put into drafts, and the next post I do on Aman Park should be spectacular!

Thanks for stopping by!


A day in Palmer Park

On Saturday, I went walking in Palmer Park, as it’s only a few miles from my home, and has often surprised me with the numbers of birds and other critters there.

My day started off on the wrong foot, I overslept, and got to the park much later than what I would have liked to. Right off the bat I had one of those good news, bad news moments. I spotted a new to me species of bird, but had one heck of a time getting even fair photos of it. The only time it stopped moving was when it was behind branches, or in deep shade. To show you how tough this little bugger was to photograph, in two of my better photos of it, both of its feet are off the ground, so to speak.

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

A palm warbler is what it looks like to me, another species to add to my life list!

After the high energy warbler, this hermit thrush was a piece of cake.

Hermit thrush

Hermit thrush

As was this butterfly.

Butterfly

Butterfly

And, this white-breasted nuthatch was too busy looking for lunch to pay very much attention to me.

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch found lunch

White-breasted nuthatch found lunch

I found a few tree flowers, a field sparrow, and a chickadee.

Willow flower

Willow flower

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

Elm flower?

Elm flower?

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Maple flowers

Maple flowers

Seeing the red maple flowers in front of an evergreen gave me an idea, I don’t know if it was a good one or not.

Maple flowers

Maple flowers

At several points up until this time I had thought about switching lenses to shoot a few of the sparse wildflowers I had seen, but each time the thought crossed my mind, I would be instantly surrounded by birds. Of course most of those times, the birds were very adroit at staying just out of camera range, or hidden in brush. I may be slow on the uptake, but I did eventually figure out that the birds were showing up only to distract me from the flowers.

Here’s an example, I spotted a small cluster of white violets and was about to change lenses, but then a pair of tufted titmouse arrived on the scene.

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

To make sure that my attention was focused on them rather than the violets, they began to pluck the leaf shoots of a maple tree off the tree to eat.

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse eating maple leaf shoots

Tufted titmouse eating maple leaf shoots

I have seen squirrels doing that, but never birds. Maple leaves must be very tasty!

One more of the titmouse.

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

But, this time I remembered the violets, and rather than chasing the birds any longer, I paused to switch lenses.

White violets

White violets

White violets

White violets

And, since I had the EF S 15-85 mm on the camera, I shot a wide view of the area of the park where I was standing.

Palmer Park

Palmer Park

A short time later, a young turkey tried to distract me from violet violets.

Turkey

Turkey

Violets

Violets

Having figured out that I was no longer going to allow the birds to distract me from shooting wildflowers, Mother Nature tried upping the cuteness factor of the distractions.

Chipmunk

Chipmunk

But, I wouldn’t allow myself to be distracted any more.

Skunk cabbage flower

Skunk cabbage flower

Maple flowers

Maple flowers

"Miniscape" along a small flow of water

“Miniscape” along a small flow of water

Daffodil

Daffodil

Daffodil

Daffodil

Daffodil

Daffodil

Not that the birds weren’t still at it.

Hermit thrush

Hermit thrush

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

Downy woodpecker

Downy woodpecker

Now comes the boring section of this post, a few of my ramblings.

First, I haven’t written a lot about the Canon EF S 15-85 mm lens yet, even though I’ve had it for a couple of weeks now. All the photos in my post about the flood in downtown Grand Rapids were taken with that lens, along with a few from today.

What a fantastic little lens! It is very sharp, and the color rendition, saturation, and contrast is the best of the three lenses I have. It’s designed for crop sensor cameras, so if you have one of the Canon crop sensor bodies and are looking for a wide-angle zoom lens, the 15-85 mm is superb! You owe it to yourself to at least consider this lens if you are thinking of a wide-angle zoom lens. Now I just have to learn how to use it more often.

It’s been so long since I’ve had a wide-angle lens that I have forgotten how to use them effectively, I can see that it is going to change now that I have an excellent one.

Since I haven’t had multiple lenses for a while, I also have to come up with a better way to carry my camera gear. For this walk, I had my daypack to hold essentials that I always carry with me, such as water, food, and extra clothing. It also carries my tripod very nicely. In addition, I had my medium size camera bag which held the 15-85 mm and 70-200 mm lenses while walking. I also had the case that came with the Sigma 150-500 mm lens to hold it while I had one of the other lenses on the camera. I was also wearing a safari vest from Cabela’s. Too much stuff!

To change lenses, I would have to find a safe spot to set the camera and Sigma lens down, set the camera cases down, then drop my pack. Then reverse the entire process when I would begin moving again. Too much hassle!

But, what do I do without? Just after starting out, I had to shed a shirt, as the weather was much warmer than predicted, and the daypack is essential for that, along with holding all the water I drank, plus my lunch.

Oh well, I’ll come up with something, no reason to bore people to death.

I found a few trout lilies in bloom, and I’m just going to dump the entire lot in here now, as some were taken with each of my three lenses, and I defy any one to pick which lens shot which photo. It is so nice having three quality lenses!

Trout lily

Trout lily

Trout lily

Trout lily

Trout lily

Trout lily

Trout lily

Trout lily

Trout lily

Trout lily

Trout lily

Trout lily

Trout lily

Trout lily

Trout lily

Trout lily

Trout lily

Trout lily

As good as the two shorter lenses are, they can’t beat the Sigma for birding though, the extra reach is indispensible!

Winter wren

Winter wren

Winter wren

Winter wren

Male mallard flying over a jet

Male mallard flying over a jet

Chipmunk

Chipmunk

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

I am going to end this one with a few photos of hyacinths that I found near the parking lot, just because I can!

Hyacinths

Hyacinths

Hyacinths

Hyacinths

Hyacinths

Hyacinths

Hyacinths

Hyacinths

Hyacinths

Hyacinths

Hyacinths

Hyacinths

Hyacinths

Hyacinths

Hyacinths

Hyacinths

Hyacinths

Hyacinths

If you live in the northern part of the country, you know what I mean when I say that it is so great to see colors again!

That’s it for a very pleasant day spent in the park. I’m going to load up my stuff and head to Aman Park today, to see if any trillium have begun to bloom, thanks for stopping by!


My week, April 22

Monday

A beautiful day, maybe the nicest we’ve had this spring! It was warm and sunny, not quite male bluebird skies, but definitely female bluebird skies!

Female eastern bluebird

Female eastern bluebird

Female eastern bluebird

Female eastern bluebird

There are flowers beginning to appear!

Maple flowers

Maple flowers

The crocus had just begun to bloom when the flooding rains hit, and destroyed the flowers before I got any good photos of them. I’m hoping for a lot more flowers soon, but it is also prime birding time here in Michigan. With the many migrant species passing through, the birds in their breeding plumage, and no leaves on the trees, now is the best time of year to get photos of the birds.

I didn’t get many today though, I spent a lot of time listening to them singing, and enjoying the day. My arms were stiff and sore from yesterday’s excursion, and I didn’t really feel up to doing more four pound arm curls lifting the Sigma lens up any more often than I had to. 😉

I learned that the ruby-crested kinglets have a beautiful, cheery song, but they don’t even sit still while singing. I was tempted once or twice to shoot one that seemed to be following along with me, but I was enjoying his singing so much that I overcame the temptation of trying for a photo, just so I could continue to watch and listen.

With the help of a jogger who frightened a turkey, I was able to get some more practice photographing turkeys in flight, and from the looks of these photos, I need a lot more practice.

Wild turkey in flight

Wild turkey in flight

Wild turkey in flight

Wild turkey in flight

I am not responsible for how awkward the turkey looks in the first photo, she did that all by herself.

The meadowlark and the brown thrashers both seemed to have moved on, darn, their songs would add so much to my daily walks that I was hoping a few of each would stick around, maybe the next batch passing through will stay longer.

Most of the shots that I attempted today were of singing birds, like this cardinal.

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing

I had this song sparrow all lined up, ready to click the shutter when he broke into song, but he fooled me.

IMG_1244

Male song sparrow thinking about singing

IMG_1245

Male song sparrow getting ready to sing

Male song sparrow thinking about singing

Ha! Fooled you, I’m not going to sing after all

A red-winged blackbird pulled the same trick on me.

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

Sorry, but that’s it for Monday, I still have a lot of work to do on my post about my trip to Muskegon, and I did spend most of my time today listening to the birds, and enjoying a fine spring day.

Unfortunately, the fine weather won’t last long, it is supposed to rain on Tuesday, not a lot, but rain is rain. It shouldn’t make the flooding any worse, but it sure won’t help either.

Tuesday

The clouds were back, with a little rain now and then in the morning, the heavier rain is forecast for this afternoon. Since I wasn’t sure if I would get wet or not, I took the 70-200 mm lens today, and it was one of the few days lately when I didn’t get close enough to very much for chances for photos. Other than a few daffodils, that is.

Daffodil

Daffodil

IMG_1262

Daffodil

Daffodils

Daffodils

I did shoot a blue jay, that was about it for the birds.

Blue jay

Blue jay

I did shoot several of a very small bird that I haven’t identified yet, and I don’t think that I’ll be able to from my photos. It looked like a wren to the naked eye, it was twitching its tail like crazy as wrens do, but it stayed out in the open, and in the cropped photos, it doesn’t look like a wren. But, the photos aren’t good enough to post here.

It was another good day just to be outside and enjoy the birds singing, far more than trying to chase them down to get photos of them in the bad light of today.

I have written in my post on my trip to Muskegon on Sunday (Not published yet as I type this) that I am becoming more selective in both taking, and posting photos. A number of things are driving that. One, I now have good photographic equipment that is both reliable and predictable as far as the results I’m getting, so I no longer have to shoot and hope. In part because of that, I no longer feel the need to shoot every bird that I see, everyday.

Then, I’m past 25% of the way through the My Photo Life List project, and I am closing in on getting to being 33% of the way finished with it. It’s no longer this empty space nagging at me to be filled, I can take my time, fill in the sparse posts in the project that I have already posted, and get good photos for that project from here on out.

By getting this far through the project so quickly, it has dawned on me that since I’m outdoors every day, with good photo equipment, the photos will come, not may come, it’s just a matter of time. I netted photos for 5 more species in the project during my trip to Muskegon on Sunday, on top of the 3 or 4 drafts I have ready to post over time. That puts me very close to 100 species of birds posted in a very short time.

I may have “officially” begun the project back in January of this year, but the idea for it has been kicking around in my head for some time now. The page that I did and entitled “My Bird Gallery” was my first attempt at it, but I quickly realized that one page wasn’t going to cut it. But, that’s the reason that there has been so much emphasis on birds here on my blog for the last year or so.

So, what does all this have to do with my walk today? This, I am taking more time to enjoy my walks, I would be stopping to smell the roses if there were any blooming. 😉 I’m watching, listening, learning, and enjoying my time outdoors now that I am no longer feeling as much pressure to shoot as many photos as I can, and overwhelm people with quantity over quality. Don’t worry, I still post a few bad photos of mallards in flight from time to time.

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

The other thing that I have been doing while on my daily walks is finding the first signs of plants poking their shoots out of the ground so that I’ll know where to look for wildflowers when spring does really get here. I have already located several areas that look good, now all it will take is some sun and warmer weather, and there will be flowers!

Well, enough for today, on to Wednesday.

Wednesday

Snow, Bah Humbug!

OK, so it didn’t stick, but I am so tired of the cold gloomy weather we’ve had. Yes, we had a couple of nice days, but it rained most of Tuesday, and I woke up to snowflakes this morning. But, it looks like sring will finally arrive for this weekend!

A couple of things in general before I go for my walk.

I heard a story on NPR about a group of “environmentalists” who are undertaking a project of trying to cultivate redwood trees on five different continents where the redwoods aren’t native. Hence the quotation marks around the term environmentalists. Have humans learned nothing? Especially since invasive species are becoming a major problem around the world?

Redwoods may be magnificent trees, but the kind of thinking shown by this group and their project is one of the reason so many ecosystems around the world are threatened. But, this group is exporting redwoods to fight climate change, so I guess destroying natural habitats is OK then. Idiots!

About our record-setting flood.

This was our third “100 year flood” in just over a century. After the real flood of 1904, when large portions of the city were underwater, flood walls were built to protect the city of Grand Rapids from flooding. As they built the flood walls higher, they contained the river within the walls, which forces the river higher, rather than spreading out of the river’s natural floodplain. So, when the flood during the 1940’s hit, they found that they had to build the walls higher. By the flood of 1986, they had given up trying to go higher with the flood walls, as they figured out that the higher they build the walls, the higher they force the river to go. It’s a never ending battle.

So, as far as the height of the river, this was a record flood, but that’s a little misleading. The volume of water was significantly more in 1904 (54,000 cfs) than here in April 2013 (33,700 cfs).  The water is now constricted to a narrow channel downtown, so when we have a flood, the river is forced to rise to a higher level than it did before the walls were built, so you get a higher number (21.85) for the crest.

The floods of 1904, 1905, 1947 and 1948 all had higher volumes of water (cfs) than the flood of April 2013.   Something to note is that our highest floods came back-to-back in 1904 and 1905 and again in 1947 and 1948.

As far as the amount of rain we received, April 2013 has the third highest total precipitation on record, but it was almost three inches below the all time record of 13.22 inches in June 1892, and almost two inches below the 11.85 inches in September 1986. But, the month isn’t quite over yet, either. So far we’re at 10.41 inches for April 2013.

One more item from the flood news, one of the local media outlets had water samples from the flood waters tested for E. Coli bacteria, and to no one’s surprise but the media types, the results came back showing elevated levels of the bacteria, duh! Reporting that is a little like reporting that it is dark at night, cold at the south pole, or that the sun is hot.

Anyway, for my walk, I really hate whining about the weather almost as much as I hate the weather, but I’m tired of wearing a knit wool hat, gloves, a winter parka, and pulling the hood over my head to block the cold winds. It’s the end of April, it should be spring.

I took only a handful of photos, starting with one of the few flowers to be seen.

Vinca or myrtle

Vinca or myrtle

Oh, I carried the 70-200 mm lens today again because of the weather, and shot that with the flash. I will do better.

I have been trying to get shots of songbirds in flight, with little success.

Red-winged blackbird in flight

Red-winged blackbird in flight

I figured out today that some of the same attributes of the new camera and lenses have that allow me to get good photos of birds partially hidden in the brush are working against me when it comes to flying birds. I can’t keep the small center single focusing point on a songbird in flight for very long is one problem. The other sounds funny, but, the new lenses are so much faster in focusing that I can’t anticipate when they are going to achieve a focus lock.

The old Nikon auto-focus was so slow  that I could see the subject coming into focus and be pressing the shutter release as the camera did achieve a lock.

With the new camera and lenses, it gets a focus lock before I can react, and by that time, I have moved the single focus point off from the bird, and the camera is already focusing on the background when I press the shutter release.

I know that I could change the camera settings for better results on flying birds, but then that would work against me when I’m shooting through the brush. Hmmm, what to do? I know, shoot larger birds!

Ring billed gull in flight

Ring billed gull in flight

Ring billed gull in flight

Ring billed gull in flight

With larger birds, I can keep the focus point on them easier, especially since they tend to move slower as well.

