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

Archive for July, 2013

Indigo Bunting, Passerina cyanea

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.

Indigo Bunting, Passerina cyanea

The Indigo Bunting is a small seed-eating bird in the family Cardinalidae. It is migratory, ranging from southern Canada to northern Florida during the breeding season, and from southern Florida to northern South America during the winter. It often migrates by night, using the stars to navigate. Its habitat is farmland, brush areas, and open woodland.

The Indigo Bunting is a small bird, with a length of 11.5–13 cm (4.5–5 in). It displays sexual dimorphism in its coloration; the male is a vibrant blue in the summer and a brown color during the winter months, while the female is brown year-round. The male displays brightly colored plumage during the breeding season to attract a mate. Nest-building and incubation are done solely by the female. The diet of the Indigo Bunting consists primarily of insects during the summer months and seeds during the winter months.

The Indigo Bunting is a smallish songbird, around the size of a small sparrow. It measures 11.5–15 cm (4.5–5.9 in) long, with a wingspan of 18–23 cm (7.1–9.1 in). Body mass averages 14.5 g (0.51 oz), with a reported range of 11.2–21.4 g (0.40–0.75 oz). During the breeding season, the adult male appears mostly a vibrant cerulean blue. Only the head is indigo. The wings and tail are black with cerulean blue edges. In fall and winter plumage, the male has brown edges to the blue body and head feathers, which overlap to make the bird appear mostly brown. The adult female is brown on the upper parts and lighter brown on the underparts. It has indistinct wing bars and is faintly streaked with darker markings underneath. The immature bird resembles the female in coloring, although a male may have hints of blue on the tail and shoulders and have darker streaks on the underside. The beak is short and conical. In the adult female, the bill is light brown tinged with blue, and in the adult male the upper half is brownish-black while the lower is light blue. The feet and legs are black or gray.

The habitat of the Indigo Bunting is brushy forest edges, open deciduous woods, second-growth woodland, and farmland. The breeding range stretches from southern Canada to Maine, south to northern Florida and eastern Texas, and westward to southern Nevada. The winter range begins in southern Florida and central Mexico and stretches south through the West Indies and Central America to northern South America.

The Indigo Bunting communicates through vocalizations and visual cues. A sharp chip! call is used by both sexes, and is used as an alarm call if a nest or chick is threatened. A high-pitched, buzzed zeeep is used as a contact call when the Indigo Bunting is in flight. The song of the male bird is a high-pitched buzzed sweet-sweet chew-chew sweet-sweet, lasting two to four seconds, sung to mark his territory to other males and to attract females. Each male has a single complex song, which he sings while perched on elevated objects, such as posts, wires, and bush-tops. In areas where the ranges of the Lazuli Bunting and the Indigo Bunting overlap, the males defend territories from each another. Migration takes place in April and May and then again in September and October. The Indigo Bunting often migrates during the night, using the stars to direct itself. In captivity, since it cannot migrate, it experiences disorientation in April and May and in September and October if it cannot see the stars from its enclosure.

These birds are generally monogamous but not always faithful to their partner. In the western part of their range, they often hybridise with the Lazuli Bunting. Nesting sites are located in dense shrub or a low tree, generally 0.3–1 m (1–3 ft) above the ground, but rarely up to 9 m (30 ft). The nest itself is constructed of leaves, coarse grasses, stems, and strips of bark, lined with soft grass or deer hair and is bound with spider web. It is constructed by the female, who cares for the eggs alone. The clutch consists of one to four eggs, but usually contains three to four. The eggs are white and usually unmarked, though some may be marked with brownish spots, averaging 18.7 × 13.7 mm (0.7 × 0.5 in) in size. The eggs are incubated for 12 to 13 days and the chicks are altricial at hatching. Chicks fledge 10 to 12 days after hatching. Most pairs raise two broods per year, and the male may feed newly fledged young while the females incubate the next clutch of eggs.

The Brown-headed Cowbird may parasitize this species. Indigo Buntings abandon their nest if a cowbird egg appears before they lay any of their own eggs, but accept the egg after that point. Pairs with parasitized nests have less reproductive success. The bunting chicks hatch, but have lower survival rates as they must compete with the cowbird chick for food.

The Indigo Bunting forages for food on the ground or in trees or shrubs. In winter, it often feeds in flocks with other Indigo Buntings, but is a solitary feeder during the breeding season. During the breeding season, the species eats insects, seeds and berries, including caterpillars, grasshoppers, spiders, beetles, and grass seeds. The seeds of grasses are the mainstay of its diet during the winter, although buds, and insects are eaten when available. The young are fed mainly insects at first, to provide them with protein. The Indigo Bunting does not drink frequently, generally obtaining sufficient water from its diet.

On to my photos:

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

Female indigo bunting

Female indigo bunting

Female indigo bunting

Female indigo bunting

Female indigo bunting

Female indigo bunting

Female indigo bunting

Female indigo bunting

Female indigo bunting

Female indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting
Male indigo bunting
Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

This is number 117 in my photo life list, only 233 to go!

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

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Another Muskegon County Wastewater birding trip

On Saturday, July 27th, I made yet another birding trip to the Muskegon County Wastewater facility. It seems so weird to post one of these under the Michigan Nature attractions category, but if the shoe fits…

Muskegon County has updated their website to include a section on birding at the wasterwater facility, here’s the link.

And, for those of you who don’t click the link, here’s a blurb from the website.

*****

The variety of habitat at the Wastewater System includes over 1,000 acres of even-aged conifer and dryland white and black oak woodlots; over 5,000 acres of alfalfa, corn, and soybean cropland; 20 miles of drainage ditches, 60 acres of treatment ponds, 11 miles of shoreline around 1,700 acres of storage lagoons; a few hundred acres of natural upland grasslands; and assorted wetland marshes and potholes. Because of this, the 11,000-acre treatment plant is considered one of the best birding sites in Michigan. At least 256 species of birds have been documented at the facility (two-thirds of all species ever recorded in Michigan). Possibly the rarest bird ever documented in the state was seen here in April of 1985, a White Wagtail.

Tens of thousands of geese and ducks spend part of the winter at the site, sharing the area with Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, Snowy Owls, Snow Buntings, plovers, sandpipers, and dozens of other bird species. At other times of the year, birders might see Red Phalarope, Greater White-fronted Goose, Eurasian Wigeon, Gyrfalcon, Eared Grebe, or American White Pelican.

The Muskegon facility is located adjacent to the Muskegon State Game Area, which helps draw birds to the wastewater system. Birders are welcome at the facility provided they obtain a pass at the wastewater system office before touring the site. Birders that can show membership in a birding organization can be issued annual passes. Contact the office at 231-724-3440 for more information.

*****

As you may be able to tell, it’s far more than a wastewater treatment facility, here’s a few more of its many uses.

*****

Opportunites for recreation abound at the wastewater facility on its vast tracts of open land. Be sure to obtain the appropriate passes and permits from the office before you venture out.

Hunting and Trapping

A variety of opportunites exist for hunters at the wastewater.

Observatory Campus

The Muskegon Community College Observatory is located on the site.

M.M.A.R. – Muskegon Michigan Area Rocketry Launch Site

The Muskegon Michigan Area Rocketry launch site is on the property.

Snowmobile Trails

Over 20 miles of groomed snowmobile trails pass through the property.

Radio Controlled Airplane Field

The Port City RC Club maintains their field on the site.

Beagle Club

The Port City Beagle Club holds some of its events at the wastewater.

Pheasants Forever

Pheasants Forever maintains approximately 250 acres of pheasant habitat on site

*****

So, with that stuff out of the way, time for my day there. As is the usual, I saw birds, lots of birds, too many birds. 🙂

I came home with 500 photos, the majority of the photos are of shorebirds, notoriously hard to ID. I’m still plugging away at some of the birds, but here’s the highlights.

IMG_9086

Still unidentified sparrow

IMG_9029

Semipalmated sandpiper

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

Short billed dowitcher

Short billed dowitcher

Male dickcissel

Male dickcissel

Male bobolink

Male bobolink

Female dickcissel

Female dickcissel

Unidentified white bird

Unidentified white bird

I just happened to run into Ric, the President of the Muskegon County Nature Club while I was there, at the time when I photographed the unidentified white bird in flight. I’m planning on going on their next field trip in August, and will be joining up at that time.

Whitetail doe and fawn

Whitetail doe and fawn

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Gulls

Gulls

Juvenile gull in flight

Juvenile gull in flight

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

Baird's sandpiper

Baird’s sandpiper

Solitary sandpiper

Solitary sandpiper

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Red-necked phalaropes

Red-necked phalaropes

I am not 100% sure on all my identifications, I’ve done the best that I can. Getting to know all the species of shorebirds is a lot tougher than I thought that it would be, especially this time of year. Some of the birds have already molted to their winter plumage, some, like the red-necked phalaropes are partially through molting.

I have another shot to share, a flock of wood ducks.

Wood ducks

Wood ducks

I sure wish that I could have seen a few of those earlier this year before they molted! As soon as the wood ducks spotted me, they swam up into a culvert, completely hidden from sight, what tricky little devils they can be!

Anyway, if you do go to the Muskegon County Wastewater treatment facility, take an excellent field guide with you, or an expert on all species of birds, as you never know what you are going to find!

My photos of the unidentified white bird have been posted on the recent sightings page for the Muskegon County Nature Club. As I noted earlier in this post, I will be joining them on their next field trip, so hopefully I’ll have some expert advice and tips to share after that trip. That field trip will also be at the wastewater treatment facility.

One more thing before I end this, once again, the “curse” of the wastewater facility struck my photos. The weather wasn’t great, but my photos should have been better. I was very close to the bobolinks and the dickcissels, close enough that I should have gotten photos with the wow factor way up there. I swear, there really is something in the air there that affects photography. The farther I was from the area where the actual treatment of waste occurs, the sharper my photos were, like the red-tailed hawk.

Anyway, that’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


My Week, finally, a huge improvement in the weather

Sunday

The cool down finally seems to have arrived, it’s pleasant as I’m drinking my morning coffee and starting another week. I think that I’ll go to the Pickerel Lake Nature Preserve today, sort of like going home again. I’ve passed it hundreds of times, but never stopped, there was never any reason to, for I lived just a few miles away, in a small nature preserve of my own. I miss that place, but that’s water under the bridge, and there’s no need to relive the darkest period of my life right now.

Another reason I had never gone there before was because of the controversy over the naming of the preserve. Technically, it is the Fred Meijer Nature Preserve, although few people call it that. You can read how it came to have the name that it does in this photo.

Gibberish

Gibberish

I don’t have a problem with the fact that Fred Meijer is rich, but, he refuses to donate money to anything that doesn’t get named after himself. That tells me that he isn’t donating for altruistic reasons, but that he donates for marketing reasons, to make sure that every one sees his name everywhere. There was a lot of pressure on the county to refuse the donation from Mr. Meijer, but the county never met a donated dollar it didn’t love. Although, they did cave in to the pressure at least somewhat to the pressure, and came up with a compromise of sorts, calling it the Pickerel Lake Park – Fred Meijer Nature Preserve.

Anyway, I had a pretty good day there, even though my photos don’t show it. I managed to salvage enough to do a post on today, so those photos will appear in the other post.

Monday

AAAAAAAAhhh, rain cooled air! Once again, the meteorologists where wrong. The storms that weren’t going to hold together over the waters of Lake Michigan did exactly the opposite, and we had several hours of gentle thunder showers overnight. We needed the rain, since the storms that were predicted for last Friday never materialized. I may wake up with stuffed sinuses, but there’s not many things better than going to sleep with the windows open as a summer shower is falling. The forecast is for a mostly pleasant week, I hope it’s right for a change. Now it’s time to get out there and enjoy the fine day shaping up outside.

An interesting day, but not great for photography due to the low clouds hanging around from last night’s rain. I am getting better at shooting in bad conditions though, as my first shots of the day were of a flock of crows perched in the trees along the road.

American crow

American crow

American crows

American crows

I wish that I could have gotten a close-up of the one in the middle squawking at me.

Next up was a female English sparrow.

Female English sparrow

Female English sparrow

Female English sparrow

Female English sparrow

I wouldn’t normally photograph them, but I still have to do a post on English sparrows, so I do need a few photos of them.

There weren’t many people in the park today, and other than robins, not many birds. I did find a juvenile eastern wood pewee.

Juvenile eastern wood pewee

Juvenile eastern wood pewee

The entire family was in the brush along the creek, the young calling for food, and the adults catching insects to feed to the young. I was hoping for a shot of an adult feeding one of the young, but didn’t have any luck.

Another bird present was an eastern phoebe.

Eastern phoebe

Eastern phoebe

Eastern phoebe

Eastern phoebe

Eastern phoebe

Eastern phoebe

Just after that is when things got interesting. As I was walking up the hill near the ball diamonds, the flock of swallows was present, some of them flying, some perched on the fences for the ball diamonds. The ones in the air were flying very close to me, too close to attempt a photo of any of them in flight. I assume that they were picking off the insects that I stirred up while walking, the swallows were that close to me.

It was kind of cool being in the middle of a flock of swallows, listening to them chattering away as they whizzed past me. Suddenly, the entire flock that had been perched took to the air, and the real chattering began. I looked around, and saw a cooper’s hawk coming straight at me, as if it had ideas about picking off one of the swallows.

I didn’t have time to catch it coming at me, but I turned and got one bad photo of it as it flew into the woods.

Cooper's hawk in flight

Cooper’s hawk in flight

If you look very closely, there’s a swallow above and a little behind the hawk, and within seconds, every swallow in the area was circling over the woods where the hawk had gone, with the swallows screaming their little hearts out at the hawk.

I’ve only touched on swallow behavior before, this seems like a good time to add more, as I have spent some time watching them this summer.

