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

Archive for February, 2014

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

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-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

The Red-headed Woodpecker is a small or medium-sized woodpecker from temperate North America. Their breeding habitat is open country across southern Canada and the eastern-central United States.

Adults are strikingly tri-colored, with a black back and tail and a red head and neck. Their underparts are mainly white. The wings are black with white secondary remiges. Adult males and females are identical in plumage. Juveniles have very similar markings, but have an all grey head. Non-birders may often mistakenly identify Red-bellied Woodpeckers as Red-headeds, whose range overlaps somewhat with that of the Red-headed Woodpecker. While Red-bellied Woodpeckers have some bright red on the backs of their necks and heads, Red-headed Woodpeckers have a much deeper red that covers their entire heads and necks, as well as a dramatically different overall plumage pattern.

These are mid-sized woodpeckers. Both sexes measure from 19 to 25 cm (7.5 to 9.8 in) in length, with a wingspan of 42.5 cm (16.7 in). They weigh from 56 to 97 g (2.0 to 3.4 oz) with an average of 76 g (2.7 oz). Each wing measures 12.7–15 cm (5.0–5.9 in), the tail measures 6.6–8.5 cm (2.6–3.3 in), the bill measures 2.1–3 cm (0.83–1.18 in) and the tarsus measures 1.9–2.5 cm (0.75–0.98 in). The maximum longevity in the wild is 9.9 years.

They give a tchur-tchur call or drum on territory.

These birds fly to catch insects in the air or on the ground, forage on trees or gather and store nuts. They are omnivorous, eating insects, seeds, fruits, berries, nuts, and occasionally even the eggs of other birds. About two thirds of their diet is made up of plants. They nest in a cavity in a dead tree, utility pole, or a dead part of a tree that is between 2.45 and 24.5 m (8.0 and 80.4 ft) above the ground. They lay 4 to 7 eggs in early May which are incubated for two weeks. Two broods can be raised in a single nesting season. Northern birds migrate to the southern parts of the range, with most having arrived on the breeding range by late April, and having left for winter quarters by late October, southern birds are often permanent residents.

The Red-headed Woodpecker is a once common but declining bird species found in southern Canada and east-central United States. Consistent long-term population declines have resulted in Red-headed Woodpecker’s threatened status in Canada and several states in the US. This has led to an immediate need for conservation, which, so far, has been the focus of limited studies. Throughout most of its range it inhabits areas that have been heavily altered by humans. Factors suggested for Red-headed Woodpecker declines include: loss of overall habitat and, within habitats, standing dead wood required for nest sites, limitations of food supply, and possible nest-site competition with other cavity nesters such as European Starlings or Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Unfortunately few of these factors have been substantiated.

On to my photos:

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Juvenile

Red-headed Woodpecker, Juvenile

Red-headed Woodpecker, Juvenile

Red-headed Woodpecker, Juvenile

Red-headed Woodpecker, Juvenile

Red-headed Woodpecker, Juvenile

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

This is number 147 in my photo life list, only 203 to go!

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

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My Week, Swimming in February?

Sunday

Yesterday was the sunniest day in a month and a half, today, it’s back to the clouds and snow. However, the snow is forecast to end soon, and there may be more sunshine this afternoon, so I’m in no hurry to get outside.

We have only tied the record for the most snow on the ground in February at 23 inches ( 58 cm), but we have set a record for the most consecutive days of at least 20 inches of snow on the ground, and we’re closing in on the record for most consecutive days of having at least 4 inches (10 cm) on the ground. I’m not sure what the significance of 4 inches is, other than the possibility that it represents that the ground is totally covered.

The local meteorologists are backing off from their predictions as far as how warm it is going to get this coming week, along with lowering the amount of rain that we may receive. As much as I hate to say this, it’s probably a good thing. If we did hit 50 degrees ( 10 C) and had an inch and a half of rain, we’d all be swimming around here. There have been several more buildings collapse under the weight of the ice and snow that we already have, all that rain would make the snow on the roofs of buildings even heavier.

It was nice getting out in the sunshine at Muskegon yesterday, even if it was very cold, and I only got photos of the more common waterfowl there. There were several times when I could see the ducks diving and swimming under the very clear water, I tried for photos, but was too slow. However, it was an amazing sight to see, those ducks sure can move! I had wondered how something as large as a duck could swim well enough to capture fish, not any longer, after seeing the ducks in action, I can say that the fish have to be very wary. I should be more specific, it was the mergansers that were after fish, most of the other species of ducks were diving to the bottom for crayfish and mollusks. However, all of the species zip right along while under water.

Since it’s still snowing, I think that I’ll change things up and do my grocery shopping for the week this morning, then come home and do laundry. Maybe by then, the sun will have come out of hiding.

That actually worked quite well! There were a few clouds that rolled in while I was in the park today, but it was another pleasant late winter day. If only I could get around better I would have come home with more photos than I did.

It was so nice today that I took the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) with me, the first time around here in I don’t remember how long. That’s two days in a row for the Beast, yesterday at Muskegon, then around here today, my arms are feeling it. 😉 But before the photos from today, I’m going back to two from yesterday, and I’ll explain why in a minute.

Male white winged scoter

Male white-winged scoter

Male greater scaup

Male greater scaup

Okay, the reasons for starting with those two. Tom (Mr. Tootlepedal) left me a very nice comment to last week’s post about him having to become more serious about photography after reading my blog. I hope that he doesn’t, as I love his photos, but that got me to thinking, maybe I’m getting too serious. I love having equipment good enough to produce those two photos, from the pale blue eye of the scoter, to the green head and yellow eye of the scaup. Both of those photos were well out of the realm of possibility for me with the old equipment that I was using. And then there was this flower from last week, the one that I spent two hours and fifty shots to get.

Macro lens and lighting test

Macro lens and lighting test

One thing that I am doing is trying to learn the limits of how good of a photograph that I can produce using my cameras and lenses. Another thing is that I am quite proud of the equipment that I agonized over purchasing, I want to prove to myself, if not the world, that I did well in my purchases, and I also want to “do them proud” by getting the best photos that I can with them. I don’t want all the time that I spent researching  my purchases, or the money that I spent, to be wasted.

You can trust me on this, I am not going to spend two hours to shoot one flower, unless it is some very rare flower that I’ll never see again in my lifetime.

I’ve said this before, quality breeds quality, and as my photos get better, there’s that much more motivation for me to continue to shoot photos of the same, or better quality. That said, here are my photos from today, which don’t come close to the level of quality that I would like.

Male northern cardinal eating sumac

Male northern cardinal eating sumac

Male northern cardinal eating sumac

Male northern cardinal eating sumac

The flying bird of the day

The flying bird of the day

Unfortunately, I can’t control the weather, or where the birds decide to perch, so I’ll have to do the best that I can, knowing that the really great photos will come with time.

I have to say this about the Beast one more time, it may be large and heavy to lug around, but it is a fantastic lens for birding. I had little hope that the cardinal photo would turn out so well given the light at the time, but they are quite good considering the conditions. I didn’t have to fight the Beast to get a focus on the cardinal either, which was a good thing, the cardinal didn’t stick around long enough for me to play around manually focusing.

Here’s something that I don’t get a chance to photograph often enough, a sunset.

Sunset

Sunset

Sunset over "Snow Mountain"

Sunset over “Snow Mountain”

Because I work second shift, I seldom get a chance to photograph sunsets, or sunrises. The first was taken with the Tokina 100 mm macro lens, just as a test shot. I switched to the 15-85 mm for the second one, and caught the ten foot high snow bank on purpose. The sunset turned out to be a bit of a bust, but any color in the evening sky is a rare thing around here.

Monday

Cloudy and cold, but at least there’s no snow, yet. That’s forecast to arrive later today, and if the storm totals that they are predicting are accurate, this storm will put us over 8 feet (244 cm) for the season. It will also move this winter into the record books as one of the top ten snowiest winters here on record, we’re in twelfth place right now. And, there’s lots of winter left to go. The number one spot is safe, that record was set back in the winter of 1951-52 at 11 feet (335 cm), and I sure hope that we don’t come close to that record! The temperature here for the month of February has averaged 10 degrees below average so far, and February is typically our coldest month of the year.

Yup, it’s been a long, cold, snowy winter, that’s for sure. Oh well, there’s nothing that I can do about it but whine, bundle up, and head on out there to face another day of it.

I’m back, and it sure was cold out there today, mostly because of the wind. I’m still feeling chilled to the bone now that I’m back inside. Because of the wind and cold, I walked down the street a mile and back, thinking that it would also be easier on my knee. It was, although I think that the cold bothers it a good deal.

My left knee has improved a great deal, it’s almost back to full strength, it’s my right knee that bothers me the most. Several years ago, I twisted my right knee badly at work, and I don’t think that it has been the same since. Any additional stress or strain seems to bring on another round of pain for a week or two. It’s getting better, I can walk straight on level ground without it hurting, but any lateral loads from walking on an uneven surface, or twisting the knee causes it to hurt. I have figured out what I’m doing at work that puts the most stress on my knees, and I’m going to stop doing it, even though it will slow me down a little. I have a meeting with my boss scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, and I’m going to tell him flat-out what I’m going to do.

Even better news is that next week I get a new boss, I’ll be working for the guy who has been the manager of the Lansing branch since I started working for this company. After a rocky start, we get along fine now, I have discussed my plans with him, and he agrees that I should slow down. Of course that’s because he’s seen how I unload the trailer there at Lansing, and he’s been worried that I would run one of his drivers over with the carts that I unload from the trailer.

Well, enough of that, back to my walk today, although there’s really not much to say since I just walked down the road and back. I did see a few birds, but they were rather quiet today. I think that they are busy stuffing themselves ahead of the approaching storm. I did see a Cooper’s hawk screaming through the trees in search of prey, but it was too fast for me to get a photo. I didn’t shoot a single photo today, so I’ll include one from Saturday at Muskegon.

Male common goldeneye

Male common goldeneye

And, to use it up, here’s one of a fox squirrel that I shot two weeks ago while playing around with the Beast and Tamron extender.

Fox squirrel munching lunch

Fox squirrel munching lunch

That’s full size, the way it came out of the camera, do you think that I’m taking this close up thing too far? 😉

Back to the weather, several more buildings have collapsed over the weekend, including a church recreational facility, this is getting serious! The storm that was supposed to be hitting my area about now is slow in getting here, so maybe we won’t see as much snow as they said. I’m not looking forward to driving in it tonight, or walking in 6 inches of heavy, slushy snow tomorrow. Then, we are forecast to get a brief warm up for the rest of the week, that will be nice to say the least, no matter how long it lasts. I can see that some of the piles of snow have been shrinking slowly due to the sunshine that we’ve had, it would be nice to see them shrink even more with some warmer temps!

Tuesday

Well, that storm that was slow to arrive yesterday was just taking its time to get wound up to drop a lot of snow here.

We set the record for the most snowfall for the date at just over 6 inches, which in turn set the record for the most snow on the ground ever in February at 25 inches, shot us well past 8 feet of snow for the season, we’re closing in on 9 feet now, and bumped this year up to the eighth snowiest winters on record. That number one spot is now looking as if we could in fact break that record with over a month of winter left.

The only good things about the storm yesterday is that I got in a couple of hours of overtime, so at least I earned a little more in my paycheck for next week. And, the snow was light and fluffy, rather than the heavy wet snow that they had predicted, so it will be a little easier to walk through.

Today, it’s warmer, with a little sun, but windy, and it’s going to be tough getting around in all this new snow. To tell you the truth, despite the warmer temperatures and the sunshine, between how late that I worked last night, and all the new snow, I’d just as soon stay inside today. I’ll probably end up just walking up and down the road today, that is, if I feel safe doing so. I won’t know until I get out there.

I’m back. An odd thing happened today, when I stepped out the door and turned my camera on, the battery was dead. I thought that I had just charged it recently, either I was mistaken or the cold took its toll on the charge. Anyway, it’s a good thing that I had purchased a spare.

I walked down to the subdivision that I have been walking through to access the county park, but those roads hadn’t been plowed, so I walked down the main road and back for my walk. Not much to report, other than there’s a lot of snow on the ground.

Snow almost covering a split rail fence

Snow almost covering a split rail fence

Other than that, the highlight of the day was dodging the slush and salt spray kicked up by passing vehicles. Too bad, it was actually a very nice day today, the best we’ve had in over two months, sunny and warm for a change. It’s probably just as well that I couldn’t get around very well today, I have a meeting with my old boss in a few minutes, and if I had spent more time outside, I would have been late for the meeting. So, I’ll add one more photo from Muskegon this past weekend and call it good for today.

