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

Archive for March, 2014

My Week, Still hoping to outlast winter

Sunday

Another early Sunday morning of hoping for a change in the weather pattern soon, and it looks as if that may happen by the end of the week. If the weather next weekend is half as nice as the forecast is saying right now, I’ll be going somewhere other than around here both Saturday and Sunday!

However, there are four more days of the cold and clouds to get past first, as it will be twenty degrees colder than average for most of this week. There’s more snow in the forecast, but not much. If the forecast holds true, almost all the snow on the ground should be gone by the end of the week. I know that I said that last week, and we made a lot of progress, but there was a lot of snow to melt.

Since we went over nine feet of snow for the season, we’ve had very little since then, and the season total right now is 113 inches (287 cm). It looks as if we’re going to have to settle for second place in the records for snowiest winters on record. Oh darn! 😉 And this morning, it’s 21 degrees colder than it was at this time yesterday, and I wouldn’t call yesterday balmy by any stretch of the imagination!

My new 300 mm prime telephoto lens should be arriving tomorrow or Tuesday, and I’m getting fired up about getting out there and seeing what this new lens can do.

It will be good to have a light weight, more compact alternative to the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) so that I can carry and use some of my other equipment, particularly, the Tokina 100 mm macro lens. But don’t worry, you’ll still be seeing plenty of photos shot with the Beast. I have already made plans to carry the Beast with the Tamron 1.4 extender behind it when the birds that live in open fields arrive this spring, so I can get better close-ups of those species.

But on a daily basis, or for longer hikes, the new lens will be the one that I carry most often. If I carry it, I can also carry my tripod, the second camera body, and the Tokina macro lens with no problems, and I can’t wait to see how well that the macro lens does with flowers!

Now, I’ll have to get serious about finding a good way to carry everything. When I was up at Whitefish Point last fall, several of the birders there used wagons like kids have, to carry all their gear out to the birding areas. That’s a viable solution, but I still think that something with even large wheels would be better. But, before I get too carried away, I have to save up for my vacation coming in May.

I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to that vacation, two weeks off, and there are few places on Earth as pretty as Michigan in May. I plan on doing some trout fishing, and some birding, but most of all, I’m looking forward to being out in the middle of nowhere with no one around!

Well, even though it’s still frigid outside, I’m going to eat breakfast, then spend as much time as I can outside today. There’s glorious sunshine right now, even if it’s cold, but the clouds are forecast to roll in soon, so I’d better get going.

Well, I’m not sure that starting so early was a good idea or not. It was cold to start with, but about the time that I got to the far end of the park, the wind was picking up, turning the day into another bitterly cold one. It looked a lot more inviting that what it felt.

I brought the L series lens on the wildlife body, and the Tokina macro lens on the other body, along with my tripod, planning on shooting a few of the lichens that are emerging from under the snow. But, it’s hard to take a good photo when you’re fighting frostbite.

British soldier lichen

British soldier lichen

As much as anything, I also wanted to show all of you better photos of my new way cool tripod in action.

Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 tripod set-up

Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 tripod set-up

Being able to swing the center post to horizontal to reach over an object is what led me to purchase the model that I did. Well, that and the fact that it is carbon fiber and very light.

I tried a number of set-ups, here’s the only other photo worth sharing.

British soldier lichen

British soldier lichen

I’m sorry for so many photos of the British soldier lichen, but for me, it works best if I stick to one subject as I try to learn what I’m doing. However, between the harsh light and the cold, I didn’t learn very much today, other than to always check the background so that I don’t end up with a post growing out of my camera.

Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 tripod set-up

Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 tripod set-up

I am a push over for trick gadgetry, and I was afraid that it was the case with the tripod that I chose, but it turns out that this is one time when the trick gadgetry works as well or better than what I had thought that it would. The tripod is surprisingly steady as long as I don’t extend the “boom” out too far. You do have to use some common sense, I would never attempt to mount the Beast to the tripod with the center post flipped to horizontal, but for a typical body and macro lens, it works like a charm with a little caution.

Knot in a cedar fence rail

Knot in a cedar fence rail

I had planned to shoot more photos of different subjects, but my fingers couldn’t take the cold any longer.

So, here’s the rest of the photos taken with the 70-200 mm lens. Just as I stepped out of the door of my apartment, this gull did a nice fly by.

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

In the woods next to the apartment complex, I spotted this female cardinal singing. Cardinals are one of the few species of birds where the females sing, not as much as the males do, but the females do sing, and this is the first time that I have gotten one “on film”, albeit a rather poor photo.

Female northern cardinal singing

Female northern cardinal singing

This male house finch was close to full volume today, he must be getting serious.

Male house finch singing

Male house finch singing

This isn’t Fred, but another fox squirrel that was trying to keep its toes warm.

Fox squirrel staying warm

Fox squirrel staying warm

You’ll have to take my word for it because Juncos whistle through closed beaks, but this guy was singing his fool head off the entire time I was shooting the macro photos, and I finally had to photograph him.

Dark-eyed junco singing

Dark-eyed junco singing

And finally, a poor photo of a Cooper’s hawk in flight.

Cooper's hawk in flight

Cooper’s hawk in flight

I’ve thought about going out again like I did last Sunday, but I decided against it. Like I told myself while I was looking for other lichens to shoot this morning, there’ll be other days better suited this, no reason to suffer frostbite today.

Monday

Another cold, mostly cloudy day, with occasional snow flurries floating past my window to remind me that it’s still going to feel like January outside today. Just three more days of this crap left to endure, and then we should see the weather pattern shift. The forecast is for rain on Thursday and Friday, with warmer weather from then on as far as the forecasts go out.

I may be the only one who wants to see the rain later this week, hopefully it will wash away the scum left on everything from the winter, and maybe begin to green things up around here. I sure hope so!

I’m now tracking two packages, one with the 300 mm prime lens, the other with 4 large prints (11 X 14) that I ordered. I very seldom have prints made from any of my photos, but the company that I use when I do sent me a an Email with a huge discount to try to lure more of my business their way. So I’m getting the 4 prints for $5.50, and most of that is shipping, handling, and taxes. I chose three landscapes from last fall’s trip to Michigan’s UP, and the horned grebe that I shot using the Beast with the Tamron extender behind it as a test to see how well my photos do when blown up.

Oh, and that reminds me, the package with the 300 mm lens also contains the gadget that will allow me to use the fine focusing rail that my brother sent me more easily. I could fool around and mount it to my tripod now, but I’m not one to fool around with those kinds of things. The reason that I mention it is because I see that it will be a handy thing to use especially when I have the camera pointed downward when the center post of my tripod is in the horizontal position.

In that position, the only vertical adjustment that I have is by extending and retracting the legs of the tripod, which entails fooling around. The fine focusing rail mounted to the tripod will give me six inches or so of vertical adjustment, which should be enough in most cases. I’m pretty good at estimating how far to extend the tripod legs for a set-up, but adding the focusing rail will make everything easier.

That will be more important when the flowers begin to appear around here. To get close to the ground with the tripod that I have, I have to splay the legs wide with the center post swung to horizontal to get the camera close enough to low growing flowers. With the center post vertical, it would hit the ground before the camera was low enough. So, the ability to adjust height using the focusing rail will be even more important for those set-ups.

And, one more thing before my walk, don’t be surprised if you see another photo or two of the British soldier lichens before this week is over with, as I test out my new lens’ close focusing capabilities. 😉

Time to get going!

To take my mind off from the cold while I was walking, I debated whether I should start out testing the new lens with or without the Tamron extender behind it. I plan on using the extender 99% of the time with that lens, so in some respects, it makes sense to start out testing it with the extender.

On the other hand, it would be good to “benchmark” how well that the lens performs on its own first, then add the extender to see how much, if any, image quality suffers.

I have decided to start out without the extender. I lead a very boring life which gives me way too much time on my hands to ponder such things. 😉 Actually, there is a reason to put some thought into this, my brother and I are going to review lenses for each other. I purchased and will test the 300 mm prime lens, he’s going to purchase and test a 10-22 mm lens.  Then we can swap photos and let each other know how well the lenses fit our needs.

It was very much like a January day today, scattered sun and snow, although the snow was limited to a few flakes at a time. Officially, we don’t have any snow left on the ground, which is strange, since there’s so much left everywhere I want to go. What’s really remarkable is how quickly the snow is melting despite the cold, almost all the snow melt has been from the sun. Anyplace that is in the shade most of the time still has huge piles and snowdrifts left.

Anyway, enough of the snow is gone so that I can get around much better, so I thought that today would be a good day to get back in practice of “going in after” the birds. What I mean by that is that I get right in the branches of the tree that a bird is in. You’ll see from my photos that I’m a bit rusty. Other than the second photo coming up, of a female mallard, I was in the branches of the same trees that the birds were in, with me shooting through the branches to get these shots.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Female mallard

Female mallard

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

I seldom see female house finches in the open, so I was delighted to see this one where I could get a clear photo of her.

Female house finch

Female house finch

I was even more delighted when her mate joined her!

A pair of house finches

A pair of house finches

But trying to catch both birds looking the right way so as to not get shadows on their faces is twice as hard as getting one bird facing correctly.

A pair of house finches

A pair of house finches

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

Well, that’s about it for today, it’s time for me to get cleaned up and visit my mom.

Tuesday

Yup, it’s still January, the calendars are wrong. It’s as cold as January, and we received some snow last night, so when I look out the window, I’d swear that it’s January.

I’m going to change-up my regular routine today, because my new lens should be delivered some time around noon today. It is a signature required package, so I want to be here when UPS tries to deliver it. It depends on the driver and the package, sometimes if you’re not home, the driver will leave packages at the apartment office, but not always. I missed the driver when they tried to deliver the tripod I recently purchased, and had to go pick it up.

If the lens is delivered early enough, I’ll do my full walk with the new lens, if it’s too late by the time it arrives, I’ll drive down to the park to try to get a few photos with it today if there’s time. Maybe the weather will have improved by then as well.

I’m going to add UPS to the list of companies that I’d rather not do business with if at all possible. On the website for tracking the package, they had this come on for their “My Choice” service, you can sign up for free, and they will provide you with a more definite delivery time. Yeah, right. I signed up, even though they were asking for a lot more personal information than I thought that such a service would require, ignoring the suggestions that I become a “Premium” member for just $40 per year, and when I was all done signing up, I had the same delivery time, some time before the end of business today.

So now UPS has already begun sending me Emails which I would prefer not to receive, they have all that personal information about me, and I got nothing for it. If I could back out of the service, I would, but it wouldn’t do any good, they wouldn’t purge my records out of their database even if I did cancel the service, which is really no service at all. It’s just another shady way for them to collect information on people, which they will probably sell to another shady company. I should have known better.

Oh well, I’m going to eat breakfast, then catch up on my reading while I wait for my new lens.

One more thing while I have the time, there’s just today and tomorrow left as far as the extremely cold for March weather, things begin to turn around on Thursday. The weekend is still looking fantastic, so I’ll be going places both days. Sunday is forecast to be our warmest day in over four months, it may even hit 60 F (15.5 C) for the first time since November. It will feel like summer has arrived!

My new lens arrived, and when I looked out the window, it was snowing so hard that I could just make out the garage across the parking lot. I took a couple of photos indoors to test the close focusing ability of the lens, it passed, with flying colors! However, I’m not going to post those photos, the subject was a bud on my indoor plant.

The snow let up during my play time, but I didn’t have time before work to go to the park, so I shot ducks across the street from me in the apartment complex.

Male mallard

Male mallard

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight cropped

Ring-billed gull in flight cropped

Female mallard

Female mallard

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

Female mallard in flight

Female mallard in flight

Female mallard in flight

Female mallard in flight

All I can say is WOW! I thought that my other lenses were sharp, but other than the Tokina macro lens, none of my lenses are close to being as sharp as the 300 mm prime!

I was surprise to see a pair of hooded mergansers here, I had to crop these photos quite a bit, but they’re still good.

Hooded mergansers

Hooded mergansers

Hooded mergansers

Hooded mergansers

Hooded mergansers

Hooded mergansers

Other first impressions of the new lens, it comes with a great padded case, better than most you see on the market. The lens hood is built-in, and the lens also comes with the tripod mount, something which Canon often charges an arm and a leg for. The lens in no light-weight, that’s for sure, until I compare it to the Beast, then the new lens seems much lighter, a whole lot lighter. 😉

I used IS mode 2 for most of the photos today, that’s for action shots, and it worked extremely well, better than I had hoped. I may very well carry the lens set to that IS mode for birds in flight, and switch to full IS if I have the time to do so when photographing perched birds. We’ll see, a 15 minute test isn’t enough.

But, for all my doubts and agonizing over the purchase of this lens seems really silly now. It is so much better than what I had expected it to be. Tomorrow, I’ll give it a full work out.

Wednesday

I’d like to have been already on my way out the door to test my new lens, but I have to wait for it to warm up first, so I’ll get the weather report out of the way first. It’s sunny but very cold outside, it got down close to zero Fahrenheit last night once again. We were one degree short of setting a new record for the lowest temperature for this date, again.

The good news is that temperatures are predicted to begin climbing over the next two to three days, the bad news is that the warm up will bring with it clouds and rain. Well, that’s mixed news, I’ll be happy to see the rain wash away the last signs of this long winter, but I have a new lens to play with, and I’d rather have sunshine.

The really bad news is that the new forecast for Saturday isn’t nearly as nice as it has been all week, but at least it will be warmer. So, I think that I’ll still go walking someplace other than here, but closer to home than I had been planning on, maybe Aman or Palmer Park.

Okay, back to my new prime telephoto lens. I said that it was sharper than any of my other lenses, and it is, but it is more than just sharper, it is better in every way. The color rendition, color saturation, contrast, everything is better than my zoom lenses, which is the way things are supposed to be.

Being lighter and more compact than the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens), it was much easier for me to get the photos of the mallards in flight, a whole lot easier. Shooting birds in flight with the Beast was like trying to hit a moving target with a rifle, it can be done, but you have to swing with your target for some distance to match the target’s speed.

With the 300 mm prime, it was like using a shotgun and jump shooting upland birds, something that I used to be very good at. I just threw the camera up to my eye, got a focus lock, and shot, so much quicker than what I can do with the Beast. So, you may see many more bird in flight photos here again.

One more thing, about the Canon 60 D body. As sharp and as good as some of the recent photos that I have been getting are, I thought that I may have been approaching the limits as far as quality of photo that the 60 D can produce, I was wrong. Since I can see a huge improvement in the quality of the photos that I shot yesterday with the new lens, I have not yet reached the limits of photo quality of the 60 D body.

I hate to brag, but last spring when I wrote the post about buying camera gear on a budget, I was dead on when I stated that the camera body that one chooses is less important than using quality lenses. I’m going to have fun seeing just how good of photo that I can get with my gear, as there’s still room for improvement.

That reminds me, of the photos that I shot yesterday, I had one clinker, an out of focus mallard in flight. There were some where the exposure was off, but since I was adjusting the exposure to learn the new lens, that was to be expected. But, there was just that one bad photo as far as what the lens and camera produced, and that was probably my fault as well.

Well, enough rambling, almost. I would like to take just the new lens today, and wait before I try it with the Tamron extender behind it, but since the weather will be so bad until this weekend, I had better try the two of them together today. If it were warmer, I switch back and forth, but it’s too cold for that today. Time to get going!

I’m back, and if I said that I wasn’t a bit disappointed in today’s photos, I’d be lying.