Part of the reason I shot the gull in flight was to remind myself to note that there was a flock of gulls in the park eating the nightcrawlers on the pavement of the parking lot. Last spring, I noticed that robins typically don’t eat the worms that are abundant on pavement after a rain, and wondered why that was. No one else seemed to have an answer either, and after I brought it up here on my blog, they noticed the same thing, that robins don’t go around eating what would seem to be easy pickings for them.

After that, I observed turkeys chowing on the crawlers on the pavement, and now gulls doing the same thing.

Ring billed gull eating nightcrawlers

Ring billed gull eating nightcrawlers

Even as the gulls were scarfing down the worms on the pavement, there were robins all around the edges of the parking lot, pulling worms from the ground. One of the great mysteries of nature I suppose.

That was about all for today, on to Thursday.

Thursday

Snow! Bah Humbug!

Cloudy, cold, windy, and of course, snow. I’m going to use the bad weather today as an excuse to at least postpone my daily walk, and go to the doctor to have my DOT required physical done. The precipitation is forecast to end by noon, I may get a chance for a walk after I get back from the doctor, we’ll see.

Well, that did work, I’m somewhat surprised. It took way too long at the Med center that my employer uses, though I did get a walk in, it had to be quick, and I don’t have time to download the photos before I head to work.

Early afternoon is not prime birding time, but I did see a flock of white-throated sparrows, a pair of bluebirds, and a few field sparrows to photograph, I think, I’ll have to double-check the field sparrows, as I saw white rumps on what I think are the field sparrows. Time for work, darn.

Well, here’s a few of the photos, I had forgotten about the brown creeper. I am throwing that one in to prove that even with the Sigma lens, a sharp photo isn’t guaranteed when a bird refuses to stop moving for even a split second.

White-crowned sparrow

White-throated sparrow

White-crowned sparrow

White-throated sparrow

Brown creeper on the move

Brown creeper on the move

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

Tomorrow marks the beginning of what is forecast to be our first week of spring weather, with pleasant temperatures, and little to no rain, best of all, no more snow!

Friday

The bright side of the flooding, Lake Michigan is up six inches in just twelve days, an incredible rise for a lake that large! Since the lake was near record low levels over the winter, this is really good news.

Even with the forecast of great weather, I’m not sure what I’m going to do this weekend. Gas is back up to almost $4 a gallon, and I don’t feel like making the oil companies any richer, especially since as the price of gas was jumping up, the price of crude oil was dropping.

Then, there’s the flooding, one of the reasons that the Great Lakes have risen so much is that while the flooding was the worst here, it is more or less state-wide. I see no reason to drive to an area to find it flooded, I can stay home and find flood waters.

One thing about my physical yesterday, I was sitting in the examination room when a very overweight doctor waddled in short of breath from the effort of walking a few feet, and he proceeded to lecture me on my health, specifically smoking.

OK, I know I should quit, I am tapering off, not as quickly as I should be, but at least I’m heading the right direction, especially since I have lost 60 pounds since my last DOT physical.

However, when the doctor is in very poor shape, much worse than the patient, does he really expect people to listen to him? He had to pause to catch his breath several times during the course of his lecture. I was worried that he was going to have a heart attack in the middle of doing my exam.

Now then, for my walk, spring is finally here!

Moss

Moss

Willow flower and fly

Willow flower and fly

Maple flowers

Maple flowers

Green leaves!

Green leaves!

I forgot what these are

I forgot what these are

OK, the Sigma 150-500 mm lens does not make a good macro lens, especially not on a breezy day like today. Several times I was tempted to switch lenses, but just about the time I would talk myself into it, I needed the Sigma’s length.

Female English sparrow

Female English sparrow

English sparrows

English sparrows

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Meadowlark in flight

Meadowlark in flight

I’m having difficulty getting close to the meadowlarks and other species of birds that spend most of their time in open fields, I’m not used to that habitat. I’m a creature of the woods and water, fields are something to cross to get to the next woodlot, stream, or lake. That’s going to have to change, as I am developing a much greater appreciation for all the species of wildlife that inhabit fields, not just birds.

Anyway, I had almost convinced myself to switch lenses on the last leg of my walk when I spotted one of the brown thrashers back in the very thick brush, where they love to spend most of their time.

Brown thrasher

Brown thrasher

I was working my rear end off trying to get good photos of the thrasher out in the open. I tried getting ahead of it and waiting for it to appear in an opening. At one time I thought that I had it, but I was supporting the camera and lens on top of a fence, and when I moved the camera the last few inches to get the shot, the fence started to bend under the weight, and ruined that shot. There was another thrasher back even farther in the brush, I didn’t bother to try for that one.

The thrasher that I was following seemed to be headed for a more open area, I got set up, this time using a fencepost for support, and waited.

Brown thrasher

Brown thrasher

Not once did it stop in the open, it was on the run when I shot that last one as you can see by its leg. But, I’m patient if nothing else.

Brown thrashers

Brown thrashers

The second one had joined the first, and while I never got a clear shot of both of them, I did get a few of each.

Brown thrasher

Brown thrasher

They may not be great because I was forced to shoot towards the sun, but they are good enough for here, and for the My Photo Life List project. Another species I’ll be able to check off! And, I hope that it goes the way with the brown thrashers the way it has gone for so many species of wildlife, once I get fair photos of them, it gets easier to get better photos. I don’t know why that is, but it happens over and over. I’ll chase a species for days, weeks, or even months to get one not so great photo, then it is almost as if they start posing for me.

Anyway, that’s it for the day. I think that I’ll go to Palmer Park, the county park not far from home tomorrow, and spend the entire day there. I’m even going to pack a lunch to take with me, and spend more time just sitting, enjoying some nice weather for a change. Then on Sunday, head for Aman Park, which is known for an abundance of wildflowers. It may be too early for many flowers, but I won’t know unless I go.

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


Common Loon, Gavia immer

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 Loon, Gavia immer

The Great Northern Loon, is a large member of the loon, or diver, family of birds. The species is known as the Common Loon in North America and the Great Northern Diver in Eurasia; its current name is a compromise proposed by the International Ornithological Committee.

Breeding adults have a black head, white underparts, and a checkered black-and-white mantle. Non-breeding plumage is brownish, with the chin and fore-neck white. The bill is black-blue and held horizontally. The bill color and angle distinguish this species from the similar Yellow-billed Loon.

Bone structure: A number of solid bones (unlike normally hollow avian bones), which add weight but help in diving.

This species, like all divers, is a specialist fish-eater, catching its prey underwater, diving as deep as 200 feet (60 m). Freshwater diets consist of pike, perch, sunfish, trout, and bass; salt-water diets consist of rock fish, flounder, sea trout, and herring.

The bird needs a long distance to gain momentum for take-off, and is ungainly on landing. Its clumsiness on land is due to the legs being positioned at the rear of the body: this is ideal for diving but not well-suited for walking. When the birds land on water, they skim along on their bellies to slow down, rather than on their feet, as these are set too far back. The loon swims gracefully on the surface, dives as well as any flying bird, and flies competently for hundreds of kilometers in migration. It flies with its neck outstretched, usually calling a particular tremolo that can be used to identify a flying loon. Its flying speed is about 120 km/h (75 mph) during migration.

Its call has been alternately called “haunting,” “beautiful,” “thrilling,” “mystical”, and “enchanting.”

Great Northern Loon nests are usually placed on islands, where ground-based predators cannot normally access them. However, eggs and nestlings have been taken by gulls, corvids, raccoons, skunks, mink, foxes, snapping turtles, and large fish. Adults are not regularly preyed upon, but have been taken by sea otters (when wintering) and Bald Eagles. Osprey have been observed harassing divers, more likely out of kleptoparasitism than predation. When approached by a predator of either its nest or itself, divers sometimes attack the predator by rushing at it and attempting to impale it through the abdomen or the back of the head or neck.

Loons are solitary birds that do not tolerate human activity very well.

On to my photos:

Common loon

Common loon

Common loon cropped

Common loon cropped

Common loon diving

Common loon diving

This is number 90 in my photo life list, only 260 to go!

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

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I came back extremely arm weary!

Yes, another birding trip to the Muskegon area, I did look for wildflowers, honestly, I did. But there were none to be seen at any of the place I went. I really wanted to try out the close focusing performance of my new lenses, particularly the 15-85 mm I purchased this last week. So, once again, this is going to be mostly birds, with a few other things thrown in to break up the monotony.

My first stop was Lake Harbor Park on the west end of Mona Lake. I have posted about it before, and it is on the opposite end of Mona Lake from where I went to shoot the eagle photos last month. Some one had posted that they had seen a flock of avocet there last week, but neither I, nor any one else who showed up looking for them could find them.

I did find this guy though.

Black phase of a grey squirrel

Black phase of a grey squirrel

For all the years that I used the Nikon D50 I tried to get an acceptable photo of one of these, and never did. I am learning just how much better this new Canon 60 D is when compared to the Nikon, what a difference! In fact, now it’s easy to get good photos of grey squirrels in the black phase.

Black phase of a grey squirrel

Black phase of a grey squirrel

No more unrecognizable black lumps!

I am quite surprised by the difference that there is between the camera bodies, I attributed most of my problems to the inexpensive lens I was using. However, I am not going to go back on what I said in my post about buying camera gear on a budget.

In fact, I think that what I’m learning reinforces that in many ways. Sure, the Canon 60 D body is light years better than the old Nikon D 50 body, but most of that is due to improvement in sensor technology over the years. The 60 D is not an entry-level body, but it is the lowest priced body in Canon’s mid-level bodies.

Couple that with some quality glass, and for the first time since I switched to digital, I am getting some really good photos now. I still contend that if you’re in the market for new camera equipment, start with the lenses, buy quality glass, then buy the best body that you can afford.

That brings up something else, I am developing an entire new attitude towards my photographic endeavors. I trust the Canon and the lenses I have now, and I find myself being much more selective as to what and when I shoot. With the Nikon it was shoot anything at any time, and hope to get a good photo. Maybe the highest compliment that I can give to my new gear is that it is predictable, after less than 1,000 pictures, I know what I am going to get.

I shot over 40,000 with the Nikon, and never knew how any of them would turn out. I don’t feel like rehashing all the problems I had with the Nikon, but I think that you can see the leap in the quality of the photos I’m posting, even in the reduced quality versions you see online here.

So, now I see a species of bird that I have already photographed with the new Canon, and I think to myself, I already have a better shot than what I’m going to get this time, there’s no need to shoot and hope.

That doesn’t stop me from shooting lots of photos though, as there are so many things to photograph, but here’s an example from today, even if it is out of order as far as the way the day progressed.

Ruby-crowned kinglet

Ruby-crowned kinglet

That photo has not been cropped at all! It would be darned hard to get a much better photo than that, unless I catch one so close that I can zoom out and still nearly fill the frame. So after that one, I won’t be shooting many ruby-crowned kinglets any longer. Could it be that I’ll run out of things to photograph with the new Canon? I doubt it.

If I catch a male kinglet displaying his red crown, of course I’ll shoot that. 😉

OK, now let’s get back to the beginning.

I never did find the avocet, but there were other things to photograph besides the squirrels, like a pair of American black ducks hanging out with some mallards.

American black duck

American black duck

And, to practice on my action shots, a male mallard coming in for a landing.

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

And, since I’m a frustrated portrait photographer at heart, a few mallard portraits to test out my new gear.

Male malard

Male mallard

Male malard

Male mallard

Then, I strolled down the channel to the Lake Michigan shore, I thought that it would be a good spot to compare the performance of my lenses. Here’s the shoreline shot with the Sigma 150-500 mm set at 200 mm…..

Lake Michigan at the Mona Lake channel

Lake Michigan at the Mona Lake channel

Here’s about the same shot with the Canon 70-200 mm L series lens set to 200 mm.

Lake Michigan at the Mona Lake channel

Lake Michigan at the Mona Lake channel

I took a series of shots with each lens, they aren’t very interesting, so I won’t bore you with them. But, the replacement 70-200 mm is definitely sharper than the one I exchanged! I wonder if there are slight differences between bodies and lens that cause slight, but noticeable problems?

I didn’t get the composition exactly the same with each lens, as I didn’t really want to be changing lenses on the sandy beach, so to switch, I walked back to where there was vegetation to prevent any sand blowing around, and into my camera or lens. It was while walking back off the beach that I found this guy brightening up an already cheery day with his song.

Song sparrow singing

Song sparrow singing

I see that my adult ADHD kicked in and I have digressed again. Anyway, I had planned on doing a more thorough test of all three lenses, maybe even setting up my tripod and doing things right for a change. But, while I was shooting with the Sigma and the L series lens, I thought that it wouldn’t be worthwhile to test the 15-85 mm at the same time. It’s just a boring sugar-sand beach that goes on and on, for hundreds of miles, why lengthen it out even more with a wide-angle lens? 🙂

Anyway, I am very happy with the replacement L series lens, but I can’t say as I can see why people go so gaga of the L series lenses, it doesn’t look much if any sharper than the Sigma. I later tested the 15-85 mm lens, and found out that it is just as sharp as both of the longer lenses, so now I no longer have any reason to blame my equipment when I take crappy photos. And I do still take crappy photos, even though I know that they will be crappy when I shoot them.

I saw a common loon in Mona Lake, I knew that the lighting was horrid, but I shot three photos anyway. I’m not going to post them, as something else is occurring now, the majority of the photos I take are good. For some reason, I find myself not wanting to post the bad ones any longer. Don’t worry, I’ll still post a few now and then. 😉

One more thing about the time that I spent comparing the lenses on the beach. I said earlier that the results that I see from the Canon are predictable, and they are. I knew that the shots on the beach were likely to be a little over-exposed with the Canon. So, not only did I check the lenses, I also played with the exposure compensation at the same time. I shot the series with each lens with the exposure compensation set at 0, -1/3, and -2/3 stop compensation, and just as I suspected, -1/3 stop came out the best, with both lenses. I’m feeling like a real photographer again!

I shot a few other subjects with the L series lens, it’s a keeper, but I won’ bore you with those photos, as they’re nothing special, besides, you all want to see your favorite punk rocker ducks, the red-breasted mergansers, don’t you?

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

None of those were cropped either, and they were taken at the Muskegon channel, my second stop of the day. I have to say that some good weather and a good camera and lens makes for some much better photos than I am used to turning out!

A walk up and down the channel didn’t yield many more waterfowl photos, just a few coots, a goose, and a mute swan on her nest, nothing special, so I’m not going to bore you with them. I did however manage a few photos of a pair of barn swallows taking a break.

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow wondering what the heck was being pointed at it

Barn swallow wondering what the heck was being pointed at it

I think that the barn swallow was looking into the lens hood of the Sigma lens thinking that it would be a good place to build its nest.

Other than a flyby from a turkey vulture….

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

…I have no other photos from the channel to add here. With warmer weather, and increased boat traffic, the channel won’t be the birding hotspot that it has been this winter until next fall. But, I’ll probably stop now and then, as you never know what you will find there.

My next stop was the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, a small area on the northeast corner of Muskegon Lake, where the north branch of the Muskegon River enters the lake. It’s a marshy area, and it may exemplify how a small parcel of land in the right hands can become a nice little touch of nature in a developed area. The preserve is tucked in between a major highway to the east, and a condominium/marina to the west.

The Muskegon Environmental Research & Education Society has done a great job of building a series of boardwalks and observation towers there, and the preserve serves not only as a home to many species of birds, but also as a resting area for birds during migration. I’ve stopped there once or twice before, and I think that I have mentioned it previously.

