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

Archive for December, 2013

Red-necked Phalarope, Phalaropus lobatus

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.

Red-necked Phalarope, Phalaropus lobatus

The Red-necked Phalarope is a small wader. This phalarope breeds in the Arctic regions of North America and Eurasia. It is migratory, and, unusually for a wader, winters at sea on tropical oceans.

Red-necked Phalarope is about 18 cm (7 in) in length, with lobed toes and a straight, fine bill. The breeding female is predominantly dark grey above, with a chestnut neck and upper breast, black face and white throat. The breeding male is a duller version of the female. They have lobed toes to assist with their swimming. Young birds are grey and brown above, with buff underparts and a black patch through the eye. In winter, the plumage is essentially grey above and white below, but the black eyepatch is always present. They have a sharp call described as a whit or twit.

The typical avian sex roles are reversed in the three phalarope species. Females are larger and more brightly colored than males. The females pursue and fight over males, and will defend their mate from other females until the clutch is complete and the male begins incubation. The males perform all incubation and chick-rearing activities, while the females may attempt to find another mate. If a male loses his eggs to predation, he may re-pair with his original mate or a new female to try again. Once it becomes too late in the breeding season to start new nests, females begin their southward migration, leaving the males to incubate the eggs and look after the young. Clutch size is usually 4, but can be fewer. The young mainly feed themselves and are able to fly within 20 days of hatch.

When feeding, a Red-necked Phalarope will often swim in a small, rapid circle, forming a small whirlpool. This behavior is thought to aid feeding by raising food from the bottom of shallow water. The bird will reach into the center of the vortex with its bill, plucking small insects or crustaceans caught up therein. On the open ocean, they are often found where converging currents produce upwelling. During migration, some flocks stop over on the open waters at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy to take advantage of food stirred up by tidal action.

Almost all of the non-breeding season is spent in open water. As this species rarely comes into contact with humans, it can be unusually tame.

On to my photos:

Red-necked phalarope, non-breeding

Red-necked phalarope, non-breeding

Red-necked phalarope, non-breeding

Red-necked phalarope, non-breeding

Red-necked phalarope, non-breeding

Red-necked phalarope, non-breeding

Red-necked phalarope, non-breeding

Red-necked phalarope, non-breeding

Red-necked phalarope, non-breeding

Red-necked phalarope, non-breeding

Red-necked phalarope, non-breeding

Red-necked phalarope, non-breeding

Red-necked phalarope, non-breeding

Red-necked phalarope, non-breeding

Red-necked phalarope, non-breeding

Red-necked phalarope, non-breeding

Red-necked phalarope, non-breeding

Red-necked phalarope, non-breeding

Red-necked phalarope, non-breeding, taking off

Red-necked phalarope, non-breeding, taking off

Red-necked phalarope, non-breeding, in flight

Red-necked phalarope, non-breeding, in flight

This is number 139 in my photo life list, only 211 to go!

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

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My Week, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

Sunday

For a change of pace, I slept in until my normal time this morning, as I’m in no hurry to go out into the ice and snow. The freezing rain that began in the evening yesterday is about over, we may get some snow on top of the ice later today, what fun!

The weather forecast for the rest of this week is for about average winter conditions, no bitter cold or any warm ups in sight, just occasional lake effect snow. And of course, almost constant cloud cover.

I should have spent some quality time with the manual for my camera yesterday, learning how to better control the flash, but instead, I filled out the forms for my mom’s Medicaid, so that project is almost out of the way. I just need to have some copies of documents made, then I can mail the package in.

My right leg, which I injured in a slip in the parking lot at work Friday is feeling much better today, I can bend my knee again, although I still have to be careful with it.

I feel like such a slacker the past two weeks, I haven’t done a walk of over three miles. Last Sunday I used the excuse of the snowstorm to wimp out, yesterday, it was my gimpy leg that I used as an excuse. I have a feeling that I’ll do the same today, it will depend on the conditions of the trails. Once it turns colder later today, what’s left of the snow pack will re-freeze to a solid mass, which may or may not hold my weight as I walk. If it does, walking will be easy, if not, it could be very slow going.

I have two days off from work this week due to the Christmas Holiday, but the way that the weather forecast looks right now, I doubt if I will do anything special either of those days.

It was another slow go today for my walk because the slush that remained on the ground was just starting to freeze. It was easier walking on the bare ice when I could find it, thanks to my Yak Trax.

To my surprise, it had just begun snowing when I stepped outside, and boy howdy, did it ever come down hard for about an hour! The new snow stuck to all the ice-covered everythings outside, it was sight to behold.

Ice and snow weighing down a tree

Ice and snow weighing down a tree

I’m only going to post a few photos today here, then as I have time, I’ll do an entire post with the photos from the last two days.

American crow in flight

American crow in flight

There was a bumper crop of berries and seeds this year, but with all this ice, I’m afraid that the birds and other critters will have a difficult time getting to them. That probably applies to many insects covered in ice for the insect-eating birds as well.

Berries covered with ice then snow

Berries covered with ice then snow

I doubt if I will do any chasing of birds for a while because everything is encrusted in a thick layer of ice, no need to stress the poor little birdies anymore than necessary!

I wasn’t the only person in the park taking photos today.

Another photographer

Another photographer

There were plenty of subjects for photos.

Flying fox squirrel

Flying fox squirrel

Pine cones

Pine cones

Ice covered lichens

Ice covered lichens

As I got back to my apartment, there was a flock of geese just outside, checking to see if I was home I guess. 😉

Canada geese window peeping at my apartment window

Canada geese window peeping at my apartment window

That’s it for today, sorry it’s so short, but I have other things that I have to get done this weekend.

Monday

Well, back to normal around here, the freezing rain is a thing of the past for me, although there are thousands of people in the area who have lost their electrical service due to the weather. I feel so bad for them, with this happening just before Christmas. Some of those without power may not have it restored until well after Christmas.

As long as it has taken me to complete my routine daily walk the past two days, I had better get moving quickly this morning, and I may not be able to do the entire thing. I’ll have to keep an eye on the time today. It’s much colder today, so hopefully the slush has frozen solid, but with new snow falling on top of the ice, it could be tricky going, so I’m on my way.

Well, getting around was no problem today, I was able to finish my normal three miles in about the same amount of time as it usually takes me. I am a little bummed out though, twice, the clouds thinned out, and there were a few short moments of sunshine and blue sky each time. I was hoping that all the ice left from the freezing rain would make it look as if the world had been covered with diamonds. That wasn’t the case though, the snow that fell after the freezing rain prevented the ice from sparkling in the sun except for a few trees. Here’s the best photos that I could get.

Almost sparkly ice

Almost sparkly ice

Almost sparkly ice

Almost sparkly ice

Almost sparkly ice

Almost sparkly ice

Almost sparkly ice

Almost sparkly ice

Almost sparkly ice

Almost sparkly ice

A repeat from yesterday, but with sunshine today

A repeat from yesterday, but with sunshine today

Almost sparkly ice

Almost sparkly ice

It didn’t help in that it never stopped snowing either, as you may be able to see in a couple of the photos. I’m sure that the snow flakes in the air blocked a good deal of the possible sunshine.

I did shoot a few photos of Bertha the large red-tailed hawk, but she was really too far away for the L series lens, so there’s no need to post those photos. It’s the same with a couple of photos of a Cooper’s Hawk being harassed by a crow, as a small bird flew to better cover.

I am also a little disappointed with the way that my photos look in my blog, I guess size does matter after all. I could change things around to get the photos to display larger, but I have visited blogs that have the photos displaying larger than I can see on my computer screen all at once, I have to scroll around the photo to see it all. I think that having to scroll to see the entire photo often diminishes the impact of the photo. Since I have no idea what the people who read my blog have as far as computer screens, I really don’t want to go any larger with the way that the photos display. If any one cares to see them full size, they can click on them for the larger view.

That’s it for today, time to shower, then visit my mo in the nursing home.

Tuesday

It’s Christmas Eve, and I have the day off from work! It’s very cold and cloudy as I start this, but the forecast is for sunshine today, and I can see that the clouds are thinning as I’ve been working on another post for the My Photo Life List project. I posted a day early to avoid posting anything on Christmas Day.

I think that I’ll do my regular walk this morning, even though I have the day off, and there will be sunshine. I could go to Muskegon, but nothing out of the ordinary as far as birds that have been seen there lately. It may be warmer with sun on Saturday, that would be a better day to go there. Instead, I’m thinking that this afternoon, I’ll go for a drive and see if I can get some really good photos of the ice and snow covering everything. There’s more ice and less snow to the east of here, so I think that I’ll drive along the Grand River and see what I can see.

I really don’t want to chase birds right now anyway, as with the ice coating everything, from seeds, to berries, to nuts, and even insects, the birds, and all critters are going to have a rough go of it for a while.

I’m back, I did a shortened version of my extended daily walk, if that makes any sense. I did about 4.5 miles, rather than the 6 miles that I do on most weekends, but it’s still more than the 3 miles I do during the week.

I took both bodies, the L series lens on the wildlife body just in case, and the landscape body with the 15-85 mm lens for the snow scenes. I shot almost 250 photos with the landscape set-up, and got some spectacular shots if I do say so myself. But, that said, I may have messed up. With sunshine and some clouds, I attached the polarizing filter to the lens, and didn’t try any shots without it. I think that the filter “killed” most of the sparkles coming off from the ice and freshly fallen snow from overnight.

Stopping to shoot that many photos made even the in between version of my walk take much longer than if I had done the full 6 miles, and I also waited in places for the light to change as the sun would hide behind clouds for a few minutes at a time. I also talked to several other people out taking photos. So, there will be no drive in the afternoon, as it is already getting dark after I sorted through the 250 shots from my walk.

Sorting hasn’t been easy. Some of the scenes will be familiar to you, as it is impossible to create new landscapes, even if the ice and snow does make them look somewhat different. On top of that, I shot several scenes from slightly different angles, and at different focal lengths, and it’s darned hard for me to choose which one I like the best.

For example, I have posted a photo that includes the playground equipment in the park, and the earlier one was already a repeat. But, here are three very similar ones from today.

Playground #1

Playground #1

Playground #2

Playground #2

Playground #3

Playground #3

Inserted into this post, number three looks like the clear winner, but seen full size, number two is my favorite.

Anyway, here’s a sampling of my photos from the day, I’ll do another post with some of the rest, once I manage to trim them down a lot more.

Peaceful

Peaceful

Pushy

Pushy

Frozen

Frozen

Blue

Blue

Entwined

Entwined

Hanging on

Hanging on

Bad light, good ice

Bad light, good ice

Good light, so-so ice

Good light, so-so ice

Tall, notice the person in the lower right corner

Tall, notice the person in the lower right corner

Spruced spruce

Spruced spruce

As it’s Christmas Eve, I just splurged and had a cup of very good Earl Grey tea, and a cigarette. My supper will be just a club sandwich, I do live high on the hog, do I not?

I have a bottle of white wine in the fridge for later, after I unpack my wine glasses. I’ve lived in this apartment for just over a year, and I still haven’t unpacked everything. Since I had planned to continue looking for a condo to buy, I didn’t want to unpack, then have to turn around and pack everything back up again. But, then the Nikon died, and I used the money I had saved for a down payment on a condo to purchase the new Canon and lenses, and so I sit down to a supper of a club sandwich. I think that the trade-off was worth it though.

And of course if I weren’t lusting after a true macro lens and an L series prime telephoto lens, then I wouldn’t have to scrimp so much now, either. 😉 But, I’d rather have a true macro lens than a fancy dinner any day!

The 15-85 mm lens did a very respectable job with the close-ups that I shot today, much better than the L series lens does. That only makes me want a true macro lens even more.

Wednesday Christmas

What a way to wake up on Christmas morning, finding out that my automatic coffee maker had bitten the big one and no longer works. No problem, I got out the percolator coffee pot that I use while camping, the coffee it brews is better than what comes from the coffee maker, even if it takes a little longer.

It definitely looks like Christmas outside, with light snow falling on top of the ice and fluffy snow that fell earlier this week.

I should go somewhere today, even if it were only to Palmer or Aman Park, just for a change of pace. But, I really don’t feel like driving even a short distance in the snow, I get enough of that at work. So, I guess that I’ll do my thing around here again today. It’s rather pointless for me to travel anywhere, anyway. I’m not going to chase birds or any other wildlife until conditions for them improve significantly.

The long range weather forecast is looking mighty grim, with colder than average temperatures all the way through the month of January. I’m afraid that it’s going to be a tough winter for all wildlife, despite the large food supply that there was at the beginning of this winter.

One of the people out taking photos yesterday told me that her bird feeders have been busier than she can ever remember them being in the past. I suppose that the birds are luckier than some of the other wildlife, people do feed the birds, the deer and other mammals have to rely on what nature provides.

OK, I’m back from my walk, and it was a different world out there today. The thermometer may read ten degrees warmer, but it felt at least that much colder than yesterday in the sunshine. The sunshine itself helped it feel warmer, but there was no wind to speak of yesterday. Not so today.

Just for the record, I did about 4.5 miles again today, I could see no reason to walk down past the trailer park where I normally do on weekends.

I did shoot more photos than what I thought that I would before I left, though none can compare to yesterday’s lot.