I could tell when I stepped outside that the day was not going to be a good one for photography, and it got worse for a while. Just like a couple of weeks ago at Aman Park, I could tell right off the bat that my photos wouldn’t be very good because of something atmospheric. I was hoping that it was due to my eyes not being able to adjust quickly enough to the rapidly changing level of light, but that wasn’t the case. There were many small cumulus clouds that would block the sunlight for a while as if it was a cloudy day, then the sun would peek between the clouds and hit the fresh snow from yesterday, and nearly blind me, then, it would go back to cloudy again.

I did take the new lens with the Tamron extender today, and that was probably a mistake given whatever was causing the lighting to be so weird today for most of my walk.

Most of the few photos of birds did not come out as sharp as I would have liked, they’re not horrible, but they’re nothing to write home about either, so I deleted most of them. Here are the exceptions.

Blue jay "singing"

Blue jay “singing”

American Robins eating sumac

American Robins eating sumac

American Robin eating sumac

American Robin eating sumac

Even if the photos aren’t as sharp as a tack, they are okay, and I did catch the robin flipping the sumac in the air before swallowing it. So, the new lens and the extender are a viable combination for birding.

I wonder, I said in a post a while back that I’d bet that the Canon extender would work better with the 70-200 mm lens than what the Tamron one does. With the Tokina 100 mm lens, and with the Beast, the Tamron extender does a fine job, I can hardly see any difference in photo quality when using it. But, when I use it with the 70-200 mm lens, photo quality drops off quite a bit. But, one day with bad light does not make for a good test day.

I did much better on close-ups! I found a few subjects to test the new lens’ close focusing abilities.

Lichens

Lichens

Pattern in ice left from an oak leaf

Pattern in ice left from an oak leaf

That was shot handheld using auto-focus, and it’s pretty good if you ask me.

I brought my tripod with me, and when I got to the park, I did another test of the new lens on close-ups of the British soldier lichens.

British soldier lichens, handheld, auto-focus, not cropped

British soldier lichens, handheld, auto-focus, not cropped

British soldier lichens, handheld, auto-focus, cropped

British soldier lichens, handheld, auto-focus, cropped

British soldier lichens, using tripod, manual focus, cropped

British soldier lichens, using tripod, manual focus, cropped

This part of the testing went extremely well as you can see! The new lens auto-focuses accurately all the way down to its limits, unlike the 70-200 mm lens which I have to manually focus at less than about six feet.

These photos are also very sharp, which tells me that I have to hold off judging how well the new lens works with the Tamron extender until I get a day with better lighting to truly see how well that combination works.

Here’s another reason to withhold judgement.

Male mallard

Male mallard

As I was getting close to home, I noticed that the light was getting better. I was going to check the duck pond anyway to see if the hooded mergansers were still there, they weren’t, but I did shoot a few photos of the mallards to further test the new lens with the extender. As you can see, there’s nothing wrong with that photo!

So, I’ll keep playing, as it is, the new lens and extender together make a great alternative to the Beast, my arms aren’t tired today as they would be if I had taken the Beast. 😉

Thursday

It’s a gloomy grey day, with a little rain from time to time. It’s not a day that one would normally look forward to for testing a new lens, but days like today are one of the reasons for my purchase of the 300 mm prime. I wouldn’t take the Beast out in weather like this, since it isn’t weather sealed at all.

I’ve calmed down a little over the results of my two days with the new lens, from the extreme high that I was on after seeing how great the photos from the first day were, to being disappointed in yesterday’s photos while using the extender with the new lens.

The first day, I had excellent conditions and subjects, so of course the photos were great. That set me up to be disappointed when I used the lens and extender together in less than ideal conditions.

Yesterday was the real world, tough conditions, and other than the mallards, birds that didn’t want their photos taken. The photos I shot were about the same level of quality that I would have expected from the Beast under the conditions they were taken under. I wanted better, but then again, the Beast is no slouch, so if the new lens with the extender can match what the Beast does, that’s not all bad.

The new 300 mm prime does a much better job on close-ups, with or without the extender, so it fills that void very nicely. It is also so much easier to carry than the Beast, so I won’t mind carrying it and other gear with me at the same time, which was my main reason for making the purchase in the first place.

Besides, I have not yet begun to fine tune my camera body for the new lens with the extender either. One day’s photos are not enough to truly judge how good of photos that I’ll be able to get from it once I get the camera adjusted to it.

There’s one more advantage to the new lens, on days like today, I can remove the extender and use the new lens alone under rotten conditions. When conditions are good, I can use the extender, so it’s almost like having two lenses rather than just one. Time to test that theory out.

I’m back, and if I posted the photos from today in a stand alone post, I would title it “What you can learn from bad photos”.

When I stepped out of the door of my apartment, I noticed two things, one, the rain that had been falling was mixing with snow and sleet. Two, there were a pair of geese right outside my window.

Snow covered Canada goose

Snow covered Canada goose

Canad goose digging

Canada goose digging

In the first photo, I missed getting the focus on the goose’s face, but I love how well the photo shows the snow-covered feathers of the goose. The second photo shows how well the new lens does, even in bad conditions. Neither of those photos were cropped at all.

Here’s another un-cropped photo.

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

And, the cropped version.

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

It’s a little “soft” but not bad.

And finally, as far as photos, this mourning dove.

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

In many ways, that last photo is the most impressive one of the few that I have shot with the new lens so far, even though it is a ho-hum photo.

Why do I say that?

There’s no chromatic aberration to be seen in that photo, despite the horrible weather when I shot it, it’s sharp, and the you can see the dove’s colors. When I first saw the photos of the dove, I almost deleted them, but then I remembered the barred owl photos that I shot with my old Nikon gear, now those were bad photos! The out of focus branches were tinged in purple or green from chromatic aberration, sensor noise was terrible, and you could barely make out that the owl was an owl. The weather today was almost exactly like it was when I shot the owl, mixed rain and snow, wind, and no light, but what a difference in image quality. The new lens proved its worth as a walking around lens with that photo alone.

What really stands out to me when I look at the photos from the new lens is how clear and life-like the photos look. Even my best photos from any of my other lenses look like photos, but when I view the photos from the new lens full size on my computer, it looks like real life.

Friday

It’s another gloomy, rainy morning, but it beats snow hands down! The good news is that the precipitation is coming to an end, and there may even be a little sunshine later today.

I’ll have to see how much snow that we’ve lost before I make a firm decision on where to go this weekend. There were still many areas where the snow was too deep to get around in last night as I was looking at the countryside while driving for work. Sunday, the weather is forecast to be sunny with highs in the fifties, but if I were to try walking through the four-foot high snow drifts left in many places, I wouldn’t enjoy it.

The large prints that I ordered are scheduled to be delivered today, it will be interesting to see how they turned out.

So far, the new 300 mm prime lens has performed better than what I had expected for the two days that I used it without the Tamron extender. The jury is still out as far as how well it will perform with the extender, I hope to be able to check that out better today, if it does brighten up a little. But, I’ll save the rest of my thoughts about the new lens until later, right now, it’s time for breakfast and a walk.

I’m back, and I have decided that the 300 mm prime lens was a wise purchase, even if it doesn’t perform well if I use it with the extender, although I still hope that it does. Anyway, I go out on a dark dreary day like today, and capture the following images, all with just that one lens.

 

Male mallards in flight

Male mallards in flight

I thought that I would end up deleting that photo, I intended it just for practicing flying bird shots, but then I saw how well it turned out despite my not having adjusted the exposure. I’m going to have to learn that I may be able to get just about any shot with the new lens, so I had better start putting more effort into even my practice photos.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Seeing multiple species of lichens together on a tree prompted this next one.

Lichens

Lichens

Lichens cropped

Lichens cropped

Those were shot handheld using auto-focus, and I think that they are very good photos. If I had brought the tripod and stopped the lens down a little, they would have been even better.

Fred the friendly fox squirrel stopped by to see what I was photographing.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

The red-winged blackbirds are back.

Male Red-winged blackbird

Male Red-winged blackbird

Male Red-winged blackbird

Male Red-winged blackbird

I thought that this was moss the last time I photographed it, but now I think that it is stonecrop or a similar plant.

Stonecrop?

Stonecrop?

It’s hard for me to believe that I shot all those photos with just one lens on a very poor day for photography. Everything from ducks in flight to medium size songbirds to near macros, I’m going to have a hard time leaving that lens behind when I go birding seriously.

As good as the new lens is, the Beast is still a better lens for birding because of its extra length and ability to auto-focus on birds partially hidden in the brush. Absolute image quality may not be as good with the Beast, but first, you have to get the photo before you can worry about quality. That’s the Beast’s strong suit, it always gets its bird!

But, what a great problem to have! Being torn between two excellent lenses, the 300 mm prime knocks my socks off with its image quality, the Beast still amazes me in its ability to auto-focus quickly and accurately on even partially obscured birds.

Saturday

In a complete reversal of my normal routine, I’m going to do my chores around home this morning, such as laundry, then go hiking this afternoon. It’s another dark gloomy day right now, but the forecast is for sun this afternoon. I sure hope that it pans out that way, as I really want to try the new lens with the extender in some good light.

Since the extender is so small, I’ve stuffed it into a pocket while walking the past two days, but the light was never good enough for me to try it. But that’s a very handy combination, the new lens is much lighter than the Beast, with or without the extender, and the extender is small enough to fit in a pocket when I’m not using it.

One of my chores this morning is to try to track down where the large prints that I ordered ended up. According to the tracking info, they were delivered yesterday, and they may very well may have been, but not to me. I’ll check with the office here, and I can drop off my rent check at the same time. If the prints aren’t in the office, then my only hope is that they were stuffed into the wrong mailbox by mistake.

I guess that I don’t have anything else to say this morning, unless I prattle on about the new lens, or the weather, so I’ll tend to my chores, and hope for better weather later.

I’m back after a very long day, it was a good news/bad news kind of day. The good news is that the sun finally came out, and I was able to test the new 300 mm prime lens with the extender behind it. I’ll get to that in a few, first, a few of the photos I shot with just the 300 mm lens before the sun came out for good.

Moss

Moss

Rushing water

Rushing water

Small lichens

Small lichens

Moss

Moss

I included this next one, because in a sure sign of spring, the young beech trees are beginning to drop last year’s leaves, although it doesn’t look like it here.

Beech leaves

Beech leaves

And, the only bird that I was able to get close to for the first part of the day.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

There was still a foot of snow on the ground in Aman Park, it was tough going at times. Even worse, the north end of the park was flooded, so I had to turn around and go all the way back the way I came. But, the sun finally came out, and it turned into a very nice day.

I sat down on one of the few logs not covered with snow to take a break, and install the Tamron extender behind the new lens. I shot this photo before adding the extender.

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

And this is the one that I shot with the extender.

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

I couldn’t tell for sure how sharp it was on the small screen of my camera, but it looked at least fair. I was hoping for birds, but they were all still taking their afternoon siesta, so I shot more mosses and lichens.

Lichens

Lichens

Lichens

Lichens

Lichens and fungi

Lichens and fungi

I saw those as I was going through my photos from today after I got home, and was stunned to see how sharp they are!

While taking another break, another chickadee stopped by to say hi.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

I shot about a dozen photos of the chickadee using the extender, and every one of them is that sharp. When I saw them on the computer, again, I was blown away.

Then, reality set in.

I had made it back to my Forester by then, on one hand, it was too nice of a day to leave, but on the other hand, I didn’t feel like battling the foot of slush on the trails either, so I picked a nice sunny spot to sit, and enjoyed the best weather we’ve had in quite a while. A flock of cedar waxwings were working their way towards me, when they got in range, I started shooting.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Hardly anything to write home about. Luckily, I shot about thirty photos of the waxwings, and as I was sorting through them at home, I ran into a few like these.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

I also shot a few of a downy woodpecker, most of them came out well, but there were a few fuzzy ones as well.

But, I didn’t know that at the time.

After the waxwings moved off, I still didn’t want to come home, but just sitting there was a bit boring, despite the weather. So, I had a brainstorm, I’d stop at the park that I walk everyday, since the snow is gone there for the most part, and maybe I’d find some birds. I did.

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

The good news, the 300 mm prime lens with the extender can take photos that are even sharper than the Beast. The bad news, getting those photos is hit and miss. The number of misses goes up the farther the subject is away from me.

So, the good news is that I have a 420 mm macro lens when I use the new lens with the extender, the bad news is that it isn’t great for birding, yet.

I have figured out that the auto-focus of the new lens is extremely accurate up to about 20 to 25 feet, then the accuracy falls off dramatically.

Since it’s late, and this post is already too long, I’m going to end it here, then, I’ll pick back up tomorrow morning as I’m drinking my coffee.

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


Alder Flycatcher, Empidonax alnorum

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.

Alder Flycatcher, Empidonax alnorum

The Alder Flycatcher is a small insect-eating bird of the tyrant flycatcher family.

Adults have olive-brown upper parts, browner on the wings and tail, with whitish underparts, they have a white eye ring, white wing bars, a small bill and a short tail. The breast is washed with olive-grey. The upper part of the bill is grey; the lower part is orangish. At one time, this bird was included with the very similar Willow Flycatcher in a single species, “Traill’s Flycatcher”.

Their breeding habitat is deciduous thickets, often alders or willows, near water across Canada, Alaska and the northeastern United States. They make a cup nest low in a vertical fork in a shrub.

These birds migrate to South America, usually selecting winter habitat near water.

They wait on a perch near the top of a shrub and fly out to catch insects in flight, also sometimes picking insects from foliage while hovering. They may eat some berries and seeds.

This bird’s song is a wheezed ree-BEE-a. The call is a quick preet.

On to my photos:

Alder Flycatcher, Empidonax alnorum

Alder Flycatcher, Empidonax alnorum

Alder Flycatcher, Empidonax alnorum

Alder Flycatcher, Empidonax alnorum

Alder Flycatcher, Empidonax alnorum

Alder Flycatcher, Empidonax alnorum

Alder Flycatcher, Empidonax alnorum

Alder Flycatcher, Empidonax alnorum

Alder Flycatcher, Empidonax alnorum

Alder Flycatcher, Empidonax alnorum

Alder Flycatcher, Empidonax alnorum

Alder Flycatcher, Empidonax alnorum

Alder Flycatcher, Empidonax alnorum

Alder Flycatcher, Empidonax alnorum

This is number 151 in my photo life list, only 199 to go!

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

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My Week, Going, Going, Gone?

Sunday

I was up way too early for some one who works second shift, but that’s what happens when I go to bed so early on a Saturday night. Not only am I waiting for the temperature outside to climb above 10 F, but I’m waiting for the sun to come up as well. Hard to take bird photos in the dark. 😉

It promises to be a good day, very sunny, but very cold, twenty degrees below the average temperature for this time of year. We’re on the wrong track as far as temperatures. January averaged six degrees below average, February was nine degrees below average, and so far for March we’re ten degrees below average.

However, as much as I whine about the weather, it doesn’t seem to listen, or change, so I guess that I’m stuck bundling up when I do head out for my walk.

The good news is that the snow has been melting a little each day, even when temperatures have remained a little below freezing. The sun is that strong this time of year, and we’ve been having a few sunny days of late. We’re down to just seven inches at the official reporting station in Grand Rapids, although there are still many drifts that are two to three feet high in places.

The forecast for the week is cool, of course, but from looking at it this morning, there’s a good chance that what remains of the snow will be gone for the most part by the end of the week. Just in time for spring to officially arrive.

