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

My Week, savoring the spring?

Monday

The weather today and tomorrow is forecast to be rather dismal, that’s okay, I’ve shot and posted too many photos already of late. I also have to take my Forester in for its scheduled service tomorrow, so I may not get a walk in.

I should throw in a shameless plug for B & H Photo., the company that I purchased the new prime lens and tripod from. Not only do they have good prices, but the customer service in handling the defective lens was excellent! While I would still prefer to buy from the local camera store, but for big-ticket items, I may do more shopping with B & H.

But, my big-ticket purchases are about over with, the only thing on my want list as far as actual photo gear is a 10-20 mm super wide-angle lens. Other than that, I have just a few bits and pieces left to complete my kit.

It’s been about one year exactly since my old Nikon died, and I started assembling the Canon gear that I am using now. I put many hours of research and weighing the pros and cons of each purchase, and I think that the images I’m getting from the new gear made all that time worthwhile.

I bounced back and forth for a year deciding which prime lens, the 300 mm or 400 mm, that I should purchase, and for a while, even considered doing without a long prime lens. I’m very happy with my decision to purchase the 300 mm for its close focusing ability, along with its reach when using it with the Tamron extender. The 300 mm lens is the perfect complement to both the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) and the Tokina 100 mm macro lens.

In my opinion, the Beast is close to the perfect lens for serious birding. It may not be quite as sharp as the 300 mm prime, but it always gets the bird. Its auto-focusing is fast and precise. But, it’s heavy and cumbersome to carry if I’m carrying anything else.

The Tokina 100 mm macro lens is superb as a macro lens for small subjects that I can get close to, but the 300 mm lens’ close focusing ability makes it easier to use for larger subjects out of reach of the Tokina.

The 300 mm prime lens with a 1.4 X tele-converter fills the bill of an excellent all around lens for my daily walks when I’m carrying other gear with me, or for longer hikes when carrying the Beast leaves me arm weary. It will also be my lens of choice on days like today, cloudy, gloomy, with occasional rain, as it is somewhat weather sealed, and easier to protect from the elements than is the Beast.

Now, all that’s left for me to do is to put these excellent lenses to work getting the images that they are capable of delivering!

Two observations before I get to the photos from today. One, the weather was nasty! It’s getting colder by the hour, with a stiff northwest wind blowing the cold air this direction. There’s snow in the forecast for tonight, but it felt as if it could start snowing at any minute, in fact, there were a few pellets of sleet mixed in with the rain at times.

Two, and I brought this one up in the past. We received a good amount of rain overnight, enough so that some of the paved areas in the park were covered in nightcrawlers, some dead, some still alive. There were robins pulling nightcrawlers from the ground within just a few feet of the pavement, but not one picking up the bountiful supply on the pavement.

Most wildlife is very opportunistic when it comes to food, so why don’t robins eat the nightcrawlers that are on the pavement, or any other birds for that matter. I have seen turkeys eating the worms on the pavement from time to time, but never a robin. I wonder why?

Okay, on to the photos, I’m only going to post a few from today, and save some in reserve for tomorrow, since I’ll be at the Subaru dealer at the time I normally walk.

As long as the cedar waxwings are around, I’ll continue to photograph them.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

And, as you can see, there’s a lot of them around, or at least there were.

Cedar waxwings in flight

Cedar waxwings in flight

I was surprised to see all the smaller flocks join together and fly off like that, but as I lowered the camera after that shot, I saw a small raptor fly over. I couldn’t tell if it was a Cooper’s hawk or a sharpie. But, it seems to me that the waxwings made a better target of themselves by flying, rather than staying hidden in the trees. But, I’m not a bird, so what do I know?

I spotted a fox sparrow perched fairly close to me, but try as I may, I could not get a clear shot of it, despite trying several angles.

Fox sparrow

Fox sparrow

Fox sparrow

Fox sparrow

Fox sparrow

Fox sparrow

Fox sparrow

Fox sparrow

The last one is full frame, not cropped at all. How I wish that the twig crossing the sparrow’s bill wasn’t there! Oh well, another species that I’ll have to add these photos to in the My Photo Life List project.

