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.
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.
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.
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.
And, to practice on my action shots, a male mallard coming in for a landing.
And, since I’m a frustrated portrait photographer at heart, a few mallard portraits to test out my new gear.
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…..
Here’s about the same shot with the Canon 70-200 mm L series lens set to 200 mm.
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.
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?
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.
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….
…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.
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.
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.
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.
But, every time the chickadees got close to the sap, a yellow rumped warbler would drive the chickadees off, and drink the sap itself.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On my way back, I gave the Image Stabilization of the Sigma lens and the Canon 60 D body a real test.
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!