Once spring does get here, I’ll change the countdown to spring widget to countdown until I begin my vacation in May. I’m really looking forward to having two weeks off, even though I’m afraid that I’ll be starting my vacation a week too early to go camping. But, that’s still two months away, the weather patterns could change by then.

Even if It’s too cold to camp out the entire time, I’m sure that there will be stretches in there where I can get in several short trips, which wouldn’t be all that bad. Even if the entire two weeks are warm enough to camp, I’ll have to come home at least once to do laundry and replenish my food supply.

With some time to kill, I have finished my 150th post for the My Photo Life List project, I’m making steady progress on that, and with the spring migration just getting started, I should be able to add more species to the photos that I have already saved. I also hope to get better photos of some of the species that I have already posted.

That should be fairly easy, I hate to sound as if I’m bragging, but my skills as a photographer, helped along by good equipment, continue to improve. I look back at the photos that I shot of the sandhill crane in flight that I shot last week while it was raining lightly, then think back to what those photos would have looked like if they had been taken with my old camera, and all I can say is that there’s a wold of difference.

The sun is coming up, and I thought about doing a daybreak walk, but then I looked at the current conditions from the local weather station, and if they are correct, we’ve tied the record for the coldest temperature for the date at 5 F. Even if we didn’t tie the record, it’s still cold out there, at least for March.

I’ve thought about going someplace to hike today, but with the weather being much more like a pleasant winter day than early spring, I see no reason to go anywhere else but here. I think that instead of travelling somewhere that I’ll try taking all my camera gear for the first time this year. It will make a good trial run to see how well that I can carry it all at one time, since I’ve added to my kit over the winter. If it turns out to be too heavy or too awkward, I can turn around and come back home, shed some of it, then finish my walk.

Okay, so I was wrong, it didn’t feel like a pleasant winter day, it felt like a brutally cold winter day out there today! I had hoped that the bright sunshine would make it feel warmer than the actual air temperature.

The wind, which was forecast to be rather light is what made it feel so cold, I had my neck gaiter pulled up over my nose the entire time I was out there. Even with my gloved hands in my pockets, my fingers went numb. Oh by the way, for the meteorologist who forecast a light wind, a light wind does not roar through the treetops, nor cause the trees to creak and moan as they sway in the wind, you were wrong!

Needless to say, I brought back very few photos, and I’m not going to post any of them, at least not yet. I hope to get a better photo to kick this post off with than any from this morning.

There is some good news though. Before leaving this morning, I made some adjustments to the tripod case and the shoulder strap, and it stayed put while walking today. I took all my photo gear except for the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens), as I had mentioned earlier, as a trial run. That’s probably why the wind came up so strong. 😉

Anyway, everything worked as it should today, as long as I leave one of the longer lenses home. While I carried the 70-200 mm L series lens and Tamron extender today, I could have just as easily carried the Beast. So, at least the trial run worked well. I still think that some sort of wheeled cart or wagon would be better than strapping twenty pounds of camera gear to myself, but it works well if I have to carry it.

Now then, I’ve just gotten done complaining about the cold, but I may go for a repeat later this afternoon after it has warmed up as much as it’s going to. I saw very few birds, I think that they were all frozen where they had perched for the night, and hopefully they’ll thaw out in the sun so I can get some photos worth posting for the day.

Well, I’m back after round two, but I wouldn’t call this round a hike, I wimped out and drove the mile and a half to the park. It was still cold, but the birds had thawed out since this morning!

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

I saw two first of the year species.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

But most of my photos are of the same few species that have been appearing here of late.

Blue jay

Blue jay

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco singing

Dark-eyed junco singing

American robin

American robin

Female downy woodpecker

Female downy woodpecker

And, there are plenty more photos of those species still to go if I need them later this week. I think that I’ll save one series of photos that I shot for Thursday, the first day of spring, unless I get something better between then and now. And, I’ll save the rest just in case I have another slow day like this morning, when all I photographed was this holly…

Holly

Holly

…and this pine cone.

Pine cone

Pine cone

By the way, all the birds were shot using the Beast, the holly and the pine cone were taken with the L series lens.

This afternoon, I walked as much of the park as I could twice, but all the birds were in one small section of the park, the area most sheltered from the wind. So, I stood there freezing until the birds got used to my being there, and came out in the open a little more than usual.

Now it’s time for me to thaw out again.

Tuesday

Another sunny, but very cold start to the day, with the temperature very close to record cold. At least it doesn’t look as though the wind is as strong as yesterday.

I’ve been trying to find the good side of this cold, and one thing may be that some of the invasive species of insects will be killed of by this cold, such as the emerald ash borer. If that’s the case, then we’ll get a reprieve from the damage that they have been doing to our ash trees, at least temporarily. As long as any survive in North America, they will eventually return to Michigan. But anything that slows down any of the destructive invasive species will be welcome.

I spent some time this past weekend adding to my wish list of photo gear to purchase in the future. Most of the items are gizmos and gadgets to use with my macro set-up and tripod. Most are to make setting up for macro photos faster and easier, it’s amazing how a few bucks here and there add up quickly. However, I know me, and if it isn’t quick and easy, I’m not going to take the time to do it the right way, so I’ll be adding to my gizmo and gadget collection as I can.

I may be adding one more big-ticket item, other than a long prime telephoto lens to be used as my walking around lens on longer hikes, and that is an EF-S 10-22 mm f/3.5-4.5 USM Lens. I love the 15-85 mm lens that I already have, but seldom use. So, why would I purchase an even wider lens? Well, the wider lens would allow me to get more creative in my photographic endeavors.

It’s all about perspective. Telephoto lenses compress a scene, making everything in the scene to appear to be closer together than what they are in reality. Wide angle lens do the opposite, they make things in a scene appear to be farther apart than what they really are. The super wide 10-22 mm lens would be fun to play with, but that’s a long, long way off.

My brother and I have been talking about that subject, and I’ll probably wait to see what his photos look like before I take the plunge on a lens like that. I think that once the weather around here warms up, I’ll do more playing with the 15-85 mm lens as well, to see if what I have in mind will work before deciding whether I want to try an even wider lens.

Well, it’s finally warming up a little outside, so it’s time for me to get moving.

Warming up a little was right, very little. It was another day of bone chilling wind chills, and the birds hadn’t thawed out yet while I was out there. In spite of the sunshine, I shot a total of two photos, both are junk. I was too slow on the shutter for a cardinal taking off  early on my walk, and on the way home, I missed a gull in flight because my “trigger” finger was so cold that it wouldn’t work correctly.

It’s a good thing that I saved these from yesterday. 😉

Blue jay

Blue jay

Blue jay

Blue jay

The first one I consider the be almost perfect, except the jay turned its head at the last second, so you can’t see his head. But the color and sharpness are close to perfect. In the second one, the jay is coiling up to leap into flight, so it isn’t quite as sharp as the first.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

The Beast is an excellent birding lens!

Time to get cleaned up and visit my mom.

Tuesday

While walking yesterday, and a lot of the time since then, I’ve been thinking about my future camera gear purchases, and trying to prioritize them. For a while I had convinced myself that purchasing the 70-200 mm L series lens was a mistake, even though it is the lens that I’ve used the most this winter. I’ve been making do with that lens until I can afford the one that would be better for what I’ve been shooting.

But then, I remembered the times this past summer when I used it for what it is really intended to be used on, and buying it wasn’t a mistake. It will eventually become my least used lens, but there will be times when it will be the lens to use, landscape photography where the 15-85 mm lens is too short.

The thought had entered my mind that I could use the Tokina 100 mm lens, with or without the Tamron 1.4 extender in place of the L series lens for landscapes, and it would work very well as far as photo quality, but that set-up would require that I spend much more time on my set-ups, and a lot more fooling around. I’m not one to fool around, so that probably wouldn’t be a good idea.

The gadgets and gizmos for when I’m using my tripod for macro photography will be nice things to have, eventually. Until I use that set-up more, I’m not sure just how many of those things I’ll really need. I could afford those things now, but I think that it would be wiser to continue saving for a long prime telephoto to use as a walking around lens on longer hikes.

I won’t bore you with the rest of my thoughts along those lines, other than to say that as one is purchasing camera gear, it is a good idea to re-assess what you already have, and what you need the most.

Okay, as far as the weather today, it’s still sunny, and a lot less cold than what it has been the past two days. It may even make it above freezing while I’m walking today. I’ve even put the Beast back on the critter camera body in hopes of getting some photos today.

Oh, one more thing before I venture out. My “confused” light theory is hogwash! Still, there’s something atmospheric that affects photo quality, something that I’ve never read anything about so far. However, there has to be a reason why my photos a week ago Sunday came out so poorly, and my photos from this Sunday so well, when conditions were very similar overall. About the same amount of sunshine, temperatures, and wind, the exact same lens, camera body, and of course, photographer. The photos from my day in Aman Park were trash, yet the ones from this Sunday were some of the best that I have ever taken. Well, it’s something to think about today while I’m out.

I’m back after spending way too much time out there taking bad photos of birds. The weather is forecast to go downhill after just this one day of fantastic weather, so I tried to “stock up” on photos in case I have more days like yesterday. I tried too hard, and shot photos that I knew would be crap even as I shot them.

The weather was so nice, and we’ve lost so much snow, I took the back way out of the park for the first time in at least two months instead of going through the subdivision. Things are looking up at least a little. If only we could get three or four days in a row like this, rather than one great day, one warm but rainy day, then a week in the deep freeze.

Oh well, enough of that. Here’s a few photos from today, I’ll add a couple of more from today later this week when I have time to explain them.

Female downy woodpecker, not cropped

Female downy woodpecker, not cropped

Female downy woodpecker, cropped

Female downy woodpecker, cropped

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

Female northern cardinal, no exposure comp.

Female northern cardinal, no exposure comp.

Female northern cardinal, -1/3 EV

Female northern cardinal, -1/3 EV

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Time to get cleaned up for work.

Wednesday

Well, it’s a very gloomy day out there today, with a little light rain falling. Hey, at least it’s rain and not snow! The unsettled weather is going to stick around here for the next few days, before we plunge back into the deep freeze for the weekend, of course.

Other than ranting about the weather, or how much I’d like to be putting my new photography gear to use, I don’t have a lot to say, so I suppose that it’s time to get going.

I’m back, and as I expected from the weather conditions, I shot very few photos, and I saved two.

Dripping

Dripping

Cedar waxwing in the rain

Cedar waxwing in the rain

The first photo is one of those that I love, in spite of the boring subject matter. The second, of the waxwing, is to remind myself of the huge flock of waxwings that I saw today. I conservatively estimated 50 waxwings in the flock, but I think that there were many more than that. There were times that I could see 10 or more in the air at the same time as they searched for food.

And, the waxwings weren’t alone, there were dozens of robins and Juncos throughout the park, with lesser numbers of the common species such as blue jays, woodpeckers, and chickadees. I probably saw more birds in the park today than I have seen since early last fall, and more than I have seen anywhere other than Muskegon.

However, with the gloomy light, rain, and fog rolling off from the ,melting snow, it wasn’t a day for photography. That’s why I attempted so many shots that I knew would be bad yesterday, including this one, the first turkey vulture of the year.

Turkey vulture, the first seen in 12014

Turkey vulture, the first seen in 2014

Back on Sunday morning when it was so cold that I had to worry about frostbite, I posted a photo of holly, but I wasn’t happy with it, so I did a better job of it yesterday.

Holly

Holly

Hmmm, they don’t look much different in the small size in my post, but trust me, this second one is head and shoulders better than the first.

Also from yesterday, this series of a female red-bellied woodpecker, ending in her rejecting a possible suitor.

Female red-bellied woodpecker

Female red-bellied woodpecker

Female red-bellied woodpecker

Female red-bellied woodpecker

Female red-bellied woodpecker

Female red-bellied woodpecker

Female red-bellied woodpecker

Female red-bellied woodpecker

Here comes the male, and maybe it’s me, but I can hear him saying “Hey babe, you’re cute!”.

Male red-bellied woodpecker chasing female

Male red-bellied woodpecker chasing female

But she wanted nothing to do with him, despite his trying to sweet talk her.

Male red-bellied woodpecker chasing female

Male red-bellied woodpecker chasing female

And here’s the male, looking quite dejected about being rejected.

Male red-bellied woodpecker looking rejected after being rebuffed

Male red-bellied woodpecker looking rejected after being rebuffed

Well, that’s all for today. I still have a series of photos from Sunday that I’m saving for tomorrow if needed, since it’s the first day of spring. The weather may not be much better tomorrow, but it would be nice if it was.

Thursday

The first day of spring, or is it April Fools Day?

It snowed a little overnight, just enough to cover the few patches of bare ground that had appeared the past few days. It’s still gloomy out, but since the temperature is back below freezing, the fog from yesterday is gone.

It is looking like another weekend stuck here at home, the forecast for Saturday is for mixed precipitation, then “sharply colder” for Sunday.

I had been hoping that most of the snow would be gone by this weekend, but it won’t, there was too darned much of the stuff to begin with. I’ve been thinking about going to the ledges of Grand Ledge, as it is east of here, and they have received less snow in that direction, since they are farther from Lake Michigan. However, I drive that way each night for work, and as of last night, there’s still way too much snow left for me to go drift busting along the ledges. Maybe next weekend. I’m overdue for another trip to Muskegon as well.

I should be in a much better mood. For one thing, my knees are much better, even my right knee, which I thought that I had damaged permanently back in January. But, they are coming around, my left knee is close to 100% and the right one is still a bit tender if I stress it too much, but it continues to improve.

Also, it looks as if I take advantage of lower online pricing, and a $100 rebate from Canon, that I’ll be able to swing the purchase of the 300 mm L series prime lens that I would like to have as an alternative to the Beast for longer hikes by the end of the month. One of the big online retailers has that lens for $130 off the list price, and if I purchase before the end of March, there’s the rebate from Canon to knock another $100 off, saving me $230 total. That will be tough to swing, but it is also tough to pass up saving that much money. I’ll have to stop at the bank on my way to work this afternoon to set that purchase into motion.

Now, if the weather would only improve to the point where longer hikes were possible!

It’s looking a little brighter outside, so I guess that it’s time for me to get a move on.

Well, it’s now officially spring, so I went looking for a few signs that it’s coming, with limited success.

I’m going to go back to my purchasing the long prime telephoto lens that I have wanted since even before I purchased the Beast. I wasn’t getting fired up about making the purchase, mostly due to the crummy weather we’ve had around here which has shortened my walks so much.

However, now that I’m back, I am getting excited about the new lens. Why? It was too cold today to carry the Beast with the wind chill as low as it was today, but the 70-200 mm lens just isn’t long enough for birding, even with the Tamron extender behind it.

Male house finch

Male house finch

I had to make use of the constant manual focus capabilities of my Canon body and the L series lens to get that shot. The auto-focus would not lock on the finch.

That’s another reason that I’m looking forward to the new lens, even though it may not be needed yet. Using it now will give me the time I need to learn its foibles, and to dial in my camera body for it.

Here’s a sign of spring taken with the Beast the other day.

Male song sparrow singing

Male song sparrow singing

Male song sparrow singing

Male song sparrow singing

Male song sparrow singing

Male song sparrow singing

I had forgotten how long it took me to learn the Beast, and to get my camera body set-up to get photos of that quality with the Beast.

Every lens that I own has a few tricks that I’ve had to learn in order to get the most from the lens, I have no doubt that the new one will be the same. I may as well start learning those tricks early.

So, a little while later today, after the finch photo, I found that the snow that had been covering the British soldier lichens had melted.