There are times that I’ll see all the swallows in the area form a large flock of all the different species from around here, with all of them chatting away to each other. Some times the entire flock will move off together, other times the flock will disperse, with the swallows going off to hunt individually or in pairs.

I haven’t become fluent in swallow yet, but I think that all the chattering going on is them comparing notes as to where the most and/or tastiest insects are to be found. That’s because there have been times when shortly after the flock disperses, several of the individuals will return to where the flock was, and begin chattering in earnest, and the flock will form back together again.

There also seems to be a social aspect to it as well. I seldom see a lone swallow, or a pair of swallows perched. But, when the entire flock forms up, there will be many of the flock perched on the fences in the park. I suppose that could be for protection as well, like today, once one of the swallows spotted the hawk, the entire flock knew instantly that danger was present, and all the perched birds took to the air, where they can out fly just about any predator.

Anyway, I continued on my way, stopping to photograph a Viceroy butterfly, which look very much like a monarch butterfly. Monarchs are foul-tasting to birds, so they say, so birds won’t prey on them. The Viceroy butterfly takes advantage of this, since they look like a monarch, they are not preyed upon by birds either. Of course that wasn’t a conscious decision by the Viceroys, but the more that they looked like a monarch, the more likely they were to survive and reproduce, so eventually the species came to look almost exactly like monarchs.

Monarch butterfly

Viceroy butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Viceroy butterfly

Shortly after that, another interesting thing happened, similar to the one with the swallows and cooper’s hawk, this time, it was a kingbird and a hawk. I heard the kingbird start making a ruckus, then spotted the reason, a cooper’s hawk again. I don’t know if it was the same or a different one, but my photo was as bad as the first one.

Eastern kingbird attacking a cooper's hawk

Eastern kingbird attacking a cooper’s hawk

I may not have gotten good photos either time, but by paying attention to the alarm calls from the swallows and kingbird, at least I got to see the hawk. I was thinking earlier that I hadn’t seen any of the hawks lately, not even the red-tailed that nested across the street from the park.

Tuesday

Some sad news to start this day, a 32 year old man drowned in the Muskegon River on Sunday, while floating the river on an inner tube as part of a family gathering. Even sadder are the circumstances of the drowning, for the local media report that the man drowned following “An intense and physical altercation, involving an unknown number of people, that ensued along the banks of the river”.

I suspect that large amounts of alcohol fueled that “intense and physical altercation”.

One of my reasons for starting this blog was to write about places to go kayaking in Michigan. That has changed over the last three years, as more and more reports such as this one pop up in the news during the summer months.  I stopped posting about places to go kayaking because of the large number of drunken rowdies that are taking over the rivers.

The last two years that I kayaked often, the group that I went with had a few run ins with the drunken rowdies, which took much of the fun out of our excursions. That’s also one of the reasons that I do most of my kayaking in the off-season, just to avoid the drunken rowdies.

The worst part is that those people who become drunken rowdies do so purposely, with the intent of disrupting the enjoyment of others. They don’t go looking for trouble, they go looking to cause trouble. It’s a shame that our law enforcement personnel don’t have the time or resources to deal with the assholes. There are a few river patrols, and they ticket the drunken rowdies when applicable, but the rowdies don’t bother to show up for court or pay the fines. So, until they are picked up for a more serious crime, they get away with being assholes.

Anyway, yesterday morning was cool after the overnight rain, but the heat and humidity returned in the afternoon. Twenty four hours ago, the forecast for this morning for “jacket weather”, wrong again. The overnight lows managed to drop just a few degrees below what they were predicting for high temperatures today. It was ten to fifteen degrees warmer this morning than forecast.

It was extremely humid while I walked today, there were even a few sprinkles of rain. Then the sun would come out for a few minutes to boost the temperature, followed by a few more sprinkles to add to the humidity. And so it went.

I made a decision today, I’m going to carry just the two short lenses with me for at least the next week, maybe longer. I do love the Sigma for birding, but there are fewer species of birds around to photograph this time of year. And, I can usually get close enough to the species that are around to get good photos with the L series lens. The two shorter lenses are much better for photographing the subjects that are most abundant right now, flowers….

Unidentified flowering object

Unidentified flowering object

Unidentified flowering object

Unidentified flowering object

…and insects.

Hummingbird (sphinx) moth

Hummingbird (sphinx) moth

Hummingbird (sphinx) moth

Hummingbird (sphinx) moth

Those shots aren’t that bad, but I know that I could do better with one of the shorter lenses.

I made that decision both in spite of, and because of, the fact that I shot quite a few bird photos today.

Male American goldfinch eating teasel seeds

Male American goldfinch eating teasel seeds

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

The last photo was the only one cropped significantly, the rest are close to full size as shot.

For the past month, I’ve been posting different combinations of the same two dozen or so species of birds that I see daily. There’s no reason to carry the Sigma and shoot the same birds over and over, while I miss great shots of the flowers and insects that I see. I may regret not having the Sigma along, but most birds don’t stick around long enough for me to switch lenses anyway.

I have also decided to return to Pickerel Lake this weekend, and shoot better photos of the flowers and insects there, I may throw in a shot or two of the solid green walls that line the trails in many places, making birding this time of year very difficult.

If gas prices continue to fall, I may make a trip to Muskegon the other day this weekend, there’s been some recent sightings that I would like to get shots of there.

That does it for today.

Wednesday

Now the cool down has really made it here! When I got home from work last night, the temperature was a full 20 degrees cooler than the night before, great sleeping weather for a change.

As I said I was going to do starting today, I took just the two shorter lenses with me. I should have done that yesterday, as the little vivid blue flowers that I really wanted a good sharp photo of were just shriveled bits of blue today. When will I learn? Shoot what you see when you see it, even plants and flowers. To go along with that, the county mowed along the trail yesterday, chopping down some flowers that I had been waiting to see fully opened before I photographed them. Now I’ll have to find the same flowers elsewhere.

With the cooler weather today, there were fewer insects flying around as well. I was bummed, because the light was the best it has been in weeks because of the cool, dry air in place here now. No matter how good your camera and lens(es) are, they can’t make up completely for what I call dead light. That wasn’t the case today, all the colors looked brighter and more vivid to the naked eye, and that came through in the photos I took today.

The chicory looked bluer.

Mostly chicory

Mostly chicory

The Boneset looked whiter.

Boneset flower

Boneset flower

The colors of the bindweed were more intense.

Bindweed

Bindweed

Bindweed

Bindweed

And these berries, what ever they are, caught my eye, and I couldn’t stop shooting them, looking for that perfect photo.

Berries

Berries

Berries

Berries

Berries

Berries

Berries

Berries

Berries

Berries

I’ve walked past the bushes with those berries everyday for weeks, I had noticed the berries before, but it was either the light today, or that they had changed color overnight in the cool air, or for what ever reason, they really stood out today. Of course I didn’t get THE perfect photo either, so you may see more of these later on this week, sorry.

I should also warn every one now, you’re likely to see many berries here in the next few weeks. I’m a sucker for bright colors, be they from birds, berries, blooms, or bugs. And, if there are contrasting colors that I can get into the frame, then I go crazy, as you can see by the berries.

Two more shots from today.

Evening primrose

Evening primrose

Tiny toad

Tiny toad

I did shoot a hand full of bird photos today, but I won’t bore any one with them. 😉 I’m not sure how long that I’ll be able to hold out though, a family of house wrens has been in the park the last two days, and I could use better photos of them. So far, the entire family has been sticking to the shadiest parts of the park, where a good photo would be impossible to get.

Tomorrow is forecast to be the same as today was, I sure hope so! It was as close to a perfect summer day as we get in West Michigan.

Thursday

I don’t know where all my time is going lately, I seem to be running behind, and I don’t know why.

I was going to write about the recent developments concerning the Enbridge oil spill from a couple of years ago, how people are interfering with Enbridge as they replace the section of pipeline that ruptured causing the spill. Makes perfect sense to me, not! Also, the EPA has ordered Enbridge to dredge a section of the Kalamazoo River to remove the last remaining oil from the spill, but environmental groups and a brewery have filed suit to prevent Enbridge from doing the dredging ordered by the EPA, makes perfect sense to me, not! On a side note, I didn’t know that the brewery that has joined the lawsuit used water from the Kalamazoo River, or I would have never drank their brand of beer. The Kalamazoo is the most polluted river on this side of the state, and was long before the oil spill. The EPA is still dredging sections of the Kalamazoo to remove PCBs and other nasty chemicals left over from the many paper mills that once lined the Kalamazoo River.

Anyway, I carried just the two short lenses with me again today. When I step outside without the Sigma, I feel like an unarmed soldier going into battle. But, I am adding to my knowledge base doing this, even if I miss a few bird shots now and then. I did shoot a few flowers, more berries, and I chased a few insects around, to no good end.

I’m going to bore most of you with this next bit on camera gear, so most of you may want to fast forward to the photos.

I had considered buying a teleconverter to extend the usefulness of the 70-200 mm L series lens I have, but decided against purchasing one at this time.

Since summer isn’t a great time of year for birding, but is the time of year for flowers and insects, I have been considering a macro lens so I can get better photos of the flowers and insects. Last week I wrote that I was considering two different macro lenses, a Tokina AT-X AF 100MM F2.8 Macro Lens, or the Canon EF-S 60mm F2.8 Macro USM.

Today, after chasing insects around with the 15-85 mm lens that I have, I decided that I’ll go for the Tokina lens and its longer focal length. That will also be a plus when shooting flowers as well. The Canon lens is a much newer design with a lot to offer, such as the fact that the lens doesn’t change length while it focuses. But, you have to be within four inches from the front of the lens to the subject to get the full 1 to 1 magnification. That’s too close for live insects, or even small flowers that grow close to the ground. The Tokina is a little better in that respect, you can be almost a foot away for full magnification, even though the lens is an older design.

However, even though I could afford either of those lenses right now, they have been pushed down the priority list as far as what I want to purchase next. The Canon 300 mm f/4 L series prime is back to the top of the list, which means I still saving for that instead of buying a macro lens. That lens focuses down to within just a few inches of what the 70-200 mm lens I have does, and with 100 mm more of focal length, it should get me much closer to my subjects without cropping as much. Almost like a 300 mm macro lens. In fact, that lens is known for its abilities close-up.

OK, now the photos from today.

Berry still life

Berry still life

That last one was shot with the 70-200 mm L series, all the rest of these were shot with the 15-85 mm lens. It does so well on flowers, that I can hold off purchasing a macro lens for the time being.

Boneset

Boneset

That lens also works as a macro lens for insects that don’t move.

Japanese beetle

Japanese beetle

Thistle

Thistle

Berry still life

Berry still life

It’s not even bad on birds if they are close. This kingbird must have been reading my blog just before this shot from the size of its yawn. 😉

Juvenile eastern kingbird yawning

Juvenile eastern kingbird yawning

I finally duplicated the Queen Anne’s Lace shot minus the fence, I just had to use the same lens as the first shot.

Queen Anne's lace

Queen Anne’s lace

I almost wished that I had one of the longer lenses on the camera for the next three photos.

Male American goldfinches dogfighting

Male American goldfinches dog-fighting

Male American goldfinches dogfighting

Male American goldfinches dog-fighting

Male American goldfinches dogfighting

Male American goldfinches dog-fighting

The goldfinches must have been reading Donna’s blog about osprey and eagles dog-fighting, and decided that it looked like fun. 😉

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These next ones are of the blue flowers that I found a couple of days ago. I had to do some judicious pruning and bending to get these shots. The last of the good flowers was about three inches above the ground.

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???

My brother recommended going with the longest focal length macro lens that I could afford, and that last flower is a good example as to why that’s true. Laying on your belly on a busy sidewalk is no fun.

It’s funny, of the three lenses I own, my favorite is the one I use the least, the 15-85 mm. It is as sharp, or nearly so, as the 70-200 mm L series, but it is easier to get the sharpness with the shorter of the two. The 15-85 mm is so easy to use, I don’t have to play with it to get the sharp photos from it. The auto-focus is extremely fast and accurate, much more so than the L series lens. I need to find more excuses to use the short one.

Next week I will be posting the 117th post in My Photo Life List project, cause for celebration! That puts me 1/3 of the way through the list I’m working from. I even have a bottle of white wine in the fridge that I’ve been saving to mark that point. I’ll now be posting those posts once a week on Wednesdays from now on.

Friday

I’m not sure what the weather is going to be like this weekend, so my plans may change. There’s another cold front headed this way, and it may get cool enough that we get lake effect rain showers over the weekend. I’ll have to wait for an updated forecast before I make a final decision about the weekend.

What the heck, lake effect showers are typically no big deal, so I’ll call to get a pass for the Muskegon Wastewater facility on Saturday, and hit Pickerel Lake again on Sunday. I have to hit Muskegon this weekend, reports are that many of the small wading and shore birds are showing up there as the birds are migrating south for the winter already.

The water levels of the Great Lakes continue to rise. The most impressive figures in the weekly Great Lakes Water Level Report is the continued impressive rise in the water level of Lake Superior.  Superior is a big lake and it takes 552 billion gallons of water to add one inch to the lake level.   Lake Superior is up 6″ in the last month and is now 6″ higher than one year ago.  The lake is now only 2″ below the average level.  Lake Michigan/Huron is up 1″ in the last month and is 3″ higher than one year ago.

In other news, it’s time for me to renew the plates for my Subaru, and to my amazement, the plates for it are cheaper than they were for my old Ford Explorer. Michigan determines the price of license plates for a vehicle based on the original selling price of a vehicle, so I was expecting to pay more for a 2013 vehicle versus one originally sold in 1999. The Explorer I that had was a top of the line Eddie Bauer edition, with every option available, so I’m sure that it was expensive to purchase off the lot. My Forester is “just” a mid-level edition, still, given the difference in age, I would have assume that the Forester cost more than the Explorer had 14 years ago, wrong. I do love my Subaru!

