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

Archive for May, 2013

Eastern Meadowlark, Sturnella magna

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 Meadowlark, Sturnella magna

The Eastern Meadowlark is a medium-sized icterid bird, very similar in appearance to the Western Meadowlark. It occurs from eastern North America to South America, where it is also most widespread in the east.

Their breeding habitat is grasslands and prairie, also pastures and hay fields. This species is a permanent resident throughout much of its range, though most northern birds migrate southwards in winter.

These birds forage on the ground or in low vegetation, sometimes probing with its bill. They mainly eat arthropods, but also seeds and berries. In winter, they often feed in flocks.

Nesting occurs throughout the summer months. The nest is also on the ground, covered with a roof woven from grasses. There may be more than one nesting female in a male’s territory.

The numbers of this species increased as forests were cleared in eastern North America. This species is ideally suited to farmland areas, especially where tall grasses are allowed to grow. Their numbers are now shrinking with a decline in suitable habitat.

On to my photos:

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark in flight

Eastern Meadowlark in flight

 Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern meadowlark

Eastern meadowlark

Eastern meadowlark

Eastern meadowlark

Eastern meadowlark

Eastern meadowlark

Eastern meadowlark

Eastern meadowlark

This is number 100 in my photo life list, only 250 to go!

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

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Memorial Day weekend, Sunday morning

You know that you had a great weekend when not only does each day deserve a post of its own, but I have to split the day in half to prevent the posts from becoming way too long!

I should say a little more about the location and the area I was at. The Ossineke State Forest Campground is on the southern shore of Thunder Bay, one of many bays of Lake Huron. Alpena, Michigan is located on the west end of the bay. Here’s a link to more information on everything there is to see and do in the area.

http://www.us23heritageroute.org/alpena.asp?ait=cv&cid=4

The bay was, and maybe still is, used by ships to escape storms when they rage on Lake Huron. Many a ship met its demise trying to make the safety of Thunder Bay, the entrance to the bay is littered with shipwrecks, some in quite shallow water, some, hundreds of feet down in Lake Huron proper. The shipwrecks are now protected in the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and the area has become a destination for scuba divers. In addition, there is a specially built tour boat that is based in Alpena that takes people on a tour of some of the more visible wrecks.

I didn’t inquire about the cost of the tour, as I had too much on my plate for the weekend already, but someday, I would like to take the tour. A quick check of their website tells me that the tours are $30, not bad, I will have to take the tour one of these days.

Anyway, there are several smaller bays within Thunder Bay, one is called Misery Bay, so named because of the number of ships that wrecked while trying to seek shelter from storms, and the sailors who lost their live’s as a result of the wrecks. The other is named Isaacson’s Bay, which was my first stop of the day after shooting warblers in the campground first thing in the morning, which I will get to shortly.

Isaacson’s Bay is one of several known for the number of shorebirds it attracts, and is located on the northern shore of Thunder Bay. It is just to the right of the La Farge Quarry and cement plant that can be seen in this photo.

The cement plant across Thunder Bay

The cement plant across Thunder Bay

In fact, the road to Isaacson’s Bay takes you through the cement plant. More on that later.

I had slept like a rock despite turning in so early, and I found an added benefit to having lost so much weight. The memory foam pad that I have to sleep on while camping supports my new lighter weight much better than it did before.

I woke up before sunrise, I have proof!

Sunrise over Lake Huron

Sunrise over Lake Huron

I was already drinking coffee by then, just waiting for the sun to show up, and take some of the chill off from the morning, it did. It also brought a steady parade of birds through the campground, so I stood there drinking my coffee and shooting warblers as they posed for me.

Black-throated green warbler

Black-throated green warbler

Red-eyed vireo

Red-eyed vireo

Pine warbler

Pine warbler

Wilson's warbler

Wilson’s warbler

OK, so the red-eyed vireo isn’t technically a warbler, and you can’t really see how it got its name from that photo, I’ll remedy that in a later post. 😉

By the time I had finished my three cups of coffee and a breakfast that consisted of a couple of blueberry turnovers, other people began moving around in the campground, and the birds departed for quieter surroundings. I did the same, heading to Isaacson’s Bay. On the way there, I spotted a tern, which I would have loved to have photographed, but there was some jerk right on my tail, and I didn’t want to be involved in a wreck over a bird by braking suddenly to pull over.

The only other time I have been to Isaacson’s Bay was several years ago, when the Great Lakes water levels were much higher. With the lower water levels, I wasn’t prepared for what I found, as far as footwear.

Mudflats at Isaacson's Bay

Mudflats at Isaacson’s Bay

Most of what you see in that photo was covered by water before, and I could have easily walked the edges looking for shorebirds. I learned a lesson from this guy, who I chatted with for a while as he searched for the shorebirds the correct way.

Looking for shorebirds at Isaacson's Bay

Looking for shorebirds at Isaacson’s Bay

He had knee-high boots and a high-powered spotting scope so that he could really see all the birds there. He spotted about a dozen species on this day, I got three. Most of the birds were well out of range of even the Sigma lens, and my boots weren’t high enough for me to wade the standing water to get closer to them.

He and I chatted for some time, and he was kind enough to give me a number of tips on where to find birds, directions to those places, and the best times to go looking. Here’s my three species of shorebirds for the day.

Killdeer

Killdeer

Semipalmated plover

Semipalmated plover

Semipalmated sandpiper

Semipalmated sandpiper

Semipalmated plover

Semipalmated plover

Shorebirds sure do look similar to each other! The killdeer are easy, they’re always calling out. The sandpipers and plovers almost fooled me on two counts. The semipalmated plovers look so much like the killdeer, that I wasn’t completely sure that they weren’t killdeer, but their soft calls and orange beaks told me to shoot them. The sandpipers and plovers were in a mixed flock of a few of each, I assumed that they were males and females of the same species, until I got home and looked closely at them, then I discovered that there were two distinct species.

The trip may not have yielded as many shorebirds as I should have gotten, but it wasn’t a total waste. While walking the parts of the mudflats that I could, and along the road and marsh on the other side of the road, I came up with these shots.

Blue wildflower

Blue wildflower

Great egret

Great egret

Sandhill crane checking me out

Sandhill crane checking me out

Sandhill crane doing a flyby for me

Sandhill crane doing a flyby for me

Sandhill crane doing a flyby for me

Sandhill crane doing a flyby for me

Savannah sparrow

Savannah sparrow

Male northern harrier

Male northern harrier

Male northern harrier

Male northern harrier

Common grackle

Common grackle

IMG_4210

Strange red? wildflowers

Strange red? wildflowers

I chased many other species of birds, but never got photos of them. This little excursion did lay the ground work for some decisions that I made later in the day. I had walked the mudflats to the extent that I could, but I was seeing many species of songbirds right along the strip of higher ground right along the road, between the marsh to the north side, and the mudflats on the south side. I also flushed a flock of shorebirds that had been feeding in the marsh on the north side of the road as well.

Had I brought my knee-high boots, or even better, my waders, I would have spent more time there looking for shorebirds, maybe too much time. I had two lighthouses to photograph, and Thompson’s Harbor State Park to hit yet this day.

After photographing the new Presque Isle Lighthouse, I started walking one of the nature trails in the park that the light is in, but I wasn’t seeing anything other than insects. Not mosquitoes, but swarms of bugs so thick that they were really bothersome, especially since they were getting in my eyes, ears, nose, and if I had been silly enough to open my mouth, I would have gotten a snack of the unwanted kind. So, I cut my walk short, and headed over to Thompson’s Harbor, and spent most of the rest of the day there. That’s where I will pick up the next post.

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


Memorial Day weekend, Saturday, the arrival

I got an early (for me after working 2nd shift) start, and hit the road before 10 AM. After a stop to photograph the Sturgeon Point Lighthouse, I arrived at the campground that I had chosen for the weekend, Ossineke State Forest Campground.

That reminds me, at the lighthouse, I shot this male American Redstart.

Male American Redstart

Male American Redstart

I was a little surprised to see so many campsites available at the campground, since it was a holiday weekend. But, since many of the individual campsites were little more than small peninsulas of raised land projecting into either marshes or a cedar swamp, I can see why many people would reject this campground, something tells me that the mosquitoes could be unbearable for much of the summer. I’m sure that the heavy rains we’ve had this spring has made the campground to appear worse than it is in a normal year, but still, if I were to camp there in the summer, I would be sure to bring plenty of insect repellent, and be prepared to shower in it several times a day.

I found a high and dry site right on Lake Huron in the north unit, and promptly set up camp. I was a little leery of my site, it was number 13, and next to the grave of one A. J. Michalowsky, as you can see from this sign.

Grave marker

Grave marker

By the way, the B&W was an oops, as the bright sunlight made reading the LCD display of my camera difficult as I was switching settings.

Side note, I really could use a second camera body, I would have been switching lenses every few minutes this entire weekend to photograph everything to my best abilities. But, no matter where I went, or what I did, there were always birds around, as you will soon see. As it was, I left the Sigma 150-500 mm on the camera more than I should have, but if I had switched lenses every time I thought about it, that’s about all I would have accomplished this weekend.

Since I was in the B&W mode, I’ll throw in a couple of other shots that actually work in B&W.

Great egret in flight

Great egret in flight

Dunlin

Dunlin

The flowers that I had switched lenses for that got me to the B&W setting look blah without color, so they were deleted.

As I said, my campsite was right on the beach, so after getting camp set up, I strolled the beach looking for whatever I could find to photograph.

Lake Huron shoreline

Lake Huron shoreline

IMG_3932

Red-breasted mergansers taking a break

Red-breasted mergansers taking a break

The cement plant across Thunder Bay

The cement plant across Thunder Bay

Lake Huron shoreline

Lake Huron shoreline

Lake Huron shoreline

Lake Huron shoreline

Beach flowers

Beach flowers

Great egret landing

Great egret landing

There’s a mile of beach there at the campground, so that means I walked two miles out and back, and it was time for a break. As I was sitting there relaxing, I noticed a trick of the late afternoon sun in the needles of some pines.

Pine needles in the sun

Pine needles in the sun

Then, it was back to the beach a second time.

Dunlin and reflection

Dunlin and reflection

Dunlin

Dunlin

Lake Huron shoreline

Lake Huron shoreline

Lake Huron shoreline

Lake Huron shoreline

Beach plant

Beach plant

Shorebirds in flight

Shorebirds in flight

Shorebirds in flight

Shorebirds in flight

Shorebirds in flight

Shorebirds in flight

Shorebirds in flight

Shorebirds in flight

Lake Huron shoreline

Lake Huron shoreline

Lake Huron shoreline

Lake Huron shoreline

Great egret in flight

Great egret in flight

IMG_4068

Lake Huron shoreline

Lake Huron shoreline

Lake Huron shoreline

Lake Huron shoreline

Lake freighter at night

Lake freighter at night

Glowing Japanese lantern

Glowing Japanese lantern

I waited (and froze) until 10:30 PM for the moon to rise, as I really wanted to photograph the full moon rising above the lake, but I guess I picked a bad spot where it wasn’t in my line of sight. So, as cold as it was, and little else to do, I turned in for the night so I could get an early start on Sunday.

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


Memorial Day weekend, the Lake Huron lighthouses

These are the photos I took of three Lake Huron Lighthouses over the Memorial Day weekend, 2013. I shot so many, and varied photos this weekend that I have to break them up into several posts. The lighthouses are the easiest ones to post quickly, so I’m starting with those.

I’ll have several more posts about this weekend, one of the flowers I saw, one on each of the two state parks I visited, and birds galore! I’m still working on Identifying many of the species of birds that I photographed, that may take me some time, as many are warblers or shorebirds, both of which can be very hard to ID.

Anyway, I’ll do the lighthouses here, and I’ll post a link to more information and detailed directions for any one interested, starting with the Sturgeon Point Lighthouse.

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

Located just off US 23, just a few miles north of Harisville, Michigan.

The Sturgeon Point Light Station is a lighthouse on Lake Huron in Alcona County. Established to ward mariners off a reef that extends 1.5 miles (2.4 km) lakeward from Sturgeon Point, it is today regarded as a historic example of a Cape Cod style Great Lakes lighthouse.

History: In 1854, Perley Silverthorn established a fishing station and cooperage at this site. The dangerous reef that extends 1½ miles east from Sturgeon Point presented a serious hazard to ships so one of the earliest lighthouses in Michigan was built in 1869 and placed in operation in 1870. Mr. Silverthorn, the first Keeper, served from 1870 until 1874. In 1939 the lighthouse was electrified and automated and in 1941 the last personnel departed. The lighthouse fell into disrepair due to neglect and vandalism. In 1982 the Alcona Historical Society, under the leadership of Floyd Benghauser, leased the Keeper’s house and Lighthouse and restored it to its 1890s grandeur, using mostly volunteer labor. The light with its 3.5 order Fresnel lens, no longer used by the Coast Guard, is kept operational by the Alcona Historical Society for boaters.

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

Old lifeboat at the Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

Old lifeboat at the Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

For more info…

http://www.us23heritageroute.org/alcona.asp?ait=av&aid=6

The Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Located just off from US 23, roughly 15 miles north of Alpena, Michigan.

The Old Presque Isle Lighthouse is one of the oldest surviving lighthouses on the Great Lakes. Built in 1840 by Jeremiah Moors of Detroit, the harbor light operated until 1871 when the keeper transferred to a new, taller, coastal lighthouse a mile to the north. The Old Presque Isle Lighthouse park is a complex composed of two main structures, a keepers dwelling and a light tower. The stone and brick tower measures thirty feet tall and eighteen feet in diameter. Visitors can climb the hand-hewn stone steps for a panoramic view of the Lake Huron shoreline and Presque Isle Harbor. Nearby is the one-story side-gabled brick keeper’s dwelling which serves as a hands-on museum. Here, visitors can blow foghorns and examine other interesting artifacts. They can also ring the bell from the Lansing City Hall clock tower. Tipping the scales at an impressive 3,425 pounds, this bronze behemoth is much bigger than the Liberty Bell, which weighed 2,080 pounds when cast. Visitors may also pose for the perfect photo opportunity with head and hands in an old set of punishment stocks.

Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Scenery at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Scenery at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Scenery at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Scenery at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Scenery at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Scenery at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

IMG_4231

Light keeper’s quarters at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Scenery at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Scenery at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Scenery at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Scenery at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Old Presque Isle Lighthouse light

Old Presque Isle Lighthouse light

Lake freighter passing by the light

Lake freighter passing by the light

A link to more info…

http://www.us23heritageroute.org/presque_isle.asp?ait=av&aid=326

The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

Presque Isle Light Station is a complex of three historic buildings including a lighthouse tower and two keeper’s residences. Located on the Lake Huron shoreline near Presque Isle Harbor, the “New Presque Isle Light” is the tallest lighthouse tower accessible by the public on the Great Lakes. Built in 1870, it replaced the 1840 harbor light. The light station complex is part of a 99-acre township park that includes a playground, picnic area, pavilion and nature trails. A gift shop is located in the original keeper’s quarters connected to the tower. Visitors, for a nominal fee, may climb the 130 steps to the top of the tower for a spectacular view. An unattached 1905 keeper’s dwelling has been painstakingly restored. It is now a museum that provides visitors with an opportunity to learn about local history, as well as how keepers and their families lived.

The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

Lightkeeper's quarters at The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

Lightkeeper’s quarters at The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

Lifeboat

Lifeboat

Canon

Cannon

Lake Huron at the new Presque Isle Lighthouse

Lake Huron at the new Presque Isle Lighthouse

A link to more info…

http://www.us23heritageroute.org/presque_isle.asp?ait=av&aid=20

Well, that’s about it for this one. I had photographed the lights before, using my old Nikon and the lens I had for it, but wasn’t completely happy with the results. This time, I used my Canon and my 15-85 mm lens, and I’m still not completely happy with my photos. I tried to compensate for the distortion that I knew I was going to get with the wider angle lens, but the buildings still look somewhat askew. Sorry, I am not going to buy a tilt-shift lens just to photograph a few lighthouses. 😉

Thanks for stopping by!


Palm Warbler, Setophaga palmarum

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.

Palm Warbler, Setophaga palmarum

The Palm Warbler is a small songbird of the New World warbler family.

Palm Warblers breed in open coniferous bogs and edge east of the Continental Divide, across Canada and the northeastern United States. Their nests take the form of an open cup, usually situated on or near the ground in an open area.

These birds migrate to the southeastern United States, the Yucatán Peninsula, islands of the Caribbean, and eastern Nicaragua south to Panama to winter. They are one of the earlier migrants to return to their breeding grounds in the spring, often completing their migration almost two months before most other warblers.

Palm Warblers forage on the ground much more than other warblers, sometimes flying to catch insects. These birds mainly eat insects and berries. Their constant tail bobbing is an identifying characteristic.

The song of this bird is a monotonous buzzy, trill. The call is a sharp chek.

On to my photos:

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

This is number 99 in my photo life list, only 251 to go!

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

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Brown Thrasher, Toxostoma rufum

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.

Brown Thrasher, Toxostoma rufum

Often heard, seldom seen, many people never realize that the constant singing coming from a dense thicket is just one bird. Brown Thrashers are noted for their mimicry (as a member of the family Mimidae), but they are not as diverse in this category as their relative the Northern Mockingbird. However, during the breeding season, the mimicking ability of the male is at its best display, impersonating sounds from Tufted titmice, Northern Cardinals, Wood thrushes, Northern flickers, among other species.

The Brown Thrasher is a bird in the family Mimidae, which also includes the New World catbirds and mockingbirds. The dispersal of the Brown Thrasher is abundant throughout the eastern and central United States, southern and central Canada, and is the only thrasher to live primarily east of the Rockies and central Texas. It is the state bird of Georgia.

As a member of the genus Toxostoma, the bird is a large-sized thrasher. It has brown upper parts with a white under part with dark streaks. Because of this, it is often confused with the smaller Wood Thrush, among other species. The Brown Thrasher is noted for having over 1000 song types, and the largest song repertoire of birds. However, each note is usually repeated in two or three phrases.

The Brown Thrasher is an omnivore, with its diet ranging from insects to fruits and nuts. The usual nesting areas are shrubs, small trees, or at times on ground level. Brown Thrashers are generally inconspicuous but territorial birds, especially when defending their nests, and will attack species as large as humans.

The Brown Thrasher resides in various habitats. It prefers to live in woodland edges, thickets and dense brush, often searching for food in dry leaves on the ground. It can also inhabit areas that are agricultural and near suburban areas, but is less likely to live near housing than other bird species. The Brown Thrasher often vies for habitat and potential nesting grounds with other birds, which is usually initiated by the males.

The Brown Thrasher has been observed either solo or in pairs. The Brown Thrasher is usually an elusive bird, and maintains its evasiveness with low-level flying. When it feels bothered, it usually hides into thickets and gives cackling calls. Thrashers spend most of their time on ground level or near it. When seen, it is commonly the males that are singing from unadorned branches. The Brown Thrasher has been noted for having an aggressive behavior, and is a staunch defender of its nest. However, the name does not come from attacking perceived threats, but is believed to have come from the thrashing sound the bird makes when digging through ground debris. It is also thought that the name comes from the thrashing sound that is made while it is smashing large insects to kill and eventually eat.

This bird is omnivorous, which has a diet that includes insects, berries, nuts and seeds, as well as earthworms, snails, and sometimes lizards and frogs. During the breeding season, the diet consists primarily of beetles, grasshoppers, and other arthropods, and fruits, nuts and seeds. By the late summer, it begins to shift towards more of a herbivore diet, focusing on fruits, nuts, seeds, and grains. By winter, the customary diet of the Brown Thrasher is fruit and acorns. It has also been noted for its flexibility in catching quick insects, as the amount of vertebrae in its neck exceeds giraffes and camels.

The male Brown Thrasher has the largest song repertoire of any North American bird, which has been documented at least over 1,100. Some sources state that it has up to 3,000 song chants, while others stated beyond 3,000. The males’ singing voice usually contains more of a melodic tone than that of the related Grey catbird. Its song are coherent phrases that are iterated no more than three times, but has been done for minutes at a time. By the fall, the male sings with smoother sub-songs.

On to my photos:

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrashers

Brown Thrashers

Brown Thrashers

Brown Thrashers

Brown Thrashers

Brown Thrashers

Brown Thrashers

Brown Thrashers

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Brown thrasher

Brown thrasher

This is number 98 in my photo life list, only 252 to go!

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

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My week, the short version

Monday

It’s still hot and humid, I don’t like days that start out like this. But, there’s little I can do about it. I have many things to do this week in preparation for my trip this coming weekend, so my daily entries will probably be on the short side. To make matters worse, I added to my work load at home in ways that would bore you, so I won’t list them, but they will limit my time for blogging this week.

After my post from Muskegon yesterday, I was feeling quite proud of my “haul” as far as new species was concerned. Then, I get home, check the Muskegon County Nature Club’s website, and see all the species that I missed. They did a “Big Day” species count on Friday, and came up with 125 species on that day alone.

Oh well, no need to get greedy, I did OK, and if I continue to post two species per week as I have been doing, I have enough queued up to last three months as it stands right now. I’m sure that I am now well over one-third of the way through my list, I may get half way through it by the end of the year with any luck at all.

So with that said, it’s time to face the muggy weather and get my walk in for the day.

It seems that I forgot three from yesterday that I meant to post, so here they are.

Ferns unfurling

Ferns unfurling

Ferns unfurling

Ferns unfurling

Pillsbury doughboy fungus

Pillsbury doughboy fungus

OK, for today, it’s hard not to whine about the heat and humidity, but I’ll try, at least there was a breeze at times today. I’m convinced that birds dislike the heat almost as much as I do, or close to it. It was much quieter today, part of that may be due to the season, and that most of the males have found mates, but I don’t think so. Males will mate anytime that they find a willing female. 😉

I shot a couple of flower photos, they’re OK, but I can do better, so I’m not posting them today. I did find a blue jay that posed for me.

Blue jay

Blue jay

Blue jay

Blue jay

Blue jay

Blue jay

Blue jay

Blue jay

I ignored all the male Baltimore orioles today, and concentrated on the females. The females of most species are harder to find and photograph for many reasons. One, they tend to be more drab in color than the males. They tend to stay hidden more, as there’s no need for them to perch out in the open and sing the way that males do, and I for one often find birds by following their song. And finally, it’s typically the females that sit on the nest to incubate the eggs, so there’s a period of time when they are completely inactive, and out of sight. So here’s the female oriole from today.

Female Baltimore oriole

Female Baltimore oriole

Female Baltimore oriole

Female Baltimore oriole

Female Baltimore oriole

Female Baltimore oriole

I tried the Sigma out as a macro lens again, for this dragonfly.

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Not bad.

From my bad shots too good to delete series, here’s a male rose breasted grosbeak.

male rose breasted grosbeak

male rose breasted grosbeak

A robin, since I haven’t posted one in a while.

American robin

American robin

And finally, nightmares to those who cherish a perfect lawn.

Dandelion crop ready to spread

Dandelion crop ready to spread

That’s it for today, Mondays are the day that I visit my mom in the nursing home, on top of everything else I have to do this week.

Tuesday

Still hot and humid. We had a very strong thunderstorm move through the area yesterday afternoon, 3/4 of an inch of rain in ten minutes, a few limbs blown down, and some urban street flooding. After visiting my mom, I had to take a circuitous route from the nursing home to work to avoid large areas of standing water with flooded cars stuck in them.

More storms moved through the area overnight, adding to the humidity, but I slept through them nicely, as they did provide a temporary cool down.

The good news is that the weekend is looking great for my trip up north, there may even be a light frost Saturday morning to hold the bugs down. Typing that reminded me, I had better check the weather forecast for the region I am visiting so that I know what to take with me. Looks like sleeping bag weather at night, light jacket during the day, with sunshine, just about perfect!

So much to say today, and so little time to say it, so I guess I’d better get down with the get down.

Clouds and a breeze helped to make my walk today more pleasant than I expected as far as weather, but then people had to go and get on my nerves. I was going to do a rant about the people who I swear go out of their way to interfere with my attempts at photography, but I don’t have time for that now. Besides, some one else got on my nerves even more.

A pleasant enough, well-meaning woman stuck up a conversation with me while I was taking a break, which was OK at first. But, soon she was pumping me for information about my personal life, then telling me that I’m living my life all wrong, and offering her opinions as to how I should live. What is it about human beings that most of them think that every one should live exactly as they do? And why do they think that it’s OK for them to tell a complete stranger how to live his life?

I know that I’m weird, well outside the mainstream, but hey, I like it here, it suits me just fine. I don’t go around telling any one else that they should live like I do, because I know that 999,999 out of a million would hate the way that I live. I prefer not to be a sheeple that follows the crowd and every fad that comes along to begin with. And, I’m of the firm belief that most people would be much happier if they stopped trying to follow the crowd, and followed what is in their heart instead.

You know, I might just be considered an old curmudgeon, however, I’ve been this way my entire life more or less, my attempts to fit into the stereotypical human world have never gone well. I’ve tried to make a deal with the world, you can all live your life as you want, please leave me alone to live as I would like to.

OK, so I did take a few photos, nothing special, mostly flowers and a few birds. So here they are all at once!

Wild phlox?

Wild phlox?

Flowering bush

Flowering bush

Turkey

Turkey

Honeysuckle and lilacs

Honeysuckle and lilacs

???

???

Wild geraniums??

Wild geraniums??

Wild phlox?

Wild phlox?

Pine flower

Pine flower

Male Baltimore oriole

Male Baltimore oriole

Male Baltimore oriole in flight

Male Baltimore oriole in flight

Male Baltimore oriole in flight

Male Baltimore oriole in flight

Male Baltimore oriole

Male Baltimore oriole

Female eastern bluebird

Female eastern bluebird

Male eastern bluebird

Male eastern bluebird

Flowering tree

Flowering tree

Well, that’s it for the day, as the lecture on how I should live my life that I received while walking has put me behind schedule. In fact, the weather forecast is for rain and storms tomorrow morning, if that holds true, I think that I will take a rare break for a day to complete the many tasks I have left to do this week.

Wednesday

I am going to wimp out today, I can’t remember the last time that I didn’t go for a walk, probably last fall while I was moving. There’s been rain off and on this morning, so it has cooled off a little, but it’s very muggy and uncomfortable. The radar shows a solid mass of rain heading my way that will arrive while I’m out, so I am going to use that as an excuse to stay home at least for now, and do some things that I have to get done. If things go better than expected, I may get in a shorter walk later, we’ll see.

Well, things went better than expected, and I got a shorter version of my daily walk in today, in a light rain. With the rain, I took very few photos, I may as well post the three that I saved now and get it over with.

Wild geranium?

Wild geranium?

Grey catbird singing in the rain

Grey catbird singing in the rain

Grey catbird singing in the rain

Grey catbird singing in the rain

You may be able to tell from the leaves in the first shot of the catbird that it was also a windy day.

I took the 70-200 L series with me since it was raining, and that reminds me of something I’ve been meaning to say about it. In a recent post, I said that the auto-focus of that lens had started performing much better, and that I had no idea why. I’m not sure if this would have anything to do with it, but when I was going through the camera manual and settings, the auto-focus for the camera was set to operate in quick focus mode with the LCD display closed, and live view with the display open. Since I never open the display or use the live view mode, I changed the setting to the quick focus mode only, and that’s about the same time that the L series lens perked up so much. In theory, I can’t see how that would make a difference, but that’s the only explanation that I can come up with as a reason for the improved performance of that lens. I guess that it pays to check every setting that there is to set.

