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

My week, everything changes

Sunday

I’m sitting here listening to the rain falling outside as I attempt to ID the birds that I photographed yesterday at the Muskegon County wastewater facility. I had planned to return to the Pickerel Lake Nature Preserve today, but I’m holding off on that trip until next weekend.

I don’t mind rain, and I’m loving the cooler temperatures that are the reason for the rain, however, I can’t see driving somewhere to fight the weather for photographs. I did enough of that yesterday at Muskegon. Besides, I’ve only made slight progress as far as identifying the shorebirds from yesterday, and I have a blog post to do for that trip as well.

So, I think that I’ll eat breakfast, do a long walk here, then come back and work on the photos and post from yesterday.

Well, I’m back from my walk, it didn’t take me very long today. With the rain that was falling most of the time, I didn’t pause to take many photos.

It’s almost hard to believe that just a week ago it was hot and humid to the point where I was coming home soaked in sweat. Today, it was nearly 30 degrees cooler than a week ago, and I came home soaked from rain. Looks like I need to replace a rain jacket. I wasn’t completely soaked, but I, my cell phone, and my camera got damp enough that I really need to replace the rain jacket I wore today.

Anyway, back to the photos, and I think that I’ll just post two from today. The first is a “wild” hummingbird….

Ruby throated hummingbird

Ruby throated hummingbird

….the second is the male cardinal doing its best impersonation of a turkey vulture to scare the hummer away.

Male northern cardinal molting

Male northern cardinal molting

Not only has the weather changed, but the seasons are changing too, it will soon be fall. There’s some other things that are going to change, at least a little, and that is my approach to birding and photography.

I know that the photo of the hummer is not much better than junk, but I take great pride in capturing “wild” birds. By that I mean that I don’t set my camera up on a tripod next to a feeder and use a remote control to take the photos I post, even though I know that doing it that way would produce much better photos.

I could go to an animal rescue hospital and take great photos of owls, hawks, and other raptors, but I don’t, I track them down in the wilds, in their natural habitat, with them engaged in their natural behavior.

There’s nothing wrong with doing either of those things, it’s just not my style. It’s not a matter of one style being better or worse than the other, it’s all about personal choices.

It took me many years to develop the skills that it takes to get close to wildlife, I’d rather not lose those skills even though they are worthless in the overall scheme of life. I am also quite proud of my eyesight, and I am firmly convinced that exercising your eyes is important to maintaining good eyesight. There’s no better exercise for the eyes than spotting and identifying birds at a distance.

That part isn’t going to change, although, I have been considering going to Blandford Nature Center, a local animal rescue hospital, and seeing the birds that they have there close up and personal, to assist me in identifying those species in the wild. It’s a lot easier to find something if you know what it is you’re looking for. Of course I’ll take photos if I do go, but, I will not use them in the My Photo Life List project. To me, that would be cheating. But again, that’s my personal choice, I have no problem when others post photos taken at zoos or animal rescue hospitals.

There will be changes coming though.

I was going to go to Pickerel Lake today, I was going to take my tripod, and do things the “right” way for a change.

Yesterday, when I went to Muskegon, I was going to do things closer to the right way. The accepted practice for the birders there is to drive to a spot, then glass an area with binoculars or a high-powered spotting scope. I did bring my binoculars, I even began by glassing an area, and I spotted many birds that I probably would have missed otherwise. But then, I went back to my way of doing things, I grabbed my camera and began walking around where I had seen the birds, and got most of my photos while walking.

This is going to get rather convoluted, so bear with me here.

I began walking everyday because I’m getting older, and was getting fat. I don’t want to be one of those old people who can’t get around well any longer. I’d rather not lose what little mental faculties that I have left either.

So, after I started walking for my physical health, I started bringing my camera to photograph the flowers and birds that I saw while walking.

Two things came from that. I found out that by taking the time to photograph wildlife, I learned more about their behavior. I also learned that properly identifying the birds I photographed was good mental exercise to go with the physical exercise I was getting while walking.

So, over time, this blog has evolved from what it started out as, my journal of my outdoor excursions, to more of a wildlife photography blog, with the primary focus being on birds.