Anyway, the place was filled with birds on Sunday, both residents and migrants. The birding started before I had crossed the footbridge from the parking lot into the preserve proper. These are not great photos, but I saw this brown bird under the footbridge. It looks similar to a female cowbird, but not exactly, and it didn’t behave like a cowbird at all.

???

???

???

???

I say that it didn’t behave like a cowbird, for one thing, it was by itself, and cowbirds typically are found in flocks. It was secretive, staying in the thick brush, while cowbirds generally prefer open fields. It never made a sound, and cowbirds are often very vocal. I’m not sure what it was, probably a cowbird looking for a nest of another species of bird in which to lay an egg.

There were hundreds of ruby-crowned kinglets flitting around.

IMG_1041

Male Ruby-crowned kinglet

They kept me quite busy trying to keep up with them, and also avoiding them. I had one in the viewfinder, and just as I was about to click the shutter, the kinglet flew straight at the camera lens. They may be tiny little birds, but seen through a 500 mm lens at less than 5 feet, they can appear quite large when headed straight at you. A couple of others almost touched me as they went past me. Swinging the Sigma lens around getting the photos that I did started to wear me out.

The kinglets are far from the only birds that were there.

Eastern phoebe

Eastern phoebe

Female red-winged blackbird

Female red-winged blackbird

Carolina wren singing

Carolina wren singing

Carolina wren

Carolina wren

Somewhere in this timeframe, two things happened that negatively affected my photos. One, a layer of heavy cloud cover moved in. And two, I either accidentally bumped, or more likely forgot to reset the exposure compensation on my camera so that it was set to -1/3 compensation, at exactly the wrong time with the clouds. Being a complete idiot, I didn’t notice that until much later.

But, in spite of that, I got fair photos of a yellow-bellied sapsucker at work drilling holes in the bark of trees.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker

Yellow-bellied sapsucker

Yellow-bellied sapsucker

Yellow-bellied sapsucker

Then, a rather strange thing happened, maybe it isn’t strange, maybe it’s just something I’ve never seen before.

A couple of chickadees tried to drink the sap oozing from the holes drilled by the sapsucker.

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

But, every time the chickadees got close to the sap, a yellow rumped warbler would drive the chickadees off, and drink the sap itself.

Yellow rumped warbler

Yellow rumped warbler

Getting shots of the small birds fighting over the sap was impossible with the Sigma 150-500, but that didn’t stop my from trying. However, I am not going to post photos of greyish blurs streaking across the frames of my photos.

I knew that some other species of birds would often feed on both the sap, and any insects attracted to the sap, where sapsuckers drill through the bark of trees. But I didn’t know warblers were one of them, and I didn’t know that one would be belligerent about it.

That was near the end of my first lap around the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, I stopped off at my Subaru, had a drink and a snack, and went back around the opposite way. I got a few more (actually many more) photos of the kinglets, yellow rumped warblers, and female red-winged blackbirds.

Ruby-crowned kinglet

Ruby-crowned kinglet

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

Female red-winged blackbird

Female red-winged blackbird

Female red-winged blackbird

Female red-winged blackbird

Even though Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve isn’t very large, two laps around it shooting small birds had left me arm weary from all the four pound arm curls I did while hoisting the Sigma lens up to shoot the photos. I took nearly 400 for the day, and of course missed many times that amount as the birds would move before I could get a shot.

But, I wasn’t done yet, I headed to the Snug Harbor portion of Muskegon State Park to see if there was anything there worth photographing. Just a pair of mute swans in flight.

Mute swans in flight

Mute swans in flight

There were a few other ducks in around as you can see in the background, but not many, and not close enough for a photo. That was OK, as my real reason for stopping there was to check to see if the eagles were nesting, they were!

As I was checking the nest to see if the female was there, I saw this very brave raccoon in a tree quite close to the eagle’s nest.

Raccoon

Raccoon

Since raccoons sometimes raid the nests of birds to eat the eggs, and since eagles are very fierce in defending their nest, I’m surprised that the raccoon wasn’t chased out of the area by the eagles.

It’s hard to get a good shot of the eagle on her nest, as they chose a very tall tree on top of one of the larger hills in the area. But, I’ll throw in one photo, if you look closely, you can see the female’s head.

Female eagle on nest

Female eagle on nest

I stood there for about ten minutes or so, hoping the male would arrive with a meal for his mate. That’s about as long as I like to hang out near the nest, although I can tell that a few people stick around longer, and it doesn’t seem to bother the eagles. This is the fourth year that I know of that they have used this nest, and they attract a crowd at times.

Two couples arrived to look at the nest and eagles, and ask me a lot of questions about eagles, I guess carrying a big lens makes me an expert. 😉 (You would have had to have read the post I did about the snowy owl trip and the guy with the BIG LENS to get that joke)

Anyway, I was standing with my back to the nest, explaining that eagles mate for life and use the same nest every year, when the young hatch, and so on, when the male flew up. I didn’t see if he had brought supper or not, by the time I turned around to see him, he had perched near the nest.

Male bald eagle

Male bald eagle

With a little more light, that would have been a great shot, but it was getting late in the day.

I still wasn’t done, I walked back to the Lost Lake area to see if I could find any wildflowers, as the Lost Lake area is known for marsh wildflowers, but it’s still too early in the year. All I found was a pair of mallards and a pair of pie-billed grebes, here’s one of the grebes, more for the reflections than the grebe itself.

Pie-billed grebe

Pie-billed grebe

On my way back, I gave the Image Stabilization of the Sigma lens and the Canon 60 D body a real test.

Icy moss

Icy moss

That was shot at 500 mm, a shutter speed of 1/200 of a second, and ISO 1600. The photo is hardly spectacular, but I think the results are pretty darned good given the shutter speed and ISO. And, by the time I took that shot, my arms and shoulders ached badly from having carried and used that lens for most of the day. The photos that it produces are so good, I have a hard time convincing myself to switch to one of my other lenses unless the subject demands a shorter lens. I am one happy camper!

By then, the clouds were so thick that it seemed much later in the day than 6 PM, and I had hit 5 areas in total, and shot nearly 400 photos, so I headed home.

On my way home, the clouds broke up and sunshine had returned, so I stopped in downtown Grand Rapids to shoot photos of the flood in progress there. My arms were very glad that shooting the flood called for the use of the 15-85 mm lens, and not the Sigma. 🙂

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


The flood of April 2013

My hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan is experiencing record flooding right now, due to heavy rainfall this month.

This is from a local meteorologist’s blog about how much rain we’ve had.

Officially, Thursday, April 2013 is the wettest April calendar day in Grand Rapids weather history with 3.3″ of rain.  We’ had 14 days in a row with measurable rain (Saturday we had a trace of snow).  We’ve had 9.84 of rain in 14 days, setting a record for the most rain ever in any April.  Serious flooding has shut down dozens of roads and flooded hundreds of basements. Record flooding is occurring on the Grand River in Kent Co.”

So on my way back from a day spent chasing birds in Muskegon, Michigan, I stopped off on my way home and shot a few photos of downtown Grand Rapids. This also gave me a chance to try out my new EF S 15-85 mm lens.

The Grand Rapids flood of 2013

The Grand Rapids flood of 2013

That’s the Sixth Street dam under all that water. This is what it looks like normally.

Sixth Street dam in GR

Sixth Street dam in GR

The Grand Rapids flood of 2013

The Grand Rapids flood of 2013

The Grand Rapids flood of 2013

The Grand Rapids flood of 2013

The Grand Rapids flood of 2013

The Grand Rapids flood of 2013

The Grand Rapids flood of 2013

The Grand Rapids flood of 2013

Red-winged blackbird in the floodwaters

Red-winged blackbird in the floodwaters

Mallards in the floodwaters

Mallards in the floodwaters

Fishing on the grounds of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library

Fishing on the grounds of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library

The Grand Rapids flood of 2013

The Grand Rapids flood of 2013

Pumps trying to keep basements from flooding

Pumps trying to keep basements from flooding

The Grand Rapids flood of 2013

The Grand Rapids flood of 2013

The Grand Rapids flood of 2013

The Grand Rapids flood of 2013

Part of the Grand Rapids museum

Part of the Grand Rapids museum

Are we going the way of the Titanic?

Are we going the way of the Titanic?

There's still snow banks left in places

There’s still snow banks left in places

The river crested today, and is just starting to fall, good news for every one living near the river. Several of the Hotels and condo buildings downtown had to be evacuated, the building that my friend Mike lives in is one of them.

The good news is that the river is going down, the bad news is that it may be a week or more before the damage is repaired, and people will be able to return to their homes. Mike is lucky, he lives on the 23rd floor, so his belongings are high and dry, not so for many other people who will return to homes filled with slimy, stinky river mud.

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


Michigan, why I love it

I started this post on a slightly different topic, but then began adding some facts about the State of Michigan, where I live. Because of questions and comments that I’ve gotten over the last few years I’ve been doing this blog, I thought it would be a good idea to do a post about this great state.

I am going to start with a map and some facts from Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia.

Michigan

Michigan

Michigan is a state located in the Great Lakes region of the Midwestern United States. The name Michigan is the French form of the Ojibwa word mishigamaa, meaning “large water” or “large lake”. Michigan is the 9th most populous of the 50 United States, with the 11th most extensive total area. Its capital is Lansing, and the largest city is Detroit. Michigan was admitted into the Union on January 26, 1837, as the 26th state.

Michigan has the longest freshwater coastline of any political subdivision in the world, being bounded by four of the five Great Lakes, plus Lake Saint Clair. Michigan is one of the leading U.S. states for recreational boating. The state has 64,980 inland lakes and ponds. A person in the state is never more than six miles (9.7 km) from a natural water source or more than 85 miles (137 km) from a Great Lakes shoreline.

It is the largest state by total area east of the Mississippi River.

Michigan is the only state to consist of two peninsulas. The Lower Peninsula, to which the name Michigan was originally applied, is often noted to be shaped like a mitten. The Upper Peninsula (often referred to as “the U.P.”) is separated from the Lower Peninsula by the Straits of Mackinac, a five-mile (8 km) channel that joins Lake Huron to Lake Michigan. The two peninsulas are connected by the Mackinac Bridge. While sparsely populated, the Upper Peninsula is economically important due to its status as a tourist destination as well as its abundance of natural resources.

The Great Lakes that border Michigan from east to west are Lake Erie, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.

The heavily forested Upper Peninsula is relatively mountainous in the west. The Porcupine Mountains, which are part of one of the oldest mountain chains in the world, rise to an altitude of almost 2,000 feet (610 m) above sea level and form the watershed between the streams flowing into Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. The surface on either side of this range is rugged. The state’s highest point, in the Huron Mountains northwest of Marquette, is Mount Arvon at 1,979 feet (603 m). The peninsula is as large as Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island combined but has fewer than 330,000 inhabitants. They are sometimes called “Yoopers” (from “U.P.’ers”), and their speech (the “Yooper dialect”) has been heavily influenced by the numerous Scandinavian and Canadian immigrants who settled the area during the lumbering and mining boom of the late 19th century.

The Lower Peninsula is shaped like a mitten and many residents hold up a hand to depict where they are from. It is 277 miles (446 km) long from north to south and 195 miles (314 km) from east to west and occupies nearly two-thirds of the state’s land area. The surface of the peninsula is generally level, broken by conical hills and glacial moraines usually not more than a few hundred feet tall. It is divided by a low water divide running north and south. The larger portion of the state is on the west of this and gradually slopes toward Lake Michigan. The highest point in the Lower Peninsula is either Briar Hill at 1,705 feet (520 m), or one of several points nearby in the vicinity of Cadillac. The lowest point is the surface of Lake Erie at 571 feet (174 m).

Numerous lakes and marshes mark both peninsulas, and the coast is much indented. Keweenaw Bay, Whitefish Bay, and the Big and Little Bays De Noc are the principal indentations on the Upper Peninsula. The Grand and Little Traverse, Thunder, and Saginaw bays indent the Lower Peninsula. Michigan has the second longest shoreline of any state, 3,288 miles (5,292 km), including 1,056 miles (1,699 km) of island shoreline.

The state has numerous large islands, the principal ones being the North Manitou and South Manitou, Beaver, and Fox groups in Lake Michigan; Isle Royale and Grande Isle in Lake Superior; Marquette, Bois Blanc, and Mackinac islands in Lake Huron; and Neebish, Sugar, and Drummond islands in St. Mary’s River. Michigan has about 150 lighthouses, the most of any U.S. state. The first lighthouses in Michigan were built between 1818 and 1822. They were built to project light at night and to serve as a landmark during the day to safely guide the passenger ships and freighters traveling the Great Lakes.

The state’s rivers are generally small, short and shallow, and few are navigable. The principal ones include the Detroit River, St. Marys River, and St. Clair River which connect the Great Lakes; the Au Sable, Cheboygan, and Saginaw, which flow into Lake Huron; the Ontonagon, and Tahquamenon, which flow into Lake Superior; and the St. Joseph, Kalamazoo, Grand, Muskegon, Manistee, and Escanaba, which flow into Lake Michigan.

The state has 11,037 inland lakes (totaling 1,305 square miles (3,380 km2) of inland water) in addition to 38,575 square miles (99,910 km2) of Great Lakes waters. No point in Michigan is more than six miles (10 km) from an inland lake or more than 85 miles (137 km) from one of the Great Lakes.

The state is home to a number of areas maintained by the National Park Service including: Isle Royale National Park, located in Lake Superior, about 30 miles (48 km) southeast of Thunder Bay, Ontario. Other national protected areas in the state include: Keweenaw National Historical Park, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Huron National Forest, Manistee National Forest, Hiawatha National Forest, Ottawa National Forest and Father Marquette National Memorial. The largest section of the North Country National Scenic Trail passes through Michigan.

With 78 state parks, 19 state recreation areas, and 6 state forests, Michigan has the largest state park and state forest system of any state.

Michigan is fifty percent forest land, much of it quite remote. Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources manages the largest dedicated state forest system in the nation. Public hiking and hunting access has also been secured in extensive commercial forests.

With its position in relation to the Great Lakes and the countless ships that have foundered over the many years in which they have been used as a transport route for people and bulk cargo, Michigan is a world-class scuba diving destination. The Michigan Underwater Preserves are 11 underwater areas where wrecks are protected for the benefit of sport divers.

And now, a little about how the shape and geographical location come into play as far as birding.

Because the Great Lakes are more like inland freshwater seas than lakes, they provide habitat for species of waterfowl that would only be seen along the east or west coast of America otherwise, not in the heart of the north American continent, where Michigan is.

To give a little perspective, Lake Michigan is just over 300 miles long, and averages about 100 miles wide. It’s the Great Lake closest to me, the long, narrow lake to the west of Michigan.

Because many smaller species of birds won’t migrate across the lengths of the Great Lakes, their migration routes take them through Michigan, and the shape of the state acts as a funnel of sorts, concentrating those birds in several small areas where they are able to cross shorter expanses of water.

One of those places where birds congregate during migration is the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, and here’s a blurb from their website that explains it better than I can.

“Whitefish Point provides a phenomenal concentration spot for migrant birds. Here, land and water features create a natural migration corridor. Tens of thousands of birds are funneled to the Point every Spring and Fall while migrating through the Great Lakes region. For over 30 years, Whitefish Point Bird Observatory has been monitoring and documenting these annual migrations. Our mission is to document the distribution and abundance of birds in the Great Lakes Region, with special emphasis on migration.”

