My Week, finally, a huge improvement in the weather
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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….
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.
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.
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.
The Boneset looked whiter.
The colors of the bindweed were more intense.
And these berries, what ever they are, caught my eye, and I couldn’t stop shooting them, looking for that perfect photo.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That lens also works as a macro lens for insects that don’t move.
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. 😉
I finally duplicated the Queen Anne’s Lace shot minus the fence, I just had to use the same lens as the first shot.
I almost wished that I had one of the longer lenses on the camera for the next three photos.
The goldfinches must have been reading Donna’s blog about osprey and eagles dog-fighting, and decided that it looked like fun. 😉
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.
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.
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.
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.
That would have been such a great shot with the longer lens!
I watched the kingbird family for a while.
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.
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.
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.
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!