Now I have 500 photos from yesterday to sort through, and to try to ID the birds that I photographed. It would be much easier if I had jotted down some notes about the birds and the photos at the time that I shot the photos.

I tried looking up the species that I thought that I may see before hand, but for some reason, that doesn’t always help me to ID the birds when I see them in real life.

However, once I am able to make a positive ID of a species of bird from my photos, that stays with me, and when I see the same species again, I have no trouble making the proper ID.

All of what I have been writing so far goes hand in hand with my new camera and lenses. I now have photo gear that can produce fine photographs, when I do things right. With my old Nikon, that didn’t matter, at least not to the degree that it does with the new Canon. I tried doing things the right way with the Nikon, it didn’t help, as that camera and the lens I had simply were not that great.

I don’t have that as an excuse any longer, but that’s not what this is all about.

No, this is more about me making myself do things more along the lines of the right way. Like actually using the notepad and pen I took with me yesterday. Like setting up and using my tripod when it makes more sense to do so.

What I’m trying to say in my rambling way is that I have to change my ways somewhat, it’s about learning and doing. It’s about improvement, getting more proficient at doing things that I enjoy doing already. It’s about staying physically and mentally active, and becoming a better person in the process.

With all that said, here’s three more photos from yesterday.

Gulls

Gulls

Gulls

Gulls

Gulls

Gulls

Monday

A cool, cloudy morning to start with, the sun is forecast to make an appearance later in the day, so I’m in no hurry to get started. I should be sorting photos from Saturday, but I did enough of that yesterday to last me for a while.

Instead, I finished the draft for what will mark the 117th posting in the My Photo Life List project! One third of the way through, woo woo!

I wore a long-sleeved shirt today, not that I really needed to, but I forgot to change to a short-sleeved shirt before I left. And yes, it’s cool enough in my apartment to warrant a long-sleeved shirt as I sit and type. I love it.

One of my Facebook friends just paid me one of the highest compliments I’ve ever gotten, ” I love looking at your art”. Another wrote “you have just elevated the humble clover to art”. I’m sure that they are being overly kind, but it’s nice to get some recognition, not that I don’t receive compliments from my fellow bloggers.

To go with what I wrote on Sunday, I’m going for quality more so than quantity from now on. That will be a hard standard to uphold, as this blog is still going to be a daily journal of my observations on nature, and that may require some pretty crummy photos at times. But not today, starting with a horsenettle flower from the rear. Some flowers are as lovely from the back as they are from the front.

Horsenettle

Horsenettle

Throw in some dew or left over rain from last night, and many common weeds look good.

Red clover

Red clover

Teasel

Teasel

I’ve posted a lot of photos of this species this year, but I have to reward my new buddies when the pose so nicely for me.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

It seems to me that with the cooler weather, the chicory is more blue, bordering on purple towards the center of the flowers.

Chicory

Chicory

Michigan lily

Michigan lily

I did resist shooting any photos of the kingbird families today, but it is fun to watch them, with the young following their parents around. The same with the cedar waxwings, I did try for a shot of one of the young waxwings, but it isn’t worth posting here.

I think that’s it for today, time to get cleaned up and visit my mom in the nursing home.

Tuesday

It’s going to be a little warmer today, so I hope that I remember to change shirts before I go. 😉 I could get used to this weather in July, cool nights and pleasant afternoons, I’m loving it. That’s also the forecast for the next two weeks, I hope this forecast is correct for a change.

To go with my plan to begin using my tripod more often, I spent some quality time with the tripod and manual on Sunday. The tripod I have is a mid-priced Vanguard brand, it’s OK, but not the greatest. It has two center posts, a longer one to be used for shots such as landscapes, and a short one to be used for macro photography. Switching posts is a pain, requiring that you loosen three tiny set screws that are hidden in a difficult to get to spot. After making the switch, I knew that I would never be doing that in the field, it took me almost ten minutes to make the switch. I’d also have to be worried about losing the allen wrench used to loosen the set screws, something almost happened once already.

Thinking about it later, it dawned on me, set the tripod up with the short post and leave it that way. I’ll be using the tripod mostly for macro work, so the short post is what is needed. However, the short post will also work well for 99% of the other shots that I would be using the tripod for, so why bother switching back and forth all the time?

