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

Archive for June, 2014

Getting along

It’s early (for me) on a Sunday morning as I try to get caught up with my postings. It’s been hot and muggy here all week, with on and off rain showers, and occasional thunder showers. My plan was to get a walk in early before it became too hot, but there’s another line of showers headed this way, so I’ll work on this until the rain moves past me.

After all the whining that I did about the long, cold winter we had here, I swore that I wouldn’t whine about the summer heat. I’ll stick to that, and whine about the humidity instead. 😉 It’s been like being in a sauna around here this past week, with high temperatures approaching 85 degrees (30 C), and we had over 4 inches (100 mm) of rain.

There were at least two days when it rained the entire time I was out walking, and another day or two when it sprinkled while I walked, but I came home dripping wet every day. If it wasn’t raining, I was sweating so much that it may as well have been raining.

Yesterday was the worst so far, my plan was to visit two small nature preserves near Grand Haven, Michigan in the morning, then spend the afternoon in the shade around Lost Lake in Muskegon State Park.

My first stop was the Hofma Nature Preserve, because there have been sedge wrens spotted there, and I need photos of them for the My Photo Life List project. The Hofma Nature Preserve is a small (100 acres or so) preserve just south of the city of Grand Haven. I heard the sedge wrens, along with marsh wrens, but despite my sitting near where one was singing as I baked in the sun for a couple of hours, I can’t say for sure that I ever saw one of the wrens.

The wrens stayed down in the vegetation, and while I did see flashes of brown in the area where I heard them singing, the brown flashes may have been swamp sparrows or other species of birds. I did shoot a few pictures of flowers and insects that will appear in a later post, but my only bird of the day was a swamp sparrow singing.

Swamp sparrow singing

Swamp sparrow singing

Because of the haze in the air, that photo isn’t as sharp as it should have been, so maybe it’s just as well that I never had a chance to photograph the wrens.

My second stop was the Kitchel-Lindquist Dunes Preserve, which is on the north shore of the Grand River where it flows into Lake Michigan. It’s another small preserve, but I thought that I’d get photos of purple martins there, and possibly other species as well.

It was cooler there when I parked my vehicle, the breeze, what little there was of it, coming off the cool waters of Lake Michigan felt good. But, I walked just a few hundred yards, gave up, and turned around. It was just too hot and steamy for me to trudge through the loose sand of sand dunes when the dunes blocked the breeze.

I saw the purple martins, but didn’t even try to photograph them, conditions were just too bad to expect that the images would have been good enough to use. I did shoot a barn swallow…

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

…and these plains puccoon….

Plains Puccoon, Lithospermum caroliniense

Plains Puccoon, Lithospermum caroliniense

 

Plains Puccoon, Lithospermum caroliniense

Plains Puccoon, Lithospermum caroliniense

I thought about shooting a few landscape shots of the beaches there, but conditions were too bad for them to have been any good.

I had planned on going to Lost Lake, but as I thought about it, I decided not to bother, as it was just too hot and steamy anywhere but right on the Lake Michigan beaches, and they were extremely crowded with all the other people escaping the heat. The haze from all the moisture in the air would have made any photos other than close-ups unusable anyway.

It wasn’t a wasted day though, I did find those two smaller preserves, and both are worth returning to when the weather is more suitable.  And, fighting the crowds in Grand Haven, I have decided not to fight the crowds over the Fourth of July weekend, I’ll stay closer to home, and avoid the traffic of a holiday weekend. There’s plenty of flowers to photograph around here, and a few birds as well.

So, the rest of this post will be of things that I saw this past week around here while I was walking, starting with the deer, turkey, and squirrel together as promised.

Whitetail doe, fawns, turkey, and fox squirrel

Whitetail doe, fawns, turkey, and fox squirrel

Mom was keeping an eye on me as she was chewing her cud, the fawns were wandering around looking for goodies to munch, as was the squirrel, while the turkey did some preening.

Whitetail doe, fawns, turkey, and fox squirrel

Whitetail doe, fawns, turkey, and fox squirrel

At one point, the turkey decided to stretch its wings, scaring the crap out of one of the fawns and the squirrel.

Whitetail doe, fawns, turkey, and fox squirrel

Whitetail doe, fawns, turkey, and fox squirrel

After that, mom kept an eye on the turkey as much as she did me.

Whitetail doe, fawns, turkey, and fox squirrel

Whitetail doe, fawns, turkey, and fox squirrel

Whitetail deer often give birth to twin fawns, when they do, they are most often one of each sex. I’m not positive, but this looks like a male to me, I’ll call him junior, and after the turkey scared him, he gave the turkey a nasty look…

Whitetail fawn

Whitetail fawn

…then, looked around for more goodies to munch.

Whitetail fawn

Whitetail fawn

Mom and sis kept a close eye on junior.

Whitetail doe and fawn

Whitetail doe and fawn

Then, mom decided it was time to head back into cover, with sis following close at her heels.

Whitetail doe and fawns

Whitetail doe and fawns

Junior had found something that must have tasted really good.

Whitetail fawn

Whitetail fawn

But, one soft bleat from mom, and he decided that minding mom was more important than food.

Whitetail fawn

Whitetail fawn

Whitetail fawn

Whitetail fawn

Whitetail fawn

Whitetail fawn

Next up are the photos of the blue jays. I spotted this one sitting on the fence.

Blue jay

Blue jay

The jay flew down to snatch an earthworm.

Blue jay in flight

Blue jay in flight

Then, struck a couple of poses for me.

Blue jay

Blue jay

Blue jay

Blue jay

The squeamish may want to look away as the next few photos show the jay eating the worm.

Blue jay

Blue jay

The worm fought back valiantly…

Blue jay

Blue jay

..but the worm was soon consumed.

Blue jay

Blue jay

My image of the blue jay flying may not have been good, but I did catch it hopping around while looking for more food.

Blue jay

Blue jay

The jay flew back up to the fence where it was joined by first one of its young…

Blue jays

Blue jays

…then a second offspring.

Blue jays

Blue jays

I was hoping to get photos of the jay feeding its young, but a passing jogger caused them to move back into the woods.

I hate to end this with bad photos, but I may as well use these up, a male Baltimore oriole in action.

Male Baltimore oriole

Male Baltimore oriole

The oriole spotted an insect on nearby vegetation, and hovered while plucking the bug.

Male Baltimore oriole in flight

Male Baltimore oriole in flight

Then, spotting an even better catch, the oriole strapped on the jet-pack….

Male Baltimore oriole in flight

Male Baltimore oriole in flight

…to catch a caterpillar before it could hide.

Male Baltimore oriole

Male Baltimore oriole

Oh what the heck, I’ll throw in two photos of a young cottontail rabbit to end this post. If I can’t end it with a great photo, I may as well end it with a cute one.

Young Cottontail rabbit

Young Cottontail rabbit

Young Cottontail rabbit

Young Cottontail rabbit

I still have a few photos left over, mostly flowers and insects, but I’m not sure how many of them will end up getting put into a post other than flowers I saw at the Hofma Preserve, since they are not flowers that I see everyday. The same is true of the insects, they are quite common, but I do have images of a damselfly trying to eat a mosquito, and I’m sure that I know who every one will be rooting for in that battle. 😉

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

 

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Still trying to catch up, Part II

I’m finding it very hard to get caught up, even though it rained the entire time I was walking on two days, and so I saved just a couple of photos from those days combined. It’s summer in west Michigan, and there are so many flowers in bloom…

Yellow day lily

Yellow day lily

…insects to photograph…

Spider with its meal

Spider with its meal

…birds…

American crows

American crows

…amphibians…

Toad

Toad

…and mammals…

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

…that it’s hard for me not to go crazy shooting too many photos every day.

I’m trying to cut back on the photos, and the frequency of my posts, I really am. So I have been deleting most of the photos of the same old same old, like red-winged blackbirds attacking hawks.

Red-winged blackbirds attacking a red-tailed hawk

Red-winged blackbirds attacking a red-tailed hawk

But those photos seem to be the favorites of some of the readers of my blog.