Not only are stores pushing the limit for how soon they put out their holiday displays before a holiday, nature seems to be following suit.

The Easter Bunny? on Christmas?

The Easter Bunny? on Christmas?

With the snow and wind, I took just the L series lens with me, and shot a few close ups of ice covered things.

Ice coated maple buds

Ice coated maple buds

Ice on oak leaves

Ice on oak leaves

Ice on oak leaves

Ice on oak leaves

I also spotted this fox squirrel about 150 yards away. Normally I wouldn’t post this photo, but it serves two purposes. One is that it shows what the weather was like. The other is that I couldn’t figure out why the squirrel would be out in the open the way that it was. If I could spot it as far away as I did, it seems like a hawk would have even less of a problem, since their eyesight is better than mine.

Fox squirrel on a dreary day

Fox squirrel on a dreary day

Here’s a cropped version, showing that the blob is really a fox squirrel.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Well, that’s about it for the day. I’m foaming at the mouth to go and pick up a macro lens. I know that I have mentioned the Tokina 100 mm macro lens as the one that I will purchase, but it has two drawbacks. One is that it has the old-fashioned drive for auto-focus, the other is that it has slightly above average chromatic aberration.

The auto-focus being slow doesn’t bother me that much, and in truth, neither does the chromatic aberration. Since you focus manually most of the time for macro photos, how quick the auto-focus functions is somewhat meaningless. The chromatic aberration is slightly more troubling, but the lens still rates as one of the very best macro lenses.

However, Canon is offering a rebate on their non L series 100 mm macro lens, which brings that lens down in price to where I should do a little more research on it, and more comparison between it and the Tokina. At first glance the Canon lens is $150 more than the Tokina, which is enough more that I would go with the Tokina hands down. But, if the prices are closer after rebates, and the specs of the Canon are in line with the Tokina, I may go with the Canon.

Anyway, that’s my project for the evening, make a decision between the two. I’m going to have to pick up a new coffee maker to replace the one that died this morning, so I plan to stop at the camera store as well and pick up the macro lens that I decide on, as it will be my Christmas present to myself this year.

Thursday

Well, I finished my comparison shopping yesterday, the Tokina is still the winner. The Canon 100 mm macro lens is a much newer design, with a lot of things going for it, other than price. Even after the rebate, it is $75 more than the Tokina, and that’s without the extremely overpriced lens hood, which costs another $50. The lens hood is a must according to reviewers, as the Canon lens is prone to flare without it. So, that puts the Canon lens at $125 more than the Tokina.

The Tokina is a tad sharper than the Canon, or the Tamron 90 mm macro lens, which I checked out at my brother’s suggestion. If I intended to use any of the lenses I was checking out for other than just macro work, I may be tempted to hold off and go with the Canon, but that isn’t the case. I’m sure that I would use any of the 100 mm lenses for other than macro photos on rare occasions, but 95% of the time, it would be for macros, since I have both the 15-85 mm and 70-200 mm lenses already. I’ll live with slow auto-focus, a lens that changes length as it focuses, and the possibility of a little chromatic aberration to save $125.

So, it’s time for food, and then a walk.

Well, I’m back from my walk, and a trip to the camera store.

My walk was rather uneventful, as it was snowing at a good clip for the entire time I was out there. It really wasn’t snowing as hard as it looked, the snowflakes were quite large, and were often stuck together as they fell. I shot a grand total of four photos. One was of a blue jay that flew past me just as I was turning the camera on as I stepped out the door, which didn’t turn out well. I really should have the camera turned on and set to go as often as that has happened lately.

Here’s the one photo that I saved, and the only reason for posting it is so that I have at least one photo from this day.

Another yucky day

Another yucky day

Just as I was worried about, it has become the same old same old around here the past few weeks, made even worse by the ice storm. I did see a few birds, but didn’t chase any to attempt a photo.

OK, for my trip to the camera store, that was quite enlightening. I did a little bit of playing with a Tokina lens on a 60 D body, and instantly fell in love! The way that the body and lens functioned together was even better than I had hoped.  It was if they had been designed to go together specifically. Of course photo quality is the ultimate test, which I haven’t gotten to yet. But, having the two components function together well will make quality easier than having to fight a lens and body that don’t work well together.

The Tokina doesn’t have a small switch to turn the auto-focus off, instead, it has a clutch mechanism built into the focusing ring of the lens. Push the focusing ring forward, and it auto-focuses, pull the ring back, and you have manual focus, quick and easy, even wearing gloves.

The auto-focus alert system on the Canon 60 D body still functions even when I have the lens set to manual focus. I get the flash of the focus points in focus, along with the beep. So, as I focus the lens manually, not only can I see by eye when it is in focus, but the camera alerts me as well. It works most excellently!

Abe from a five dollar bill

Abe from a five dollar bill

And here’s the same shot cropped.

Abe from a five dollar bill

Abe from a five dollar bill

For any one interested, those were shot at ISO 100, f/6.3, and a shutter speed of 1.5 seconds. The camera was mounted on the tripod, and I used the self timer to limit camera shake.

The auto-focus of the Tokina lens is a little slow, but it isn’t as bad as I expected from the reviews that I read, it is well within what I can live with. I’m not going to use this lens to shoot birds in flight or anything like that, just macros and landscapes.

Woo hoo! I’m a very happy camper! I can still get slightly closer to the subject than I did for those two photos. I haven’t shot anything colorful yet to test that part of the lens’ performance, and I can tweak that to some degree in the settings available to me with the 60 D bodies. Be prepared for an onslaught of macro photos for the next few days!

I checked on a few other things while at the camera store, I’m afraid that the Pelican case that I’ll need to hold all my kit will run me just over $200, so I’d better keep on saving.  That’s true anyway, as I still have one more big-ticket purchase in mind, the Canon 400 mm L series prime telephoto.

I knew that my tripod was a piece of junk, I’ll have to replace it one of these days, but there will be no big rush for that. Before I purchase anything relating to a tripod, I have to do a lot more research first. I think that a better head on the tripod I already have would go a long way towards getting better photos with a tripod, so I’ll see about how compatible different parts of a tripod system are.

I already have a good Manfrotto monopod, and I’ll have to see if I can get a good head to fit both my tripod and the monopod for the time being.

I know, I’m rambling now, I’m waiting for the camera battery to recharge so I can play with my new toy a bit more before work. 😉

Friday

Well, it’s official, we’ve had enough snow to make this December one of the top ten snowiest Decembers on record, a rather dubious achievement if you ask me.

But, the good news is that it may make it to freezing today, with a little sunshine, maybe. The forecast for tomorrow is for well above the freezing mark, so it could be warm enough to melt the ice off from all the trees, which would be a really good thing.

As much as I would like to be outside trying out the new lens, I’m waiting out the clouds, as it does indeed look as if there will be at least some sunshine today.

With it being warmer tomorrow, I could go to Muskegon to do some birding, but I think that I will pass on that. Places near Muskegon received 18 inches of snow in just six hours one day earlier this week. That, and other than a few tundra swans, there are no species of birds being reported to eBird that I don’t already have photos of. So, I may just hit Palmer or Aman Park tomorrow, since the price of gas shot up fifty cents a gallon this week.

One of the other things that I checked on at the camera store yesterday was 1.4 tele-converters ( extender). That would turn the Tokina lens into a 140 mm macro, allowing me to shoot at slightly greater distances, and/or achieve even more magnification.

My brother is using an extender behind his version of the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) and is turning out some really great photos. A 1.4 extender turns the Beast into a 700 mm lens for a little more range, which would be a good thing.

An extender would also be helpful behind the 400 mm telephoto that I plan to purchase as well.

The problem is one of compatibility. The Canon extenders are built to fit just their L series of lenses for the most part, so I would have to go with another brand. The salesperson at the store told me to bring in all my lenses when the time comes for me to make that purchase, and we would try all of them out with different extenders to see if they work. That’s about the only way to do it. There are no reliable lists or charts that one can go by. I found that you can’t even rely on Canon’s compatibility lists online, as those said that I could use a 25 mm extension tube behind the 15-85 mm lens, but the manual for the lens says otherwise. The good thing is that the two brands of extenders most likely to work with all or most of my lenses are half the price of the Canon brand extenders.

The downside to an extender is that I would lose the ability to auto-focus with the Beast and the 400 mm prime telephoto lens that I am planning to purchase. But, I don’t see that as too big of a problem for what I intend to use the extender for. Two instances that come to mind are the peregrine falcons and the golden eagle that I photographed at Muskegon. They sat perched long enough for me to have gotten a few shots without the extender, then I could have added it for some better shots using manual focus. Something else for me to weigh.

Well, I see sunshine, time for breakfast, then try out my new toy!

In a cruel twist of fate, there was sunshine while I walked down the road both ways, but during the time that I was in the park, the clouds were thick, and the light was dead. I even tried waiting the clouds out while I was in the park, and that didn’t work. No problem, I got some very good shots as far as checking out the new Tokina lens, and it is everything that I had hoped for and a bit more.

It is slow to auto-focus, and it tends to hunt for a focus on occasion, I knew that when I bought it, for its intended purposes, that’s not a big deal. But, just so any one who reads this and may be interested in that lens, I’m letting you know.

Here’s my first shot with it outdoors, a blue jay in a pine. I missed with the focus as I had the camera set to use all 9 focus points, but I think that it is still a pleasing photo.

Blue jay

Blue jay

Since the reviews that I read on this lens said that it was somewhat prone to chromatic aberration, I gave it the torture test by shooting photos where I knew that I would get out of focus ice in the frame.

Ice

Ice

Ice

Ice

Ice

Ice

Ice

Ice

Ice

Ice

If any one thinks that this lens is prone to chromatic aberration, they haven’t used the Nikkor 70-300 mm lens that I used to have. I would say that the Tokina passed this test with flying colors by not adding colors! There may be a hint of chromatic aberration in a couple of these, but not enough to be a major problem.

I took a few test shots to check the sharpness as compared to photos that I have taken with the 70-200 mm L series lens.

Sharpness test

Sharpness test

I love it! The subject may not be anything special, other than that I can compare this photo to one shot earlier with the L series under similar conditions.

Winter scene

Winter scene

I would call it a toss-up when I view the two of these full screen, maybe a slight nod in sharpness to the Tokina, with a slight nod to color rendition to the L series. But, I haven’t fine tuned a set-up for the Tokina yet. It’s a little hard to judge, since the exposures are slightly different, and there’s more snow stuck to the trees in the photo taken with the Tokina. But, other than to have taken a photo with each, that’s the best test I could come up with.

Since there are more than a few people who consider the L series lens I have to be one of the finest lenses ever made, the fact that the Tokina can hold its own is a great testament to the Tokina. Now all I need is some better weather and subjects to photograph!

Changing the subject, you didn’t want to be in the woods today. While I was taking a break hoping for better light, it sounded as if there were running water everywhere. I could hear the water running down the trees under the ice, along with it dripping from the trees. Anytime that the wind picked up at all, large chunks of ice, snow, and occasionally branches would come crashing down as well.

The birds seemed to be enjoying this break in the weather, I saw more today than in the last week.

Female downy woodpecker

Female downy woodpecker

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

And, with a few songbirds out in the open, one of the Cooper’s hawks made an appearance.

Cooper's hawk in flight

Cooper’s hawk in flight

Cooper's hawk in flight

Cooper’s hawk in flight

The birds, other than the first blue jay, were all shot with the L series lens on the wildlife body. It’s a bit of a pain carrying two camera set-ups and my tripod, but I think that those last two shots prove the worth of doing so.

Well, that’s it for today.

Saturday

It’s bright and sunny outside, not only that, but it’s getting warm! This will be the warmest day in a month, by far, getting well above freezing. This weather won’t last though, it’s back to the deep freeze tomorrow.

For the record, we’ve received just short of three feet of snow at the official reporting station for Grand Rapids so far this season. Areas to the west of where I live have already gone over the three-foot mark, and places in the UP are approaching ten feet already.

I think that I’ll go to Aman Park for a change of pace this morning. It isn’t the greatest place for birding, but it’s OK. I’ll have some opportunities to try out my new macro lens there.

I’m also going to try something that I’ve had in mind for a while now, I’m going to take the wildlife body with the Beast on it, and the landscape body with the Tokina macro lens, and of course, my tripod. My plan is to carry just a long lens on one body, and the macro lens on the other body most of the time, and leave the other two lenses home, or in my vehicle.  That is, unless I’m going somewhere that there’s the possibility of shooting landscapes. I’ve done this a few times already, it does work well, and then I am able to shed some weight by not carrying everything.

That’s my plan for when I go to places that I am very familiar with, when I go somewhere new, I’ll bring the 15-85 mm lens along as well for landscape shots. But, there will be more on that in a post coming up. Time to get moving.

It was a good news, bad news kind of day today. The bad news, it’s hard to find good subjects for a macro photo when there’s almost two feet of snow covering everything. I can also see from the very few photos that I shot with the new Tokina lens that I’m going to have to invest in a few accessories to really get the best from it. The number one item will be a light source of some type. I’m thinking of trying an LED panel rather than a flash so that I can see how the light is playing on the subject that I am trying to shoot, f/2.8 doesn’t cut it. The depth of field is so short that little of the subject was in focus in the photos that I tried today, I should have let the ISO float rather than keep it at 100.