Overall, it was a very good day, because of the rain. I had the trail and park to myself, no one to lecture me on my misguided ways, and lots of birds and flowers, even if few photos were taken.

There was a red-winged blackbird perched on a fence post very close to me, I stood there for a few seconds to see if he was going to fly away, he didn’t. That is, until I pulled the camera out from under my rain jacket, then he took off, and kept on going as if he were going to travel quite a way. As soon as I slipped the camera back under my rain jacket, the blackbird turned around, and not only flew all the way back, but dive bombed me as well, then went off into the distance. I guess that he really doesn’t like the idea of having his picture taken!

That’s it for today.

Thursday

Much cooler, with moderate rain falling as I’m drinking my coffee this morning. It looks as though the rain will let up at least a little a bit later on, so I’ll do some packing before heading out for my walk today.

The weather forecast for this weekend is looking perfect! Cool and sunny! There’s also a full moon this weekend, so don’t be surprised if I come back with a few photos of the moon rising over Lake Huron in the evening, maybe even a sunrise over the lake as well.

After all the money I have spent on camera equipment this past month, I really shouldn’t be spending the money on a trip like this, but my sanity requires it. After staying home all last summer trying to save for a condo, I’ve got a bad case of cabin fever that needs to be cured.

As for today, it rained the entire time I was out there, so only three photos. I would have shot a few more, but the wind played havoc with my other attempts. I stood in one spot for ten minutes waiting for a break in the wind to get a photo that I really wanted, it never happened. So here’s what I did come up with.

Hobblebush?

Hobblebush?

Dandelion

Dandelion

Flowering tree

Flowering tree

Despite the rain and wind, I enjoyed my walk today a great deal, as because of the wind and rain, there was no one else around, just me, the birds, flowers, and a few other critters as well.

Friday

An absolutely beautiful late spring day! It’s a shame that I still have so much to do in preparation for my trip this weekend, as I will have to be quick about completing my walk, when I know that I would love to spend the entire day outside. The good news is that the entire weekend is going to be much the same!

After the week that I’ve had, both at home and at work, I think that my trip will involve a lot less driving and taking in the tourist sites, and a lot more time spent wandering the Lake Huron shoreline. But, I’ll play it by ear, one of the great things about doing these things alone is that I get to do what I feel like when I feel like it. Since I have two weeks of vacation time this year, there’s no need for me to fight the crowds of a holiday weekend at the more popular places, I can do that on the weekdays during my vacation(s). Also, I’d rather not waste this weekend driving the entire time.

Since I’ve changed my mind about my plans, I’m going to take my tent, and set-up a camp near Alpena, Michigan. I’ll add a few more lighthouses to my collection, and visit both Thompson’s Harbor and Negwegon State Parks, which are two of Michigan’s least developed state parks. I think that it will more than fill my weekend, and still leave me wanting more, in fact, I’m sure of that. So, I’d better get off my butt and get going today, so that I can get an early start tomorrow.

Well, I started out trying to photograph everything that caught my eye, but then I reminded myself that I didn’t have time for that. I will throw in a couple from early on.

Wild phlox

Wild phlox

Flowing water

Flowing water

Dandelions

Dandelions

Despite the fact that there were many people in the park today, the birds were out, and every one left me to myself. I resisted the urge to shoot more photos of the same species that I have been getting. But, I spotted this bird, and had to get a photo. I’ve seen it, or others of the same species, in the same small area of the park for the last week, but never got a photo until today.

Unidentified flitting object

Unidentified flitting object

Unidentified flitting object

Unidentified flitting object

Unidentified flitting object

Unidentified flitting object

I would have thought that a plain brown bird the size of a small sparrow would be easy to ID, but a quick check online has me stumped for now. I checked the sparrows and finches on All About Birds, but I couldn’t find a match. I didn’t have a lot of time to spend looking though, it could be a female of a species, but I was looking for photos of a bird with a plain brown face and black bill, and maybe the males have color streaks on their faces. I’ll save the photos and work on the ID next week when I have time.

My other shots were taken while taking a break, a couple of a barn swallow in flight.

Barn swallow in flight

Barn swallow in flight

Barn swallow in flight

Barn swallow in flight

That’s it for today, and for the week. I have a couple of loads of laundry to do, plus pack some of the stuff in my Forester today, to get an early start tomorrow. See you all when I get back, thanks for stopping by!


Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Sphyrapicus varius

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 Sapsucker, Sphyrapicus varius

The yellow-bellied sapsucker is a medium-sized woodpecker found in North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

The breeding habitat of the yellow-bellied sapsucker is forested areas across Canada, eastern Alaska and the northeastern United States. They prefer young, mainly deciduous forests.

Like other sapsuckers, these birds drill holes in trees and eat the sap and insects drawn to it. Many other species of birds will make use of the holes drilled by the sapsuckers to feed on the sap and/or insects as well.  Sapsuckers may also pick insects from tree trunks or catch them in flight. They also eat fruit and berries.

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers nest in a large cavity excavated in a deciduous tree, often choosing one weakened by disease; the same site may be used for several years. Both the male and the female work in making the nest, where five or seven white eggs are well concealed. Both birds share in hatching.

They will mate with the same partner from year to year, as long as both birds survive. They sometimes hybridise with red-naped sapsuckers or red-breasted sapsuckers where their breeding ranges overlap.

These birds migrate to the southeastern United States, West Indies and Central America, leaving their summer range.

On to my photos:

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Male yellow-bellied sapsucker

Male yellow-bellied sapsucker

Male yellow-bellied sapsucker

Male yellow-bellied sapsucker

Male yellow-bellied sapsucker

Male yellow-bellied sapsucker

Male yellow-bellied sapsucker

Male yellow-bellied sapsucker

This is number 97 in my photo life list, only 253 to go!

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

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Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura

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.

Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura

The Turkey Vulture , also known in some North American regions as the turkey buzzard (or just buzzard), is the most widespread of the New World vultures. One of three species in the genus Cathartes, in the family Cathartidae, the Turkey Vulture ranges from southern Canada to the southernmost tip of South America. It inhabits a variety of open and semi-open areas, including subtropical forests, shrubland, pastures, and deserts.

It, like all New World vultures, is not related to the Old World vultures of Europe, Africa, and Asia. It looks nearly identical because of convergent evolution, where natural selection similarly shapes unrelated animals adapting to the same conditions.

The Turkey Vulture is a scavenger and feeds almost exclusively on carrion. It finds its food using its keen eyes and sense of smell, flying low enough to detect the gases produced by the beginnings of the process of decay in dead animals. In flight, it uses thermals to move through the air, flapping its wings infrequently. It roosts in large community groups. Lacking a syrinx—the vocal organ of birds—its only vocalizations are grunts or low hisses. It nests in caves, hollow trees, or thickets. Each year it generally raises two chicks, which it feeds by regurgitation. It has very few natural predators.

On to my photos:

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vultures

Turkey vultures

Turkey vultures

Turkey vultures

Turkey vultures

Turkey vultures

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

This is number 96 in my photo life list, only 254 to go!

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

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Blood, sweat, and birds

On Sunday, May 19th, I made another birding trip to the Muskegon area. The weather was hot, humid, and hazy, exactly what you would expect in the middle of July. Hard to believe that exactly one week ago, I delayed my hike for a short time as I waited for a sleet squall to pass. The high temperature today was 86 degrees (30 C), that’s why I put sweat in the title of this post.

The blood, well, that’s the blood that I donated to the droves of thirsty mosquitoes that have hatched after the record flooding last month. I thought that I was prepared, I bought a bottle of something that was labeled insect repellent while grocery shopping last night. I didn’t have my glasses with me, there must not be any DEET in the stuff that I bought, as it didn’t repel insects, I think that it helped to attract them.

I started at the Muskegon County wastewater plant, hoping to find some wading birds. I wasn’t disappointed.

Ruddy turnstone

Ruddy turnstone

Dunlin and an unidentified wading object

Dunlin and an unidentified wading object

Dunlins

Dunlins

Dunlin

Dunlin

Pectoral Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

I’ll tell you, identifying sandpipers is harder than warblers!

There were several smaller wading birds around as well, but because of the amount and nature of the trash in every one of the photos I took of them, I deleted them all.

As far as other birds, most of them you’ve seen before, so I’ll just throw in a few of them from today.

Baltimore oriole

Baltimore oriole

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Mother and daughter chat

Mother and daughter chat

Lesser scaup

Lesser scaup

American Coot

American Coot

American Coot

American Coot

Savannah sparrow

Savannah sparrow

Ruddy duck

Ruddy duck

Male redhead duck

Male redhead duck

Male redhead duck

Male redhead duck

Male redhead duck

Male redhead duck

IMG_3682

Common Grackle

Common Grackle

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

Besides the birds, I also found time to photograph lilacs and lupine.

Lilac

Lilac

Lupine

Lupine

Lupine

Lupine

I realized about then that I had done things backwards, I should have gone hiking first, and hit the wastewater facility on my way home. I wasn’t looking forward to hiking in the heat of the day, I had been hoping for a lake breeze from Lake Michigan to cool things down, but it hadn’t come up when I started my hike. I soldiered on though, hiking back to Lost Lake, through the swarms of mosquitoes waiting for me in the hemlock swamp that the trail passes through.

I went to Lost Lake hoping for wildflowers, but the only one that I found was this one lone gaywing.

Gaywing

Gaywing

It’s a week or two too early for any of the other flowers that grow there, I found the plants and even a few buds, but no flowers.

I sat down on a bench overlooking the lake, and watched a pair of goldfinches having a spat over nesting material for some reason.

American goldfinches

American goldfinches

They were in the trees on the island in Lost Lake as was this guy.

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

The bench I was sitting on was exposed to the sun, so it was like an oven there, but at least I wasn’t losing any more blood. The heat was too much though, so I headed off through the woods to the other end of the lake to the observation deck that the DNR built overlooking the lake.

Lost Lake from the observation deck

Lost Lake from the observation deck

I sat there for some time, eventually the lake breeze did come up to cool things down even more. As soon as that happened, the place exploded with birds, small…

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

…and large.

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

There were also redstarts and several other warbler size birds that I never did get a good shot of. Here’s another shot (barely) of one of the gnatcatchers as it ran up a branch trying to escape my camera.

Blue-grey gnatcatcher on the run

Blue-grey gnatcatcher on the run

It was very pleasant there on the deck in the woods, so I sat there even longer, watching and listening to the birds.

I did want to check the eagle’s nest though, so I made my way back the way that I had come, then headed for the nest. I didn’t see the female on the nest, that wasn’t surprising, their nest is very large now. I found a convenient log in the shade to sit on, and waited to see if she would move, or if her mate would appear, but I started losing too much blood again to suit me. I’ll have many opportunities to photograph eagles again, so I didn’t see much point in waiting around any longer. I was tired, hungry, and out of water, so it seemed a good time to head for home.

Oh, I almost forgot, on my way back from Lost Lake, I spotted this young red-tailed hawk that obliged me by posing for a few photos.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

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


My week, Mother Nature is so fickle!

Sunday

Summer, winter, back to summer again, in just a few short days. All last week, up until the weekend, we had high temperatures around 80 degrees F (27 C). This weekend, the highs struggled to reach 50 degrees (10 C), and we’re forecast to be back near 80 later this week. What a roller coaster, but that’s typical for Michigan. My mom always used to say that you knew that there would be a cold snap and frost as soon as the lilacs begin to bloom. I prefer cool weather, somewhere in the middle, but that seldom seems to happen. The cold snap was welcome in a way, it delays the appearance of the mosquitoes a little longer.

I knew that it was going to be a chilly day today as I sat in the parking lot for Palmer Park and waited for a sleet squall to pass over. That’s what happens when you have the giant refrigeration unit known as Lake Michigan 40 miles to the west, and a west wind. So I went from wearing just a light T-shirt on Friday to a winter parka, knit wool hat, and gloves today. Somewhere in between would suit me just fine!

Palmer Park has been strange the last few times I’ve been there, plenty of birds, but they’re all in one small section of the park, around the boardwalk along Buck Creek. So it was today, including photos of two more species for the My Photo Life list project, although the photos of the blackburnian warbler that I shot are a bit iffy.

Blackburnian warbler

Blackburnian warbler

You could say that I saw three new species, if you accept my ID of this bird.

Rocket wren

Rocket wren

OK, so it’s a house wren.

The (bad) photos that I get of birds moving through thick brush are teaching me that birds seldom actually fly short distances in the brush by flapping their wings, they’re great leapers as well. They may flap once or twice to fool us into thinking that they can fly through the dense thickets they inhabit, but they really can’t.

I did get a few good ones of the house wren to use to update the post that I already did on them.

Female house wren giving me the stinkeye

Female house wren giving me the stink-eye

Male house wren giving me the stinkeye

Male house wren giving me the stink-eye

I think that I could be taking the close-ups of birds a little too far.

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

I saw another black and white warbler, but the only time it would sit still was in this position.

Black and white warbler

Black and white warbler

My other first for the day was an ovenbird.

Ovenbird.

Ovenbird.

Ovenbird

Ovenbird

After I left the boardwalk area, I saw few birds, not even many woodpeckers, and the park used to be chock full of them, I wonder what’s going on?

There’s few flowers or anything else of interest there that I haven’t already photographed, so it was somewhat of a boring day, other than avoiding tree limbs crashing down from the wind. It was one of those days when it was dark and cloudy one minute, then bright and sunny the next. Here’s two shots to illustrate that, and what a difference it makes in the appearance of some things.