As I said in a previous post, I’ve been testing my short lenses out, here’s a few photos taken with the 15-85 mm lens.

Sumac flowers

Sumac flowers

Sumac flowers

Sumac flowers

Yellow moth mullein

Yellow moth mullein

Crown vetch

Crown vetch

Unknown not cropped

Unknown not cropped

Unknown cropped

Unknown cropped

Unknown not cropped

Unknown not cropped

Unknown cropped

Unknown cropped

Bird's foot trefoil

Bird’s foot trefoil

And here’s a few from the Tokina macro lens shot handheld.

Yarrow

Yarrow

Sumac

Sumac

Milkweed

Milkweed

Milkweed

Milkweed

Milkweed

Milkweed

Motherwort

Motherwort

Fleabane

Fleabane

Fleabane

Fleabane

A couple of quick notes.

The 15-85 mm lens is a fine lens, but it can’t quite match the image quality that I get from either the 300 mm prime or Tokina macro lens, which is no surprise. Full size, the images look great, but you can see that the quality drops off when I crop the images.

The Tokina macro lens really belongs on a tripod for true macro photography to get the best results from it, but, I can make do shooting handheld if I have to.

I really need to change my ways. I typically shoot what I see exactly how I saw it at the time. But, by doing that, I often get things in the frame that distract from the subject that I’m going for. That’s apparent in the photo of the bird’s foot trefoil, I should have moved the buds in the top of the photo out of the way before I shot that photo.

So the past few days, I have been paying more attention to everything that would appear in a photo, and trying to get better photos by moving things around, or even trimming grasses or other plants out of the way.

Here’s a few more from the Tokina macro lens.

Dianthus

Dianthus

Black eyed Susan

Black eyed Susan

Ground ivy?

Ground ivy?

Skipper on sulfur cinquefoil

Skipper on sulfur cinquefoil

Unknown berry flowers

Unknown berry flowers

Tiny beetles on unknown berry flowers

Tiny beetles on unknown berry flowers

Tiny beetles on unknown berry flowers

Tiny beetles on unknown berry flowers

Stonecrop

Stonecrop

Stonecrop

Stonecrop

Heal all

Heal all

Heal all

Heal all

St. John's wort

St. John’s wort

Like I said, I should be using the tripod more, but it’s too time consuming while on my daily walks to do so. The tripod sets up quickly, but I have to set everything that I’m carrying down, set the tripod up, mount the camera, shoot the photos, then reverse the procedure for every new flower that I see. Maybe if I did it more often I’d get quicker at it, but I doubt it. I will be using the tripod more on weekends when time isn’t a factor.

I have two more photos from the Tokina which really illustrate the need for a tripod. These yellow flowers are very small, the entire cluster of flowers is about the size of a pencil eraser. This is as close as I could get handheld with just the Tokina lens.

Unknown

Unknown

I put the Tamron 1.4 X extender behind the Tokina for this photo.

Unknown

Unknown

Even though I was laying down, I couldn’t hold steady enough to get a really sharp image of the flowers. Still, that isn’t too bad considering how small each individual flower is. Those photos weren’t cropped at all, I was trying to see just how large I could make the flowers appear without resorting to cropping.

I would love to have the time to really learn macro photography, but that’s not going to happen right away. With my new cameras and lenses, it’s like an entirely new world to me out there, and I want to get great photos of everything that there is to photograph. And with so many things to see….

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing

Hover fly?

Hover fly?

Fly on milkweed

Fly on milkweed

Eastern kingbird in flight

Eastern kingbird in flight

…I don’t know when I’m going to have the time to get around to learning macro photography. 😉

Making things worse is that I keep finding and shooting things that I find very interesting, like a doe, her fawns, a turkey, and a fox squirrel hanging out together.

Whitetail deer, turkey, and fox squirrel

Whitetail deer, turkey, and fox squirrel

You just have to know that I didn’t shoot just one photo of this, or of a blue jay and its young.

Blue jays

Blue jays

…so you know that there will be more photos of these coming soon.

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

 


Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

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.

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

The swamp sparrow is a medium-sized sparrow related to the Song Sparrow.

Adults have streaked rusty, buff and black upper parts with a unstreaked gray breast, light belly and a white throat. The wings are strikingly rusty. Most males and a few females have a rust-colored caps. Their face is gray with a dark line through the eye. They have a short bill and fairly long legs. Immature birds and winter adults usually have two brown crown stripes and much of the gray is replaced with buff.

Swamp Sparrows breed across the northern United States and boreal Canada. The southern edge of their breeding range coincides largely with the Line of Maximum Glaciation. A small number of morphologically distinct birds inhabit tidal marshes from northern Virginia to the Hudson River Estuary. This subspecies (M. g. nigrescens) winters in coastal marshes of the Carolinas and differs from the two inland Swamp Sparrow subspecies in having more black in a grayer overall plumage, larger bill, different songs, and a smaller average clutch size.

Their breeding habitat is marshes, including brackish marshes, across eastern North America and central Canada. The bulky nest is attached to marsh vegetation, often just above the ground or surface of the water with leaves or grass arching over the top. The female builds a new nest each year and lays an average of 4 eggs per clutch. Females give a series of chips as they leave the nest, probably to ward off attacks by their mate or neighboring males.

While Swamp Sparrows can be found year-round in small numbers on the southern edge of their breeding range, individuals are probably all migratory, primarily migrating to the southeastern United States.

Swamp Sparrows generally forage on the ground near the water’s edge, in shallow water or in marsh vegetation. In winter, their diet is principally fruit and seeds, while during the breeding season their diet is mainly arthropods.

The song of the Swamp Sparrow is a slow monotone trill, slower than that of the Chipping Sparrow. A male can have a repertoire of several different trills. The common call note is a loud chip reminiscent of a phoebe.

On to my photos:

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

This is number 162 in my photo life list, only 188 to go!

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

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Still trying to catch up, Part I

Well, I still find myself a week behind and trying to catch up with my photos, while trying not to post everyday. That’s been made worse, as over this past weekend, I brought the second camera body and one of my shorter lenses each day. Give me two cameras and I take twice as many photos. 😉

The photos from this weekend won’t appear here, but I’m going to relay what I found out while it’s still fresh in my mind.

The EF S 15-85 mm lens is a fine lens, it even comes close to being useful for macro photography, however, it can’t compete with either the 300 mm prime lens or the Tokina 100 mm macro lens as far as sharpness when shooting very small subjects. Of course, I’m being overly picky, and if the 15-85 mm lens was the only one that I had for macro photography, I’d be happy with it. I would still use it in a pinch if I had to, but with two other lenses better suited for such photos, I’ll reserve the 15-85 mm lens for landscapes, which it does a superb job of.

That said, I could see myself taking the 15-85 mm lens along with me on days when I use the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) for wildlife because of the shorter lens’ versatility. The 15-85 mm will do both landscapes and a credible job of macros if any such photo ops come up.

The Tokina 100 mm macro lens is as sharp or sharper than the 300 mm prime lens. I used it handheld on Sunday, which really isn’t the way to get the best out of it, but it was too hot and muggy for me to lug around my tripod. Besides, I was walking a busy trail, and using a tripod wasn’t a wise thing to do. I was still able to get subjects full frame that I had to crop down images shot with the 300 mm prime to get to the same size in the image shot with the Tokina. On top of that, because of the shorter working range with the Tokina, inches rather than feet with the 300 mm prime, it opens up more possibilities as far as composing the photos that I shoot.

I did have problems getting the exposure correct with the Tokina, part of that was me, I didn’t believe the LCD display when I checked my images. I think that another part of the problem was one of those obscure camera settings.

The engineers at Canon are fully aware of the short comings of some of their lenses. So, they program their lenses and cameras to compensate for that. For example, when I use the 15-85 mm lens, the camera body “knows” that and adjusts the way that it records images to make the images look better than they would if the compensations for that lens weren’t programmed in. I had that setting set wrong. The engineers at Canon don’t program their bodies to improve the images shot with another brand of lens. Gee, I wonder why? 😉

One more thing about the Tokina, and possibly the 300 mm prime lens. They may be too sharp, with too much color saturation, and other things as far as image quality for the camera settings that I am currently using. Some of you may remember that the Canon lets me store three sets of offsets pertaining to image quality. At first, I was dialing in one set of offsets for each lens I owned at the time, but by the end of the summer, I found that all three lenses did well with the same settings. Those are all zoom lenses. I then set the offsets for good light/poor light, and that has worked well.