The next two photos aren’t very good, but they are of an American Kestrel, the first of the year for me, and the first time that I’ve spotted one here at home!

American kestel

American kestrel

IMG_1641

American kestrel

The thought crossed my mind that this may have been the raptor that I had seen earlier, but no, being of the falcon family, the wing shape is completely different from that of hawks, and the raptor I had seen earlier was definitely a hawk.

One last note, now how cool would it be if a pair of kestrels took up residence around here giving me more chances to photograph them? I have a few bad images, because they are so small, not much larger than a dove or pigeon, and they keep their distance. I’m surprised that I got as close to this one as I did.

Well, that’s it for today, time for a shower, then a visit with my mom.

Tuesday

I’m back from the Subaru dealer after getting the scheduled service done on my Forester. I could probably sneak in a walk before work, but that would be pushing it, as I also stopped at the camera store on my way back home and picked up a holster style bag to carry the second body and an extra lens with me when I do walk.

Since there aren’t any photos from today, here’s a couple of images from yesterday.

Male american goldfinch

Male american goldfinch

British soldier lichens as shot

British soldier lichens as shot

British soldier lichens cropped

British soldier lichens cropped

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

All those were shot with the 300 mm prime lens using the Tamron 1.4 X extender behind it.

I have enabled the “Like” button again for my posts, since I received so many comments about it being disabled. I was trying to save time having it disabled, but oh well, I have to go with the flow.

Back to the holster bag, why don’t these things come with instructions? It has an array of straps and attachment points, but which straps go where? And why? It’s going to take me a while to figure this thing out. As a last resort, I can always attach it to the military style belt that I already have, but first, I want to see if what the bag came with will work as well or better.

Okay, I went to the LowePro website and checked out a video there. It was a promotional video, but in showing the features of the bag, I figured out what went where and why. It looks like it’s going to do exactly what I want it to do as it comes. I can get the second body and both of my short lenses in it, along with the spare battery, SD card, and filters, with a lot of room left for more small items. I think that it will be a winner, especially since my brother loves his.

Walking around inside my apartment, the holster bag rides very well, much better than my regular camera bag., but the real test will come tomorrow.

Oh, by the way, I picked a great day to have my Forester serviced. We received several inches of snow overnight that’s sticking around, along with a stiff cold wind as well. I don’t feel so bad about missing a day of walking when the day is a throwback to February. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Wednesday

Yesterday was the coldest April 15th on record, the high temperature reached only 35 degrees Fahrenheit. We may have also set a record low temperature for today, I won’t know until later, but we were one degree short of the record when I checked.

Most of the snow from yesterday is gone, there are just a few patches of the stuff left in areas that are shaded all day.

I purchased the holster bag yesterday because I have my vacation coming up next month, and I wanted a good way to carry the second camera body, at least one of my short lenses, and a few essentials with me, and the case that I already had just didn’t cut it. The new one seems like a winner, I can get the spare body and two short lenses in it, along with all the essentials that I could need while out in the woods.

This is going to work out well, for now, I can use the old case to hold the 70-200 mm lens, and whichever of my two longer lenses that I’m not going to carry. All my gear will be safe and secure, which is a good thing. There’s no way that I could carry it all at one time for any distance, so having all my stuff in two bags will be okay.

While at the camera store yesterday, I checked out the Sigma 10-20 mm lens that I’m planning on purchasing one of these days, it looks like another great lens to add to my collection, ย but there’s no hurry for me to do so. The lens is sharp and produces great color, but that’s more of a play toy than a lens that I just have to have. Since I now have a way to safely carry my 15-85 mm lens, I should do more playing with it from now on. That will give me a better idea as to whether or not I’ll purchase the wider lens.

Photography wise, I’m all set for my vacation, I have one or two small items that I have to buy as far as camping gear, but that’s it. I am so looking forward to having two full weeks off from work and out in the woods!

And, speaking of out in the woods, the temperature has made it to about the freezing point, so I suppose that it’s time for me to get moving, be back later.