The good news was that the birds were enjoying the weather even more than I was today.

Hairy woodpecker

Hairy woodpecker

The hairy woodpecker was the only bird that I managed to get a photo of for the first two-thirds of my hike today. The Beast hadn’t suffered any let down during the vacation that it has had since it turned so cold, but my timing was way off. I got it back!

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

I saw a golden crowned kinglet hoping across a frozen pond, and every so often, launch up in flight to capture what I believe were crane flies that the kinglet scared off from the ice. The kinglet was working in my direction, so I hid behind a tree with the camera held in the almost ready position, waiting for the kinglet to get close enough for a photo. It almost worked like a charm, the kinglet came into view, I lifted the camera to my eye, and found that my breath had fogged the viewfinder to the point where II could barely see through it. I pointed and hoped.

Golden crowned kinglet

Golden crowned kinglet

One out of five attempts, not bad.

I told this red-bellied woodpecker that it should get its head straight….

Male red-bellied woodpecker

Male red-bellied woodpecker

…it obliged.

Male red-bellied woodpecker

Male red-bellied woodpecker

I was able to get four of the five species of woodpeckers common to southern Michigan, here’s number three, a downy.

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

I brought a plastic bag to use if I had wanted to set the Beast down on the ground while shooting with the macro lens. I never did use the bag for that, but I did use it to sit on while taking a break sitting on a snow covered log. While I was taking a break, a couple of more species of birds posed for me.

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

Female red-bellied woodpecker

Female red-bellied woodpecker

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

Red-bellied woodpecker in flight

Red-bellied woodpecker in flight

Not bad for a ten minute break, but then I was off to chase a few more of our common tweetie birds.

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

Including the fourth species of woodpecker for the day, a male pileated.

Male Pileated woodpecker

Male Pileated woodpecker

Male Pileated woodpecker

Male Pileated woodpecker

The only somewhat uncommon bird of the day were these two sharp shinned hawks. I heard them long before I saw them. When I did see them, I thought that they were blue jays at first, but a closer look proved me wrong. What these two were up to, I have no idea. There were two blue jays with the hawks, the hawks were chasing each other most of the time, with the jays trying to warn the other birds. But every so often, one of the hawks would chase off the blue jays. Then, the hawks would start screeching at each other, and then go back to chasing, the blue jays would return, until one of the hawks would chase them off again.

Sharp shinned hawk

Sharp shinned hawk

Sharp shinned hawk

Sharp shinned hawk

I’m not going to post any of the photos that I shot with the Tokina, the subjects weren’t that interesting, nor were the photos very good. I did well enough with the birds today.

This isn’t a knock on the lens, but I can see that there’s going to be a learning curve to get to the point where I get great macro photos from it regularly. Like I said, some of it will entail purchasing a few needed items. Most of it will be learning how to use the lens effectively. I can go into more detail as I progress along that learning curve.

So, that winds up another week, since this will be posted after Christmas, I suppose that I should limit myself to saying Happy New Year to every one. Well, that and say that I hope that every one had a merry Christmas as well.

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


Nature’s Christmas decorations

All these photos were taken on Christmas Eve, near the apartment complex where I live. I’m sorry for posting so many, in light of the fact that they are of the same things as my last post, but even partly sunny skies are almost as rare as hen’s teeth here in West Michigan, and the blue of the sky makes a much better backdrop in my opinion. That could be because blue skies are so rare here though. 😉 No words are needed, the photos are what they are, other that you can click on any photo for a larger view.

Snow scene

Snow scene

Sparkly

Sparkly

IMG_1680

Snow scene

Snow scene

White on blue

White on blue

Sparkly

Sparkly

White on blue

White on blue

Snow scene

Snow scene

Sparkly

Sparkly

Snow scene

Snow scene

Sparkly

Sparkly

Snow scene

Snow scene

Sparkly

Sparkly

Sparkly

Sparkly

Sparkly

Sparkly

White on blue

White on blue

Snow scene

Snow scene

Nothing special

Nothing special

Entwined in ice and snow

Entwined in ice and snow

Snow scene

Snow scene

Sparkly

Sparkly

Sparkly

Sparkly

Sycamore

Sycamore

Sycamore

Sycamore

The snow beast

The snow beast

Frozen in time

Frozen in time

Sparkly

Sparkly

Sun dog and sparkles

Sun dog and sparkles

Snow scene

Snow scene

Sparkly

Sparkly

I wish every one a wonderfully merry Christmas, and a happy New Year!

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


Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor

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.

Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor

The Tree Swallow is a migratory passerine bird that breeds in North America and winters in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. It is a very rare vagrant to western Europe.

This swallow averages 13.5 cm (5.3 in) long and weighs about 20 g (0.71 oz). The bill is tiny. The adult Tree Swallow has iridescent blue-green upper parts, white underparts, and a very slightly forked tail. The female usually has duller colors than the male, often more greenish than the more bluish male. The juvenile plumage is dull grey-brown above and may have hint of a grey breast band.

Being highly social outside of the breeding season, tree swallows may form flocks of several thousand birds near roost sites. Flocks near Vacherie, Louisiana were estimated to contain well over 1 million birds during December 2009.

Tree Swallows nest in natural or artificial cavities near water and are often found in large flocks. They readily use nest boxes, including those built for bluebirds. Declines in cavity-builder populations are resulting in fewer natural nesting sites for Tree Swallows, although the swallow population remains healthy.

The Tree Swallow nest consists of multiple layers of grasses and thin twigs, and is often lined with feathers from other species. The female lays 4 to 7 white eggs and incubates them by herself. The eggs hatch in about 14 days and the hatchlings are altricial. The hatchlings typically fledge in 16–24 days. While there are young or eggs in the nest, adults frequently dive bomb intruders (including curious humans) and attempt to drive them from the area. Tree Swallows are known to “fight” over feathers in mid-air for reasons which are still under investigation. There is some speculation that this is a form of play.

Tree Swallows are typically single-brooded, although they may attempt a second nest if the first fails early in the season. There are records of parents raising two successful broods in a season.

They subsist primarily on a diet of insects, sometimes supplemented with small quantities of fruit. They are excellent fliers and take off from their perch and acrobatically catch insects in their bills in mid-air.

On to my photos:

Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor

Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor

Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor

Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor

Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor

Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor

Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor

Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor

Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor

Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor

Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor

Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor

This is number 138 in my photo life list, only 212 to go!

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

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Ice, Ice, Snow, Baby

Starting on the evening of Friday, December 20, 2013, and continuing until early morning on Sunday, we were hit with intermittent freezing rain and drizzle, which built up on just about everything around here. So, while doing my daily walk around the area both on Saturday and Sunday, I shot quite a few photos, and I’m going to share a few (dozen). It’s been a while since I’ve done a photo dump post, so here goes!

Ice covered

Ice covered

Fused in ice

Fused in ice

White pine

White pine

Oak leaf

Oak leaf

Milkweed pod shedding its ice cover

Milkweed pod shedding its ice cover

Selfie

Selfie

Crystal red

Crystal red

More ice on a white pine

More ice on a white pine

Still more ice on a white pine

Still more ice on a white pine

Ice on a lichen covered fence post

Ice on a lichen covered fence post

Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne’s Lace

Sumac

Sumac

Sumac

Sumac

Crystaline

crystalline

Milkweed seed pod

Milkweed seed pod

Milkweed seed pod

Milkweed seed pod

Milkweed seed pod

Milkweed seed pod

Pokeweed seeds

Pokeweed seeds

Asters

Asters

More crystals

More crystals

More crystals

More crystals

Air bubbles in ice

Air bubbles in ice

Coated

Coated

On Sunday morning, it began to snow as I started my walk, which covered everything that had already been covered in ice with snow.

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

Ice on lichen covered tree bark

Ice on lichen covered tree bark

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

Not edited, this is the way everything looked

Not edited, this is the way everything looked

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

Berries

Berries

Maple

Maple

Blue spruce

Blue spruce

Pine cones

Pine cones

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

The ice storm came

Sycamore

Sycamore

More ice and snow

More ice and snow

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


My Week, Old Mossback

Sunday

It’s fairly early on Sunday morning, and as is usual, I’m sitting here drinking coffee, looking back at last week, and forward to the week to come. Right now, they look pretty much the same, cold and snowy.

I ended last week’s edition of this series during a snowstorm, I’m beginning this week in the middle of a “lake effect snow event”. What’s the difference you may ask?

From a practical standpoint where I live, there is no difference, it’s snowing and blowing outside just as it would be in a snowstorm. But, a lake effect snow event is limited to just the areas downwind from one of the Great Lakes, and only extend inland for a few miles.

So, I bundled up and headed out into the snow and cold, and it wasn’t bad going until I got down to the trail that I normally walk. There, I turned into the wind-driven snow, and managed to go about a hundred yards, busting through two foot high snowdrifts, until I stopped to ask myself why. That was a bad thing to do, as I didn’t have a good answer to that question other than I was doing it for the exercise.

Looking around, I didn’t see any of the young health fanatics out there with me, so again, I asked myself why I was doing what I was doing.

I thought back to all the times I had strapped on a pair of snowshoes and slugged my way through the snow. It was a lot easier when I was younger, and doing crazy things like that just for fun was a source for bragging rights. But, I’m not a young buck any more, there’s nothing for me to prove, and with age is supposed to come wisdom, like an old mossback buck who has survived to old age.

It’s hard to admit to myself that I’m getting old, and sure, I could have walked the length of the trail and back, I did it yesterday. As a matter of fact, my legs had been letting me know that I had just done it yesterday.

So, I turned around so my hood would block the wind as I stood there telling myself that I was a wimp if I didn’t walk the trail, and I could see that the wind was filling the trail through the drifts that I had just busted through.

I considered coming back home to pick up my snowshoes, but the snowfall this year has been all light and fluffy snow, which makes snowshoes much less effective.

I could go on, but I’ll come to the point, I decided that I was old, and that it was time to take it easy for a change. So, I went back to the road, and walked down to the first stop light. Then, I went through the subdivision near the trail that I walk, working my way to a part of the trail that provides access for the people of the subdivision, and walked the trail only in one direction. All told, it was the same distance that I usually walk, but it sure was a lot easier going for most of the length that I walked.

Walking in the subdivision was good for some amusement, watching cars sliding around as they tried to make their way through the snow, getting caught in the wind-blown discharge of a snow-blower was not so amusing. 😉

I shot one photo today, to show the weather as well as I could.

Red, white, and blue, and white, and wind

Red, white, and blue, and white, and wind

That pretty much sums it up!

Monday

There’s sunshine pouring through my windows as I type this morning, I’m trying not to get too wound up, as I’m afraid that the clouds will fill back in before I get out there. Very often in winter, the wind will go calm overnight, which causes the clouds from the previous day to break up, it gets very cold overnight, but then the next morning, the wind picks up again, and the clouds are blown back in again.

It is cold, just 9 degrees Farenheit  (-13 C), but if there’s little to no wind, that won’t bother me in the least. And, it has warmed up since the overnight low was 3 degrees (-16 C).

The weather forecast has been revised slightly, we may get above freezing for a few hours towards the end of the week, but I am not very optimistic that we will see the temperatures they are forecasting, as we have too much snow on the ground for those temperatures to come true.

I wouldn’t get so bummed out about the weather if it wasn’t so early in the winter season for the type of weather that we’ve been having around here. Winter hasn’t even “officially” arrived yet, but you wouldn’t know that looking at the snow piles outside my windows. At least we make it past the winter solstice this week, a milestone on the way back to spring, that will help.

It would also help if we had at least a few of those beautiful winter days which have been absent so far this winter. We didn’t have the typical start to the winter, with one of those heavy wet snowfalls and then sunshine after. We turned cold first, then the lake effect machine kicked in, and it’s been snowing and blowing ever since. The pause in the snow today will not last long, the next system is headed this way, with it expected to hit this afternoon, and another tomorrow.

Oh well, time to take advantage of this break in the weather and get on out there.

Sunshine! Wonderful, glorious, mood altering, life-giving sunshine!

It didn’t start that way, I thought that my worst fears were going to come true, because as I stepped out of my apartment, I found that a band of clouds had set up from west to east, blocking the sun from view. As I walked, I hoped that the band would move, but looking around, I could see other clouds building in the distance, and I was almost positive that they would fill in before the band overhead moved on. That didn’t happen, in fact, the clouds that had been rolling in all just disappeared as if by magic.

With some good light for a change, I shot almost 200 photos today, but most of them didn’t turn out that good. I tried to shoot too many close-ups with the 70-200 mm L series lens handheld, since I didn’t bring my tripod. The L series is a fantastic lens, but it does not auto-focus well at short-range, I have to manually focus it for the best results.

Here’s a few that I did save.

Frost on ex-flowers

Frost on ex-flowers

Milkweed seeds and pods

Milkweed seeds and pods

More frost

More frost

Frost on a pine

Frost on a pine

Ice crystals

Ice crystals

Frozen berries

Frozen berries

Frost on Queen Anne's lace

Frost on Queen Anne’s lace

Hoar frost on trees

Hoar frost on trees

Ice formation on the pavement

Ice formation on the pavement

The neighborhood Christmas tree

The neighborhood Christmas tree

Frost on ex-berries

Frost on ex-berries

I was wishing that I had a macro lens to get good close-ups of the frost and ice, but I did the best I could with the lens I have. That’s doubly true now that I have inserted the photos into this post, as the ice/frost hardly shows up at all in these smaller versions of the photos.