However, some of the images that I’ve shot lately using the two prime lenses are telling me that I should back the camera body’s compensations for those two lenses, some of my photos have actually been too sharp, the colors too dense, and so on. Here’s an example from the 300 mm prime, and remember that this image has been reduced in quality for posting here.

Unknown

Unknown

To me, that photo looks faked, or if it had been “juiced” in post-processing. It wasn’t, it was “juiced” in the camera body when it was recorded. I think that I will back off the compensations for the two prime lenses, and that I’ll end up with settings for my zoom lenses, another for my prime lenses, and a poor light setting for the zoom lenses. For the prime lenses in poor light, I’ll use the good light setting for the zoom lenses, at least for now.

Anyway, the Tokina macro lens and the Canon 300 mm prime make an awesome one-two punch for flowers, insects and other small subjects. That’s like the Beast and the Canon 300 mm prime making a great one-two punch for birding and wildlife.

And, the reason I’m putting this in this post is so that I remember what I’ve done in case the setting changes I make don’t work. 😉

Now then, for the old photos.

Bird's foot trefoil

Bird’s foot trefoil

Hairy vetch

Hairy vetch

St. John's wort

St. John’s wort

After my bad photo of a woodchuck in my last post, here’s a better one.

IMG_4686

Woodchuck

A cedar waxwing exercising its feathers.

Cedar waxwing fluffed

Cedar waxwing fluffed

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Iris slightly overexposed with insect

Iris slightly overexposed with insect

Iris slightly correctly exposed with out insect

Iris correctly exposed with out insect

Catalpa

Catalpa

Catalpa and bumblebee

Catalpa and bumblebee

Peony

Peony

I know that I shouldn’t post any more squirrel photos, but they are such clowns that I can’t help myself.

Muddy fox squirrel

Muddy fox squirrel

Muddy fox squirrel

Muddy fox squirrel

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Cottontail rabbit

Cottontail rabbit

This male cardinal was in a singing war with another nearby male, I wish the lighting had been better for this one.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

I was wrong about the meadowlarks not nesting here this year, it may be due to the weather that they didn’t act the same as last year. Then, a flock of meadowlarks showed up and stuck around for a week or more, with the males singing daily as they courted the females.

This year, the flock showed up, and only stayed a day or two, with very little singing. I don’t know if the same pair is nesting here again this year, maybe because of the long winter we had, once they arrived, they did away with the long courtship, and got right to nesting. And, I do where their nest is, but you won’t see any young meadowlark photos, I avoid nesting birds.

Eastern meadowlark

Eastern meadowlark

You may see a few more than the three photos of motherwort that I’m posting here today, as I am determined to get a good close-up of how complicated each of the small flowers are.

Motherwort

Motherwort

Motherwort

Motherwort

Motherwort

Motherwort

Chicory

Chicory

Beardtongue

Beardtongue

Eastern meadowlark

Eastern meadowlark

From the bad photos too good not to post file. I was going to try for a photo of the reflections on the water, but a mallard photo-bombed me as I was about to press the shutter release.

Female mallard

Female mallard

She did her best to splash me. I was only a few feet from her, so I couldn’t keep her in focus or freeze the action.

Female mallard

Female mallard

Then she gave me that innocent ” What did I do” look.

Female mallard

Female mallard

Then, as if to make up for ruining my shot of the reflections, she moved a short distance away where I could get all of her in the frame to dry her wings. That was nice of her, as I like these next two, if only the leaves didn’t intrude on the left.

Female mallard

Female mallard

Female mallard

Female mallard

Stonecrop

Stonecrop

Bindweed

Bindweed

I found out that there are really two woodchucks that have moved into the burrow near the creek.

Woodchuck 1

Woodchuck 1

Woodchuck 2

Woodchuck 2

Bumblebee on unknown

Bumblebee on unknown

Maple leaves

Maple leaves

Female red-winged blackbird

Female red-winged blackbird

Sedge or grass??

Sedge or grass??

Chipping sparrow in the rain

Chipping sparrow in the rain

Red and green

Red and green

Juvenile male Baltimore oriole

Juvenile male Baltimore oriole

Well, I’m caught up to this last weekend’s photos, so I guess that it’s time to stick a fork in this post, it’s done.

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

 


I have the rest of my life, Part II

I purchased my Canon 60 D body and the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) in April of 2013. Since then I have purchased the following.

  • Canon EF 70-200 mm f/4 L USM
  • EF-S 15-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM
  • Second Canon 60 D body
  • Tokina AT-X AF 100 mm f/2.8 Macro Lens
  • Tamron SP AF 1.4X Pro Tele-Converter
  • Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 tripod
  • Manfrotto 804RC2 Pan Tilt Head w/Quick Release Plate
  • Canon EF 300 mm f/4 L IS USM

After I purchase the Canon EF S 10-18 mm lens in July, I’ll have focal lengths from 10 to 700 mm (The Beast plus Tamron extender) covered.

Each piece of equipment that I have purchased has also come with a learning curve, some steeper than others. It took me most of last year to get past the bad habits that I had picked up while using my old Nikon body and very poor lens that I had for it. I don’t care to rehash that story again, so I’ll move on.

In researching the lenses that I bought, and of course that meant researching the alternatives as well, I learned a great deal. In trying to figure out why the first 60 D body that I purchased wouldn’t perform well with either of my L series lenses, I learned a good deal more.

One of the things that I learned is the lenses that we attach to our cameras are so much more than just the optics within the lens these days. A modern lens with auto-focus contains a processor (computer) and also stores the algorithms that the lens and camera use to auto-focus.

One of the things that I read all the time is that you should always purchase the lens with the widest aperture opening so that you’ll be able to shoot photos in low light. I would think to myself that you may be able to shoot a photo, but what good is it if there’s no depth of field, and most of your subject in the photo is out of focus?

This wasn’t shot in low light, but I did stop the lens down to f/16. Look closely at the pavement around the toad to see how large the depth of field was, even with the lens stopped down.

Toad at f/16

Toad at f/16

The toad’s toes on its rear feet are already starting to blur from being out of focus, can you imagine how little of the toad would have been in focus at f/2.8?

I have learned  that the reason to purchase a lens with a wider aperture is that they do auto-focus better in low light, but, you’ll still have to stop the lens down to get a usable photo of anything that’s not flat, and very little of what we see in nature is flat. But, you won’t get any photo if the lens and camera can’t auto-focus on the subject that you’re trying to photograph, that’s the real reason for choosing faster lenses.

You’ll often read about how good or poor a camera body’s high ISO image quality is, but I have never read anything about how much the quality of the lens on the camera body has on image quality at higher ISO settings.

In good light, the images that I get from the Beast are about equal to those that I get from the 300 mm prime lens. However, as the lighting gets worse, and I have to shoot at higher ISO settings, the difference between these two lenses becomes very noticeable, even though I am using them on the same body. I find that I get about the same level of sensor noise shooting at ISO 3200 with the 300 mm prime lens as I get from the Beast at ISO 1600. The 300 mm prime lens is sharper at ISO 3200 than the Beast is at 1600 as well. Same body, different high ISO results.

If you saw my last post, the cardinal was shot in low light, at a relatively high ISO of 1250, yet it is one of the best photos that I have ever shot in my opinion. The photos would have been good if I had shot them with the Beast at the same settings, but not nearly as good as what the 300 mm prime lens produced.

I just happen to have a few photos from this past week that I shot in very poor light to show how well the 300 mm prime lens does under such conditions. 😉

I’ll start with Jack and Diane, the mallards that spend their afternoons snoozing in a nearby creek.

Mallard pair

Mallard pair

This next photo is poor, but, it shows that I am to the point where I can pull off a usable image under the very worst of conditions.