British soldier lichen

British soldier lichen

While that photo doesn’t come close to matching the quality of one that I shot earlier this year with the Tokina macro lens, it’s a good photo. However, it would have been even better if I had used the tripod, but I didn’t have it with me today.

Once again, the lens that I’m going to purchase would have been just the ticket today. It focuses almost exactly as close as does the 70-200 mm lens, which would have gotten me “closer” to the lichens with the new lens’ extra length. Using the tripod, I could have stopped the lens down more for more depth of field. It hit me that I could carry that lens with the Tamron extender and my tripod, and come very close to what I can do with the Tokina macro lens.

So on cold or rainy days, I could get by with the new set-up, and not feel as if I were passing up shots because I wasn’t carrying all my gear with me as has been the case the past few months.

Now then, for a true but boring sign of spring.

Green leaf in the snow

Green leaf in the snow

I tried shooting a few birds in flight today, but didn’t get any photos that are really worth posting. I had good luck with one of the red-tailed hawks, but I’ve posted a lot of photos of them lately, so no need for more. That applies to the photos of geese headed north as well.

Which reminds me, I saw many flocks of birds of all sizes on their way north today, another sure sign of spring.

Oh, and a rather odd thing happened today on my way back home. A car pulled over next to me, and an attractive young woman told me that she always saw me walking with my camera, and handed me a gift card for a free cup of coffee at the local convenience store, now how nice was that? I’m sure that she’s affiliated with the store, but still, it was a nice gesture, and one of these cold days, I’ll stop in at the store, and get a coffee to warm up with.

Friday

Wow, I looked at the gift card that the young woman gave me yesterday, and it isn’t for a free cup of coffee, it’s a $10 gift card, several cups of coffee! That has to be a sign that my luck is changing, although I’m tempted to return the gift card. It seems wrong to accept it, even though I didn’t solicit it in any way. I have no idea why a complete stranger would think of handing me a $10 gift card.

The other big news, I took the plunge and ordered the EF 300 mm f/4 L IS USM lens this morning, I just couldn’t pass up saving almost $250 on it. In a way, it seems silly to purchase that lens when I love the photos that the Beast turns out, but there’s the reason that I’ve nicknamed the Sigma lens the Beast, it’s heavy and huge. This new lens will be much more appropriate for walking around with.

The underlying reason that buying a lens to use rather than the Beast bothers me a little is that I have to admit to myself that I’m a wimp, and that I’d rather not lug something as large and heavy as the Beast around. 😉

Okay, so I’m a wimp that would rather not carry a camera/lens combination that weighs 6 pounds and is as large as a small log. And, it isn’t just carrying the Beast, it’s trying to swing it around to catch birds in flight, or even just raising it up to my eye. It’s trying to find a safe place to set it down when I take a break, or try to use my other camera body and lens. The Beast is so big and heavy that I can’t just let it dangle on the end of my camera’s strap.

The 300 mm prime telephoto uses the same tripod mount that fits the 70-200 mm lens that I already have, so not only is that lens lighter than the Beast, it’s much more compact as well, making it much easier to handle all the way around. Or, at least that’s what I’m hoping.

I’ll still use the Beast, especially if it ever warms up around here, but having a lighter alternative to it means that I’ll be more likely to use my other gear more often, and I’m looking forward to that. The 300 mm prime is a pound and a half lighter than the Beast, that’s more than my Tokina macro lens weighs, so I’ll be more likely to carry and use the Tokina.

Having said all that, with nicer weather today, the Beast is going back on the camera for the walk today, bbl.

I’m back, and how can one not love a lens that can do this?

American robin

American robin

Pluck a bird the size of a robin from the top of a tree and have the photo come out like that, yes, the Beast is a great birding lens. As if I haven’t said that enough times already.

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing

When I tried to move so that I didn’t get the shadows, the cardinal took off on me, darn.

One of the smaller hawks, I can’t tell if it’s a sharpie or a Cooper’s hawk, came blasting past me as I was walking in the subdivision on my way to the park, resulting in this interesting photo.

Accipiter paying some one a visit

Accipiter paying some one a visit

And here are a couple of long shots of a crow alerting the rest of the birds to the hawk’s presence.

American crow sounding the alarm

American crow sounding the alarm
American crow sounding the alarm

American crow sounding the alarm

I have no idea why they do it, but crows seem to blink a lot while they are squawking.

Here’s a sure sign of spring.

Wild strawberry?

Wild strawberry?

And to round out the day, a couple of shots of Bertha, the female red-tailed hawk.

Female red-tailed hawk in flight

Female red-tailed hawk in flight

Female red-tailed hawk in flight

Female red-tailed hawk in flight

As you can see, it was a beautiful day today, but it isn’t going to last. There’s rain and snow in the forecast for tonight, then colder tomorrow with scattered snow, and even colder for Sunday.

One more thing about my order this morning, I also ordered a gadget to go with the macro fine focusing rail that my brother gave me, but not a gizmo. Looking at the gadget, it dawned on me that it comes with its own gizmo, so I don’t need another one. 😉

Saturday

Well, the one day of great weather has come and gone, now it’s back to the clouds and cold for the weekend. Officially we’re down to three inches of snow on the ground, but there’s still so much snow in most places that getting around is still tough to do.

This week is looking depressing as well, cloudy and cold until Thursday, but the good news is that it should get up to around freezing each day. Maybe we will lose all the snow by next weekend, and it’s a long way off yet, but the forecast for next weekend looks good right now. I should be so lucky.

Other good news, the new 300 mm prime telephoto lens was shipped yesterday afternoon, and I should have it in my grubby little hands by Tuesday.

I was getting all fired up and looking forward to the arrival of the new lens until I saw the weather forecast for the week. But, there’s nothing that I can do about the weather other than complain, and that doesn’t seem to be doing any good.

Still, it will be nice to have a good, lightweight alternative to the Beast to use while hiking, but the thought lingers in the back of my feeble little mind that it was a lot of money to spend on an alternative to a lens that produces photos that I love. And, the reality is that the new telephoto lens is actually a better choice as far as lenses for the weather this week than what the Beast would be.

As I have been purchasing lenses, each one up until this last one has increased my capabilities as far as the types of photos that I can take. First, there was the Beast for birds and other wildlife. Then, the 70-200 mm lens for foul weather birding and longer landscapes. Next, the 15-85 mm lens for landscapes and as a near macro lens. Finally, the Tokina 100 mm macro lens for true macros. This prime telephoto will only make it easier for me to shoot the same photos that I could otherwise shoot with one of my other lenses.

In a way, I almost wish that I had ordered the 10-22 mm lens that I mentioned earlier. That lens would put a new perspective on things, and I’d have fun exploring just what it could do.

I know that when the new telephoto lens arrives that I’ll have fun with it as well. One of my reasons for purchasing that particular lens is its close focusing capabilities for butterflies and dragonflies. The only problem is that there aren’t any of those around right now.

I’m back from my walk, and I thought about deleting most of what I typed before I had left, for it is mostly buyer’s remorse. The new prime telephoto that I’m getting may not add very much direct capabilities, but I think that it will be of more value to me than I had thought.

In a trial run of sorts, I carried the 70-200 mm and Tamron extender today, even though I could have carried the Beast. I also brought my tripod along as well. I made a point of testing how well I can carry and use my new gear as I would like to use it on longer hikes. I won’t bore you with the all the details other than to say that I can see myself carrying the tripod almost daily from now on, which will have a huge impact on the quality of some of my photos. I alternated between wildlife and macro photos, although I used only one body today, changing camera settings as I went.

Things went extremely well, and they will only be better when I carry both bodies so I’m not changing settings all the time. I would have brought both bodies today, but with the snow and sleet falling at times, I didn’t want to go overboard. 😉

I stared with a pair of mallards in a temporary pond that the melting snow left behind.

IMG_9270

Mallards

Then, I set-up and began shooting lichens.

British soldier lichen

British soldier lichen

Unidentified lichen

Unidentified lichen

I would have photographed more of them, but the wind and snow picked up, and I wasn’t going to freeze for bad photos. 😉

But, when Fred began posing for me again, I just had to photograph him.

Fred the friendly fox squirrel drinking

Fred the friendly fox squirrel drinking

Fred the friendly fox squirrel asking me if he'd done alright

Fred the friendly fox squirrel asking me if he’d done alright

He’s such a ham!

I forgot to change to aperture priority for this one, so the depth of field is too short, but even though the photo isn’t great, I can still see the possibilities of using my tripod more often.

Unidentified green stuff

Unidentified green stuff

Things didn’t go without a hitch though, I had a little trouble with the locks on the tripod head for tilting and swiveling it. I took care of that problem when I got home, lubricating the threads of the locking handles, it works like a charm now. So I guess that these test runs are a good thing, as conditions couldn’t have been much worse for photography than they were today. That applies to the carrying bag for the tripod as well, it gave me fits the first time that I used it, with it properly adjusted, I didn’t have a problem with it today.

So, I’m looking forward to the arrival of the new lens, and being able to carry it and my other gear at the same time without killing myself. With the weather forecast to be poor next week, it will give me a chance to put the new lens through its paces to see how well it performs.

If it performs as well with the Tamron extender as I hope it will, then The Beast will be reserved for trips when birding is my only objective.

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


Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus

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.

Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is a small hawk, with males being the smallest hawks in the United States and Canada.

It occurs in a wide range of woodland and forest types, both dominated by conifers and by various types of broad-leaved trees (especially oaks) The largest populations are thought to occur in the temperate boreal forests, but winter in warmer regions farther south.

This is a small Accipiter hawk, with males 23 to 30 cm (9.1 to 11.8 in) long, with a wingspan of 42 to 58 cm (17 to 23 in) and weight from 82–115 g (2.9–4.1 oz). As common in Accipiter hawks, females are distinctly larger in size, averaging some 30% longer, and with a weight advantage of more than 50% being common. The female measures 29 to 37 cm (11 to 15 in) in length, has a wingspan of 58 to 68 cm (23 to 27 in) and weighs 150 to 219 g (5.3 to 7.7 oz). The wings measure 14.1–22.9 cm (5.6–9.0 in) each, the tail is 12–19 cm (4.7–7.5 in) long and the tarsus is 4.5–5.9 cm (1.8–2.3 in). Adults have short broad wings and a medium-length tail banded in blackish and gray with the tip varying among individuals from slightly notched through square to slightly rounded (often narrowly tipped white). The remiges (typically only visible in flight) are whitish barred blackish. The legs are long and very slender (hence the common name) and yellow. The hooked bill is black and the cere is yellowish.

These birds surprise and capture most their prey from cover or while flying quickly through dense vegetation. They are adept at navigating dense thickets and many attacks are successful, although this hunting method is often hazardous to the hawk. The great majority of this hawk’s prey are small birds, especially various songbirds such as sparrows, wood-warblers, finches, wrens, nuthatches, tits, icterids and thrushes. Birds caught range in size from a 4.4 g (0.16 oz) Anna’s Hummingbird to a 577 g (1.272 lb) Ruffed Grouse and virtually any bird within this size range is potential prey. Typically, males will target smaller birds, such as sparrows and wood-warblers, and females will pursue larger prey, such as American Robins and flickers, leading to a lack of conflict between the sexes for prey. These hawks often exploit backyard bird feeders in order to target congregations of ideal prey. They often pluck the feathers off their prey on a post or other perch. Rarely, Sharp-shinned Hawks will also eat rodents, lizards, frogs, snakes, and large insects, the latter typically being dragonflies captured on the wing during the hawk’s migration.

Sharp-shinned Hawks construct a stick nest in a large conifer or dense group of deciduous trees. Clutches of 3 to 8 eggs have been recorded, but 4 to 5 eggs is the typical clutch size. The eggs measure 37.6 mm × 30 mm (1.48 in × 1.18 in) and weigh about 19 g (0.67 oz). The eggs are prized by egg-collectors, because they are heavily marked with surprisingly colorful and varied markings. The incubation period is thought to average at about 30 days. After hatching, the young are brooded for 16 to 23 days by the female, while the male defends the territory and catches prey. The young fledge at about a month old and rely on their parents for feeding and protection another four weeks. The nesting sites and breeding behavior of Sharp-shinned Hawks are generally secretive, in order to avoid the predation of larger raptors, such as the Northern Goshawk and the Cooper’s Hawk. While in migration, adults are sometimes preyed on by most of the bird-hunting, larger raptors, especially the Peregrine Falcon.

On to my photos:

Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus

Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus

Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus

Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus

Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus

Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus

Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus

Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus

Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus

Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus

Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus

Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus

Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus

Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus

This is number 150 in my photo life list, only 200 to go!

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

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My Week, the snow goes slow

Sunday

Per my usual Sunday routine, I’m sitting here drinking my coffee early in the morning, looking back at the last week, and forward to the week ahead. It looks as if we’ve turned the corner as far as the weather, it will be cool this week, but we’ll also be losing the snow.

I’m hoping that I’ve also turned the corner as far as bad luck, February was a tough month, what with my Forester getting hit in the parking lot and a few other things that I would rather forget. So far, March is looking much better.

One area of my life that still needs improving is my employment. I’m not going to bore you with what transpired at work of Friday, especially since what did happen had zero effect on me directly, but it was about the perfect example of what small-minded, pathetically petty individuals are in management of the company that I work for.

OK, the short version of what happened. One member of management hid in the parking lot to photograph another member of management when he parked in some one else’s assigned parking spot to make it easier to load his vehicle to make a special delivery. Of course the special delivery was necessitated by the fact that the first member of management, the one hiding in the parking lot, and who is in charge of making sure that the correct products get to the correct customers, can’t do his job correctly. It’s so ridiculous that I have a hard time fathoming why the owners put up with that crap, but the owners eat that stuff up. It’s not job performance that counts there, it is how good one is at stabbing co-workers in the back. The owners reward the backstabbing, but then can’t figure out why members of management can’t perform as a team, duh!

Well, enough of that, the only reason that it matters here is that I have two weeks of vacation time coming that I want to use up before starting another job. I’ve been flipping back and forth whether I should take both weeks together, or one week off, a week back at work, then the other week. What difference does it really make, I’ll take both weeks together, the second and third weeks of May. There, that’s decided.

It’s partly cloudy and cool this morning, I’m going to head on over to Aman Park right after breakfast. I may not bring back any special photos going there, but I can use the change of scenery.

Well, it turned out to be a rather odd day as far as lighting goes. I’ve had a few days like today when I’ve been at the wastewater treatment facility near Muskegon, and rarely around home, but I’m not sure what causes it. I could tell as I was looking through the viewfinder that most of my photos were going to come out on the poor side, but other than getting close to things, I couldn’t figure out how to make my photos any better.

There was a strong wind today, and as I think back to the days when I’ve had similar problems in Muskegon, those were also very windy days.

Anyway, here’s my best shot of the day.

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

And since they are the only birds that I got good photos of, here’s a couple more.

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

How bad was the lighting? So bad that I couldn’t get the exposure correct on a chickadee perched in the sun.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

I saw a large flock of bluebirds, and despite taking over 20 photos of them, here’s the best of a very poor lot.

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t post that photo, but since these were the first bluebirds that I have seen this year, I feel that I have to.

The trails weren’t too bad at first, just as I expected, they were packed down well. However, stepping off from the hard packed trail was not advised, as the snow is still rather deep.

Snow

Snow

And more snow

And more snow

And, I made use of the odd lighting for this shot, although I’m not sure that it really works as well as I had hoped.

Ice on Sand Creek

Ice on Sand Creek

Oh, by the way, all these have been shot with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) as that’s the only lens that I brought on the actual hike. I did carry my tripod again, and I’m going to have to do some work to the case that I bought for it.