I probably should have taken the 15-85 mm lens along for the close-ups, as it does much better handheld than the L series does, but then I wouldn’t have gotten these.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Starling

Starling

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

Blue jay

Blue jay

The birds were out in force today, they were enjoying the sunshine as much or more than I was. If I had set my mind to it, I could have come home with 200 photos of just birds, but other than the hawk, I only shot photos of birds that perched close to me, I didn’t do any chasing. While the birds hardly seemed stressed at all, I thought it best to let them enjoy this short break in the weather and not bother them. After all, a we have several more snowstorms on the way for later this week.

Today has been the sunniest day since the Thanksgiving weekend, by far! I know that the lack of sunshine affects my moods, and I have also noticed the same effect in wildlife, particularly birds. Not only did I see many more than I have in weeks, they were far more vocal as well.

So, I enjoyed watching and listening as they flitted about, and I looked for the best subjects to photograph, with the best light and background. For some reason, I had a hard time finding good backgrounds for the shots I took today. White just doesn’t cut it, but that’s about the only color I could find behind the things I wanted to photograph the most.

I have noticed a “deficiency” in my current line up of lenses, no chromatic aberration. 😉 My old Nikon lens would add some color to the out of focus snowflakes present in a photo all on its own. Not so with my new lenses, I get true to life color even in parts of a photo out of focus, I kind of miss the greens and purples that the Nikon added. 😉

I sure needed a day like today, it has done wonders for my mood. I’d like to be out there basking in the sunshine even as I type this, but it’s my day to visit my mom in the nursing home, so I had to curtail my time outside, and what I write here today.

Tuesday

Back to normal, cloudy, cold, with light snow falling. I should say that while it is still below freezing at 20 degrees F (-7 C), that’s still much warmer than yesterday. However, I’d take the sun and cold with little to no wind over the clouds, wind, and snow, at least more often than it does occur around here. But, that also shows how much of a difference Lake Michigan, and all the Great Lakes, make to our weather around here. The wind coming across the lakes is warmed significantly, which is what produces the clouds and snow, and keeps us warmer than we would otherwise be.

How cold has it been this season so far? Cold enough that a freighter making a delivery of coal to the power plant on the shores of Muskegon Lake got stuck in the ice and had to have a tugboat assist to make it to the docks. Since ice is forming rapidly on the Great Lakes also, I’d be willing to bet that there will be more stories of ships trapped in the ice over the next few weeks and needing to be rescued.

It was really nice to see the sun yesterday, we were fortunate that the clouds held off all day, and I was even able to see the full moon rise last evening on my way to Lansing. Now that’s a rare winter day around here, when I can see both the sun and moon rise with no clouds blocking my views!

To continue on a subject that I wrote about last week, I just received the December Email from the Little Traverse Conservancy, here’s a link to the newsletter. If you were to click the link for the newsletter, you’d see a list of preserves that have the parking lots plowed over the winter, which ones have groomed trails for cross-country skiing, and that the LTC just added another 200 acres to the Aldo Leopold Preserve on Marquette Island in the Les Cheneaux island chain. Oh yes, there’s a small section asking people to donate, which one could easily miss unless they looked for it.

Well, as much as I would like to head north and hike one of the preserves, that’s not possible today, so I suppose that it’s time to head on out around here.

Sure enough, it was cloudy, cold, snowy, and windy.

Another snowy day

Another snowy day

I know, that photo looks almost the same as one that I posted last week, but it’s the most pleasant view that I can come up with that shows how hard it was snowing, and how deep that the snow has gotten.

The only thing out of the ordinary today was this doe eating some of the highbush cranberries in the park.

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

And here she is after cropping a photo.

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

I got sidetracked by some birds in the brush that I was using to hide my approach closer to the deer, and she must have spotted me, for she took off soon after that last shot. I didn’t get any photos of the birds that had distracted me either.

The thought occurred to me today that maybe I should bundle up in another layer or two of clothes, and stand at a street corner and shoot photos of idiots trying to drive in this kind of weather while talking on a cell phone.

I haven’t had to dodge any cars yet, but I have been keeping an eye out, because I have seen a couple of women hit the snowbanks when they’ve missed a corner. The same thing happens each time. Their car starts to slide, their eyes get really big, they attempt to steer with just one hand, they start screaming into their cell phone to give the person on the other end of the conversation the play-by-play of what’s happening, they panic, slam on their brakes, and they slide into the snowbanks.

Most guys put their cell phone down when they find themselves in trouble, but not all, I saw on guy ditch his car the same way that the women have. I’m not saying men are smarter, but only that continuing the conversation isn’t as important to them, guys have plenty of other stupid ways of ending up in a snow bank.

But, the fun doesn’t end when any of them hit the snowbanks, most of the time anyway. Since they are in a state of panic, they put their vehicle in reverse, and without looking (that would require that they put their cell phone down) they beginning backing up into oncoming traffic, causing even more panic when horns start blowing and the drivers of the approaching cars start to panic as well.

Okay, it’s been funny so far because I haven’t witnessed any accidents, I hope that it continues that way. But, I can’t believe how many people risk life and limb just so they can continue to jabber away on their phone.

Well, I really don’t have anything else to say about today, other than I wish that we would get more days like Monday, and fewer like today.

Wednesday

I didn’t write anything before I went out for my walk today, I’m tired of whining about the weather, just as I’m sure that you’re all tired of reading my whining.

The only real change in the weather today is that it was a few degrees warmer than it has been, and there were only occasional flakes of snow falling. I managed to salvage two photos from today.

Snow scene

Snow scene

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

I saw a few large birds, geese, mallards, hawks, and crows, but the small song birds were in hiding, or visiting neighborhood bird feeders today. I did watch a blue jay ripping apart a bird nest from last year, looking for insects that may have been hiding in the nests, but it was too far away for a photo. I’ve seen other species of birds doing that occasionally, but blue jays seem to search out old nests far more often than the other birds.

Santa saw the exposure setting from the photos past few days, and he informed me that  he won’t even be delivering any stocking stuffers such as neutral density filters to me for Christmas. He said that I needed a neutral density filter this time of year like I needed a hole in my head, I suppose that he’s right. It’s so nice of him to keep such a careful eye on my bank account. 😉

So, I think that Santa and I will make a trip to the camera store later this week and look into Pelican Cases. I doubt if I will be able to convince Santa to bring me one though, they are rather pricey. I’m almost certain that he’ll tell me that I can get by with my current camera bag for the time being. In fact, Santa is being a Scrooge this year, and has already nixed the camera case. I whined a little, and asked about an LED light panel to use once I receive my Tokina macro lens next month, and he told me that I didn’t need the light until after I had the lens.

If you can believe this, the weather is forecast to go downhill for the rest of the week. The next two days are supposed to be warmer, maybe even above freezing, but with fog, snow, rain, and freezing rain, oh joy! Then, there may be another snowstorm on the way for the weekend. I have my doubts about that, it may just be hype to get people to tune into the weather, as all the meteorologists are saying is that the storm is a possibility, and to keep watching the weather forecasts from them to see what the weather will hold for us. This wouldn’t be the first time that they have cried wolf for the sake of ratings.

Well, that’s it for today.

Thursday

Well, so much for weather forecasts! A strong wind overnight has blown in some warmer air, and it is already above freezing outdoors for the first time in several weeks. The sun is trying to burn through haze, it isn’t as sunny as Monday was, but it’s much brighter than forecast. There’s no snow, rain or freezing rain within hundreds of miles according to the radar, but the meteorologists are still warning that the precipitation is coming.

The same holds true for the weekend storm that they were, and are, predicting, sort of. They are backing off their earlier predictions of a major storm, in fact, they just skimmed over the forecast for the most part, and resorted to their typical “stay tuned, because we don’t really know what’s coming” routine.

I’m tempted to take the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) with me today for the first time in a while for some bird photos, but I think that I’ll stick to the L series lens and take my tripod instead.

It was relatively balmy outside today, I enjoyed myself a great deal, even though the sun was never able to burn through the haze. It’s warm enough that the snow is melting so quickly that you can see a thin layer of fog close to ground as the moisture from the melting snow rises up from the ground.

Between the fog/haze, and the fact that today was a day or two before the winter solstice meant that the light was a bit strange today, but in some ways, I liked it.

Winter scene

Winter scene

Once again, I have to say that when I get the L series lens dialed in, it produces fabulous photos! It’s so sharp that I can’t imagine how any lens could be any better, and that goes for the color rendition and saturation as well. Full size, that one almost looks 3D. Of course, this one’s not too shabby either.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

As I was walking near the creek in the park, I saw a flock of goldfinches bathing and preening, here are the only two photos that I was able to get.

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

That goldfinch didn’t splash around in the water, but let the water splash up on him. Others were splashing around a lot more than I would have wanted to do in this weather, it may have been above freezing today, but not enough for me to want to go for a swim!

I also shot a few photos of ice crystals today.

Ice crystals

Ice crystals

Ice crystals

Ice crystals

Ice crystals

Ice crystals

As these are my first real ice photos with my new set-up as far as I can remember, they didn’t turn out too badly, I can’t wait for some real sun to see how much better I can do.

I did shoot a couple of photos of a cardinal, but I’m not going to add them. The cardinal looked almost black despite the fact that I had increased the exposure to the point where the sky was beginning to look blown out from being overexposed. After the winter solstice on Saturday, the light should begin to slowly improve again.

Friday

Well, the mixed bag of precipitation did finally arrive last night, accompanied with some patches of thick fog. Luckily, I was almost done with my run for the night before the roads became treacherous, although the short drive home from work was no fun.

It’s much the same this morning, with the temperature just below freezing, with drizzle and light rain falling. The freezing rain is forecast to continue all day. I am not looking forward to driving 350 miles in this crap tonight for work. I may end up doing my run tomorrow instead of tonight, we’ll see later on. For the time being, I’m going to get something to eat, then go out and see how bad it really is.

It’s bad! If it hadn’t been for my Yak Trax, I would have turned around and stayed inside for the day.

For those of you who may not know what Yak Trax are, they are like tire chains for your shoes and boots. They are made of rubber or other elastic material that stretches over the soles of your boots, and have metal springs attached to bite into ice, and they sure do work!

Anyway, as I stepped outside and was checking my camera settings, a blue jay flew past me, so I shot it, even though I knew the photo wouldn’t be very good.

Blue jay in flight

Blue jay in flight

I seem to be very good at catching flying birds at times when they have their wings folded up.

For the rest of the photos from today, I was wishing that Santa had brought me the Tokina macro lens already, even though Christmas is a few days away. Some better light would have helped as well. I did set up my tripod for a few of these during times when the rain let up for a time, and I also used the flash for a couple of them as well.

Ice on a dried plant

Ice on a dried plant

Ice on Queen Anne's lace

Ice on Queen Anne’s lace

Ice on rose hips

Ice on rose hips

Ice on ?

Ice on ?

Ice on goldenrod

Ice on goldenrod

Ice on a white pine

Ice on a white pine

Ice on crab apples

Ice on crab apples

Ice on seed stems

Ice on seed stems

Ice on honeysuckle berries

Ice on honeysuckle berries

Ice

Ice

You may have noticed the recurring theme in the photos, ice.

There was also a stiff wind out of the northeast that didn’t help my photography as well. I did set up the tripod a few times, but most things were moving around in the wind too much to make using the tripod worthwhile.

It would have been a little better if I had taken the 15-85 mm lens with me as well. For all these photos, I was trying to stop the L series lens down to get enough depth of field to keep everything that I wanted in focus actually in focus, but that was close to impossible with so little light and shooting at 200 mm. Some of the shutter speeds these were shot at were close to a full second, and mounting the camera on a tripod works well under those conditions, until the wind causes the subject that you’re shooting to move while the shutter is open.

What I ended up doing for most of these shots today was to shoot at less than 200 mm to get the depth of field that I needed, then cropped the photos as much as I could to get close-ups. Even then, I didn’t get as close to some of the subjects as I wanted, nor did I always get the depth of field that I wanted. Using the flash helped, I probably should have used it for more of the photos.

Saturday

Another cloudy, foggy, gloomy day.

I slipped on the ice covering the parking lot at work yesterday evening, and did something to my right leg, I’m not sure what. I feel some pain, but it’s more discomfort than pure pain, I’m not sure how to describe the way that it feels. I do know that it bothered me in my sleep last night, I woke up numerous times having to shift my position to relieve the discomfort. Anyway, because of that, I’m not sure how far I’ll be able to go today when I go out for my walk. To tell the truth, I’d rather not venture out at all the way that my leg feels, but I have little else to keep me occupied. Well, that is other than to fill out the paperwork from the government to keep my mom in the nursing home.

Every year for the past three years, I have received a rather unwanted package from the government just in time for Christmas, a booklet of forms that have to be filled out to re-qualify my mother for Medicaid to pay for her care in the nursing home. I suppose that I understand why that is required, up to a point. It seems to me as if I would just have to list any changes to her financial situation, but no, I have to fill out multiple forms as if she were qualifying for the first time. With a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, it’s not like her condition is going to improve to the point where she can leave the nursing home.

