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

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!

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10 responses

  1. Hey, that’s me in the last shot… I’m officially a groundhog. Even have a certificate from Punxsutawney Phil.

    April 20, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    • I’m not sure that I would say that too loudly around here right now. 😉 I heard that some publicity seeking prosecuter indicted poor old Phil a while back.

      April 20, 2013 at 9:21 pm

  2. Wow, what a week! So many good pix, especially the flight ones but I have to say the flying turkey is my fave. I’ve seen herons and hawks fly but never a turkey! Great get!

    April 21, 2013 at 8:58 am

    • Thanks, they don’t fly very often, so I do consider that one to be a good catch.

      April 21, 2013 at 10:05 pm

  3. A great diary. You see an amazing amount while you are out and about.

    April 21, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    • Thanks, but how many birds were banded right in your backyard?

      April 21, 2013 at 10:12 pm

  4. Some great photos, as per usual! I just enjoy your photography so much, and your honesty about the ones that maybe aren’t professional pefect! Loved the ones of the turkey in flight and the flicker in flight! And I’ve decided that meterologists should just use a scratch off lotto ticket format for predicting the weather, I think it would produce about the same percentage of accuracy. LOL

    April 21, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    • Thanks, I don’t mind sharing my clinkers, if they’re interesting enough or if there’s a story behind them.

      April 21, 2013 at 10:15 pm

  5. Wow, there is so much in this post, I don’t even know where to start. Congrats on trying something new on your blog. It’s good to keep things fresh to keep the mind happy. Wow, on all of the camera stuff. Interesting tidbit about the focus with the 70-200mm lens. I say since we bird it’s not worth the effort anyway.
    Funny on the suspenders, Congrats on losing so much weight. Didn’t you know? Suspenders is the new cool!
    Cool birds..great shots..let’s see..what else did I miss?

    April 23, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    • Suspenders the new cool? Then why do I see so many kids with their pants down around their knees?

      I have to go in for my DOT physical this week, that will be when I find out how much weight I have lost.

      April 24, 2013 at 2:14 am