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Wednesday

Well, my meeting at work didn’t come off yesterday, the union rep couldn’t be bothered to show up, which has me wondering why I pay union dues. Oh, that’s right, because I am forced to, I have no choice in the matter. Which also explains the crummy service that the unions provide.

Well, before I get going on that rant, or about my job in general, I suppose that I should change the subject. It warmed up nicely yesterday, much warmer than had been forecast, and that warm, sunny weather is sticking around today. It’s a beautiful early spring day, so I’m going to cut this short and get out there and enjoy it while it lasts!

Wow! What a terrific day! I spent way too much time outside, but this is the last of the nice weather, a whopping two days, that we will see for the next two weeks.

I took the L series lens with the Tamron extender behind it today, I should have taken the Beast. But, I didn’t know how good the footing would be on the trails in the park. I was afraid that as warm as it has gotten so quickly, that the snow that has been packed down on the trails would be turning to slush, but that wasn’t the case. Not only is the auto-focus of the Beast more accurate, because I can zoom in closer to the birds, the light meter of the camera reads the exposure for the birds, rather than the background as it does with the L series lens. I played around trying to get good photos of a blue jay, here’s the best of them.

Blue jay

Blue jay

I thought about cropping that one, but I like it full size better. There were plenty of other birds around enjoying this weather…

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male house finch

Male house finch

The finch was warming up his vocal chords for spring, he wasn’t quite in full song yet, but he was getting close, and it was a wonderful thing to hear. This fox squirrel was also enjoying the sun.

Fox squirrel soaking up a few rays

Fox squirrel soaking up a few rays

It was so warm that I took my coat off for the walk back home! That made it harder to shoot this hawk, but I managed a shot or two.

Cooper's hawk

Cooper’s hawk

Cooper's hawk in flight

Cooper’s hawk in flight

Two things that I noticed today, one was that I was going snow blind from the bright sunshine reflecting off from the freshly fallen snow on the ground, the other was that my timing is way off from not having shot many photos the past few weeks.

Thursday

After two sunny days with temperatures above 40 degrees F ( 4 C), today the weather has taken a turn for the worse. It may get even warmer for a few hours late this evening, but right now, the area is socked in with fog, rain, sleet, and snow. If the weather today were part of an overall warming trend, it would be much easier to take, but it’s not.

By tomorrow morning, we’ll be headed back into the deep freeze, with 40 MPH winds driving another blast of Arctic air into the area, and temperatures falling back to what they have been for most of the winter, well below average.

I would say that I need a change, but I’d better be careful what I wish for. Things were going really well for me up until this winter. I had decided that even though my job is the pits, the schedule made up for the lack of pay and other problems. But, my Subaru getting hit in the parking lot is a financial hit that’s going to be hard to take. Of course it would be much easier if I hadn’t just bought a bunch of photo equipment, but what good is life if you don’t have a little spending money from time to time?

I’ve cut all the other “frills” out of my life, I don’t have a television, so no cable bills, I never eat at restaurants any longer, and so on. My time outdoors and photography have become my one source of pleasure, and I was okay with that. Well, at least I’m done making purchases as far as photographic equipment for a while, but then there’s my knees.

I’ve been taking it much easier on my knees at work, and they are getting much better, but I don’t want to damage them any more than they have been already. I want to enjoy my retirement when it gets here, I don’t want to wind up hobbling around or not being able to get around at all.

I have two weeks of vacation time coming, I had planned on taking one week in May, the other in the fall. However, I’m beginning to think that I should use them both in May, then start looking for a different job, one that I actually like, and not settle for one that gets me by. Most importantly, one that puts less wear and tear on my legs.

Well, that’s still a long way off, and maybe this constant bad weather is affecting my decision, but it’s something that I have been thinking about a lot, and I know that I will continue to do so.

Time to bundle up and see just how nasty the weather really is.

Proving that all things are indeed relative, including the weather, it really wasn’t all that bad out there today, despite the mixed precipitation, clouds, and wind. Compared to the brutal cold that has been the norm for most of the past two and a half months, it was almost pleasant today. I didn’t shoot a single photo, but that’s only because any of the photos that I would have gotten wouldn’t have been good enough to include here.

I have come to the conclusion that the Canon L series 70-200 mm lens doesn’t get along well with the Tamron 1.4 tele-converter. The L series lens is the most finicky lens that I have as far as getting good photos from it, adding the Tamron extender only makes that worse.

I look at the photo of the blue jay from yesterday, and that could have been one of the very best photos that I have ever taken of a blue jay. However, it’s not as sharp as it should have been, or that I would like it to be.

Blue jay

Blue jay

That’s funny in a way, the L series lens is the only “professional grade” lens that I own, yet it’s the lens that disappoints me most often. I said this before, but there are times when I think that professional grade when it comes to photography means difficult to use. That lens has produced some of my very best photos, but they are few and far between.

On the other hand, using the Tamron extender behind either the Beast or the Tokina macro lens has pleasantly surprised me in the quality of photos that they produce, like this one from Saturday, since I don’t have a photo from today.

Male long-tailed duck

Male long-tailed duck

Here’s another from Saturday.

Ring-billed gull

Ring-billed gull

I have a sneaking suspicion that a Canon 1.4 extender would work better behind the L series lens, but at almost twice the price of the Tamron, I’m not about to shell out that kind of money to learn if my hunch is correct. Especially since the Canon extender wouldn’t work with my other lenses.

The difficulty that I have with the L series lens that I already own is one of the main reasons that I am holding off my purchase of a Canon 400 mm prime L series lens for now. Well, that and money, but even once I can afford the long prime lens, I may rent one for a week to see how well it works before I take the plunge.

Besides, I’m beginning to ask myself how sharp is sharp enough when it comes to my photos. The Beast and the Tamron extender are producing some great photos, even though they are not quite as sharp as I may possibly get if I had a better lens, and perhaps camera body.

Female common goldeneye

Female common goldeneye

Friday

I’m not going to go, and you can’t make me!

The weather outside is just absolutely horrible this morning, I’m so sick of this! I opened the blinds for a second when I got up, took one quick look, and immediately closed them again.

For the record, it’s really not that cold outside, yet, that will come, it is only slightly below freezing right now. But there are wind gusts approaching 50 MPH ( 80 K/H) driving the falling snow and pushing yet another blast of extremely cold air in our direction.

After three almost spring-like days, I was hoping that we had turned the corner here as far as the weather, but the forecast for next week has us just as cold as it has been for the last three months. Below zero Fahrenheit overnight, and only in the teens above zero for daytime highs for several days next week.

And to think, there were thunderstorms last night. It was so warm that the snow looked like dry ice melting because of the fog being generated by the warm air interacting with the snow. It was quite the sight to see, thick layers of fog rolling off from the snow being lit up by lightning, as a very heavy rain fell.

Even though I’m curious to see how much snow melted the last three days, there’s no way that I want to fight the wind, snow, and ice today, tomorrow will be soon enough. Besides, I know that there will be the puddles left that haven’t completely frozen yet, so it would be a sloppy mess out there if I were to go.

For the past month I have been considering suspending these weekly posts, because I’m not getting many, if any photos on a daily basis, and I doubt if that will change next week. But, I’ve made it this far, so I may as well continue, this winter has to let up sometime soon, doesn’t it?

I’ve some things to do around my apartment that I’ll take care of today to kill some time.

While I was taking a break from my chores, I sat down at the computer to check the news, and decided that not only wouldn’t I go for a walk today, but that I would postpone working tonight as well. There are sections of just about every major highway closed due to wrecks, and I’d rather not fight a semi-truck in this wind all night. Since it’s Friday, I can go in tomorrow or Sunday and do my run when the roads are in better shape.

Since once again, there’s no photos from today, here’s two more from last weekend.

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

Mute swan

Mute swan

Saturday

Since I neither walked or worked yesterday, I managed to get a lot accomplished inside my apartment. When I first moved in here, I thought that it would be a temporary situation, and I just shoved stuff into the apartment, some of which I never unpacked until yesterday. It looks like I’m going to be here for at least another year or two, I used the time yesterday to get more organized.

The weather today, much, much better than yesterday, although it is still very windy, at least there aren’t wind gusts of over 60 MPH as there were yesterday. It’s cold for this time of year, but only about 5 degrees below average, and the sun is shining, which should make it feel half way pleasant today, if I can stay out of the wind.

I was thinking of taking the Beast today, in fact, the thought crossed my mind to take the entire kit that I plan to carry once better weather arrives, but I’m sure that the wind would change my mind soon after I walked out the door. Besides, I’m not sure what the footing will be like for walking today.

We received almost an inch of rain Thursday night into Friday morning, on top of the snow melt from two warm sunny days. All that water, and all the snow on the ground, is now frozen again, with the temperature well below freezing this morning, it could be an icy mess out there. So, I’ll play it safe and take just the L series lens with me until I see how well I can get around.

For the record, we’ve topped 100 inches of snow for the season, we’re very close to the 9 foot mark, and will probably top that this week. We’re sure not going to lose any snow this week, since the temperatures are forecast to be nearly 30 degrees below average for much of the week. Before I go off on how sick I am of the cold and snow, I’ll eat breakfast and make the best of today that I can.

I’m back, and other than the wind, it was rather nice out there today. I almost wish that I had taken the Beast with me, but I was right, the footing wasn’t very good in many places due to the ice. If I had taken the Beast, I probably would have gotten a better photo of Bruiser, the male red-tailed hawk than this one.

Male red-tailed hawk

Male red-tailed hawk

The only way that I know that the hawk in that photo is a male is because after doing the fly by past me, he landed in a tree next to his mate, Bertha.

A pair of red-tailed hawks

A pair of red-tailed hawks

They were really too far away for the L series lens, even with the Tamron extender behind it, but I think that the photos does give you at least an idea how large Bertha is compared to Bruiser.

I wandered around in the park as much as I could, even walking the open paths twice, as the rest of the week will be even colder than today. After three warm days, all the rain towards the end of the week, and a return to below freezing temps, it would be great conditions for snowshoes, but I know that my knees wouldn’t be able to handle them. Besides, I would have to carry them to the park, then find a place to sit down so that I could put them on, and sitting in a snow bank is not an appealing thought. I’d also have to switch back to my Yaktrax for the part of my walks along the roads.

I saw plenty of birds, but they were all hanging around the feeders in people’s yards as I walked through the subdivision, so no photos of them today. Instead I shot a few of the ice formations along the creek.

Ice

Ice

Ice hanging from branches over a creek

Ice hanging from branches over a creek

Ice hanging from branches over a creek

Ice hanging from branches over a creek

And finally, I tried several close-ups to see if I could get the L series lens and Tamron extender to produce a good one without having to use the tripod.

Lichens

Lichens

Pine cone

Pine cone

Not bad, not great, I think that using the tripod is my best bet, but that’s not always possible.

Oh, one more, my favorite fall back subject, a fox squirrel looking rather dejected about the colder weather today.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Well, unless I were to go on about how bad this winter has been so far, and looks to continue being, that’s about all that I have to say this week.

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


Great Crested Flycatcher, Myiarchus crinitus

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.

Great Crested Flycatcher, Myiarchus crinitus

The Great Crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus) is a large insect-eating bird of the tyrant flycatcher family. It is the most widespread member of the genus, Myiarchus, in North America and is found over most of the eastern and mid-western portions of the continent. It dwells mostly in the treetops and rarely is found on the ground.

Adult Great Crested Flycatchers usually measure between 17–21 cm (6.7–8.3 in) in length with a wingspan of around 34 cm (13 in). This bird usually weighs between 27–40 g (0.95–1.41 oz).

The Great Crested Flycatcher does not display sexual dimorphism. All adults are brownish on the upper-parts with yellow underparts, they have a long rusty brown tail and a bushy crest. Their throat and breast are grey.

Their breeding habitat is deciduous or mixed forests across eastern North America. They nest in a cavity in a tree. Usually a snake skin is included in the lining of the nest, but sometimes a plastic wrapper is substituted.

They wait on a high perch and fly out to catch insects in flight. Sometimes they may be seen hovering to pick food off of vegetation, buildings, and even windows. They also eat fruits and berries.

The call of these birds is a whistled weep.

These birds migrate to Mexico and South America, as well as to Florida and Cuba.