Redbud tree in the shade

Redbud tree in the shade

Redbud tree in the sun

Redbud tree in the sun

I tried using the Sigma lens for macro photos again.

Dogwood

Dogwood

Here’s another, but a wider view.

Dogwood

Dogwood

I came across a plant that looks like it belongs in the holly family, shiny dark green leaves with pointed lobes, but the flowers were yellow.

Yellow holly???

Yellow holly???

Yellow holly???

Yellow holly???

A quick search on the web tells me that they may indeed be a holly plant, but I’m always suspicious of what I find online, as many people seem to be much worse than I at identifying plants. Some of the “yellow holly” I found were neither holly or yellow.

I did see a few deer, but no fawns.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

My last shot of the day is of a pine flower.

Pine flower

Pine flower

That’s all I have to say about today.

Monday

Since Tom, who may be better known to you as Mr. Tootlepedal, asked for some landscape shots of this area, I’m going to add one per day this week. As I live on the edge of suburbia, they will hardly be things of beauty, but I will do my best.

Well, I shot a lot of “landscapes” today, such as they are. It was cool, but with bluebird skies, so I thought that I would shoot all the photos of where I walk today, so the lighting would be about the same for all of them. I missed a few birds by doing that, but made up for it by getting a few flower shots to make up for those.

Starting out from my apartment.

Starting from my apartment

Starting from my apartment

Turn right on Eastern Ave.

Turn right on Eastern Ave.

Walk 1/4 mile to the M6 trail, turn right

Walk 1/4 mile to the M6 trail, turn right

I found a few dogwoods blooming, I throw one of those in.

Dogwood

Dogwood

I spent some quality time with the manual for my new Canon 60 D this weekend, there’s a lot that this camera will do! I found out that there are three presets for image quality that I can use, so I spent some time playing to fine tune those settings. I haven’t decided yet if I will come up with one setup for each of the lenses I own, or have presets for sunny, cloudy, and rainy days.

Anyway, I walk west down the M6 trail about 1/4 of a mile, after that, the trail runs next to a mobile home park, and I seldom find anything to photograph there. So, I come back to Eastern Ave. walking through the thick brush beside the trail.

Walking path

Walking path

Because the trail is too darn ugly to walk twice.

sound barier along the M6 trail

sound barrier along the M6 trail

Getting back to Eastern, I climb the hill to the back entrance to Creekside Park.

Trail to Creekside Park

Trail to Creekside Park

All the way along the trail, this is my view to the north.

Test shot

Test shot

My view to the north would be the same on the first leg of my walk if it weren’t for the sound barrier blocking my view. All the traffic does interfere with my ability to listen for bird songs, and find birds that way.

On top of the hill I reach Creekside Park.

Creekside Park

Creekside Park

The “upper” field closest in this photo is where I have photographed the meadowlarks and Savannah Sparrows. Beyond that field are the baseball diamonds.

Here’s the “middle” field in the park.

Creekside Park

Creekside Park

I see the pair of bluebirds and other species in this field, they love using the young trees as perches to scout from. As it happened, there were two meadowlarks perched on the fence around the ball diamonds when I shot this, good luck picking them out. 🙂

Here’s what is behind me in that last shot.

Creekside Park

Creekside Park

There are tons of birds in that field and brush, but I’m shooting into the sun, so it is difficult to get good photos of them.

At the bottom of the hill is the creek, and a narrow strip of brush on each side, this is where I get the majority of my bird photos.

The creek in Creekside park

The creek in Creekside park

And finally, the “lower” field.

Creekside park

Creekside park

So, that’s about it. I walk around the edges of the park, near the trees that ring the park, and along both banks of the creek. It’s not much to look at, but on days like today, when there aren’t many people in the park, I do see many more birds than you would think. Here’s the rest of my photos from today.

Blue wildflowers

Blue wildflowers

Female Baltimore oriole

Female Baltimore oriole

Apple blossoms

Apple blossoms

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

According to my GPS unit, I walk almost exactly three miles per day during the week.

I’m going to have to do some landscape shots of the places I go on weekends, most of them are a little more attractive than this park. But, in some ways I’m fortunate that there is this little park here, as I don’t have to drive anywhere for my daily walk.

Tuesday

My thought for the day, how and where do we strike balance as far as protecting habitat that may not be the historic habitat of an area, but because of human activity, that habitat has been created, and species of wildlife have taken root there.

Here’s what I mean by that. When the first Europeans came to Michigan, over 90% of the state was forest land, and was the home to forest loving creatures. By 1900, 95% of the forests were gone, most were cut for timber, the rest went up in smoke in the great fires that swept the northern part of the lower peninsula in the late 1800’s as the result of poor lumbering practices.

The numbers of forest dwelling species plummeted, some disappeared entirely, like the turkey and grey wolf as examples.

Nature abhors a vacuum, so species more suited to open areas dramatically increased in numbers, or moved into the state for the first time, and have become what those of us living now consider to be native species, but they were few and far between 200 years ago, if they were found here at all.

Now that our forests are returning, our true native species are making a comeback, but at the “expense” of the non-native species that had taken the place of the natives.

As the numbers of the species better suited to open country fall, the environmentalists that love those species are demanding action to save those species. That would of course involve lumbering off some of the forest land to create the open habitat for those species.

This gets the environmental groups who love the forests and the species associated with the forests all worked up, and the poor Michigan DNR is caught right in the middle. It’s common for both sides to take any plan put forward by the DNR to court, with opposing environmental groups on each side of the plan.

No one wins, least of all the taxpayers that have to foot the legal bills, and the time spent by DNR staffers working on plan after plan trying to make every one happy, which is impossible.

And I think that Mother Nature is fickle.

OK, for my walk today. It started pleasantly cool, jacket weather, but soon warmed up enough that I shed the jacket and was down to a T-shirt.

I’m afraid that optimal birding time is done here in my area, there are enough leaves on the trees now to make seeing (and photographing) birds much more difficult than last week, and it’s only going to get harder. We’re in a lull as far as flowers also. The early spring blooms are done, and the summer blooms haven’t started yet.

So, I spent some more time fine tuning the settings on my new camera, and I think I have the settings for the Sigma 150-500 mm about dialed in.

Blue jay

Blue jay

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

Fox squirrel after a territorial battle

Fox squirrel after a territorial battle

Purple wildflower

Purple wildflower

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird

Blue jay

Blue jay

These photos about match the output of the 15-85 mm lens that I am in love with! I didn’t adjust the exposure for any of these, shot under a variety of conditions from shade to full sun. I notice a little blow out in the white in the first photo of the blue jay, that’s OK, I can take care of that with exposure compensation in the future. My goal was to test the basic settings, and I think that as far as sharpness, contrast, color saturation, and color rendition, that I have the settings for the Sigma close enough for who it’s for, at least for now.

However, I think that these settings would be too much using the 15-85 mm, so I have made up my mind to use one of the three available user setups for each of the three lenses I have.

There will be a slight pause while I do a little gloating, and my happy dance!

*********

OK, I’m not say that the photos from today are anything special, but, after several years of using a camera that didn’t function as it should for even the basics, matched to a poor quality lens, having quality equipment is really nice, really nice!

Maybe not, now I have no excuse for crappy photos any longer. 😉

That’s it for today, I’m going to spend a little more quality time with the camera manual before work.

Wednesday

This morning temperatures are 40-45 degrees warmer than 48 hours ago, the roller coaster ride continues. So, what do I do, I dawdle around the apartment longer than usual, so it will be even warmer outside, and I can come back and complain about the heat. 🙂

You can’t get those types of temperature increases without a strong wind to change the air mass overhead, and so it was today. That limited my flower photos a little, that and seeing many birds to photograph.

I can see that I am going to have a serious problem soon as far as storing photos. I shot 81 today, and the only ones I deleted were duplicates of flowers to make sure that I got a sharp one in the wind. Also, a few of birds where the wind blew leaves in front of the bird as I was shooting. Well, part of the reason I kept so many is that I am comparing today’s results as I fine tune the camera settings.

So, where do I begin, I suppose at the beginning, when I shot a pair of mallards to test my setup.

Male mallard

Male mallard

Female mallard

Female mallard

Since birds that are mostly black are tough to photograph, I shot a red-winged blackbird as part of my testing as well.

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

I have noticed something since I switched cameras. When I was using the Nikon, I reduced the quality of the images before I uploaded them here, but I really couldn’t tell the difference in the before and after versions.

That’s no longer the case, I see a marked difference between the originals and the reduced quality versions that come from the Canon. I suppose that’s because there’s such a huge difference in the quality of the originals, reducing lower quality images doesn’t change them as much as higher quality images.

Anyway, I played with a meadowlark for a while, trying to get closer.

Eastern meadowlark

Eastern meadowlark

Eastern meadowlark

Eastern meadowlark

Since the flowers were whipping in the wind, I settled for a shot of most of the crab tree that is flowering.

White flowering crab apple

White flowering crab apple

I also shot a series of a red-shouldered hawk as it circled me.

Red-shouldered hawk in flight

Red-shouldered hawk in flight

Red-shouldered hawk in flight

Red-shouldered hawk in flight

Red-shouldered hawk in flight

Red-shouldered hawk in flight

The Sigma is a great lens for just about everything but moving targets. Some of the problem is a lack of practice with it on my part, but mostly it’s because of the size and weight of that lens. It’s darn hard to hold up overhead while trying to track a moving target.

The red flowering crabs in the park have just begun to bloom in earnest, I was going to hold off for a day or two given the wind today, but thought to myself that it may not be a good idea to wait, as I don’t know how long the blooms will last. So, I went crazy.

Red flowering crab apples

Red flowering crab apples

Red flowering crab apples

Red flowering crab apples

Red flowering crab apples

Red flowering crab apples

Red flowering crab apples

Red flowering crab apples

Red flowering crab apples

Red flowering crab apples

Red flowering crab apples

Red flowering crab apples

All of those except for the first one were shot with the 15-85 mm lens, and I amazed myself by remembering to switch the exposure settings to standard for those, then back to the settings I’ve saved for the Sigma, to capture this male rose-breasted grosbeak.

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

I was sneaking up on the meadowlark again, when it spotted me…

Eastern meadowlark

Eastern meadowlark

…then flew only a short distance from me, and rewarded my efforts with a song.

Eastern meadowlark

Eastern meadowlark

I was tempted to shoot several hundred like this next one…

Newly sprouted leaves against a blue sky

Newly sprouted leaves against a blue sky

…as it’s been so long since I’ve seen leaves, but I controlled myself until I spotted this rather nondescript bird in those leaves. Actually, I heard him singing first.

Warbler

Warbling vireo

Warbler

Warbling vireo

Warbler

Warbling vireo

I’m going to wrap up today with this so-so shot of a pink double crab apple, only because I want to remember to do it justice tomorrow with the right lens in the right light.

Pink double crab apple

Pink double crab apple

Thursday

I’ve been putting together a list of places to go over the Memorial Day weekend, when it dawned on me last night that there won’t be many, if any, leaves on the trees as far north as I was planning on going. I’m going to have to make some major revisions in my plans, as it is rather pointless to go on a tour to shoot landscapes when the areas won’t look their best. Oh well, I’ll come up with something.

I received an Email from Canon announcing a new lens, an EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4X, and I thought “Yippee, about the perfect lens”, until I saw the price. At nearly 12 grand, it won’t be on my shopping list anytime soon.

Time to go for my walk and think about places to go next weekend.

Well, back to mid-summer weather, the heat is sapping my energy, and that’s made worse with my allergies kicking in a little. I’m fortunate that my allergies aren’t nearly as bad as many people have them, but it was enough this morning that I would have liked to have sat down in the shade somewhere and not move.

Itchy, watering eyes aren’t a good condition to have when you’re trying to photograph things either. I made an effort to do justice to the pink double crabs from yesterday, I was not happy at all with my photos as I was shooting them. I felt as though I was just going through the motions, and that the photos would be crap.

Now that I’m home, feeling a bit better, and see them on the computer, they’re not nearly as bad as I thought that they would be.

Pink double crab apple

Pink double crab apple

Pink double crab apple

Pink double crab apple

Pink double crab apple

Pink double crab apple

Pink double crab apple

Pink double crab apple

Pink double crab apple

Pink double crab apple

There are a few lilac bushes in the area, but no large displays, and I can’t get as close as I would like to most of the bushes, as they are in people’s yards. So, I had to make do with these two, shot at a distance with the Sigma.

Lilacs

Lilacs

Lilacs

Lilacs

The bush in the last one is on the grounds of a funeral home that I walk past daily.

My mood improved as I went along, as I was cheered by all the birds singing.

Baltimore oriole

Baltimore oriole

Song sparrow singing

Song sparrow singing

Grey catbird singing

Grey catbird singing

Grey catbird singing

Grey catbird singing

Song sparrow singing

Song sparrow singing

I also watched a red-bellied woodpecker trying to pluck seed pods off from a tree. The seed pods were well attached, as several times the woodpecker nearly fell out of the tree while yanking on them.

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

That’s all the photos from today, well, all the photos that I’m going to post today.

I think that over the Memorial Day weekend that I am going to try sleeping in the back of my Forester. It will be cramped, but I think I’ll survive two nights in the back. It will save me the time of setting up and taking down my full size tent. Setting up doesn’t take long, breaking camp is what is time-consuming. Making sure that the tent is clean and dry before being stored is what takes so long.

I’m thinking of buying one of those cot/tent combinations I’ve seen. My full size tent works great when I go someplace and spend a week there, but packing up and moving daily is not its strong suit. I seldom sit around in the tent, no matter what.

One of the cot/tent combos looks about perfect for quick weekend get aways when I’m on the move all the time. The big plus to one of those is that I can set it up in the garage to dry and clean after I get back if need be.