Time for a walk, and I’m going to take the tripod with me, rather than the Sigma lens.

I’m back, I didn’t really need the tripod today with the gorgeous sunshine in abundance. That, and a breeze came up soon after I began my walk, so most of the flowers were waving in the wind. That doesn’t stop me from trying flower shots, especially if there’s an insect to be captured as well.

Bee on yarrow

Bee on Queen Anne’s lace

For two years, I have been trying to get a shot of a butterfly backlit by the sun, with the butterfly’s wings slightly spread. Emily, of the Hoof Beats and Foot Prints blog just posted an almost perfect shot of what I’ve been trying for, today, I came darned close, but this monarch would not spread its wings the way that I wanted. I’ve often wondered if the wings of butterflies in the sunlight were man’s inspiration for stained glass windows. That’s the effect that I’m going for, and came close with this one.

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

A darker background would have helped, but I didn’t have one handy. 😉

I know that I’ve posted a few photos of bindweed lately, but how can I help but shoot and post such a photogenic flower?

Bindweed

Bindweed

Bindweed

Bindweed

I tried the highbush cranberries again today, I’m still not 100% happy with either of these. To the naked eye, the yellow seems more vivid than the red, in my photos, it’s the opposite.

Highbush cranberries

Highbush cranberries

Highbush cranberries

Highbush cranberries

The park was full of people today, so I thought that I was safe in not carrying the Sigma, wrong. The family of wrens perched out in the open and stayed put, which you seldom see wrens do. Here’s a shot of two of the family of five.

House wren

House wren

There’s something about this next one that I like, it’s not my usual style, and it didn’t turn out as I envisioned it, but there’s still something about it that makes me want to post it. Maybe I like it because it isn’t my usual style?

Female American goldfinch

Female American goldfinch

How could you not love this next one?

Whitetail fawn prancing

Whitetail fawn prancing

They are such graceful animals! Especially when they hoist their white tail and prance off on their dainty little hooves.

If any one is interested, those were all shot with the 70-200 mm L series lens. All but the wrens and the goldfinch were shot at -1/3 EV, the wrens were shot straight up, and the goldfinch at +1/3 EV. Even the fawn was shot at – 1/3 EV.

It seems as if that lens is getting sharper everyday. Or, is that just my imagination?

I know that making some changes to the camera settings seemed to make a big difference, but, I think that there’s something else going on as well. Could it be that some lenses need to be “broken in”?

Along with my perceived increase in the sharpness of that lens, I’ve also noticed that the auto-focus is getting quieter with use. When I first purchased that lens, the auto-focus was by far the loudest of my three lenses. Now, I can barely hear it in action. The other two lenses are still quieter than the L series, but not by much any longer.

That makes me think that the mechanism for the auto-focus was a bit tight when I first bought it, but that it’s loosening up with use. That could also explain why the auto-focus seems to be more accurate, which would also explain why the lens seems to be getting sharper with use.

I returned the first 70-200 mm L series lenses that I bought, I could not get a sharp photo with it. This one that I have now was better right out of the box, but no where nearly as sharp as the photos it is producing now.

When I did my review of my new camera gear, I ranked the L series as the least sharp of my lenses, now I would rank it as the sharpest. It doesn’t beat out the EF S 15-85 mm by much, and the shorter lens is easier to use, but I have to say that the L series is slightly sharper when I get everything right. There has to be a reason for that other than a few minor camera settings.

That brings up one other thing. The viewfinder of my Canon 60 D doesn’t have the “old-fashioned” split prism to assist in manually focusing the lenses. I understand that the focusing screens are replaceable, and that there are split prism screens available. I’m going to have to look into getting one. I’ve read that others with more modern cameras miss the split prism as well. There are even youtube videos that show you how to change the screens yourself.

Wednesday

We tied our record low temperature for the date yesterday, at 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 C), not a bad way to start the day as far as I’m concerned. Record lows during the summer are OK by me, far better than record lows during the winter. 😉

It’s been raining on and off this morning, nothing heavy at all. It seems more like spring than the end of July.

I overslept this morning, which is my usual Wednesday routine, and I’m waiting to see if there will be a break in the rain. (I haven’t replaced the leaky rain jacket yet) It’s the middle of the week, so I’m wondering what I should do this weekend.