Of course, when I renew my license plates, I’ll also be renewing my Recreational Passport, which is the yearly fee to get into all the state parks and other state lands here in Michigan, without paying the daily user fee. The price increased a dollar this year, making it $11 now, but it’s still a bargain compared to the old fee structure, where a yearly permit cost $26. There’s a lesson there, the State of Michigan decreased the cost of a yearly permit, but they are now selling so many more of them that they are seeing an increase in revenue.

The weather this morning is cloudy and cool, with a few light showers scattered about the area, ahead of the cold front headed this way. I’ll be taking just the two short lenses with me this morning.

I’m back, after a very thoughtful walk this morning.

I was thinking about the trip to Muskegon tomorrow, and how shore birds have begun migrating south already. That goes along with the fact that the meadowlarks, red-winged blackbirds, and some other species have already departed the area. It is the end of July after all, but you wouldn’t know it by looking around.

Green in July

Green in July

The plants and trees still look so fresh and green, like late spring, rather than the middle of summer. It’s hard to fathom that another summer is winding down, and fall will soon be upon us. But, the signs of fall, though they may be small and sporadic, are beginning to appear.

I almost wished that I had taken the Sigma with me today.

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

That would have been such a great shot with the longer lens!

I watched the kingbird family for a while.

Juvenile eastern kingbird

Juvenile eastern kingbird

Yeah, I know, more photos of birds that I have already posted too many shots of.

But, there’s a reason.

I think that Allen is the only regular reader of my blog that was around when I was posting photos of robins and cedar waxwings eating berries, and I was shooting from so close to the birds that you could see the berries going down the bird’s throats, and even see what color their tongues were.

Also, when I first moved to my new apartment, I had difficulty getting close to most of the birds around here.

Now, I get to hang around twenty feet from a family of kingbirds as the adults feed their young.

I am making “friends”.

At my old apartment, I was getting very close to to the birds because they were used to my being there, and they had learned that I wasn’t a threat to them.

The red-tailed hawks were so used to me that they would let me stand and photograph them as they hunted rodents, and I got to the point where I could recognize individual birds in the family.

This shot helped to form this idea.

Cedar waxwing plucking a berry

Cedar waxwing plucking a berry

Not that great, but it did remind me of my old friends, and how I am beginning to make new ones. Then, I shot this one, yet another species of bird that I have posted too many photos of lately.

Juvenile rose-breasted grosbeak

Juvenile rose-breasted grosbeak

Something dawned on me then, just because I get close to birds, and I’m ready to press the shutter release doesn’t mean that I have to actually snap the photo.

The birds won’t know if I do or not, as long as they get used to the big guy with the funny looking thing in his hands that beeps from time to time is what matters.

I suppose for that matter, even if I do press the shutter release all the way doesn’t mean that I have to post the photo. 😉

I did shoot a few other subjects today, despite the cloudy conditions.

Bee balm

Bee balm

Butterfly

Butterfly

Butterfly

Butterfly

I’ve called to arrange for my pass tomorrow at the Muskegon wastewater treatment facility, and I see that they have updated their website to include a section just on birding there, now how cool is that? Here’s the link.

The battery for my camera is fully charged, I’ve put the Sigma lens on the camera for tomorrow, I think that I’m all set to go. I will really be surprised if both tomorrow and Sunday don’t warrant posts of their own, so I’m going to end this week a day earlier than normal.

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


Semipalmated Plover, Charadrius semipalmatus

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.

Semipalmated Plover, Charadrius semipalmatus

The Semipalmated Plover is a small plover.

This species weighs 22–63 g (0.78–2.2 oz) and measures 14–20 cm (5.5–7.9 in) in length and 35–56 cm (14–22 in) across the wings. Adults have a grey-brown back and wings, a white belly, and a white breast with one black neckband. They have a brown cap, a white forehead, a black mask around the eyes and a short orange and black bill.

Their breeding habitat is open ground on beaches or flats across northern Canada and Alaska. They nest on the ground in an open area with little or no plant growth.

They are migratory and winter in coastal areas of the southern United States, the Caribbean and much of South America.

These birds forage for food on beaches, tidal flats and fields, usually by sight. They eat insects, crustaceans and worms.

This bird very closely resembles the Killdeer but is much smaller but has only one black band on their chest. The bill of the killdeer is totally black, where as the bill of the Semipalmated Plover is orange near their face, and only the tip is black. The term “semipalmated” refers to its partly webbed feet. Like the Killdeer, and since its nest is on the ground, it uses a “broken-wing” display to lure intruders away from the nest.

On to my photos, these were all shot on the shores of Thunder Bay, an arm of Lake Huron, near Alpena, Michigan:

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

This is number 116 in my photo life list, only 234 to go!

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

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Dunlin, Calidris alpina

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.

Dunlin, Calidris alpina

The Dunlin is a small wading bird. It is a circumpolar breeder in Arctic or subarctic regions.

The Dunlin is highly gregarious in winter, sometimes forming large flocks on coastal mudflats or sandy beaches. Large numbers can often be seen swirling in synchronized flight on stop-overs during migration or on their winter habitat.
This bird is one of the most common and best-known waders throughout its breeding and wintering ranges, and it is the species with which other waders tend to be compared. At 17–21 cm length and a 32–36 cm wingspan, it is similar in size to a Common Starling, but stouter, with a thicker bill.

The Dunlin moves along the coastal mudflat beaches it prefers with a characteristic “sewing machine” feeding action, methodically picking small food items. Insects form the main part of the Dunlin’s diet on the nesting grounds; it eats mollusks, worms and crustaceans in coastal areas.

An adult Dunlin in breeding plumage shows the distinctive black belly which no other similar-sized wader possesses. The winter Dunlin is basically grey above and white below. Juveniles are brown above with two whitish “V” shapes on the back. They usually have black marks on the flanks or belly and show a strong white wing bar in flight.

The legs and slightly de-curved bill are black. There are a number of subspecies differing mainly in the extent of rufus coloration in the breeding plumage and the bill length. It should, however, be noted that bill length varies between sexes, the females having longer bills than the males.

The nest is a shallow scrape on the ground lined with vegetation, into which typically four eggs are laid and incubated by the male and female parents. Chicks are precocial, however are brooded during early development. They start to fly at approximately three weeks of age. The majority of brood care is provided by the male, as the female deserts the brood and often leaves the breeding area.

Their call is a typical sandpiper “peep”, and the display song a harsh trill.

On to my photos:

Dunlin, Calidris alpina

Dunlin, Calidris alpina

Dunlin, Calidris alpina

Dunlin, Calidris alpina

Dunlin, Calidris alpina

Dunlin, Calidris alpina

Dunlin, Calidris alpina

Dunlin, Calidris alpina

Dunlin, Calidris alpina

Dunlin, Calidris alpina

Dunlin, Calidris alpina

Dunlin, Calidris alpina

Dunlin, Calidris alpina

Dunlin, Calidris alpina

Dunlin, Calidris alpina

Dunlin, Calidris alpina

Dunlin, Calidris alpina

Dunlin, Calidris alpina

Dunlin, Calidris alpina

Dunlin, Calidris alpina

This is number 115 in my photo life list, only 235 to go!

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

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Pickerel Lake Park – Fred Meijer Nature Preserve

On Sunday, July 21st, I visited Pickerel Lake Park – Fred Meijer Nature Preserve, which is in northeast Kent County, Michigan. Here’s a link to the county’s website for more information, including how to get there and trail maps.

Here’s another link, from the Michigan DNR that provides an even better description and more information.

One note of warning I should throw in here, Pickerel Lake Park is one of the most popular parks in the area, it can be quite busy. I got there just after 8 AM this morning, and my Subaru was the third vehicle in the parking lot. When I left just after 2 PM, the parking lot was almost full.

I’ll start with a photo of the plaque dedicating the park.

Gibberish

Gibberish

I won’t go into the controversy over the name of the park, because that doesn’t matter to most of you.

It was a fine mid-summer day, I should have had a very good day, but for some reason, I found that most of the photos I shot there didn’t turn out well. I got just over halfway along the trails, and the feeling came over me that the photos I was shooting were all going to be lacking. Part of that was because I just wasn’t on my game today, and I have no idea why. Part of it was because I had to use the wrong lens for so many subjects.

There’s a very nice boardwalk across several parts of Pickerel Lake, it allows you to see many water plants that you wouldn’t be able to get close to otherwise without a watercraft of some type. But, the boardwalk has a handrail to keep people from falling off into the water, and from the walking surface up to the handrail, there’s fencing to prevent small children falling off. So, the only way to photograph the flowers is shooting almost straight down from the level of the handrail down to the flowers. That was too far for any of my lenses other than the Sigma 150-500 mm lens, and that lens does not work well as a macro lens. Here’s a few examples of what I mean.

Unidentified purple waterflower

Unidentified purple water flower

Unidentified purple waterflower

Unidentified purple water flower

Unidentified red waterflower

Unidentified red water flower

Unidentified red waterflower

Unidentified red water flower

If it hadn’t been for the fencing, I’d have been laying on my belly on the boardwalk to get closer, and better angles on the flowers.

One other thing, the boardwalk isn’t solid, it bounces around when people are walking on it, you can feel it even when the other people are still some distance away from you. That makes it harder to hold the camera steady.

If this sounds too negative, I don’t mean it to be, the entire park is great, except for the boardwalk for photography purposes, at least that’s what I found.

Now then, with my excuses out of the way, there are about five miles of trails in the park, one main trail around Pickerel Lake, including the sections over the lake, and also several short loops off that main trail. I hit most of them today. There are restrooms and drinking water available, after crossing the first section of boardwalk across the lake.

Two of the loops take you uphill into wooded areas, one takes you along the edge of a larch swamp.

I’ll bet that this park is a birding paradise in the spring before the foliage is fully developed as I saw many different species of birds, but only managed a few photos.

Eastern phoebe

Eastern phoebe

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

American robin and common grackle

American robin and common grackle

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

Mute swans

Mute swans

Song sparrow preening

Song sparrow preening

Song sparrow preening

Song sparrow preening

Song sparrow preening

Song sparrow preening

Eastern phoebe

Eastern phoebe

I think that you’ll get a better idea how thick the foliage is from these two wide shots looking across the lake.

Pickerel Lake

Pickerel Lake

Pickerel Lake

Pickerel Lake

Here it’s the middle of July, and everything is as green as the middle of May! You can also see that except for the lake, nearly the entire park is heavily wooded.

I could list all the species of birds that I saw, but that would take up too much room, suffice it to say that most species of songbirds common to southern Michigan were present, and in quantities.

There were also many insects of various types.

Damselfly

Damselfly

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Wasp

Wasp

Wasp

Wasp

Butterfly

Spicebush swallowtail

Bee

Bee

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Butterfly

Butterfly

Spicebush Swallowtail

Spicebush Swallowtail

I also saw a few interesting fungi along the way.

Unidentified fungus object

Unidentified fungus object

Unidentified fungus object

Unidentified fungus object

Unidentified fungus object

Unidentified fungus object

And although they aren’t fungi, I guess this is a fitting spot for the Indian pipes I spotted.

Indian pipes

Indian pipes

And that leaves me with the flowers, most of which I can not identify.

???

???

???

???

???

???

???

???

???

???

???

???

???

???

???

???

???

???

IMG_8630

Rose look alike

Rose look alike

Bladderwort?

Bladderwort?

???

Swamp milkweed

???

???

Spiderwort

Spiderwort

It really surprised me how many different wildflowers I saw there from what I’m used to. This park is about halfway between the home where I grew up, and the home I owned to the north.

Oops, almost forgot the turtles.

Painted turtles basking on a fine summer day

Painted turtles basking on a fine summer day

I will definitely being going back, and soon. I went this time expecting to concentrate on birding, so I left the Sigma on the camera far too much of the time. As thick as the foliage is, that was a poor choice. I’d have been better off using the L series lens most of the time, and finding ways to get better photos of the flowers.

I’ll also go back in the spring, as I’m sure that I’ll get bird photos then.

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


Mid-summer flowers

Another post of flowers that I’ve seen in the past few days while out for my daily walk. I’m no expert when it comes to identifying flowers or plants, so I hope that I have these right, the ones that I did ID that is.

Sweat pea and knapweed

Sweat pea and knapweed

Teasel

Teasel

Pokeweed "fruit"

Pokeweed “fruit”

Sedum???

Swamp milkweed

IMG_8421

Blue Vervain?

Teasel

Teasel

Teasel

Teasel

Thistle

Thistle

Purple loosestrife and bee

Purple loosestrife and bee

Teasel

Teasel

Teasel

Teasel

Thistle

Thistle

Harebell?

Harebell?

Black eyed Susan

Black eyed Susan

???

Evening primrose

???

Hairy Sunflower???

Day lily

Day lily

Day lily

Day lily

???

???

Bee balm

Bee balm

Double tiger lily?

Double tiger lily?

Double tiger lily?

Double tiger lily?

Soapwort

Soapwort

Phlox

Phlox

Michigan lily

Michigan lily

Michigan lily

Michigan lily

Michigan lily

Michigan lily

Michigan lily

Michigan lily

Michigan lily

Michigan lily

Michigan lily

Michigan lily

Purple loosestrife

Purple loosestrife

Hawkweed family?

Hawkweed family?

Chicory and Queen Anne's Lace

Chicory and Queen Anne’s Lace

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


My Week, like a sauna

Sunday

So the misery begins. The forecast for today is for a high near 90 degrees (32 C), with the humidity beginning to build. By the middle of this week, we’ll have highs a few degrees higher than today, with dew-point readings in the mid 70’s (24 C), which means overnight lows won’t be low. I may have to break down and turn on the AC this week.

I was up at dawn, I’m planning on getting an early start today, then napping this afternoon. I feel like I could use a nap already, and I haven’t done anything more strenuous than lift my coffee cup so far today.