On to my photos:

Great Crested Flycatcher, Myiarchus crinitus

Great Crested Flycatcher, Myiarchus crinitus

Great Crested Flycatcher, Myiarchus crinitus

Great Crested Flycatcher, Myiarchus crinitus

Great Crested Flycatcher, Myiarchus crinitus

Great Crested Flycatcher, Myiarchus crinitus

Great Crested Flycatcher, Myiarchus crinitus

Great Crested Flycatcher, Myiarchus crinitus

Great Crested Flycatcher, Myiarchus crinitus

Great Crested Flycatcher, Myiarchus crinitus

This is number 146 in my photo life list, only 204 to go!

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

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My Week, Two out of three ain’t bad!

Saturday

Well, I’m going to start with a little about my trip to Muskegon on Saturday. I was able to get poor photos of two of the three species of waterfowl that I went after, the Barrow’s goldeneye and king eider. Of course both of those birds stayed on the far side of the channel, so I had to shoot at a much greater distance than I would like. Not only that, but it began to snow while I was photographing the eider, which does nothing to improve photo quality.

However, the eider stayed in one small area long enough for me to shoot quite a few photos holding my camera and the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens), and it was very close to where I had parked. So, I decided to see if the new Manfrotto tripod and head that I just purchased could handle the Beast. It does! In fact, the new tripod handles the Beast much better than the old one could handle my short lenses, so I’m a really happy camper! Now I’ll have to pick up another quick release plate to install and keep on the Beast so that I can use it on the tripod when conditions are right.

But, like the idiot that I am, I focused manually as I have to do when using the Tamron 1.4 tele-converter with the Beast, completely forgetting that I could have switched to live view, zoomed in on the eider, and gotten the focus dead on, rather than slightly off as I did. Another lesson learned!

I’ll get to the photos of the lifers in just a second, but first, a couple of my best photos from the day, taken while the sun was out, and before the snow picked up.

Common goldeneye

Common goldeneye

Woo hoo! I got the green of the common goldeneye’s head!

As I was shooting and checking the photos from yesterday, I was thinking how bad most of the photos that I shot when I first saw a species were. As time goes on, I see those species more often, and I can be more selective when photographing them, and how much better the photos of the following species are when compared to the first photos.

Male redhead

Male redhead

Male greater scaup

Male greater scaup

Male white-wined scoter

Male white-wined scoter

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Male long-tailed duck

Male long-tailed duck

Female greater scaup

Female greater scaup

Give me some sunshine, the Beast, Tamron extender, and some willing subjects, and even I can get some good photos. Some of those were cropped slightly, but for the female merganser and the long-tailed duck, I had to zoom out to less than the 700 mm the Beast and extender are capable of.

OK, for the not so good photos of the lifers.

Barrow's goldeneye

Barrow’s goldeneye

Juvenile king eider

Juvenile king eider

Okay, so those aren’t great, they do meet my minimum requirements for the My Photo Life List project, and at least I have a few photos of both of these species. If the weather and/or these ducks would have cooperated, my photos would have been even better, and hopefully, the next time that I see them I’ll get better photos.

Overall though, the trip was more productive than I thought that it would be. The Beast with the Tamron extender works better than I had thought that it would, especially when I can zoom to less than 500 mm and use the Beast at a focal length where it is sharper than at full zoom. I lose less in photo quality using that combination that what I would if I cropped the photos down to get the birds to appear the same size that they do when using that combination.

The new Manfrotto tripod may have cost me a bit more than what I really had wanted to spend, but it is proving to be a very wise purchase. I knew that its rated capacity was high enough to hold the Beast, but manufacturers often overstate the capacities of things that they produce, not so with the Manfrotto tripod, I was quite astonished by how well it handled the Beast.

Now I have to remember the full capabilities of my camera all the time.

Sunday

I hate to sound like a broken record, the weather outside is cold, cloudy, with snow, but that’s been the story of this entire winter. Almost everyday when I look outside to check the weather, it looks the same as the day before, except that the snow piles continue to grow. We’re now well past 7 feet of snow for the season and closing in on 8 feet. We may reach that mark early this week if the forecast is correct. We’ve at least tied the record for the most snow cover on the ground for the month of February, it’s now a matter of how much the snow on the ground packs down in relation to how quickly the new snow piles up on top of what is already there as to whether or not we break that record, my bet is that we will.

The good news, what little of it there is, is that we may get above freezing for a few hours later this week, and we may start to see warmer weather next week. I sure hope so!

Today is one of those days where I would just as soon stay indoors. I wouldn’t mind the cold if there wasn’t too much snow on the ground to prevent me from being able to get around, and I wouldn’t mind the snow so much if it wasn’t accompanied by the bone chilling cold that has been the norm this winter. But, I’ll bundle up and head on out, even if it is just down the street and back.

Once I get back, I may play around with both the new Tokina macro lens, and the Beast mounted on the tripod. I may not post any of the photos, but by playing around indoors, I’ll get more familiar with the controls and how everything works.

I’m back, and to my surprise, I have a photo from today.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Other than that, it was the same old same old, snow and cold. I did make it through the subdivision and into the park, I even opened up part of my trail again. But, half of it was enough for one day, besides, turning around and walking the section that I had just opened will make it easier to keep open.

I had been walking through the park, then coming back home via the sidewalk along the roads, but the county has abandoned trying to keep the sidewalks clear, so they’re in worse shape than the path that I have kept open.

One more thing from today, the birds are becoming a little more active with each passing day, despite no real let up in the snow and cold. I hear them chattering away, with a few singing as well. They seem to think that spring is on its way, I hope that they are right.

Monday

Well, I’m going to bore every one this morning, talking about the weather and photography.

First the weather, it seems as if every morning when I open the window blinds that I see exactly the same scene, cloudy skies, leafless trees, and snow-covered cars in the parking lot. The only things that change are the amount of snow covering the cars, and their positions in the parking lot, otherwise my view is exactly the same as it was almost three months ago. I am so tired of this crap.

As far as temperatures, at least the cold this week isn’t as bad as it has been for most of the last two months, but it’s still 10 to 15 degrees below average. That is an improvement over nearly 30 degrees below average, but it’s hard to tell the difference. There is hope though, the forecast is calling for temperatures near to just slightly below average for the end of this week, and we may get above freezing next week.

Okay, enough of the weather, now for photography.

I set the Beast up on my new tripod, with the Tamron extender behind it. I shot a few photos of the potted plant that I purchased last week, just for practice. I think that somehow or another, that the Tamron extender allows the Beast to focus closer than what the Beast will alone. I shot a few photos at 700 mm just over six feet from the flower. By sheer coincidence, my brother reported the same thing this morning, that his version of the Beast focuses closer when using an extender behind it. A 700 mm macro lens, just what every one needs! 😉

The other thing that I learned is that I have to turn the Optical Stabilization off when shooting with shutter times longer than one second, or the photos are fuzzy no matter how well I focused. That may apply to shutter speeds of less than one second, as the photos that I shot of the eider on Saturday while I had the Beast on the tripod are not as sharp as the ones that I shot handheld. I thought that I had missed the focus, but it could be that the OS is causing the fuzziness. I need a good sunny day to check that out. There isn’t enough light in my apartment to shoot at shorter shutter times to verify if the OS has to be turned off whenever I use the tripod.

The photos that I shot up close with the Beast turned out quite good once I shut the OS off, but the focusing is extremely touchy at close range, just the slightest turn of the focusing ring was enough to go from in focus to completely out of focus, or vice versa. The only way that I will ever get a good photo at the range I was shooting at will be when using the tripod and using live view to focus.

No matter what though, the new Manfrotto tripod handles the weight and size of the Beast much better than I thought that it would, I can see myself using the tripod much more often in the future.

I fooled around with all my lenses, with and without the Tamron extender, then some how or another, I got serious about getting a good photo using just the Tokina 100 mm macro lens.

I liked the backlighting that I was getting from the light coming though the window, but it wasn’t enough to get the photo that I wanted, so I ended up playing with the new LED light panel, the flash on my camera, and a LED penlight that I have. I’ll spare you all the bad photos and insert just the one that I liked the best.

Macro lens and lighting test

Macro lens and lighting test

That was shot with the LED light panel providing the backlighting, the flash on my camera diffused with a tissue to kill the shadows, and hand holding the LED penlight on the center of the flower. If any one is interested, that was shot at f/16, ISO 100, and a shutter speed of 15 seconds using the Tokina 100 mm macro lens.

You know, this rotten weather may be a blessing in disguise. I have been learning so much from my indoor testing, much more than what I would if I was out wandering around. Everything from the functionality of my equipment to lighting and composition, shooting under controlled conditions is working very well.

Time for my walk, be back later.

I’m back, and while I was walking, a few rays of sunshine were able to weave their way through the clouds and snowflakes. I would say that the warmth from the sun offset the wind chill by about an equal amount, so it felt like the 15 degrees Fahrenheit (-9 C) that the thermometer said.

I saw more birds in more places than I have in weeks, I assume that they are returning to their summer ranges. I don’t mean birds that are known as migratory, but even birds that are year round residents here have summer and winter ranges, depending on what food supplies are available. In the winter, they seem to form flocks, most often near where people have feeders out for them. In the summer, they spread out for breeding, with individuals staking out their own territory. Today I saw birds in trees that haven’t held a bird in weeks if not months, another sign that spring is on its way.

I was even able to get a few photos, that’s two days in a row now!

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

American robin in flight

American robin in flight

American robin hiding

American robin hiding

Cooper's hawk

Cooper’s hawk

I tried for a better shot of the hawk, but then I ended up with a branch passing right behind its head.

Cooper's hawk

Cooper’s hawk

I’ll be glad when the weather warms up enough for me to carry the Beast instead of the L series lens.

Looking at all four of my lenses, without a doubt, the Tokina 100 mm macro lens is hands down the best lens that I own. The 70-200 mm L series lens can produce photos that would put it in second place, but I have to fight that lens to get it to produce its best photos. The auto-focus isn’t as accurate, and I seem to have more trouble getting the exposure correct with it than I do any of my other lenses. The EF S 15-85 mm lens comes very, very close to matching the best that the L series can produce, with the Beast coming in last as far as photo quality.

However, I get a much higher percentage of the best that the Beast can produce without having to fight it. In fact, it produces more great photos than what the L series lens does, even though the L series is capable of blowing the Beast away when everything is right.

I’ve been carrying the L series most days, as it is weather sealed and rated to handle the kind of weather conditions we’ve had here, but I’m tired of fighting it for a while. The Beast may be a pain to carry, but it least it turns out good photos 99% of the time without having to fuss with it.

Other news today, the county at least attempted to open the sidewalks back up, so I was able to do a much longer walk today than I have been able to for close to a week. There’s little snow in the forecast, so things are looking better on that front. I had opened half of the trail through the park, other people finished the job for me yesterday. Some hardy soul even walked the trail out of the back entrance to the park, but I’m not about to tackle that for a while. There’s two to three feet of snow covering that trail.

Tuesday

Hopefully, today will be the last of the bitterly cold days for a while at least. The temperature overnight fell to close to zero Fahrenheit, but at least there’s sunshine and a light wind today. The forecast is for a slow warming trend, and we may even make it above freezing for at least a few days next week!

I did finish my income tax returns this weekend, as soon as I get my refund, I’ll pick up a case to carry my new tripod in, along with another quick release plate so that I’ll have one on each body, plus the Beast. Then I should be all set as far as equipment for the foreseeable future. Before I prattle on any longer, time for a walk.

I’m back. I think that the county has come up with a diabolical strategy for dealing with the large snow banks along the road. They’re sending trucks out with the large drift plows attached at the front of the trucks, and the drivers leave the drift plows raised, but let the end of the plow dig into the snow banks. They have the plow at the center of the truck set two or three inches high, which spreads the snow out evenly on the shoulder, hoping that the sun and residual salt will melt the snow. It sure was tough walking along the road because of that.

However, when I got to the park, walking was actually easy for a change, as there had been quite a few people out walking yesterday and this morning before I got there.

We had a couple of hours of sunshine yesterday afternoon, and not only did that get people out walking in the park again, it began to at least compress the snow pack on the ground.

Snow

Snow

If you look carefully, you can see that the snow right along the fence is deeper than the surrounding areas by two inches or so. The fence is “holding” the snow up, and not letting it compact down as the sun shines on it. I saw many examples of that, the snow around clumps of weeds was higher than the surrounding areas as well. It’s hard to believe that a few hours of sunshine, even as cold as it was yesterday and today, can make that much of a difference. The snow was level yesterday when I walked.