I was going to stay home this weekend, but the weather is forecast to be quite warm on Sunday, so I think that I’ll go to Muskegon where it will be much cooler due to Lake Michigan. I’ve been meaning to do the Lost Lake trail in the spring anyway, this seems like the perfect time to do so.

Friday

In my planning for next weekend, I have to keep reminding myself that it is only three days, and that I don’t have to try to photograph the entire state in those three days. There are two more three-day weekends this summer, and I have two weeks of vacation coming. You know, I don’t think that I have ever taken a two-week vacation in my life. I may have to give some thought into doing that this summer, I’m liking that idea.

For about the last decade, most of my trips have been either to camp and fish in the Pigeon River Country, or kayaking trips on northern Michigan rivers, with maybe a little fishing thrown in for good measure. Those are reasons enough to love Michigan, but there is so much more to the state. I think that it’s time for me to reconnect with some places that I haven’t been to in years.

Anyway, for next weekend, I’m thinking now that I’ll do a birding and rare plant trip around the Straits of Mackinac, that’s where Lakes Michigan and Huron meet. Because of Michigan’s unique freshwater coast and geology, the area is home to many plants that grow nowhere else in the world, like the dwarf lake iris. Late spring/early summer is when many of these plants flower, so now would be a good time to go looking for them. I’m sure that I’ll get some good scenery shots as well, and maybe some shore birds thrown in for good measure. Sounds like a plan, so it’s time to go for a walk.

Cloudy and cooler today, very pleasant for a change. The wind limited my shots of flowers, but at least I wasn’t feeling run down like the last two days.

I’m going to start with a few photos of deer, despite the brush between us, I like these shots.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

I could start several series of birds shots, one of them in action. Here’s a warbling vireo I caught gathering caterpillar silk for her nest, spotting me, then going back to work.

Warbling vireo

Warbling vireo

Warbling vireo

Warbling vireo

Warbling vireo

Warbling vireo

I could do another series of birds singing.

Male Rose breasted grosbeak singing

Male Rose breasted grosbeak singing

Male American goldfinch singing

Male American goldfinch singing

Male yellow warbler singing

Male yellow warbler singing

Male Rose breasted grosbeak singing

Male Rose breasted grosbeak singing

Mourning dove cooing

Mourning dove cooing

Or I could do a series on the look that they give me when they spot me.

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

And finally, there’s the bad shots that I like for some reason series.

Yellow warbler

Yellow warbler

I had a few flower shots to add, but they’re nothing special, and I cut short working on this yesterday to run to the camera store to pick up a polarizing filter. So, my last shot from yesterday is this woodchuck lounging on a stump.

Woodchuck

Woodchuck

I bought a the filter and a step-down ring so that I could use the filter on two lenses, but the salesman goofed and sold me the wrong size filter to do that, so I have to run back to the store again.

Saturday

The heat is back in earnest today, made worse by the fact that I went to the camera store first thing this morning to pick up the correct size filter. If it wasn’t for the heat, I’d be doing a celebration dance of the type that they outlawed in the NFL! You’ll see why shortly, but first, a male northern cardinal that’s beginning to molt already.

Male northern cardinal molting

Male northern cardinal molting

You’d look grumpy too, if you were losing your brilliant red crest so early in the year! His mate was looking well groomed though.

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Until a puff of wind ruffled her feathers.

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

I spotted a muskrat in the stream that runs next to the trail in one spot.

Muskrat

Muskrat

Muskrat

Muskrat

If it hadn’t been for the heat, it would have been a perfect day, even with the heat, it was close to it. The honeysuckle and some other flowering trees were filling the air with their wonderful fragrance!

Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle

Not too hard on the eyes, either. I was going to switch lenses and get serious about photographing the flowers, when I first heard, then saw, a small flock of scarlet tanagers in the brush. Here’s what the All About Birds website has to say about them.

“Male Scarlet Tanagers are among the most blindingly gorgeous birds in an eastern forest in summer, with blood-red bodies set off by jet-black wings and tail. They’re also one of the most frustratingly hard to find as they stay high in the forest canopy singing rich, burry songs.”

I have a grand total of four photos of scarlet tangers, despite my best efforts in the past to photograph them. One was taken with my film camera, from too far away to be good, and three taken with my old Nikon just before dusk, where the photos are blurry because of the low light, and the colors are also muted. I remedied that today, but it wasn’t easy. Trying to catch one of them in the open and well lit was proving as difficult as always.

Male scarlet tanager

Male scarlet tanager

I even shot a male cardinal by mistake.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

I was hot, frustrated, and I needed a break by that time. Trying to shoot through the thick brush, and into the sun was not working at all, so I thought that strategy may be in order. I saw that the tanagers seemed to be moving east as they foraged the tree tops, so I took off in that direction, circled to the other edge of the woodlot, and hoped that the tanagers would show up. I set my camera bag down, and noticed that the forest floor was almost covered in small white flowers of several different species, but I wasn’t about to change lenses then.

I had time to cool down, and get my mind cleared, when the tanagers showed up!

Male scarlet tanager

Male scarlet tanager

Male scarlet tanager

Male scarlet tanager

Male scarlet tanager

Male scarlet tanager

Male scarlet tanager

Male scarlet tanager

Male scarlet tanager

Male scarlet tanager

Male scarlet tanager

Male scarlet tanager

I now have more than four photos of them! I did miss the females though, I got one bad shot which I deleted it was so bad. Still, time for my happy dance!

I got to the hill overlooking the park, and played with my lenses and new polarizing filters, but they’re nothing special, so I won’t bore you with them. Besides, I have learned that Creekside Park should really be named Baltimore oriole park! I don’t know how many breeding pair of the orioles there are, but it is significant, as they were everywhere I looked.

Female Baltimore oriole

Female Baltimore oriole

Female Baltimore oriole

Female Baltimore oriole

Female Baltimore oriole

Female Baltimore oriole

Female Baltimore oriole

Female Baltimore oriole

Female Baltimore oriole

Female Baltimore oriole

Male Baltimore oriole

Male Baltimore oriole

Male Baltimore oriole

Male Baltimore oriole

Female Baltimore oriole

Female Baltimore oriole

Male Baltimore oriole

Male Baltimore oriole

Male Baltimore oriole

Male Baltimore oriole

Male Baltimore oriole

Male Baltimore oriole

Even though this post is too long already, I have posted almost all birds today, so I’d better throw in at least one more flower shot, and a bug shot before I end it.

Flowering crabs

Flowering crabs

Green beetle

Green beetle

Tomorrow I’m heading for another day of birding around Muskegon, so that’s it for this week, thanks for stopping by!


Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica

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.

Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica

The Barn Swallow is the most widespread species of swallow in the world. It is a distinctive passerine bird with blue upper parts, a long, deeply forked tail and curved, pointed wings. It is found in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas.

The Barn Swallow is a bird of open country which normally uses man-made structures to breed and consequently has spread with human expansion. It builds a cup nest from mud pellets in barns or similar structures and feeds on insects caught in flight. This species lives in close association with humans, and its insect-eating habits mean that it is tolerated by man; this acceptance was reinforced in the past by superstitions regarding the bird and its nest.

The preferred habitat of the Barn Swallow is open country with low vegetation, such as pasture, meadows and farmland, preferably with nearby water. This swallow avoids heavily wooded or precipitous areas and densely built-up locations. The presence of accessible open structures such as barns, stables, or culverts to provide nesting sites, and exposed locations such as wires, roof ridges or bare branches for perching, are also important in the bird’s selection of its breeding range.

The Barn Swallow is similar in its habits to other aerial insectivores, including other swallow species and the unrelated swifts. It is not a particularly fast flier, with a speed estimated at about 11 m/s, up to 20 m/s and a wing beat rate of approximately 5, up to 7–9 times each second, but it has the maneuverability necessary to feed on flying insects while airborne. It is often seen flying relatively low in open or semi-open areas.

The Barn Swallow typically feeds 7–8 meters (23–26 ft) above shallow water or the ground, often following animals, humans or farm machinery to catch disturbed insects, but it will occasionally pick prey items from the water surface, walls and plants. In the breeding areas, large flies make up around 70% of the diet, with aphids also a significant component. When egg-laying, Barn Swallows hunt in pairs, but will form often large flocks otherwise.

The Barn Swallow drinks by skimming low over lakes or rivers and scooping up water with its open mouth. This bird bathes in a similar fashion, dipping into the water for an instant while in flight.

The male Barn Swallow returns to the breeding grounds before the females and selects a nest site, which is then advertised to females with a circling flight and song. The breeding success of the male is related to the length of the tail streamers, with longer streamers being more attractive to the female.

Both sexes defend the nest, but the male is particularly aggressive and territorial. Once established, pairs stay together to breed for life. As its name implies, the Barn Swallow typically nests inside accessible buildings such as barns and stables, or under bridges and wharves. The neat cup-shaped nest is placed on a beam or against a suitable vertical projection. It is constructed by both sexes, although more often by the female, with mud pellets collected in their beaks and lined with grasses, feathers, algae or other soft materials.

In North America at least, Barn Swallows frequently engage in a mutualist relationship with Osprey. Barn Swallows will build their nest below an Osprey nest, receiving protection from other birds of prey which are repelled by the exclusively fish-eating Osprey. The Osprey are alerted to the presence of these predators by the alarm calls of the swallows.

On to my photos:

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

This is number 95 in my photo life list, only 255 to go!

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

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American Black Duck, Anas rubripes

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

American Black Duck, Anas rubripes

The American Black Duck is a large dabbling duck. American Black Ducks are similar to Mallards in size, and resemble the female Mallard in coloration, although the Black Duck’s plumage is darker. It is native to eastern North America and has shown reduction in numbers and increasing hybridization with the more common Mallard as that species has spread with man-made habitat changes.

They are similar to Mallards in size, and resemble the female Mallard in coloration, although the Black Duck’s plumage is darker. The male and female Black Duck are generally similar in appearance, but the male’s bill is yellow while the female’s is a dull green. The head is slightly lighter brown than the dark brown body, and the speculum are iridescent violet-blue with predominantly black margins. The Black Duck has orange legs and dark eyes. In flight, the white under wings can be seen in contrast to the dark brown body. The behavior and voice are the same as for the Mallard drake.

Their breeding habitat is alkaline marshes, acid bogs, lakes, ponds, rivers, marshes, brackish marshes, and the margins of estuaries and other aquatic environments in northern Saskatchewan, Manitoba, across Ontario and Quebec as well as the Atlantic Canadian Provinces, including the Great Lakes, and the Adirondacks in the United States. Female Black Ducks lay an average of 9 eggs.

Black Ducks interbreed regularly and extensively with Mallard ducks, to which they are closely related. Some authorities even consider the Black Duck to be a subspecies of the Mallard, not a separate species at all.

This species is partially migratory and many winter in the east-central United States, especially coastal areas; some remain year-round in the Great Lakes region. These birds feed by dabbling in shallow water, and grazing on land. They mainly eat plants, but also some mollusks and aquatic insects.

On to my photos, and I have not cropped the mallards out so you can see the similarities and the size difference between the two species:

American Black ducks and mallard

American Black ducks and mallard

American Black ducks and mallard

American Black ducks and mallard

American Black duck and mallard

American Black duck and mallard

This is number 94 in my photo life list, only 256 to go!

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

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Rerun, The snowy owl trip, with bald eagles as a bonus

Note: I dug back through my archives to bring this post up to the front again, since so many people commented about it after I reposted a few of the photos from this trip. Sorry for resorting to a rerun, but I had started a follow-up post about this trip, and never got around to finishing it. So, I’ll edit in my follow-up thoughts as well.

Reposted from a trip I made on February 26, 2012

Well, I did it. I went to Muskegon today to visit the wastewater treatment facility to look for snowy owls, and I found one, and a whole lot more to boot! I’m not exactly sure where to start, so I guess I’ll start with a blurb from the Michigan Audubon’s website about the facility.

“Muskegon County operates a huge, 11,000 acre, Wastewater Management System that is one of the best birding sites in the state. If the name didn’t alert you, be prepared for a fragrant visit. This site is home to huge numbers of waterfowl and gulls during migration and also attracts large numbers of shorebirds. In the fields used as spraying areas you can find raptors and open-country birds. Many rarities are often found here. While you’re in the area, check out the nearby Muskegon State Game Area.”

And, here’s a map of the area, courtesy of the Michigan DNR. The place is huge, and only a small area is used for treating sewage, the rest is mostly farm land with a few woodlots here and there.

Right off the bat, I knew the Muskegon wastewater facility was great place for birding. I drove up to the administration building to pick up a pass, and there were birds everywhere!

I could, and probably should, do a post just on how the wastewater facility differs from the typical big city wastewater treatment plant, but I don’t have time for that. Or, to do the research to see who it was that was responsible for having the vision to build such a facility in the first place. Somewhere along the line they decided to not only treat waste in what I think is the correct way, but to also make the facility a haven for wildlife. There are bird houses and nesting boxes all around the facility, along with other examples of habitat improvements as well, and it shows.

There are two other things I have to say before I get to the photos, one is that the place is a birder’s heaven, and I don’t know why, but none of the pictures I took with either of my cameras came out as well as they should have, luckily, the snowy owl photos are the best of them!

Oh! One other thing, you’re supposed to have a pass to be on the facility, but they are only available during the week. If you want to go there on a weekend, you have to arrange for a pass in advance. You must obtain a permit from the Administration Office as you drive into the facility. The office is closed on weekends so a permit must be obtained in advance. Contact: 231-724-3440 to arrange to have a pass left for you to pick up at the administration building. If you’re a member of a recognized conservation group, you can obtain a long-term (either annual or two years, I don’t recall the details) pass if you plan to visit regularly.