Woodchuck

Woodchuck

I was facing south, straight into the noon sun, the woodchuck was in the deep shadows of its burrow, I can’t think of a more difficult situation under which one would try to take a photo. Yes, the rocks are overexposed and blown out, if I did any post-processing, I could make the photo better, but I post what I shoot other than cropping.

Getting back to the main point, the camera body and how it handles higher ISO settings is only part of the equation, the lens attached to the body plays an equal or even greater role as far as image quality when shooting at higher ISO settings from what I’ve seen with my camera and lenses.

One more thing about those two photos, one was shot at 1/25 second, the other at 1/30 second, using the 300 mm prime lens and the Tamron extender for a focal length of 420 mm. I love image stabilization! I could have shot those photos with the aperture wide open to get a faster shutter speed, but then I wouldn’t have gotten enough depth of field in either of them.

But, Image Stabilization doesn’t always help. I have found that even though both the 300 mm prime and the Beast have settings so that the IS is supposed to function when you’re tracking a moving subject, those settings do not work well as I point the camera close to straight up, as when I’m photographing birds flying directly overhead.

When I first starting using the Beast, I saw “ghosting” in almost all the photos that I shot of birds in flight. I got to the point where I turned the IS off completely whenever I had the time to do so when shooting any birds in flight, and the ghosting never showed up if I had the IS turned off.

But, there were a few times when I didn’t turn the IS off, and I got very good images.

When I bought the 300 mm prime, the action mode for IS worked much better, but I would get ghosting when the birds were directly overhead. It took me a while to figure out that it all has to do with how close to vertical I have the camera pointed.

With the Beast, if I have the camera pointed more than about 45 degrees above the horizon, then the ghosting appears if I use the action mode of IS. I can point the 300 mm prime up more than 45 degrees, to maybe around 75 degrees, but after that, I get ghosting, and I’m better off turning the IS off.

Apparently, the IS of both lenses goes haywire when the lenses are pointed straight up. Hmmm, now I wonder if the same thing would happen if I point the lenses straight down. That would be tough to test, as it isn’t often that one would find oneself shooting a moving subject directly below you feet.

I think that it’s time for a few photos, even if they don’t have much to do with what I was just prattling about.

Eastern meadowlark in flight

Eastern meadowlark in flight

Cedar waxwing in flight

Cedar waxwing in flight

Barn swallow in flight

Barn swallow in flight

The last photo reminds of something else that I learned, that has nothing to do with photography.

I saw the swallow perched on the ground, which isn’t unheard of but isn’t something that I see everyday. Yes, I shot a photo, but it wasn’t worth posting, so it has been deleted. Anyway, the swallow acted distressed, or I should say that I sensed the swallow was distressed, and I can’t tell you why I felt that way. But, I continued to watch the swallow, and soon, it hacked up something dark, and large enough that I could see it bounce along the ground. After the swallow flew off, I walked over and found a partially digested very large beetle that the swallow had coughed up.

I guess that I’m going to have to learn how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver on birds. 😉 Who knew that birds would try to swallow things that could choke them? I’ve heard of herons choking on large fish, I never quite believed those stories, but maybe they are true. I would have thought that wildlife had more sense than to try to swallow things too large.

Back to the photos.

Mulberries

Mulberries

Cedar waxwing hiding

Cedar waxwing hiding

Cedar waxwing not hiding

Cedar waxwing not hiding

Unknown

Unknown

Red clover

Red clover

I should stop shooting the following type of photo, a hummingbird perched in a treetop. But, I like catching “wild” hummers. I could put up a feeder for them somewhere, and shoot them when they become tame, maybe someday.

Ruby throated hummingbird

Ruby throated hummingbird

Juvenile orchard oriole

Juvenile orchard oriole

Butterfly

Butterfly

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

I tried to do some creative cropping to get just one turkey in an image at a time.

Tom turkey

Tom turkey

But, it wasn’t working well, so here’s all three of the turkeys together.

Tom turkeys

Tom turkeys

A doe passing by stopped to check out the turkeys.

Cedar waxwing hiding

Whitetail deer

But after a quick look-see, she went on her way again.

Cedar waxwing hiding

Whitetail deer

Goat's beard seeds

Goat’s beard seeds

Unknown

Unknown

Growth under leaves

Growth under leaves

Light echos

Light echos

Butterfly on daisy

Butterfly on daisy

Moth mullein

Moth mullein

"big eyed" beetle

“big eyed” beetle

"big eyed" beetle in flight

“big eyed” beetle in flight

Unknown berry flowers

Unknown berry flowers

Witches broom on blackberry

Witches broom on blackberry

Witches broom on blackberry

Witches broom on blackberry

I still have quite a few tidbits of knowledge that I would like to pass on to those who are interested, and plenty more photos. But this post is getting long, so I’ll sum things up for now.

Like I said in the beginning, each new piece of equipment came with a learning curve, and I haven’t really mastered any of my lenses yet, but I’m trying. I have begun taking either the 15-85 mm or macro lens with me each day when I walk, even around home, and I have even used them. 😉

However, I think that the main point I would like to make is that each piece of photo gear has its own foibles that one has to learn, and that only comes by using them.

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

 


I have the rest of my life, Part I

I still have quite a few photos saved from last week, a few of them will make it into this post as I go along.
But, this post will be a bit wordier than my past few posts, as I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my photos and my blogging.

However, before I get started down that long and winding path, I have a few updates.

The small woodlot that used to stand at the corner of the apartment complex where I live has been totally cleared of trees except for a few around the edges of the property, darn.

Just this past week, the owners of the vacant parcel of land that borders Creekside Park on the east have started clearing that parcel, but not totally clear. I’m not sure what they are planning on doing, it looks like they are planning on putting a small subdivision in there, with just a few homes. I can’t say that I’m pleased about that, but since I couldn’t afford to purchase the land, I have no say in what happens. If they leave what remains uncut the way it is now, it shouldn’t have too much of an impact on the wildlife around the park.

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may remember that my knees were bothering me a good deal before I went on vacation. Well, I was on my feet for most of the sunlight hours everyday while I was on vacation. My knees healed up, the pain and the limp that I had developed went away. A few weeks back at work, the pain is returning, as is the limp. Time for a new job!

I have wanted an ultra-wide lens for a while, I had discussed a few, and I believe that I had settled on the Sigma 10-22 mm lens if I remember correctly. That’s all out the window. Canon has introduced a new 10-18 mm lens for crop sensor cameras, which my 60 D bodies are.

When I saw that, I added that lens to the list of possibilities, but then I learned that it would be an all plastic lens, including the lens mount. I had almost crossed that lens off my list when I heard about the plastic mount. But, I also took into consideration what size filters all the lenses on my list took, because filters can add up to quite a bit of money.

I could prattle on about that, but I won’t. The reviews have started coming in on the new Canon, and they are all pretty much the same. Yes, it is an all plastic lens, to keep the price and weight down, but optically, it is the best ultra-wide lens ever built for crop sensor bodies. It also takes 67 mm filters, the same as the 70-200 mm L series lens that I already own takes. I already have a 67 mm polarizing filter, so that saves me a few bucks there. Since any other filters, such as neutral density filters, will fit both the 10-18 mm and 70-200 mm lenses, I’ll save a few bucks there.

The plastic mount still bothers me a little, but I have to be realistic, it’s not as if I’m changing lenses all the time, and I’m pretty easy on my equipment, so the plastic mount shouldn’t be a problem. Especially since the new Canon lens is only three hundred dollars, 33% less than the Sigma I had been looking at and half the price of the Canon 10-22 mm lens I had also been looking at.

I shouldn’t buy another lens at this time, I still haven’t learned how to get the best out of the lenses that I already own, and that’s especially true of the Tokina macro lens.

When I purchased the macro lens, I had big plans to spend a lot of time using it this summer, learning how to do macro photography, and getting good photos of the miniature world around us. What I didn’t know then was how much the improvement in my other types of photography was going to affect me.

I have hundreds of images of cardinals saved on my computer, but none of them come close to these as far as image quality.