I could also tell that the snow was compacting down as I walked off of my beaten path. The snow is no longer light and fluffy, and I didn’t sink in up to my knees the way I have been doing. It will be interesting to see what the official measurement of the snow on the ground is after today, it looks like we won’t be breaking the record after all.

Of course now that I said that, the sun will melt some of the ice off from Lake Michigan, the lake effect snow machine will crank up again, and we’ll be back to where we were yesterday morning. 😉

Oh, before I forget, the sun is doing most of the compacting of the snow, but heat from within the Earth is playing a part as well. That’s why even though we’ve gotten almost 8 feet of snow for the season, we have less than two feet on the ground to show for it. It hasn’t been because the temperature has been enough to thaw any of it, that’s for sure!

The birds are certainly enjoying the sunshine, I heard the first goldfinch song of the year this morning, and the birds were out in force today.

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Female downy woodpecker

Female downy woodpecker

Female downy woodpecker butt

Female downy woodpecker butt

Female downy woodpecker checking me checking its butt

Female downy woodpecker checking me checking its butt

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

I would have had a few more photos, but I haven’t been happy with the photos that I’ve been getting with the L series lens and Tamron extender together, so I made some tweaks to my camera settings, but went too far. The adjustments I made today would have been okay on a cloudy day, but not for a day like today with the beautiful and plentiful sunshine out there.

Wednesday

Very cold again this morning, the temperature dipped down below zero Fahrenheit yet again. But, that’s because the clouds that were forecast to move in overnight never made it, and the wind went completely calm. So, I’m fooling around indoors here for a while, letting the sun do its magic, and warm things up a bit before I venture outside.

For the first time since November, the long-range computer models are forecasting above average temperatures here starting next week. I had been thinking of digging my snowshoes out of storage, but if it warms up as quickly as they are saying, I may need fins and a snorkel instead. 😉

The rapidly melting snow may cause some flooding inland, but it won’t add much to the Great Lakes water levels, as much of the water contained in the snow that’s on the ground here came from the lakes in the first place. The moisture that created the snow came from water evaporating from the Great Lakes, so it is a circular system. Some of the water from the snow melt will seep into the ground to replenish the underground aquifers, so there will be a slight net loss of water to the Great Lakes from the snow falling here, then melting.

No matter where it goes, I for one will not be sad to see the snow go!

Speaking of going, it’s time for me to go for my walk.

As if to remind me that there’s still a lot of winter left to go, the clouds streamed in just as I was beginning my walk, and it felt like one of the coldest days of the year, even though there was little wind to speak of.

I walked to the park, and even though the pathways were still relatively easy to walk on, I turned back early because of the cold, and because my legs have been really bothering me the last two weeks.

I didn’t mention it before, but one night at work, the air ride suspension for the trailer malfunctioned, causing the trailer to ride several inches lower than what it should. When I got to the Lansing branch, the trailer was so low that I had an extremely difficult time unloading and loading it. The company has an electric pallet jack at that branch, but the trailer was so low that the electric lift couldn’t be used. So being the idiot that I am, I did it by hand, or I should say leg, and my knees still haven’t recovered yet.

I don’t want to go on in detail about my problems at work, other than to say that it is time for me to have a meeting with my boss and the union steward, as management does nothing to make my job easier, not even maintaining the casters on the carts that I have to roll around.

Anyway, that’s one of the reasons that I have been slacking off as far as how far I have been walking each day lately, I’m trying to get my knees ready for spring.

I didn’t see much point to walking any farther, I had a couple of photos to post today already, and between the cold and my legs, I decided that discretion was the better part of valor, so I turned around and came home. I had seen what I had wanted to see, that despite the cold today, that the birds were still behaving as if spring were just around the corner.

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Sorry for so many chickadees lately, but I haven’t posted any photos of them for a while, and they’re so cute that seeing the always cheers me up.

Time to make plans for the weekend, Sunday may be a wonderful day. If it is, and the king eider and Barrow’s goldeneye are still hanging around in the Muskegon channel, I may go back to see if I can get better photos of them. The one project that I didn’t work on last weekend was checking out the cheap dry bag that I have to see if I can fashion it into a raincoat of sorts to protect the Beast, so that’s on my list of things to do. I think that I will also work on my camera bag, repositioning the dividers in it to hold the gear that I want to always have with me.

Thursday

I’m bummed, really bummed. My almost new Subaru got hit by the snowplow here at the apartment complex yesterday, not what I needed at all. There’s not much damage, but enough to require that it be repaired. I’m still waiting to hear from the company that does the plowing here, so I’ll change subjects.

The weather is much warmer than yesterday, with some sunshine again today. With almost 90% of the Great Lakes covered in ice, we’ve lost the lake effect clouds for a while.

The weather forecast for Sunday has changed considerably, so I don’t know if I’ll be going to Muskegon or not, it depends on the status of my vehicle as well.

So, I’m going to eat breakfast, get my walk in, and go from there, be back later.

I’m back, I was rather preoccupied while I was walking, between the status of my vehicle and some things going on at work.

It was a lovely late winter day, sunny, not too much wind, and close to average temperatures for a change. The birds are digging this weather, I think that I heard the song of a bluebird this morning, but I couldn’t spot the bird itself. But every day this week, there have been more birds singing and carrying on as if it were spring already.

I even got a couple of bad photos of a cardinal singing, here’s one.

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing

As you can see, it had picked a spot where it was surrounded by branches, and I never could get a clear view of him.

A little later, I tried to get a clear shot of another cardinal, this one was too tricky for me as well.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Well, I’ve talked to the owner of the company that does the plowing here, and of course he denies that one of his employees hit my Subaru. In fact, he tried to deny that they had even plowed here yesterday, until I pointed out the fresh snow piles that had resulted from when they plowed, so he had to admit that he did have some one here, but still denies that it was his responsibility. It made no sense to argue, so it looks like I’m screwed.

Friday

Cold, cloudy and snow here again today, the gloomy weather fits my mood.

This weekend looks to be cool, but with the possibility of some sunshine, so things may be looking up. I’m going to play it by ear as far as what I do this weekend, I may go to Muskegon, but that isn’t set in stone.

Next week is still looking warm as far as the forecast, I sure hope so! However, after next week, the long-range forecast takes us back to colder than average. The good thing is that average for the end of February, first of March, is much warmer than the first half of February, so there may be a few good days ahead.

I’m going to change my normal routine today. I’m going to go to my insurance agent’s office to discuss having my Subaru repaired, then stop at the camera store which is right around the corner, and pick up a case for my new tripod. If the body shop, which is also in the same area, can fit me in, I’ll get an estimate of the repair costs.

If I have time when I get back home, I’ll try to get a walk in.

My legs are slowly improving, again. My job puts way to much stress on my knees, things have to change, but I’m not going to go into that now. But, another day off from walking would help, so if I don’t get a walk in today, it won’t be such a bad thing.

I’m back, and things went better than I had expected at the insurance agency and the body shop. At least the preliminaries have been taken care of, and things are looking a little brighter for that part of my life.

I decided to wimp out and not go for a walk today, even though the snow has stopped for the most part, and there’s even a bit of sunshine from time to time. I have some things that I can do around the apartment, such as, I dug up the cheap, spare dry bag that I have for kayaking, and it will be a bit tight, but I can turn it into a raincoat for the Beast. I can work on that today, as well as a few other things.

Back again, I’ve gotten a lot done today! I cleaned and reorganized both my camera bag and backpack, along with doing some cleaning in the kitchen. I probably got more exercise inside today than I would have if I had walked.

Since there’s no photo from today, here’s one from Sunday at Muskegon.

Female long-tailed duck

Female long-tailed duck

Saturday

Even though I shouldn’t, with brilliant blue skies outside, I’m going to Muskegon to freeze my fingers off, and hopefully get a few better photos of the rare visitors there. The temperature is down in the single digits again, the warm up that they have been forecasting refuses to get here, maybe later this coming week.

I may go on a snipe hunt as well, we’ll see, it all depends on what the weather is like there.

I’m back, and it’s evening already. I sorted through my photos from today, took a nap, then talked at length with my brother, so the rest of this will be short. There’s not much for me to say anyway, I went to Muskegon, walked up and down the channel shooting ducks….

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

…then, after my fingers were frozen, I drove over to the wastewater treatment facility to look for a Wilson’s snipe, which I didn’t find. I did find a few horned larks, here’s my best photo of one of them.

Horned lark

Horned lark

I’ll add a few of my other photos from today to next week’s post, after I have culled them down more.

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


Surf Scoter, Melanitta perspicillata

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.

Surf Scoter, Melanitta perspicillata

The Surf Scoter is a large sea duck, which breeds in Canada and Alaska. It is placed in the subgenus Melanitta, along with the Velvet and White-winged Scoters, distinct from the subgenus Oidemia, Black and Common Scoters.

It winters further south in temperate zones, on the coasts of the northern United States. Small numbers regularly winter in western Europe as far south as the British Isles. Some birds may over-winter on the Great Lakes. It forms large flocks on suitable coastal waters. These are tightly packed, and the birds tend to take off together.

The lined nest is built on the ground close to the sea, lakes or rivers, in woodland or tundra. 5–9 eggs are laid. An egg may range from 55–79 g (1.9–2.8 oz) and average 43.9 mm (1.73 in) in breadth and 62.4 mm (2.46 in) in length. Occasional (and likely accidental) brood mixing between different females occurs in areas with high densities of nests. Growth is relatively rapid and the incubation period is about 28 to 30 days. The offspring will fledge independently at about 55 days.

The adult female averages about 900 g (2.0 lb) and 44 cm (17 in) in length, while the adult male is on average 1,050 g (2.31 lb) and 48 cm (19 in) in length, making this the smallest species of scoter on average. It is characterised by its bulky shape and large bill. The male is all black, except for white patches on the nape and forehead. It has a bulbous red, yellow and white bill. The females are brown birds with pale head patches. The wedge-shaped head and lack of white in the wings helps to distinguish female Surf Scoters from female Velvet Scoters.

Adult scoters of this species dive for crustaceans and mollusks, while the ducklings live off any variety of freshwater invertebrates.

On to my photos:

Male surf scoter

Male surf scoter

Male surf scoter

Male surf scoter

Male surf scoter

Male surf scoter

Male surf scoter

Male surf scoter

Male surf scoter

Male surf scoter

Male surf scoter

Male surf scoter

This is number 145 in my photo life list, only 205 to go!

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

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My Week, shortening the learning curve

Sunday

I played around with my new gear for several hours yesterday, which sounds like a lot of time, but it flew past before I realized how long it had been. I was doing laundry at the same time, which also kept me busy. 😉

The first thing that I learned is that there was a huge advantage to practicing inside. I could shoot a few photos, then upload them to the computer to check out full size. What looked good on the small LCD display of my camera often didn’t look as good on the computer, most of the time due to shadows that I didn’t see on the small screen. That helped me to see how well the LED panel light is going to work, as once I noticed the shadows, I could go back to the same positioning of the camera, but move the light to where it filled the shadows. I’ll have to remember that what appears to be a subtle shadow on the small screen can be too much of a shadow seen full size. Subtlety is what I’m finding to be the key to really good macro photos.

Now if I can remember what I learned yesterday, all will be well.

I am really excited about this coming year as far as photography is concerned. I’ve put together a fine kit of cameras, lenses, and other accessories, now, it is time for me to get the most out of them. I just went back and read the post that I did last March about buying camera gear on a budget, which I wrote before I had begun to make any purchases. I would say that I followed my own advice very well, by carefully considering (agonizing at great length) each item that I have purchased along the way, I now have some very good gear to use. Now, as soon as the weather cooperates, I’ll begin putting that gear and what I have learned this year to good use.

Speaking of the weather, in January, we had 16 days without a minute of sunshine and another 5 days with 10% or less of sunshine for the day. In other words, for two-thirds of the month of January, we saw little to no sunshine at all. Since Dec. 1 we have had just 17% of possible sunshine. That’s the really bad thing about Michigan winters, even if temperatures are mild, which they have not been this winter. The average temperature was 6.3° below average in Grand Rapids. On top of the cold and clouds, there were 17 days when Grand Rapids had a wind gust of 30 mph or more.

Then, there has been the snow, yesterday’s storm didn’t amount to very much, just a couple of inches of new snow. However, we’ve had so much snow this winter that there have been several roof collapses in the area. Not old rundown buildings, but newer industrial buildings.