OK, so how do you find a snowy owl in a 11,000 acre facility? You drive around until you spot the crowd of photographers taking pictures of them!

Photographers “stalking” a snowy owl

Then, you walk up to the owl, and start taking photos yourself.

Snowy owl

There’s one of the Snowy owls that is known for being a ham, and posing for photographers. The only thing is, he seldom opens his eyes all the way.

Snowy owl

He is a cutie, isn’t he?

Snowy owl

It is quite the social event, there will be groups of photogs there, alternately snapping photos, and holding conversations with their fellow photographers.

Snowy owl

All the while, the owl sits there squinting into the sun, listening to the conversations going on around him. When he hears that you’re all talking and not paying attention to him, he moves a little ways away so that you will return your focus to him!

Snowy owl

Then he sits there until a sufficient more number of photos are taken.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

I don’t know what this guy was shooting.

Snowy owl photographer

I was using my 70 to 300 mm lens for these photos, the guy with the BIG lens was even closer, and telling the rest of us to be quiet and not get as close as he was or we would scare the owl away. After all he was wearing camo. I almost cracked up laughing at that one!

He’s wearing dark camo in a snow-covered field, his camo was flapping in the wind like a tattered flag, and he’s telling us to be quiet? I have some news for the guy with the BIG lens, even a nearly blind owl could see you sticking out like a sore thumb when you’re only 50 feet from the owl. Even a nearly deaf owl could have heard his camouflaged “hide” flapping in the wind! What a hoot! And that lens at 50 feet, what was he doing, checking to see if the owl had fleas or mites or something?

He was originally at the base of the berm that he was standing on in the photo, and he was trying to herd the rest of us away. I looked the situation over, and couldn’t figure out why every one was standing in the lowest spot around, trying to take photos of the owl on top of the berm while shooting through the weeds.

I looked at the owl, made mental contact with him, his name is Mike by the way, and told Mike that I was going to climb the berm to take a few photos if it was OK with him. Mike said that it was OK, so up the berm I went. I shot the photos I wanted, had a pleasant conversation with Mike, then thanked him for his patience, and rejoined the rest of the photographers down at the base of the berm.

At one point, the guy with the BIG lens came out from under his flapping hide, and shot me one of those if looks could kill kind of looks, but he said nothing to me about it. Could be because of my size, I don’t know. But, as soon as he saw that I had left the top of the berm, he followed my footsteps up the berm, BIG lens and all.

That’s something I have to mention, the wind. It was nasty out there! That may have had something to do with the other big story of the day, which I’ll get to later. I was only out of my vehicle for a short time, and I was chilled to the bone by the wind. The rest of us there retreated to our vehicles to warm up, while the guy with the BIG lens kept inching closer to Mike, until he took off.

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

And Mike perched where I could shoot him from my vehicle nicely.

Snowy owl

My, what big feet they have!

Snowy owl

You can tell how windy it was, the wind was trying to blow the feathers off from Mike’s chest!

The guy with the BIG Lens tried sneaking up on Mike again, while wearing his wrong color camo flapping in the wind, and again Mike flew off.

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl’s rough landing

You may or may not be able to tell from the pictures, but Mike basically circled those of us sitting in our vehicles, giving us great photo-ops, while staying clear of the guy with the BIG lens and his camo. I like that owl! As much fun as it was watching Mike give the guy with the BIG lens a hard time, I decided to drive around a few of the roads to see what else I could find, and it was considerable.

The other story of the day was that I couldn’t get a sharp picture from either of my cameras, other than the owl pics, and they’re not that great. I saw so many species of birds that I have never photographed before, and the photos I took today came out like crap, could be because I was at a sewage plant, I don’t know. Here are just a few examples.

American kestrel

Horned lark

Common goldeneye duck

Green winged teal and mallard

I spotted what looked to be a flock of eagles.

Bald eagle in flight

And I got this shot of two unidentifiable birds and an eagle.

Bird attack

Then this shot of a mature and immature eagle together on the ground.

Eagles on the ground

And lots of eagles in the air.

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

I’m not completely happy with any of the shots in this post, the owl pics came out OK, but they should have been better. When I first did the download from my Nikon, I thought that because I had switched from spot metering to center weighted, it was up to its old tricks again. But, I took a few back-up photos with my Canon just in case, and they all came out crappy as well. As I am typing this, it dawned on me that several times when I was either walking, or had the windows in the explorer down, it felt like I was being snowed on. There was hardly a cloud in the sky, and I never saw snow other than that which was being driven by the wind. But thinking about it now, I’ll wager there was more snow blowing around than I could see, and all those little ice crystals in the air are what caused my photos to come out as poorly as they did.

Since this is about the snowy owl, I’ll finish up with one more of Mike being the ham that he is.

Mike, the Snowy owl

I have since learned that the powers that be have considered closing the wastewater treatment area to the public, in part because there were so many people stressing the birds by trying to get too close, too often. Not just the snowy owls, but many of the other birds there as well. That would be a real shame, because it is one of the best birding spots in West Michigan. And, it’s just a few people who have no sense that may ruin it for the rest of us, which is so often the case.

I hope that the guy with the BIG lens and his camo straightens up. I kid around about chasing birds, and I’m sure that I do frighten my share away, but you have to use some common sense when trying to photograph any species of wildlife.

I also hope that Mike made it back home OK, unfortunately, several of his cousins didn’t, including one that had taken up temporary residence near the Kalamazoo airport. That one starved to death, in part because it never had a chance to do any hunting with crowds of people chasing it all the time.

Yes, I would have had liked to watched Mike longer, but I came, I saw him, got the photos I wanted, then left him alone. At no time while I was photographing him did he seem fidgety or uneasy with my presence. You can tell if you’re stressing an animal, and the general rule of thumb is to stop whatever you’re doing to cause the stress, like chasing a bird around with a BIG lens.

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


My week, my how things changed!

Monday

I was up and out the door relatively early today, and it was refreshingly cool to start. I got to the corner of the apartment complex, turned to scan the woods there, only to see that my view is now blocked. There are leaves on the trees now! Since I didn’t walk around here this weekend, that came as a shock to me, those leaves weren’t there last Friday.

A short way down the road, I spotted this red-tailed hawk perched and trying to scan the woods as well.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Not great, but it was nice to see one fairly close up for a change. The hawk was being harassed by a robin, sorry, no photos of that.

I took only the Sigma 150-500 mm with me today, and of course I spotted some flowers that deserve better than this photo.

Red flowering bush

Red flowering bush

My ex and I had several of these planted around our property, I loved them, but they don’t seem to get much respect, I wonder why? I don’t even remember their name, as they were in the junk plant section of the store when I bought ours, so I didn’t expect them to be as nice as they are.

My thought for the day. Will more species of wildlife become urbanized?

Some of the invasive species of birds that were brought here from Europe, such as pigeons, English Sparrows, and European Starlings, that have a long history of co-existing with man, and have adapted to live around humans, but are seldom seen out in the ‘wilds”.

Some of our native species have adapted very quickly, such as robins, house wrens, and barn swallows to name a few. In just my 57 years on this Earth, I have seen more species that seem to be getting more used to our encroachment into their habitat, and living and nesting in areas that they wouldn’t back when I was a kid.

Banning DDT helped increase the numbers of many more species of birds than just the raptors like eagles, and in my lifetime, suburban sprawl has consumed more habitat, but I personally think that wildlife is starting to get used to our being here, hence the larger numbers of both species and numbers of each species seen living in a suburban setting.

My other thought for the day had to do with women’s fashion as it relates to women’s bodies, but I’d better not go down that road!

I caught a blue-grey gnatcatcher doing its thing in the brush along the creek.

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

And I thought that kinglets were quick, wrong! They act as if they have been sedated compared to gnatcatchers! Most of the time I see them they are running along the branches, or hopping between branches, but even if they perch for a split second, they never really stop moving. They twist and turn, on the lookout for a meal, but I wonder how their brain can process the information as fast as they twitch around.

I shot a few of some mallards circling the creek for practice at shooting action shots with my new outfit.

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

And finding a grey catbird in the open always calls for a shot.

Grey catbird

Grey catbird

And, I’m throwing in this last one from today to give all of those who love a perfect lawn nightmares for the next month.

Got dandelions?

Got dandelions?

As I have many things to work on today, that’s it for today, on to Tuesday.

Tuesday

Today’s entry will be short, as I have much to do.

There are times in the spring when leaves bursting out of their buds are just as beautiful as any flower.

Leaf buds opening

Shagbark hickory leaves opening

I knew that I should have taken all my lenses with me, I shot that with the Sigma, but the 15-85 mm would have been better. That goes for the few flower photos I shot today.

Redbud tree?

Flowering plum?

Dandelions

Dandelions

Apple blossoms

Apple blossoms

Tulip

Tulip

The tree that I labeled as a flowering plum of some type, could be something else. I’m so lacking in my knowledge of plants.

I put the Sigma to the use it was intended to get these shots of a Baltimore oriole in a treetop.

Baltimore oriole

Baltimore oriole

Baltimore oriole

Baltimore oriole

Baltimore oriole

Baltimore oriole

Baltimore oriole

Baltimore oriole

The last few days have been just about perfect summer days, but that means that the temperature has been above average for this time of year. I think that’s the reason I felt run down this last weekend, and somewhat so this week up until today. I’m adjusting to the heat at about the time that they are predicting a major cool down starting later this week.

After the flooding a couple of weeks ago, it has been very dry since, and we could use some rain, and the cooler temps will be nice as well.

My thoughts today were on a post I am doing on my new camera and lenses, also, I have somewhere around a dozen species of birds to enter in the My Photo Life List project. To add to that, I am starting to plan what I’m going to do for the Memorial Day weekend coming up.

In a way, it is rather silly to plan this far in advance, as I have no idea what the weather will be like, or what the price of gas will be. I’d like to do a whirlwind blitz of some of the scenic wonders that Michigan has to offer, since it’s been so long since I’ve done one of those. We’ll see as that weekend approaches. Just in case it does work out that I’ll be able to do that, I think that I’ll start sticking closer to home for the rest of the weekends until then.

That’s it for Tuesday, next up is Wednesday, if I remember correctly. 😉

Wednesday

Another day, another species of bird. Today’s find was a Savannah sparrow.

Savannah sparrow

Savannah sparrow

I’ve heard people refer to species like this as the “Little Brown Jobs”, and I did the same up until a few months ago. I now know why serious birders are never found without either binoculars or a camera with a long lens. That’s the only way to ID them, other than their songs. That’s what led me to this one, I heard him singing, but had a darned hard time finding him even though he was less than 50 feet from me. Until I got it in the viewfinder, there was no way that I could ID it.

The only other bird shots from today are one of an eastern kingbird, for a blogger who will remain nameless for now…

Eastern kingbird

Eastern kingbird

…and a couple of shots of a red-winged blackbird harassing a red-tailed hawk.

IMG_2847

Red-winged blackbird harassing a red-tailed hawk

IMG_2848

Red-winged blackbird harassing a red-tailed hawk

I was hoping that the blackbird would do a little hawk surfing, but I wasn’t that lucky today.

I took the 15-85 mm lens with me today, and got serious about flowers and leaf buds opening. No explanation is needed for these, so here goes.

Tulip

Tulip

Tulip

Tulip

Leafbuds opening

Shagbark hickory leaves opening

Leafbuds opening

Shagbark hickory leaves opening

Leafbuds opening

Leaf buds opening

New oak leaves

New oak leaves

Leafbud opening

Leaf bud opening

Redbud

Redbud

Flowering plum?

Flowering plum?

Flowering plum?

Flowering plum?

Flowering plum?

Flowering plum?

Flowering cherry?

Flowering cherry?

Dandelions

Dandelions

All in all, it was just another day in paradise!

Perfect day

Perfect day

A week ago, there were few flowers, few leaves on trees, and the weather was just beginning to get nice, now look at it!

Have I said that I absolutely love the 15-85 mm lens? It’s an incredible piece of glass, if anything, a little too contrasty, but I can work on that. It’s not a true macro lens, but with a little cropping, I can make it work as if it were. That reminds me, I have another post to work on, and a lot more bird photos to deal with. I hate to bore all of you, but I think that I’m going to have to go to two posts a week for the My Photo Life List to use up all the photos I have stored again.

Anyway, I’m going to call it a day as far as today’s entry, so much stuff I have to get done!

Thursday

Today was what is supposed to be the last of the really warm days for a while, that’s OK by me. I think that the quick warm up this last week or so is the reason I have felt so run down since this last weekend. And, the warmer the weather is, the more people who there are in the park, which puts a crimp in my birding. Today, that was compounded by the contractors being there to mow the grass in the park.

I brought, and used, all three lenses today, since the weather for the next few days is forecast to be quite windy. I shot mostly flowers and plant life, there weren’t many birds to be seen what with all the noise of the lawn mowers and people. I did get a few more photos of the meadowlark and Savannah sparrow from yesterday, but the photos look identical to ones I have already posted, so I see no reason to duplicate them. I did get a few fair photos of a male Baltimore oriole as it went from tree to tree, pausing to sing a few bars at each stop.

Male Baltimore oriole

Male Baltimore oriole

Male Baltimore oriole

Male Baltimore oriole

Other than that, it was all plants for the day.