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

It’s not just those two that have me looking at my photos in an entirely new way.

Juvenile Baltimore oriole

Juvenile Baltimore oriole

Juvenile Baltimore oriole

Juvenile Baltimore oriole

Female red-winged blackbird

Female red-winged blackbird

Female red-winged blackbird

Female red-winged blackbird

Nor is it only the photos of birds.

St. John's wort

St. John’s wort

Fly

Fly

Bee on unidentified

Bee on unidentified

Bee on unidentified

Bee on unidentified

Butterfly

Butterfly

Moth mullein

Moth mullein

Red sweet pea

Red sweet pea

White sweet pea

White sweet pea

sweet pea

sweet pea

There’s a part of me that would like to change the direction of my blog to where I only post the very best of my photos.

However, some of my favorite images continue to be those of wildlife engaged in every day activities that most people never get a chance to see. Judging from the comments to my blog, they are the reader’s favorites as well, like the woodchuck and porcupine in trees, the muddy red squirrel, and so on.

While I would love it if I could get perfect photos every time that I pressed the shutter release, I haven’t gotten that good yet. As luck would have it, I just happen to have a few examples birds in action, but my photos of them aren’t that great. 😉

To start with, a young female turkey that had been dusting itself in the main part of the park. She decided that the other people in the park were too close to her, but she didn’t seem to mind me being even closer. I have photos of her dusting where I first saw her, then of her walking towards me, but I’ll leave those out, and post just these. She found the horseshoe pits in the park just perfect for dusting.

Turkey dusting itself

Turkey dusting itself

Turkey dusting itself

Turkey dusting itself

Turkey dusting itself

Turkey dusting itself

Turkey dusting itself

Turkey dusting itself

By the way, it is believed that bird dust themselves like that to rid their feathers of parasites, such as feather mites. Some birds bathe in water, others use dust, some use both.

Then there are these two photos, first, of a female red-winged blackbird shaking herself dry in the rain, then a close up of her showing the water drops still in her feathers on the top of her head. (You may have to click on the photo in order to make out the water drops in her crown)

Female red-winged blackbird in the rain

Female red-winged blackbird in the rain

Female red-winged blackbird in the rain

Female red-winged blackbird in the rain

Speaking of red-winged blackbirds, here’s a few of them chasing a red-tailed hawk.

Red-winged blackbirds attacking a red-tailed hawk

Red-winged blackbirds attacking a red-tailed hawk

I was trying out some new exposure settings for flying birds that day, and I was so intent on the exposure that I forgot to turn the Image Stabilization of the lens to the action mode, so there’s some “ghosting” present in these images from the IS fighting the movement of the camera as I followed the action. And, it isn’t as if this is the first time that I’ve posted photos of red-winged blackbirds attacking a red-tailed hawk, so, then my decision is how many should I post, and should I show the entire flock of blackbirds….

Red-winged blackbirds attacking a red-tailed hawk

Red-winged blackbirds attacking a red-tailed hawk

…or crop in on Bertha, the red-tailed hawk, as she keeps an eye on the blackbirds?

Red-winged blackbirds attacking a red-tailed hawk

Red-winged blackbirds attacking a red-tailed hawk

Or, go for a shot of one of the blackbirds doing a little hawk surfing?

Red-winged blackbird attacking a red-tailed hawk

Red-winged blackbird attacking a red-tailed hawk

More decisions on what to post. I spotted a young robin just starting to get its adult feathers, and thought that I should get a photo.

Juvenile American robin

Juvenile American robin

The photo isn’t that great, but as I stood there shooting that photo, I heard a ruckus just a short distance from me as a Cooper’s hawk made a pass at an adult robin. The hawk missed, but I didn’t.

Cooper's hawk in flight

Cooper’s hawk in flight

So, the question is, should I post either or both of the photos. I have many images of Cooper’s hawks, many of them better than the one above, but I was able to watch the robin elude the hawk, even if I didn’t get both birds in the frame.

Here’s more bad photos that I question whether I should post them or not. This time, it’s an adult male rose-breasted grosbeak feeding one of its young. Maybe I’m reading too much into the photos, but I imagine that the conversation between the adult and juvenile bird went something like this.

Dad: “Here’s your lunch son.”

Adult male rose-breasted grosbeak feeding one of its young

Adult male rose-breasted grosbeak feeding one of its young

Son: “Feed me!”

Adult male rose-breasted grosbeak feeding one of its young

Adult male rose-breasted grosbeak feeding one of its young

Dad: “Here you go son”

Adult male rose-breasted grosbeak feeding one of its young

Adult male rose-breasted grosbeak feeding one of its young

Son: “Beetles again? I wanted a nice juicy inchworm!”

Adult male rose-breasted grosbeak feeding one of its young

Adult male rose-breasted grosbeak feeding one of its young

Dad: “I worked my butt off to find you this beetle, you’re going to eat it and like it, even if I have to shove it down your throat!”

Adult male rose-breasted grosbeak feeding one of its young

Adult male rose-breasted grosbeak feeding one of its young

Son: “Well, I’ll eat it, but it doesn’t have to mean that I’ll like it.”

Adult male rose-breasted grosbeak feeding one of its young

Adult male rose-breasted grosbeak feeding one of its young

I would have loved to have captured that series on a day with good lighting, but it didn’t happen that way.

I tell myself that I have the rest of my life to shoot good photos of nearly every subject eventually, so there’s no need to post these now. I could wait until I get better photos, and stick to the better quality images, like these.

 

Spiny leaved sow thistle

Spiny leaved sow thistle

Crown vetch

Crown vetch

Peony

Peony

Catalpa

Catalpa

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

I also have the rest of my life to get even better images than these last few, so where should I draw the line?

If you had told me a year ago that I would still be seeing marked improvements in my photos to the degree that I see, I wouldn’t have believed it possible, but it seems like I’m seeing more improvement this summer with every passing day than last summer.

If I wait for the perfect photo, or as close to perfect as the first two cardinal photos in this post are, then I wouldn’t be posting very often. My posts would also become a lot shorter than this one has become. 😉

I still have close to 90 photos left over even after all the photos that I have in this post. While I can easily weed that down to around 50, I really don’t want to post daily as I have been for the most part up until this week. But, I save too many photos to post weekly, the posts grow too long if I post once a week.

I thought about resurrecting a dormant blog that I have to post just my very best photos to, but I’m not sure that it is a good idea to do so either. I would still be posting almost as often between the two blogs, so what difference would it make other than that my photos would be spread out over two blogs rather than one.

I considered adding a poll to this post to ask all of you what you would prefer to see here, just the best of the best, or wildlife in action, but I have a fair idea of what the results of the poll would be, and each of you would have a different opinion as to what your favorite photos from this post would be.

So, I guess I’ll wrap this one up and continue my thoughts in a second post on this subject.

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

 


Blackburnian Warbler, Setophaga fusca

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.

Blackburnian Warbler, Setophaga fusca

The Blackburnian Warbler is a small New World warbler. They breed in eastern North America, from southern Canada, westwards to the southern Canadian Prairies, the Great Lakes region and New England, to North Carolina.  These birds were named after Anna Blackburne, an English botanist.

Blackburnian Warblers are around 11 to 13 cm (4.3 to 5.1 in) long, with a 20 to 22 cm (7.9 to 8.7 in) wingspan, and weigh 8 to 13 g (0.28 to 0.46 oz). The average mass of an adult bird is 9.7 g (0.34 oz). Among standard measurements, the wing chord is 6.3 to 7.3 cm (2.5 to 2.9 in), the tail is 4.2 to 5 cm (1.7 to 2.0 in), the bill is 0.9 to 1 cm (0.35 to 0.39 in) and the tarsus is 1.6 to 1.8 cm (0.63 to 0.71 in).

In summer, male Blackburnian Warblers display dark gray backs and double white wing bars, with yellowish rumps and dark brown crowns. The underparts of these birds are white, and are tinged with yellow and streaked black. The head is strongly patterned in yellow and black, with a flaming-orange throat. It is the only North American warbler with this striking plumage. Other plumages, including the fall male and adult female, are washed-out versions of the summer male, and in particular lack the bright colors and strong head pattern. Basic plumages show weaker yellows and gray in place of black in the breeding male.