And because Michigan has a long history of being in the forefront of protecting wildlife, most of the concentration points along the bird migration routes are protected areas, and most of those are open to the public. There are a few spots that are considered to be so environmentally critical to wildlife that they are closed to the general public. Those are mostly islands in the Great Lakes, where human visitors could force tired birds that needed to rest before flying on to the next land mass to take flight before they are rested enough to make it to the next land.

So there’s a quick overview of my home state. Doing this post points out something to me, that I need to retrace many of my earlier trips around the state to update my photo collection! And also to do more posts about Michigan, and our many attractions, both natural and man-made.

Most of my photos of the scenic wonders of Michigan are in the form of slides, not much use for posting here. There have been times over the past few years when I thought about stopping at a particular spot to take photos, but I’ve stopped myself, telling myself that I had already been there and photographed those places. But in doing this post, I had the urge to use the photos from Wikipedia to illustrate this post, remembering how beautiful those places are.

Hopefully, this will start another project for me, much more in line with my original intentions when I began this blog, highlighting many of Michigan’s great wonders. It will go well with the My Life List project that I am doing on the birds of Michigan. I’ll just have to stop and smell the wild roses!


Now what?

I’ve made it 1/4 of the way through the list of bird species that I am working from for My Photo Life List, all well and good. However, I am adding about one species a day as far as photos for posts in the future, just as I was finally nearing the end of my saved photos for the project. So, now what do I do?

I don’t want to continue posting a species a day, I’d rather slow down and blog about other things. I still have photos of subjects other than birds that I shot last summer and fall that I thought that I would get around to posting long before this, but they were taken with my old, now dead, Nikon.

I’m thinking of resurrecting the old “My Week” series that I was doing until last summer, I really liked keeping and having a journal of my daily walks, condensed into a weekly blog post.

OK, I’m going to do it, it may be sparse at times, but I really liked doing that series. So, starting next Monday, that series will be revived, and posted on Saturdays. I changed my mind, this will be the first post in the revived My Week series.

I am going to start a draft post for each of the new species that I have photographed this week, and post them at one per week, I haven’t picked a day for that yet.

I am going to delete all those older photos I still have stored on my computer, some were good, but nothing special, and nothing that I won’t duplicate at higher quality with my new camera and lenses over time.

If you remember, I posted a snippet from a local meteorologist that stated that the computer models were predicting some rain in every 6 hour period this week. Wrong!

There were two nights when we got rain, heavy rain at times, compounding the flooding going on. But, it has cleared up nicely everyday this week at about the time that I go for my daily walk. In fact, this has been far and away the nicest week this spring up until today, which is Wednesday as I start this. Never trust a meteorologist and his computer models is the moral of this story, so far. We’ve received a lot of rain, but it hasn’t been nearly constant as predicted, which is a good thing.

I am officially now an old fart! I bought a pair of suspenders this last weekend, and I have been wearing them this week. Why am I adding this, because I am darned tired of throwing good money away!

I started taking my daily walks as a way of losing the weight that I had gained as an over the road truck driver. I have been losing that weight on a slow, steady basis ever since I started walking, and have now dropped 50+ pounds.

As I have been losing the weight, I needed a new belt to fit my still large, but shrinking waistline. I did so just a couple of months ago, and last week, that almost new belt just fell apart on me.

Come on, a belt is nothing more than a strip of leather with a buckle attached, and they charge $30 for one? That’s outrageous enough to begin with, then the darn things fall apart in just a few months! I’m not putting up with that crap, hence the suspenders. If it had been just one belt, I would think that I had managed to pick a defective one, but none of the belts I purchased the last few years has lasted more than a couple of months.

So, am I old, or am I cheap, or am I both, I don’t care. I’m not paying $120 a year for $2 worth of cowhide. I have better things to spend my money on, like more camera gear! I’ll wear suspenders and look like an old fart before I do something that silly as far as buying new belts every few months.

OK, done with that little rant, I said that the weather had been quite nice, it was, nice enough that the crocus have begun to bloom.

Crocus

Crocus

I’m finding that it is hard to be creative with flower photos with the Sigma 150-500 mm lens, but it does do a nice job as far as colors. I am hoping to do many more flower photos soon, when more appear, and I’ll have a lens more suitable for that purpose.

Back to birds, and how to spot new species of them. I spotted a chipping sparrow in a bush.

Chipping sparrow

Chipping sparrow

There was another sparrow singing in the same bush that looked very similar to the chipping sparrow, but it wasn’t singing like a chipping sparrow. That required further investigation, leading me to see a new to me species, a field sparrow.

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

You can see the difference if you look closely, the field sparrow is lacking the dark line on its face that the chipping sparrow has.

The differences between related species is very slight at times, it really pays to look closely. I may have seen thousands of field sparrows before, and never noticed that they were slightly different than the more common chipping sparrows. That’s the same thing that led me to “discover” American tree sparrows a couple of months ago. A slightly different chirping sound than the chipping sparrow makes.

And I thought that up until now, that I had paid attention to bird songs and sounds, I guess not.

Here’s a couple of species that are familiar, first a robin…

American robin

American robin

…just to demonstrate how sharp the Sigma lens is!

Then, a wild turkey in flight.

Turkey in flight

Turkey in flight

I had spotted the flock of turkeys earlier, and I thought that I would get around to them sooner or later, when the one in the photo came flying at me, and I just had to shoot it for practice. Not bad for shooting through the trees.

I say I was going to get around to the flock of turkeys, at the time I was busy shooting the towhees.

Male eastern towhee

Male eastern towhee

After the turkey flyby, I found this little bugger, a yellow-bellied flycatcher.

Yellow-bellied flycatcher

Yellow-bellied flycatcher

I had the zoom lock of the Sigma lens locked, and couldn’t get it unlocked quickly enough for how fast that bird was, so I shot it with the lens set at 150 mm.

I’m finding that it works better to not attempt to zoom in all the way on smaller birds most of the time, unless it is a junco that’s sitting in one spot while preening after a bath.

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

By Tuesday, there were daffodils blooming in the sunshine.

Dafodills

daffodils

And on Wednesday, I found another new to me species of bird, a ruby-crowned kinglet.

Ruby-crowned kinglet

Ruby-crowned kinglet

Ruby-crowned kinglet

Ruby-crowned kinglet

They are just as quick as their cousins, the golden-crowned kinglets, and only slightly slower than an electron in orbit inside of an atom. I never did get zoomed in all the way on that little bugger, nor did I catch him fully displaying his red crown, although that’s how I spotted him in the first place.

I also see deer about weekly around here.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

And, one of my favorite species of birds, the brown thrashers have arrived for the summer.

Brown thrasher singing
Brown thrasher singing

They are related to mockingbirds and catbirds, and sing in a similar fashion, unstructured songs that can go on and on, unless some jerk with a camera frightens them off.

More good news, I’m making friends with another pair of red-tailed hawks.

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 in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

You can see that there are two different hawks in the photos, one is missing a few tail feathers. I assume that it is a mated pair, as I see them hunting together very often.

Well, that brings me up to Wednesday afternoon. The weather forecast for the rest of the week isn’t looking good, and the clouds rolled in today as you can see in the hawk photos. So I don’t know how many photos I’ll get the rest of this week.

Next week, I’ll start doing the My Week series in its old format, jotting down notes on each day’s walk.

Thursday

Well, the heavy rains came late yesterday afternoon into this morning. There are many areas of localized flooding, including the state highway that my place of employment is on. I had to take a detour with the truck last night to get to the shop, and then again to get home.

There was a break in the rain for a while this morning, looking at the radar online, I thought that I could get an entire walk in before the next squall line hit, almost.

Since I knew that there was the possibility that I would get caught in the rain, I took the Canon 70-200 mm lens with me today.

I haven’t posted many photos taken with that lens, as quite frankly, none of them have been very good. Not what I would expect from a Canon L series lens. Here’s a couple from today.

Goose fight

Goose fight

Goose landing

Goose landing

Brown thrasher singing

Brown thrasher singing

Crawfish

Crayfish

Crawfish

Crayfish

The last two beg the question, why do the crayfish cross the road? I have no idea, but there were several of them on the road through the park that I walk in everyday.

Maybe it’s because of how saturated the ground is everywhere?

Anyway the last two were also taken using the flash, and should have been much better than they are. So, since I was going to pick up the last lens for my kit today anyway, I brought the 70-200 mm back to the store. We played with it and their demo lens, and their lens seemed at least a bit sharper. I ended up exchanging the lens I had purchased for a new one to see if that will perform any better. Of course, I also grabbed the EF S 15-85 mm lens as well. I have shot a couple of indoor shots with it, and it looks like a winner so far. I hated exchanging the 70-200 without knowing for sure if there was something wrong with it or not, but how does one know for sure?

The Sigma is producing photos that have exceeded my expectations, it is an excellent lens, without out any qualifications. Throw in the fact that it is relatively inexpensive as a bonus rather than a qualifier. I should explain that better. I have seen many comments in other places to the effect that the Sigma 150-500 mm lens is an excellent lens for the money. In my humble opinion, from what it has done for me so far, you can drop the “for the money” part of those comments and just say that it is an excellent lens. I look at the junco shots and I can’t believe how sharp that they are. A 500 mm Canon L series lens may be sharper, I can’t tell you that, but at almost ten times the price of the Sigma, it better be sharper than the 70-200 that I have.

A Canon L series lens should at least produce photos of equal quality, but the first 70-200 hasn’t done that. In fact, the photos it produced were not much if any better than the Nikon 70-300 lens I was using.

We’ll see how it performs outdoors tomorrow, along with the new 15-85 lens.

With all the rain that’s been coming down, I am going to have a hard time finding someplace to hike this coming weekend, and maybe a hard time getting around anywhere due to roads flooded or washed away.

The county park that I visit often on weekends will be under water, I’m sure of that. Buck Creek flows through that park, and the city that surrounds that park has declared a state of emergency due to the flooding along Buck Creek, and the Grand River, which is where the creek ends up.

Parts of the Muskegon State Game Area were already under water last weekend, it will be worse this weekend. I’ll figure something out by Saturday, I hope.

A few more words about my walk today, as always seems to be the case just before a storm hits, the birds and other critters were very active as I was walking, but it was so dark and gloomy that any photos would have been junk if I had bothered to stop and take any. Besides, 3/4 of the way through my walk, I heard thunder rolling in the distance, and didn’t want to get caught out in the open in a thunderstorm. I don’t mind getting wet, but I would prefer to not be struck by lightning. I’ve had one close call, that’s enough for this wimp!

Friday

I’m going to start today by posting a snippet from the local weather forecast.

Officially, Thursday, April 18 2013 is the wettest April day in Grand Rapids weather history with 3.3″ of rain.  We’ve had 13 days in a row with measurable rain.  We’ve had 9.54″ of rain in the last 13 days, setting a record for the most rain ever in any April.  Serious flooding has shut down dozens of roads.”

I guess that it means the drought we suffered last year is over. As is so often the case it seems, droughts end with torrential rainfall causing flooding. However, there is an upside to all this rain.

The heavy rain over the past week has boosted the water level of Lake Michigan by a whopping 3 inches in just the past week.  Since each inch represents 390 billion gallons of water, that’s an increase of 1.17 trillion gallons of water on Lake Michigan in just 7 days! With the Great Lakes at near record lows, that’s a good thing!

Now then, for my walk today. It was cloudy, cold, with a gale out of the west driving intermittent snow/rain squalls through the area, a great day to test out new lenses, NOT!

But, I did anyway. I took the replacement 70-200 and the new 15-85 lenses with me today. It’s funny, even though the Sigma is a pain in the shoulders to carry, I have already developed so much confidence in that lens that I hate walking out the door with it, even on a nasty day like today.

I started out with the 70-200 lens on the camera, a good choice, for I had just reached the walking trail when I ran int a flock of Golden-crowned kinglets to play with for a while. These aren’t very good shots, but I think that they illustrate how difficult it can be to get a photo of one of these little buggers.

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

It’s hard to tell from photos taken under such horrible lighting, but I can see a marked improvement in both the sharpness and color with the replacement lens over the original. I can’t wait to see what this lens will produce with some light!

I considered boosting the ISO up to 800 or so, but that wouldn’t have been a true test of the replacement lens versus the original. Come to think of it, I did that with the original lens, and it didn’t seem to make a difference.

I will say this, the 70-200 lens is much easier to use as far as following small birds like the kinglets around in the brush. They never really sit still, even when they are perched for a few seconds, they are still moving, twisting their head and body around looking for their next meal. I’ve found that I never have the time to take full advantage of the Sigma’s longer length anyway, and the 70-200 is so much easier to swing around, and even keep the kinglets in the viewfinder as they flit from branch to branch. I got several photos of them doing that, moving around in the branches, but there was so little light that the birds are just blurs. I do see possibilities though.

This next shot of a female bluebird was a test of one of Canon’s features, you can use manual and auto-focus together while the camera s set in one shot auto-focus. The bluebird was too far away, in so little light that the auto-focus didn’t lock in precisely on the bird. I was able to tweak the focus using the manual focus ring for this shot.

Female eastern bluebird

Female eastern bluebird

I wanted to try out the 15-85 mm as well, but I “discovered” a problem most of you may be familiar with, how do you change lenses in terrible weather conditions?

I didn’t want to expose the inner workings of the lenses or camera to the wind and precipitation, so I had to go looking for a somewhat sheltered area to make the change. I knew that any further bird shots were probably out of the question, as I wasn’t about to switch lenses a second time in that weather.

With no dramatically beautiful landscape opportunities, I made do with what there was, the park that I walk in.

At 15 mm.

Kent County Creekside Park

Kent County Creekside Park

Everything the same but at 85 mm.

Kent County Creekside Park

Kent County Creekside Park

I’m really happy with the zoom range of that lens, but I can tell that I am going to have to relearn landscape photography from the ground up. And, given the weather conditions, I’m really happy with the lens’ performance as well. Especially after seeing this shot of a daffodil.

Daffodils

Daffodils

In this small version, it’s hard to see the level of detail captured as far as the stamen of the flower to the left, which is what I focused on, but believe me, it’s there.

I think that I picked a winner in this lens, between the zoom range and the fact that it will focus down to 1 foot and almost function as a macro lens. Now all I need is some sun to verify that.

So much for Friday, I’m still not sure what I am going to do, or where I am going to go tomorrow. I thought about taking a scenic drive to test out the new 15-85 mm lens, but it makes no sense to do that this time of the year before everything greens up for spring.

Saturday

Even though American Avocets have been spotted over towards Muskegon, I have decided to stay around home today.

For one thing, it was miserable driving last night for work.

April snow brings?

April snow brings?

That’s right, a snowstorm in April, the second half of April.

I woke up this morning to what I thought was sunshine brightening up my apartment, but when I looked out the window, I saw that it was actually cloudy outside, but it seemed brighter than normal because of the light reflecting off from the snow covering what isn’t flooded.

OK, there isn’t any real flooding just outside my apartment, but I don’t have to go very far in any direction to find flooded areas. Several friends have been forced out of their abodes due to the flooding. Here’s another snippet from the local meteorologist.