I say government, as the way Medicaid is set up, it is a Federal program, administered by the states, and here in Michigan, the state has passed the oversight of the program down to the county level. So, the package of forms I get come from the county. I’m not looking forward to filing out those forms, as the instructions are written in typical government speak, otherwise know as gibberish.

But, back to the weather, it is forecast to go downhill quickly today, right now, we’re getting a break from the freezing rain and drizzle from yesterday. The forecast is for it to return with a vengeance this afternoon, if it is as bad as they are predicting, there may be no walking anywhere tomorrow.

Well, I’m back, and with my gimpy leg and the conditions out there today, it took me much longer than normal to do just my daily three-mile walk. We had about two feet of snow on the ground before the rain and warmer temperatures arrived, now we have about six inches of heavy slush, topped with a hard ice crust on top. The crust wasn’t hard enough to support my weight, breaking through the crust was no problem, but pulling my feet back up through it was the problem, especially my injured right leg.

I shot quite a few photos of ice encrusted subjects today, but I think that I will save all but one for a future post. So, I am just going to put the few bird photos that I shot today in here.

The right way to take a selfie

The right way to take a selfie

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

It’s been just a few days since I tried any serious bird photos, and I found that my timing was off. I was a split second too late to get photos of a white breasted nuthatch, chickadees, and a few other birds.

Earlier in this post, I put in a shot of a blue jay in flight with its wings folded up at the time, well, here’s another. Again, I was a split second late on the shutter release, so it isn’t really a good photo, but I find it humorous. How are birds able to do this to me all the time?

Blue jay impersonating a rocket

Blue jay impersonating a rocket

Male northern Cardinal

Male northern Cardinal

Red tailed hawk in flight

Red tailed hawk in flight

At least the hawk had its wings spread in that one. I don’t think that the hawk in that photo is Bertha, the very large red-tailed hawk, I suspect that it is one of her offspring, as the body doesn’t look stocky enough in the photo for it to be Bertha.

Canada goose that I flashed

Canada goose that I flashed

Yes, I flashed a goose. I had high hopes for the photos of the geese that I used the flash for, but it turned out that they were really nothing special, other than red-eye. 😉

As I said I shot quite a few photos today of ice encrusted subjects, and I stepped outside of my normal style for some of them. I’ll have to look at them again before I post them, if I do. Another reason I’m not putting them in this post is that round II of the ice storm is forecast to be even worse, so I’ll have more opportunities to do a better job on some of the subjects that I shot today.

So, that about winds up another week. I’m sure glad that today was the winter solstice, and that the amount of daylight, and the angle of the sun, is only going to go up from here. It did take me much longer than normal to do my walk today, by the time I had done a preliminary sorting of my photos from today, and taken a short nap, it was dark outside already.

Before I end this one, I’d like to wish every one a Merry Christmas, and I hope that Santa brings you all the love and joy befitting the season, along with any goodies that your heart desires.

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


Nelson’s Sparrow, Ammodramus nelsoni

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.

Nelson’s Sparrow, Ammodramus nelsoni

The Nelson’s Sparrow is a small sparrow. This bird was named after Edward William Nelson, an American naturalist. Formerly, this bird and the Saltmarsh Sparrow were considered to be a single species, the Sharp-tailed Sparrow; because of this it was briefly known as Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow.

Adults have brownish upper-parts with grey on the crown and nape, a cream-colored breast with light or indistinct streaking and a white throat and belly; they have an orange face with grey cheeks and a short pointed tail.

Their breeding habitat is marshes on the Atlantic coast of Canada and Maine, central Canada, (the Canadian Prairies region and a coastal strip on the south of Hudson Bay), and the north central United States. The nest is an open cup attached to vegetation and close to the ground. Males compete for females but do not defend territories; they sometimes help feed the young. Mating is largely promiscuous by both sexes; multiple paternity in a nest is common.

These birds migrate to the southeastern coasts of the United States. They forage on the ground or in marsh vegetation, sometimes probing in mud and eat mainly insects, aquatic invertebrates and seeds. Their call is a raspy trill, almost a mechanical sound. It may be given in flight during the nesting season. The sound has been likened to a drop of water hitting a hot frying pan.

On to my photos:

Nelson's Sparrow, Ammodramus nelsoni

Nelson’s Sparrow, Ammodramus nelsoni

Nelson's Sparrow, Ammodramus nelsoni

Nelson’s Sparrow, Ammodramus nelsoni

Nelson's Sparrow, Ammodramus nelsoni

Nelson’s Sparrow, Ammodramus nelsoni

Nelson's Sparrow, Ammodramus nelsoni

Nelson’s Sparrow, Ammodramus nelsoni

Nelson's Sparrow, Ammodramus nelsoni

Nelson’s Sparrow, Ammodramus nelsoni

Nelson's Sparrow, Ammodramus nelsoni

Nelson’s Sparrow, Ammodramus nelsoni

Nelson's Sparrow, Ammodramus nelsoni

Nelson’s Sparrow, Ammodramus nelsoni

This is number 137 in my photo life list, only 213 to go!

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

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My Week, cold with occasional snow

Sunday

I was up way too early this morning for the winter months, well before sunrise. Maybe I’ll beat the wind if I go for my walk early in the morning?

The weather forecast for the week is much like it would be for the middle of January, cold, cloudy, with occasional snow. I shouldn’t get as bummed out as I have been this year, it’s always the same in Michigan this time of year, but I’ve let photography become the biggest reason for me to get outside. And, with the weather the way that it’s been, and will continue to be into March, my chances for really good photos is greatly diminished.

My new Canon is so much better than the old Nikon that I am able to get photos in much worse weather than before, but still, it would be nice if the weather was more suited to photography.

That’s not to say that I haven’t been appreciating the sights, sounds, and scents of nature while I’ve been out and about, I have.

Yesterday at Muskegon was a good example, something that I didn’t put in my post from last week. There were periods of time when I was sitting in my Subaru with the engine off and the window down, as I glassed huge flocks of various birds, looking for new species to photograph. Seeing and hearing wave after wave of mixed flocks of geese passing overhead was something I’ll never forget. It was the same with the northern shovelers, the flock of them feeding and carrying on was an amazing memory as well.

I grew up during the period of time when the numbers of many species were at or close to their low point, to have thousands of geese and ducks in view at one time, with half a dozen bald eagles in sight at the same time was a totally new experience for me. I really should be thankful that so many people worked so hard to protect so many species of wildlife, and quit whining about the weather if it isn’t great as far as me getting a few photos.

I should also remember that most people never see those sights, like thousands of ducks taking flight as a bald eagle soars overhead searching the flock for a weak individual to make a meal of.

And the best part, I was able to witness it all in southern Michigan, I didn’t have to travel to some remote location where man has made little impact.

Well, I suppose that it’s time to bundle up and head on out into the cold and gloom.

I bundled up alright, I got back home and found that I had never zipped my parka up! By getting out so early, I almost beat the clouds.

Clouds on the increase

Clouds on the increase

But very quickly, things returned to normal around here.

Michigan winter sunshine

Michigan winter sunshine

I almost beat the wind, it was pleasant when I first began my walk, but by the time I finished, it was definitely getting uncomfortable, although not as bad as yesterday.

I almost beat the snow, but the first few flakes from the next system were just beginning to fall as I was headed home.

I’d say that I beat the birds, since I didn’t get any photos, but that isn’t true. I did see a few of the typical winter residents, but in the low light, I didn’t bother them as they obviously were busy finding food to fuel their tiny little bodies in the cold.

I did shoot a few photos, of frozen leaves.

Frozen green

Frozen green

Frozen brown

Frozen brown

One determined leaf!

One determined leaf!

I liked the way that the last leaf had curled itself around the branch it was attached to, as if holding on for dear life to prevent its falling off.

Because of the mild summer with plenty of rain, most of the plants produced bumper crops of seeds and berries. I’ve shot a few photos of various “crops” this fall, but I don’t think that I’ve posted many if any, as there seemed to always be more important photos to post. So, here’s a few of the highbush cranberries from this year.

Highbush cranberries

Highbush cranberries

The birds, squirrels, and other critters have had a very easy time of it this fall, plenty of food so far, I hope that even as much as there is, that it will be enough to carry them over the winter.

If any one is interested, these were all shot with the 70-200 mm L series lens. I don’t know why, but that lens seems to produce photos that look almost 3 dimensional. I have learned to love that lens, when I didn’t care for it much when I first bought it. It takes more work to get it to focus correctly, but when I get it right, the results are excellent.

I think that the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) is on vacation until the weather warms up a little. Its performance seems to degrade when the temperatures are much below freezing, and it’s a lot harder to carry and keep my hands warm at the same time. Besides, the L series lens is made to handle inclement weather, so it’s a better choice for winter in the first place.

Monday

A typical southwest Michigan winter morning, cold, cloudy, and snow.

It does look as though we are in for a long cold winter, much like the ones that we had back in the late 1970’s. On the bright side, that could mean an early spring, I hope so.

Another positive, although it may not seem like it right now, as quickly as winter hit this year, Lake Michigan is cooling off earlier than it normally does. If this trend continues, the lake effect machine may come to an early end, and we could get more sunny days towards the end of January and into February.

In just two weeks, we’ll be past the Winter Solstice, and the daylight hours will begin to grow longer again. imperceptible at first, but by the end of January, it will be more noticeable. That’s when I’ll see the first tree buds starting to swell, and a renewed energy in the birds, as spring really won’t be that far off by then.

Of course as I type this, I am listening to the maintenance workers here scraping the ice off from the sidewalks. 😉 Time to go out and check their work.

The crews are doing a fine job of clearing the sidewalks, with an added benefit. Scraping the ice and snow off from the sidewalks has also removed the calling cards that the geese have been leaving behind. 😉

In my weather synopsis for the day, I neglected to mention the wind, ice pellets, and freezing drizzle mixed in with the snow and cold. Needless to say, I didn’t shoot many photos today, just six, all of the same subject as I tried to dial in low light snow scene settings.

Snow on highbush cranberries and white pines.

Snow on highbush cranberries and white pines.

That’s not exactly as I wanted it to appear, but it had to do as the best of the six that I shot.

One thing that has surprised me this winter is that for scenes with a lot of snow in them, I have to go positive in exposure compensation. The one from today was shot at +2/3 EV. That is due to the metering system in the Canon 60 D, it apparently reads all snow scenes as too bright and automatically adjusts the exposure down. Some of the photos from the Thanksgiving weekend trip to Pickerel Lake were shot at +1 Ev, like this one if I remember correctly.

Pickerel Lake

Pickerel Lake

All summer long, I shot landscapes at from -1/3 to -1 EV, that applies to close-ups of flowers as well. When I looked at the first photo of Pickerel Lake that I shot with no exposure compensation, it looked black in the LCD display. I would have thought that I would have had to have gone at least as far down for snow as summer landscapes, but the opposite has been true, I have to go up, a lot at times.

There’s a bright side to not posting many photos, I’m not using up my free space from WordPress as quickly as I was all summer long. 😉

On my way home, I stopped at the farm market down the street from the park and stocked up on jellies and jams for the winter before they close for the season. They were out of my favorite, no sugar added apple butter, so I had to “make do” with some of their other delicious flavors, like peach butter.

I am going to go on a small rant here, about conservation groups, and their fundraising efforts. This was brought about by a news story concerning the death of a snowy owl, that flew into a truck at night. A few of the local conservation groups are using the death of the owl for fund-raising purposes, as if money would have prevented the owl from dying.

Since I’m now a low-income worker, I’ve had to pare back on the number of conservation groups that I am able to contribute to, and in many cases, I feel no great remorse for not being able to contribute the way that I used to.

It seems that fund-raising and money are the only things most conservation groups care about these days. I know that it does take money to operate such a group, but I fear that in too many cases, most of the money raised by these groups goes to pay for more fund-raising, and little to actual conservation work.

Back when I had more money, I became a life member of Trout Unlimited, but even if I had the resources to do so now, I doubt if I would become a life member if I hadn’t already done so. The only correspondence that I receive from the national headquarters is “send more money”, sometimes they even say please first. The national organization now spends far more money on lobbying the government than they do on grassroots work projects.

That’s what many of us feared would happen when TU moved their national headquarters from Michigan to Arlington, VA so that they were closer to Washington DC. TU was formed as a grassroots organization, local people getting together to improve river habitat for trout. No more, it’s all about the money!

The local chapter isn’t much better. They have started several projects asking for volunteers, and when time permitted, I would show up. However, almost all the projects have fizzled, not because of a lack of volunteers, but because there was no follow-up from the leaders at the top of the local chapter. They find it easier to hire an AmeriCorps worker(s) to do the work, than to organize volunteers who would gladly perform what was necessary for nothing.  The excuse is that we, the membership, don’t have the expertise to do what needs to be done.

The one group that continues to impress me is the Little Traverse Conservancy. When I receive their quarterly newsletter, it is full of things that they have done, land acquisitions, field trips, and volunteer work that has been done, opportunities for future volunteer work parties and field trips, with a small section devoted to fund-raising. They seem to understand that if they build a community, encourage people to visit the preserves, and organize opportunities for people to get involved, that the work gets done, and money flows in without hammering people over the head to give more all the time.