Looking ahead to the coming week, it is forecast to remain cold, but not as cold as it has been so far, we should be just below average in that respect, rather than way below average as we have been. There’s not much snow in the forecast for this week, as the Great Lakes now have enough ice on them to greatly reduce the lake effect snow that we have been getting. There may even be a couple of sunny days this week for the same reason. We may even see some sun this afternoon!

I’ve been fooling around for a while this morning, hoping for some sunshine, and it looks like the clouds are thinning a bit, so I’m going for a walk around here shortly. If we do get the predicted sunshine, I’m going to drive to the north end of town near where I grew up in hopes of seeing a few species of ducks that I need for the My Photo Life List project. There have been surf scoters and an American Wigeon spotted at two of the smaller parks, neither are much more than a picnic area, so there’s not room to walk very far at either. But, I’ll grab the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) and the Tamron extender and go duck hunting if we do see some sun.

I went for my walk, but didn’t shoot a single photo, again. It was one of the nicest winter days that we’ve had so far this year, light winds, temperatures just 10 degrees below average rather than 25 degrees below, but the clouds stayed around until I was almost finished with my walk.

So with some sunlight, I headed to the north end of town where I grew up, to do some duck hunting. I’ll bet you can guess what happened, can’t you?

Just as I got to the flock of ducks and geese at my first stop, the clouds rolled back in. That first stop was at Riverside Park, a city of Grand Rapids park on the Grand River. I didn’t find the wigeon that had been seen earlier in the week, which didn’t surprise me. I’ll post a couple of photos of what I did find later.

With no wigeon, I headed to the other park, Versluis Park, which is a county park on a man-made lake that was created from a gravel mining operation. That park is within sight of where my grandparents lived, and less than 4 miles from where I grew up. If you had told me 30 years ago that somewhat rare to Michigan ducks would be found there, I would have said that you were crazy, but there were ducks there. There was even the surf scoter there.

Male surf scoter

Male surf scoter

Once again, I got the bird! This time, I didn’t even have to drive to Muskegon to get it, although I see that a flock of Barrow’s goldeneye have been spotted there.

You may have noticed some snow in that photo, as soon as I got into position to shoot the photos, a mini blizzard hit. But, I continued to shoot a few of the other ducks and a horned grebe.

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Horned grebe with the catch of the day

Horned grebe with the catch of the day

Horned grebe with the catch of the day

Horned grebe with the catch of the day

IMG_7138

Horned grebe with the catch of the day

Horned grebe with the catch of the day

Horned grebe with the catch of the day

Horned grebe with the catch of the day

Male white-winged scoter

Male white-winged scoter

Female white-winged scoter

Female white-winged scoter

Male common goldeneye

Male common goldeneye

Okay, back to Riverside Park, the only thing of note there was a pair of domestic X Canada goose hybrids.

Domestic X Canada goose hybrid

Domestic X Canada goose hybrid

Domestic X Canada goose hybrid

Domestic X Canada goose hybrid

On my way back home I looked for a third park, which is a newer one that I’ve never heard of until this last week. I didn’t find the park, but I did find this cute little kestrel.

American kestrel

American kestrel

American kestrel

American kestrel

American kestrel

American kestrel

All in all, not a bad day of birding, especially since I was never more than five miles outside of the city limits of Michigan’s second largest city.

It would have been nice if the clouds hadn’t moved back in for my photos of the surf scoter, but it seems as if the first time that I see a lifer the weather is bad, but after getting some photos of that species, they become much easier after the ice has been broken.

For the record, all the photos today were shot with the Beast and the Tamron extender for an effective focal length of 700 mm, ISO of 1600, manually focused, and sort of handheld. I say sort of handheld, because I made use of any solid structure that I could find to help me hold steady. For the geese, I used a conveniently placed tree, for the ducks and grebe, I used fence posts, and for the kestrel which I shot from inside my Subaru, the door of my vehicle substituted for a tripod. I also shot many more photos than I normally would have, knowing in advance that there would be many of them unusable, and there was a fair share of clinkers in the batch.

Now it’s time for some deep relaxation in my rocker recliner!

Monday

I’ve been fooling around this morning, waiting for it to warm up a little. Since enough of Lake Michigan is frozen over that we’re losing some of the lake effect clouds, it got very cold last night. The upside to that is that there’s sunshine, and we may have several sunny days this week.

According to the weather forecast for this coming week, the storm track is going to go south of my area, and we won’t get very much snow, just a couple of inches. That will be a good thing, as another building collapsed under the weight of the snow yesterday.

If things pan out the way they are predicting, we will begin to lose some of the snow pack around here, even though the temperature will remain below freezing. With sunshine hitting the snowflakes at the top of the snow pack, those the flakes will act as miniature magnifying glasses, concentrating the sunlight on the flakes below, and causing the lower ones to melt. At least it will be a start, which we desperately need around here.

I didn’t have to walk very far for the photos that I shot yesterday, which was a good thing, as I was busting through two to three feet of snow most of the time, with some even deeper drifts.

It dawned on me this morning that I’ll be turning 59 years old this year, just one year away from the big 6 oh. This getting old is getting old, but I suppose that it does beat the alternative.

I’m back from my walk, and what a glorious day! We have the wind chill factor to calculate how cold the wind makes it feel like when compared to the actual air temperature. We need another calculation, the sun factor, to tell us how much warmer it feels outside than the actual air temperature when the sun is shining brightly.

Today was the nicest day that we’ve had around here in months, probably going all the way back to Thanksgiving Day weekend.

It was cold enough when I began my walk that I was able to shoot a few photos of hoar-frost on various things.

Hoar frost

Hoar frost

Hoar frost

Hoar frost

Hoar frost

Hoar frost

Hoar frost

Hoar frost

Hoar frost

Hoar frost

Yes, those are snowflakes in the last photo, the air temperature was so cold that the last little bit of moisture in the air was freezing into snowflakes, despite a bright blue sky overhead.

The wildlife was enjoying the sunshine as much or more than me, as I heard two male cardinals singing for the first time this year. They’re jumping the gun a little, but when the cardinals begin to sing, we’ll soon see spring!

You don’t need to tell me that we’ve got a lot of rough weather yet to go, but spring is lurking right around the corner, I see and hear a few more signs everyday now.

The sunshine not only did wonders for my mood, but it made an improvement in my photos as well.

Fox squirrel eating crab apples

Fox squirrel eating crab apples

Mourning dove in flight

Mourning dove in flight

English sparrow

English sparrow

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

That’s one of the best photos of a gull in flight that I have ever gotten. Don’t tell any one, but I’ll kind of miss the snow for flying bird photos, as the snow acts as a reflector to bounce light back up to the undersides of the birds.

That’s all I have time for today.

Tuesday

We’re less than 2 inches from reaching a snowfall total of 7 feet (213 cm) for the season so far. By tomorrow morning, we’ll probably have reached that mark. Also, it had gotten down to -4 F (-20 C) the night before, that’s hard to believe, as nice as it felt while I was out walking. Of course it had warmed up a little by then, but the high temperature for the day was only 24 F (-4 C), but it felt much warmer than that.

We’re back under the clouds today, but the next big snow storm is going to track south of here for the most part, we’ll probably get enough snow to put us over 8 feet for the season, but that’s about it.

The really good news is that it may begin to warm up towards the end of next week!

Hearing birds singing spring songs yesterday, along with how warm it felt, had me doing my happy dance.

Spring has always been my favorite season, and I’m looking forward to this one even more than usual. I can hardly wait to get out there and get some great photos this year.

Well, a cloudy, hazy day today, and although it was warmer according to the thermometer, it felt a good deal colder than yesterday. I did see and hear a few more signs of spring though. Even though the actual temperature never made it above freezing, well short in fact, the power of the sunshine yesterday was enough to begin melting some of the snow on this spruce tree.

Ex-snow, now ice

Ex-snow, now ice

There were a few birds chattering, and even some of the male cardinals singing, but this one took a break for lunch.

Male northern cardinal blending in with the sumac

Male northern cardinal blending in with the sumac

A closer view.

Male northern cardinal eating sumac

Male northern cardinal eating sumac

Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but it looked to me as if the leaf and/or flower buds on some of the trees, mostly maples, were beginning to swell as well. Another sure sign that spring is on its way!

Wednesday

So much for signs of spring, today, the signs are that winter isn’t about to loosen its grip on us yet. There’s a snowstorm winding down as I type this, at least I hope that it is winding down, as we don’t need any more snow around here.

My first thoughts when I looked out the window were yuck, I’m not going to bother going out in this today, but then I decided that I had better, if for no other reason than to keep the path that I and others have worked so hard to tramp down through the deep snow in the park open. I doubt if I will take my good camera when I go, I’ll probably slip my little Powershot into my pocket just in case.

Like almost every one else, I want this winter to be over with. I want to be able to sit outside again, and not just for a few moments, but for hours.

This past summer, I spent more time sitting outside than I have done in years, and I’m planning on even more sitting this year.

Up until last year, I had been seeing how far I could hike in a day, and I only paused on the trails for a break now and then. But last year, there were a few times that after I had been birding and hiking other places, I would hike back in to Lost Lake near Muskegon, and spend the rest of the day there, sometimes even snoozing on the observation deck there. I miss that now, and I want to do more of it this year as soon as the weather permits.

That, and more overnight trips rather than just one day trips, oh well, it will happen, I just have to be patient. That’s hard to do though when I look out my window to see snow swirling around under dark grey clouds.

I may go duck hunting again one day this weekend, there are reports of both a king eider and a Barrow’s goldeneye hanging around the channel at Muskegon, and the American wigeon has returned to Riverside Park after disappearing for the weekend. It will depend on the weather, and if those ducks are still being reported as being there.

Modern technology is great, I get a list of the rare bird sightings in my area via Email each day through eBirds, as well as being able to check the Muskegon County Nature Club’s website for what is being seen there.

I’m back from a very eventful walk, although none of the happenings were nature related.

I found and returned a neighbor’s wallet that I found in a snowbank.

I found and returned some one’s detachable hood from their coat.

I helped push a stuck vehicle out of a snow pile in the road, which hadn’t been plowed yet.

I picked up some one’s mail that had been scattered along the road, including W-2 forms, and stuck it back into the mailbox it came from, along with putting the mailbox up on the snow bank where it was safe, I hope.

The snow that had been falling when I began my walk ended about the time I was almost home, and now the sun is out, what great timing! This latest storm did put us over 7 feet for the season, with a few inches to spare. No wonder I worked up a sweat opening up half of the trail through the park. I’ll get the other half tomorrow, unless some one walking their dog beats me to it.

I didn’t shoot a single photo today, luckily, I have a few left from the orchid show last week.

Orchid

Orchid

Going back to sitting out in the woods, there’s something that I should explain for newer readers of my blog.

When the auto industry crashed, I was forced to look for work in a field other than what I had been in for most of my life. I took a job as an over the road truck driver to pay the bills. While doing that, and trying to stop smoking, I got fat and out of shape. So, after I found a local driving job, I began hiking again to lose the weight and get back into shape. I still have a way to go as far as getting my weight down, which is why I would hike as far as I could most of the time when I was out.

However, since I was making progress, last summer, I begin to sit more, and I re-discovered how much there is to observe in nature while sitting that I used to miss while on the move.

It started on a really hot day early last summer, I was in the Muskegon area, and I knew that it would be much cooler nearer to Lake Michigan, so I finished my day by walking the short trail to Lost Lake. It felt very pleasant there in the shade of the trees, with a cool breeze coming off from the big lake just to the west of where I was. I set all my camera gear down on a bench on the observation platform there, and then took the camera and one lens at a time for short strolls around Lost Lake to see what I could find.

I was quite amazed at the number of birds, flowers, and insects that I saw that I had missed while hiking back in there.

So for the rest of the year, until it became too cold to do so, I tried to spend at least an hour somewhere out in the woods while on a hike. The more I sat, the more I saw. And, I should clarify, sometimes it was actually sitting down somewhere, but many times, it was walking slowly and carefully in a very small area to see what I could find. That’s what I would like to do more of this year.

Thursday

Cloudy, cold, with moderate snow falling, I’m so sick of this crap! It’s been made even worse because I have been seeing and hearing a few signs of the approaching spring over the past few days, but there’s not much that I can do about it but suck it up, and live with it. It’s a real deal West Michigan winter, and no amount of complaining is going to change that.