I thought about going to the Pickerel Lake Natural Area today, that isn’t very far from here, just northeast of Grand Rapids, which is near where I grew up and spent most of my life. In a way, going there would be like going home, but, I don’t feel like it today. It would make me realize how much I miss that area, and make me more discontented with the area I’m living now. Before I totally bum myself out, I’d better get something to eat, and get moving.

I’m back, I didn’t last long today. I was in the woods before 8 AM, and it was nice and cool to begin. However, there wasn’t a lot of light in the woods that early.

Peeping Tom cat

Peeping Tom cat

There are times when my camera and the Sigma lens amaze me, that was one of those times. Here’s another.

Daylily

Day lily

I walked almost the entire length of the park without shooting another photo, there wasn’t enough light for the few things that I got close to in the heavily wooded section that I walked through. It was cool though, and the smell of pines was wonderful, so it was a nice start to the day.

I got to the boardwalk section of the path, where it is more open, and things started going downhill a bit. I saw a red bellied woodpecker hiding in the shadow of a tree….

Red bellied woodpecker

Red bellied woodpecker

…so I cranked some positive exposure compensation in, and the woodpecker stuck its head out into the sunlight…

Red bellied woodpecker

Red bellied woodpecker

…so there’s some blow out in the white of its face. I went back to zero compensation, it went back into the shadow, I gave up, temporarily…

Red bellied woodpecker

Red bellied woodpecker

Not great, but as soon as I moved to get a clear shot without the branch, it was gone.

A little farther down the boardwalk, I came upon some damselflies sunning themselves.

Damselfly

Damselfly

Damselfly

Damselfly

I should have changed lenses for those, but I was chasing a small, rather plain-looking bird down the boardwalk at the same time.

Female indigo bunting

Female indigo bunting

She refused to come out from under the grass hanging over the boardwalk, so I never did get a good shot of her. However, her mate was doing his best to distract me as tried to get a photo of her.

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

For a moment or two, it was perched right out in the open, in the sunlight, I could see the glint in its eye, but for some reason, the same camera and lens that got the photo of the cat in the shadows of a brush pile couldn’t get a focus lock on a brilliantly bright blue bird, or the branch under it, or the tree next to it. As soon as I switched to manual focus, the bunting was gone. Aargh!

Maybe the birds were all grumpy from the heat, as not even a chickadee wanted to pose for me today…

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

…as soon as it saw me, it dove into the hollow tree…

Black capped chickadee's tail

Black capped chickadee’s tail

…and at times I would see its head though one hole, at other times, its tail through a lower hole, but I missed the head shots, sorry.

I caught a downy woodpecker feeding on mulberries, but it was so dark under the tree that I didn’t dare zoom in at all, so I shot this one at 150 mm.

Downy woodpecker

Downy woodpecker

I thought about hanging out there by the mulberry tree, because there were several birds eating the berries. However, the bird droppings all around where I was standing convinced me that it probably wouldn’t be wise to stand there long.

I saw a few deer over the course of the day, or more accurately, I saw a few deer ears looking like twin periscopes moving through a sea of grass. The grass in the parts of the park that aren’t wooded is now four to six feet tall, so the deer can be thirty feet from you, and you’d never know they are there.

It was getting warmer all the time, and people were flocking to the park. I assume that they don’t have AC at home, so they are going to the parks to try to stay cool. I just saw a tweet from a local meteorologist saying that it’s 87 degrees with a dew point of 66, and it’s only 1 PM.

I pressed on though, and found a pair of young catbirds feeding on wild cherries.

Grey catbird

Grey catbird

Grey catbird

Grey catbird

Grey catbird

Grey catbird

The last photo from the day is a giant, ugly mushroom.

Mushroom

Mushroom

By then I had finished both bottles of water that I had brought with me, and it was a quarter of a mile walk to refill the bottles if I wanted to continue my walk. That wasn’t that bad, but it would have meant another quarter of a mile back to pick up where I had left off, on top of the four miles I had completed. Most of the remaining walk that I do at that park is out in the open with little shade. I wimped out and decided that I had enough of the heat, since it’s only going to get worse this week, and called it a day. Now it’s time for a nap!

Monday

Well, it’s official, we hit 90 degrees for the first time since August of 2012 yesterday, whoopee! Before I go off on anther media rant, I’d better slightly change the subject.

Because it’s going to be so hot this week, I’m only going to take one lens with me each day. Not only does that mean less weight to carry, it also means that I won’t have the straps from the harness I use to carry my gear pressing my shirt against my skin, making me feel even warmer. It will probably be the 70-200 mm L series, since that’s the most versatile of my three lenses.

I’m back, and the lesson for today is that all things are relative, especially the heat. I thought that it was warm in my apartment when I left, after a little over an hour, and three miles in the outdoor sauna, my apartment feels pleasantly cool right now.

Let me start by saying that here it is only the middle of July, and already the birds are leaving, at least this area. I saw one or two red-winged blackbirds today. I haven’t seen the meadowlarks in two weeks or so, and today it dawned on me that the flocks of orioles that I shot so many photos of this spring seem to have vanished as well. I haven’t seen or heard the alder flycatcher lately either.

I did find a few things to photograph today, starting with this one. It didn’t come out as I envisioned, but there’s something about it that I like.

Maple seeds in the sun

Maple seeds in the sun

While looking over the tiger lilies to see if there was one that stood out, I found this green insect in one.

Tiger lily and visitor

Tiger lily and visitor

I know that I’ve posted many photos of Queen Anne’s Lace lately, but this one is too good to throw out.

Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne’s Lace

And even though I’ve shot many photos of yellow warblers this spring, here’s a couple of a female that posed for me.

Female yellow warbler

Female yellow warbler

Female yellow warbler

Female yellow warbler

And, even though this is a horribly invasive species, it is pretty.

Purple loosestrife

Purple loosestrife

I’m finally remembering that photos taken in the portrait orientation fit better into the blog theme that I’m using, especially flower photos. If I can get close enough to one of these, I’ll switch to portrait as well.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

I generally shoot everything with the camera in the landscape orientation, as the results display better on my computer screen, I’ll have to be more flexible from now on.

Anyway, the heron was at one of the small ponds in the sister apartment complex to the one I live in. I was quite surprised to see a heron, as the ponds are very small, and located very close to the apartments. I did try to stalk the heron to get closer, using a well placed bush for cover, but the heron flew off before I got much closer to it. I would be very surprised to see it back, as it looked very nervous before I started getting closer to it. As thick as the leaves were on the bush, I don’t think that the heron could see me, but I could be wrong about that.

Oh, and by the way, those were all shot with the 70-200 mm L series lens. I wrote before that it takes more work to get a sharp photo with it, it still does, but, the more I use it, the more I learn what it takes to get excellent photos with it. For example, the auto-focus is much more accurate in the servo mode that in the one shot mode. I have my suspicions as to why that is, since both of my other lenses perform very well in the one shot mode, but there’s nothing that I can prove yet. Besides, the why doesn’t matter, it is what it is, and I have to work with what I have.

Some readers may be bored by these discussions, but others are learning from them, or at least they enjoy them, or so they say. Anyway, before I go on at length on that subject, I have to shower and then visit my mom today, so this wraps up this day.

Tuesday

Yes, it’s still hot and humid, that’s not forecast to change until Friday. I did make it through one more night without turning on the AC in my apartment though. We had pop-up thunder showers yesterday afternoon that cooled things down a little, which helped.

Back to camera gear for a bit. It’s quite interesting to me how a slight tweak of the camera settings can make such an impact on the performance of the lenses these days. I suppose that it is understandable, since the electronics in both the camera and lenses  control everything. Being a geek at heart that loves nothing more than solving problems, I do enjoy playing with my new camera and lenses to find out what works and why.

Cameras and lenses are electro-mechanical devices these days, and the electronics in each may be of different generations as far as design and components. I doubt that the manufacturers would admit it, but I would assume that makes some combinations of cameras and lenses more finicky than others as far as getting them to work together at top performance for both.

At least that’s what I seem to be finding out with the 60 D and the 70-200 mm L series lens. I assume that the lens is an older design, with older electronics than what the camera has, but I could be wrong about that.

Anyway, I did some more playing with the L series today, starting with a turkey in the shade.

Turkey

Turkey

I don’t want it to sound as though I’m blowing my own horn (too much), but that’s one of the tougher shots in nature photography. Most of the time, a turkey in the shade will come out as a black lump, but by going up with the exposure compensation, and getting just the right angle as far as what sunlight there was to work with, I got some of the colors of the turkey to show. Of course everything in the foreground and background that was in the sun is way over-exposed, but other than a HDR, I know of no way around that. The point of this is that it pays to practice taking the tough shots, for the next time I’m confronted with a set-up like this, it may be something other than a turkey, and a species that I really want a photo of.

I also tried a few macro photos…

Bumblebee

Bumblebee

Purple loosestrife

Purple loosestrife

Both of those were heavily cropped to get that close, but the L series lens is so sharp that I can get away with that.

Here’s a few shots that were not cropped at all.

Tiger lily

Indian love call day lily

Tiger lily

Indian love call day lily

Tiger lily

Indian love call day lily

I thought that they were tiger lilies, but one of my Facebook friends correctly identified them, they sure stood out from the background, as I spotted them from some distance away because of their color, which as you can see, was very vivid. All five of these last shots were taken with -1/3 EV, which has become my standard starting point for photographing flowers and landscapes. I usually try -2/3 EV as well, and I’ll go down a full stop for white or yellow flowers, depending on which metering mode I am using.

I typically have the camera set to partial spot metering which works well on birds, and requires less of an adjustment when shooting flowers. I normally switch to evaluative or center weighted for landscapes, and those modes require larger adjustments to the exposure when shooting flowers. At least that’s what works the best for my Canon 60 D and the lenses I have. Your results may vary. 😉

Can you tell that I’m really, really enjoying getting back into photography done the right way now that I have a camera and lenses that actually function correctly?

But, there’s a point to be made about the lily photos. I’ve read and heard that muted sunlight is best for photographing flowers, as you get better color saturation in that light. Being a stubborn non-conformist, I like shooting flowers in full sunshine, as many flowers have structures that sparkle in the full sun. It takes more work my way, as far as getting the sunlight just right, as well as the exposure, but I don’t think that any one would say that the four photos of flowers that I posted today are lacking in color saturation.

I did see the alder flycatcher today, I even got a photo of it, but I’m holding off on that one for now, until I do a post on that species in my Photo Life List project.

I had an interesting experience last night at work. I got to the Lansing, Michigan branch, and backed in to the dock as I always do. I did my thing as far as unloading and reloading the trailer, and was preparing to pull out into the street. I saw the power lines going to the building across the street begin shaking violently, So I was looking around to see why, when a couple of cables came crashing down on the truck. One of the cables landed between the truck and the trailer, the other was over the top of the trailer. I thought that they were phone and cable lines, but I wasn’t about to hop out of the truck and get zapped if there had been a power line that I couldn’t see touching the rig.

So, I called 911 and waited for the fire department to arrive, which took longer than I expected. They determined that the lines were just phone and cable lines, and they helped me slide the cables off from the truck.

They told me that was their third call that day for the same thing, a truck pulling down wires. With this heat, the wires are stretching and sagging down lower than they normally do, which is why trucks are catching wires we normally pass under on a daily basis. The good thing is that they had all been phone and cable lines, as they are strung lower than the power lines for just that reason. I learn something new everyday.

The funny thing about all that is that I didn’t hit the wires when I backed in, I would have seen that I was hitting them while backing in. No, the wires had to sag a little lower while I was at the loading dock, so that I would rip them down on my way out, when I can’t see above me.

Wednesday

Half way through this heat wave, I think that I’m going to survive it. I’m in no hurry for fall or winter, but I want this heat and humidity gone! The forecast for the weekend looks good, but I don’t have the energy to do any planning right now.

Even though the park that I walk everyday can be crowded, I have discovered a few benefits to walking in a park, like the availability of restrooms and drinking water. I can get by with taking one bottle of water with me to start, then refill it as needed at the drinking fountains, rather than carry several bottles with me.

I took what I think will be another major step towards quitting smoking yesterday. I stopped on my way to work, and bought one of the disposable e-cigarettes that are on the market now. I gave it a try last night while driving, I can tell that they could easily take the place of real cigarettes, with one caveat. The electronic ones don’t go out, and last much longer than a real smoke. I could see myself sticking one in my mouth and leaving it there for far too long, giving me more nicotine, not less. It worked OK in the truck, because I know how long a real cigarette lasts from the time I light it until it’s done, so I limited my time with the e-cigarette to the same amount of time. Now, if I can do the same thing the rest of the time, I think that the e-cigarette will work to help me quit smoking.

I over slept this morning, which seems to be my norm for Wednesdays. Because of that, my apartment was already getting warm since the windows were still open from last night. I broke down and turned on the AC for a few minutes while I was eating breakfast, it didn’t take long to cool it off in here.

I’m glad that I did turn on the AC, because it was sure nice to come home to a cool apartment, it was miserable out there today. My clothes have been wrung out and hung to dry, and no, it didn’t rain while I was walking, I should have been so lucky.

I shot very few photos, about a dozen or so, none of them very good. All but two were shot while I was standing in the shade on one of the bridges that cross over the creek that runs through the park. I was playing more than anything, as it gave me an excuse to stand in the shade and watch the robins staying cool.

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

The only half way decent shot I took was of a cedar waxwing, and it’s nothing special.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Great, they’re delivering the woodchips for the new playground across the street from me, so I get to listen to that for who knows how long. I’m certainly glad that I don’t work third shift! I think that they must be about done converting the tennis courts into a playground, at least I hope so.

Anyway, back to my walk. I saw a blue jay land in the lawn next to the woods, no big deal, except that a few seconds later, a male cardinal dropped out of the trees, landed on the blue jay’s back, and started beating the crap out of the jay. The jay was on its back for a second, I could see its white belly as the cardinal pummeled the jay, which then managed to right itself and get away from the cardinal. I don’t recall ever seeing a cardinal that aggressive before.