If I had the resources, I would gladly give more to the Little Traverse Conservancy, they get things done, they make things happen, and most of all, it is a true grassroots organization where they encourage people to participate in ways other than just sending in a check to pay professional fund-raisers a huge salary to raise more money.

Let me put this another way. The correspondence that I receive from most conservation groups is all doom and gloom, things have never been worse, and the only way to help is if I send them all my money.

Well, things aren’t all doom and gloom, and having grown up in the 1960’s when things were worse, I know that progress has been made.

When I get the newsletters from the Little Traverse Conservancy, it’s “Due to the generosity of (fill in the blank) we were able to add (X number) of acres of land to our (fill in the blank) preserve.

Thanks to all the wonderful volunteers who showed up at the (fill in the blank) preserve to help eliminate invasive species of plants.

On such and such a date, we had a great turn out for the hike in the (fill in the blank)  preserve.” And so it goes.

Rather than focus on the negative, they accentuate the positive, what they are accomplishing.

I don’t know about you, but I would much rather be part of a group that accomplishes what their stated goals are, rather than a group that can only see the negatives.

And, there’s even more to it. Many of the large national and international conservation groups have developed an elitist attitude, that only the leadership of those groups are intelligent enough to understand the ecosystems that they are trying to protect. The Nature Conservancy is a perfect example of that attitude.

In my Post on Michigan’s Garden Peninsula, I noted how birds from Michigan “island hop” to Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula. Well, just recently some one donated the majority of one of those islands to the Nature Conservancy, which promptly made the island off-limits to the general public, even though the part of the island donated to the Nature Conservancy had been a private resort in the past. It wasn’t pristine wilderness untouched by humans.

That kind of attitude is what caused me to leave the Nature Conservancy years ago. Yes, they do good work preserving natural habitats, but what good is it if no one is ever allowed to visit those places, except for the top brass of the Nature Conservancy? I grew tired of reading about how they had just acquired a significant piece of land, but that they were closing it to the public.

The Little Traverse Conservancy has some preserves which they have closed to the general public, but they are typically smaller preserves which really should be closed. The vast majority of their preserves are not only open to the public, but they urge people to visit, even non-members.

By doing so, they make the public aware of the work that they are doing, and get more people involved, which I believe is a good thing.

Tuesday

I’m looking out my window to see sunshine, which is rather unexpected since the forecast is for more snow later. But, the snow isn’t forecast to arrive until almost noon. Maybe there will be a few breaks in the clouds left when I venture out this morning. Since this may be my only chance to see the sun for a while, I’m heading out as quickly as I can eat breakfast and get bundled up.

Well, that didn’t work very well at all. Even as I was eating breakfast, I had noticed that the amount of light coming through the windows was decreasing at a dramatic rate. Stepping out the door of the apartment building, I was greeted by a blast of wind-driven snow. The snow and wind both continued to increase in intensity as I walked down to the park, and by the time that I got there, it was like walking through a blizzard.

I did stop to watch a small flock of chickadees and a couple of kinglets looking for food in the woods along the creek. It was funny, rather than flying to the next branch that they wanted to investigate, they would puff up their feathers, hop off from the branch that they were on, and let the wind carry them along, with an occasion flap of their wings to help them steer. They looked like little puff balls driven by the wind.

I actually saw quite a few other birds, they were either in the thick brush along the creek banks trying to stay warm, or flocked around bird feeders in the yards of houses surrounding the park.

The only word for the weather this morning is brutal. With wind gusts over 30 MPH (48 kilometer/hour) the wind chill was well below 0 F (-18 C). So, since I didn’t want to subject my camera to those conditions, or bother the birds that were trying to survive, I didn’t shoot a single photo.

On my way home, the snow let up and it got a little brighter out, but neither the cold or wind relented, so still no photos.

So, I’m going to add a few more of the leftovers from my trip to the UP back in September.

Unidentified warbler on a dewy morning

Unidentified warbler on a dewy morning

Dewy spiderweb

Dewy spiderweb

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Wednesday

The weather today is the same as yesterday, cold, snow, and wind. The local meteorologists are already saying that there will be a white Christmas here, and that the temperature won’t make it above freezing again until into next year.

I just finished yet another post in the My Photo Life List project, and a count of the species of birds that I have photos saved of puts me only 5 short of half way. Some of my saved photos aren’t very good, but very few if any people seem to care about that project anyway, so I suppose that photo quality shouldn’t matter, but it does to me. Doing the project online has many advantages, I have already replaced all the earlier photos of some species when I have gotten better ones, or added photos if I only had one or two when I originally did the post.

Stepping out the door of my apartment building today, it looked just about exactly as it did yesterday, but a wonderful thing happened as I got to the park. The snow let up, the wind slacked off, the clouds thinned, and there was enough sunshine that I could see shadows for the first time in days.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

I tried to take advantage of the light.

Everywhere I go

Everywhere I go

But, the sunshine didn’t last long. So, I tried shifting gears for this one.

Like gnarly, dude

Like gnarly, dude

That was actually shot in black and white on purpose, just a practice shot. It didn’t matter, the few other photos from then on looked much the same even after I switched the camera back to full color.

The snow returns

The snow returns

I am finally getting acclimated to the cold weather, my hands didn’t feel as if they were bordering on frostbite, nor did my nose for the first time since the really cold air settled in. It must be because it got so cold so quickly this year, but the cold has bothered me much more than it typically does. It wasn’t much nicer today than yesterday, but I had a rather pleasant walk today, despite the cold wind. Of course, a few peeks at the sun never hurt!

I don’t know where all the birds were hiding today, I saw just a few doves in the park, and not a single bird on any of the feeders that I can see in people’s yards from where I walk in the park.

I think that Santa is going to be late this year in delivering the Tokina 100 mm macro lens that I would like. It doesn’t make much sense to spend the money on it when I won’t get any use out of it for a while. Besides, I get two “extra” paychecks in January, one will be because there are five paydays that month, and the other will be for the sick days that I didn’t use.

So, maybe Santa and I will visit the camera store and pick up a few low-cost accessories that I could use, such as neutral density filters and the like, we’ll see. Then, we’ll return to the store after the first of the year, maybe the lens I want will even be on sale, wouldn’t that be nice!

Well, that’s about it for the day.

Thursday

I see that I messed up when I titled this week’s post, cold with occasional snow. I should have said cold and the snow lets up occasionally, as it has been snowing more of the time than not. It’s mostly lake effect snow though, so it isn’t piling up too badly, yet. Lake effect snow is light, fluffy snow, that compacts itself down as more falls on top of what has already fallen. I have no idea what the official snow total is, for one thing, the amount of snow that falls in any one spot is extremely variable, one reporting station may report seven inches in a day, while the next reporting station may only pick up an inch. It all depends on the wind, and how the snow bands coming off from Lake Michigan set up. And, because of the nature of lake effect snow, several inches a day compact down quite a bit, so the depth of the snow on the ground is nowhere near the total of how much snow has fallen over time.

Enough snow has fallen already this winter that they’ve had to bring in a big front end loader to push the snow piles back, it’s only December, and the plows were running out of places to push the snow already here in the apartment complex. The good thing is that since the snow is light and fluffy, it isn’t that hard to walk through.

The long-range weather forecast is more of the same for as far out as the forecast goes, isn’t that just peachy? Well, there’s nothing to be done about it, so I guess I’ll bundle up and trudge through the snow again today, and tomorrow, and on it goes, until spring.

Well I’m back, a little earlier than usual, I cut my walk short by a few hundred yards today. Not because of the cold or snow…

Winter wonderland?

Winter wonderland?

…but because I wasn’t feeling my usual self today. I’m sure that it’s nothing, and that I will be fine after I get a nap.

As you can see in the photo, the snow was really coming down for a while, it was snowing so hard that visibility was less than half a mile for the first half of my walk.

Even though I was pulling the hood of my parka over my face to ward off the wind-driven snow most of the time, I did see a few birds, but no photos.

Once again today, I was treated to a few moments when the clouds thinned out, and I was able to get a few peeks of sunshine.

Winter wonderland

Winter wonderland

But, by the time I had gotten back home the clouds had filled back in, and the snow was coming down about as heavily as it had been when I began. It is odd though how there have been a few breaks in the clouds for a few moments each day at about the same time.

That’s it for my walk and what I have to say about it.

Over the past two days, I’ve been going back through the photos that I shot while on my vacation back in September. This will sound as if I am bragging, maybe I am, but those photos are much better than I gave myself credit for when I first viewed them. They may not have been 100% of what I wanted, but they were a lot closer to it than I first gave myself credit for, especially the photos from the first four days.

I can see how the quality of my photos dropped off the last two days as I ran myself ragged, and my energy level fell off towards the end of the week.

Here’s one of the photos from my vacation that I wasn’t happy with then, looking at it now, I don’t know why. BTW, you can click on this one for a larger view.

Miner's falls

Miner’s falls

Talk about being too picky!

But looking at the photo and recalling my vacation, I was a little let down the entire week by how little the leaves of the trees were changing color at that point, and I think that I was too disappointed by the lack of color to take a true look at what I was able to photograph. Oh well, better luck next time.

Since the forecast for the weekend is for more unrelenting snow and cold, I’m going to stick close to home this weekend, maybe Palmer Park on Sunday.

Friday

The snow has let up for at least a few hours today, in advance of the next storm, forecast to hit the area this evening. There’s a winter weather advisory out for tonight and tomorrow, just as there have been advisories out the last three days. But, a break from the snow, even for half a day, is a welcome thing.

There have been a few multi-car pile-ups on the area expressways this week, I have been extremely lucky in that I have missed all of them while driving for work. It was slow going a couple of nights this week, but at least I never got stuck in one of the huge back-ups as a result of the crashes.

Of course it’s still cloudy and cold outside, so it’s time to bundle up and head on out.

With very little wind today, it felt practically balmy outside today. In some ways, it seemed brighter than what it has been of late, in other ways, it seemed as if there was less light, kind of a weird day. I shot this photo for the heck of it, because I could actually see the sun.

Sun, no shine

Sun, no shine

Okay, there’s a wisp of clouds in front of the sun, but still, I couldn’t believe what the camera was telling me when I shot that, ISO 100, f/11, and a shutter speed of only 1/1000. I would have assumed a much faster shutter speed, but that’s the kind of day it was today.

Light and the way that it interacts with the atmosphere here on Earth is a constant source of amazement for me. How is it that on what looks to be a fairly sunny day, there also seems to be very little light for photography? I should take some college level courses on the physics of light, then try to relate that to the science of photography, but my guess is that there are already people who have tried to answer all the questions that I have, and that they have been left scratching their head as they search for answers. Otherwise, a modern camera could take all of it into account and always produce great photos. 😉

Anyway, with the better weather today, I spent a good deal of time watching the birds, as they were out enjoying the break from the wind and snow as much as I was.

Ring billed gull in flight

Ring billed gull in flight

Male red-bellied woodpecker

Male red-bellied woodpecker

Male red-bellied woodpecker

Male red-bellied woodpecker

Male northern cardinal eating rose hips

Male northern cardinal eating rose hips

Dark eyed junco in the snow

Dark eyed junco in the snow

I probably could have taken the Beast with me today, but it’s on vacation until there’s a real warm up, so I used the 70-200 mm L series for those photos. If I had taken the Beast, I would have come back with even more bird photos, since its range is longer. Oh well, other than a pileated woodpecker, I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, and the light wasn’t all that great to begin with.

Other than to ramble on about how weird the light seemed to be, I don’t have a lot to say other than it’s Friday, and I am going to really enjoy the weekend, no matter what the weather or the light is like!

Saturday

Another day, another little snowstorm moving through the area. I shouldn’t complain though, we had a day off yesterday, sort of. The snow from this storm started before midnight, so technically, we had snow yesterday as far as the record books, but that doesn’t really count.

The last 8 days have averaged 10.4 deg. cooler than average in Grand Rapids, and for the last 11 days, have had only 7.9% of possible sunshine.  The last temperature above freezing in G.R. was the evening of Dec. 5.

If there were ever a day when I didn’t feel like going out for a walk, today is the day. I’m not sure why, and I know that once I get out there, that I will enjoy myself no matter what the weather is like, but I will have to force myself to move to get started.

Well, maybe saying that I would enjoy it out there once I made it was a bit strong. It was certainly snowing, and the wind was certainly blowing, but I did the entire extended version of my daily walk, and I even saw a few birds. It’s hard to get good photos in close to blizzard conditions though.

American Robin eating a berry

American Robin eating a berry

American Robin

American Robin

We’re starting to accumulate some serious amounts of snow on the ground, last I heard it was just over a foot, and the total is definitely growing today! So, half the time I was trudging along while pulling the hood of my parka down as far as I could to block the wind and snow, the other half of the time, I trudged along watching the snow blowing past me. I’m sure that it was all good exercise, the point of my walk to begin with, so it was a good day.

But, since I have a few photos left from my vacation back when the weather was nicer, I’ll post those to finish off the week.