Okay, I’m back, and it was a great, albeit somewhat chilly day. I thought that I had gotten photos of a lifer for me, but no such luck. Turns out that the bird in question was just a puny hermit thrush acting a little strange.

However, that brings up something that I wanted to add here anyway, how great it is to live in West Michigan. My daily walks are done in a small county park on the edge of the suburbs, not a nature preserve or wilderness area by any means.

Last fall, I began reporting a few of my bird sightings to eBird once a week, or if I see a species that I think is somewhat special. Of the dozens off species that I have reported, the only one that came back as a rarity is the white-eyed vireo that I spotted last fall. Bald eagles, not rare. American Kestrels, not rare. And so it goes.

I’ve gotten photos of a half a dozen species of birds for the My Photo Life List project right here at home. as I said before, I think that most of the State of Michigan is a birding hotspot going by what gets reported to eBird.

Today was no different, there were plenty of birds about to photograph, and I’ll start with a pair of house finches working on their nest for the spring. The male would bring items to the nest….

Male house finch

Male house finch

…and the female…

Female house finch

Female house finch

…would wait while the male started working what he had brought back into the nest, then she would go in and re-arrange his work.

I re-stocked my supply of cedar waxwing images.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Now you can all say that you saw a photo of a cedar waxwing’s tongue!

I caught a goldfinch trying to escape having its picture taken.

American goldfinch leaping into the air

American goldfinch leaping into the air

I have photos of a great blue heron and a herd of deer, but they were all too far away for really good photos, so I won’t bore you with those, I’m sure that I’ll do better on a later date.

How cold has it been the past two days? This cold!

Ice along the creek

Ice along the creek

Bertha did a fly by for me, you can tell that this isn’t the same hawk as before, this one isn’t missing any flight feathers.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

It was about the same time that I spotted the puny hermit thrush, and chased it around for a while.

Hermit thrush

Hermit thrush

Hermit thrush

Hermit thrush

Hermit thrush

Hermit thrush

While chasing it, I found the original nuthead.

Is this where the name "Nuthead" originated?

Is this where the name “Nuthead” originated?

I also spotted a winter wren while chasing the thrush. Let me tell you, there are many species of birds that are difficult to photograph, none more than any of the wrens. They stick to brush piles, down inside the brush piles most of the time, and the wrens only pop out for a quick look around from time to time. I spent at least ten minutes watching the wren, and I use the word watching loosely, waiting for it to come out into a relatively open area. Most of the time, I was seeing flashes of the wren between branches as it moved around in the brush. I missed it the first few times, either the camera and lens focused on a twig or leaf in front of the wren, or I was too slow on the shutter.

In a way, I was glad that I didn’t have the Beast with me today, my arms would be dead from holding it up, and trying to move it as quickly as the wren moved. I saw the wren poke its head up between two branches, I shot, the wren was already diving back into the branches.

Part of a winter wren

Part of a winter wren

My patience sort of prevailed though.

Most of a winter wren

Most of a winter wren

On the opposite end of the difficulty scale are the gulls. They’re large, slow, and make good practice subjects for flying bird shots.

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Although, I have to say that I did well on these next two, any bird coming straight at you is tough to catch just right.

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Well, that’s all the photos from today.

One more thing though, I wore the new holster bag today, and it worked great! While chasing the thrush and wren through the brush, I didn’t have a problem with the holster getting snagged by the brush all the time like my regular camera bag has always done. The holster bag has a shoulder strap, plus a waist belt to hold the bag right up tight to the body, and its smaller size makes it less of a target for brush. So far, so good.

Wednesday

Before I get started on today, I have one photo left from yesterday to post. Since I now have a good way to carry the second camera body and my two short lenses, I made use of that yesterday for this photo.

British soldier lichens

British soldier lichens

That was taken handheld using the Tokina 100 mm macro lens. The 300 mm prime lens may do near macros, but it can’t beat the Tokina for small subjects!