Other than whine about the heat, I don’t have much else to say about the day. When the birds and insects are behaving differently because of the heat, its hard to talk about anything else.

Thursday

You know, I can be really dumb at times. The electric utility is charging me a $7 per month “access” fee, because I use so little electricity. Yet, I haven’t turned on the AC this year, other than for about five minutes yesterday, to save money, or so I thought. I’ll bet that if I were to run the AC more often to keep it more comfortable in my apartment, that my electrical usage would go up to the point where I was no longer hit with the access fee, so my electric bill would end up being about the same as it is now. I’m going to give it a try, and see what my next bill is.

Today is forecast to be the worst of the heat wave, close to 95 degrees (35 C) during the day, “cooling off” to around 80 degrees (27 C) tonight. That will be unpleasant!

By the end of next week I will have posted one-third of the species of birds seen regularly in Michigan in the My Photo Life List project that I began in January. Once I hit that milestone, I’m going to cut back those posts to one per week, until I run out of photos, which will happen eventually. Before I pat myself on the back too much, I’d better get something to eat, and venture out into the sauna outside.

OK, I survived another day! High temperatures and humidity must count as bad weather for a lot of people, for the last two days, there have been very few others in the park besides me.

I’ve seen almost as many butterflies the past two days as I have seen all year. However, I have not been able to get any good photos, as they have refused to sit still, and it’s been the same with bees as well. This hot weather has their metabolism running at hyper-speed.

I shot a number of experimental photos today, they were failures for the most part, other than for what I learned in failure. I did save a few of the non-experimental types.

Kitten

Kitten

Crown vetch seed pods

Crown vetch seed pods

Raspberries

Raspberries

Once again I tried to duplicate the earlier Queen Anne’s lace photo sans fence, I give up!

Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne’s Lace

When you watch a kingbird in flight, they don’t appear to be particularly skillful fliers, but I watched one flying across a field today, a swallow got close to it, and a dogfight ensued. I was very surprised at how well the kingbird was able to stick to the swallow’s tail as the swallow dove and darted as they are well able to do. Of course the swallow prevailed, and flew off unscathed, but it was a sight to see, even though I couldn’t keep up with them with my camera. I knew that kingbirds were very territorial, but this was out over a field, a long distance from the kingbird’s nest, so I don’t know what the swallow said that set the kingbird off.

I may have missed photos of the dogfight, but I did manage a bad photo of the kingbird on its way back across the field again.

Eastern Kingbird in flight

Eastern Kingbird in flight

And to go with that last one, here’s a bad photo of a rose-breasted grosbeak in flight.

Male rose-breasted grosbeak in flight

Male rose-breasted grosbeak in flight

That’s it for the photos from today, pretty slim pickings.

And once again, I don’t have much else to say, other than for some wacky ideas for a camper and also a way to carry my stuff with me while walking, but I won’t bore you with those, yet, or any more whining about the heat.

Friday

The big news item in Michigan is that the city of Detroit has declared bankruptcy. That’s something that has been a long time coming, for Detroit has been a drain on the rest of the state for at least thirty years. The rest of the state has been pouring so much money into Detroit to keep it afloat that the entire state nearly went bankrupt. In some respects, it is sad news, that a once proud and vibrant city like Detroit is bankrupt, but on the other hand, maybe this will be the start of an even better Detroit in the future.

The other news is the heat, when I went to bed last night, the temperature was still 81 degrees outside. Yes, I ran the AC overnight. The good news is that there’s a cold front forecast to move through the area this afternoon, I sure hope so! I’m tired of listening to the whining about the heat coming from the same people who a week ago were whining that it hadn’t been hot yet this summer.

Seeing the photos that some other bloggers have posted the last few days while travelling had me chomping at the bit again to take a road trip this weekend. I even started making plans as to where to go, but then, it hit me that every spot I thought of would be extremely crowded on a summer weekend. So much for that idea for now. I should explain that a little more, it isn’t so much the crowds at a destination, such as Sleeping Bear Dunes, that would bother me, it’s the crowded roads and parking lots that I’d rather not deal with. I’ve become such an off-season tourist that I’ve become spoiled, since I go to places that attract millions of visitors in the summer, but only a few hundred in the off-season. Being a truck driver and having to deal with crowded highways on a daily basis plays a part in my decision as well.

Back from my walk, it was interesting, even productive to some degree. Even though it was even hotter than yesterday, it didn’t feel as bad as there was a stiff wind blowing today. That did limit my opportunities for photos, because with the wind, flowers were almost impossible, and even birds and bugs were difficult to shoot, as they were bouncing around in the wind. I did manage a few though, starting with a hummingbird moth.

Hummingbird moth

Hummingbird moth

That’s the best out of half a dozen or so attempts. I tried to ID the species, without much luck, sorry. They are really cool to watch, they are easily mistaken for small hummingbirds in the way that they fly from flower to flower, and hover while feeding on the flower’s nectar.

Seeing a blue bird perched on a wire gave me a chance to shoot a series of photos to test exposures under the conditions today, here’s the one that came out the best.

Eastern blue bird

Eastern blue bird

That was shot at +1/3 EV, which looks much better than I’ve gotten so far.

The teasel are blooming.

Teasel flowers

Teasel flowers

Teasel flowers

Teasel flowers

The first shot is as close as I can get with the 70-200 mm lens, the second shot is cropped severely, but still looks reasonably sharp. The individual flowers of the teasel are tiny, not much more than 1/8 of an inch across. I’m still mulling over the idea of buying an extension tube to use, since I can’t afford a true macro lens right now. That’s a tough call, the darned extension tubes are way overpriced in my opinion, I think that I’ll hold off and wait until I can afford a true macro lens, maybe the Tokina AT-X AF 100MM F2.8 Macro Lens, or the Canon EF-S 60mm F2.8 Macro USM. Another blogger I follow recently purchased the Canon macro, and it’s producing excellent photos for them, so that’s the direction I’m leaning now, but the added focal length of the Tokina could come in handy. I could also use a fast 2.8 lens, as the three lenses I have are all rather slow.

Anyway, I can’t decide which of these photos of a small butterfly I like the best, so I’m posting them all.

Small yellow butterfly

Small yellow butterfly

Small yellow butterfly

Small yellow butterfly

Small yellow butterfly

Small yellow butterfly

Small yellow butterfly

Small yellow butterfly

And while I’m on butterflies, a few of a monarch.

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

The wind did make for at least one interesting shot.

Blowing in the wind

Blowing in the wind

The young kingbirds have left the nest, and were hanging onto the trees for dear life to keep them from being blown into the next county.

Juvenile eastern kingbird

Juvenile eastern kingbird

Other birds weren’t very cooperative today. I found this cardinal singing, out in the open. As I was getting ready to take its picture, it began tip toeing along the branch it was perched on to put some leaves between us, but never stopped singing.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

It had been to the right of where it is in that photo, a second later, and it was behind the leaves to the left of the frame. After I stopped laughing, I saw an opening for an even better shot, as I lifted the camera, the cardinal ducked behind another branch. I had a female oriole do about the same thing, we played peek-a-boo for a minute or so until I gave up. It was fun watching her lift her head over the leaves, see that I was still there, then duck down behind the leaves again, just like a little kid.

Some one commented that they were familiar with white bindweed, but not the purple variant that I posted in an earlier post, so here’s a white one.

White bindweed

White bindweed

The large sycamore in the park is shedding its bark as they do in the summer, maybe to keep cool? 😉

Sycamore bark

Sycamore bark

And finally, as far as photos, another attempt at getting a good shot of a swallow in flight.

Barn swallow in flight

Barn swallow in flight

I do love a challenge! I know that my chances of a good shot of a swallow in flight are slim at best, but trying does keep me occupied and out of trouble.

I may get another challenge tonight at work. The forecast is for strong to severe storms as the cold front comes through. Thankfully, I won’t have the challenge another truck driver had last night, his rig was almost blown off from the Mackinac Bridge during a storm. The deck of the bridge is almost 200 feet above the water at the highest point, although the truck last night hadn’t made it to the center of the bridge when it was blown over on its side. They normally close down the bridge to trucks during high winds or storms, and occasionally all traffic if the winds are strong enough. Some one must have been slow on the switch to close the bridge last night.

I’m tempted to take my camera along to work, well, I mean the good camera, I will bring my Powershot point and shoot to capture anything interesting that may happen if the storms are as strong as predicted.

Saturday

The storms were a bust, which in a way is too bad, as we could have used the rain. There were a few small storms, but nothing widespread as they had been predicting for several days.

I’m going to walk here at home today, as the updated forecast is calling for temperatures and dew points only slightly cooler today than they have been all week. Now they are saying that the real cool down will come tomorrow. It’s just as well, I have laundry and other household chores to attend to when I get back.

Being a responsible adult is such a pain. I really don’t feel like walking around here today, I want to go someplace, anyplace!

I feel like doing one of my old style road trips, sleeping in my forester overnight, and coming back tomorrow. I know, I keep saying that, it’s a good thing that my forester still has a bunch of stuff in the back that I’ve been too lazy to put away where it belongs, like the Yakima rack system that I tried to sell to my brother a couple of weeks ago, or I probably would take off. But, there are so many things that I want to buy in the next few months, spending money on a road trip now isn’t going to get me closer to the goals that I have set as far as saving for those future purchases.

Well, before I get carried away here, I’d better get something to eat and head on out for the day, be back later.

For not feeling like I wanted to walk around here, I sure did come back with a slew of photos! Turn me loose with one of my short lenses when there are flowers in bloom and that happens. I did shoot a couple of birds and bugs, and I’ll throw those in here now, and as usual, since this is getting quite long already, I’ll do another flower post soon.

OK, my walk, it was hot, I don’t think that it cooled off much if any from yesterday. The thermometer may have said it did, but there wasn’t the wind today that there was yesterday. It was so hot that the squirrels were spraddled out on the limbs of trees in the shade to keep cool.

Fox squirrel staying cool

Fox squirrel staying cool

If you look very closely at the squirrel, the area around its mouth is stained from mulberry juice, it really could have used a napkin. 😉

I was seeing many flowers along the west leg of the trail, and just like the last few weeks, not many birds. I had decided to switch lenses at the end of that leg, and photograph flowers on the way back. However, a pair of house finches posed for me at the end of the leg, so it was a good thing that I hadn’t switched to a shorter lens than the Sigma earlier.

Male house finch

Male house finch

Male house finch

Male house finch

Female house finch

Female house finch

Since I didn’t dig through my archives when I did the post on house finches in the My Photo Life List project for any photos of females, I’ll add the photos I took today to that post, if any one is interested.

Doing the east leg of the trail, I came upon the young kingbirds that have recently left the nest, they were hungry!

Juvenile eastern kingbird saying "FEED ME!"

Juvenile eastern kingbird saying “FEED ME!”

Juvenile eastern kingbird saying "FEED ME!"

Juvenile eastern kingbird saying “FEED ME!”

Juvenile eastern kingbird saying "FEED ME!"

Juvenile eastern kingbird saying “FEED ME!”

And, I shot a photo of a song sparrow’s butt, just because I could.

Song sparrow's butt

Song sparrow’s butt

I finally found a butterfly, and one that would sit still.

Unidentified fluttering object

Unidentified fluttering object

To finish up with, here’s a preview of just a few of the many flowers that I photographed today.

A preview of things to come

A preview of things to come

It took me five hours to cover five miles today, hardly any type of speed record, so you know that I took some time on the flowers, along with taking breaks in the shade to cool off. And to think, I didn’t want to do this walk today. The joke was on me for sure.

Anyway, that about wraps this one up, and wraps up another week, thanks for stopping by!


Yellow Warbler, Setophaga petechia

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 Warbler, Setophaga petechia

The American Yellow Warbler is a New World warbler species. They make up the most widespread species in the diverse Setophaga genus, breeding in almost the whole of North America and down to northern South America.

Depending on subspecies, the American Yellow Warbler may be between 10–18 cm (3.9–7.1 in) long, with a wingspan from 16 to 22 cm (6.3 to 8.7 in). They weigh 7–25 g (0.25–0.88 oz), varying between subspecies and whether on migration or not, globally averaging about 16 g (0.56 oz) but only 9–10 g (0.32–0.35 oz) in most breeding adults of the United States populations. Among standard measurements throughout the subspecies, the wing chord is 5.5 to 7 cm (2.2 to 2.8 in), the tail is 3.9 to 5.6 cm (1.5 to 2.2 in), the bill is 0.8 to 1.3 cm (0.31 to 0.51 in) and the tarsus is 1.7 to 2.2 cm (0.67 to 0.87 in). The summer males of this species are generally the yellowest “warblers” wherever they occur. They are brilliant yellow below and golden-green above. There are usually a few wide washed-out rusty-red streaks on the breast and flanks.

Their song is a musical strophe that can be rendered “sweet sweet sweet, I’m so sweet”, although it varies considerably between populations. The call is a soft or harder chip or ship. This is particularly frequently given by females after a male has finished his song. In territorial defense, they give hissing calls, while “seet” seems to be a kind of specialized cowbird alert. Other calls are given in communication between pair-members, neighbors, or by young begging for food. These birds also communicate with postures and perhaps with touch.

The breeding habitat of American Yellow Warblers is typically riparian or otherwise moist land with ample growth of small trees, in particular willows. The other groups, as well as wintering birds, chiefly inhabit mangrove swamps and similar dense woody growth. Less preferred habitat are shrubland, farmlands and forest edges. In particular American Yellow Warblers will come to suburban or less densely settled areas, orchards and parks, and may well breed there. Outside the breeding season, these warblers are usually encountered in small groups, but while breeding they are fiercely territorial and will try to chase away any conspecific intruder that comes along.