There are so many places close to home that I need to hit again, like the Allegan SGA or the Pickerel Lake Nature Preserve. But, wanderlust is also setting in, as it usually does.

I’m back from my walk, and due to the rain, I shot three photos, well, I ended up with five. My brother read an article online about shooting in RAW+JPG and in the monochrome mode. The article claimed that you would end up with a color RAW version, and a monochrome JPG version. So, I set my camera up to shoot a few test shots and did the RAW+JPG test. It didn’t work for my brother with his Pentax, it didn’t work for me with my Canon. I shot two in the RAW+JPG mode, then one in just JPG to make sure that I had my camera set correctly after the experiment, which is how I came up with five photos by pressing the shutter release three times. Oh, and the photos were of nothing of interest, so they have been deleted.

I saw many birds, just out of range of the 70-200 mm lens, but there was one interesting thing I noticed. As I was walking down the hill in the park, I was making a mental note as to the species I had seen so far, and it dawned on me that I hadn’t seen a robin yet. Strange, they’re normally the most plentiful birds, and I see them everywhere.

When I got to the wooded part of the park, I found the robins, and several other species of birds, such as blue jays and cardinals, all perched near the tops of the dead trees in the woods, enjoying this summer shower. It may be cooler than normal, but it wasn’t a cold rain falling today, the birds looked very much as if they were enjoying their shower.

Other than watching the birds in action, and noting some flowers to photograph when conditions are better, I spent most of my time deep in thought. I won’t bore you with those thoughts, again. Instead, I’ll bore you with a few more random thoughts on change, and not changing.

I just switched my tripod over to use it set-up for macro photos, and I found that lied earlier. It didn’t take me ten minutes to make the conversion, it only took seven minutes. That’s still too long to be doing out in the woods, plus, I have to worry about losing the wrench and set screws, so the tripod will remain set-up for macros until further notice. I’m a lot more likely to use it if I don’t have to fiddle with it to make it function for the photos I want to shoot.

I have also renewed my membership in the Little Traverse Conservancy, that’s one thing that won’t change. I wish that a few of their preserves were close enough to visit on a weekend, but it’s a half a day drive to even the closest ones. Oh well, one of the great things about a group like this is that I know that there will be unspoiled nature there when I do manage get there, however how infrequently that is.

I have been slowing down on my weekend walks, taking five or six hours to cover the distance that I used to do in less than two hours. I see more that way, especially when I take long breaks, which I didn’t used to do. That’s probably not as healthy for the body, but more healthy for the soul. I can even picture myself sitting in a blind for an hour or so, maybe I’m getting old. I do see more wildlife while sitting, as I knew would be the case. I do have more patience for sitting than I used to have, I guess that’s not a bad thing.

You know, thinking back, way back, I used to enjoy sitting in the woods, but back when I was much younger, it seemed like I had all the time in the world, so speed wasn’t as important. It’s only been the last few years that I have begun trying to cram as much as I can into as little time as possible. So, instead of slowing down being a sign of getting older, maybe I’m reverting back to when I was younger. 😉

I do enjoy myself more at the “new” slower pace, and as long as I am out in the woods moving around, I’m not sitting inside feeding my face, so it’s probably just as healthy for the body in the long run.

I am going to buy a pair of reading glasses to be placed in my camera bag and left there, along with the manual for my camera. I have only scratched the surface of what the 60 D is capable of, but it’s hard to make adjustments when I can’t read the manual to know what I’m doing.

Thursday

It rained off and on most of the day yesterday, it’s the first of August, and the trees still look as if it were May, I’m loving it. For the month of July, we had two weeks of slightly warmer than average temperatures, one week of much warmer than average temps, and one week of much below average temps, so we ended the month very close to average. For the first two weeks of the month, it was the humidity making it feel so uncomfortable outside.

I’ve been fooling around this morning, waiting for the fog to burn off and the sun to make an appearance. That may be dumb on my part, fog can add interest to the correct subjects, but I doubt if the expressway would be one of those subjects. 😉 Time to get a move on.

Nothing new today, other than the call of a bird that I couldn’t identify in the distance. I never did spot the bird though, but it was calling for quite a while, until I got close.