The case is great, it’s water-resistant, well padded, and it even has a storage area inside of it for odds and ends. However, the shoulder strap is so slippery that it slides off my shoulder every few steps. I think that I can attach a layer of some other type of material around the strap to make it less slippery, and so that I don’t have to keep pulling it back into place hundreds of times a day as I did today.

Back to my walk, I can tell that I haven’t been lugging the Beast around often enough, as I was getting arm weary on the last loop of the trails. On top of that, as it got warmer, the hard packed snow on the trail was melting just enough so that there was a thin layer of water on top of the snow to provide lubrication. I was beginning to slip slide around a lot more than I wanted to.

I found a log that didn’t have two feet of snow on it to sit on while I took a well deserved break, and to decide whether or not to finish the entire last loop.

Looking off to my side, I spotted these two critters.

Raccoons

Raccoons

Here’s a closer shot.

Raccoon

Raccoon

As I was working my way towards the coons, I was surprised to spot this common goldeneye swimming in Sand Creek.

Common goldeneye

Common goldeneye

I had the goldeneye dead to rights, that should have been one of my best photos of that species, but it’s one of the worst.

While I was chasing the duck, the coons disappeared, even though I did try to find them for better photos.

I returned to the log to finish the break that I had begun, and decided that I had enough for one day. I had almost fallen while going after the coons and the duck, and I didn’t feel like re-injuring my knee since it is doing quite well now.

Adding to my decision to cut my hike short were the strong winds, and the fact that when I reviewed the photos I was getting and saw how poor that they were, I saw no point in continuing. Oh, and I was getting tired of fighting the strap on the tripod case as well.

However, I’m not done for the day yet. A couple of weeks ago, I posted a photo of an odd pine cone that I found. I decided to shoot a few more photos of it this afternoon for Allen (New Hampshire Garden Solutions).

IMG_2549

Pine cone

Here’s the best angle that I could find to show that the “sprouts” aren’t really sprouts, but a part of the cone itself.

Pine cone

Pine cone

And here’s a couple of the seeds from the cone.

Pine seeds

Pine seeds

And finally, one more, just because.

Pine cone

Pine cone

The last four were shot using the new Tokina macro lens. Having it set-up on the tripod sent me searching my apartment for other tiny objects to photograph, but I remember Mr. Tootlepedal’s admonition not to get carried away like so many other people do.

Monday

The wind that made my day yesterday less than ideal has pushed even warmer air into the area, it’s above freezing at sunrise! The weather forecasts for the week are calling for a roller coaster ride as far as temperatures, well above freezing for a day or two, colder for a day or two, then warm again, but no big storms to drop any rain or snow.

Since there was still 16 inches of snow on the ground yesterday, that weather forecast is just what we need to melt the snow slowly enough to not cause any flooding.

The scientists who calculate such things are saying that we set an all time record for the most ice on the Great Lakes the first week of March, but only by a couple of tenths of a percent. Since they had to recalculate twice, I think that they may have tweaked those numbers a little to get us above the old record. 😉

All in all, things are looking good around here, the bird migrations have begun, since I have seen cedar waxwings and bluebirds in the past two weeks, as well as seeing reports from others. It won’t be that long until the first flowers of the year appear, I am so ready for spring!

Well, it’s not quite spring yet but today promises to be spring-like, so it’s time for food, and for me to head on out there.

First thought of the day, what a magnificent day! I fooled around out there for almost three hours, the meteorologists sure missed the forecast for today. It was predicted to be cloudy, wrong!

Second thought for the day, all winter long, while I seldom carried the Beast around and never for any longer distances, that made it very easy to forget just how much it weighs. The Beast by itself weighs 4 pounds, the body attached to it adds almost 2 more pounds, so that’s 6 pounds to deal with while trying to take photos.

The third thought for the day was about reasons that my photos didn’t come out well yesterday. As I was walking today, the thought occurred to me that it could be because the light is “confused”. There’s still a lot of snow on the ground, and it has begun to melt, then re-freeze several times. The surface of the snow is shiny from the thin layer of ice on the surface, but the surface isn’t smooth, it has a pebbly appearance to it.

So, we get bright days like yesterday and today, and my thinking was that there’s all this light bouncing around off from the snow-covered surfaces, coming at the camera from all directions which makes focusing more difficult, as well as metering the light.

It seemed like a good theory, but my photos from today disprove it, at least to some degree.

Male house finch

Male house finch

The only thing wrong with that one is that he was facing the wrong way. I included it because he was singing at 75% of full volume today, it won’t be long now until they will be in full song!

My other photos from today.

IMG_8628

Male downy woodpecker

I shot a photo of the tree that has the odd cones, it’s a short needled evergreen, so I assume it’s a fir or spruce, but since it’s in a subdivision, it may not be a native tree.

IMG_8633

The tree dropping the odd cones

I think that the next one speaks for itself!

Dark-eyed junco enjoying the weather

Dark-eyed junco enjoying the weather

The little guy looks happy!

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

I haven’t shot many mallards lately, and none of them in flight, so here’s a few.

Mallard pair in flight

Mallard pair in flight

Female mallard in flight

Female mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

Lichen

Lichen

And the surprise of the day, sandhill cranes! What they are doing here while we still have so much snow on the ground, and very little open water, is beyond me. But, it’s more proof that the birds have begun migrating north already.

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

That’s all that I have time for today, time to get cleaned up and visit my mom.

Tuesday

I hate waking up to an entirely new weather forecast, but that’s what happened this morning. The new one is for cooler temperatures for the next week than the old one had predicted, we may even set a record low temperature or two in the coming week. Oh yeah, more snow in the new forecast as well. It looks as if the Beast will be going back into hibernation for a few days after today.

At least it’s still warm today, and we’ll lose a little more snow to make room for the new stuff coming on Wednesday. It’s also cloudy today, so the snow melt won’t be as dramatic as it was yesterday. We’re down to around a foot of snow on the ground now, I was hoping to see some patches of ground appear soon, but it looks as if that won’t happen this week.

I did the 149th species in the My Photo Life List project this morning, I may slip in another one later this week just to hit 150. Why that matters, I have no idea, other than that I like nice round numbers. 😉

There is a down side to posting, and that’s all the drive by likers and followers who are only looking to increase their own blogs stats by obligating me to reciprocate. I love blogging, and I really appreciate the people who do follow my blog and take the time to comment, but there are times when I’m going through the list of people who liked a post or followed my blog, and I wonder if it’s worth it. Of course it is, I’ve started going back through some of my earlier posts from springs gone by to see what I saw and when I saw it to compare previous years to this one, and to plan when I should go where. Having a record of what I’ve done and seen is very helpful, and it’s fun to see my previous posts, and how this blog as “matured” over the years. Well, enough of that, time for a walk.

I’m back, and there may be something to my “confused light” theory, for from the weather today, I would have thought that my photos would have been less than stellar. However, the majority of the photos that I shot today came out sharper than the past two days when it was sunny. It didn’t start that way though, there wasn’t enough light to freeze this blue jay.

Blue jay leaping into flight

Blue jay leaping into flight

Blue jay leaping into flight

Blue jay leaping into flight

The light wasn’t much better when I got to the park, in fact, by then it had begun to sprinkle lightly. But fortunately for me, large birds in flight are much easier to photograph than songbirds flying!

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

Because of the combination of snow on the ground to reflect light up at the underside of the birds, plus my saved bird in flight settings , these came out better than I expected, or could have hoped for. By the way, I turned the OS of the Beast off for those photos.

Also in the park, I found a blue jay sitting still.

Blue jay

Blue jay

Blue jay

Blue jay

And Fred, the friendly fox squirrel was busing chowing down on a few of the crab apples that the robins and waxwings left.

Fox squirrel eating crab apples

Fox squirrel eating crab apples

Fox squirrel eating crab apples

Fox squirrel eating crab apples

Fox squirrel eating crab apples

Fox squirrel eating crab apples

Fred is kind of a messy eater!

Since the new forecast this morning predicted the light rain, I had taken my spare dry bag from kayaking to use a as raincoat for the Beast, it that worked like a charm! I was able to keep the Beast covered until needed, then quickly slip it out of the dry bag, shoot the photos that I wanted, then quickly slip the Beast back into the bag.

Since it was warm, and the Beast was protected, I spent a lot of time in the park enjoying the last of the good weather for the time being.

On my way back home, I shot these photos that I am extremely proud of, even though they are far from perfect.

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing in the rain

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing in the rain

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing in the rain

Shooting through all the obstructions, into what sunlight that there was, and the overall very poor lighting made those photos some of the ones that I have worked the hardest to get right! They are far from perfect, but given the conditions, I’m proud of them!

If there’s been a bright side to this rotten winter it is that I’m getting better at photography under horrible conditions. Other than the first two photos from today, of the blue jay taking off, I’m very proud of all of these, even though I have shot better photos of all the subjects. Taking photos under ideal conditions is easy, days like today tests one’s abilities.

Wednesday

Two steps forward, one step back.

The Beast has gone back into hibernation for a few days, as it’s cold, cloudy, and snowing right now. The good news is that the heaviest snow is missing the area where I live, just 60 miles to the south, they are getting dumped on. It’s snowing so hard in Battle Creek that the city has suspended the bus service there! The bad news is that we’ll probably set a record low temperature overnight.

Right now the forecasts are all over the place as far as the weather for the next week, other than the temperatures are going to continue to swing wildly up and down. Where the forecasts differ, it’s in how wide those swings are. We’ll continue to lose snow overall, we’re down to around a foot of snow right now. It can’t go quickly enough for me, it’s been over three months since we’ve seen the ground here not covered in snow, and I’d love to see some green grass for a change.

If I type any more, it would be just my whining about the weather, so I suppose that it is time for breakfast, and for me to go out and face this latest winter blast.

I’m back, and the joke was certainly on me this morning! I had barely gotten started on my walk before the clouds began to break up, and it’s turned out to be a nice day today, albeit a little on the chilly side. It was a bit hard to get around since the hard packed trail had been covered with fresh snow and I had to feel my way along to prevent going off into the deep snow.

I took the L series lens with the Tamron extender, but I almost wish that I had taken my 15-85 mm lens for a few landscape photos.

Snow scene

Snow scene

But, the area doesn’t really lend itself to landscapes, since it’s a residential area.

I did track down a singing cardinal for a few photos of it.

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing

A flock of blue jays moved through the park, but they were all on the bashful side.

Blue jay

Blue jay

Blue jay

Blue jay

The robins were more cooperative. Here’s two photos of the same robin, the only difference was that I went down 1/3 stop EV for the second one.

American robin

American robin

American robin at -1/3 EV

American robin at -1/3 EV

And for the last photo of the day, I spotted Bertha and Bruiser circling across the road from me, which put the light behind them most of the time that I could see them. I waited til the last possible second for this one before Bertha disappeared behind some trees.

Female red-tailed hawk in flight

Female red-tailed hawk in flight

I’m always surprised to see that the hawks have spotted me no matter how hard I try to stay out of their sight. You can see her looking at me as she flew past, even though I was in some pines as you can see.

With the weather turning as nice as it turned out to be, I was out there for over two hours, so that’s all I have time for today.

Thursday

I’m fooling around this morning, waiting for it to warm up at least a little before I head out for my walk. The temperature outside is somewhere close to the record low for this date of 2 F, although it’s sunny with light winds. I wouldn’t mind the cold so much if I hadn’t already had my fill of it this winter.

A couple of months ago, I joined a Meetup group of photographers, but haven’t had a chance to attend any of their meetings. They’ve had several since I joined, all but one on week nights, which don’t work for me because I work nights. They did have one to photograph the butterflies at Meijer Gardens on a weekend, but they didn’t announce it until the day before, and I already had made plans for that day. So far, I’ve not been impressed by the way the organizers run the group, but, I’ll give it a while longer before I drop out. It could be that this winter weather has curtailed their usual activities. I’m not sure how many nature photographers are active in the group, or how often they have nature related outings.

I’m sorry, but I’m a bit bummed out this morning. Having to wait for the temperature to climb above 10 F in mid-March does that to me. 😉 It doesn’t help when I see the extended forecast, and it’s well below average for the next week. Sooner or later, and it looks like later, this winter has to come to an end.

So, I’m going to pretend that it’s nice out there, and even take the Beast despite the cold.

In a reversal of yesterday, when the clouds unexpectedly moved out of the area to give us a nice day, today, the clouds unexpectedly moved in, almost ruining what had been showing promise of being a nice day, despite the cold start.

It was still sunny as I began my walk, and right off the bat, Bertha, Bruiser, or perhaps one of their offspring, surprised the heck out of me by dropping out of a tree quite close to me. I didn’t have time to make any adjustments to the camera, or even zoom in, I just pulled up and shot.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

It happened so quickly that I didn’t get a chance to ID which of the hawks that it was.

With a hawk in the area, this blue jay was hiding.

Blue jay

Blue jay

A little farther along, I caught this one trying to stay warm.

Blue jay

Blue jay

Getting to the far end of the park, I thought that I saw a hawk land in a tree quite some distance from me out of the corner of my eye, I tried to see what the bird was using the Beast, but the bird was so small that I couldn’t get a good look at it. I dismissed it as probably a dove, and walked on, my mistake. The bird was a hawk, a sharp-shinned hawk, and a few seconds later, it came screaming out of the trees almost right on top of me.

Sharp-shinned hawk in flight

Sharp-shinned hawk in flight

By the time that I calmed down and regained some composure, the hawk was between myself and the sun.

Sharp-shinned hawk in flight

Sharp-shinned hawk in flight

With that hawk in the area, all the birds had stopped singing, so I took a break for a few minutes to let them calm down. I watched Fred the friendly fox squirrel come out of hiding to get a drink by licking the water running down a tree branch from snow melting on the branches.

Fox squirrel drinking

Fox squirrel drinking

Here’s the close-up.

Fox squirrel drinking

Fox squirrel drinking

Now you can all say that you’ve seen a squirrel’s tongue, at least in a photo. 😉

With the sharpie gone, this male cardinal came out of hiding as well…

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

…and posed nicely for me.

Male northern cardinal -1/3 EV

Male northern cardinal -1/3 EV

Male northern cardinal no  compensation

Male northern cardinal no compensation

On my way back out of the park, I heard the song of a song sparrow, but he was in some one’s backyard, so no photo. However, I did spot a flock of red-winged blackbirds that must have just arrived. It’s too bad that the clouds had moved in by that time, here’s my photo just for the heck of it.

Male red-winged blackbird in flight

Male red-winged blackbird in flight

Well, that’s just for the record, even if it is a crappy photo.

Since I had to wait so long for it to warm up before I went out, that’s all I have time for today.

Friday

Yippee! It’s 35 degrees warmer right now than it was at this time yesterday!

The bad news is that this weather won’t last long, tomorrow is forecast to be ten degrees colder than average, Sunday, it’s back to twenty degrees below average.

Oh well, I’m going to enjoy this shot of warmer weather!

The calendar says that there are just six days left until the official start of spring, and man, do I wish that the weather would see that and turn around for good, but I’m afraid that it won’t happen this year. It would be nice if all the snow on the ground was gone by then, we’re down to less than a foot on the ground right now.

I’m doing my happy dance! I certainly enjoyed the warmer weather today. How warm? We’ve already made it to 50 F (10 C) for the first time in over three and a half months!

On top of that, I’m doing my happy dance because of the photos that I shot today!

Warning! Way too many photos, especially robins and raptors.