Flowering tree

Flowering tree

Flowering tree

Flowering tree

Flowering tree

Flowering tree

Flowering tree

Flowering tree

Leaf buds opening

Leaf buds opening

3D oak leaves

3D oak leaves

Flowering tree

Flowering tree

Flowering tree

Flowering tree

Flowering tree

Flowering tree

Flowering tree

Flowering tree

Flowering tree

Flowering tree

It dawns on me that I probably look like a complete idiot out there in a tiny county park, lugging all my photo equipment as I scan thousands of lowers looking for just the right combination of flowers, buds, leaves, lighting, and composition. That’s OK, I probably look like a complete idiot lugging the Sigma 150-500 mm lens chasing tiny birds through the brush. Heck, I look like a complete idiot no matter what I’m doing. 😉

I have got to get serious about organizing all my bird photos, I have been putting that off while doing other things. I posted the yellow-rumped warblers last night, and I’m not happy with the photos I used. Silly me, I had deleted my best photos of them thinking that I had others safely stored in another folder. So, that’s it for today, I’m sticking close to home this weekend after seeing the weather forecast. That’s OK, it will help me save money for the Memorial Day weekend, which I am really looking forward to. Three days off!

Friday

I knew that I should have organized my photos sooner and better! Yesterday while I was doing that, I found the good photos of the yellow-rumped warblers, so I’ll re-work that post. I have 15 more species to do draft posts on in addition to the 7 that I have “in the can”, ready to post. By my rough calculations, that puts me just about 1/3 of the way through my list!

I’ve been dawdling this morning, waiting for some light rain showers to clear the area, so I’ve added the better photos to the post on the yellow-rumped warblers, and been working on another post as well.

Well, it was my kind of day today. The temperature has dropped a good 20 degrees F, there was at least a mist in the air all the time, and there was a blustery northeast wind blowing. The run down, dragged out feeling that I had for the last few days was gone, and the spring had returned to my step.

It hadn’t seemed right to go from wearing a winter parka one day, to stepping outside in nothing but a light T-shirt the next.

As the weather wasn’t what most people would consider nice, I took the 70-200 mm lens today, it was probably the wise choice given the mist and on and off rain showers, but as usually happens in “bad weather”, there were birds everywhere. However, getting photos under such conditions is another story, but, I managed a few.

I was checking out a few leaf buds that were opening, to see if any would be worth photographing, when I spotted a male rose breasted grosbeak perched and posing not more than ten feet away. By the time I fumbled around getting the camera out from under my jacket, the grosbeak had moved away, but his mate was perched just as nicely for me.

Female rose breasted grosbeak

Female rose breasted grosbeak

That’s full framed, not cropped at all. I located the male again, I had to crop down for this one.

Male rose breasted grosbeak

Male rose breasted grosbeak

A little later, I spotted what I think was a female yellow warbler, and was considering trying to get closer to her, when a male Baltimore oriole began squawking at me.

Male Baltimore oriole

Male Baltimore oriole

This next one isn’t great, but it does illustrate the kind of weather I had today.

Male Baltimore oriole in the wind and rain

Male Baltimore oriole in the wind and rain

I also shot a few of flowers and leaf buds, this is the only one that’s really worth posting.

Redbud

Redbud

I like the color saturation in that one, which is the only reason I posted it.

I am beginning to get caught up as far as my things to do list, but I’m still going to cut this short today so that I can finish that list up.

Tomorrow is predicted to be very much like today, cool and windy, with the possibility of rain on and off during the day, so I’ll stay home tomorrow as far as walking. I’ll run to the bank, pick up a polarizing filter for my 15-85 mm lens, and it’s laundry day tomorrow as well. I think that on Sunday, I’ll hit Palmer park, since that’s only a few miles away, and chase wrens and pileated woodpeckers, and maybe sneak up on a newborn whitetail deer fawn if I’m lucky. It’s that time of the year.

Saturday

A cool, cloudy day. I decided not to do any errands this morning, I can hold off on them. I have to get my walk in before the rain returns.

What great timing on my part for a change! Just as I returned to my apartment, the rain started, half an hour before that, the sun was out, my how things can change.

Before I get to the details of my walk, a couple of news notes.

The Federal Government has awarded a 27 million dollar grant to the City of Grand Rapids to remove the Sixth Street dam, as part of a larger project to create a whitewater kayaking  course. While on its face, this is good news, there has to be enough pork built into that project to feed a small nation. 27 million to tear out one of the simplest dams there is? Oh, that’s right, they have to truck in some boulders to replace the ones removed from the river 100 years ago. All righty then.

In other news, the green weenie that poses as the editor of the outdoor page for the local paper is all bent out of shape because the Fish and Wildlife Service isn’t going to prosecute California power companies for the deaths of condors killed by wind turbines.

?????

Come on Howard, you’ve been trying to shove “green energy” in the form of wind turbines down our throats for years now! You’ve even called those of us opposed to wind turbines “small-minded”, “ignorant of the facts” and claimed that we were overstating the numbers of birds that will be killed by wind turbines. How many columns have you written in support of building wind farms on the shores of Lake Michigan? Will you be equally bent out of shape if the wind farms are built here, and they are found to kill bald eagles, osprey, and other birds? Will you be upset if the FWS doesn’t prosecute Michigan power companies for those deaths?

All this proves two things, you can’t make an environmentalist happy, and that Howard Meyerson is an ass!

Now that I have that off my chest, I have a question, do some cameras and/or lenses need to be “broken in”?

The last two days, I have taken the Canon 70-200 mm lens with me, because of the weather. My photos from yesterday were the best that I have gotten from that lens. Today, I noticed that the auto-focus was both quieter, and faster than it was when I first purchased that lens, and my photos were even sharper.

Back when I did industrial maintenance, when we got a new piece of equipment in, we would set it up, and let it dry cycle for a few days before putting it into production. Every new machine had glitches, some mechanical, like things being slightly out of adjustment. But, the electronics also had glitches most of the time, that would disappear after the electronics had functioned for a while. We called it “burning in”.

I don’t know how to explain the better photos that the 70-200 has started producing. I hadn’t used it very much up until yesterday, the photos it produced weren’t as impressive as those turned out by my other two lenses, even shooting the same subjects as I tested all three of them side by side.

Here’s a couple of flowers as examples from today.

Apple blossoms

Apple blossoms

Dogwood

Dogwood

Unknown purple wildflower

Unknown purple wildflower

That last shot was cropped considerably, and it’s still sharp. I am beginning to see why other people rave about that lens. I’m not even going to worry about the how and why it seems to be working better now, I give up.

I shot a few birds as well.

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Male Baltimore oriole

Male Baltimore oriole

Male Baltimore oriole

Male Baltimore oriole

Male Rose breasted grosbeak in flight

Male Rose breasted grosbeak in flight

Male Rose breasted grosbeak

Male Rose breasted grosbeak

Male Rose breasted grosbeak

Male Rose breasted grosbeak

Male Rose breasted grosbeak

Male Rose breasted grosbeak

Male Rose breasted grosbeak

Male Rose breasted grosbeak

OK, the grosbeaks shots aren’t the world’s finest, I was playing with the exposure compensation while shooting almost straight up into a cloudy, misty sky while the bird enjoyed his lunch. When I can get photos where you can see what a critter is eating, then, they don’t have to be technically great for me to post them. Maybe with my new equipment, I’ll get to the point where my more “scientific” type shots are also technically good as well.

As is usual in “bad weather” there were a lot of birds to be seen and heard, and there were several times that I found myself thinking that I should have brought the Sigma to reach them. But, that thought would soon pass, as the photos wouldn’t have been very good on a day like today, so why bother. I’m really liking the new attitude that I have of not having to push myself to get every possible photo whether it will be good or bad. I spent more time watching today, along with enjoying the green of spring, and the fragrance of flowers filling the air again.

The only other thing that I have to add is that my friend Jan just posted to her blog again, photos of the newly hatched cygnets, or peepers as she calls them. You can find it here, the peepers are so darned adorable that you really should check it out.

That’s it for this week, tomorrow I’m going to Palmer Park for a day of birding, thanks for stopping by!


How’d I do, rating myself on what’s in my bag

I’ve had my new camera and lenses long enough now to do a post about them, their strengths and weaknesses, and how I did in light of the recent post that I did on buying camera gear on a budget.

For new readers, or those who stumble across this, here’s a list of what my new equipment is.

  • Canon EOS 60 D body
  • Sigma APO 150-500mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM-Canon Mount
  • Canon EF 70-200MM F4L USM
  • Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens

If you’re looking for a technical review, complete with specifications and charts, sorry, you won’t find that here, as there are many other places where that information appears.

My purpose here isn’t to convince any one to run out and buy the exact same camera and lenses I have, in fact, it’s just the opposite of that.

What I am going to do here is put down my thoughts as to how well each piece performs for me as a nature photographer who does everything the wrong way. By that, I don’t set up someplace in a blind or hide, almost all of my photos are taken while I am walking in the woods. That means that I seldom have much time to make many adjustments, or to use a tripod.

I hope that in doing this post, that I can guide others through the thought process that they should follow in choosing what would work best for them.

So, here we go, I’ll start with the camera body, even though in my previous post linked above, I suggested that people start by shopping for lenses, then matching the best lenses they could afford to a body in their price range. That’s how I chose the 60 D body, looking at the many lens manufacturers line-ups, I decided that Canon had the best lenses I could afford in the range that I wanted, and the 60 D fit my needs and budget.

The 60 D is a cropped sensor body, the least expensive body in Canon’s mid-level line up of cameras. The controls are generally well laid out, the exception is the on/off switch, which is located on the left side of the camera, tucked under the mode selection dial. For shooting on the fly as I do, I find it easier to turn the camera on, and leave it on for as long as I am outside. That works very well, as the camera goes to “sleep” after one minute to conserve battery life.

Battery life seems to be excellent, I have not drained the battery yet, even though I leave the camera on for hours every day. I charge it once a week on Fridays, so the camera is ready for my weekend adventures, and that charge lasts me the entire week.

It did take me a few days to get used to the Multi-control Dial on the rear of the camera. The outer of the two dials is used to adjust the exposure compensation. At first, I fumbled a bit in trying to make adjustments, but the outer dial has ridges on it to help differentiate if from the inner dial. Now I have no problem adjusting the exposure when required.

I shoot in the program mode most of the time, since I am generally on the move. The exposure setting that the Canon comes up with are very good. The camera reads the focal length of the lenses I’m using, and comes up with exposures that work well for the lens I’m using at the time for the most part. The exposure settings that the camera comes up with aren’t perfectly spot on every time, but, they are very close. The camera tends to over-expose light subjects, and under-expose darker subjects, I suppose that’s to be expected.

The huge improvement that I see over the Nikon D 50 I used to have is that the exposure for the Canon is predictable and repeatable. I could shoot three shots with the Nikon and come up with three completely different exposures, often all three were wrong. With the Canon, I can look through the viewfinder and know which way and how much to adjust the exposure, that’s becoming automatic.

Oh, and speaking of the viewfinder, it is huge compared to the old Nikon, which was like looking through a tunnel. The info you need is displayed well in the viewfinder also.

Back to the exposure system. At times, I do shoot in other modes, primarily aperture mode, and that is easily set with a wheel on the top of the body very near the shutter release button. The same applies to shutter speed when shooting in that mode. When shooting in the program mode, that same wheel allows you to scroll through exposure settings the camera came up with to speed up the shutter, and/or change the aperture.

To be perfectly honest, I have had this camera for about a month, and I am just beginning to learn what it is capable of. My old Nikon was so finicky, that I didn’t dare adjust much of anything for fear of getting nothing but junk photos, as that was the result if I did adjust anything.

One of the features that I am falling in love with is using the AI Focus AF mode for auto-focusing. I can press the shutter release halfway down, and the camera starts off in the One-shot mode, meaning that I can tweak the focus manually if needed when using a lens that allows that, like the 70-200 mm L series lens I have. That alone has saved some shots already.

But, if I continue to hold the shutter release halfway down without taking a photo, and the camera detects motion, it automatically switches to the AI Servo AF mode to track subjects in motion. That works very well when I’m trying to keep up with quick little birds, or even flowers moving in the wind. In fact, I need to use that feature even more often, it works, and works well!

It’s so nice to have a camera that actually functions well again.

I haven’t said anything about the images I’m getting yet, that’s because the lenses are more responsible for image quality than the camera itself, for the most part. I will say that the 60 D is turning out some fantastic photos for me already, and I’m just getting started.

Sigma APO 150-500mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM-Canon Mount

Before I start raving about how great this lens is, I’ll start with the only real negative thing that I have found so far, the thing is a beast to carry, and use.

But, I shoot hand-held 99% of the time, I walk three miles everyday during the week, and try to go at least five miles per day on the weekends. By the time I’m finished for the day, I am literally finished, so arm weary that I sometimes think twice about hoisting it up to my eye for a so-so shot. At times when I am following a small bird in the brush, or waiting for a plant to stop moving in the wind, I have to lower the camera and this lens to let my arms rest before trying again.

This lens would be at its best on a tripod, but it would have to be a substantial tripod to hold that much weight steady.

Is it as sharp at 500 mm as it is at 150 mm? No, I can see a drop off in sharpness as I increase the focal length.

Is it as sharp at its maximum aperture as it is when stopped down to say f/8? No, it isn’t, but those same things could be said of every zoom lens on the market, there’s no such thing as a perfect lens.

I look at it this way, the Sigma is sharp at 500 mm and f/6.3, and gets even sharper at shorter focal lengths and/or stopping down the aperture. When you can not only see individual feathers on a bird, but also get a feel for the textures of the bird’s feathers, that’s sharp enough for me!

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

One other note of caution I should include before I forget to, it takes a fairly good camera body to make good use of this lens. I was toying with the idea of purchasing this lens for use on my Nikon D 50, I’m glad that I didn’t, as the sensor in the D 50 couldn’t have handled this lens. The sticking point would have been sensor noise at the higher ISO settings that the Sigma often requires to maintain a relatively fast shutter speed to prevent camera shake at 500 mm, even with the lens’ built in Optical Stabilization.

So, match the Sigma lens to a newer body with the better noise reduction of today’s cameras, and I would say that this lens is a winner!