And, a thought from yesterday as well. While chasing the smaller birds, especially the winter wren, I considered removing the extender from behind the 300 mm prime lens to enable me to get “on target” a little quicker than I could at 420 mm. In a way, the Beast has a small advantage, in that I can zoom out a little as I attempt to follow smaller birds in thick brush. But, the downside, as it always is with the Beast, is its weight as my arms get tired of holding it up for extended periods of time.

I can see myself taking the time to remove the extender if I come on a flock of small birds in thick brush when I am very close to the birds, as I was yesterday.

Now then, for today, it’s partly sunny, cool, and breezy this morning. I’m hoping for a repeat of yesterday, with better photos, of course. I’ll take the new lens with me as I want more time learning it, although the Beast would be a good choice on a day like today.

The replacement 300 mm prime is everything that I hoped that it would be and more, but the more that I use it, the better I will get with it, as I learn what works and what doesn’t, along with becoming more familiar with the buttons that control the IS mode, and turning the auto-focus on or off. For my style of photography, shooting while on the move, being able to make any setting changes quickly is an important component of being able to get the photo that I’m hoping for.

The controls of the Beast are second nature to me now, I don’t have to fumble around trying to find the right switch for what I want to do. It’s the same with the camera bodies, I’ve used them enough so that I don’t have to look for the controls to make setting changes, unless the changes I want to make require going into the menu system.

Oh well, enough prattling on for now, it’s time to get a move on!

With warmer air being blown into the area, it was hazy today, so many of my photos weren’t up to my new standards.

If I was able to get close to something, then the images are good.

Daffodil

Daffodil

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

The daffodil was shot with the Tokina macro lens, it does do a better job up close than the 300 mm prime lens does, and yes, I shot the same flower with both lenses.

However, by using the 300 mm lens, I was able to get my first butterfly photos of the year.

Mourning cloak butterfly

Mourning cloak butterfly

Mourning cloak butterfly

Mourning cloak butterfly

Not great, but a fence prevented me from getting a good photo.

Anyway, with the haze, and the sun being behind a layer of mid-level clouds most of the time I was out there, these are more typical of what I was able to get.

Willow catkin

Willow catkin

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Eastern towhee

Eastern towhee

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

I’ve been taking a break at the far end of the park each day since the weather has been nice. One of my reasons for doing so is to give the critters time to calm down after I’ve just walked past them, and so that I can choose a time to start back when there hasn’t been anybody else walking past where I hope to find the birds again.

I had only taken a few steps after my break today, when a pair of sharp-shinned hawks zipped past me. I missed getting good photos, they were too close, and too fast for me. But, it was as if there wasn’t a bird within a mile after the sharpies went past me, for a good 10 minutes, there was almost total silence. Then, one by one, the birds began making noise and moving again. That’s when I got the photo of the towhee.

At one point, the winter wren from yesterday was giving the towhee pointers on how to frustrate would be photographers, but in the photo that I tried for, the wren was out of focus, and the towhee was too obscured by leaves and brush for me to use it. Now that would have been a photo I’d have been proud of if I had pulled it off!

Friday

Spring has returned once again, and it looks like it will stick around this time. The weekend is looking good, although there may be some rain on Easter Sunday.

Last night, I received a notice that the Meetup camera group that I “joined” several months ago is going to have an outing tomorrow (Saturday) at a county park near where I live, so I’m going to tag along. It will be the first meeting that I have been able to attend, due to my schedule, or interests.

The park where the outing is taking place is Kent County’s largest park, known as theย Millennium Park, and I’ve never been there since it officially became a park. Its claim to fame is that it the east end of the park used to be the notorious Butterworth dump, one of the first EPA Superfund sites. I won’t go into the full history of the area, but once the pollution was finally cleaned up, the county was left with land no buyer would touch, so they turned it into a park.

Here’s a blurb about the park from the county’s website.

Millennium Park is a unique, ambitious project to reclaim 1,500 acres of heavily used land for public recreation. The park encompasses rolling terrain and extensive wetlands and lakes southwest of Grand Rapids, between Johnson Park and John Ball Park. Its land is rich in natural resources, featuring woods, wildlife, fish and waterfowl. Facilities within the park now include a six-acre beach and splash pad, nearly 20 miles of trails, and other diverse opportunities for recreation. Touching Grand Rapids, Walker, Grandville and Wyoming, Millennium Park is one of our nation’s largest urban parks.”