These birds feed mainly on arthropods, in particular insects. They acquire prey by gleaning in shrubs and on tree branches, and by hawking prey that tries to fly away. Other invertebrates and some berries and similar small juicy fruits are also eaten, the latter especially by American Yellow Warblers in their winter quarters. Caterpillars are the staple food for nestlings, with some – e.g. those of geometer moths preferred over others.

These New World warblers seem to mob predators only rarely. An exception are cowbirds, which are significant brood parasites. The Yellow Warbler is a regular host of the Brown-headed Cowbird, with about 40% of all nests suffering attempted or successful parasitism. Upon recognizing a cowbird egg in its nest, the warbler will often smother it with a new layer of nesting material. It will usually not try to save any of its own eggs that have already been laid, but produce a replacement clutch. Sometimes, the parents desert a parasitized nest altogether and build a new one.

As usual for New World warblers, they nest in trees, building a small but very sturdy cup nest. Females and males share the reproductive work about equally, but emphasize different tasks: females are more involved with building and maintaining the nest, and incubating and brooding the offspring. Most of the actual feeding is also done by them. Males are more involved in guarding the nest site and procuring food, bringing it to the nest and passing it to the waiting mother. As the young approach fledging, the male’s workload becomes proportionally higher.

The clutch of the American Yellow Warbler is 3–6 (typically 4–5, rarely 1–2) eggs. Incubation to hatching usually takes 11 days, but may take up to two weeks. The nestlings weigh 1.3 g (0.046 oz) on average, and are brooded for an average 8–9 days after hatching, and leave the nest the following day or the one thereafter. Almost half of the parents attend the fledglings for some time after these leave the nest. This post-fledging care can extend for two additional weeks or more, and sometimes the pairs separate early, each accompanied by one to three of the young.

Some 3–4 weeks after hatching, the young are fully independent of their parents. They become sexually mature at one year of age, and attempt to breed right away.

On to my photos:

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Female yellow warbler

Female yellow warbler

Female yellow warbler

Female yellow warbler

Female yellow warbler

Female yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Female yellow warbler

Female yellow warbler

Female yellow warbler

Female yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

This is number 114 in my photo life list, only 236 to go!

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

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Common Yellowthroat, Geothlypis trichas

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

Common Yellowthroat, Geothlypis trichas

The Common Yellowthroat is a New World warbler. They are abundant breeders in North America, ranging from southern Canada to central Mexico. Northern races are migratory, wintering in the southern parts of the breeding range, Central America and the West Indies. Southern forms are largely resident. This species is a very rare vagrant to western Europe.

Common Yellowthroats are small songbirds that have olive backs, wings and tails, yellow throats and chests, and white bellies. Adult males have black face masks which stretch from the sides of the neck across the eyes and forehead, which are bordered above with white or gray. Females are similar in appearance, but have paler underparts and lack the black mask. Immature birds are similar in appearance to the adult female. First-year males have a faint black mask which darkens completely by spring.

The breeding habitats of these birds are marshes and other wet areas with dense low vegetation, and may also be found in other areas with dense shrub. However, these birds are less common in dry areas. Females appear to prefer males with larger masks. Common Yellowthroats nest in low areas of the vegetation, laying 3–5 eggs in a cup-shaped nest. Both parents feed the young.

These birds feed on insects, which are usually captured in dense vegetation, but sometimes caught in midair.

The Common Yellowthroat’s song is a loud twichety twichety twichety twich. Its call is a soft jip.

On to my photos:

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

This is number 113 in my photo life list, only 237 to go!

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

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Michigan’s Early summer flowers

I’ve got quite a few photos of flowers from the past few weeks. My knowledge of wildflowers is severely limited, due to the fact that I haven’t put enough effort into learning about them, so I can’t ID all of these, and I may have gotten some of them wrong. None of my babbling with this post, just photos, enjoy!

White campion

White campion

????

Yarrow

Viburnum???

Viburnum???

???

???

Moth mullien

Moth mullien

White campion

White campion

IMG_5501

Cow vetch

Nightshade

Nightshade

Horsenettle

Horsenettle

Hawkweed

Hawkweed

IMG_7429

Soapwort

???

Soapwort

???

Curly dock

Bindweed

Bindweed

Purple loosestrife ???

Purple loosestrife ???

???

Curly dock

Queen Anne's lace

Queen Anne’s lace

Thistle

Thistle

Sumac

Sumac

Teasel

Teasel

Queen Anne's lace

Queen Anne’s lace

Sweet pea

Sweet pea

Sweet pea

Sweet pea

Knapweed

Knapweed

Knapweed and bee

Knapweed and bee

???

Harebell

Tiger lily

Tiger lily

Thistle

Thistle

Orange berries

Orange berries

Orange berries

Orange berries

Sumac

Sumac

Pokeweed

Pokeweed

Bee balm

Bee balm

Bee balm

Bee balm

Bee balm

Bee balm

Bee balm

Bee balm

Moth mullien

Moth mullien

Bee balm

Bee balm

Bee balm

Bee balm

White chicory

White chicory

Queen Anne's lace

Queen Anne’s lace

???

???

???

???

???

???

Fleabane

Fleabane

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


My Week, Steamy, dreamy, then back to steamy

Sunday

I’m up early, well, early for me being a second shifter. Drinking my coffee, getting ready to head to Muskegon for a day of birding and who knows what else.

It’s cloudy, warm, and steamy this morning, a good day to do nothing but complain about the weather, but I won’t.

So far this year, I haven’t turned on the AC, but I may have to tonight. There’s been no breeze at all for the last two days to help pull the heat out of my apartment at night. It wasn’t too bad this morning until I shut the windows to keep as much of the coolness in my apartment as I can, but I hate feeling run down by the weather, and I am right now. So, I guess I’d better get something to eat and get moving, or I will sit here all day.

Well, I went to Muskegon, and as usual, that trip warrants a post all on its own, so on to Monday.

Monday

Two more days, today and tomorrow, of this lousy sticky heat.

From the local news, some butthead set fire to the historic covered bridge near Lowell, Michigan, and it burned completely, there’s nothing left to repair.

Built in 1867, according to its registered historic site marker, it was the oldest covered bridge still in use in Michigan. The marker says the bridge had hand-hewn trusses covered with rough pine boards, held together with wooden pegs and hand-cut, square, iron nails.

The bridge spanned the Flat River east of Lowell and was in or very near Townsend Park. I should dig through my archives for a photo, as I shot a couple photos of the bridge a few years ago when I did a kayaking/hiking day, hiking upstream on the North Country Trail, then kayaking back to my vehicle. But, seeing the photo would only make me madder than I am already. Now why would some one want to destroy a piece of history like that?

I’m back. I fooled around home hoping that the rain that was approaching from the northwest would make here, but nothing more than a few sprinkles fell here while I was walking. The good news is that the rain was coming from the northwest, not the southeast the way that it has been for the last week. That bodes well for the forecast of cooler, drier air arriving in the next two days. There has to be a pattern shift coming to change the direction of the storm track, even if the storms fall apart before reaching here now.

I shot ten photos, and I kept two.

Lilies

Lilies

Lilies

Lilies

Most of the rest of the few photos I shot were also of the lilies, at different exposure settings.

Oh, that reminds me, I took just the L series lens today, what with the threat of rain in the air and on the radar.

As far as birds, other than a few of the red-winged blackbirds being back, it was about a normal day as far as numbers and species. It was so dark and gloomy that I didn’t even try any photos, as most of the birds looked black in the gloom, no matter what color they really were.

So today was an exercise day, not much photography involved. That gives me time for a few other things this afternoon.

Like the lack of butterflies. In my post about my last trip to Muskegon, I touched on that. I think that the weather last year is responsible for the low number of butterflies this year. March of 2012 brought record-breaking heat, and many plants began to grow flower buds much earlier than normal.

That first heat wave was followed by a cold snap, including hard freezes that killed many of those early flower buds. Many farmers lost their entire crop of grapes, cherries, and other fruits because all the flower buds were killed by the frost.

Then, we had a second, prolonged heat wave and drought that lasted into August if I remember correctly. I know that we were setting record high temperatures into July at least.

It was the drought that stressed the plants, and prevented them from flowering as they normally do. There were some flowers, but not in the same numbers as in a normal year, and the flowers didn’t last long in the hot, dry conditions.

Since most butterflies feed on the nectar from flowers, there wasn’t as much food available for them, therefore, they probably weren’t able to reproduce as they normally do, resulting in fewer of them this summer.

That’s my theory anyway, and I’ll stick to it until a better one comes along.

OK, the next thing on my agenda, a few thoughts about my Sigma 150-500 mm lens and the photos I shot yesterday of the hawks. I’ll stick them in here again so you can see what I’m talking about.

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Adult red-tailed hawk

Adult red-tailed hawk

Neither of those photos are as sharp as I expected them to be, and at first, I didn’t have a clue as to why. The hawks are out in the open, with nothing in the background to confuse the auto-focus of my camera or lens. Besides, I love the way that the same camera/lens combo picks small birds out of the underbrush, here’s a couple recent examples for reference.

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

Juvenile rose-breasted grosbeak

Juvenile rose-breasted grosbeak

So why did the same camera/lens combination do such a poor job when I photographed the hawks, and even some of the other birds while I was at the wastewater treatment facility?

There are three things that I can think of.

One. I shot the hawks at a longer distance than I typically shoot at. Most of the time I’m shooting small birds, flowers, and other subjects at distances from ten to fifty feet. The hawks were a little over 100 feet away from me, maybe the performance of the Sigma lens deteriorates as the distance to the subject increases. No matter how long the focal length of a lens is, or the quality of the glass in the lens, those things can not overcome the simple laws of physics that govern light. Every molecule of water vapor in the atmosphere acts as a miniature lens to bend the rays of light that pass through it, scattering the light over distance. Every bit of solid particle in the atmosphere blocks some of the light.

That’s always true to some degree, but by how much is the question, and the dickcissel photos I took didn’t come out as well as they should have either, and it was much closer to me than the hawks.

Depth of field issues certainly wouldn’t come into play, not at the distance I was from the hawks, the aperture used was more than enough to get the entire hawk in focus.

Two. At the wastewater treatment facility, I’m shooting from inside my Subaru. I do have enough sense to shut the engine off before trying to take photos, so vibration from the engine isn’t the problem.

I do brace myself against the vehicle though. I was thinking to myself how steady I could hold the camera and lens as I was shooting the hawks, almost as steady as if I had used a tripod, the camera didn’t move. The Sigma lens has Optical Stabilization, and I’ve read that the OS should be turned off when using a tripod, or the OS will cause problems when the lens is used on a tripod.

I know from my photos of birds in flight taken with the Sigma lens, I get much sharper photos with the OS shut off, but that’s like comparing apples and oranges, or is it? With the OS on, photos of birds in flight look like the bird is vibrating, very similar to what I saw when I tried to crop the hawk photos from yesterday.

Three. There’s something in the air at the wastewater treatment facility. I know, that statement is ripe for jokes, but I’ve never been 100% happy with the photos that I’ve taken there, no matter which camera I used. That goes for the old Nikon D50, my Canon Powershot, or my new Canon 60D. Even in my post about my first visit there I suspected that there was something about the atmosphere there that affected photography.

Thinking about this as I was taking a shower and doing other chores, I’ve come to the conclusion that the cause of my problems at the wastewater treatment facility are number three, something in the air, with number one, distance, being a contributing factor as well. Those two go together in a way.

Every time I’ve been to the wastewater treatment facility, it’s seemed that there was a haze in the air, more so than on my way there, or back, or the other places in the Muskegon area that I go. I don’t want to go into the details of how the facility operates, but it is pumping huge amounts of water vapor and methane into the atmosphere, both of which effect light passing through them. Add in the longer distances I typically shoot at there, and I think the problem is solved.

The photos of waterfowl that I’ve shot at the wastewater treatment facility have never been as sharp as the photos of the same species of waterfowl shot at about the same distances at the Muskegon Lake channel.

Fortunately, there’s a way to test theory number two, the OS of the Sigma lens. All I have to do is find a subject about 100 feet away, it doesn’t even have to be a bird, and shoot some photos the OS on, and some with it off, all while the camera is solidly resting on something.

Enough of that, on to Tuesday.

Tuesday

I’ll be so glad when the heat and humidity are cleared out, even if it will be for just a few days of reprieve. I really shouldn’t complain after last summer, but I will.

I still haven’t turned on the AC yet this summer, and I just received my electric bill for last month, $23. Yeah! The less I spend on comfort, the sooner I’ll be able to purchase the other things I want.

Even though it is relatively sunny today, I’m going to take only the L series lens with me today. I will probably regret that, but I don’t feel like lugging the Sigma in this heat. And, I’d better get going before it becomes unbearable for me out there.

I’m back. I thought that today would be a good day to attempt to recreate this photo, but without the annoying fence in the background.

Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne’s Lace

I tried different angles, and different, less obtrusive backgrounds, and here are the three best.

Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne’s Lace

Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne’s Lace

Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne’s Lace

I think that I need to pay more attention to the flower itself, and catch one at exactly the same stage of opening. With hundreds of flowers to chose from, who knew that it would be so difficult to match what I did before? Maybe I need to find one near a fence. 😉

I also shot a few more of the white lilies some one has growing by the road.

Lilies

Lilies

Good, but not great, they will require further effort as well, but I feel strange shooting photos of some one else’s flowers.

There has been a large, mixed flock of swallows flying cover for me the last few days, and with bluer skies today, I tried for a flock shot of the swallows while airborne.

Swallows in flight

Swallows in flight

There’s at least twenty five swallows in the flock, but every time I pointed the camera skyward, the flock thinned out, so I was only able to get four in one shot. I had better luck shooting a few of them that were resting on the fence.

Swallows taking a break

Swallows taking a break

Swallows taking a break

Swallows taking a break

Swallows taking a break

Swallows taking a break

I can’t tell if the brown swallows are Bank, Northern rough-winged, or juvenile tree swallows, I suspect the last of the three.