Through Friday, we’ve had 14 consecutive days with measurable rain.  During that time we’ve had 9.84″ of rain, making this the wettest April ever.  Also, over the last 15 days, we’ve had only 14.2% sunshine.  The average for April is 52%.  The 3.3″ of rain on 4/18 was the wettest calendar day ever in April in G.R. and one of only 16 days going back to the late 1800s with 3.3″ of rain in a calendar day.

Then we get snow, I sure titled this post right, “Now what” is right.

I’m fooling around waiting for the sunshine promised in the forecast for today to make an appearance. I’ll work on my camera bag to get all my new lenses to fit while I’m waiting. I think that I can make the one I have worked temporarily, but I’m afraid that I really need a larger one.

Well, today was good exercise, and another learning experience, I’ll say that. I waited until almost noon, ate lunch instead of breakfast, then did my walk, most of the time it was snowing. Of course now that I’m typing this, there’s some sun, isn’t that the way it always goes?

I tried to make the best of it, but I wasn’t able to give either the replacement 70-200 mm or new 15-85 mm lenses a true test. I did give the Sigma a light workout, starting with a northern flicker that I was able to sneak up on.

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

It spotted me, and tried to escape.

Northern flicker in flight

Northern flicker in flight

Then, to prove that birds aren’t the only thing I shoot, I found this fungus growing 40 feet up in the crotch of a tree.

Weird fungus

Weird fungus

But, it was soon back to birds.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

I really like the way that I am able to pick birds out of the brush with this new combo, not to mention how sharp my photos are now. Well, for the most part. Here’s one that isn’t great, but it does show the snowflakes blowing past the grackle.

Common grackle watching the snowflakes blow past it.

Common grackle watching the snowflakes blow past it.

There were a few pockets of sunshine, each lasting all of ten seconds or so, during one of which I caught this fox squirrel eating its lunch.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

During another all too brief patch of sunshine, I shot a couple of ice photos.

Ice building up on branches next to a stream

Ice building up on branches next to a stream

Ice building up on branches next to a stream

Ice building up on branches next to a stream

But in the thirty seconds or so it took me to walk from that point to along side the pond that the stream flows from, the clouds had rolled back in, just in time for this.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

I forgot to switch the image stabilization to the proper mode, and it shows. On top of that, for all but the first shot in the series, I was shooting through a chain link fence, silly me.

Sorry, I’m more than just a little bummed out. I really was looking forward to trying out all my lenses today, but the weather just will not cooperate even a little. Along with the nearly constant snow falling, the wind was very strong out of the west, and it was cold, as you can tell because of the ice photos.

Not only did that limit possible photo subjects, but I couldn’t see switching lenses and risking getting moisture in the inner working of my new equipment just to shoot something to say that I shot it, since any photos wouldn’t have been very good anyway.

I know that I’m whining about the weather a lot, but it’s been bad for months now, and I’m tired of getting one nice day a week if we’re lucky. The second half of winter was much colder, snowier, and cloudy than average. Now, we’re receiving record rainfall and near record flooding. And, just to rub salt into the wound, there’s a good chance that we’ll set a record low temperature for the day.

It’s all this guy’s fault!

Groundhog

Groundhog

We’ve had crappy weather around here ever since he predicted an early spring!

Before I rant about the weather any more, I’m going to end this one now, and hope that next week is better. And, please don’t say that it can’t get any worse, because it could, and I’d rather not have that happen. 😉

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


Field Sparrow, Spizella pusilla

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.

Field Sparrow, Spizella pusilla

The Field Sparrow is a small sparrow.

Adults have brown upper parts, a light brown breast, a white belly, wing bars and a forked tail. They have a grey face, a rusty crown, a white eye ring and a pink bill.

Their breeding habitat is shrubby fields across eastern North America. The nest is an open cup on the ground under a clump of grass or in a small thicket.

These birds are permanent residents in the southern parts of their range. Northern birds migrate to the southern United States and Mexico.

These birds forage on the ground or in low vegetation, mainly eating insects and seeds. They may feed in small flocks outside the nesting season.

The male sings from a higher perch, such as a shrub or fencepost, which indicates his ownership of the nesting territory. The song is a series of sad whistles ending in a trill.

This bird’s numbers expanded as settlers cleared forests in eastern North America, but may have declined in more recent times.

On to my photos:

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

 

This is number 89 in my photo life list, only 261 to go!

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

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Eastern Towhee, Pipilo erythrophthalmus

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.

Eastern Towhee, Pipilo erythrophthalmus

The Eastern Towhee is a large New World sparrow. The taxonomy of the towhees has been under debate in recent decades, and formerly this bird and the Spotted Towhee were considered a single species, the Rufous-sided Towhee.

Their breeding habitat is brushy areas across eastern North America. They nest either low in bushes or on the ground under shrubs. Northern birds migrate to the southern United States. There has been one record of this species as a vagrant to western Europe; a single bird in Great Britain in 1966.

The song is a short Drink your teeeeea lasting around one second, starting with a sharp call (“drink!”) and ending with a short trill “teeeeea”. The name “towhee” is a onomatopoeic description of one of the towhee’s most common calls, a short two-part call rising in pitch and sometimes also called a “chewink” call.

The eastern towhee occurs throughout the eastern United States and south-east Canada. Occurrences from southern Saskatchewan, South-west Ontario and Quebec south to Florida, and west to eastern Texas are noted in a literature review. Populations north of southern New England through northern Indiana and Illinois to southern Iowa are primarily summer residents.

Eastern towhees primarily eat on the ground, although they also glean from vegetation. Eastern towhees eat a variety of plant and animal matter. They eat seeds and fruits, several invertebrates, and occasionally small amphibians, snakes, and lizards. Insects such as beetles, grasshoppers and crickets, ants, wasps, bees, and moths and caterpillars are common prey items. Eastern towhees eat other invertebrates such as spiders , millipedes, centipedes, and snails to a lesser extent. Plants that comprise at least 5% of the eastern towhee diet include ragweed, oak, smartweed, and corn in the Northeast and blackberry, oak, ragweed, and wax-myrtle in the Southeast.

Look for Eastern Towhees in brush, tangles, thickets, and along forest edges where there’s plenty of leaf litter for the birds to forage in.

On to my photos:

Male eastern towhee

Male eastern towhee

Male eastern towhee

Male eastern towhee

Male eastern towhee

Male eastern towhee

Male eastern towhee

Male eastern towhee

Male eastern towhee

Male eastern towhee

Female eastern towhee

Female eastern towhee

This is number 88 in my photo life list, only 262 to go!

Yahoo! I have made it 1/4 of the way through the Audubon Society list that I am working from!

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

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Warbling Vireo, Vireo gilvus

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.

Warbling Vireo, Vireo gilvus

The Warbling Vireo is a small North American songbird.

Its breeding habitat is open deciduous and mixed woods from Alaska to Mexico and the Florida Panhandle. It often nests along streams. It migrates to Mexico and Central America.

Adults are 12 cm long and weigh 12 g. They are mainly olive-grey on the head and upper parts with white underparts; they have brown eyes and the front of the face is light. There is a white supercilium. They have thick blue-grey legs and a stout bill. Western birds are generally smaller and have darker grey crowns.

They forage for insects in trees, hopping along branches and sometimes hovering. They also eat berries, especially before migration and in winter quarters, where they are like other vireos, apparently quite fond of Gumbo-limbo seeds, though they will not venture into human-modified habitat to get them.

They make a deep cup nest suspended from a tree branch or shrub, placed relatively high in the east and lower in the west. The male helps with incubation and may sing from the nest.

Their song is a cheerful warble, similar to that of the Painted Bunting.

On to my photos:

Warbling vireo

Warbling vireo

Warbling vireo

Warbling vireo

This is number 87 in my photo life list, only 263 to go!

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

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Learning a few lessons

On Sunday, April 14, I drove over to Muskegon for a day of birding, using my new camera and lenses. Since part of the day consisted of photographing waterfowl from my vehicle, drive by birding as I call it, I am going to bore every one to start by heaping praise on my new Subaru.

I Love my Forester! I filled up the gas tank before starting for Muskegon, and with a tailwind on my way there, the display for the fuel mileage was reading just under 32 MPG! Not bad for a small all wheel drive SUV. I say small, because that’s how the Forester is classified, there’s more head and leg room in it than in my old Ford Explorer, and just as much cargo space in the rear. Yet the Forester drives like a vehicle much smaller then the Explorer, as far as how nimble it is. And, getting almost 32 MPG sure beats the 20 MPG that was the best the Explorer ever got.

However, I found out that the extra cabin space was actually a hindrance while trying to shoot photos from inside of the Forester. The old Explorer was so narrow that I could easily open the passenger side window, and stick my lens out when required for photography purposes.

The Forester is just enough wider that I found it extremely difficult to do the same thing in it. But, part of that is the due to the size and weight of the Sigma 150-500 mm lens as well.

Anyway, if you’re in the market for a fun to drive, safe, fuel-efficient, well-built vehicle, you owe it to yourself to at least check out a Subaru. They’re not sexy, but they get the job done.

Next up, the weather report. The forecast called for morning rain/snow showers, with clearing and possible sunshine for the afternoon. The rain/snow was over here in Grand Rapids when I set out, but I ran into it again just as I got to Muskegon. Boy, did I ever, as you will see.

My first stop was the Muskegon County wastewater treatment facility, and just as I pulled in, the snow really picked up in intensity, reducing visibility to less than a quarter of a mile. It was snowing so hard that the ground was soon covered, in spite of the fact that the temperature was above freezing.

In the very first pond that I came to, there was a pair of hooded mergansers taking shelter from the storm. This is when I learned that I couldn’t shoot photos out of the passenger side window of my Forester. So, I drove past them, turned around and came back, and to my surprise, they sat there as I started shooting photos. I was overjoyed! They are such skittish birds, I couldn’t believe it when I could zoom in on them to the point where I could see the water dripping from the male’s bill in the viewfinder of my camera as I was shooting. What I didn’t know, but the birds must have, was that the photos I was taking would come out like crap because of the heavy snow falling at the time.

Hooded merganser pair

Hooded merganser pair

Believe me, it looked much better through the viewfinder.

So, I drove around the west lagoon, blissfully shooting photos of bufflehead, golden eye, northern shovelers, coots, ruddy ducks, etc. thinking that I was getting some really good photos. Because of the bad weather, as is often the case, the birds were holding tight, not wanting to move from the sheltered areas in which they were holding. What I didn’t know was that I was actually shooting photos of the falling snow as much or more than I was shooting photos of waterfowl. But, I didn’t now that until I got back home and downloaded the photos to my computer.

One lesson I did learn right there at the time was to never shut the camera off. I hate to harp about the position of the on/off switch on the Canon 60D, but the second or two I lose while fumbling for the switch is enough for a bird to take flight, or dive to avoid being photographed. After a couple of instances when I missed the opportunity to take a shot of the falling snow with a duck in the background, I left the camera on except when I was travelling to other areas….

Horned grebe in the snow

Horned grebe in the snow

Battery life is good enough to let me get away with it.

I used that last shot for a couple of reasons. One is that the horned grebes are beginning to change to their breeding colors. The second was to show just how hard it was snowing, you can see snow on the grebe’s back because the snow was coming down faster than it would melt off from the grebe.

By the time I got to the back corner of the west lagoon, the snow was letting up, and I managed to salvage a few shots.

A pair of Ruddy ducks

A pair of Ruddy ducks

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

Female northern shoveler

Female northern shoveler

American coot

American coot

Blue winged teal

Blue winged teal

Herring gull

Herring gull

Herring gull

Herring gull

There were few waterfowl in the east lagoon, I have no idea why, but that’s the way it was. There were however, dozens if not hundreds of tree swallows skimming over the waterways that ring the lagoons, and connect the ponds together. Feeling really brave, I tried my hand at photographing the swallows in flight, and here’s the best of a half a dozen attempts.

Tree swallow in flight

Tree swallow in flight

Keeping a 500 mm lens on a swallow in flight is no easy task, this female gadwall proved to be a little easier.

Female gadwall in flight

Female gadwall in flight

But, I missed the male, darn.

This meadowlark fell victim to camera shake I believe, because I was trying to shoot through the passenger window of my Forester, and couldn’t get into a steady position.

Meadowlark

Meadowlark

Meadowlark

Meadowlark

I was able to catch this kestrel through the driver’s side window, some sun would have helped this one out.

American kestrel

American kestrel

I drove around the north end of the wastewater facility, but found nothing special worth photographing. By that time though, the sun was breaking through the clouds. I thought about going around the lagoons again, but I didn’t know how bad the photos I had taken previously were, and I had other stops I wanted to make. That, and more people were showing up since the weather was getting nicer. I looked for the hooded mergansers, they were gone, and I saw several cars working the lagoons, so I doubted if I would get as close to the waterfowl as I had earlier, when I was the only one there.

I headed up to the headquarters for the Muskegon State Game area, to do some walking rather than driving. I learned another lesson there.

The Sigma lens came with a very nice carrying case, complete with strap. I had the Sigma on the camera, but had placed the Canon 70-200 mm lens in the case to make it easy to carry, I thought. The strap on the case is too short to go over my head and carry over my shoulder that way, I can only put the strap on my shoulder. The strap kept sliding off my shoulder as I walked, so I ended up carry the case and spare lens in one hand, and the camera and Sigma lens in the other, not a great arrangement. That’s one instance when I should have tried that at home. 😉 On one of the rainy days this week I’m going to have to rearrange the dividers in my camera bag to hold the Canon lens I have so I can carry it with me. I’ve been so busy buying and learning new equipment that I haven’t gotten around to that chore yet. I’ll wait until I pick up the EF S 15-85 mm lens so that I can rearrange the dividers to hold both Canon lenses, then find a way to attach the Sigma lens case to my camera bag solidly.

Anyway, it didn’t matter too much, I only walked a few hundred yards down the trail when I came to a large flooded area, with no way around it. I headed back to where I had parked and set off in the other direction, only to go a short way before coming to another flooded area. So much for this spot.

I drove down to the Messenger Road parking area to try that. I had never been there before, but had heard it was a good spot for birding. As I entered the parking area, I wasn’t holding out much hope, as it turned out to be on the edge of a very large marsh, hundreds of acres of marsh. With all the rain we had, which flooded the birding trails at the headquarters, I didn’t think that I would find a place to walk at all. But, there’s a dike there that controls the water levels in the marsh, with a trail along the top of it. It looked high and dry, so I set off down the trail.

It wasn’t long before I saw this raccoon hunting for food on the edge of the dike.

Raccoon

Raccoon

When it spotted me, it took off swimming through the swamp to a tree to safely climb.

Swimming raccoon

Swimming raccoon

I made it almost a mile from my vehicle when I came to a spot where the dike was being washed away by the flood waters, so much for this trail.

I turned around and headed back to my vehicle, pausing long enough to shoot this kingfisher.

Belted kingfisher

Belted kingfisher

Belted kingfisher

Belted kingfisher

Yeah! With some sun, the Sigma really does the job! That extra reach sure came in handy for those.

OK, so I wasn’t having much luck looking for a place to walk, as everything was flooded, so I headed to the Muskegon Lake channel, as I knew that would be high and dry. I went to the north side this time, in Muskegon State Park, as it was now late afternoon, and I would get good lighting on either side, but the north side was a shorter drive.