Blackburnian Warblers’ songs are a simple series of high swi notes, which often ascend in pitch. Their call is a high sip.

Blackburnian Warblers are solitary during winter and highly territorial on their breeding grounds and do not mix with other passerine species outside of the migratory period. However, during migration, they often join local mixed foraging flocks of species such as chickadees, kinglets and nuthatches. These birds are basically insectivorous, but will include berries in their diets in wintertime. They usually forage by searching for insects or spiders in treetops. The breeding habitats of these birds are mature coniferous woodlands or mixed woodlands, especially ones containing spruce and hemlocks. It typically winters in tropical montane forests.

Blackburnian Warblers build a nest consisting of an open cup of twigs, bark, plant fibers, and rootlets held to branch with spider web and lined with lichens, moss, hair, and dead pine needles that’s placed near the end of a branch. Three to five whitish eggs are laid its nest which is usually placed 2–38 m (6.6–124.7 ft) above the ground, on a horizontal branch.

On to my photos:

 

Blackburnian Warbler, Setophaga fusca

Blackburnian Warbler, Setophaga fusca

Blackburnian Warbler, Setophaga fusca

Blackburnian Warbler, Setophaga fusca

Blackburnian Warbler, Setophaga fusca

Blackburnian Warbler, Setophaga fusca

Blackburnian Warbler, Setophaga fusca

Blackburnian Warbler, Setophaga fusca

Blackburnian Warbler, Setophaga fusca

Blackburnian Warbler, Setophaga fusca

Blackburnian Warbler, Setophaga fusca

Blackburnian Warbler, Setophaga fusca

Blackburnian Warbler, Setophaga fusca

Blackburnian Warbler, Setophaga fusca

Blackburnian Warbler, Setophaga fusca

Blackburnian Warbler, Setophaga fusca

Blackburnian Warbler, Setophaga fusca

Blackburnian Warbler, Setophaga fusca

 

This is number 161 in my photo life list, only 189 to go!

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

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Jumping ahead, Lost Lake again

Even though I have photos from last week to use up, I’m going to jump ahead, and do a post on my day at Lost Lake in Muskegon State Park today. For one thing, I shot a series of photos of Atlantic Blue-eyed grass using three different lenses, and I want to put them in a post before I forget which images were shot with which lens.

Some of you may find so many photos of the same flower boring, but I’m doing this for any budding photographers who may read this, or for more experienced shutterbugs that may be considering what lens(es) to purchase. It was also a learning experience for me, so I’d like to document it.

I may as well start out with the lens test that I did, even though I did it in the middle of my day.

First, Canon 300 mm L series lens with Tamron 1.4 X tele-converter, at near the limit of how close it can focus. The image wasn’t cropped at all.

Atlantic blue-eyed grass at 420 mm

Atlantic blue-eyed grass at 420 mm

I forgot to shoot one to crop, so here’s a cropped photo from last week, taken with the same lens/extender combo.

Atlantic blue-eyed grass at 420 mm, cropped

Atlantic blue-eyed grass at 420 mm, cropped

Next up, my Canon 15-85 mm lens, as close as it will focus.

Atlantic blue-eyed grass at 85 mm, not cropped

Atlantic blue-eyed grass at 85 mm, not cropped

Sorry about the tripod leg being in the background, I was using the it to hold the stalk of the flower still in the wind, and I thought that it would be out of focus for a nice dark background. 😉

Here’s the cropped version from the 15-85 mm lens.

Atlantic blue-eyed grass at 85 mm, cropped

Atlantic blue-eyed grass at 85 mm, cropped

Finally, two from the Tokina 100 mm macro lens, neither of them cropped at all, I didn’t have to. I could have, and maybe should have, gotten much closer.

Atlantic blue-eyed grass, Tokina 100 mm macro lens

Atlantic blue-eyed grass, Tokina 100 mm macro lens

Atlantic blue-eyed grass, Tokina 100 mm macro lens

Atlantic blue-eyed grass, Tokina 100 mm macro lens

Because I reduce the quality of the images that I post here, you may not see how much of a difference that there is between the three lenses. The Tokina is the clear winner, followed by the 300 mm L series lens, with the 15-85 mm lens lagging slightly behind. That’s more or less what I had expected, but I had time to play, so it seemed like something worthwhile to try. If there was anything surprising about this test, it was how well that the 15-85 mm lens did compared to two lenses with the reputation for being extremely sharp for macro photos.

Even though I tried to use the tripod to hold the flower still, I think that it moved a little in the wind during the last photo. I was using the servo mode of auto-focus because of the wind, and the Tokina’s auto-focus is extremely slow, it may not have been able to keep up with the movement of the flower. That’s the nature of most macro lenses, because the focusing mechanism allows for very fine focus adjustments, they are very slow to auto-focus.

The images from the Tokina point out another problem that I have, the viewfinder of the 60 D body only shows 96% of what ends up in the image. I wanted the flower to almost completely fill the frame, but I mis-judged how much difference there is between what I see and what I get. But, that’s minor, I’ll learn as I go along how close to get to subjects to fill the frame the way I would like.

Anyway, the test showed me what I wanted to know, which was, how much closer the Tokina macro lens would allow me to get to a subject. Like I said before, I probably should have gone even closer, since I could have.

I am a little surprised, according to the specifications, the 15-85 mm lens will focus to 1.15 feet, the Tokina 100 mm focuses down to 11.8 inches, I didn’t think that there would be as much difference between the two lenses as there is. But, that’s measured from the focal plane, not the end of the lens.

Okay, with that out of the way, a few other photos.

Mute swan

Mute swan

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

The 300 mm L series lens has a reputation for being “soft” at longer distances, so I shot this heron and haven’t cropped the photo to test that out.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

It looks darned sharp to me when looking at the trees in the background. I would say that from 5 to 20 feet, there are few lenses that can match the sharpness of the 300 mm lens. It seems to go soft from 25 feet to around 75 feet, then, it stays sharp all the way out from 75 feet. And, soft is a relative term, most people would be very happy with the performance of the 300 mm lens. I am, but I can see its weaknesses, and to get the best photos, I have to find ways to work around those tendencies.

The Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) is a bit soft up close, it is at its sharpest from 20 to around 80 feet, then it gets a bit soft from there on. That’s what makes it such a good birding lens for me, it’s at its best at the range that I normally shoot at.

Along with testing lenses, I also did an eyesight test. I stopped by the eagle’s nest, even though I was fairly certain that any eaglets had fledged and left the nest by now. I didn’t see any eagles, but I did see a scarlet tanager hunting bugs in the eagle’s nest, see if you can spot him.

Male Scarlet tanager under an eagle's nest

Male Scarlet tanager under an eagle’s nest

I’ll crop an image down for you.

Male Scarlet tanager under an eagle's nest

Male Scarlet tanager under an eagle’s nest

The tanager’s mate was also there, but she stayed hidden most of the time, so I didn’t get a photo of her. But, it dawned on me that my eyes must be pretty good yet to watch such small birds at so great a distance, remember, the first photo was shot at 420 mm, and the second one was cropped to bring the tanager even closer.

That reminds me, I hadn’t stopped at the eagle’s nest at all this year as it was getting hard to view the nest because of other trees in the way. Some of the trees blocking the view of the nest came down this past winter, so now there’s a clear view of the nest. I’ll have to remember that next spring.

I shot a few photos of a song sparrow.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Then, I went for a close up.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

The sparrow was not amused.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

I also got a red-eyed vireo, even though its red eye doesn’t show up in my photos.

Red-eyed vireo

Red-eyed vireo

Red-eyed vireo

Red-eyed vireo

A little later, the heron from the earlier photo came flying across the lake for these photos.

Great blue heron coming in for a landing

Great blue heron coming in for a landing

Great blue heron coming in for a landing

Great blue heron coming in for a landing

Great blue heron coming in for a landing

Great blue heron coming in for a landing

Great blue heron coming in for a landing

Great blue heron coming in for a landing

Great blue heron coming in for a landing

Great blue heron coming in for a landing

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

A few of the other things I saw.