It was a bit of a strange day today. The air temperature was cool, but I could really feel the heat from the sun, it is still August after all, even if it feels like September. I looked for flowers with water drops on them left over from the rain, but any water was evaporating within minutes of the sun hitting it in the dry air today.

Well, maybe there is something new. I have discovered that the L series lens is so sharp that it reproduces the textures of subjects. Here’s a few examples of what I mean.

Monarch butterfly wings

Monarch butterfly wings

Boneset

Boneset

Boneset

Boneset

Unfortunately, the texture doesn’t show up that well in these smaller photos. You can click on any photo for a larger version if you’re interested.

It does open up a whole new theme for me though, beside color, contrast, light and shadow.

Michigan lily

Michigan lily

Butterfly on Queen Anne's lace

Butterfly on Queen Anne’s lace

Thistles

Thistles

Red clover

Red clover

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

I made another stab at the highbush cranberries. There were some in the shade that still had water drops on them from the rain last night. I found these just as the sun was rising high enough to take them from shadow to light. I was proud of myself for standing there and waiting for the sun to cast what I thought was the perfect light on the berries.

Highbush cranberries

Highbush cranberries

Highbush cranberries

Highbush cranberries

I’m a little disappointed that the water drops don’t show up better in my photos, but it would be really hard to try to recreate that scene.

As I was taking a break, I was reviewing the photos from today, and it struck me that they were all bright color/high contrast. About that time, a very over weight woman walked past me wearing neon chartreuse stretch pants, topped with a black sweatshirt trimmed in bright blue, and carrying a scarlet red leash retracter for her dog.  One of us has to change their style! 😮

This is as good of place as any to throw in a little rant about something I’ve noticed this year. When the weather is nice, there are a number of young mothers who bring their kids to the park to play, which I applaud. However, most of the mothers are so engrossed in their smartphones that their kids could be in the next county before the mother noticed they were missing.

Something I witnessed today took the cake. I overheard a young mother busy playing with her phone tell her preschool daughter “Mommy’s busy right now, why don’t you take your brother over by the creek to play? You two like the creek.”, I couldn’t believe what I heard.

The creek is neither deep nor fast, but a toddler could easily drown in it, if left unattended. And here’s this so-called mother telling her toddlers to go play in the creek just so she could text undisturbed. Fortunately, the kids were more interested in bugging mom than playing in the creek.

You hear it over and over when a tragedy occurs, “I only took my eyes off them for a minute”, I guess that you can’t fix stupid, but I sure would have felt sorry for the young ones if something had happened.

And, this shows how much things have changed since I was a kid. My mom would have tanned our hides if my brother and I had snuck off to play in any body of water when we were kids, now, moms tell their kids to go play in the water unattended.

Friday

Another cool morning, waiting for the rain showers to depart the area before I go for my walk today. This weather is absolutely fantastic! Being able to keep my windows open all the time in August is a real treat.

I entered one of the photos of a water lily that I shot at Lost Lake last month in a photo contest held by the Blandford Nature Center. The photo made it into the finals as judged by the staff, and is solidly in second place in the online voting held on Facebook. The first place photo is of a resident bobcat at the nature center, in a cage, which is clearly visible in the photo. Oh well.

That does solidify my plans for the weekend though. I’m going to visit the Blandford Nature Center tomorrow while they are open, then hit Pickerel Lake on Sunday, if the weather is as forecast.

I’m also trying to free up some space on my computer’s hard drive, I have a 1 T external drive, I should have bought a 2 T or larger drive. Maybe I should shoot fewer photos? Like that’s going to happen. 😉

Anyway, time for a walk.

I’m back. It looked and even felt more like the first of October than the first of August today, not that it is a bad thing. I took my rain jacket, and I even put it on part way through my walk, not because it was raining, but because the way that it bounces around when clipped to  the belt loop of my pants kept pulling my pants down, and it was on the cool side today.

Because it was so cloudy and windy today, I shot one photo, just to say that I didn’t come back empty-handed. It’s nothing special, but I may as well throw it in here.

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

I saw plenty of birds, but there was really no reason to try to photograph any of them today.