I’ve been meaning to check this park out in the past, but have never gotten around to it yet, so even if the Meetup is a bust, I’ll put the time to good use. I saw a number of rare bird reports from the park over the winter, but this past winter wasn’t the time to check out any new places, so now will be a good time, before the summer crowds show up.

The Meetup doesn’t start until 2 PM on Saturday, I’ll be wandering around much earlier than that. I’ll return to the parking lot for a lunch break, then, join the group for as long as they hang around.

I haven’t decided on what to do on Sunday yet, I’ll wait to see how the weather is going to shape up. I may return to the Allegan State Game Area, since that’s to the south, and the rain in the forecast is predicted to be to the north of here.

Well, time for breakfast.

It was one of those days. My best bird photo of the day is of one of my least favorite species, a brown headed cowbird.

Male brown headed cowbird

Male brown headed cowbird

A little later, I heard one of my favorite species of birds, a brown thrasher, singing its fool head off, but I could not get the lighting right.

Male brown thrasher

Male brown thrasher

Male brown thrasher

Male brown thrasher

For those of you not familiar with thrashers, they are related to mockingbirds and catbirds, they take snippets of many different species of bird songs, and weave them together into a symphony that is an absolute joy to listen to. So, I may not have gotten the photo that I wanted, my time spent trying was well worth it as I was able to listen to him for some time.

Before the light went completely bad, I got a slightly better photo of a willow catkin.

Willow catkin

Willow catkin

Since tomorrow promises to be a long day, I carried just the new 300 mm prime lens with the extender today, and with better light today, and less wind, it did better than the Tokina did yesterday. But, If I had the Tokina today, I’m sure that it would have edged out the new lens.

Soon after that photo, the clouds rolled in for most of the rest of the time I was out there, but I managed a few good images.

Hermit thrush

Hermit thrush

Female yellow-bellied sapsucker

Female yellow-bellied sapsucker

Dark-eyed junco with lunch

Dark-eyed junco with lunch

Cottontail rabbit hiding

Cottontail rabbit hiding

Female American goldfinch checking out a robin's nest

Female American goldfinch checking out a robin’s nest

I don’t know what the goldfinch was up to, I had just seen the robin building the nest in that photo a few minutes before that photo was taken. Maybe the goldfinch was checking construction methods of other birds? ๐Ÿ˜‰

Spring is officially here!

May apple plant

May apple plant

Unknown flower buds

Unknown flower buds

Trout lily

Trout lily

There’s soon going to be wildflowers blooming everywhere!

A quick check of my archives tells me that next weekend, I’ll be going to Aman Park for the awesome displays of trillium and other wildflowers. Two years ago, the peak bloom was April 15th, but that was a very warm spring. Last year, I hit the peak on May 4th, but we had a cool, wet spring last year with record flooding in April. Next week is forecast to be slightly warmer than normal, and since the trout lily are about a week ahead of trillium, I should hit the peak next weekend, let’s hope that the weather is good!

And finally, when I’m chasing smaller birds in thick brush, I am going to have to remove the extender from the 300 mm prime lens. It doesn’t auto-focus quickly enough for the small birds that are constantly moving, it proved that on the winter wren, and the ruby crowned kinglets that I’ve tried to photograph the past two days. Darn, and I thought that it was about the perfect lens. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I know that I would have gotten photos of the kinglets if I had been using the Beast, I’ve used it enough to know how fast it is in those conditions. I’m hoping that removing the extender speeds up the 300 mm prime, it should, we’ll see.

I’m going to call this one finished, since I’ll be out all day tomorrow, and possibly Sunday. I’m sure that I’ll come back with too many photos, and readers have said that they prefer shorter posts.

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

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23 responses

  1. Looks cool- as if has sunshades on!

    April 18, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    • Thank you!