I got to the channel to find the wind blowing out of the east in excess of 30 MPH, with three-foot swells (at least), and no birds other than gulls in sight. I felt a moment of letdown, then saw some wind surfers doing their thing at the entrance to the channel. I thought “What the heck, shooting them will be a good test of the lens and camera”.

So, I walked down to where I had a good view of them, and shot away.

Windsurfers

Windsurfers

Windsurfers

Windsurfers

Windsurfers

Windsurfers

Windsurfers

Windsurfers

Windsurfers

Windsurfers

Windsurfers

Windsurfers

Windsurfers

Windsurfers

One is a little blurry, but I would say not bad at all. The windsurfers were moving at a pretty good clip, and I think that they were a good test of my new gear. But, I was after birds, so I thought that I would go to the snug harbor access area in the State Park to see what I could find there.

Oh, before I forget, the wind was so strong there that every time I set the case holding the spare lens down on the ground to take photos, I had to be careful that it didn’t blow away, or into the channel. That held true when I spotted this female red-breasted merganser that appeared out of nowhere.

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

She did her best impression of a submarine periscope for me.

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Then I got a good shot of her while zoomed in all the way between waves!

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Her mate wanted nothing to do with having his photo taken.

Male red-breasted merganser in flight

Male red-breasted merganser in flight

I started walking back to my vehicle, when this also appeared out of nowhere!

Common loon

Common loon

Common loon cropped

Common loon cropped

Common loon diving

Common loon diving

After the loon dove, I never did see it again, and believe me, I looked for it!

I did however find another horned grebe in the process of getting its breeding plumage.

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

And, I shot a few more of the windsurfers for the heck of it.

Windsurfer

Windsurfer

Windsurfer

Windsurfer

They were catching some serious air in that wind.

I did stop at snug harbor, and shot a few of a great blue heron in flight, with and without swans.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Nothing great, other than the heron, but it was good practice with the new camera and lens. Seeing them here, I’m tempted to put them in full resolution, as they are sharper than they appear here, but you’ll have to take my word for that. I still need to conserve the free space that WordPress provides for photo storage, and if I started posting full resolution photos, I’d never stop, and would soon run out of space.

Oh, and the swans in the photos are all young swans that haven’t reached breeding age yet.

Anyway, I also got some very good photos of red-winged blackbirds to finish off the day.

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

I saw a couple of eagles as well, and there were many smaller waterfowl hanging out with the swans too. All too fay away for a good photo even with the Sigma lens.

All in all, a very good day, despite the early crop of bad snow photos, but that’s how I learn. I feel I made some real progress as far as getting used to the controls on the camera and Sigma lens, I didn’t have a chance to work with the Canon 70-200 mm today, its time will come. I am also learning their capabilities, and how to adjust to overcome their shortcomings, not that they have many I didn’t know of when I purchased them. The Sigma is a bit slow for action shots, other than in good light, I knew that going in.

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


Black-throated Green Warbler, Setophaga virens

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.

Black-throated Green Warbler, Setophaga virens

The Black-throated Green Warbler is a small songbird of the New World warbler family.

It is 12 cm long and weighs 9 g, and has an olive-green crown, a yellow face with olive markings, a thin pointed bill, white wing bars, an olive-green back and pale underparts with black streaks on the flanks. Adult males have a black throat and upper breast, females have a pale throat and black markings on their breast.

The breeding habitat of the Black-throated Green Warbler is coniferous and mixed forests in eastern North America and western Canada and cypress swamps on the southern Atlantic coast. These birds’ nests are open cups, which are usually situated close to the trunk of a tree.

These birds migrate to Mexico, Central America, the West Indies and southern Florida. One destination is to the Petenes mangroves of the Yucatán. Some birds straggle as far as South America, with the southern most couple of records coming from Ecuador.

Black-throated Green Warblers forage actively in vegetation, and they sometimes hover (gleaning), or catch insects in flight (hawking). Insects are the main constituents of these birds’ diets, although berries will occasionally be consumed.

The song of this bird is a buzzed zee-zee-zee-zooo-zeet or zoo-zee-zoo-zoo-zeet. The call is a sharp tsip.

This bird is vulnerable to nest parasitism by the Brown-headed Cowbird.

On to my photos:

Black-throated Green Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

Black-throated green warbler

Black-throated green warbler

Black-throated green warbler

Black-throated green warbler

Black-throated green warbler

Black-throated green warbler

Black-throated green warbler

Black-throated green warbler

Black-throated green warbler

Black-throated green warbler

Black-throated green warbler

Black-throated green warbler

Black-throated green warbler

Black-throated green warbler

Black-throated green warbler

Black-throated green warbler

Black-throated green warbler

Black-throated green warbler

 

This is number 86 in my photo life list, only 264 to go!

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

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Hooded Merganser, Lophodytes cucullatus

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.

Hooded Merganser, Lophodytes cucullatus

The Hooded Merganser is a small duck and is the only member of the genus Lophodytes.

Hooded Mergansers have a crest at the back of the head which can be expanded or contracted. In adult males, this crest has a large white patch, the head is black and the sides of the duck are reddish-brown. The adult female has a reddish crest, with much of the rest of the head and body a greyish-brown. The Hooded Merganser has a sawbill but is not classified as a typical merganser.

Hooded Mergansers are the second smallest species of merganser, with only the Smew of Europe and Asia being smaller, and is also the only Merganser whose native habitat is restricted to North America.

Their preferred habitat for breeding is in swamps and wooded ponds of the northern half of the United States and southern Canada. They prefer to nest in tree cavities near water, but will use Wood Duck nesting boxes if available and unoccupied. They form pairs in early winter. The male leaves the female soon after she lays her eggs, leaving her responsible for all incubation. After hatching, chicks leave the nest with their mother within 24 hours; they are already able to dive and feed themselves, although they remain with their mother for another five weeks.

Hooded Mergansers are short-distance migrants, and winter in the United States wherever winter temperatures allow for ice-free conditions on ponds, lakes and rivers.

These ducks feed by diving and swimming under water to collect small fish, crustaceans and aquatic insects. They find their prey underwater by sight.

On to my photos:

Male hooded merganser

Male hooded merganser

Male hooded merganser

Male hooded merganser

Male hooded merganser

Male hooded merganser

Male hooded merganser

Male hooded merganser

Male hooded merganser

Male hooded merganser

Female hooded merganser

Female hooded merganser

Female hooded merganser

Female hooded merganser

Female hooded merganser

Female hooded merganser

Female hooded merganser

Female hooded merganser

Female hooded merganser

Female hooded merganser

Hooded merganser pair

Hooded merganser pair

Hooded merganser pair

Hooded merganser pair

Hooded merganser pair

Hooded merganser pair

This is number 85 in my photo life list, only 265 to go!

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

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Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus

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.

Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus

The Great Horned Owl is a large owl native to the Americas. It is an adaptable bird with a vast range and is the most widely distributed true owl in the Americas.

The Great Horned Owl is the heaviest extant owl in Central and South America and is the second heaviest owl in North America, after the closely related but very different looking Snowy Owl. It ranges in length from 43–64 cm (17–25 in) and has a wingspan of 91–153 cm (36–60 in). Females are invariably somewhat larger than males. An average adult is around 55 cm (22 in) long with a 124 cm (49 in) wingspan and weighing about 1.4 kg (3.1 lb)

There is considerable variation in plumage coloration but not in body shape. This is a heavily built, barrel-shaped species that has a large head and broad wings. Adults have large ear tufts and it is the only very large owl in its range to have them. The facial disc is reddish, brown or gray in color and there is a variable sized white patch on the throat. Its “horns” are neither ears nor horns, simply tufts of feathers.

The breeding habitat of the Great Horned Owl extends from subarctic North America throughout most of North and Central America and then down into South America south to Tierra del Fuego, the southern tip of the continent. It is absent from southern Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua to Panama in Central, and Amazonia and the southwest in South America, as well as from the West Indies and most off-shore islands. They are the most widely distributed owl in the Americas.

It is among the world’s most adaptable owls in terms of habitat. The Great Horned Owl can take up residence in trees that includes deciduous, coniferous, and mixed forests, tropical rainforests, pampas, prairie, mountainous areas, deserts, subarctic tundra, rocky coasts, mangrove swamp forests, and some urban areas. It is less common in the more extreme areas (i.e., the heart of the deserts, extremely dense rainforests and in mountainous areas above the tree line), generally absent from non-tidal wetland habitat, and missing from the high Arctic tundra. It prefers areas where open habitats, which it often hunts in, and woods, where it tends to roost and nest. This species can occasionally be found in urban or suburban areas. However, it seems to prefer areas with less human activity and is most likely to be found in park-like settings in such developed areas, unlike Eastern and Western Screech Owls which are regular in suburban settings. All mated Great Horned Owls are permanent residents of their territories, but unmated and younger birds move freely in search of company and a territory, and leave regions with little food in winter.

Like most owls, the Great Horned Owl makes great use of secrecy and stealth. Due to its natural-colored plumage, it is well camouflaged both while active at night and while roosting during the day. Despite this, it can still sometimes be spotted on its daytime roosts, which are usually in large trees but may occasionally be on rocks. This regularly leads to their being mobbed by other birds, especially American Crows. Since owls are, next to Red-tailed Hawks, perhaps the main predator of crows and their young, crows sometimes congregate from considerable distances to mob owls and caw angrily at them for hours on end. When the owls try to fly off to avoid this harassment, they are often followed by the corvids.

Owls have spectacular binocular vision, allowing them to pinpoint prey and see in low light. The eyes of a Great Horned Owl are nearly as large as those of a human being and are immobile within their circular bone sockets. As a result, instead of turning its eyes, an owl must turn its whole head, the neck capable of rotating a full 270 degrees, in order to see in various directions without moving its entire body.

An owl’s hearing is as good as, if not better than, its vision. Owls have better depth perception and better perception of sound elevation (up-down direction) than human beings. This is due to the asymmetrical positions of owl ears on either side of the head. The right ear is typically set higher in the skull and at a slightly different angle. By tilting or turning its head until the sound is the same in both ears, an owl can pinpoint both the horizontal and vertical direction of the sound’s source.

Owls also have approximately 300 pounds per square inch (PSI) of crushing power in their talons, a PSI greater than the human hand is capable of exerting. In some cases the gripping power of the Great Horned Owl may be comparable to much larger raptor species such as the Golden Eagle.

Owls hunt mainly by watching from a snag, pole or other high perch, sometimes completely concealed by the dusky night and/or partially hidden by foliage. From such vantage points, owls dive down to the ground, often with wings folded, to ambush their prey. They also hunt by flying low over openings on the ground, scanning below for prey activity. On occasion owls may actually walk on the ground in pursuit of small prey or, rarely, inside a chicken coop to prey on the fowl within. They have even been known to wade into shallow water for aquatic prey, although this has been only rarely reported. Owls can snatch birds and some arboreal mammals directly from tree branches as well. The stiff feathering of their wings allows owls to produce minimal sound in flight while hunting.

Almost all prey is killed with the owl’s talons, often instantly, though some may be bitten about the face as well. Prey is swallowed whole when possible. However an owl will also fly with prey to a perch and tear off pieces with its bill. Very large prey, any that is notably heavier than the owl, must be eaten where it is killed for it is too heavy to fly with. In northern regions where such large prey is prevalent, an owl may let uneaten food freeze and then thaw it out later using its own body heat. When prey is swallowed whole, owls regurgitate pellets of bone and other non-digestible bits about 6 to 10 hours later, usually in the same location where the prey was consumed. Great Horned Owl pellets are dark gray or brown in color and very large, 7.6 to 10.2 cm (3.0 to 4.0 in) long and 3.8 cm (1.5 in) thick, and have been known to contain skulls up to 3 cm (1.2 in) wide inside them.

Prey can vary greatly based on opportunity. According to one author, “Almost any living creature that walks, crawls, flies, or swims, except the large mammals, is the great horned owl’s legitimate prey”. The predominant prey group are small to medium-sized mammals such as hares and rabbits, which are statistically the most regular prey, as well as any small to moderately sized rodent such as rats, squirrels, flying squirrels, mice, lemmings and voles. Other mammals eaten regularly can include shrews, bats, armadillos,muskrats, martens and weasels. Studies have unsurprisingly indicated that mammals that are primarily nocturnal in activity, such as rabbits, shrews or muroid rodents, are generally preferred.

The Great Horned is also a natural predator of prey two to three times heavier than itself such as porcupines, marmots and skunks. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Great Horned Owl is the only regular avian predator of skunks. In one case, the remains of 57 striped skunks were found in a single owl nest.

Birds also compose a large portion of a Great Horned Owl’s diet, ranging in size from kinglets to Great Blue Herons and young swans. Regular avian prey includes woodpeckers, grouse, crows, pigeons, herons, gulls, quail, turkey and various passerines. Waterbirds, especially coots and ducks, are hunted fairly often; even raptors, up to the size of Red-tailed Hawks and Snowy Owls, are sometimes taken. Other birds, being primarily diurnal, are often snatched from their nocturnal perches as they sleep. The Great Horned Owl is a potential predator of any other owl species found in the Americas, of which there are several dozen. Bird prey are often plucked before eaten and the legs and much of the wings are torn off and discarded.

Reptiles to the size of young American alligators, amphibians, fish, crustaceans and even insects, centipedes, scorpions and earthworms are occasional supplemental prey. In addition, the Great Horned Owl will prey on domesticated animals, including cats and small or young dogs. Carrion is eaten with some regularity, including road-kills.

It is common for people to deal with troublesome wildlife by placing plastic replicas of Great Horned Owls on their property, since many small animals will actively avoid areas inhabited by them.

Great Horned Owls are some of the earliest-breeding birds in North America, seemingly in part because of the lengthy nightfall at this time of year. They breed in late January or early February and are often heard calling to each other regularly as early in the fall as October. They choose a mate by December and are often heard duetting before this time. For owls found in more tropical climates, the dates of the breeding season are somewhat undefined.

The male attracts the attention of his mate by hooting emphatically while leaning over (with the tail folded back) and puffing up his white throat to look like a ball. The female hoots back when the pair meet but is more subdued in both her hoot and display. Pairs typically breed together year after year and may mate for life, although they associate with each other more loosely when their young become mostly independent. Like all owls, Great Horned Owls do not build their own nest. They often take over a nest used by some other large bird, sometimes adding feathers to line the nest but usually not much more. Old crow and raven, Red-tailed Hawk or large squirrel nests are often favored in North America. However, they are far from dependent on the old nests of others and may use cavities in trees and snags, deserted buildings, and artificial platforms. Other nest sites have included a large gap in a tree trunk, sheltered depressions on rocks and even a heron’s nest in the midst of a heronry. Males select nesting sites and bring the females’ attention to them by flying to them and then stomping on them.

There are usually 2 eggs per clutch, but clutches range in size from 1 to 6 eggs (over 4 is very rare), depending on environmental conditions. The average egg width is 1.8 in (46.5 mm), the average length is 2.2 in (55.2 mm) and the average weight is 1.8 oz (51 g). The incubation period ranges from 28 to 37 days, averaging 33 days. The female alone does all the incubation and rarely moves from the nest, while the male owl captures food and brings it to her. Brooding is almost continuous until the offspring are about 2 weeks old, after which it decreases; during this time the male feeds both the female and the young. Young owls move onto nearby branches at 6 weeks and start to fly about a week later. However, the young are not usually competent fliers until they are about 10 to 12 weeks old. The offspring have been seen still begging for food in late October (5 months after leaving the nest) and most do not separate from their parents until right before they start to reproduce for the next clutch (usually December). Birds may not breed for another year or two, and are often vagrants (“floaters”) until they establish their own territories.