Buttercup?

Buttercup?

Water lily

Water lily

Water lily

Water lily

Water lily

Water lily

Grasshopper

Grasshopper

Some one spooked the heron again, sending it my way for a second time.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

And to wrap this up, a few photos of the wild iris growing around Lost Lake. I was busy fending off swarms of mosquitoes while I shot these, so I didn’t spend much time on composition, it was shoot and run.

Iris

Iris

Iris

Iris

Iris

Iris

I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t find any of the wild orchids blooming yet, but that gives me an excuse to go back again in a week or two.

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


Catching up, trips to Lost and Reed’s Lakes

Before I get started on the subjects of this post, the other day, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology posted a short video clip about a grey catbird’s ability to mimic the sounds of other birds. If you’ve been reading my blog for very long, you’ll know that catbirds and brown thrashers are two of my favorite species of birds, for the way that they take snippets of the songs of other species of birds and blend those snippets into a symphony of bird songs.

So, I’m going to try something new for me, I’ll try to put the video clip in my blog for every one to check out.

I hope that it works!

Okay, about my trips to the two lakes that I made since I’ve been back from vacation, and trying to catch up with my postings.

It was quite warm a few Sundays ago, so since my favorite naturally air-conditioned spot is Lost Lake, I thought that a day there was in order. Anywhere along the shore of any Great Lakes is ten to twenty degrees cooler than just a few miles inland this time of the year. The water temperature of Lake Michigan is still only in the upper thirties, so any breeze off the lake is nice and cool!

I picked Lost Lake, as it is not only cool, but there are many rare plants growing around it. I was a week or two too early, so I didn’t find many plants to photograph. I found even fewer birds, this great blue heron is my only bird photo from around the lake.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

I did shoot a few landscapes, just for the greenery.

Lost Lake, Muskegon State Park

Lost Lake, Muskegon State Park

Lost Lake, Muskegon State Park

Lost Lake, Muskegon State Park

Lost Lake, Muskegon State Park

Lost Lake, Muskegon State Park

If there’s water around in the summer, there’s probably dragonflies around to shoot.

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

I had taken my macro lens and tripod along in anticipation of shooting flowers and plants, but I forgot to bring the LED light that I use for macro photography with me, so these aren’t very good. I shouldn’t even post them, but I worked my butt off trying to get these as I fought a stiff wind blowing the flowers around!

Unknown, in the woods near the lake

Unknown, in the woods near the lake

Violet

Violet

Sundew

Sundew

Moss?

Moss?

Bladderwort

Bladderwort

Bladderwort

Bladderwort

Pitcher plant flower

Pitcher plant flower

I meant to tip the flower of the pitcher plant back to get a photo of the underside, but some other people came along about that time. I had all my photo gear sitting on the observation deck overlooking the lake, and didn’t think it wise to leave it there unattended. It probably would have been okay there, the people were birders, and we struck up a conversation, and by the time that they left, I had forgotten about the pitcher plant, darn!

Here’s a few of the other things that I found.

Grey squirrel, black morph

Grey squirrel, black morph

Cinnamon fern?

Cinnamon fern?

Snapping turtle

Snapping turtle

Although I didn’t get many photos, I had a thoroughly enjoyable day there, spending a lot of time relaxing on the observation deck.

When I did decide to leave, I swung over to the Muskegon Lake channel to see if there was anything there worth photographing, nothing as far as wildlife, other than a few mallards and mute swans, and I’ve posted enough photos of them for a while. I did try out my new lens on the Milwaukee Clipper though.

The Milwaukee Clipper

The Milwaukee Clipper

SS Milwaukee Clipper, also known as SS Clipper , and formerly as SS Juniata, is a retired passenger ship and automobile ferry that sailed under two configurations and traveled on all of the Great Lakes except Lake Ontario. Milwaukee Clipper is the only US passenger steamship left on the Great Lakes.

Her story begins on 22 December 1904, in Cleveland, Ohio, at the shipyards of the American Shipbuilding Company. Christened Juniata when launched, she was built for the Anchor Line, the Great Lakes marine division of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Her sister ships are the SS Tionesta and SS Octorara.

The ship is 361 feet (110 m) in length, 45 feet (14 m) in beam, a depth of 22 feet (6.7 m), with a gross tonnage of 4333 tons. She carried 350 passengers in staterooms at 18 knots. As originally built, she had a riveted steel hull and a magnificent wooden superstructure. For the Pennsylvania Railroad, she carried passengers and freight between Buffalo, New York and Duluth, Minnesota until 1915.

That year, the anti-monopoly Panama Canal Act, which forbade railroads from owning steamships, went into effect. Divesting its marine divisions, the Pennsylvania Railroad sold its Anchor Line along with four other railroad-owned company fleets, to the newly formed Great Lakes Transit Corporation. Under this flag, she carried passengers along her old routes  for another 20 seasons. Juniata was laid up in 1937 after the closing of the Chicago World’s Fair.

The Juniata sat idle in Buffalo until being sold in 1940 to be rebuilt and used as a passenger ship on Lake Michigan. Juniata was extensively modernized at the yard of the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company. Her boilers upgraded from coal to run on fuel oil, but she retained her original quadruple expansion steam engine. The old cabins and wooden superstructure were removed and replaced with steel to meet the new maritime fire safety standards created after the disastrous SS Morro Castle fire off Asbury Park, New Jersey in 1934. The streamlined forward stack is false and does not ventilate engine exhaust. It is a signature of naval architect George Sharp, whose ideas regarding fireproof ships were first incorporated into Juniata. This stack became standard on many new ships that were to come. Sharp is credited with three historic vessels, Milwaukee Clipper, SS Lane Victory, and NS Savannah.

The modernized ship featured air-conditioned staterooms, a children’s playroom, a movie theater, a dance floor with a live band, a soda fountain, bar, cafeteria known for its cuisine, lounges and sports deck, and capacity to carry 120 automobiles. On June 3, 1941, she made her maiden voyage from Milwaukee to Muskegon. As Milwaukee Clipper, she steamed between Muskegon and Milwaukee, as well as excursions throughout Lake Michigan visiting various other ports, for 29 seasons. She was also called the “Queen of the Great Lakes” and carried around 900 passengers and 120 automobiles in the summer. The amount of oil used varied per round trip, but was approximately 5,500 US gallons (21,000 l; 4,600 imp gal). On week days she made two round trips that took 7 hours each way, using three of the four boilers. On weekends, she made three, six-hour round trips on all four boilers. The crew lists were between 105 and 109, with around 55 of them in the steward’s department alone to take care of the 900 or so passengers on board. There are stories from former crew members about how they would “lose count” as to how many were actually on board. If you were there, apparently you did not get turned away. The cost per person in the 1950s was $3.33 and $8.00 extra for an automobile, with an extra 75 cents charged to travel in the forward Club Lounge and to use the forward deck.

After shooting a photo of the old “Queen of the Great Lakes”, I turned around to see the modern version coming into the Muskegon harbor.

The Lake Express

The Lake Express

The Lake Express

The Lake Express

And, I shot this one because it showed what a nice day that it was.

Fun times

Fun times

 

Reed’s Lake

Last Sunday, after getting yet another rare bird alert from eBird about a species of bird that I would like to photograph having been seen there, I decided to bite the bullet and go to Reed’s Lake.

Reed’s Lake is in East Grand Rapids, a suburb of Grand Rapids, Michigan. It isn’t far from where I live, but I try to avoid that area as much as I can. No, it’s not the bad part of town, just the opposite, East Grand Rapids is an affluent area. However, the roads there are the pits, in both the way they’re laid out, and their condition. I think the residents prefer it that way to keep the scum (like me) out. 😉

Reed’s Lake used to be the home of Ramona Park, a trolley park much like Coney Island, but on a much smaller scale. Reeds Lake is also the home of the Grand Rapids Yacht Club, so it’s a busy lake, especially on weekends.

So despite all the negatives, I decided to check the area out considering how many rare bird alerts come from there.