If there’s any good news, it’s that we should start getting some warmer weather here starting next weekend. I sure hope that those long-range computer models are right this time. 😉

I’m about done buying photo gear for a while, the only big ticket item on my want list is the long prime telephoto lens that I have written about often. But, I’m in no hurry to spend that kind of money when I can get by very well with the lenses that I already own. So, it’s time to get serious about deciding what gear I want to take with me on a daily basis, and when I go for day trips somewhere.

I would eventually like to have a large Pelican brand case to hold all my gear in one place while on longer trips, but that’s not practical for long hikes.

Well, I’ll think about all of that while I’m out trudging through the snow.

Trudge I did, as there was little else to do when the temperature was 15 degrees F (-9 C) with a stiff wind out of the west blowing the snow that was falling around, most of the time into my face. With around two feet of snow cover, we now have the most snow on the ground since January of 1979. It’s becoming difficult to see over the snow banks along the road, and I’m well over six feet tall.

I did bring my camera, why, I don’t know, because I didn’t shoot a single photo again today. So, I may as well get it over with and insert another photo from last week while I was at Meijer Gardens.

Crocus

Crocus

At least it’s a spring flower!

After thinking about the various options available to me as far as carrying my camera gear, I have decided that none of them are significantly better than what I already have. My camera bag is a good one, with a waterproof fly. My back pack may not be designed with photography in mind, but it is also a good one, and waterproof as well. I don’t need to take all my stuff all the time. The truth is, I will be carrying one of the long lenses, either the Beast or the L series, depending on the weather, and I’d like to have the second body, Tokina macro lens, and the 15-85 mm lens with me, along with my tripod. The other of the longer lenses can stay home, as I wouldn’t use it anyway.

On sunny days with little possibility of rain, I’ll take the Beast. On rainy days, or days with a high probability of rain, I’ll take the L series lens. The rest of my stuff can be carried either in the camera bag or back pack that I already have. I’ll try both this spring to see which works the best.

I would still like to eventually purchase a large Pelican case for travelling though, so everything is safe and together. But, like the long prime telephoto, there’s no need to hurry that purchase.

Friday

I’m seeing some sunshine streaming through my window this morning, only in West Michigan could that be a bad thing.

The little bit of sunshine that felt so good earlier this week melted some of the ice on Lake Michigan, enough so that the last two days we’ve seen a return of the lake effect clouds and snow. We’ve now tied the record for the amount of snow cover on the ground for the month of February.

It was nasty outside when I came home from work last night. On and off snow, very cold, and with a very strong wind blowing the snow into large drifts yet again. If it looked like it did last night, I would be wimping out, and not going for a walk today. But, since the wind has dropped some, and with the sun, I’ll go trudge through the drifts again this morning.

Yesterday I came to the conclusion that none of the alternatives that I could find to my camera bag or back pack that I already own offered any significant weight savings or increased convenience to make it worthwhile for me to purchase them. I do however need a case to carry my new tripod in, and I’ve come up with a couple of crazy ideas as well.

I have thought of this before, but one thing that I would like is an umbrella. I saw a camouflaged one in the Cabella’s catalog, but it has a brown camo pattern and is way too expensive for what it is. The thought dawned on me that a black or dark grey umbrella could be just the ticket.

I could use it when it is raining to keep the rain off from me, it would work as a mini-blind to keep me hidden, and it would make a nice backdrop when photographing flowers. I’m going to have to try that.

The other crazy idea is to pick up a cheap dry bag of the type sold for kayaking and canoeing, and modify it to turn it into a “raincoat” for the Beast. I have several very good dry bags, they were too expensive to destroy, but come to think of it, I do have a cheap one. I’ll have to dig it out of storage this weekend and see if it is large enough to cover the Beast. If not, I’ll pick up another one in a larger size.

It would be a very good idea to have something to protect the Beast in case the weather turned un-expectedly bad, and what I have in mind would also work during those times when I need to set the Beast down somewhere while shooting macro photos with the second camera and Tokina lens. I may even be able to devise some type of strap to be used to carry the Beast as well. It’s worth some more thought, which I will mull over while I’m out walking.

I’m back, and I almost got a photo of a Cooper’s hawk today, but I was slow getting the camera out from under my parka.

By the time that I had finished breakfast and made it out the door, the snow and wind had returned to rejoin the very cold temperatures. This is no fun any more, but I need the exercise, so I suppose that I will keep on trudging through the snow everyday.

I made it to the subdivision that I have been walking through to reach the park, but the road hadn’t been plowed yet, and I knew that when I got to the park that I would be breaking trail through snow drifts again, so I just walked down the main road one mile and back home again. It was right along the road next to a creek that I saw the Cooper’s hawk, but the zipper of my parka jammed which slowed how quickly I could get the camera out. So no photos again today, instead, here’s another orchid from last Sunday.

Orchid

Orchid

It’s a good thing that I shot as many photos as I did that day, and didn’t do a post on it to use up all those photos, as I have the feeling that I will be falling back on them quite a bit for a while yet.

I’m still thinking of going to Muskegon tomorrow to see if I can get photos of the Barrow’s goldeneye and/or king eider that have been hanging around in the channel. It seems somewhat silly to drive that far when I won’t be able to do any hiking, but at least it will get me out of my apartment for a while. Besides, I could use photos of those two species for the My Photo Life List project, so it wouldn’t be a complete waste. Whether I go or not will depend on the weather. There’s yet another in a seemingly endless string of storms forecast to hit the area tomorrow, but it may not get here until later in the afternoon. If it looks like the snow will hold off until I get to Muskegon when I check the weather when I get up, I’ll go,otherwise I’ll stay home.

As deep as the snow is, and as high as the snow banks are getting, it may be June before all the snow is gone around here. I’d like to say that I’m kidding about that, but not as much as you may think. I do know that it will take at least a week of thawing temperatures before I can begin to hike many of the places that I usually go, and that isn’t in the forecast for as far out as they go. I’m going to end up with a severe case of cabin fever before this winter is over with!

My other projects for this weekend are to finish my income taxes, see if I can find a plain old umbrella, and dig out the cheap dry bag that I have in storage to see if what I have in mind will even work.

I’m tired of whining about the weather, so that’s it for the day.

Saturday

Weather or not, I’m headed to Muskegon to do some duck hunting. There were reports yesterday of three species of ducks that I need photos of, Barrow’s goldeneye, King eider, and now a black scoter has joined the flocks of ducks hanging out in the channel.

It’s cloudy and very cold, but at least the wind isn’t as strong as it has been the past two days. Even though I know that because of the weather today, any photos that I get probably won’t be great, they may be good enough for the My Life List Project, and that’s a start.

Sometimes I luck out and get very good photos of a new species of bird, but most of the time the photos are only so-so the first time that I photograph a species. It seems like once I have seen a species and gotten photos, I begin to see that species more often, and I get better photos as time goes on. Two perfect examples of that would be the American Kestrel and peregrine falcons. My first photos of each species were really quite bad, but I have begun to see both species more often, and I have now come up with a few good photos of them.

It seems rather silly to drive all the way to Muskegon on a day when the weather is less than ideal, but I have to get out of my apartment and see something other than what I’ve been seeing along the road here, which has been not much of anything. Otherwise, I will go crazy.

So, I’m going to end this post here, after inserting one more photo of an orchid from last weekend.

Orchid

Orchid

Normally, I would wait until I was back from Muskegon to publish this, but the way the weather forecast looks for this next week, I’ll have plenty of time and space in the next installment to tell you about today’s trip.

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


Common Raven, Corvus corax

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

Common Raven, Corvus corax

The Common Raven (Corvus corax), also known as the Northern Raven, is a large all-black passerine bird. Found across the Northern Hemisphere, it is the most widely distributed of all corvids. There are at least eight subspecies with little variation in appearance, although recent research has demonstrated significant genetic differences among populations from various regions. It is one of the two largest corvids, alongside the Thick-billed Raven, and is possibly the heaviest passerine bird; at maturity, the Common Raven averages 63 centimetres (25 inches) in length and 1.2 kilograms (2.6 pounds) in mass. Common Ravens can live up to 21 years in the wild, a lifespan exceeded among passerines by only a few Australasian species such as the Satin Bowerbird and probably the lyrebirds. Young birds may travel in flocks but later mate for life, with each mated pair defending a territory.

Common Ravens have coexisted with humans for thousands of years and in some areas have been so numerous that people have regarded them as pests. Part of their success as a species is due to their omnivorous diet; they are extremely versatile and opportunistic in finding sources of nutrition, feeding on carrion, insects, cereal grains, berries, fruit, small animals, and food waste.

A mature Common Raven ranges between 56 and 78 cm (22 to 30 inches) in length, with a wingspan of 100 to 150 cm (40 to 59 in). Recorded weights range from 0.69 to 2 kg (1.5 to 4.4 lb), thus making the Common Raven one of the heaviest passerines. Birds from colder regions such as the Himalayas and Greenland are generally larger with slightly larger bills, while those from warmer regions are smaller with proportionally smaller bills. The bill is large and slightly curved, with a culmen length of 5.7 to 8.5 cm (2.2 to 3.3 in), easily one of the largest bills among passerines (perhaps only the Thick-billed Raven has a noticeably larger bill). It has a longish, strongly graduated tail, at 20 to 26.3 cm (7.9 to 10.4 in), and mostly black iridescent plumage, and a dark brown iris. The throat feathers are elongated and pointed and the bases of the neck feathers are pale brownish-grey. The legs and feet are good-sized, with a tarsus length of 6 to 7.2 cm (2.4 to 2.8 in). Juvenile plumage is similar but duller with a blue-grey iris.

Apart from its greater size, the Common Raven differs from its cousins, the crows, by having a larger and heavier black beak, shaggy feathers around the throat and above the beak, and a wedge-shaped tail. In flight the feathers produce a creaking sound that has been likened to the rustle of silk.

Common Ravens have a wide range of vocalizations which are of interest to ornithologists. Gwinner carried out important studies in the early 1960s, recording and photographing his findings in great detail. Fifteen to 30 categories of vocalization have been recorded for this species, most of which are used for social interaction. Calls recorded include alarm calls, chase calls, and flight calls. The species has a distinctive, deep, resonant prruk-prruk-prruk call, which to experienced listeners is unlike that of any other corvid. Its very wide and complex vocabulary includes a high, knocking toc-toc-toc, a dry, grating kraa, a low guttural rattle and some calls of an almost musical nature.

Like other corvids, Ravens can mimic sounds from their environment, including human speech. Non-vocal sounds produced by the Common Raven include wing whistles and bill snapping. Clapping or clicking has been observed more often in females than in males. If a member of a pair is lost, its mate reproduces the calls of its lost partner to encourage its return.

Common Ravens can thrive in varied climates; indeed this species has the largest range of any member of the genus, and one of the largest of any passerine. They range throughout the Holarctic from Arctic and temperate habitats in North America and Eurasia to the deserts of North Africa, and to islands in the Pacific Ocean. In the British Isles, they are more common in Scotland, Wales, northern England and the west of Ireland. In Tibet, they have been recorded at altitudes up to 5,000 m (16,400 ft), and as high as 6,350 m (20,600 ft) on Mount Everest. Except in Arctic habitats, they are generally resident within their range for the whole year. Young birds may disperse locally.

Most Common Ravens prefer wooded areas with large expanses of open land nearby, or coastal regions for their nesting sites and feeding grounds. In some areas of dense human population, such as California in the United States, they take advantage of a plentiful food supply and have seen a surge in their numbers. On coasts, individuals of this species are often evenly distributed and prefer to build their nest sites along sea cliffs. Common ravens are often located in coastal regions because these areas provide easy access to water and a variety of food sources. Also, coastal regions have stable weather patterns without extreme cold or hot temperatures.

Common Ravens are omnivorous and highly opportunistic: their diet may vary widely with location, season and serendipity. For example, those foraging on tundra on the Arctic North Slope of Alaska obtained about half their energy needs from predation, mainly of microtine rodents, and half by scavenging, mainly of caribou and Ptarmigan carcasses.

In some places they are mainly scavengers, feeding on carrion as well as the associated maggots and carrion beetles. With large-bodied carrion, which they are not equipped to tear through as well as birds such as hook-billed vultures, they must wait for the prey to be torn open by another predator or flayed by other means before they can eat themselves. Plant food includes cereal grains, berries and fruit. They prey on small invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals and birds. Ravens may also consume the undigested portions of animal feces, and human food waste. They store surplus food items, especially those containing fat, and will learn to hide such food out of the sight of other Common Ravens. Ravens also raid the food caches of other species, such as the Arctic Fox. They sometimes associate with another canine, the Grey Wolf, as a kleptoparasite, following to scavenge wolf-kills in winter. Ravens are regular predators at bird nests, brazenly picking off eggs, nestlings and sometimes adult birds when they spot an opportunity. They are considered perhaps the primary natural threat to the nesting success of the critically endangered California Condor, since they readily take condor eggs and are very common in the areas where the species is being re-introduced.