I saw lots of flowers, but they were moving around almost as much as the birds the way that the wind was blowing today.

I saw very few insects, not surprising given how cool it was.

This taste of fall was very enjoyable, but I don’t have too much to say other than that I had a great day, despite only one photo.

I see no reason to bore you with any more of my rants this week, so this one is coming to a close.

Tomorrow I’ll be going to the Blandford Nature Center, since it’s my first time there, I’ll do a post on my day there. In fact, as soon as I publish this post, I’ll be starting on the post for the excursion tomorrow, putting in the background info and links.

Sunday, I’m going to the Pickerel Lake Nature Preserve for the second time, I don’t know if that will worthy of a dedicated post of its own, but if not, I’ll start next weeks installment with that trip.

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

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13 responses

  1. Mona

    Great shots of Nature………. Commendable job.

    August 2, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    • Thank you very much Mona!

      August 2, 2013 at 1:06 pm

  2. Miriam

    I know nothing about photography or birding, but I enjoyed reading your description of how you approach it- “wild” pictures rather than staged (or whatever the term would be for making it easy to get great shots). Very cool! And I loved the picture of the goldfinch, the one that you said wasn’t your usual style.

    August 2, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    • Thanks Miriam! I enjoy reading your blog, even though I’ve never commented, as it seems very personal.

      August 3, 2013 at 1:33 am

  3. I think all the shots of the Monarch butterflies are excellent and so is the 2nd shot of the bindweed.
    That fawn was quite a catch! It’s a great shot.
    I also like the backlit high bush cranberries-nice color.
    Coming in second place is pretty good! I have 3 photos in an exhibition about the Ashuelot river but I haven’t been to visit them to see how they’re doing.
    I also keep the shorter length post on my tripod as well. It’s just easier that way.
    Good luck tomorrow!

    August 2, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    • Thanks. Funny story about the fawn. It was standing in front of a pole barn, well off the road. I was shooting photos of it when I realized the barn was going to overwhelm the the fawn in the photos. I stood there long enough that the fawn decided to trot off, giving me a good photo rather than the crappy ones I had shot.

      About the tripod, it seems so apparent now to just leave the short post on it, but it took me almost a week to figure that out.

      August 3, 2013 at 1:39 am

  4. Absolutely marvelous shots of the Monarchs, especially the first one. But it does seem like many of your images are improving noticeably. I think it comes with a bit of practice and experience.

    August 2, 2013 at 11:47 pm

    • Thanks! With a camera that functions correctly, I am learning digital photography and unlearning what the old Nikon taught me. But, flowers and even insects are much easier to photograph than what birds are, which helps as well.

      August 3, 2013 at 1:50 am

  5. So that’s horsenettle! Well, this was really a thoughtful post–a few comments. First of all, I commend u for not just taking up exercise but taking up “looking” as well. To me, a treadmill at an air-conditioned, overly loud gym is just not as fun or rewarding as getting outside and walking. There’s all kinds of research now that shows that being in a green, natural space is better for us. It’s certainly been my experience! Re: birding. I’ve been into birds for most of my adult life and they never cease to amuse/amaze. I think you’ve picked a wonderful way to spend time and I also think it helps you connect to reality and life in a way that this screen on which I am typing (and you are reading), does not. That said, technology in moderation has its place but the key is moderation–but very difficult to achieve that balance, I think.

    August 3, 2013 at 8:26 am

    • Thanks Lori, yes, that’s what horsenettle looks like from the rear.

      I’ve always been an outdoors person, so I know how soothing to the soul time spent outside is. But, I didn’t get serious about birding until the last few years. Before, identifying a bird as a member of the sparrow family, for example, was good enough, I wouldn’t bother with the exact species. I guess you could say that I always played “fast and loose” with the “rules”, on birding, photography, and other things. I am going to try to change my ways, and do things more along the lines of the right way from now on. I can see the advantages of doing so, when before, I never did.

      August 3, 2013 at 9:21 am

  6. Pingback: Project 365/219 – Backyard Bird Stalking « Hoof Beats and Foot Prints

  7. It is a wonderful world! 🙂

    August 11, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    • Thanks, and, a wonderful life!

      August 11, 2013 at 8:04 pm