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

American robin

American robin

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

I saw one of the red-tailed hawks near me, but as I was changing the settings on my camera and the Beast, I lost sight of it. I spotted a passing gull, and normally I would post the photo that I shot, but not today. I took two or three steps forward, and was thinking of changing the settings back, when Bruiser came out of the tree that he had perched in to do a great fly by for me! He even screamed to tell me to get ready!

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

He almost fooled me, his crop was full, as you can see in the photos, I thought that it was Bertha, Bruiser’s mate, but Bruiser is the one missing a few flight feathers. But, with his crop full, he looks almost as stocky as Bertha.

Another robin.

American robin

American robin

I brought my new tripod with me, and fought the case the entire time I was out there. That’s the only negative from today, and I’m not going to dwell on it. But, since I had fought the case all the way to the far end of the park, I decided to test the Beast as a macro lens, and test how well the new tripod handles the Beast.

Lichens

Lichens

It works quite well I would say.

I had just packed up and changed the camera settings back to critter settings when I noticed a large bird over my left shoulder, I thought that it was a hawk, and wasn’t going to bother shooting it at the distance from me that it was. But then, I figured what the heck, I’ll shoot it anyway, and I’m glad that I did. Because, it wasn’t a hawk, it was an adult bald eagle. If I hadn’t dawdled making up my mind, this would have been much better.

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

A second or two later, a juvenile eagle followed the adult, I got a fair photo of it, but since it returned later on, and much closer to me, the first photos were deleted. 😉

Before the eagle returned though, I shot a few other things.

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

As I was leaving the park, the juvenile eagle returned for its encore performance.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Then, on my way home, I shot a couple of photos of a pair of chickadees that were looking for a place to build their nest. By then, the wind which is driving the warmer air into the area was blowing so hard that I could not hold still for most of the photos that I attempted. The chickadees were popping in and out of existing holes in the trees, but all the photos that I shot of them doing that came out blurry because the wind was trying to blow me over. Here’s the best that I managed to get.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Since I was out there for so long today, I don’t have time to talk about the tripod case, or how well that the tripod handled the Beast, so I’ll throw that in tomorrow. Right now, it’s time for work.

Saturday

It was cloudy when I got up, so I’ve been fooling around inside waiting to see if the sun would come out. It has, so I’ll be headed out the door shortly. It’s much cooler than yesterday, and it has dawned on me, one of the things that has made this winter seem so bad is that we haven’t had very nice weather on any of the weekends.

I’ve decided not to bore any one, whining about the carrying case for the tripod, or raving about how much that I love the tripod itself, but I have something else to bore you with.

My brother purchased a geared slide set-up for fine focusing when doing macro photography. The unit that he bought worked in two axis, but you really only need one, to move the camera nearer or farther away from the subject. The second axis, from side to side isn’t as important, that can be easily accomplished by adjusting the tripod. Besides, the unit that he bought was quite tall when using both axis, as well as heavy. So, he took it apart so that he just used the one axis, and sent me the unused portion of his unit, since it is two of the same rails bolted together. So, now I have a geared slide rail set-up for use when doing macro photography. Now then, if the weather would get nice enough so that I could do some macro photography, I’d be all set.

Well, I’m back. I don’t know if it was the change in weather, or what else could have caused it, but it was a very slow day around here today. However, the very warm wind yesterday sure did a number on the snow that is left. For the first time in at least two months, I didn’t have to stay on the well packed trails to get around, and there are even a few patches of bare grass that are showing up! The more the better! And besides, it’s hard to top a two eagle day like yesterday.

My photos from today are really nothing special, other than you can see bare ground in a few of them, and blue skies in others.

Pine cones

Pine cones

This pair of deer were quick to find the areas without snow to look for food!

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

This chickadee was also checking out possible nesting holes, just like the ones from yesterday.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

I thought that the lighting would make this next shot better than it is, but it’s still OK.

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Just like the cardinal above, this junco was looking for food without having to dig through the snow.

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

In the sunshine, it felt warmer than the actual air temperature, and this is one of several squirrels that I caught snoozing in the sun.

Sleepy fox squirrel

Sleepy fox squirrel

This cardinal turned her head at the last second, or it would have been a good one.

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

And finally, a white-breasted nuthatch gathering materials to build a nest with.

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

I watched it run up the tree and deposit that beak full of whatever it was in a hole in the tree, between the nuthatches and the chickadees getting ready to nest, one would almost think that spring was just around the corner. 😉

Well, that’s all I have to say for today, and therefore, for the week, so that’s it for this one, now it’s nap time!

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


Wilson’s Phalarope, Phalaropus tricolor

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.

Wilson’s Phalarope, Phalaropus tricolor

The Wilson’s Phalarope is a small wader. This bird, the largest of the phalaropes, breeds in the prairies of North America in western Canada and the western United States. It is migratory, wintering in inland salt lakes near the Andes in Argentina. They are passage migrants through Central America around March/April and again during September/October.

This species is often very tame and approachable. Its common name commemorates the American ornithologist Alexander Wilson.

Wilson’s Phalarope is slightly larger than the Red Phalarope at about 23 cm (9.1 in) in length. As are all 3 phalaropes, it is a unique, dainty shorebird with lobed toes and a straight fine black bill. The breeding female is predominantly gray and brown above, with white underparts, a reddish neck and reddish flank patches. The breeding male is a duller version of the female, with a brown back, and the reddish patches reduced or absent. In a study of breeding phalaropes in Saskatchewan Province in Canada, females were found to average around 10% larger in standard measurements and to weigh around 30% more than the males. Females weighed from 68 to 79 g (2.4 to 2.8 oz), whereas males average 51.8 g (1.83 oz).

Young birds are grey and brown above, with whitish underparts and a dark patch through the eye. In winter, the plumage is essentially grey above and white below, but the dark eyepatch is always present. The average longevity in the wild is 10 years.

Wilson’s Phalaropes are unusually halophilic (salt-loving) and feed in great numbers when on migration on saline lakes such as Mono Lake in California, Lake Abert in Oregon, and the Great Salt Lake of Utah, often with Red-necked Phalaropes.

When feeding, a Wilson’s Phalarope will often swim in a small, rapid circle, forming a small whirlpool. This behavior is thought to aid feeding by raising food from the bottom of shallow water. The bird will reach into the outskirts of the vortex with its bill, plucking small insects or crustaceans caught up therein.

The typical avian sex roles are reversed in the three phalarope species. Females are larger and more brightly colored than males. The females pursue males, compete for nesting territory, and will aggressively defend their nests and chosen mates. Once the females lay their eggs, they begin their southward migration, leaving the males to incubate the eggs. Three to four eggs are laid in a ground nest near water. The young feed themselves.

On to my photos:

Wilson's Phalarope, Phalaropus tricolor

Wilson’s Phalarope, Phalaropus tricolor

Wilson's Phalarope

Wilson’s Phalarope

Wilson's Phalarope in flight

Wilson’s Phalarope in flight

Wilson's Phalarope in flight

Wilson’s Phalarope in flight

Wilson's Phalarope

Wilson’s Phalarope

Wilson's Phalarope

Wilson’s Phalarope

Wilson's Phalarope

Wilson’s Phalarope

Wilson's Phalarope

Wilson’s Phalarope

This is number 149 in my photo life list, only 201 to go!

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

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My Week, signs of spring?

Sunday

No signs of spring yet this morning, just more of the same old winter. A weak system moved across the area last night, dropping a couple more inches of snow, just what we didn’t need. The temperature outside is cold by January standards, so I don’t think that I would be wrong in calling it brutally cold for March. Of course it’s cloudy, although over the past two weeks we’ve had more sunshine than the previous two months combined.

I’d really like to walk somewhere other than around home, but there’s not much point to driving someplace right now. As soon as the calendar flipped over to March, we set the record for the most snow on the ground for the month of March at 20 inches, and we’re going to add to that record over the next few days. I haven’t seen it as an official record yet, but I would assume that we’ve set the record for the most snow on the ground so late in the winter season as well.

There are a few local parks that I could go to that get enough people walking on a daily basis that there would be well packed trails to walk on, but I’d still be limited by the weather as far as the photo gear I would take, and what there would be to see, so there’s really no reason to waste gas getting to any of those parks.

It’s kind of funny, while walking around here I have noticed that the other people who I see walking at the same time all look as though they are walking on a balance beam that are used in gymnastics. There’s these narrow paths of hard packed snow to walk on, step just a little to either side, and it’s like falling off the edge of something, and you end up knee-deep in snow. I’m sure that I look the same to them as I try to stay on the packed paths.

You may find this hard to believe from what I’ve written so far today, and my last few posts for that matter, but I am trying to stay positive. Spring will be late this year, but it will eventually arrive. There are few places as beautiful as Michigan in the spring, but being stuck in this purgatory of endless clouds, cold, and snow makes it hard to look forward most of the time.

Since it’s cloudy and cold, I think that I’ll go to the grocery store before going for my walk, as the weather may improve a little by the time I take care of that little chore.

I’m back, and you’d think that I had planned the way that things worked out. Oh wait, I sort of did.

I went to the store, and when I got back home, the sun was just breaking out of the clouds. But, it was cold, really cold, I debated with myself if I would even go for a walk. I put the groceries away, fooled around inside for a while, but the sunshine was too much for me to resist, so off I went.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

I was hoping to catch the waxwings and/or robins eating the crab apples again, but no luck there. I think that they had already had their fill and were chatting after breakfast.

Cedar waxwings and American robin

Cedar waxwings and American robin

Then, they spread out a little in the tree, and snoozed in the sun.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

It felt warm by the time that I got to the park, so warm that I left my gloves off and even considered unzipping my coat, but I slowed down my pace instead. Still, it was only around 13 degrees F, but it felt much, much warmer than that in the sun and very little wind.

The robin kept one eye on me at all times.

American robin

American robin

With the sun, the birds were out and about, a few were even within range of the L series lens and Tamron extender, but if I had known that it was going to feel as warm as it did, I would have brought the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) instead for even better photos.

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

Female downy woodpecker

Female downy woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

I fooled around in the park, taking many more photos of the same species, but I’m going to hold off from posting those right now.

Just as I was leaving the park for the walk back home, a band of clouds moved in, and it began to feel as cold as the thermometer said that it was.

On my way home, I spotted Bertha, the large red-tailed hawk preening while perched in a tree along the road, she was really out of range, but I shot a few photos anyway.

Female red-tailed hawk

Female red-tailed hawk

She spotted me, and rewarded me with a nice fly by!

Female red-tailed hawk in flight

Female red-tailed hawk in flight

I got home, went through the batch of photos that the ones I have posted came from, and then checked my Email. I had a rare bird alert from eBirds, letting me know that an American wigeon had been seen just a few miles from where I live. So, I slapped the Beast on my camera with the Tamron extender behind it, and off I went to shoot a few bad photos.

American wigeon

American wigeon

American wigeon

American wigeon

Not great, but they are good enough for the My Photo Life List project if I have to use them. I even got a bonus lifer, a northern pintail!

Male northern pintail

Male northern pintail

As you may be able to tell, it was snowing when I was photographing the ducks. It was also noteworthy that both of the rare ducks seemed to be trying very hard to keep trees or branches between myself and them, even though I was shooting from around 100 yards away from them.

The photos from today maybe crap, but I’ve broken the ice and have usable photos, now if what usually happens does happen again, I’ll get better photos shortly. Maybe even tomorrow, for I have to drop my Subaru off at the body shop tomorrow to have the fender replaced. The body shop isn’t far from where I saw the wigeon and pintail, so I may swing past that spot on my way back if there’s some sunshine.

All in all, a very good day!

Monday

Sunny, but bitterly cold once again this morning. We dropped to -8 F, just one degree short of tieing the record for this date. The good news is that this was the last of the super cold mornings for the foreseeable future as far as the weather forecasts are saying. We may even get above freezing by the end of the week, although that’s still 10 degrees colder than average. It will feel like a heat wave!

I have to drop my Subaru off at the body shop this morning, and since it’s near where I saw the wigeon and pintail yesterday, and since it’s sunny this morning, I think that I’ll swing by and see if I can get better photos. It’s also the day that I visit my mom in the nursing home, so I may not get a walk in. I won’t mind it too much if I don’t, as cold as it is today.

I’m back from my photo excursion, and it didn’t go that well. The wigeon and pintail were in a slough off from the Grand River, and most of it had frozen over during the night. Both the Pintail and wigeon were still there, but the pintail stayed out of sight behind a snow bank for all but a few seconds while I was there. I managed a few more bad photos of the wigeon before my fingers froze. The first is a photo not cropped at all, the second is severely cropped.

American wigeon

American wigeon

American wigeon

American wigeon

In addition to the brush and trees that I had to shoot through making life difficult for me, there was a mist rising off from the water due to the extreme cold, so none of the photos I took came out as sharp as I wanted.

I had taken my new tripod, but I didn’t use it, between the cold and that both the wigeon and I were always moving, I didn’t feel like trying the tripod. There will be better days for me to test the Beast and Tamron extender together on the tripod.

I may have been able to get a short walk in, but it’s just too cold for me today after getting chilled to the bone watching the wigeon earlier. The temperature is up to 4 degrees F just after noon as I type this.

I’m going to take a long hot shower to thaw out, then go visit my mom. Since the photos from this morning aren’t very good, here’s one from yesterday.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Tuesday

While I was taking a shower yesterday and trying to thaw out yet again, I decided that I would put a temporary “rule” in place for the rest of this winter, I’m not going to go for a walk unless it’s at least 10 degrees F. Hopefully it will warm up enough so that I don’t have to invoke that rule, but I’m tired of getting chilled to the bone as often as I have this winter. Of course I could start wearing another layer of clothing, but I’ve had enough days of the extreme cold this winter, it’s just no fun any more.

Just for the record, our high temperature yesterday was 15 degrees, in the late afternoon.

With this shot of cold air, 90% of Lake Michigan is frozen over again, so there should be fewer clouds, and no lake effect snow for a while. Ice cover on Lake Michigan has reached a record extent for March. Monday’s analysis by the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory shows total ice concentration on Lake Michigan at 90.1%, the most ever recorded in March.

I say that even though it is cloudy with a little light snow this morning, but that’s from a weak system moving through the area, not lake effect.

Now, for the good news! The eight to ten-day weather forecasts are predicting temperatures around the freezing mark from tomorrow on. That’s still ten degrees below average, but it’s a huge improvement over the twenty to thirty degrees below average that have been the rule the past week! Maybe we’ve finally turned the corner and I’ll be seeing more signs of spring from here on out.

I’m back from my walk, and I didn’t see any signs of spring today, just this end of a limb that looks like I feel, weather-beaten.

Weather-beaten

Weather-beaten

I suppose that you could call my walk today a work day. The county lost the battle keeping the sidewalk plowed quite some time ago, there are sections of it that have drifts three to four feet deep, so I’ve been walking on the plowed shoulder of the road to and from the park. But, I think that if it warms up as forecast, the shoulders of the road are going to be like skating rinks many mornings, with temperatures above freezing in the afternoon, but below freezing overnight.

Since a few people have tried walking the sidewalk, and have packed the snow down a little, I thought that today would be a good day to add my efforts to making a trail on the sidewalk. So, rather than walk in the park, I worked on making the sidewalk a viable option for walking. It was a lot of work, but I made it down a mile and a half and back again.

I don’t think that it made much difference where I walked today, as I saw and heard very few birds today, or any other critters for that matter. I think that part of it is due to the fact that I had waited until the temperature had climbed above my new minimum criteria for walking, it was 12 F when I left my apartment. At least the wind was light, and as hard as I worked making a trail, I didn’t freeze any part of my anatomy today.