Common Ravens nesting near sources of human garbage included a higher percentage of food waste in their diet, birds nesting near roads consumed more road-killed vertebrates, and those nesting far from these sources of food ate more arthropods and plant material. Fledging success was higher for those using human garbage as a food source.

The brains of Common Ravens count among the largest of any bird species. Specifically, their hyperpallium is large. For a bird, they display ability in problem solving, as well as other cognitive processes such as imitation and insight.

Linguist Derek Bickerton, building on the work of Bernd Heinrich, has recently argued that ravens are one of only four known animals (the others being bees, ants, and humans) who have demonstrated displacement, the capacity to communicate about objects or events that are distant in space or time from the communication. Young, unmated Common Ravens roost together at night, but usually forage alone during the day. However, when one discovers a large carcass guarded by a pair of adult ravens, he will return to the roost and communicate his find. The next day, a flock of young ravens will fly to the carcass, and chase off the adults. Bickerton argues that the advent of linguistic displacement was perhaps the most important event in the evolution of human language, and that ravens are the only other vertebrate to share this with humans.

One experiment designed to evaluate insight and problem-solving ability involved a piece of meat attached to a string hanging from a perch. To reach the food, the bird needed to stand on the perch, pull the string up a little at a time, and step on the loops to gradually shorten the string. Four of five Common Ravens eventually succeeded, and “the transition from no success (ignoring the food or merely yanking at the string) to constant reliable access (pulling up the meat) occurred with no demonstrable trial-and-error learning.” This supports the hypothesis that Common Ravens are ‘inventors’, implying that they can solve problems. Many of the feats of Common Ravens were formerly argued to be stereotyped innate behavior, but it now has been established that their aptitudes for solving problems individually and learning from each other reflect a flexible capacity for intelligent insight unusual among non-human animals.

Common Ravens have been observed to manipulate other parties into doing work for them, such as by calling wolves and coyotes to the site of dead animals. The canines open the carcass, leaving the scraps more accessible to the birds. They watch where other Common Ravens bury their food and remember the locations of each other’s food caches, so they can steal from them. This type of theft occurs so regularly that Common Ravens will fly extra distances from a food source to find better hiding places for food. They have also been observed pretending to make a cache without actually depositing the food, presumably to confuse onlookers.

Common Ravens are known to steal and cache shiny objects such as pebbles, pieces of metal, and golf balls. One theory is that they hoard shiny objects to impress other ravens. Other research indicates that juveniles are deeply curious about all new things, and that Common Ravens retain an attraction to bright, round objects based on their similarity to bird eggs.

In recent years, biologists have recognized that birds engage in play. Juvenile Common Ravens are among the most playful of bird species. They have been observed to slide down snowbanks, apparently purely for fun. They even engage in games with other species, such as playing catch-me-if-you-can with wolves, otters and dogs. Common Ravens are known for spectacular aerobatic displays, such as flying in loops or interlocking talons with each other in flight.

They are also one of only a few wild animals who make their own toys. They have been observed breaking off twigs to play with socially.

On to my photos:

Common Raven, Corvus corax in flight

Common Raven, Corvus corax in flight

Common Raven, Corvus corax

Common Raven, Corvus corax

Common Raven, Corvus corax

Common Raven, Corvus corax

Common Raven, Corvus corax

Common Raven, Corvus corax

Common Raven, Corvus corax

Common Raven, Corvus corax

This is number 144 in my photo life list, only 206 to go!

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

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My Week, the macro learning curve

Sunday

Well, here we go again, starting another week out very early on a Sunday morning, drinking coffee, and pondering the possibilities for the coming week. I’ve always been a morning person, I love being up before dawn to greet the sunrise and enjoy the quiet as the day begins.

The weather forecast for this week looks depressing, more of the same very cold temperatures that we’ve been having so far this winter, and of course, more lake effect snow at times. Today is the anniversary of two of this area’s worst blizzards, in 1967 and 1978, both of which occurred in my lifetime.

The storm that’s winding down now was no slouch, but it hasn’t been as widespread as the other two were. This one has been one of lake enhanced snow, areas along the Lake Michigan shore have seen well over a foot of snow, we received about 6 inches here, and the snow totals taper off quickly off to the east. I say that the last one is winding down, it’s hard to tell around here, as another shot of snow is headed this way for today.

I talk about lake effect snow all the time, and here’s why. Muskegon has received close to seven feet of snow this season, here in Grand Rapids, 40 miles to the east, we’re closing in on six feet. Meanwhile, Detroit, on the far east side of the state, has just gone over two feet of snow for the season.

This coming week looks very, very cold to start out, then it may moderate a bit, to the point where day time high temperature reach what our average low temperatures for this time of the year are. Yuck!

To beat the cold and snow, I’m going to do something that I don’t normally do, as far as my blog, I’m going to an orchid show today, at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. I’ll have to wait to see the photos that I shoot to decide if this trip will warrant a post of its own, especially since I doubt that I’ll get many photos this week while walking.

I’m back, I shot 350 photos today, and I knew that there would be a learning curve to getting good macro photos, so you’ll have to excuse some explaining as I start out here.

I started out with the Tokina 100 mm macro lens with the Tamron 1.4 extender behind it. That combo works very well as far as photo quality under the right circumstances, from what I can tell so far.

Orchid

Orchid

However, I found that indoors in an exhibition hall as dark as the one that the orchid show was in, my panel light was about useless. Even using the flash unit of my camera, I couldn’t get the lens stopped down to get the depth of field that I would have liked for many of my photos, after just a few shots, I removed the extender, and used just the macro lens.

To make a long session of trial and error shorter, I ended up using the flash with the ISO set at 1600, and I still could have used more light.

Part of that was the way that the orchids were displayed, which also made using my monopod impossible.

Orchids

Orchids

Instead of being spread out a little, the orchids were jammed together in multi-tiered displays, starting at ground level up to eye level, with the top tiers well back from where a person could stand.

I did use my monopod for a few shots, but I had enough trouble getting the compositions that I wanted without it, with it, it was hopeless. Besides, I haven’t used the monopod enough, as I had more problems holding the camera steady with it than without it.

Also because of the way the flowers were displayed, I seldom had a good background for many of my photos. If I was able to stop down the aperture enough to get the one flower that I wanted in focus, I often got many other out of focus flowers in the shot. Opening the aperture up let me get rid of the distracting backgrounds, but then I couldn’t get an entire orchid in focus. But then, orchids are more difficult to photograph well than most flowers, because of their shapes and sizes.

Anyway, here’s a few more from today.

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

After taking in the orchid show, I went through the greenhouse portion of the Gardens, and with some natural light, I was able to use the new LED panel light rather than the flash.

Cactus

Cactus

Cacti

Cacti

Cactus

Cactus

Barrel cactus

Barrel cactus

Ouch!

Ouch!

???

???

I can see that there are real possibilities for the LED panel outdoors to enhance natural lighting. It isn’t as harsh as the flash is, and it’s much easier to control.

I shot many, many more photos that these so far, but I’m going to weed through the rest of them, and parcel them out over the next few days or weeks, depending on when this cursed cold spell ends.

Monday

Not much to say today, the weather is horrible, bitterly cold, a little snow off and on, and wind.

I’m about to go out for my daily walk, and I’m not going to bring my camera along, there’s no reason to in this weather. It’s going to be a tough, but boring week around here as far as blogging, work is going to be a major pain you know where. Once I get home from my walk, I’ll add a few more photos from yesterday.

Okay, I’m back, and I haven’t seen any snowfall totals from this weekend, as all the weather related websites seem to be down, probably due to too much traffic. I do know this, we got dumped on, and the wind has built up some huge drifts, at least by our standards.

I can remember the harsh winters that we had in the 1960’s and 70’s, and this one will go down as one of the worst. Those winters in the past were marked by storms that dropped a lot of snow in a short time, where as this winter has been relentless. Day after day of extreme cold, snow, and for the past week, wind blowing the snow around.

Well, enough of that, I could go on at length about this winter, but I’m going to try not to.

Instead, I’ll end up repeating myself somewhat about what I learned yesterday.

The Tokina 100 mm macro lens is incredibly sharp, I love it. I was able to get good photos of even tiny subjects close enough that no cropping of the photos was required, as in the red seed pod on the cactus above.

Using the Tamron 1.4 extender behind it doesn’t seem to have any effect on photo quality from what I can see in my photos. I have no qualms at all about using that combination together for macro photos.

The LED panel light is about worthless for macro photos indoors if I’m not using a tripod, it works well for fill in light outdoors, with or without a tripod.

A good tripod is essential for good macro photos, hopefully, the tripod that I ordered will live up to the hopes that I have for it.

My photos of the orchids from yesterday would have been so much better if I had used a tripod, but that wasn’t practical at a public flower show. I can’t wait for spring to get here so I can put all my new gear to use in the way that I intend, when I have the time and space to set up everything for really good photos. Who knows, I may become known as a flower photographer more so than birds?

Speaking of birds, since I don’t have any photos from today, here’s a photo that I found on my computer where it shouldn’t have been, so I don’t know if I have posted this one before.

Dunlin

Dunlin

And, here’s a few more from the orchid show.

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Well, that’s it for today, time for a shower, then visiting my mother.

Tuesday

While I’m tired of whining about the weather, my blog is meant as a record of my life, and right now, the only thing that there is to talk about is the weather, so I’ll start with a few stats.

Here’s a few seasonal snowfall totals, South Haven, which is on the route I drive each night for work is up to 98 inches ( 249 cm) for the season. Muskegon has gone over seven feet at 89 inches (226 cm), and Grand Rapids is up to 72 inches (183 cm). We are now just two inches short of our average seasonal total snowfall, gee, I wonder if we’ll make it?

Enough of Lake Superior has frozen over that most of the lake effect snow in the UP is confined to the far eastern end of the peninsula. Areas around Houghton and Hancock which normally get dumped on aren’t getting much lake effect snow any longer.

Lake Superior is much deeper than Lake Michigan, so in theory, Lake Michigan should freeze quicker. However, the rugged shoreline of Lake Superior, with its many bays and areas protected from the wind, give the ice a better foothold which to start from than the smooth coastline of Lake Michigan.

Lake Michigan is only 30% frozen over, so we’re still receiving lake effect snow, but a few more days like today could change that.

The official temperature this morning when I checked was -3 F (-19 C) with the wind chill at -10 F (-23 C), but at least that’s warmer than our overnight low of -9 F (-23 C) which just happened to set the record for this date.

I didn’t do my full run last night for work, the counties in the South Bend, Indiana area had all declared a snow emergency, and were threatening to ticket any one caught driving. I have always thought that such threats were some what hollow, as how can the cops ticket you if they can’t get around to find you. But, our South Bend branch is right across the street from police headquarters in South Bend, so they could walk over to ticket me, so I didn’t risk it.

Since I had some unexpected free time, I posted another installment of the My Photo Life List a day early for something to do last night. This weather better break soon, I’m beginning to run short of photos for that project.

The good news, for what it’s worth, after today, our temperatures are forecast to moderate a bit, up to below normal rather than the way below normal like we have today. But, they are already predicting another shot of extremely cold air for the middle of next week.

Well, time for breakfast, then I’ll bundle up and head on out into the cold.

I’m back. I walked through the subdivision next to the park to access the park, as the trail into the park from the main road has snow so deep that I’d rather not tackle it. That was just as well, as the snow has gotten deep enough all through the park to make walking very hard work.

If this weather pattern that we’re in doesn’t break soon, I’ll be reduced to walking up and down the roads, and skipping the park altogether. If a few other people were braving the cold to keep a trail packed down it would help, but I doubt that it will happen, as most people have enough sense to stay indoors when it’s this cold.

That’s a really depressing thought, as even when this weather pattern breaks, it will take a week of temperatures above freezing to reduce the snowpack to the point where walking on unplowed trails will be practical here in my area. It will take even longer to reduce the snowpack in the parks along Lake Michigan.

As I’m typing this, I can see that the sun is trying to burn through the clouds, and from its position in my window, I can tell that it is higher in the sky than it was a month ago, so there is some hope that spring will get here eventually.