I also shot one of the kingbirds in flight again, but it isn’t that great.

Eastern kingbird in flight

Eastern kingbird in flight

While crossing the creek, I looked down to see down, as in duck down down there.

Mallard ducklings

Mallard ducklings

As soon as mama mallard spotted me, she called the little ones off from the rock, and back under the branches.

Mama Mallard and ducklings

Mama Mallard and ducklings

But eventually, she and the little ones came back into the open for this shot to show you how well the duckling’s coloration works as camouflage in a sun dappled setting like this one.

Mama Mallard and ducklings

Mama Mallard and ducklings

I got too close to a song sparrow.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

I was so close that the depth of field wasn’t deep enough to get the sparrow’s tail in focus, and didn’t have time to change any settings before it decided to leave.

The media people are beside themselves because we haven’t hit 90 degrees (32 C) yet this year. Why? The temperature has been as hot as 89 degrees, what’s one more sticky degree? When it does come, the same people whining about it not getting that hot yet will all be whining because it is that hot.

Wednesday

I slept in, I change my schedule around so much on the weekends that somewhere around mid-week, there’s always a morning when I sleep much longer than normal. I’m running behind, so this will be short on words, and I throw in a few more photos to make up for that.

It’s still warm, but I could tell that the weather is changing. The sunlight was livelier today, without as much haze in the air as there has been. I could feel the warmth of the sun penetrating my skin today, in between the cloudy times, rather than just the feel of hot air against my skin. There’s a breeze, which felt good.

As I was entering the park where I walk daily, I came upon a flock of cedar waxwings feeding on insects.

Cedar waxwing in flight

Cedar waxwing in flight

I shot that one because I could, knowing that it wouldn’t be great. What I didn’t know was that the entire flock of them would take turns posing for me so that I could get close-ups of them with the 70-200 mm lens!

Cedar waxwings

Cedar waxwings

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Later, as I was taking a short break at the top of the hill, and could see the trees that the waxwings had been in, I saw the big flock of swallows hunting the same area. After finishing my break, and walking past that spot again, I saw a pair of yellow warblers in the same trees, but the only photos were not that great, so I deleted them. However, the point to all this is that there must have been a hatch of insects going on to attract all the birds to that one area, even though I didn’t see any of the insects that the birds were feeding on.

These next two are for Allen, as he wrote that he had never seen white chicory before.

Chicory

Chicory

Chicory

Chicory

When it comes to the white chicory flowers, most of them seem unhealthy, either not fully formed, or they don’t open all the way, and many tend toward brown as far as color, but I’ll keep an eye out for more. My attempts to recreate the infamous Queen Anne’s lace photo sans fence were put on hold due to the wind today.

As I’m typing this, I notice that the breeze present this morning has strengthened quite a bit, and the skies are clearing. Good news, at least for the next few days, as the heat and humidity are forecast to return this weekend, blah! I’ll enjoy the nice weather while it’s here!

I saw very few red-winged blackbirds again today, looks like they really are flocking up for the fall migration already.

I saw what I think may have been a pair of orchard orioles, but I got neither a good look at them, or photos. Whatever the one bird was, it had a chest colored similarly to a robin, but it was a much smaller, slimmer bird. I got a better look at what I think is a female, and it was definitely oriole size and shape, but could have been a Baltimore oriole, but I doubt it, it was too yellow.

With cooler weather tomorrow, I’ll be lugging all my gear again, including the Sigma, hoping to see the same pair of birds again tomorrow.

Thursday

Definitely cooler this morning, a pleasant summer day.

I got bitten on the forehead by something last Sunday at Muskegon, I don’t know what it was that bit me though. I do know that I have a large red lump right where my hairline used to be before it migrated north one spring, and has never returned. Judging from the location and size of the lump, I suspect it was a black fly. Fortunately, they are rare this far south. Any one who has been bitten by them knows them to be the scourge of the north woods in early summer.

Here it is Thursday already, and I have no plans for the weekend yet. I really want to go back to the Allegan SGA, but the heat is supposed to be building back in on Saturday, so I don’t know if going there would be as much fun as I would like it to be.

I could take a trip up to Ludington, I haven’t been there yet this year, but gas prices are up again, and Ludington will be jammed packed with people on a hot summer weekend.

I think that I’ll weigh my options while walking this morning, so it’s off I go!

I’m back, and I still haven’t decided what to do this weekend. For some reason, political thoughts were swirling around the empty space in my head today, and I don’t feel like discussing politics today, so I don’t know why my mind refused to let go of those thoughts.

I did do some playing using the Sigma lens. I love that lens for birding, but it can’t hold a candle to my other two lenses as far as sharp close-ups.

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Part of that is the extremely short depth of field at 500 mm, but the quality of the lens is just a touch less than the two Canon lenses. I’m not complaining, just stating a fact, for the Sigma does do a more than acceptable job on most subjects.

Lily

Lily

Knapweed and bee

Knapweed and bee

I made another attempt at recreating the Queen Anne’s Lace photo sans fence again, despite a good breeze blowing today. I’m still undecided, but I think that I like this one better than the one I’m trying to recreate.

Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne’s Lace

I saw very few birds today. For most of my walk I was thinking that I hadn’t seen a single red-winged blackbird yet, and that led me to remember that I haven’t seen or heard any of the meadowlarks in the last week either. Towards the end of my walk, one lone male red-winged blackbird did show up, but there were dozens of them last week.

I shot a few photos of birds in flight today, keeping the Sigma at around 300 mm and turning the OS off. The exposures were off, but at least I got sharp photos that way.

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Those things seem to be the key to getting bird in flight photos with the Sigma, don’t zoom in all the way, and turn the OS off. The “action mode” doesn’t work as well as turning it off completely.

Since I wasn’t seeing many birds, other than robins, and they are up to their strange summer behavior, I had to shoot at least one of them.

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

I don’t know if they are anting, or what they are doing when they strike that pose. They look dazed and distressed, you can walk right up to them at that point, but they snap out of it, and fly off normally. I meant to see if the robin had been on an ant hill, but I got distracted right after it flew off, and forgot to check.

I shot photos of a number of birds doing the same thing last summer when it was so hot. I only see birds doing that when it is hot. Robins and some other species on the ground, cardinals and some other species do that in trees. That’s why I can’t say for sure if they are anting or not. There are ants in trees, or, it could be the bird’s way of regulating their body temperature, just as birds pant to cool off much like dogs do.

For newer readers, anting by birds is a behavior that scientists don’t know much about yet, there are many conflicting theories as to why birds do ant, no one knows for sure why they do. Birds even ant in different ways. Some will take a large ant in its beak and rub the ant all over its feathers, others will squat on an ant hill while spreading its feathers out to allow the ants to crawl all over themselves. Here’s a link to an article on Wikipedia about anting.

Anyway, my only other photos from the day are of a male indigo bunting that refused to come out of the shadows.

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

Let’s see, from the news, Michigan has a new underwater shipwreck preserve, this one runs from Port Sheldon to Ludington, Michigan, which is the section of Lake Michigan near me, and includes the Muskegon area. I always wanted to learn to scuba dive, but never have. I’d still like to, but the last thing that I need now is another expensive hobby. Anyway, there are several dozen of the 6,000 shipwrecks known to have occurred in the Great Lakes within the boundaries of this new preserve. Some of the wrecks are in just a few feet of water, others are hundreds of feet below the surface.

Friday

All this spring I have been noting the rise of the water levels of the Great Lakes, and that continues. Lake Michigan/Huron is up 3″ in the last month and is now up 3″ higher than it was one year ago.   The lake is still 18″ below the century average, but it’s 13″ above the lowest July level reached in 1964.  Lake Superior is up 4″ in the last month and is now 2″ above the level of one year ago.  Superior is 6″ below the century average, but 15″ above the lowest July level in 1926.

Science has known for some time now that the water levels of the lakes fluctuate over an approximately 50 year cycle. Lake Michigan/Huron hit its low in 1964, and its high in 1986, and was back to low levels in 2013. OK, so Mother Nature missed by a year, and the last low to low cycle has been only 49 years.

Back in the 1980’s, when the water levels were at their high point in the cycle, I remember reading an article written by an early proponent of Global Warming claiming that the water levels were going to continue to rise. His theory was that the storm track was being pushed north due to climate change, and that the increased precipitation would be responsible for the continued rise of the lakes. He was wrong. People in the Grand Rapids area do not have frontage on Lake Michigan now, as the writer of that article predicted.

I read that back in June of this year, NBC and Brian Williams did a story on the water levels of the Great Lakes, one of a recent spate of articles on the Great Lakes water levels, most claiming that climate change is responsible for the lower levels of the lakes at this time. Brian Williams says “The Great Lakes are low and getting lower”.  Getting lower???  In recent months they’ve been getting higher, following the well-known 50 year cycle.

Don’t believe everything the media tells you!

To go with that last thought, in looking for a graph that displays the 50 year cycle of the water levels, I found an article and graph that predicts that due to the rise of the levels of the oceans due to climate change, that the waters of the Great Lakes are going to rise significantly as well, as they won’t be able to drain down because of the rise in the oceans.

At least they should get their stories straight! Oh wait, if they did that, there’s a chance that they could be proven wrong. By covering their bets and forecasting both lower and higher water levels in the future, one of them has to be right, which they can then claim as “proof” of climate change. Silly me.

Time for a walk.

I should never start my day with a negative rant, for when I do, I seem to have a bad day that day. But, since the day is shot because of the way that I started it, I may as well add a little more to that rant before I tell my sob story for today.

Broadcast media personalities like Brian Williams are not reporters, nor are they journalists, they are sensationalists. Their job is not to report facts, facts are dull and boring, and dull and boring leads to lower ratings. Lower ratings lead to less revenue coming from sponsors, and less revenue coming in means lower pay for the sensationalists.

Brian Williams’ job is to look good on camera while reading copy written for him by an underpaid producer, all the while doing the anchorman twitch to convey a sense of importance and excitement to whatever he is saying, which is meaningless blather most of the time.

Enough of that, I could write a book.

My walk, things did not go well today, and I’ll have to contain myself or I’ll go off on yet another rant about rude cyclists around here. I just love it when I have my camera to my eye, my finger on the shutter release, and hear some one yell “Look out!” because their in too much of a hurry to pause for 10 seconds, and/or too lazy to steer to the other side of the trail to go around me. What really burned my biscuits today is that it wasn’t a Lance wannabe doing the yelling, it was some old guy whom I would have thought would have some manners.

I think that the problem is that I’m too polite, and expect the same level of courtesy from others as I would give them if things were reversed.

Along those same lines, I hope that there is a special place in Hell for those who vandalize property, no matter whose property it is.

I take a break in the park everyday, a bench near the creek made a great spot to do so, for I often photographed birds while taking a break. A little over a month ago, I had to stop using that bench, as some one had done their best to break it.

A week or two ago, some one did break one of the other benches completely, leaving just one left undamaged. Well, today I walked up to that bench, set my camera and the Sigma lens down on the bench, only to have them roll off because some one had damaged that last bench, and I didn’t notice it before setting my stuff down on it. I don’t think that the camera and lens suffered any damage, time will tell.

I said it before, but I’ll say it again. If I witness any one doing things like that, I’m going to shoot a few photos of them in action, then call the cops. You can call me a rat, you can call me a fink, or you can even call me a ratfink, I don’t care. We tolerate way too much of that behavior because we’ve been trained to believe that reporting small crimes is a bigger crime than the crime itself. I don’t but that any longer.

While I’m still in a bad mood, I may as well get one more thing off my chest. I’ve decide to stay home this weekend, because the price of gas has gone up fifty cents this week. The excuse this time is unrest in the Middle East, which could disrupt the flow of oil.

Really, unrest in the Middle East? Some one please tell me for what five minutes in human history hasn’t there been unrest in the Middle East? The oil will keep flowing, it almost always does, for the truth is that it takes money to fund the unrest these days, and that money comes from oil.

Okay, enough is enough, and that was more than enough, time for some pretty pictures from today.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Female American goldfinch

Female American goldfinch

Female American goldfinch

Female American goldfinch

Female American goldfinch

Female American goldfinch

The goldfinches were eating chicory seeds, and I have a photo of an Eastern Kingbird also enjoying lunch, but I thought that I should keep this one separate from the pretty pictures, as the kingbird has a junebug in its beak, and junebugs probably wouldn’t find this one pretty.

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

Actually, the kingbird wasn’t going to eat the junebug itself, it was beating the poor thing to death on the branch the kingbird is perched on. The junebug was lunch for its young. They have a nest in the large sycamore tree next to the creek, and I could hear the young crying for food today. They must be about ready to leave the nest from the sound of them.

As you may or may not have noticed, it was another award winning day as far as the weather, about the only good thing from today.

Saturday

Another fine summer day! It’s too bad that the heat and humidity are going to return tomorrow, then stick around all week. Since I’m going for the extended version of my regular daily walk, I had better get a move on before it does get too hot for me.

I’m back. Decision time here folks. I was seeing very few birds, other than these young robins in the nest waiting to the insect delivery parents to arrive with their meal.

Juvenile American Robins

Juvenile American Robins

I was seeing many flowers, so I decided that I would switch lenses at the end of the first leg, and shoot flowers on the way back. But the lighting for this one was so good, I had to shoot it with the Sigma.

Daylily

Daylily

Good thing that I did, for when I came back past it, this is what it looked like then.

Same flower, half hour later

Same flower, half hour later

I know that shade, or muted sunlight is supposed to be best for flowers, I say that it depends, if it catches your eye in full sun, shoot it! I love the first one, the second one is rather ho hum in my opinion.

But, back to the decision, I’m going to toss the bird and non-flower shots I took in here, call it good, then do another post of just flowers, as I have been threatening to do that for the past few weeks. So, here goes.