The auto-focus is fast, quiet, and accurate until you get to extreme conditions. I’ll get to those in a second, but first, if you’ve seen some of my recent posts, you’ll have seen that I’ve been having great fun picking small birds out of the brush that the birds are trying to hide in. If you have reasonable expectations of what the auto-focus of the Sigma lens can do, you won’t be disappointed.

However, if you think that the lens should be able to focus on anything, under any lighting conditions, you will be disappointed. For example, if you’re trying to focus on a brownish grey bird partially hidden in greyish brown branches on a dark, overcast day, chances are that the lens will fail. The only other time that the auto-focus doesn’t perform extremely well is when I’m trying to focus on subjects very near the close focusing limit of the lens. There are times when the auto-focus will miss by an inch or so, but with the very short depth of field, that’s enough to ruin the photo.

Shooting using a tripod and manual focus would work in that case.

As it happens, I was able to test my 60 D and the Sigma 150-500 mm lens against a Canon 7 D body, a 300 mm L series prime telephoto lens, and a 1.4X converter on my recent birding trip to Muskegon.

I met another birder using the 7 D body and lens setup just listed, and we began chatting. An American Redstart landed in a tree close to us, I pointed it out to the other birder, then we both started shooting. We were standing only a couple of feet from one another, I could hear his camera beep when it got a focus lock, and had to pay attention to that, so that I didn’t mistake his beeps for mine. At one point, the redstart perched in a spot that for some reason, I couldn’t get a focus lock on it. I heard the fellow birder mumbling to himself, wondering why he wasn’t able to get a focus lock either.

So, in this very unscientific, but very enlightening test, I would say that the two setups are just about equal. There were times when he got a focus lock first, other times that I got a lock first, and both of our setups failed under the exact same conditions.

The Sigma has two modes of Optical Stabilization, Sigma’s equivalent to Canon’s Image Stabilization. Mode 1 is for stationary subjects, Mode 2 is for subjects moving in the horizontal plane.

Sigma claims that the OS will provide up to four stops of shake correction, I’ve never counted the stops, but the OS does do its job on stationary subjects! I have shot a few photos under very low light for a lens of the Sigma’s focal length, and have been amazed at how well the OS performed.

However, I have tried Mode 2 on some shots of birds in flight, and the OS isn’t as impressive then. If the bird is moving horizontally, the OS does work well, but most of the time, birds don’t fly in straight horizontal lines.

If the bird is moving diagonally, as they often are, then the OS fails, as far as getting a sharp photo. I find that when shooting birds in flight, I am better off switching the OS off completely, boosting the ISO, and shooting at faster shutter speeds. The problem is, birds seldom give me the time to make those adjustments. So if you’re thinking of buying this lens for action photography, there are probably better choices out there.

My rating of this lens

For my use, I would give myself a grade of B for purchasing this lens. I had checked it out in the store, and rejected it for my use because of its size and weight. But, when my Nikon died, I was forced to re-evaluate what lenses I was going to purchase. The only reason I give the lens a B is because of its weight, it does leave me arm weary by the end of the day, and it isn’t as good for bird in flight photos as I would like.

If I were a more traditional birder, shooting from a stationary position, and using a tripod more often, then, I would give it an A, it is an excellent lens!

Let’s look at the competition. There’s the Canon 100-400 mm zoom, or either a 400 mm or 500 mm prime telephoto.

The 100-400 mm Canon is close to the same size and weight as the Sigma, and trying one out in the store, I did not like the push-pull zoom mechanism of the Canon. In addition, it was 50% more expensive than the Sigma.

I don’t have figures for the 400 mm primes that Canon offers, but I do know that the 500 mm prime is nearly 10 times as expensive as the Sigma. I’m sure that the 500 mm is sharper, and faster, but I seriously doubt if it is ten times better than the Sigma. That doesn’t matter, I couldn’t afford the Canon 500 mm anyway.

I do know this, I love the reach of the Sigma, and I am extremely happy with its performance! It will get a lot of use, even if I do eventually purchase a more suitable lens to carry while hiking.

Canon EF 70-200MM F4L USM

If I made a mistake in my purchases, this was it, sorry all you Canon L series fans. 😉

Actually, buying this lens wasn’t a mistake, I just tried to convince myself for several weeks that I had goofed. I had this lens on my list of lenses to purchase for several reasons, one was to fill in between the 15-85 mm I knew I was going to buy and the Sigma 150-500 mm, primarily for landscapes.

After I purchased the 60 D body and the Sigma lens, we had 14 days in a row of off and on rain, mostly on. Because the Sigma isn’t weather sealed, and is hard to carry and protect under those conditions, I tried to make the 70-200 mm take the place of the Sigma, it doesn’t work for that.

It’s an OK lens, and I’m sure that I will put it to good use for the purposes for which I had added it to my list in the first place. The Auto-focus isn’t as fast as the Sigma, and it’s a lot noisier as well. I can barely hear the Sigma’s auto-focus, the 70-200 mm has a very mechanical sound to it when the auto-focus is in action.

It doesn’t have Image Stabilization, I knew that when I bought it. In addition, the 60 D body tends to set the shutter speed a little low for this lens without IS, that I can remedy easily enough by shooting in shutter priority, or dialing up a faster shutter speed in program mode.

This lens is the least expensive of the five 70-200 mm zoom lenses that Canon produces, at $709 US.

For a few weeks there, I was telling myself that I should have purchased the version with IS and a maximum aperture of f/2.8, then added a 1.4 converter behind it. That would have totaled just under $3,000 US, over four times as much as what I paid for the version that I did buy.

That setup would have been lighter and easier to carry than the Sigma lens, but without the converter, any lens in this range will be the lens I use the least of any lenses I have.

So, I told myself to quit kicking myself, learn to use what I have purchased, then think of the best solution to the problem of the weight of the Sigma lens. That’s what I have done.

This lens does perform well enough, but I don’t shoot that many photos where this length of lens will be used that often. It will be mostly for landscapes, where I can use my tripod, so IS isn’t that important. Also, for close-ups of things like flowers that are out of the range of the 15-85 mm lens. That’s why I bought this lens, and trying to make it do things other than what I originally intended it to do was silly on my part.

My rating of this lens

Funny as it may sound, I’m giving this one an A grade. It does very well at what I bought it for, it’s very sharp, well made, weather sealed, and fills the small niche I intended it to. I would recommend that any one thinking of a lens of this length consider one of the versions with IS over this one, unless you do use a tripod most of the time.

Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens

If I didn’t photograph birds most the time, this lens would be on my camera almost all of the time. I would say that of the three lenses I have, that this is the best of them! It is very sharp, color, contrast, color rendition, and color saturation are all extremely good with this lens. Now, I am going to have to start putting it to use!

The auto-focus is fast, quiet, and accurate, right down to the close focusing capabilities of the lens.

It has Canon’s Mode 2 IS, a sensor in the lens detects when you are panning with a subject in motion, and corrects camera shake automatically based on that, and it works. I have shot a few flying birds, and the Mode 2 IS is a huge improvement over the OS of the Sigma lens, but that’s comparing apples to oranges, not a knock on the Sigma.

All the photos that I shot of the flood in downtown Grand Rapids, and most of the flower photos I took in Aman Park were shot with this lens, and I love the results!

If you are considering a lens in this focal length, I recommend it with one caveat, the maximum aperture is a little slow if you’re planning to use it without a flash in low light situations. That wasn’t a concern for me, I bought this lens for landscapes and close-ups, and it excels in that role.

I should note that this is an EF S lens, meaning it is designed to be used on crop sensor cameras. It isn’t compatible with full size sensor cameras.

My rating of this lens

I give myself and this lens an A+! For the purposes I intend to use this lens, it can’t be beaten. It was around half the price of a comparable L series lens from Canon, based mostly on the maximum aperture, but for landscapes, that isn’t an issue. So I have a high quality lens that works exactly as I planned on, at a reasonable price.

What I’ve learned, and where I go from here.

The first thing that I learned is that even a 500 mm lens isn’t long enough for many situations. But, for every situation where 500 mm isn’t long enough, there are situations when it is too long. Following small birds flitting in the brush for example. Yes, the 500 mm lets me get good close-ups, if I can get and keep the bird in the viewfinder long enough to get the shot. Many times, I find myself shooting at around 300 mm so that I can get any shot at all.

The second thing that I learned is that you can’t make a lens do things it wasn’t really intended to be used for. That applies to both the 70-200 mm lens, and the 150-500 mm lens.

The third thing that I learned is that IS, or OS, depending on the manufacturer, is better, and more important than what I had thought before using lenses with it. But, other than that, what I had recommended in my earlier post on buying camera equipment on a budget held true, pick quality lenses and match them to the body that you can afford.

The next thing that I learned is that a man’s got to know his limitations. Carrying the Sigma lens by itself for a three-mile walk everyday isn’t bad, but trying to go much farther than that, while wearing a pack and carrying the rest of my camera gears is a bit much, even for me.

I keep harping on the weight of the Sigma lens, yet I love it, and have a hard time switching to one of the other lenses, because I never know when some bird is going to show up that I’ll want to photograph. But, as good as it is, it is not a walking around lens. However, I can, and will make it work for me that way for a while.

My original list of lenses that I was going to buy was a Canon L series 400 mm prime, the 70-200 mm, and the 15-85 mm lenses, now, I’m not sure that a 400 mm prime is a good idea, after having used the Sigma for a month. That’s the problem with buying lenses, other than renting one, you can’t take one out for a “test drive” to see how well they will work for you. I also had a macro lens on the list to be purchased in the future.

I really liked the setup that the other birder that I mentioned earlier had, a 300 mm L series prime, with a 1.4X converter. That works out to being 420 mm, which may still be too much in the brush. No problem, take the 1.4 X converter off, and I’ll have a 300 mm lens to work with. I’m used to that, as that’s what I had with the old Nikon, but thought that I wanted a longer lens.

I still would, but now I have one, the Sigma, for those times when I don’t have to carry it for miles. The 300 mm and converter is much lighter than the Sigma, I think it will make a nice walking around package in the future. The 1.4 X converter will also work with the 70-200 mm lens, but I see no reason that I would ever use it that way, but you never know.

The 300 mm f/4 L series prime lens also has Mode 2 IS, which works very well for me on my 15-85 mm lens. I’ll be able to get some good actions shots again someday with that package. But, that will be a while.

The surprising thing is, the 300 mm prime, a 1.4X converter, and the 70-200 mm that I have already purchased total less than the top of the line 70-200 mm L series and the converter by several hundred dollars, and will actually work better for me.

The 15-85 mm isn’t a true macro lens, but with cropping, I can make it work as one for the time being. I’m thinking that I can try an extension tube with the 15-85 mm for macro work, saving myself a lot of money there, rather than buying a dedicated macro lens. I know that extension tubes are old school, but then, so am I.

So, overall, I would give myself either a B+ or an A- overall. You know, I should change that, to an A. I was knocking my grade down because the Sigma isn’t a very good walking around lens, but hey, I’m buying on a budget, so I shouldn’t expert perfect. The Sigma may not be a good walking around lens, but it excels during my birding trips to Muskegon, and when I sit out in the woods someplace, something that I will be doing more often, especially as I get older.

Also on my wish list was a 500 mm prime for those reasons, but that was just a wish that would probably never come to pass as expensive as the 500 mm prime is. The Sigma may not equal the 500 mm prime’s performance, but it’s close enough for me, I see no reason to shell out over ten grand for a lens that is only a little bit better than what I already have.

The 15-85 performs so well that I am crossing a macro lens off from my wish list as well.

That means that I have dropped one very expensive, and one moderately expensive lens off my wish list, and replaced them with one moderately priced lens, and a few relatively inexpensive accessories.

So, all told, after rebates and the trade in I got from Sigma on the dead Nikon, I spent $2,000 US for the 60 D body, the Sigma lens, and the needed accessories.

I spent $750 US for the 70-200 mm Canon lens.

I spent $800 US for the 15-85 mm lens and lens hood (Yes, I shelled out 50 bucks for the almost nothing lens hood, proving that I’m not a total tightwad, but I see it as not so cheap added insurance to help protect the front element of the lens).

That comes to $3,550 US to cover everything from 15 mm to 500 mm with a solid performing camera body, not bad in my not so humble opinion. That includes everything, UV filters, SD cards, and the lens hood for the 15-85 mm lens.

After using this new equipment long enough to have a very good handle on what I would like to add in the future, the list has changed as I have noted above, and has become much shorter.

I would like something better suited to carrying in inclement weather, something lighter than the Sigma. Having given much thought to it, I am leaning heavily towards the Canon 300 mm L series prime and a 1.4X converter. Once my bank account recovers, I could pick up the converter and use it behind the 70-200 mm I have, it won’t be ideal, but it will work in nasty weather for the time being. Next spring, I’ll use my tax refund to purchase the 300 mm prime lens, and be good to go.

One other thing I would truly love to have is another body, mine is getting old and tired. 😉

Seriously, I have always wanted two camera bodies, one left set-up and at the ready for wildlife photography, and a second one for everything else. But, that’s a long way off in the future, and I have no way of foreseeing what the manufacturers will have on the market in two or three years, so anything I add here would be pure speculation, very much subject to change.

If and when I do make that purchase, it will be another crop sensor body, the equivalent to the current Canon 7 D.

So there you have it, I stand by the original proposition that I made in my earlier post, select the lenses that work the best for you in your price range, then match them to the best body that you can afford. I won’t be “trading up”, that is, selling (at a loss) any of the lenses or the camera that I have purchased so far, unless I were to win the lottery or something. I can see no reason to, from the photos that this equipment is turning out. Two examples, full size, not cropped, unedited, and the quality has not been reduced at all, you can click on them to see them full size.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Tulip

Tulip

I think that the quality of those shots speak for themselves, so there’s nothing more for me to add.

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