Since there was just the one photo from today, here’s a series of a robin eating a crab apple from Sunday. What’s interesting about this series is that I caught the robin flipping the berry to get it aligned the right way before swallowing it. Unfortunately, the photo from the series as the robin swallowed the crab apple is out of focus, for some reason the auto-focus picked up on the twig in front of the robin for that photo. But, here’s the rest of them.

American robin plucking a crab apple

American robin plucking a crab apple

American robin plucking a crab apple

American robin plucking a crab apple

American robin rotating a crab apple before swallowing it

American robin rotating a crab apple before swallowing it

American robin catching a crab apple after rotating it

American robin catching a crab apple after rotating it

Well, that’s it for today. Tomorrow may be cloudy as well, as another weak system passes through, but then we are supposed to get several very nice days in a row! If that happens, I’ll be hanging around outside for as long as I can!

Wednesday

It was cloudy and cold when I got up as another weak system passes to the south of where I live. I’ve been fooling around inside while waiting for it to warm up a little, and hoping for some sunshine. It’s getting brighter outside, so my plan may be working.

The really good news is that today is the first day of a warming trend that has temperatures getting near or above freezing for a week, maybe longer, so we may finally begin to lose some of the snow around here! I’d better go check it out!

My plan almost worked, the clouds moved off to the south while I was out there, the wind slacked off to next to nothing, and it felt good to be out there. However, the birds must not have gotten my memo telling them I would be starting a bit later, or they got it and ignored it. 😉

I thought that I would see and/or hear quite a bit of bird activity, but it was rather quiet until I got to the far end of the park. I hadn’t shot a single photo, but then this female cardinal decided to pose for me.

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

But, that was the only bird that I was able to get close to in the park. I did see what I think was one of the Cooper’s hawks flying along the creek, but it was in the trees, so I never got a good look at it, or a photo.

I did find a flock of house finches though, along the road near the apartment complex.

Male house finch

Male house finch

Female house finch

Female house finch

Male house finch

Male house finch

I know that I bad mouth the L series lens from time to time because the auto-focus isn’t as accurate as my other lenses, but when it nails a shot, it really does an outstanding job, as in that last photo. The finch almost looks fake, or as if I had pasted it into the photo because of how sharp that photo is.

Speaking of sharp photos, a couple of weeks ago, I posted a photo of an interesting evergreen cone that I saw. That photo was OK, but I knew that I could do better.

I’ve been dying to use my new Tokina 100 mm macro lens more, but as cold as it has been, I haven’t had a chance to. So today, I picked up one of the cones and brought it home. That way I could put my new Manfrotto tripod to work as well. That set-up, of the Manfrotto tripod, my second camera body all set-up in advance for use on the tripod, and the Tokina macro lens is an absolute joy to use, and produces results like these.

Pine cone

Pine cone

Pine cone

Pine cone

I wasn’t that concerned with composition or much of anything else other than getting a chance to use my new gear together to stay prepared for when I get to use it outdoors. Maybe I’ll have more time to play around for a better photo this weekend, but as good as the weather forecast is looking, that may not happen. If it’s as nice as they say, I’ll be fooling around outside instead.

Thursday

Sunny, but a cold start to the day, we were down close to zero again overnight, but temperatures are recovering quickly with the sunshine.

We’re setting a number of records on a daily basis for such things as the amount of snow on the ground and ice on the Great Lakes, but I won’t bore you by listing them all. The one thing that really stands out to me is the fact that we’ve had at least four inches of snow cover for 87 days consecutive days, and we’ll go well over 90 days with as much snow on the ground as there is. That’s three full months of at least 4 inches of snow cover.

The good news is that we’re beginning to lose some of that snow, but with the long-range forecasts calling for below average temps for the rest of the month of March, it will be quite a while before all the snow is gone. That’s okay, otherwise we would be swimming around here if all the snow melted quickly.

More good news, by changing the way that I move the carts at work, my knees are really starting to come around. My left knee is back to normal, and my right knee is improving with every day. An added benefit is that I make a little more money also, since it takes me a little longer each night to complete my run.

So, things are looking better around here, I’m tempted to take the Beast with me today, but I think that I’ll hold off until tomorrow. It’s still cold, and there’s a breeze to make it feel colder still, so what’s one more day?

I never thought that I would be looking forward to lugging the Beast around with me, but I am. It does so well getting good bird photos. Even more, I’m looking forward to giving my new macro set-up a real work-out outside! Well, there’ll be time for that later, right now, the temperature has climbed above 10 degrees F, so it’s time for a walk!

I’m back. I know that scientists have a formula that they use to compute the wind chill factor, air temperature X – wind speed Y= wind chill, but there’s something more to the wind chill than just the numbers. The numbers weren’t that bad when I began my walk, but by the time I got close to the park, I had to cover most of my face with my neck gaiter because it felt so cold today. Fortunately that didn’t last long, as the wind slacked off, and the bright sunshine caused the temperature to rise dramatically. It went from feeling like one of the coldest days of an already very cold winter to feeling like an early spring day in just a couple of hours.

Yes, it felt so good after a while that I fooled around a lot longer than usual today. I wish that I could do the same thing tomorrow when it will be even warmer, but my Subaru has been repaired, and I can pick it up tomorrow, which is really great news. I think that I’ll hit Aman Park on Sunday, since the weather forecast is looking so good. The change of scenery will do me good.

Since I was out there longer than usual, I came home with more photos than usual as well. I won’t bore you with all of them, and I want to save a few for another post that I should do.

Back in the early days of my blog, I did a series of posts about how I get so close to wildlife, and since it’s been a while, I should do another on that theme. Especially since Emily of Hoof Beats and Foot Prints has asked how I’ve been getting so close to some of the ducks lately. The short version is to not act like a typical human, but to act as if one is a part of nature, but I should explain that at length.

Anyway, here’s a few of the photos from today.

American crow

American crow

American crow

American crow

American crow

American crow

I couldn’t get the exact angle on the crow that I wanted, nor a completely clear view of it, but I think that those are fairly good photos of a tough to photograph bird.

There were several cardinals singing throughout the park today, this is the only one that I could get even half-way close to because of the snow.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

While I was trying to find a better view of the cardinal, this fox squirrel started following me around, just begging me to take its picture.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

I did finally get a slightly better view of the cardinal while he was singing.

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing

This blue jay was doing some singing as well, if you call the noises that blue jays make singing.

Blue jay

Blue jay

The blue jay followed me for a while as well.

Blue jay in flight

Blue jay in flight

Somehow, I always manage to catch them with their wings folded.

On my way home from the park, Bruiser decided to tease me by flying right along a powerline so that the powerline ended up in all the photos of him that I shot today. But, they’re darned good photos of him, so I’m including them, powerline and all.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

You can see in the photos that he was keeping an eye on me and trying to keep the powerline between us.

Well, that’s all I have time for today, since I was outside for so long.

Friday

Sunny and a little warmer today, we could actually make it well above freezing for the first time in nearly a month!

Before I can go for my walk, I have to go to the body shop and pick-up my Subaru, it will be great to have it back again! I’m also going to take care of one other errand while I’m out, which is a shame with the weather as nice as it is today.

I’ve already switched to the Beast on my camera in anticipation of a good day for photography. I may not have much time to write here when I get back, but it’s Friday, and I can work on my blog over the weekend. Tomorrow, we’ll have a weak storm moving through the area, but Sunday is looking good, albeit a little cooler than today.

I may have to rethink going to Aman Park Sunday, that park is closer to Lake Michigan, so there’s even more snow on the ground there than there is here. I should go to the east instead, but I’m not familiar with many parks in that direction. Well, I have some time to think about that, it’s time to get a move on now.

I’m back from both picking up my Forester, and from my walk. I think that because I was later in doing my walk, I didn’t see many birds today, despite some splendid weather. It was so warm that I had to remove my coat. I think that most of the birds had gotten their bellies full earlier, and had found a warm, sunny spot to snooze for a while. I didn’t get the quantity of photos that I had expected, but the few that I did get has sent me thinking again. I’ll get to that in a minute, first, here’s today’s photos.

Female downy woodpecker

Female downy woodpecker

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Glorious weather!

Glorious weather!

All of those were shot with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) and I am very happy with the quality of those photos. The photos of the junco and tree sparrow were shot under less than ideal conditions as far as lighting, and they still came out fairly well.

Now then, here’s the photo that has gotten me thinking of what lens I should purchase next.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

The Beast is a great lens, no doubt about it! I think that I have one of the presets of my Canon 60 D body dialed in just about perfectly for the Beast. But, the Beast is still a beast to lug around all day, especially if I am toting my other equipment with me at the same time.

I had planned on saving for a 400 mm L series prime telephoto, to use on long hikes instead of the Beast. I had put purchasing that lens on the back burner, and I’m glad that I did.

Here’s why, this photo was shot with the 70-200 mm L series lens using the Tamron 1.4 tele-converter behind it.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Same squirrel, similar conditions, and there’s almost no difference in the quality of the photos, if anything the Beast produced the best photo.

Okay, the Beast has optical stabilization, which I am sure helps me to get as good of photos as I do with it, the 400 mm L series lens doesn’t have it, which is one of the reasons I put buying that lens on the back burner. I’m sure that the OS is the main reason that I can get shots like this one handheld using the Beast and Tamron extender together handheld at 700 mm.

Female long-tailed duck

Female long-tailed duck

Speaking of the Tamron 1.4 tele-converter, I purchased that to use with the Tokina macro lens, as I had read that the two of them together made a great macro set-up, and it does. However, I have been extremely pleased with the Tamron’s performance behind all of my lenses.

So, I have decided to switch my future purchase again, back to the Canon 300 mm L series prime telephoto lens that I had been considering before. That lens has image stabilization, and it will auto-focus when using the Tamron extender behind it, while the 400 mm lens won’t. With the extender the 300 mm lens becomes a 420 mm lens that will also close focus down to less than five feet. That set-up will be much lighter and more compact than the Beast for long hikes, I won’t lose much as far as reach, and I’ll also have IS as well. It will also focus at just over half the distance of the 400 mm lens for use in photographing butterflies and dragonflies.

The 300 mm lens may not have quite the same reputation for sharpness as the 400 mm, however, how sharp is sharp enough is a question that I am asking myself more often these days. It’s hard to imagine much sharper than what the photos that I’m getting now are. I’m not even sure if it will be quite as sharp as the Beast, but at just over half the weight of the Beast, it will be much easier to carry for a long day of hiking.

But that’s a long way off, for the time being, I’ll be lugging the Beast with me.

Saturday

Well, it’s cloudy, and I’ll call it cool this morning. The temperature is right at the freezing point this morning. The clouds are left over from another weak system that passed through the area last night, but instead of dropping snow, this last system treated us to a little rain. We lost quite a bit of snow yesterday and even overnight, but there was so much to begin with that even though I can see that a lot of snow melted, it hardly made a dent in the total that was on the ground to begin with. That’s okay, things are looking up!

I’m back from the longest walk that I have done in the past two months. It’s incredible how much snow and ice melted in the last twenty-four hours, what’s even more incredible is how much that there is left. I would guess that we lost three to six inches of snow from the way that it looked, yet losing that much barely made a dent in what’s on the ground. Oh well, it will be gone eventually.

Hmmm, I see that I repeated myself again, that’s what I get for not reading what I wrote before my walk after I get back.

I took the L series lens with the Tamron extender today, as I also brought my new tripod along as well, hoping to see a few lichen worth photographing, but I had no luck on that count. The good news though is that as light as the new Manfrotto tripod is, it’s very easy to carry. I know that I paid too much for it, or did I? If it’s light enough to carry, I’ll end up using it more often, and get better photos because of that.

It was a poor day for photography, the clouds hung around the entire time I was out, and it there was a little fog trying to form from the moisture of the melting snow, but the light wind kept the fog in check for the most part.

First up, three blue jays that were up to something, I’m not sure what. They were chasing each other all around the park for a while, I don’t know if their antics had something to do with mating or what.

Three blue jays in flight

Three blue jays in flight

Something has begun to eat some of the highbush cranberries, I suspect rabbits, since the berries missing from the bushes were all close to the ground.

Debris from highbush cranberries

Debris from highbush cranberries

I thought that this tree trunk would make an interesting black and white photo.

Tree trunk

Tree trunk

Next is the pattern left in ice after a leaf melted its way through the ice.

Leaf pattern

Leaf pattern

A male cardinal, just because.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

As I was exiting the park, this Cooper’s hawk made a nice fly by for me.

Cooper's hawk in flight

Cooper’s hawk in flight

Cooper's hawk in flight

Cooper’s hawk in flight

It occurred to me on the way back home that it had been a nice winter day, and in most years, that would have been true. It was just about what the average winter day is like around here, we could have used a lot more days like this one this past winter, rather than the constant extreme cold. It looks as if even though it’s going to remain cool, at least the brutal cold is over with for this season, I sure hope so.

That’s about all for this one, thanks for stopping by!


White-eyed Vireo, Vireo griseus

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.

White-eyed Vireo, Vireo griseus

The White-eyed Vireo (Vireo griseus) is a small songbird. It breeds in the southeastern USA from New Jersey west to northern Missouri and south to Texas and Florida, and also in eastern Mexico, northern Central America, Cuba and the Bahamas.

Populations on the US Gulf coast and further south are resident, but most North American birds migrate south in winter.

This vireo frequents bushes and shrubs in abandoned cultivation or overgrown pastures. The grass-lined nest is a neat cup shape, attached to a fork in a tree branch by spider webs. 3-5 dark-spotted white eggs are laid. Both the male and female incubate the eggs for 12 – 16 days. The young leave the nest 9 – 11 days after hatching.

The White-eyed Vireo is 13 – 15 cm in length. Its head and back are a greyish olive, and the underparts are white with yellow flanks. The wings and tail are dark, and there are two white wing bars on each wing. The eyes have white irises, and are surrounded by yellow spectacles. Sexes are similar.

The White-eyed Vireo’s song is a variable and rapid six to seven note phrase, starting and ending with a sharp chick.

During the breeding season, the diet of this species consists almost exclusively of insects, primarily caterpillars. In the autumn and winter it supplements its diet of insects with berries.

On to my photos:

White-eyed Vireo, Vireo griseus

White-eyed Vireo, Vireo griseus

White-eyed Vireo, Vireo griseus

White-eyed Vireo, Vireo griseus

White-eyed Vireo, Vireo griseus

White-eyed Vireo, Vireo griseus

White-eyed Vireo, Vireo griseus

White-eyed Vireo, Vireo griseus

This is number 148 in my photo life list, only 202 to go!

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

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My Week, does it ever end?

Sunday

Well, sitting here drinking my coffee, trying to decide if I should go in to work early, and walk in the afternoon, or walk now, and work later. Since it’s sunny and the wind is relatively calm right now, I guess I’ll go for a walk as soon as I finish breakfast.

I know that I have whined too much about the weather, but since this winter is going into the record books as one of the harshest on record, I think that I’m entitled to a little whining. Three days of warm weather melted just 6 inches of the snow on the ground, there’s still 18 inches left, so I still can’t get around very well. If the forecast for this week is correct, we’ll set one or two records for lowest temperatures for those dates. The overall temperatures for this coming week are forecast to be nearly 30 degrees below average. If we get as much snow as they are forecasting, this winter will go into the books as the second snowiest winter ever, and we very well may make the number one spot this winter if this pattern doesn’t break soon.