Autumn colors

Autumn colors

Old fishing boat

Old fishing boat

Pine and spider webs covered in dew

Pine and spider webs covered in dew

Autumn colors

Autumn colors

It would be nice if there were a wooded area close to where I live where I could go for my daily walk. On days like today, walking in the woods is so much nicer, the trees help to block the wind, and wooded areas look better in the snow.

There is another walking trail about a mile to the north of my apartment, but it is even more open than the one that I walk now, as it is in the easement for a power line, and straight as an arrow. At least on the trail that I walk now, I get to walk on the edges of some wooded areas.

I grew up walking in the woods, and I have always gravitated to wooded area ever since. It was only after I moved to my current apartment that I began to walk, and appreciate fields and open areas, and the wildlife that inhabit open country.

Oh well, at least I have a place where I can walk everyday, even if it isn’t exactly as I would like it to be.

I don’t have anything else to add, so I guess that this wraps up another week. Thanks for stopping by!


Stilt Sandpiper, Calidris himantopus

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.

Stilt Sandpiper, Calidris himantopus

The Stilt Sandpiper is a small shorebird, it bears some resemblance to the smaller calidrid sandpipers or “stints”.

The Stilt Sandpiper breeds in the open arctic tundra of North America. It is a long-distance migrant, wintering mainly in northern South America.

This species nests on the ground, laying three or four eggs. The male has a display flight. Outside the breeding season, this bird is normally found on inland waters, rather than open coasts.

This species resembles the Curlew Sandpiper in its curved bill, long neck, pale supercilium and white rump. It is readily distinguished from that species by its much longer and paler legs, which give rise to its common and scientific names. It also lacks an obvious wing bar in flight.

Breeding adults are distinctive, heavily barred beneath, and with reddish patches above and below the supercilium. The back is brown with darker feather centers. Winter plumage is basically gray above and white below.

Juvenile Stilt Sandpipers resemble the adults in their strong head pattern and brownish back, but they are not barred below, and show white fringes on the back feathering.

These birds forage on muddy, picking up food by sight, often jabbing like the dowitchers with which they often associate. They mainly eat insects and other invertebrates.

On to my photos:

Stilt Sandpiper

Stilt Sandpiper

Stilt Sandpiper and European starling for size

Stilt Sandpiper and European starling for size

Stilt Sandpiper

Stilt Sandpiper

Stilt Sandpiper

Stilt Sandpiper

Stilt Sandpiper in flight

Stilt Sandpiper in flight

This is number 136 in my photo life list, only 214 to go!

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

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My week, The almost winter blahs?

Sunday

I’m sitting here drinking my very early morning coffee, thinking how quickly the past three days have flown by. It’s been nice having some extra time off from work, and even nicer seeing some sun yesterday.

I have decided that I will invest in a Pelican hard case for my photo gear. They are waterproof, and they can be fitted with locks. One of them will fit nicely with future plans that I have. I can mount the case on a wheeled cart of some type, either a golf cart or baby stroller, for when I walk the well maintained trails that I find myself on most often these days.

Some day, I’d like to purchase a small rowboat to use on larger rivers and lakes as a platform for photography. I have a kayak and canoe, but neither is a safe or steady way of getting around on the water with all my gear. I grew up rowing a small fishing boat around, I still love them the most of all the watercraft that I have used. They are stable and a quiet way of getting around on the water. I can mount the Pelican case in a rowboat, and be reasonably sure that my camera gear will be safe.

Well, it was a busy day, but not many photos to show for it. Even as I was eating breakfast, I was trying to decide where to go today, I had been thinking of Palmer Park again, but that has been a let down of late. So, I headed to Aman Park instead.

The common resident birds were out in full force today, but because I’ve posted quite a few of them lately, I didn’t try very hard to get photos of them. Another major reason that I didn’t try very hard was the weather, very nice with very little wind, so most of the time the birds stuck to the tree tops. I was trying to keep count of each species but I gave up because of how many I was seeing, dozen each of chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, and kinglets, along with four species of woodpeckers, downy, hairy, red-bellied, and pileated.

Here’s a bird that may be common but is seldom seen, a barred owl. One of the things I neglected to add to my list of things that I’m thankful for is my vision. I saw a flash of tan out of the corner of my eye, and I knew somehow or another that just a quick glimpse of movement was enough for me to check it out, which is how I found the owl.

Barred owl

Barred owl

Barred owl

Barred owl

Barred owl

Barred owl

It was hunting along the edge of the woods, and playing peek-a-boo with me, as you can see.

I also caught this female red-bellied woodpecker doing her best to get to some kind of food hidden in a sycamore tree.

Female red-bellied woodpecker

Female red-bellied woodpecker

Female red-bellied woodpecker

Female red-bellied woodpecker

Female red-bellied woodpecker

Female red-bellied woodpecker

Female red-bellied woodpecker

Female red-bellied woodpecker

Female red-bellied woodpecker

Female red-bellied woodpecker

I’ve never seen a woodpecker impersonate a hummingbird before, but she sure was!

I also got a good shot of a hairy woodpecker.

Male hairy woodpecker

Male hairy woodpecker

I know, they look just like downy woodpeckers, the only difference is size, the hairy woodpeckers are larger.

I also spotted an example of the black morph of grey squirrels, something that I have never seen in Aman Park before.

Grey squirrel, black morph

Grey squirrel, black morph

Well, that’s all the wildlife from today, the rest of the photos from today are for Allen and all the other lovers of lichens, mosses, and fungi. I don’t know for sure what any of these are, I suspect that some are turkey tails in various phases of freezing, but I could be wrong. So, here goes.

Lichen or fungi?

Lichen or fungi?

Unidentified fungal object?

Unidentified fungal object?

A whole lot of unidentified stuff

A whole lot of unidentified stuff

Turkey tails?

Turkey tails?

Unidentified fungal object?

Unidentified fungal object?

Turkey tails?

Turkey tails?

A whole lot of unidentified stuff

A whole lot of unidentified stuff

Unidentified fungal object?

Unidentified fungal object?

Unidentified fungal object?

Unidentified fungal object?

Lichens? on a dead beech tree

Lichens? on a dead beech tree

As I was finishing my walk, I decided to stop off at the New Balance store on my way home. I’ve got the Keen boots broken in and they feel OK now, but they’re not completely waterproof. With the snow melting today, my socks got damp, enough so that my toes were cold. At the store, I found two pairs that were close to my old New Balance hiking boots, but I didn’t want to try them on with damp socks on. So, I zipped home, cleaned up, and zipped back to the store.

I tried on both pairs that I had looked at earlier, and bought the pair that felt the best. They are like the old pair, like walking in slippers, not hiking boots.

After sorting through the photos from today, I checked my Email, and there are reports coming in from the entire west Michigan region of both snowy owls, and golden eagles being seen, including at the Kent County airport, which is less than five miles from where I live. So, I laced up the new New Balance boots, and set off to see if I could spot either the owl or eagle, no luck. But, there were crowds of people there already who had seen the same reports that I had, and were there to look for the owls an eagles. Word travels fast these days! The new boots worked great!

I had better keep both eyes peeled the next few days for large white or brown birds, with both the eagles and owls being seen so close to where I live, one of them could stop by to pay me a visit!

Monday

Back to the old grind, drat!

It’s sunny and right around the freezing point here this morning, so I think that I’ll take my time when I go for my walk and enjoy the sun while it lasts. By the end of this week, the forecast is for the area to be hit with a polar air mass with extremely cold temperatures for the first week of December.

Before I forget, the Keen boots will be good for mild weather hiking, so they weren’t a complete waste of money. That’s what I purchased them for, as that’s what they are built for. The real let down has been the Cabela’s brand boots, I may have had to break in the Keens, but every time I wear the Cablela’s boots, they cause such pain to my legs, that I can’t wear them for very long at all.

One other thing before I go out for my walk, there are snowy owls showing up in numbers all around the state, and the country. While it’s thought that they come south when the lemming populations in the owls’ normal range drops very low, there are also many other species of more northern birds showing up down here as well. I’m afraid that this points to a long cold winter, the bright side is that I’ll have a better chance of photographing some of these rare migrants..

To Beast, or not to Beast, that is the question.

OK, I took the second body and the 15-85 mm lens with me, along with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens), and I have to say, that the Beast is one fine lens, at least in good light.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel portrait

Fox squirrel portrait

It’s hard to imagine images much sharper than those, remember, I knock the quality down quite a bit before I post these.

However, then I shoot a few shots with the second body and the EF S 15-85 mm lens….

Ode to a sycamore tree

Ode to a sycamore tree

Milkweed seed

Milkweed seed

… and I have to say that the shorter lens is even sharper, as is the L series 70-200 mm lens which I didn’t take with me today.

It’s not that the Beast is horrible in low light.

Downy woodpecker, lower light

Downy woodpecker, lower light

It’s just that the photo above looks a bit flat when I compare it to the one of a downy that I shot last week with the L series lens, under much the same light.

Downy woodpecker

Downy woodpecker

But in bright sun, the Beast shines almost as brightly as either of the other lenses.

Downy woodpecker, sunlight

Downy woodpecker, sunlight

Here’s a few more from the Beast today.

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

That’s a very good photo, but again, it looks a bit flat.

Northern flicker in flight

Northern flicker in flight

Then, there are times when the light is perfect, the bird poses nicely, and I get shots like these. Notice the goldfinch keeping its foot warm.

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

When you can see the individual fibers making up a bird’s feathers, and the subtle color differences, even in a reduced quality photo, then it is hard to imagine that any lens could be better.

Blue jay

Blue jay

And the last photos from today, Bertha, the very large red-tailed hawk.

Female red-tailed hawk

Female red-tailed hawk

Female red-tailed hawk in flight

Female red-tailed hawk in flight

Those last two were shot with Bertha all the way on the other side of the expressway from where I was, a case when the extra length of the Beast is something that I wouldn’t want to be without.

I’ve sidetracked myself here, as I often do. What this is really all about is taking my photography up to another level, continuing to improve. It isn’t just about the sharpness of the three lenses that I have, it is the overall image quality, including contrast, color rendition, and color saturation. I’ve been using the two shorter lenses more often the past two weeks, which has given me a better idea as to the strengths and weaknesses of both myself, and the lenses.

As I was on my way back home, I was thinking to myself that I really need to practice with the 15-85 mm lens more often, that I don’t know how to use it to its full potential yet. That will only happen if I use it, and learn from my mistakes. I suppose that the same could be said of the L series lens, but I have used that quite a bit and have a better handle on its potential than I do the short lens.

I am also sure that many people reading this would think that I am being overly picky too, but I am always my own harshest critic, and one never improves by settling for good. I want to both improve the quality of my photos, and, expand my horizons as far as subjects.

The photos that I get from the Beast continue to get better, as I learn the settings of the camera and lens which produce the best images under different lighting and weather conditions. Yet, when I can see that either of my other two lenses are just a tad better as far as the images they produce, even though I have not become as skilled with those lenses as I am with the Beast, then that tells me something, I’m not completely sure what that something is yet.

Maybe it’s telling me more than one thing, strike that, I’m sure that it is telling me more than one thing, for part of it is that I still have much to learn.

Tuesday

There’s a combination of rain, snow, and freezing rain falling this morning, and a late morning it is. I had to run a double run last night, so I didn’t get home until the wee hours this morning. It was so dreary outside when I woke up that I thought that I was up at my normal time, way too early for how late I had worked last night, but a check of the clock told me that it was after 10 AM already, a time when I am normally already walking.

I would like to continue to ramble on about improving my photographs even more, but because it is so late already, I had better hold those thoughts until later, except for this thought. The quality of my photos made a huge leap forward when I made the switch from my old Nikon equipment to my current line up of the Canon 60 D and the three lenses that I have now. Seeing how much better the images are has provided the motivation to continue to improve even more. I may not ever become the best photographer in the world, or even the best nature photographer in the world, but I do want to become the absolute best photographer that I can be, given the level of equipment that I have, and the way that I go about photographing nature.

It’s sure a good thing that I can laugh at myself!

I had just finished typing that I wanted to be the best nature photographer that I could be, I step out of the door of my apartment building, and shoot this photo.

Canada goose in the rain

Canada goose in the rain

I used the wrong settings, I didn’t have enough sense to check them before shooting that photo. In my defense, I was turning the camera on, getting ready to check the settings, I didn’t expect there to be a flock of geese waiting at the door for me. I knew as the shutter clicked that the settings were wrong, I considered correcting them and shooting another photo, but they were “only” geese, I could spend entire days photographing the geese here.

My only other photo from today is this one.

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

That’s not a great photo either, but this blog is still a record of what I did and saw, so while I would love every photo to be as close to perfect as I can get it, I do have to take what nature gives me.

Today, that wasn’t much at all. With the gloom and mixed precipitation falling, any photos from today would have been less than perfect, and I didn’t see anything to photograph other than the geese and deer anyway.

It’s interesting how on one day like today, I see very many birds carrying on as if the weather was nice. Then on other days, they are all hunkered down in thick cover somewhere, and I see few, if any.

Wednesday

A dense fog advisory has been posted this morning, with temperatures just above freezing, lovely weather for photography, NOT! I would like to prattle on longer, but I have been busy this morning, doing a post in the My Photo Life List series, and other things. So, time for food and a walk, from the forecast for the next eight days, I’ll have plenty of time to prattle later.