On to my photos, and I only have one in digital form, and it isn’t great, but it meets my minimum standard of being able to make a positive ID of the species:

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

This is number 84 in my photo life list, only 266 to go!

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

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But it’s April

I went for my walk on Saturday, trying to dodge the snow squalls. That didn’t work well, the snow hunted me down like a dog!

Of course I had my camera with me, despite the weather, and I even saw a few things that I thought about photographing. For example, I saw snow pellets building up on some green moss, I thought about taking a photo, but this is April. I’m tired of shooting snow in any form, anywhere. In the fall, fresh white snow on green moss is a favorite subject for me to photograph, but I’m over it now.

I saw some chickadees fairly close to me, and thought about shooting them despite the miserable conditions, but this is April. I’m tired of shooting chickadees in miserable conditions, even as much as I love chickadees. Photographing chickadees in the dead of winter when there are few other birds around has made for some memorable times, but I’m over it til next winter.

I saw some robins with their heads hunched down, and their chest feathers fluffed up to ward off the cold wind, but it’s April.

I think you catch my drift. Luckily, the snow never accumulated enough today to drift, not that the wind wouldn’t have been quite capable of doing so.

I did see a towhee in the thick brush, I would have gone in after it, but after 5 inches of rain the past 5 days, the area where I saw the towhee was flooded, and I didn’t feel like getting my feet wet as cold as it was.

Before I complain too about the weather, after the hot spring and drought last year, we could use a cold, soggy spring just like we’re getting. I know that all this precipitation is a good thing, especially as low as the water levels of the Great Lakes are. But I have a brand new camera and lenses I want to try out!

I have already seen that the new stuff is vastly superior to my old Nikon camera and lens under adverse conditions, now I’d like to see what it can do with some sunshine! That’s not going to happen for a while, I’m afraid. Here’s what one of our local meteorologists posted on his blog on Saturday.

“Model update:  The European has .07″ of a mix today and then it rains in every six hour period from Monday midday through early Friday, when it changes to a little wet snow before it ends.  It has a total of 2.84″.   The GFS has about .05″ during the day today, .04″ Sunday am, .30″ Monday night, .03″ Tue. night, then 1.70″ from Thurs. into Friday, when it also ends with a few snow showers.  The GFS has the temperature down to 27 next Friday night.”

I’m not liking that “rains in every six hour period” for most of the upcoming week. But, I keep telling myself we need the rain, and that it is a good thing.

I did shoot a few photos today, just to move my fingers so that they didn’t freeze. I know that the economy has been bad, and that a few people have lost their shirt, but I thought that was a figure of speech, not to be taken literally.

Some one lost his shirt

Some one lost his shirt

Then I shot a grackle, as I only have one photo in the post in the My Photo Life List on common grackles.

Male common grackle

Male common grackle

Not great, I probably won’t use it.

I found a bulb that some one had discarded, but it’s sprouting anyway, at least there was a sign of green!

Sprouting bulb

Sprouting bulb

I walked up on a male mallard hiding in the woods, thinking it was a safe place to sleep.

Male mallard

Male mallard

Birds are so cute when they think that they’re hiding….

Male mallard "hiding"

Male mallard “hiding”

…they’re like little kids, if they can’t see you, they think that you can’t see them, but I could, at least most of him, and he figured that out…

Male mallard

Male mallard

The Canon 60D certainly performs well in low light, as do both the Sigma 150-500 mm and the Canon 70-200 mm lenses. With either lens, the auto-focus is fast and accurate, and they both do very well picking the birds out of the brush. But, I’ve already proven that, I want to take some shots out in the open with some sun! I already said that, didn’t I?

I finished my walk, and as I was sorting through those photos, I saw sunlight flooding my apartment! I switched from the 70-200 lens to the Sigma, threw on a coat, and headed for the pond in the apartment complex, hoping to see what the camera and lens could do with light, even if it would be more mallard shots.

My apartment is less than 100 yards from the pond, and I’ll bet that you can guess what happened. The small hole in the clouds closed back up before I made it to the pond.

Blue sky! the first in a week

Blue sky! the first in a week

I shot a couple of photos anyway, just because I had made the effort to get to the pond. I had already walked over 6 miles, and really wanted to stretch my legs out and relax, the things I’ll do for so-so photos.

IMG_0418

Mallards preening

IMG_0419

Mallards preening

IMG_0420

Northern cardinal

IMG_0421

Northern cardinal

Those were shot with the Sigma 150-500 mm, with ISO settings ranging from 1000 to 1600. Wow! Not great photos, but so much better than my old stuff! Are you sick of hearing that yet?

Are you sick of my posting everyday for the My Photo Life List project?

I am happy to say that I am about to reach the magic number of 88 posts towards that project, representing 88 species of birds.

What’s so magical about the number 88? When I hit that, it means that I am 1/4 of the way done with that project, considering that there are 350 species of birds on the Audubon list that I’m working from. I think that it is a true milestone of sorts. In just four months, I will have posted photos of 1/4 of the species of birds regularly seen in the State of Michigan. Not all the photos are great ones, but I’m working on that.

I do plan on this project being a lifelong effort, but it just didn’t seem right to have just a few species done. But now that I’m about to have a sizable chunk of them done, I’ll be able to relax and take my time on the rest.

Once I hit 88, I’ll stop posting those everyday, for one thing, I’m running out of photos, finally! Well, I could search back through my archives, but I’m not going to do that, especially since I now have better photo gear.

Then I’ll get back to blogging the way that I used to, and throw in a bird post every now and then when I get very good photos of a species that I haven’t already done. I’ll also be updating the posts that I have already finished with more and/or better photos.

So hang in there, some time in the next few days, the daily bird posts will end.

In fact, I have just completed the draft for species number 88, I have now made it a quarter of the way through the list!!!!!!!!!! It may seem strange to every one else, but I feel like I have made real progress at something very worthwhile and interesting, not to mention difficult.

One more thing, my friend Jan has her blog up and running now, with some fantastic wood duck photos! Here’s the link..

http://watchwhereyoustep.wordpress.com/2013/04/09/a-nice-surprise/

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


Willow Flycatcher, Empidonax traillii

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.

Willow Flycatcher, Empidonax traillii

The Willow Flycatcher is a small insect-eating, neotropical migrant bird of the tyrant flycatcher family.

Adults have brown-olive upper parts, darker on the wings and tail, with whitish underparts; they have an indistinct white eye ring, white wing bars and a small bill. The breast is washed with olive-grey. At one time, this bird and the Alder Flycatcher were considered to be a single species, Traill’s Flycatcher. The Willow and Alder Flycatchers were considered the same species until the 1970’s. Only their song tells them apart.

Their breeding habitat is deciduous thickets, especially willows and often near water, across the United States and southern Canada. They make a cup nest in a vertical fork in a shrub or tree.

These neotropical birds migrate to Mexico and Central America, and in small numbers as far south as Ecuador in South America, often selecting winter habitat near water. Willow Flycatchers travel approximately 1,500–8,000 km each way between wintering and breeding areas.

They wait on a perch near the top of a shrub and fly out to catch insects in flight, also sometimes picking insects from foliage while hovering. They may eat some berries.

This bird’s song is a sneezed fitz-bew. The call is a dry whit.

This bird competes for habitat with the Alder flycatchers where their ranges overlap.

On to my photos, and since willow and alder flycatchers are indistinguishable from each other visually, you’ll have to trust my ear on this ID:

Willow flycatcher

Willow flycatcher

Willow flycatcher

Willow flycatcher

Willow flycatcher

Willow flycatcher

Willow flycatcher

Willow flycatcher

Willow flycatcher

Willow flycatcher

Willow flycatcher

Willow flycatcher

Willow flycatcher

Willow flycatcher

This is number 83 in my photo life list, only 267 to go!

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

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Testing the Canon 70-200 mm f/4 L series lens

” I’m missing the purple branches already.”

After I posted the photos that I’ve taken with my new Canon 60D and the Sigma lens on Facebook, that’s one of the comments that my brother left on one of the photos that I took of a bird through the branches it was hiding in.

My old Nikon 70-300 mm lens had so much chromatic aberration that it often shifted the colors to the point that branches in the foreground looked purple, and ones in the background were rendered as green. The chromatic aberration was visible in photos of other subjects as well, but I seldom posted those.

In case you’ve never seen chromatic aberration, here’s a couple of examples taken with the Nikon body and lens.

Barred owl, purple branches in foreground

Barred owl, purple branches in foreground

Barred owl, green branches in background

Barred owl, green branches in background

So far, I have seen no chromatic aberration in any of the photos that I’ve taken with the Canon 60D and Sigma lens, which is what prompted my brother to post the comment that he did. And, I have shot a few photos with that combo already that come close to matching the adverse conditions on the day that I took the owl photos. Here’s an example.

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

What a difference! There is not a hint of any chromatic aberration in that photo, or any of the others that I have shot with the new combo.

It has rained everyday this week, and that’s the forecast for as far out as they are forecasting, periods of rain everyday. Because of the rain, I haven’t been carrying my new combo around while I go for my daily walk, the Sigma lens is too large for me to carry in inclement weather.

OK, so the title of this post is “Testing the Canon 70-200 mm f/4 lens”, the Sigma lens is one of several that I planned on purchasing, on Wednesday, I picked up number 2, the Canon 70-200 mm L series lens. The L series of lenses are weather sealed, not that I am going to trust that, but being much smaller than the Sigma, I can carry this new lens inside my rain-gear to protect it from the elements.

I didn’t have the time to do another complete walk after picking up the lens, but I did step out of my apartment and shoot a few, while there was a very light mist/rain falling. Horrible conditions for photography, but it’s those conditions that are the toughest test of photo equipment.

First up, wild turkeys.

Wild turkey in the rain

Wild turkeys in the rain

Wild turkeys in the rain

Wild turkeys in the rain

The second photo was cropped considerably, and the turkeys were running, making the shot more difficult as far as sharpness.

Next up, a crow attacking a red-tailed hawk perched in the top of an evergreen tree.

Crow attacking a red-tailed hawk

Crow attacking a red-tailed hawk

Crow attacking a red-tailed hawk

Crow attacking a red-tailed hawk

Crow attacking a red-tailed hawk

Crow attacking a red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk, uncropped

Red-tailed hawk, not cropped

Red-tailed hawk, cropped

Red-tailed hawk, cropped

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

I know, I do everything wrong! I’m supposed to wait for a sunny day with just a thin layer of clouds to produce near perfectly diffused lighting when testing lenses and cameras.

Since such days are very rare in west Michigan, and since I am an all-weather hiker and kayaker, it only makes sense to me to try out new equipment under the conditions that I expect to use it in. Any camera and lens can produce a good photo in ideal conditions, it’s weather like what is happening this week that is the true test.

Number one, the sensor and exposure control of the 60D continues to amaze me! The camera reads the focal length of the lens, and adjusts the exposure triad accordingly, and extremely well. I couldn’t be happier! With the Sigma lens on the camera, and zoomed to 500 mm, the camera keeps the shutter speeds high enough to prevent camera shake at that focal length. With the Canon 70-200 mm on the camera, it drops the shutter speeds down, along with the ISO, to produce better photos. I could not adjust those things myself quickly enough manually to capture shots like the crow attacking the hawk.

The dynamic range of the sensor in the 60D has to be vastly superior to the one in my old Nikon, the cloudy sky isn’t blown out like the Nikon used to do. Those may not be excellent photos, but shooting an all black crow against a cloudy sky, and being able to see the details of the crow in motion, again, I am extremely happy with the results!

I can also see that even under bad conditions that the 70-200 mm lens is even sharper than the Sigma 150-500 mm, as is to be expected. And, there is absolutely no chromatic aberration showing up in any of these photos either.

The auto-focus is extremely fast and accurate, and that’s helped by the way the 70-200 is built. It has two different auto-focus ranges, one is the full range that the lens is capable of, but you can set a switch to limit how closely the lens will auto-focus, which speeds it up at normal shooting distances. For extreme close-ups, flip the switch to full range, and the lens will focus down to 4 feet. In the shorter, faster range, the lens focuses from approximately 10 feet to infinity.

All you have to do is compare the shots of the owl, taken with my old Nikon, and the shots of the crow and hawk to see what a huge difference that there is between the two! Both series were taken on days with almost identical weather conditions, the owl photos are bad, really bad, the crow and hawk photos are very good considering the weather conditions. Oh, and I had the light right for the owl photos, although it doesn’t look like it. For the crow and hawk photos, I was shooting in the direction of the sun, not that it makes much difference under the thick clouds.

I can hardly wait to see what this new lens will be capable of in better conditions, but I am going to have to wait.

If Wednesday was a horrible day for photography, Thursday was even worse if you can believe it. Not only was it raining, but there was a gale blowing out of the northeast, dropping the temperature enough that there were a few snowflakes mixed in with the rain. There were few critters stirring, and the ones that I did see were all too far away for a photo. I couldn’t even shoot any plant photos, as everything was whipping about wildly in the wind. The one shot I did take was taken with my Powershot, of my new camera, the new lenses, and my old Nikon lens for reference.

Sigma, Nikon, and Canon lens

Sigma, Nikon, and Canon lens

It may not look very much smaller than the Sigma, but believe me, the Canon 70-200 mm is much easier to carry, and a whole lot lighter!

I did get some very good news on Wednesday. The bookkeeper at the company I work for met me at the door to explain that she had made a mistake last April, as far as what she has been paying me. She never entered the raise I received last year into the payroll software, so I had been shorted in my paycheck for an entire year. So, I had two paychecks yesterday, my normal check, plus a check to make up what I should have been paid after my last raise for an entire year, what a pleasant surprise! It’s not like winning the lottery, but every little bit helps, and this was a little bit. But, it will be enough for me to purchase the next lens on my list much sooner than I expected. That will be the Canon EF-S 15 to 85 mm lens for shooting landscapes, and close-ups.

Also, I think that I have a buyer for the Nikon 70-300 lens and the flash unit that fit the now defunct D50. The son of one of my co-workers will be the editor/photographer for his school yearbook next year, but my co-worker wasn’t really thrilled with the idea of his son carrying his more expensive lenses for school. The 70-300 isn’t a great lens, but it’s good enough for school yearbook photos, and an inexpensive way for my co-worker to pick up a lens for his son’s use.

On Friday the weather was slightly better, the gale out of the northeast was now just a nasty stiff breeze out of the west. The rain was no longer constant, but more of the intermittent variety, however, it was even colder, not much above freezing.

Four and a half days of rain has turned the ground to a spongy sloppy mess. There were few birds about yet again, I think that even some of the robins have left for drier ground. I did shoot a few photos though.

Turkey tail fungus?

Turkey tail fungus?

Lichen on a tree trunk

Lichen on a tree trunk

American robin

American robin

Female mallard

Female mallard

I can see from these that I need to do some playing around with this new camera and lens to get the most from it under adverse conditions, but it won’t be as bad as the old Nikon was. I think that a little tweaking will go a long way, as far as setting the exposure for better photos. I was shooting at rather slow shutter speeds, and low ISO settings, I think that if I had bumped up the ISO manually, so that the shutter speed was higher, that these would have come out sharper. We’ll see.