Mourning doves in flight

Mourning doves in flight

That was shot with the EF S 15-85 mm lens, the only lens I have that auto-focuses fast enough to catch doves in flight, as they are one of the fastest flying songbirds. That lens also has advanced Image Stabilization that is supposed to detect when you’re panning, but I’m not impressed by how it worked in that shot. I think that for fast action, you’re better off turning the IS off, and shooting at higher shutter speeds, but we’ll see after I save up to buy the 300 mm prime lens, which has the same IS system.

I was taking a break, and getting ready to switch over to the 70-200 mm lens when the doves flew over me, the rest of these were taken with the longer lens, which doesn’t have IS.

Eastern wood pewee singing

Eastern wood pewee singing

I shot the pewee knowing it wouldn’t turn out well, just because he was singing.

Water

Water

Creek view

Creek view

Headed up the hill on my way out of the park and heading for home, I came across a number of birds flying over the middle field, catching insects out of the air. Of course there were swallows, but they’re to quick for me, as I am out of practice. But, I did get a few of the other birds in flight.

Eastern kingbird in flight

Eastern kingbird in flight

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing in flight

Cedar waxwing in flight

Cedar waxwing in flight

Cedar waxwing in flight

Cedar waxwing in flight

Cedar waxwing in flight

Cedar waxwing in flight

Cedar waxwing in flight

Cedar waxwing in flight

Cedar waxwing in flight

You’d have thought that I would have had enough sense to change the camera setting to get better exposures, but it wasn’t as if the waxwings were constantly in the air. They’d make a pass over the field, catch a few bugs, then fly back to the woods. I never knew when they were coming, or if they would return. I’d look up, see one, try for a shot, then it would be gone.

One last pair of photos.

Male Eastern box turtle

Male Eastern box turtle

Male Eastern box turtle

Male Eastern box turtle

I know that it was a male by its red eyes, females have brown eyes.

Tomorrow I’m going to Palmer Park, just a few miles from home, at least it will be a change of scenery for a day. I’m going to start putting together a post that will include most of the flower photos from today, and a few from the past few weeks. I’m not sure when I’ll post it yet, maybe tomorrow or Monday.

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


Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata

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.

Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata

The Blue Jay is a passerine bird in the family Corvidae, native to North America. It is resident through most of eastern and central United States and southern Canada, although western populations may be migratory. It breeds in both deciduous and coniferous forests, and is common near and in residential areas.

The Blue Jay measures 22–30 cm (9–12 in) from bill to tail and weighs 70–100 g (2.5–3.5 oz), with a wingspan of 34–43 cm (13–17 in). There is a pronounced crest on the head, a crown of feathers, which may be raised or lowered according to the bird’s mood. When excited or aggressive, the crest may be fully raised. When frightened, the crest bristles outwards, brush-like. When the bird is feeding among other jays or resting, the crest is flattened to the head.

Its plumage is lavender-blue to mid-blue in the crest, back, wings, and tail, and its face is white. The underside is off-white and the neck is collared with black which extends to the sides of the head. The wing primaries and tail are strongly barred with black, sky-blue and white. The bill, legs, and eyes are all black. Males and females are nearly identical, but the male is a little larger.

As with most other blue-hued birds, the Blue Jay’s coloration is not derived from pigments but is the result of light interference due to the internal structure of the feathers, if a blue feather is crushed, the blue disappears as the structure is destroyed. This is referred to as structural coloration.

The Blue Jay occurs from southern Canada through the eastern and central USA south to Florida and northeastern Texas. The western edge of the range stops where the arid pine forest and scrub habitat of the closely related Steller’s jay begins.

The Blue Jay occupies a variety of habitats within its large range, from the pine woods of Florida to the spruce-fir forests of northern Ontario. It is less abundant in denser forests, preferring mixed woodlands with oaks and beeches. It has expertly adapted to human activity, occurring in parks and residential areas, and can adapt to wholesale deforestation with relative ease if human activity creates other means for the jays to get by.

The Blue Jay is a noisy, bold and aggressive passerine. It is a moderately slow flier (roughly 32–40 km/h (20–25 mi/h)) when unprovoked. It flies with body and tail held level, with slow wing beats. Due to its slow flying speeds, this species makes easy prey for hawks and owls when flying in open areas. Virtually all the raptorial birds sympatric in distribution with the Blue Jay may predate it, especially swift bird-hunting specialists such as the Accipiter hawks. Diverse predators may predate jay eggs and young up to their fledging stage, including tree squirrels, snakes, cats, crows, raccoons, opossums, other jays and possibly many of the same birds of prey who attack adults.

The Blue Jay can be beneficial to other bird species, as it may chase predatory birds, such as hawks and owls, and will scream if it sees a predator within its territory. It has also been known to sound an alarm call when hawks or other dangers are near, and smaller birds often recognize this call and hide themselves away accordingly. It may occasionally impersonate the calls of raptors, especially those of the Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks, possibly to test if a hawk is in the vicinity, though also possibly to scare off other birds that may compete for food sources. It may also be aggressive towards humans who come close to its nest, and if an owl roosts near the nest during the daytime the Blue Jay mobs it until it takes a new roost. However, Blue Jays have also been known to attack or kill other smaller birds. Jays are very territorial birds, and they will chase others from a feeder for an easier meal. Additionally, the Blue Jay may raid other birds’ nests, stealing eggs, chicks, and nests. However, this may not be as common as is typically thought, as only 1% of food matter in one study was compromised by birds. Despite this, other passerines may still mob jays who come within their breeding territories.

Blue Jays, like other corvids, are highly curious and are considered intelligent birds. Young individuals playfully snatch brightly colored or reflective objects, such as bottle caps or pieces of aluminium foil, and carry them around until they lose interest. While not confirmed to have engaged in tool use in the wild, blue jays in captivity have been observed using strips of newspaper as tools to obtain food, while captive fledglings have been observed attempting to open the door to their cages.

Blue Jays have strong black bills which they use for cracking nuts and acorns, usually while holding them with their feet, and for eating corn, grains and seeds. Its food is sought both on the ground and in trees and includes virtually all known types of plant and animal sources, such as acorns and beech mast, weed seeds, grain, fruits and other berries, peanuts, bread, meat, small invertebrates of many types, scraps in town parks, bird-table food and rarely eggs and nestlings. Blue Jays will sometimes cache food, though to what extent differs widely among individuals. Although seemingly contentious in their general behavior, Blue jays are frequently subservient to other medium-sized birds who visit bird-feeders. In Florida, Blue jays were dominated at feeders by Eastern gray squirrels, Florida Scrub-Jays, Common Grackles and Red-headed Woodpeckers, all of which were occasionally observed to aggressively prevent the jays from feeding.

Blue Jays typically form monogamous pair bonds for life. Both sexes build the nest and rear the young, though only the female broods them. The male feeds the female while she is brooding the eggs. There are usually between 3 and 6 (averaging 4 or 5) eggs laid and incubated over 16–18 days. The young fledge usually between 17–21 days after hatching.

After the juveniles fledge, the family travels and forages together until early fall, when the young birds disperse to avoid competition for food during the winter. Sexual maturity is reached after one year of age. Blue jays have been recorded to live for more than 26 years in captivity and one wild jay was found to have been around 17 and a half years old. A more common lifespan for wild birds that survive to adulthood is around 7 years.

Blue Jays can make a large variety of sounds, and individuals may vary perceptibly in their calling style. Like other corvids, they may learn to mimic human speech. Blue Jays can also copy the cries of local hawks so well that it is sometimes difficult to tell which it is. Their voice is typical of most jays in being varied, but the most commonly recognized sound is the alarm call, which is a loud, almost gull-like scream. There is also a high-pitched “jayer-jayer” call that increases in speed as the bird becomes more agitated. This particular call can be easily confused with the chickadee’s song because of the slow starting chick-ah-dee-ee. Blue Jays will use these calls to band together to mob potential predators such as hawks and drive them away from the jays’ nests.

Blue Jays also have quiet, almost subliminal calls which they use among themselves in proximity. One of the most distinctive calls of this type is often referred to as the “rusty pump” owing to its squeaky resemblance to the sound of an old hand-operated water pump. The Blue Jay (and other corvids) are distinct from most other songbirds for using their call as a song.

On to my photos:

Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata

Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata

Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata

Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata

Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata

Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata

Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata

Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata

Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata

Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata

Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata

Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata

Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata

Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata

Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata

Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata

Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata

Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata

Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata

Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata

This is number 112 in my photo life list, only 238 to go!

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

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Upland Sandpiper, Bartramia longicauda

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.

Upland Sandpiper, Bartramia longicauda

The Upland Sandpiper is a large sandpiper, closely related to the curlews. Older names are the Upland Plover and Bartram’s Sandpiper. It is the only member of the genus Bartramia. The genus name and the old common name Bartram’s Sandpiper commemorate the American naturalist William Bartram. The name “Bartram’s Sandpiper” was made popular by Alexander Wilson, who was taught ornithology and natural history illustration by Bartram.

An adult is roughly 12″ long with a 26″ wingspan. The average weight is 6 oz. This odd bird has a small dove-like head on a long neck. It is heavily marbled black and brown on the back and wings. The neck is streaked with dark brown which continues down to the breast and on to the flanks. The belly and under tail coverts are white. The tail is quite long for a sandpiper. The Upland also sports a white eye ring and long yellow legs.

They breed from eastern Alaska south-east of the Rocky Mountains through Montana to northern Oklahoma and then northeast to Pennsylvania, New England and extreme southern Quebec and Ontario. There are also local breeding populations in northeast Oregon and west-central Idaho. They winter in northeastern Argentina, Uruguay, and southern Brazil.

Even though they are sandpipers, they do not need the water. They prefer open country with tall grasses. They are also found at airports, blueberry farms and abandoned strip mines in the east. Their true core range and habitat is in the northern midwest United States.

Upland Sandpipers forage in fields, picking up food by sight. They are frequently sighted on fence posts and even telephone poles. When an “Uppy” alights, it holds its wings up for a few seconds. They are constantly scanning the horizon for intruders. The Upland Sandpiper’s diet includes grasshoppers, crickets, weevils, beetles, moths, ants, flies, bugs, centipedes, millipedes, spiders, snails and earthworms. It also eats some grains and seeds.

Upland Sandpipers can sometimes be found in small, loose nesting colonies. The breeding season is from early-to-late summer; nests are located on the ground in dense grass. The female lays 4 eggs. Both parents look after the young and may perform distraction displays to lure predators away from the nest or young birds.

Upland Sandpipers can be identified by a distinctive call, sometimes called a “wolf whistle”, which features a long, ascending whistle followed by a second rising and/or falling call. These sounds are often made while the bird is landing or while flying high.

On to my photos:

Upland Sandpiper

Upland Sandpiper

Upland Sandpiper

Upland Sandpiper

Upland Sandpiper

Upland Sandpiper

Upland Sandpiper

Upland Sandpiper

Upland Sandpiper

Upland Sandpiper

Upland Sandpiper

Upland Sandpiper

Upland Sandpiper

Upland Sandpiper

Upland Sandpiper

Upland Sandpiper

Upland Sandpiper

Upland Sandpiper

Upland Sandpiper

Upland Sandpiper

This is number 111 in my photo life list, only 239 to go!

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

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Another trip to Muskegon, more birds, blooms, and bugs

On Sunday, July 7th, I went to Muskegon again, to do some birding, and to escape the heat here in Grand Rapids.

Since it was hot and muggy, I got an early start, for me. I had a plan, go to Lane’s Landing to hike first, then hit the county wastewater treatment facility, then finish off the day at Lost Lake in Muskegon State Park.

My reasoning was this, Lane’s Landing is about a mile north of the wastewater treatment facility, and both are about ten miles from Lake Michigan. So, they don’t get as much cooling from the big lake as I was hoping to get. By starting fairly early in the morning, I’d get Lane’s Landing out of the way before the heat got too bad, then cool off in the AC of my car as I drove around the wastewater treatment facility, and spend the heat of the day at Lost Lake, where it is much cooler.

I think that I have mentioned Lane’s Landing before, it’s in the Muskegon State Game Area, just to the north of the wastewater treatment facility, and along the Muskegon River. There used to be access to the river, but the DNR has the road to it closed now, why I don’t know. It’s one of the birding hot spots in the Muskegon area.

So, I arrived at Lane’s Landing, and as I was showering in insect repellent, I could hear a multitude of birds singing. Walking across the parking lot, I noticed a patch of red in one of the willows…

What's that red thing?

What’s that red thing?

…it was a swamp sparrow…

Swamp Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

…a new to me species which will be added to the My Photo Life List project.

There were dozens of these species…

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

…and I caught a “wild” hummingbird..

Ruby throated hummingbird

Ruby throated hummingbird

Ruby throated hummingbird

Ruby throated hummingbird

…you can see that the same milky white sky that has plagued me for the last two weeks was present again this day. I went up 1/3 on the exposure for the hummingbird, it wasn’t enough.

I just walked along, shooting what caught my eye as I went.

TBD

A coreopsis?

Unidentified flycatching object

Unidentified flycatching object

Unidentified fledgling object

Unidentified fledgling object

Oriental lilies

Michigan lily

Green heron

Green heron

I made it to the Muskegon River…

Muskegon River at Lane's Landing

Muskegon River at Lane’s Landing

…but all the trails were so overgrown that I didn’t feel like busting my way through all the growth. I don’t know if that’s normal in the summer, for it’s the first time I made it to the river. The other times I was there this year, I didn’t make it that far, as the dike that serves as the trail had washed out during the April flood. Maybe very few people have been going there due to the dike being washed out.

Besides, I was already drenched in sweat, and I was looking for cool, so I turned around, and walked back to my vehicle, shooting as I went.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Wood duck in flight

Wood duck in flight

Willow flycacher

Willow flycatcher

Yellow warbler

Yellow warbler

TBD

TBD

TBD

Moth mullein

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Eastern Wood Pewee

Eastern Wood Pewee