I had just parked my Forester, and was walking into the park when an osprey flew over me, and out over the lake.

Osprey in flight

Osprey in flight

That was kind of cool! I had heard that both eagles and osprey are seen regularly there, but I never saw an eagle, or one of the black terns that had been reported there, and were the reason for my visit there. I did see lots of tree swallows though.

Male tree swallow

Male tree swallow

And there were dragonflies.

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

As well as a beautiful damselfly.

Damselfly

Damselfly

I had been watching a pair of tree swallows bringing insects back to their young, which were in a hollow tree.

Male tree swallow

Male tree swallow

Every time I had seen the male enter the nest, he had come back out head first. So, I held the camera on the opening in the tree to catch him exiting the nest, and he came out butt first.

Male tree swallow

Male tree swallow

At least I was able to get a so-so shot of him taking off.

Male tree swallow taking flight

Male tree swallow taking flight

The female was watching all this happen.

Female tree swallow

Female tree swallow

An eastern kingbird was also doing its part to reduce the insect population.

Eastern kingbird

Eastern kingbird

It turns out that there is an extensive system of trails on one end of Reed’s Lake, that also runs to nearby Fisk Lake. But, I hadn’t put insect repellent on, so I did only a very short segment of the trail, in woods so thick that it was almost as dark as night there along the trail. Because of the very low light, these next photos are poor, but good enough for this post.

Muddy red squirrel

Muddy red squirrel

Muddy red squirrel

Muddy red squirrel

Forget me nots

Forget me nots

Wild garlic

Wild garlic

After killing several thousand skeeters, I left the woods, and got back out into the sunlight for these.

I’ve done this before, and the results aren’t as dramatic here as they are on my computer, but I never learn, so I’m going to try again. A wild iris, with just a small shaft of sunlight hitting it, and I went down 1/3 of a stop for each image. I like them all, but I would like to put the background from the third image behind the iris in the first two, to see how that would look.

Wild iris

Wild iris

Wild iris

Wild iris

Wild iris

Wild iris

Just a few more to go, starting with a cedar waxwing gathering fluff for its nest.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

A tree swallow in flight.

Tree swallow in flight

Tree swallow in flight

An eastern box turtle wandering by.

Eastern box turtle

Eastern box turtle

And finally, a song sparrow gathering a beak full of bugs to take back to its young.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

I’m almost caught up now in posting, so hopefully I won’t be posting as often as I have been. It’s also late on a Saturday night, after I spent a good deal of the day wandering around the local park, shooting more photos of flowers, so I’m about out of gas. I’m returning to Lost Lake tomorrow, hopefully there will be more flowers in bloom this time, including some of the orchids.

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


Catching up after my vacation, Part III

It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve been back to work for almost three weeks after my vacation. I’ve kept busy taking photos since I’ve been back, maybe too busy.

It’s even harder for me to believe that I’ve got so many photos saved, even though I’m trying to control myself and only post one or two of any one subject. But, it’s summer, even if it isn’t official by the calendar yet, and there are new flowers popping up everywhere I look.

I’ve been trying to learn the names of flowers, but that isn’t an easy thing to do I’m finding out. Not only are many species of flowers virtually identical to other species, but there may be two or more species with the same common name, making things even tougher.

I’m also trying to learn the habits of the flowers in order to get the best photos, which may sound strange, but let me explain. When some species of flowers first appear, the very first specimens to open may the very best examples of that species. But with other species, the very first specimens to open may be poor subjects compared to later ones when they open. I’ve been burned a couple of times by waiting to photograph a species until the plant gets to full bloom, but by that time, the individual flowers aren’t that appealing.

Then, there are the times when the flowers are actually open. Some species, like this Atlantic blue-eyed grass…

Atlantic blue-eyed grass

Atlantic blue-eyed grass

Atlantic blue-eyed grass

Atlantic blue-eyed grass

…only open on sunny afternoons.

Other species, like this goat’s beard, open in the morning and are almost closed by noon.

Goat's beard

Goat’s beard

By the way, that’s actually Tragopogon dubius, or western salsify, but it shares a common name, goat’s beard, with an entirely different species of flower.

So, I’ll may see a flower on my way to the park and think that I’ll shoot photos on my way back home when the light is better, only to find that the flowers have closed by then. Or, I’ll see flowers on my way back home that I know weren’t open on my way past them the first time. And I thought birds were tough!

Then, there’s getting the exposure correct. With my Canon 60 D bodies, there are huge differences in the exposures, depending on if I use partial spot metering like I do for birds, or center-weighted or evaluative as I do with landscapes. And, not all species of flowers of the same color require the same exposure adjustments. For example, some white flowers look best at -1/3 EV, while others require -1 1/3 EV to bring out their best, when using partial spot metering.

I could prattle on more, but I think that it’s time for some photos, for most of them, the caption is all the description needed.

Petunia

Petunia

Eastern tiger swallowtail

Eastern tiger swallowtail

Flea bane?

Flea bane?

Flowering grass

Flowering grass

Textures and colors

Textures and colors

Crown vetch

Crown vetch

Sweet pea

Sweet pea

Butterfly on sweet pea

Butterfly on sweet pea

Butterfly on sweet pea

Butterfly on sweet pea

Hairy vetch

Hairy vetch

Hairy vetch

Hairy vetch

I think that this next image is of an azalea, but I’m not sure. The “bush” is close to twenty feet tall, but it’s in some one’s yard, and I can’t get close enough for a truly good photo. I love the colors of the flowers though, so I have to include it. I’ve seen one other like this, while driving for work, and it is also a very large bush or small tree. Whatever they are, I’m surprised that they aren’t more popular than they are, I’d have one in my yard if I had a yard.

Azalea?

Beauty bush

Bumblebee

Bumblebee

Unknown

Ground ivy or Creeping Charlie

English plantain

English plantain

Flowering grass

Flowering grass

Red clover

Red clover

Sulfur cinquefoil

Sulfur cinquefoil

Six spotted tiger beetle

Six spotted tiger beetle

Six spotted tiger beetle

Six spotted tiger beetle

You’ve heard of Angry Birds, here’s a new game in the making, happy birds. 😉

Happy

Happy

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

I sure wish that I could catch this guy singing a little closer, but he’s very wary of me, and every one else.

Brown thrasher singing

Brown thrasher singing

Brown thrasher singing

Brown thrasher singing

That goes for this guy too. I know the photo isn’t that good, but it’s an alder flycatcher singing its head off.

Alder flycatcher singing

Alder flycatcher singing

That is, if you call the sounds that the flycatcher makes singing. It sounds more like an insect. I have to give this guy kudos for being persistent though, he’s been singing away like that for two to three weeks now, I sure hope that the female that I’ve seen once sticks around. I missed a photo of her, so it’s back to butterflies and flowers.

Butterfly

Butterfly

Caterpillar

Caterpillar

Grey catbird

Grey catbird

Bee on red clover

Bee on red clover

Look closely at this next one, and you can see a red-winged blackbird perched on the hawk’s back, and helping the hawk out in its molt by removing a few feathers. 😉

Red-winged blackbird hawk surfing

Red-winged blackbird hawk surfing

Some of you may remember Fred the friendly fox squirrel from this past winter. Well, Fred is really Fredericka, and she’s been busy raising a litter of young, so I haven’t seen her very often. She’s keeping the young back in the woods and out of sight, but I did catch her visiting one of her favorite trees to give it a hug, since she obviously missed it. 😉

The ultimate tree hugger

The ultimate tree hugger

Bumblebee

Bumblebee

Buttercup?

Buttercup?

Iris

Iris

Unknown

Unknown

Bee on Unknown

Bee on Unknown

Well, that about wraps this one up. I still have photos from Reed’s Lake and Lost Lake to take care of, and I guess that I’m still a week behind as far as photos from around here. I was hoping to be all caught up by now, as I’m returning to Lost Lake one day this weekend. Hopefully, I’ll find a few of the rare species of flowers open this time, I was too early the last time that I was there. And, some of the photos from this week will get deleted, when I get better photos of the flowers that I shot in rather poor light this past week.

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