I am still planning a weekend trip somewhere, but that is iffy right now. The weather forecast is not looking good, but we’ll see. There may be some sunshine Saturday afternoon, or Sunday morning. I’m hoping, but not holding my breath. There’s rain or rain/snow in the forecast for at least part of everyday for the next week, so I’ll have plenty of opportunity to play, even though I am hoping for at least a few hours of sunshine this weekend to see what this new lens can really do.

That reminds me, one of the things I can do with the 70-200 that I can’t with the Sigma 150-500 is to use the built-in flash on the camera for low light situations. Because of the length and size of the Sigma, it will cast a barrel shadow when using the built-in flash.

I’m going to call this one completed and publish it, hoping that this weekend turns out good enough to do a post on the weekend, or even each day if I get really lucky. It’s getting close to the peak migration for some of the early migrating birds, so even if the weather is perfect, I’m going to be out there someplace finding something to shoot.

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


Rock Dove, Columba livia (I)

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.

Rock Dove, Columba livia (I)

Since this is an invasive species, I’m not going to say a lot about them. I’m sure you’re all familiar with them by their common name, pigeon.

The Rock Dove or Rock Pigeon, is a member of the bird family Columbidae (doves and pigeons). In common usage, this bird is often simply referred to as the “pigeon”.

The species includes the domestic pigeon (including the fancy pigeon), and escaped domestic pigeons have given rise to feral populations around the world.

Wild Rock Doves are pale grey with two black bars on each wing, although domestic and feral pigeons are very variable in color and pattern. There are few visible differences between males and females. The species is generally monogamous, with two squeakers (young) per brood. Both parents care for the young for a time.

Habitats include various open and semi-open environments. Cliffs and rock ledges are used for roosting and breeding in the wild. Originally found wild in Europe, North Africa, and western Asia, feral Pigeon have become established in cities around the world. The species is abundant, with an estimated population of 17 to 28 million feral and wild birds in Europe.

On to my photos:

Rock dove or pigeon

Rock dove or pigeon eyeing a bug

Rock dove or pigeon

Rock dove or pigeon

Rock dove or pigeon

Rock dove or pigeon

Rock dove or pigeon

Rock dove or pigeon

Rock dove or pigeon

Rock dove or pigeon

Rock dove or pigeon

Rock dove or pigeon

Rock dove or pigeon

Rock dove or pigeon

Rock dove (pigeon) in flight

Rock dove (pigeon) in flight

 

 

 

This is number 82 in my photo life list, only 268 to go!

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

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Common Merganser, Mergus merganser

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 Merganser, Mergus merganser

The Common Merganser (North American) or Goosander (Eurasian) is a large duck, of rivers and lakes of forested areas of Europe, northern and central Asia, and North America. It eats fish and nests in holes in trees.

It is 58–72 cm (23–28 in) long with a 78–97 cm (31–38 in) wingspan, and a weight of 0.9–2.1 kg (2.0–4.6 lb); males average slightly larger than females but with some overlap. Like other species in the genus Mergus, it has a crest of longer head feathers, but these usually lie smoothly rounded behind the head, not normally forming an erect crest. Adult males in breeding plumage are easily distinguished, the body white with a variable salmon-pink tinge, the head black with an iridescent green gloss, the rump and tail grey, and the wings largely white on the inner half, black on the outer half. Females, and males in “eclipse” (non-breeding plumage, July to October) are largely grey, with a reddish-brown head, white chin, and white secondary feathers on the wing. Juveniles (both sexes) are similar to adult females but also show a short black-edged white stripe between the eye and bill. The bill and legs are red to brownish-red, brightest on adult males, dullest on juveniles.

Like the other mergansers, these fish-feeding ducks have serrated edges to their bills to help them grip their prey; they are therefore often known as “sawbills”. In addition to fish, they take a wide range of other aquatic prey, such as molluscs, crustaceans, worms, insect larvae, and amphibians; more rarely, small mammals and birds may be taken. As in other birds with the character, the salmon-pink tinge shown variably by males is probably diet-related, obtained from the carotenoid pigments present in some crustaceans and fish. When not diving for food, they are usually seen swimming on the water surface, or resting on rocks in midstream or hidden among riverbank vegetation, or (in winter) on the edge of floating ice.

In most places, the Common Merganser is nearly as much a salt-water as a fresh-water frequenter. In larger streams and rivers, they float down with the stream for a couple of miles, and either fly back again or more commonly fish their way back, diving incessantly the whole way. In smaller streams, they are present in pairs or smaller groups, and they float down, twisting round and round in the rapids, or fishing vigorously in some deep pool near the foot of some waterfall or rapid. When floating leisurely, they position themselves in water similar to ducks. But they swim deep in water like Cormorants too, especially when swimming upstream. They often sit on some rock in the middle of the water, similar to Cormorants, often half-opening their wings to the sun. In order to rise from water, they flap along the surface for many yards. Once they are airborne the flight is strong and rapid. They often fish in as a group forming a semicircle and driving the fish into a shallow, where they are captured easily. Their ordinary voice is a low, harsh croak but during the breeding season they (including the young one) makes a plaintive, soft whistle. Generally, they are wary and one or more birds stay on sentry duty to warn the flock on the approach of danger. And when disturbed, they often disgorge food before moving. Though they move clumsily on land, they resort to running when pressed, assuming a very upright position similar to penguins, and falling and stumbling frequently.

Nesting is normally in a tree cavity, thus it requires mature forest as its breeding habitat; they also readily use large nest boxes where provided, requiring an entrance hole 15 cm diameter. In places devoid of trees (like Central Asian mountains), they use holes in cliffs and steep, high banks, sometimes at considerable distances from the water. The female lays 6–17 (most often 8–12) white to yellowish eggs, and raises one brood in a season. The ducklings are taken by their mother in her bill to rivers or lakes immediately after hatching, where they feed on freshwater invertebrates and small fish fry, fledging when 60–70 days old. The young are sexually mature at two years old.

The species is a partial migrant, with birds moving away from areas where rivers and major lakes freeze in the winter, but resident where waters remain open. Eastern North American birds move south in small groups to the United States wherever ice-free conditions exist on lakes and rivers; on the milder Pacific coast, they are permanent residents. Scandinavian and Russian birds also migrate southwards, but western European birds, and a few in Japan, are largely resident. In some populations, the males also show distinct molt migration, leaving the breeding areas as soon as the young hatch to spend the summer (June to September) elsewhere. Notably, most of the western European male population migrates north to estuaries in Finnmark in northern Norway (principally Tanafjord) to molt, leaving the females to care for the ducklings. Much smaller numbers of males also use estuaries in eastern Scotland as a molting area.

On to my photos:

Male and Female common merganser

Male and Female common merganser

Male Common merganser

Male Common merganser

Female Common merganser

Female Common merganser

Male and Female common merganser

Male and Female common merganser

Male and Female common merganser

Male and Female common merganser

DSC_9359

Common mergansers in flight

Common mergansers in flight

Common mergansers in flight

Common mergansers in flight

Male Common merganser in flight

Male Common merganser in flight

This is number 81 in my photo life list, only 269 to go!

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

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Bufflehead, Bucephala albeola

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.

Bufflehead, Bucephala albeola

The Bufflehead is a small American sea duck of the genus Bucephala, the goldeneyes.

The Bufflehead ranges from 32–40 cm long (12.5–16 inches) and 270–550 g (0.6–1.2 lbs), with the drakes larger than the females. Averaging 35.5 cm (14 in) and 370 g (13 oz), it rivals the Green-winged Teal as the smallest American duck.

Adult males are striking black and white, with iridescent green and purple heads with a large white patch behind the eye. Females are grey-toned with a smaller white patch behind the eye and a light underside.

The name Bufflehead is a combination of buffalo and head, referring to the oddly bulbous head shape of the species. This is most noticeable when the male puffs out the feathers on the head, thus greatly increasing the apparent size of the head.

Buffleheads have evolved their small size in order to fit the nesting cavity of their “metabiotic” host, a woodpecker, the Northern Flicker. Due to their small size, they are highly active, undertaking dives almost continuously sustained by their high metabolism. They do not tend to collect in large flocks; groups are usually limited to small numbers. One duck will serve as a sentry, watching for predators as the others in the group dive in search of food.

Buffleheads are monogamous, and the females return to the same breeding site, year after year. They nest in cavities in trees, primarily aspens or poplars, using mostly old Flicker nests, close to water.

These diving birds forage underwater. They prefer water depths of 1.2–4.5 m (4 to 15 ft). In freshwater habitats they eat primarilyinsects, and in saltwater they feed predominantly on crustaceans and mollusks. Aquatic plants and fish eggs can often become locally important food items as well.

On to my photos:

Male and female bufflehead ducks

Male and female bufflehead ducks

Male and female bufflehead ducks

Male and female bufflehead ducks

Male bufflehead duck

Male bufflehead duck

Male and female bufflehead ducks

Male and female bufflehead ducks

Male and female bufflehead ducks

Male and female bufflehead ducks

Male and female bufflehead ducks

Male and female bufflehead ducks

Male bufflehead

Male bufflehead

Male bufflehead

Male bufflehead

This is number 80 in my photo life list, only 270 to go!

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

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There were birds everywhere! Other things too Day 4

This was day 4 of using my new Canon 60D and Sigma 150-500 mm lens.

Since it was cloudy this morning, (Sunday) but some possible sunshine in the afternoon, I went to the local county park where I walk quite often in the off-season.

On the first day that I had the Canon and cannon, I noted that the combo was very heavy, much like a target rifle, and that’s the way it is working out. Between its weight, the Image Stabilization, and the Canon producing good photos at up to at least ISO 800, I feel like I can shoot about anything at any time. Like a good, accurate target rifle, I can pick small openings in the brush to shoot through as well. I did push it a couple of times today and had the auto-focus fail to lock onto the birds in the brush, but no one could reasonably expect the auto-focus to lock in those few times. I was pushing its limits and knew it.

Here’s a sampling.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

Hermit thrush

Hermit thrush

Downy woodpecker

Downy woodpecker

Hermit thrush

Hermit thrush

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Fox sparrow

Fox sparrow

You may have noticed that the last photo is of a fox sparrow, that’s a newly confirmed species to my Life List, and will be appearing soon in My Photo Life List project. (Too late, I already posted that one.) If I hadn’t started that project, I may have very well not taken the time to photograph this sparrow, and after having glanced at it, I would have assumed that it was a song sparrow. Without the 500 mm of the Sigma and its great auto-focusing capabilities, I wouldn’t have gotten the photos either.

In fact, I was overwhelmed with birds today! I saw more brown creepers in the first half hour of my hike than I have seen in my life, they were everywhere!

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

And hundreds of golden crowned kinglets to go with them.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

It seemed that for most of the day, all I had to do is stand in one spot, and wait until flocks of birds surrounded me, then pick and chose which ones to shoot. Then, move to another spot, and repeat the process over and over.

But, I shot more than just birds.

Green! Spring is going to make it

Green! Spring is going to make it

Evergreen

Evergreen

Chipmonk

Chipmunk

Chipmonk

Chipmunk

Poplar catkins

Poplar catkins

Poplar catkins

Poplar catkins

Alder catkins

Alder catkins

Whitetail deer getting up from her nap

Whitetail deer getting up from her nap

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

If you looked closely, the deer are shedding, soon they we have their reddish summer coats!

Some of these were cropped, I was hoping that with a 500 mm lens that I would never have to crop again, but it doesn’t work that way. Here’s one that didn’t need cropping.

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

One more thing on cropping, because of the size of the sensor in the Canon, I am cropping down to about the same size image that the Nikon D50 produced, so I’m really not losing anything by cropping.

I’m still learning my way around this new equipment, but it seems to perform very well so far. Other than cropping, I’ve done nothing to any of these photos. Photo sharpness, even in low light conditions is way beyond what my Nikon was capable of. The exposure control of the Canon body does an excellent job of setting the exposure triad to produce good photos, which is very helpful when I have to shoot quickly to capture small birds before they depart the premises.

What has amazed me the most is how fast and accurate the auto-focus system of the Canon body and Sigma lens is. Picking those small birds out of the brush is no easy task, especially the way that the birds are often well camouflaged to blend into their surroundings. That, and how sharp the photos are considering that I’m shooting at 500 mm most of the time, and doing so handheld in low light conditions.

The only knock on the Canon body is one that I have pointed out before, the position of the on/off switch. I find it easier to leave the camera on whenever I’m in a target rich environment than to fiddle around, trying to flip the switch.

The only negative about the Sigma lens is its weight, but I knew that when I purchased it, so I had better stop complaining about it.

On a side note, one thing that always struck me as funny while I was reading online reviews of lenses were the people who purchased a particular lens, then went off on a long rant because the lens was exactly as advertised. An example of what I mean, some one purchasing the version of a lens without image stabilization, then doing a three or four paragraph rant over the lens’ lack of IS, and how any lens that length needs IS. Or, some one buying a lens that doesn’t include a tripod mount as standard equipment, then complaining vigorously about the lack of a tripod mount. Don’t these people know what they are buying?

Anyway, the reason that I have mentioned the weight of the Sigma lens so often is for those people who may read this and are thinking of purchasing one. It is an excellent lens for the money, but know going in that it will not be easy to carry, or to use while following subjects in motion. It is very much like a heavy target rifle, and one should plan on using it accordingly. It’s great for shooting stationary subjects at longer ranges.

You don’t use a heavy target rifle for jump shooting game on the move, for that, you need a shotgun, or its photographic equivalent, a shorter, lighter lens. So that will have to be my next purchase. I’m decided to hold off on that for a week or so though, what with the weather forecast for the area.

My need for another lens was confirmed on Monday, when the forecast of a steady, cold, hard rain came true. I could not find a way to safely carry the Sigma lens in the kind of weather we had. I did take my Canon Powershot with me, but got no photos, surprise, surprise.

This will be the last of my daily posts as I learn my new equipment, it is forecast to rain for the rest of the week, along with high winds. I will go out walking, and enjoy not having any pressure on me to come back with photos.

However, this weekend is looking good as far as the weather, so I may get a chance to use the Sigma lens in situations that it is better suited for. I may head to Muskegon to do some drive by birding at the wastewater plant again, as there are still many reports of flocks of migrating ducks there. Another option would be the Maple River State Game area, for sandhill cranes, waterfowl, and songbirds. If we get two sunny days, I may even do both!

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


Fox Sparrow, Passerella iliaca

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.

Fox Sparrow, Passerella iliaca

Adults are amongst the largest sparrows, heavily spotted and streaked underneath. All feature a messy central breast spot though it is less noticeable on the thick billed and slate-colored varieties.

These birds forage by scratching the ground, which makes them vulnerable to cats and other predators, though they are generally plentiful. Fox sparrows birds migrate on the west coast of the United States.

They mainly eat seeds and insects, as well as some berries. Coastal fox sparrows may also eat crustaceans.

Fox sparrows nest in wooded areas across northern Canada and the west coast of North America from Alaska to California. They nest either in a sheltered location on the ground or low in trees or shrubs. Nest typically contains two to five pale green to greenish white eggs speckled with reddish browns.

On to my photos:

Fox sparrow

Fox sparrow

Fox sparrow

Fox sparrow

Fox sparrow

Fox sparrow

This is number 79 in my photo life list, only 271 to go!

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

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