Since there are no photos from today, I’m going to insert a few more from Meijer Gardens on Sunday.

Tropical flower

Tropical flower

Leaf patterns

Leaf patterns

Leaf patterns

Leaf patterns

Fan fern

Fan fern

Tropical plant of some type

Tropical plant of some type

Leaf patterns

Leaf patterns

That’s about it for the day.

Wednesday

Wow, there’s sunshine today! I was all fired up to get going when I first woke up, but then reality set in, the snow is so deep that it’s going to be hard for me to get around to get any photos.

For the record, we’re now over 6 feet of snow for the season, and we’ve topped our seasonal average of 74 inches. Since it has been so cold all winter long, there’s a lot of that snow left on the ground, there’s between 2 and 3 feet of snow cover, depending on who you believe.

It’s also still very cold, but at least today, the temperature should climb into the double digits above zero Fahrenheit, a heat wave of sorts.

The long-range computer models are forecasting that much of February is going to be just as cold as January has been, but that’s OK, February is a short month, so it should just breeze past like a snowflake in the wind. 😉

Remind me in a week or two that I said that. 😉

There seems to be a difference of opinions between two of the local meteorologists as far as the forecast for next week. One is saying almost as cold as this week, but with several sunny days, based on the assumption that enough of Lake Michigan will be frozen over to shut off the lake effect. The other is predicting slightly warmer temperatures, but with clouds and snow every day, his thinking is that the wind will prevent enough ice from forming on the big lake, with the lake effect continuing. I’d like to see some sunshine, but warmer temperatures would be welcome as well.

I’m back from my walk, and if today is any indication, I’d have to put my money on the cold but sunny forecast for next week. The wind was quite strong straight out of the west today, which is close to ideal for lake effect here, yet it was sunny, with just a few cumulus clouds.

With a little sunshine, I shot a few photos today, my first ones outside in almost a week.

Snowdrift

Snowdrift

Stark

Stark

Snow scene

Snow scene

Blowing snow

Blowing snow

I would have shot more photos if I had taken my 15-85 mm lens for more landscape photos, but there’s always the chance of seeing a rare to this area bird when the weather is so extreme. I know that it may sound funny for me to say that, but I can remember seeing my first shrike and northern goshawk during the hard winters in the late 1970’s. Those species typically winter father north than my area, but as cold as it has been, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few showed up around here this winter in their search for food.

Anyway, all the photos from today were shot with the L series lens and the Tamron extender behind it. I missed a shot of a mourning dove whistling past me because my footing was so bad in the deep snow that I couldn’t turn quickly enough to follow the dove.

The biggest news from today though was that once again, I could feel the heat from the sun. In the few minutes when I was in areas sheltered from the wind, it felt forty degrees warmer, practically balmy. So I suppose that I would prefer the cold with sunshine forecast over the warmer but cloudier one for next week, if I have a choice. 😉 Days like today at least bring a hint that spring is getting closer, which helps my attitude if nothing else.

The tripod legs set that I ordered is scheduled to be delivered on Saturday, if it arrives early enough, I may go to the camera store to shop for a head to mount to it, so that I’ll have something to play with indoors this weekend, since I doubt that I’ll be travelling anywhere to hike.

There’s another snow storm headed this way for tomorrow, and yet another forecast for Saturday, so I’ll be walking around here this weekend.

Thursday

Well, we’re back to the gloomy grey cloud that stretches all across the sky, but at least the snow hasn’t started to fall yet, that will arrive later this afternoon. The wind is still quite strong as well, it won’t be a fun day to go for a walk, but at least it’s gotten a little warmer than it has been so far this week.

I really don’t have anything else to say before I go for my walk, other than be prepared for a few more photos of orchids when I get back, as I doubt if I’ll get any photos today.

I’m back, with quite a bit to report. I did an even shorter than normal version of my walk today, as I wasn’t feeling very well today. Nothing serious, but with the wind today, added to fighting through the snow, I felt like cutting my time outside short. I knew that the path that I had opened up through the park would have drifted closed again, and I didn’t feel like trudging through the drifts to open it up today, since the wind would have drifted it shut before I had made it back home.

Since I had some extra time, I thought that it would be a good day to pick up some items that I have forgotten when I’ve been out and about the past two weeks. Since the store I needed to stop at was in the same area as the camera store, I decided to stop there as well, to save yet another trip after the tripod arrives.

I did decide on a head for the tripod, it isn’t a top of the line model by any means, but it is much better than the head on the tripod that I already have.

I brought a camera body and lens with me, and set up the head that I bought, along with several other options, on the legs that I ordered and played around for a while.

I am never going to feel guilty about ordering online again. I got stuck with the same clerk as last time, and he doesn’t know even the basics. I asked some specific questions about assembling the head to the legs, and he was wrong, as soon as I open the instructions for the head, the very first line contradicted what the clerk told me.

Okay, before I go off on a long rant about how ignorant some of the sales staff at the store is, I’ll change the subject. The combination of head and legs that I have purchased are not going to function quite as I thought that they would, but I haven’t given them a full test yet, and the little testing that I did in the store told me that they will work much better than my current set up. And, I think that I can purchase a twenty-dollar accessory that will allow me to use my new set up as I originally intended, but I’ll probably have to special order that item as the local store doesn’t stock it.

But, the most important thing is that with my camera and lens mounted to the tripod, there is no motion when everything is locked down, and that’s a huge improvement over the tripod that I have been using. The new tripod and head is going to be just the ticket for macro photography, which is why I chose the components that I did.

When I got home, I checked my mail, and they had tried to deliver the legs this morning while I was out shopping for the head to go on them. That package was scheduled to be delivered on Saturday, it arrived two days early! No big deal, I can pick it up at the post office which is just up the street from where I live.

In a way, it seems silly for me to want to get ready for macro photography now, when there are few if any subjects to shoot right now, but it hit home while playing today in the store, as on Sunday a the orchid show, that there will be a learning curve to all this new stuff I’m getting.

Speaking of the orchid show, here’s a few more photos from it.

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Well, I guess that’s about all for today, unless I either rant about store clerks, or go on and on about my new tripod.

Friday

In yet another cruel twist to this winter, our temperature here actually made it above freezing for a few short hours overnight. Of course with a 30 MPH wind blowing, it didn’t feel that warm, but at least it warmed up enough so instead of all snow we got some freezing rain to go with it, along with extremely slippery roads.

Now this morning, it’s back to the normal clouds, light snow, and cold, although the wind has died down quite a bit.

I could do an updated report on the snowfall total for the season, but there’s really no need to say anything more than that it continues to increase, and there’s another big storm in the forecast for tomorrow.

I should dig out my snowshoes, I think that I will if I decide to go someplace else to walk other than around here. Since I start and finish my walks here walking along the road, I would have to carry the snowshoes for a good portion of the distance that I walk each day, and that doesn’t sound like much fun.

If there’s any good news, it’s that there are hints that this weather pattern is going to begin breaking down, although it will take almost the entire month of February before we get into a more normal pattern. At least that bodes well for March, and maybe a pleasant spring.

I was thinking of going to the Air Zoo this weekend, but since they are forecasting yet another major snowstorm, I think that I’ll hold off for now. There’s plenty of winter left, and I see no reason to drive through a snowstorm when that’s what I do for a living.

Besides, I’ll have my new tripod to play with this weekend. I probably won’t post any of the photos taken with the camera mounted on the tripod from my playing, but I hope to post a few of the set-ups that I use while playing. Unless my imagination has been running completely out of control, I think that what I have in mind as far as the tripod, the LED panel light, and the Gorillapod with work extremely well for macro photos, and I’d like to share those ideas with others.

I’m seeing a few peeks of the sunshine that the forecast promises for today, so I think that it’s time to trundle out in the cold and see if I can find anything to photograph.

I’m back, and I did find a few things to photograph, although none of them well. The sunshine has never been very bright today, which was the biggest obstacle that I faced. There were a few peeks of sunshine from time to time, and even a few patches of blue sky, but I would call today mostly cloudy, but pleasant.

With just a very light wind, the little bit of sunshine, and warmer temperatures, I spent more time outside than I have in weeks I think. I saw a few birds, but didn’t try very hard to get a good clear shot of them, which is the other reason that I wouldn’t call my photos from today very good.

But, they do show what the L series lens and Tamron 1.4 extender can do as far as sharpness even on a day like today, so here they are.

American crow

American crow

Fox squirrel on top of the world, and snow drifts

Fox squirrel on top of the world, and snow drifts

American robin hiding

American robin hiding

Fox squirrel in a sycamore tree

Fox squirrel in a sycamore tree

Fox squirrel, cropped

Fox squirrel, cropped

After my walk, I paid my rent and then drove over to the post office to pick up the tripod legs, and excuse me for gloating, but what a great set-up I’m going to have for macro photography!

Yes, I’ve been playing already, so I don’t have much time left before work, so I’ll gloat some more tomorrow, along with posting a few photos.

Saturday

In a complete departure from my normal routine, I’ve been up playing with my new tripod and the entire macro set-up, and I have to say, I am very excited about how well that it all works together.

Before I forget, we’re getting dumped on again as far as snow, a heavy wet snow today. I may or may not go out for a walk later. As hard as it’s snowing, I doubt if I would shoot any photos if I were to venture out, especially since I wouldn’t take a good camera and lens out in this wet snow. If I do go, it will be with the Powershot.

Anyway, I’m going to post a photo or two of the possible set-ups with my new kit, starting with this one. If you notice, I have the Gorillapod holding the LED panel light wrapped around the lens hood of the Tokina macro lens.

Macro set-up

Macro set-up

It’s hard to see, but the center post of the new tripod can be flipped to the horizontal position, which allows me to reach over or around obstructions and position the camera exactly where I want it. This set-up is surprisingly stable, something that I had been worried about. But, as long as I keep the camera within the reach of the tripod legs, it is a very solid set-up.

But, just playing with the possibilities wasn’t enough for me, so on my way home from work last night, I stopped and did my grocery shopping and picked up a cheap potted flower to practice on.

Here’s another set-up that worked very well. In this case, I moved the Gorillapod holding the LED light to hanging down from the center of the tripod.

Macro set-up

Macro set-up

My new toys may not look professional, but they sure do work well!

Macro of a gerbera flower

Macro of a gerbera flower

Okay, so it isn’t perfect, that’s the reason for practicing to learn how to get closer to perfect.

That was taken with the Tokina macro lens with the Tamron 1.4 extender behind it to check how much magnification I can get for the very small wildflowers and other subjects. I think that the combination of the two will also work well for insects, allowing me to stay a little farther away.

However, for normal size flowers, I can shed the extender for shots like this.

Macro of a gerbera flower

Macro of a gerbera flower

Since the LED panel light is adjustable as far as output, I can play for artistic effects.

Macro of a gerbera flower

Macro of a gerbera flower

Macro of a gerbera flower

Macro of a gerbera flower

I’ll tell you, I’m about as happy as a clam right now! The flexibility of the tripod as far as getting to what I want to photograph is even better than I had hoped. I can use the articulated LCD display of my camera and not get into awkward positions or places to see what I’m going to photograph. That will come in extremely handy when shooting some of the wildflowers that I have found around Lost Lake and other wet locations. I’ll be able to set the tripod up using the center post horizontally to reach the flowers that I want to photograph, and use live view to see the composition without getting my feet wet, or laying on my belly in a swamp like I did last summer.

The tripod is very solid when everything is locked down, much better than my old Vanguard. I would say rock solid, but that would be stretching the truth. It’s as solid as I think that a tripod can be. Not only that, but it is very light, making it easy to carry. It extends much higher than my old tripod, yet weighs just over half of what the old one weighs.

The adjustable LED panel light mounted on the Gorillapod allows me to throw just the right amount of light at a subject, at the angle that I want. Now, all I need to do is practice more to learn what those angles are. And you don’t need to worry, I won’t flood my blog with hundreds of photos of the gerbera flower as I practice. 😉

Of course the Tokina macro lens is both a joy to use, and as sharp as a tack, a wonderful combination! I see no loss of photo quality when I add the Tamron extender, the only downside to using it is that it gets me too close to many subjects, which isn’t a bad thing at all.

I am really excited about the possibilities of this set-up, if you haven’t been able to tell so far. 😉

I do need to change a few things in my saved macro mode, but those things are minor, that’s one of the things that I’ll do today since the weather is less than great outdoors.

Since I’m still all fired up to play around some more, I’m going to end this post here, and then practice some more, and maybe go for a short walk this afternoon.

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