The strong winds on Friday pushed all the ice on Lake Michigan into piles along the Michigan shore, so there’s a lot of open water again now, which means more lake effect clouds and snow. Ice coverage on Lake Michigan went from 85% to less than 30%, but with record-setting cold this week, it will start to freeze back over again.

Well, I’m back, and despite the fact that I knew that I would nearly freeze my fingers off, I took the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) with me. The birds must have known that, most of them stayed well hidden today, probably staying out of the cold wind as well. It was a good thing that I took the Beast, otherwise this would be the only photo from today.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

As it was, the only birds that I managed to photograph were a red-bellied woodpecker and a robin.

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

American robin fidgeting

American robin fidgeting

American robin

American robin

If I said any more about today, it would end up being about how cold it felt even with the bright sunshine, besides, I have to go to work and make the run that I didn’t on Friday because of the wind and snow.

Monday

Well, back to “normal” around here today, cloudy, cold, with light snow swirling around my window. I’m tired of saying that I’m tired of this winter, but it’s going to stick around for the foreseeable future. The long-range computer forecasts keep us below freezing for day time highs until the middle of March. Now that’s a depressing thought! Three more weeks of cold.

If that all holds true, then we may not lose the snow cover around here until April, as it will take more than a week of above freezing temperatures to get rid of all the snow that’s on the ground now, and we’ll only be adding to that over the next ten days.

If there’s any good news, it’s that my knees are improving with each day, since I’m taking it a bit easier at work. My left knee doesn’t bother me at all any longer, and even the right knee is getting much better. It’s still tender if I twist it too far, or if I put a lateral load on it, but at least I can walk in a straight line without limping any longer. So,I guess it’s time to bundle up and face the cold, again.

I’m back, and I’m going to attempt to not complain about the cold and the wind.

I took the Canon 70-200 L series lens with the Tamron Extender behind it today, and I noticed that the British soldier lichens that I photographed with the Tokina macro lens shortly after I purchased that lens were visible again. So I shot a number of photos of the lichen, but without a tripod, they all came out really bad, too bad to post here. That was mostly due to my not being able to stop the lens down to get enough depth of field, but the other part of the equation is still that I have a difficult time getting the L series lens and the Tamron extender to focus well together up close.

So, my three photos of the day are of a robin trying to stay warm while eating a few crabapple.

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

American robin

The first photo wasn’t cropped at all, the second and third were.

If there’s a bright side to this bad weather, I think that it is that I’m getting better at getting good photos under poor conditions. Maybe if this winter hangs on as long as it looks like it is going to, I’ll actually get good at photography in snowstorms. 😉

In a way, I hate to post so many photos of the more common species as I have been, but that’s all that I’m seeing right now. I wouldn’t want my blog to become the fox squirrel photo of the day blog, but then again, as long as my photos continue to improve, then I’ll keep on posting what I see. The squirrel photo from yesterday ranks as one of the best that I have ever gotten in my opinion.

Tuesday

What’s to say other than cloudy and cold. Sorry that I sound like a broken record, but that’s the way that it’s been around here.

There will be one change today, I have a dental appointment just after noon today, so I won’t be walking today. Typically, I would try to sneak in a walk before or after the appointment, but I really see no reason to. Instead, I took this extra time today to post my weekly species of bird in the My Photo Life List project that I started last year.

I’m making good progress, and I have photos saved that will put me to the half-way point on the list of species that I am working from, but some of the photos are bad, and I hope to shoot better ones before I get to those species. Some of the photos that I have saved were shot with my old Nikon D 50 and 70-300 mm lens that I used to use, and they can’t hold a candle to the photos that I am getting with my new equipment. That’s the problem with upgrading your equipment, learning to use it correctly, and significantly increasing the quality of the photos that you get, you don’t want the world to see what you used to think was a good photo. 😉

Since there won’t be a photo from today, I’ll use up this one that I shot one night last week after I arrived home from work, a rather rare sight in Michigan during the winter.

Moon

Moon

That was shot using the Beast and the Tamron extender and then cropped a bit, not too shabby.

Wednesday

A change in the weather! It’s sunny, but even colder than what it has been the past few days. The temperature when I got up was 4 degrees F, with a wind chill of -12 F.

I want to quit looking at the weather forecasts, as they all say that this cold is going to hang around through at least most of the month of March. But, I need to know what the weather is going to be for work, so I’m stuck listening to how cold that it is going to stay.

Well, there’s nothing I can do but bundle and trundle, be back later.

I’m back, and I’m trying to get some warmth back into my body. Some clouds and even snow moved through the area while I was out, but there was sunshine most of the time, even that wasn’t enough to kill the chill though.

The average high temperature for the first of March is 40 degrees F, the forecast high for today through Friday are 10 to 12 degrees, nearly 30 degrees colder than average.

It’s been so cold for so long that there have been many water main breaks in the past few weeks, and some cities are asking residents to keep a faucet or two dripping at all times to prevent the water mains freezing and bursting.

There have been more roof and even building collapses due to the weight of snow and ice, too many to keep up with of late.

I have to wonder if this constant cold is making my knee as bad as it has been. It’s been very cold in the trailer while I unload and load it, so cold that last night I broke down and wore a pair of heavy, insulated Carhart coveralls that have seen better days, but I’ve grown tired of freezing while working. I was very pleased with how good my knee felt last night when I got home, and even more pleased with the way that it felt this morning when I got up.

However, once I was outside in the cold this morning, by the time that I got past the building I live in, a dull ache was settling in my knee, so bad that I considered turning around. But, I didn’t, I trundled on. That has me thinking that I should start adding another layer to what I wear while I’m walking to protect my legs from the cold better. I’ll try that tomorrow to see if it helps.

I did manage to get a few photos today.

Female downy woodpecker

Female downy woodpecker

Female downy woodpecker

Female downy woodpecker

Last week I posted a photo of Bertha and Bruiser, the mated red-tailed hawks, perched together in a tree that I’ve never seen either of them use before. Like most raptors, red-tailed hawks have a few favored trees that they perch in while hunting so it was unusual to see the two of them together in what I would consider an odd spot.

Today, Bruiser was perched in that same tree again, but I didn’t see Bertha. I did get a couple of poor photos of Bruiser as he moved on looking for better hunting grounds.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

IMG_8074

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Normally I would have deleted those two photos, but since I’m having trouble coming up with any photos, and they do remind me that Bertha and Bruiser seem to be changing their habits, I’ve included them today.

Thursday

I don’t know why, but the cold really got to me yesterday. It took forever for me to get warm again, even though there have been many days this winter when it has been just as cold as it was yesterday.

Speaking of just as cold, the weather today is almost an exact repeat of yesterday, some clouds and sun, with a stiff wind out of the west, and occasional snow showers passing through the area. We’ve already recorded what will likely be the high temperature for the day, as the temperature is falling now as the wind pushes another blast of Arctic air into the region. It’s a whopping 6 degrees (-14 C) outside as I type this.

At least it isn’t as bad as last night, when yet another system passed through the area, dropping more snow that blew around causing drifts large enough for many schools to be closed again today. We’re up to the third snowiest winter ever on record right now, the next storm over the weekend will likely move us up to the second position with over 9 feet of snow for the season. We’re just two inches from that “magical” mark.

As I look out the window, I can see the trees swaying in the wind, snow swirling around, and I see that the drift outside of the building has grown in height to the point where it is covering the bottom two inches of my window again.

I have decided that I am going to wimp out again, and not go for a walk today. I have already missed about as many days this winter as I have the past three years total up until this winter, but this is ridiculous! I know that my walk is supposed to be for the exercise, but I can exercise inside again today.

Okay, so I lied, I did go for a walk, I did a lap and a half around the apartment complex here. That way I didn’t have to dodge vehicles, or the slush and salt spray that they throw in my direction as I walk down the street to the park.

I felt like I was letting myself down by not going for a walk, and more importantly, I felt as if I was letting you, the readers of this blog down by not going.

Another factor in my decision to walk after all was that the other day when cleaning and organizing the storage closet of my apartment, I found the pair of heavy flannel lined and insulated jeans that my ex bought for me almost ten years ago. I have seldom worn those jeans, as I was still driving over the road, and packing on the pounds when my ex purchased them, and I soon outgrew them. Now that I have lost most of that weight, and I’m not looking to find it again, believe me, the jeans fit pretty well now, even with the wool/silk blend long underwear that I normally wear when it’s this cold.

Just as I learned at work, keeping my knee warmer helps considerably.

I even managed a few photos today.

A pair of mallards

A pair of mallards

Male mallard

Male mallard

Female mallard

Female mallard

I kind of like the last one, of the lone female in the snow, but none of the ones I shot today were as good as some of the ones that I got the last time I was in Muskegon.

Male mallard breaking ice

Male mallard breaking ice

I also found a female hairy woodpecker to shoot.

Female hairy woodpecker

Female hairy woodpecker

Hairy woodpeckers look almost identical to downy woodpeckers, the difference is that the Hairys are much larger than downys.

The really big news though is that with the updated snowfall totals from last night’s storm, we’re now over 9 feet of snow for the season, and solidly in second place as far as the snowiest winters on record.

Friday

Well, where do I begin?

I mentioned yesterday that when they updated the snowfall total from the storm yesterday that we had officially topped 108 inches, or 9 feet, (274 centimeters) of snow for the season, which puts us in second place for the all time snowiest winters.

I complained about the wind and drifting snow, they were bad enough that the Amtrak train that runs between Grand Rapids and Chicago got stuck in a snow drift and had to be pulled out by another locomotive.

So, how do we top that? Easy, set two record lows in one night.

The temperature dropped down to -9 F (-23 C) before midnight, so we broke the old record of -6 F for the 27th of February. The temperature continued to drop, down to -12 F (-24.5 C), so that’s the new record low for February 28th, breaking the old record of -2 F. It’s now back up to -8 F, so I think that I’ll fool around inside for a while before venturing out.

With two minor snow storms forecast to pass through the area this weekend, I’ll be staying home for another weekend. There’s no reason to drive somewhere to walk during a snowstorm.

You know, there are times when I wonder if I’m crazy, or merely foolish. I’m back from my walk, and guess what, it was bitterly cold out there today, go figure. What surprised me was the wind. It had gone calm overnight, which is why we got so cold last night. I assumed that the wind would still be light, wrong!

It’s not as if there were a howling gale blowing, but it doesn’t take much wind when it’s as cold as it was to make it feel a lot colder than it really is, like none of you knew that.

That brings up a couple of items I should throw in here before I whine about the weather any longer.

One of the local TV stations has their meteorologists do the weather report outside on the “weather deck”. Yesterday, the meteorologist outside didn’t finish his report, he was getting near the end when he said “This is bleeping nuts, I’m going inside where it’s warm”, and walked off the set.

Last night while the train was stuck in the snowdrift, one reporter was interviewing a passenger by phone and asked if the snow was deep. I don’t think that I have to type out the answer that the passenger gave. 😉

Back to my walk. I didn’t feel like busting drifts today, so I walked down the street and back, rather than walking in the park. Keeping my knees warm both at work and while walking is helping a great deal, and I didn’t want to put any extra strain on them as they are improving daily. As cold as it was, I didn’t have to worry about slush or salt spray. 😉

I even managed a few photos, starting with this one.

Left overs?

Left overs?

Those flowers or seed pods have to be left over from last fall, but if so, why haven’t I noticed them before now? That tree is in the apartment complex, I walk past it every day that I walk, and I check the tree for perched birds on most days. It must have been the light today that caused me to notice the seed pods today.

A male house finch did his best to hide from me.

Male house finch

Male house finch

Even though I didn’t have a clear view of the finch, I like that photo anyway.

I have noticed that the birds have stopped singing or even chattering for the most part after the burst of noises that they were making a couple of weeks ago. It must be that they realize that spring isn’t as close as it is supposed to be given how more daylight there is. Oh well, they’ll start singing again soon.

My last photo of the day.

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

Saturday

Well, it’s a new month, but we’re still stuck in the same old weather pattern, cloudy, cold, and a little snow left over from a weak system that moved through the area last night. Even though it’s 30 degrees warmer today than yesterday at this time, it’s still cold, and well below freezing.

The countdown to spring widget that I added to my blog tells me that there are only 19 days left until spring, stupid widget. That may be the official start of spring, however, I have no illusions or delusions that the changing of the seasons is going to go by the calendar this year.

It is March however, and even if the temperatures continue to run well below average, the average temperatures climb dramatically during the month, so we’ll see some thawing of the snow eventually.

Sorry, you can’t tell, but I drifted off there for a while, thinking of how nice it will be to walk on grass and be able to move around, rather than being stuck trying to stay on the hard packed snow trails that are the only places for me to walk at this time. That, unfortunately, is a long way off yet, there’s almost two feet of snow that has to melt first, then will come the mud.

The snow that’s on the ground now contains over 6 inches of water according to the hydrologists that study such things in order to be able to predict the flooding possibilities for this spring. So I suppose that it’s for the best if we have a long, slow warm up, rather than one as quick as I would like, but I’m sure that it’s going to be a muddy mess around here when the snow does eventually begin to melt.

Well, time for a walk.

I’m back, and it was a surprising day today. The birds were once again behaving as if spring were near, even though it didn’t feel or look like it is.

I worked harder today trying to get some so-so photos than I have in ages, you’ll see what I mean. It all started with a pair of mallards flying overhead, I got a poor shot of the male.

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

About halfway between my apartment and the park, I spotted this hawk in the brush, and tried several angles trying to get a clear view of it.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Without much success, there were always branches in the way.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Once I got to the park, there were birds everywhere, except in places where I good get good photos.

Mourning doves

Mourning doves

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

This next one sums up the way that it’s been for me of late, but I decided to shoot anyway.

Northern flicker hiding

Northern flicker hiding

Part of the problem has been the deep snow, even when I venture off the paths to try to get good photos, the birds can see or hear me coming, so I can’t sneak up on them. But, there’s something else going on, I don’t know if it is due to the predators around or what, but all winter long the birds have been much more skittish than usual.

That changed for the better when I got to the far end of the park and I decided to take a break.

Cedar waxwings

Cedar waxwings

American robin

American robin

There was a flock of about thirty robins, and a flock of around a dozen waxwings, and a few individuals from each of the flocks would drop down out of the taller trees to the crabapple trees to wolf down a few of the crab apples left on the trees. They didn’t seem to mind my being there, several of the waxwings almost struck me as they flew past on their way to or from the food supply.

Even though the light was about as bad as it gets, I went crazy shooting photos of the birds eating the crab apples.

Cedar waxwing swallowing a crabapple

Cedar waxwing swallowing a crab apple

Rather than flood this post with all the photos that I shot today, I’m going to save them and parcel them out in next week’s post, unless I get better ones in the meantime.

It felt different outside today, it was cold, but it felt like a different kind of cold, a damp cold rather than the dry cold that has been the rule this winter. Or, was that all in my head because I know that it’s March, and that it should be warming up?

But then, why did the robins and waxwings show up today?

There’s been a few robins around here all winter, but never in the numbers that I saw today. I haven’t seen a waxwing in months. Do the birds have little calendars tucked in their feathers that they go by? Do they know that it’s March?

I know that birds go by the amount of daylight that there is but there’s still almost two feet of snow on the ground yet, it seems to me that the birds would stay south until there’s a better food supply for them as the snow melts. It will take some one with a lot more brains that what I have to figure that out.

Maybe the end of this winter is in sight, way off in the distance, but I’m not going to be holding my breath!

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