OK, I’m back. On one hand, I have to stop listening to myself, with the camera gear that I have now, there is no such thing as bad weather for photography.

On the other hand, I need to listen to myself more often, and take the gear with me for the subjects that can be photographed on a given day.

I actually shot quite a few photos today, but most are almost winners, not worth posting. Here are the two that I liked enough to keep.

Unidentified fungal objects

Unidentified fungal objects

Milkweed seeds

Milkweed seeds

I was telling myself over breakfast that I should take body #2 and the short lens with me today, but with the weather the way it was, I didn’t want to fight keeping two cameras and lenses protected from the mist and drizzle in the air. I did take my tripod, but I forgot my glasses which I need to be able to use the live view for focusing close-ups, so the tripod wasn’t much use.

I saved the first shot of the mushrooms to remind myself to bring the right stuff with me tomorrow, and to go around the fence which prevented me from getting closer today.

The second image, of the milkweed seeds is 90% of what I wanted, slightly different composition, and a little more depth of field would have made that an excellent photo.

Oh, by the way, I used the 70-200 mm L series lens today.

I want to go on at length about getting better photos, but, it basically boils down to doing things the right way. But, while I know in theory what the right things to do are, until I get a better handle on the capabilities of my lenses and camera, I don’t know the exact settings to use. And, until one knows the capabilities of their equipment, how do you know when to put forth the effort of doing things the right way?

Theory is easy, mount the camera to a tripod, compose the shot, set the aperture to give you the depth of field that you want, and press the shutter release. If it were that easy, every one using a camera would be a world-class photographer, but we all know that isn’t true.

One thing that I have to get past is that my new camera gear is not the old Nikon stuff I used to use. When I purchased that camera, I tried to do things the right way, but the results were so poor that I gave up, and because of that, I have developed bad habits, or a laziness, that I need to shed.

So, I’ll keep plugging away, making mistakes, hopefully fewer of them as time goes by, as I learn just how capable my new gear is under different circumstances, and for different subjects. You know, this would be so much easier if I limited my photos to just one category, say birds for example. But no, not me, I go from shooting a golden eagle flying through fog one day to snow-covered landscapes on a sunny day the next, with a little macro photography thrown in for good measure.

The good thing is that it’s getting easier all the time, and my photos are improving as well.

By tomorrow at this time, a cold front is forecast to be moving through the area, plunging us into a deep freeze which is only going to get worse for the foreseeable future.

Thursday

I guess that the best word for the weather so far this morning is changeable. It was so dark and gloomy when I woke up that I wasn’t sure if I was up before sunrise. A few minutes ago, there was sunshine, now it’s back to clouds. The temperature is falling, it’s just above freezing yet though, with a strong west wind blowing the colder air into the region.

Time for food and a walk before the truly cold air gets here.

Well, I found weather conditions that did preclude most photo opportunities, a very cold, very strong wind. The lichens that caught my eye yesterday, all swollen from the rain, were all but invisible today. It was almost the same with the mushrooms, but instead of disappearing, they were withering in the cold wind, and not very photogenic. I found a few birds, more of the same winter residents that I have been posting a lot of lately, but during the gloomiest lighting of the day. So, I didn’t save a single photo from today.

I didn’t know that lichens could disappear the way that they did. I knew that they expanded and contracted depending on the amount of moisture available to them, but the tree trucks that were covered with lichens on Wednesday looked to be devoid of them today.

It was a very frustrating day, especially since I had blown many chances for really good photos yesterday by not bringing the correct things with me. That was reinforced when several times today, holes opened up in the clouds to allow small areas to be lit up with some dramatic lighting, but I was always in the wrong spot at the wrong time for a photo. For example, one time when the dramatic lighting appeared, I was looking through the chain link backstop of the baseball diamond at the subject that I would have liked to have shot, but by the time I decided which way around the backstop to go, the clouds had closed back up, and the lighting was gone.

So, I had a short debate with myself. I was thinking about how much respect that I have for photographers with the patience to find a subject, then wait for the exact lighting to make what otherwise would be a ho-hum photo into a work of art. Well, my daily walk is for exercise as much or more as it is about photography, so maybe I shouldn’t worry about missed photo ops was my next thought. But, that runs counter to the first thought in a way, you have to be prepared for the moment when a great photo-op presents itself.

This goes with another train of thought running through my head today, how slight changes in the camera settings can make large differences in the quality of the photos that one captures, and how many settings that there are in a modern camera that have to be tweaked to get the best possible photo for a particular subject at the correct moment. Little things, like switching the white balance from auto to the best possible settings for the light at hand at the time make more of a difference than I had imagined.

I am going to repeat myself here, so you have been warned.

All this would be so much easier if I limited myself to just one discipline of photography, say just birds, or just landscapes, but that isn’t going to happen, which is one of the main reasons that I bought the second camera body. It seems like overkill to carry them both on my daily walk around here, but the other alternative is spend five to ten minutes changing settings back and forth for the various types of subjects that I photograph every time that I switch subjects. I suppose that I could simply miss getting great photos, so I can delete the bad ones that I got instead, then spend the rest of the day kicking myself for not getting the great photos.

I have been taking the last option most of the time, and I’m tired of whining about it. So, I guess that I had better do something about that, like start taking both bodies along every day, along with the tripod, and my glasses, and use them!

It sounds counter intuitive, but I find as much or more of a need for the second body in bad weather as in good, because of the settings that I have saved in the second body, and, I seldom shoot birds in bad weather, but I see other subjects that I would like to shoot instead.

A couple of things are going to come of this, one is a trip to the camera store to purchase some type of weather proof method of carrying the second body and a short lens, the other is a day of quality time with the manual for my camera to learn how to take advantage of the custom menu options available on the 60 D. Changing settings would be so much quicker if I could do them all from one page on the screen, rather than scrolling through multiple pages. I believe that the 60 D allows me to make a custom menu page, I think that it’s time to explore that option.

Friday

I can be such an idiot! Yes, the Canon 60 D has the option of creating my own menu page to access to the settings that I choose to add to my custom menu. However, there was really no need for me to do that, as Canon has thoughtfully provided something very similar, and even better.

There’s a button on the back of the camera that allows quick access to almost all the settings that I wanted to be able to access quickly. I knew that the button was there, but I had skimmed over that part of the manual when I first read through it, wanting to take a slower, more methodical approach to learning how to use the camera. There was far more information on the screen called up by that button than I wanted to try to digest at one time when I read that section of the manual.

My objective since I bought the Canon has been to master one thing at a time, then move on to the next, rather than take a willy-nilly approach, and get lost in the process. So, I have been learning the controls one by one, which I think has gone well, but now I’m ready to work on the “big picture” of the camera in its entirety.

OK, the weather today is cold and cloudy, the wind has slacked off a little from yesterday, but it’s still nippy out there.

I’m back, and rather than being greeted by a flock of geese at my door, today it was the first few flakes of lake effect snow, that continued all through my walk, picking up in intensity as I went.

As far as birds, I saw a couple of gulls, a few mallards, and two goldfinches, not what you would call a great day of birding.

I know that I ramble on about photography and equipment, but it helps me to get things straight in my mind as I read back through what I have written. Since there wasn’t any bird activity to speak of, I had plenty of time to think, and I put that time to good use.

I don’t really want to carry both cameras with me everyday, especially not in weather like today. I’d rather not spend money on multiple ways of carrying my camera gear. A Pelican case is the best way for me to carry all my gear, I’d rather leave it at that, and not purchase a waterproof holster to carry the second body and one lens while I do my daily walks.

So, pulling many things together today, I found that I have space in body #1 to save the low light settings that I have been using in body #2, one problem solved. Since I’m now to the point of being able to tackle all the settings at one time, the quick access button does exactly what I need, another problem solved.

I found out today that I can make all the setting changes that I need to make in just a few seconds, not a few minutes as it did when I first purchased the Canon.

Most of that is because I have become much more familiar with the camera, and of course, the settings that work best for different subjects. So I think that for my daily walks that I can get by with just one body, and the 70-200 mm L series lens during the winter, since that lens is weather sealed, and my other two lenses aren’t.

On the rare days when the weather is nice, then I’ll consider taking both bodies with the Beast on one, and the 15-85 mm on the other.

That is not to say that I regret having purchased the second body, not at all. Having the second body is so much easier as far as going back and forth between wildlife and other subjects quickly. Just last week during my trips to Muskegon and Pickerel Lake, I put having two camera bodies to good use, and I’m sure that I will continue to do so.

Okay, my one photo from today isn’t much of a photo, but I shot this one as a test of sorts to see how quickly I could change set-ups.

Queen Anne's lace

Queen Anne’s lace

For some reason, that was one of the few things not swaying in the wind today, which was the only reason I picked that as a test subject. My tripod doesn’t extend high enough for me to get the angle that I really wanted, so I had to make do with what I could get. I learned what I needed to learn while shooting that photo, so I guess it is worth including here.

I probably shouldn’t do what I’m thinking of doing, but the weather forecast for Saturday is calling for some sunshine. If that holds true, I’m going back to Muskegon again, even though I was there over the Thanksgiving weekend. I have been trying to limit my trips there to one per month, but seeing the list of birds being reported in the Muskegon area, and with the possibility of sunshine, I think that the trip would be worth it.

Since I photographed the golden eagle last weekend, it has been spotted by other birders since then. There have been both snowy and short eared owls seen, along with a northern shrike. I’d love to get better photos of the eagles and snowy owls, and I don’t have any photos of short eared owls or northern shrike. Besides, you never can tell what’s going to show up in the Muskegon area.

Saturday

What to do?

While driving for work last evening, I was treated to one of the most spectacularly beautiful sunsets that I have seen in my life, which gave me great hopes for the weather today. Later, the lake effect snow machine kicked in, and that continues this morning, although the forecast is for the snow to wind down, with at least some peaks at the sun for later in the day.

The entire state of Wisconsin, to the west of here is clear, not a cloud in the sky, at least according to the satellite images. You can see the clouds hanging over the Great Lakes, and the entire state of Michigan.

So, do I risk another day of poor light in Muskegon, or do I wander around home here?

One thing is sure, around Muskegon, I’ll find things to photograph, and that’s not always true around here, so my mind is made up, off I go!

I’m back, and man, I’m getting spoiled! I did get a lifer today, snow geese, but the photos aren’t very good.

Snow geese, the darker ones are color variant called the “Blue Goose.”

Snow geese, the darker ones are a color variant called the “Blue Goose.”

Snow geese, the darker ones are a color variant called the “Blue Goose.”

Snow geese, the darker ones are a color variant called the “Blue Goose.”

The snow geese drove me crazy, they would circle the fields in the area, but never seemed to land. I watched them through binoculars for quite a while, a flock would fly over, circle repeatedly, then fly on again.

I also got a few close-ups of eagles, but I’m not happy with them.

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

Almost mature bald eagle

Almost mature bald eagle

Almost mature bald eagle

Almost mature bald eagle

Almost mature bald eagle

Almost mature bald eagle

Almost mature bald eagle

Almost mature bald eagle

That last shot was not cropped at all, I was that close. But, once again, I fell victim to the weird atmospherics at the wastewater treatment facility today. I have written about that before, none of the photos that I take there are as sharp as I get at other locations. Today, that was compounded by the cold, the high temperature for the day was 20 degrees ( -7 C), with a stiff wind that made it feel much colder. I would say that it was bitter cold, but I had better not say that since it really is bitterly cold in other parts of the country.

I didn’t find either species of owls that I searched for, nor the golden eagle.

Most of the day was cloudy, with a little snow at times, but there were a few breaks in the clouds at times. I tried for a few photos of the northern shovelers during one period of sunshine, showing how they for tight rafts as they feed.

Northern shovelers

Northern shovelers

Northern shovelers forming a feeding raft

Northern shovelers forming a feeding raft

Northern shovelers forming a feeding raft

Northern shovelers forming a feeding raft

It’s really something to see them circle together tighter and tighter as more individuals join in.

Since not much was going on at the wastewater facility, I went to the channel to look for diving ducks, and found a few.

Common goldeneye ducks

Common goldeneye ducks

Common goldeneye ducks

Common goldeneye ducks

Male long tailed duck

Male long-tailed duck

White winged scoters

White winged scoters

White winged scoters

White winged scoters

Horned grebe

Horned grebe, non breeding

I’m feeling a bit bummed out. Yes, I got a lifer today, the snow geese, but I think that from now on, I’ll wait until there’s a better chance of sunshine and warmer temperatures before I return to Muskegon. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to drive that far for photos that aren’t very good.

I don’t think that the Beast likes the cold. I’ve noticed that when the temperature drops well below freezing that the photos that I get from it go down in quality.

I know that I don’t like carrying the Beast when it’s very cold like today. I don’t know what the tripod mount, which I use as a handle to carry the lens and camera, is made from, but it sucks the heat out of my fingers faster than I can warm them back up again by switching the hand I use to carry it. And, that’s with gloves on, although the gloves are thin ones meant to be used while fly fishing. I like wearing those gloves, because I don’t have to take them off while adjusting the settings of the camera.

Well, I don’t have anything else to say right now, I think that it’s time for a nap, so I’ll end this here.

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