      April 18, 2014 at 2:39 pm

  2. My favourite this week is the first picture, with the Cedar waxwing, looking as if he’s wearing sun glasses ๐Ÿ™‚
    Thank you for the pleasure of this article !
    Cheers,
    Michel ๐Ÿ™‚

    April 18, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    • Thanks Michel, I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      April 19, 2014 at 3:25 am

  3. Love reading/looking at your blog but the cedar wax wings were my favourite without a doubt.

    April 18, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    • Thank you! All too soon, the waxwings will continue on their way north for the summer, but other birds will take their place.

      April 19, 2014 at 3:26 am

  4. Such a wonderful week….I’ve enjoyed your pics and words!!

    April 18, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    • Thank you Barb! It is Barb, isn’t it?

      April 19, 2014 at 3:27 am

      • Yes it is๐Ÿ™‹๐Ÿ™‹

        April 21, 2014 at 11:13 am

  5. Nice shots of the Hermit thrush and towhee!

    April 18, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    • Thank you, the towhees are the tough ones to get.

      April 19, 2014 at 3:28 am

  6. Among a host of crisp pictures, the waxwings did stand out.

    April 18, 2014 at 5:50 pm

    • Thanks Tom, think what fun you’d have with them if they lived near you!

      April 19, 2014 at 3:28 am

  7. I’ll go with the rest who thought the cedar waxwing was an outstanding shot!

    Glad to see you review your lens choices. I’m still thinking a prime 300mm or 400mm, but it’s a little hard to justify with the few times I do bird shots. I’m just not sure how much of a difference it might make over my current zoom (70300mm f/4-5.6)??? Any thoughts?

    April 18, 2014 at 6:29 pm

    • Thanks!

      Yes, and I had many of them in the past few posts, but to save you time, I’ll boil it down.

      I went with a 300 mm prime for its close focusing ability, it’s like a long range macro lens as well as a fair birding lens. A 400 mm would be better for birding, but that’s about all it would be good for. But, I already had a 1.4 X extender to use with the 300 mm, making it a 420 mm lens. But, the same would apply without the extender, the 300 mm is more versatile than the 400 mm.

      April 19, 2014 at 3:33 am

  8. I like the shots of the waxwings too, especially the one hanging upside down.
    You’re ahead of us on wildflowers, our trout lilies haven’t even budded yet. Your unknown flower looks like a cut leaf toothwort.
    I love that shot of the partial winter wren. The eye is just dead sharp in that shot.
    The shots of the gulls flying at you are great too.
    When you get a chance I hope you’ll take a shot of that camera bag. I can’t picture how a “holster type” bag would work.

    April 18, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    • Thanks Allen! I saw two trout lily flowers out of hundreds of plants, so they are just starting. I’ll try to remember to check the other buds on Monday, as I’ll be other places this weekend.

      I’ll try to post a photo of the bag, it is a Lowepro AW 75, and the difference is that it is deep rather than wide.

      April 19, 2014 at 3:36 am

  9. Lots of lovely interesting photos . I liked the trout lily and the Eastern Towhee. Waxwings very good too

    April 18, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    • Thank you, I’ll try for even better ones next week!

      April 19, 2014 at 3:29 am

  10. And now you’ve asked a great citizen science question–why don’t the birds eat worms on human-made surfaces? I don’t know–have never considered this observant point–but my first guess (hypothesis) is that somehow they don’t “see” it as food once it is out of its natural setting. As a side note, my ducks, however, will takes worms from my gardening glove or trowel and have no issues when I direct their attention to this, one of their typical foods. Hmm, you’ve given me, er,food for thought. ๐Ÿ˜‰ PS, thanks for all the cool cedar waxwing pics, too!!!

    April 19, 2014 at 9:48 am

    • Thanks Lori! I think that your hypothesis may have some merit, but who knows how the minds of birds works, not me!

      April 19, 2014 at 10:31 am

  11. Your waxwing photos are divine! And I loved the gull flying at you, too. What great captures!

    April 21, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    • Thank you Amy, just another day in the “office”. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      April 22, 2014 at 2:06 am