My Week, shortening the learning curve
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.
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.
Okay, back to Riverside Park, the only thing of note there was a pair of domestic X Canada goose hybrids.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
There were a few birds chattering, and even some of the male cardinals singing, but this one took a break for lunch.
A closer view.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!