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

From two days in the Muskegon area, Part I

While I was on vacation, I went to the Muskegon area for two days of birding. On the first day, my first stop was Lane’s Landing, then the State Game Area headquarters, next was the wastewater facility, then the Muskegon Lake Nature preserve.

Even though my thoughts about the new 300 mm prime lens are now moot, I’m going to include them in this post, as they were definitely on my mind at the time.

As I was driving back to the parking lot at Lane’s Landing, I noticed these Dame’s Rockets next to the road, so I set up my tripod and shot these with my Tokina 100 mm macro lens.

Dame's rockets

Dame’s rockets

Dame's rockets

Dame’s rockets

It would have been easier to have used the 300 mm prime lens for those images, and if I had, you wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference here in my blog. However, I would have had to crop any photos from that lens to get as close as I did with the Tokina, as these are full size, not cropped at all. If I were to print the photos, there would be a difference.

Anyway, I got back to the parking lot and started hiking along the dike at Lane’s Landing that splits a large marsh into two smaller marshes, and controls the water lever in the “upper” marsh. I was using the 300 mm prime lens and Tamron 1.4 X extender for these, more on that later. But for now, birds and a bee.

Song sparrow singing

Song sparrow singing

This female yellow warbler was bashful, and didn’t want her picture taken.

Female yellow warbler

Female yellow warbler

The 300 mm prime lens is great for birds in flight!

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

And when it auto-focuses correctly, it does very well with perched birds.

Eastern wood pewee

Eastern wood pewee

These next three are of a male yellow warbler letting the rest of the bird world that he’s the baddest warbler of all.

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

In my opinion, the photos are great because of the warbler’s actions, but the photos themselves are a bit soft, the 300 mm lens didn’t quite hit the mark when it focused.

But, that lens is great up close.

Bumblebee on a dandelion

Bumblebee on a dandelion

Bumblebee on a dandelion

Bumblebee on a dandelion

I think that this next one should have been sharper though.

Male American redstart

Male American redstart

This one is OK, it’s of a very pale male goldfinch, I’ve never seen one this pale before, they are usually bright yellow.

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Eastern kingbird

Eastern kingbird

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

The 300 mm lens nailed the grosbeak!

My second stop was the State Game area headquarters, where there are several trails back through woods and fields along what used to be the Maple River. Back in the logging days, the Maple River was diverted to feed into the Muskegon River to provide more water to float logs down the river to the sawmills in Muskegon. What used to be the Maple River is now just a slough, or very long, narrow lake, depending on your point of view. There are plans to let the Maple flow freely again, but I don’t know when the work will begin on that project.

My frustrations with the 300 mm prime lens as far as its focusing continued to build on this stop. Here are the few images that I saved, as a good many that I shot were too out of focus to use.

Painted turtles basking in the sun

Painted turtles basking in the sun

Cinquefoil?

Cinquefoil?

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

I know that I already inserted photos of a male yellow warbler, but here’s a few more. This one was looking at the other males singing in the bushes next to where he was perched, first to his right….

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

…then to his left….

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

…and decided that he had better join in the chorus.

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Here’s one of his competitors.

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Male American redstart taking flight

Male American redstart taking flight

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

First year male indigo bunting

First year male indigo bunting

First year male indigo bunting

First year male indigo bunting

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

Blue-winged warbler

Blue-winged warbler

I was disappointed in the photos of the buntings, and many other birds that you won’t see in this post. And, I had to shoot twenty some photos of the blue-winged warbler to get a few to use in the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on. The more that I used the 300 mm prime lens, the more frustrated I became because of how poorly it focused on small birds in the brush.

My next stop was the wastewater facility, only because I had to drive past it to get to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. I thought that the new prime lens would really work well on the larger birds there, not really. I had to manually focus for this photo.

Herring gull portrait

Herring gull portrait

I had no idea why the lens wouldn’t auto-focus on the gull, but it wouldn’t.

I also shot these waterfowl while I was at the wastewater facility.

Ruddy duck

Ruddy duck

Male blue-winged teal

Male blue-winged teal

American coot

American coot

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

Male canvasback

Male canvasback

When I got home and saw those last few photos, I was thoroughly bummed out. I was able to get sharper photos of a coot and canvasback (to name two species off the top of my head) using the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) with the extender and manually focusing than what the 300 mm prime lens had produced. The one sharp waterfowl photo that I got was this one.

Female canvasbck

Female canvasback

That was shot within seconds of the photo of the male, they were just a few feet apart, yet you can see distinctly that the photo of the female is much sharper than the one of the male.

The photos of the waterfowl aren’t terrible, but they are the very best that I got of each species, some of the other photos were much worse.

Most of you have at least an inkling of where my troubles with the 300 mm lens were, so I won’t go on any more about it in this post, other than to say that while I was taking the photos on this trip, I was getting more frustrated all the time.

I’ll save the photos from the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, plus those from a second trip to Muskegon for the next post.

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

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24 responses

  1. I enjoyed your wonderful pictures of all those singing birds, thank you.

    June 6, 2014 at 3:24 am

    • Thanks Susan, I wish that I could have recordings of the birds singing play while people view the photos.

      June 6, 2014 at 9:27 am

  2. Love the action shots as usual! Also, thanks for the pic of the bee on the dandelion. Nature at work!!!

    June 6, 2014 at 5:52 am

    • Thanks Lori! I hope to have more nature at work shots soon.

      June 6, 2014 at 9:28 am

  3. I feel your pain. Every now and then my cameras will just refuse to focus on something and it is really frustrating. In my case though it’s almost always because of low light and is my fault because I forgot the LED light.
    It looks like the macro lens did a great job and the shots of the bee are excellent! I still think that those yellow warblers deserve the prize for the cutest bird in the forest.

    June 6, 2014 at 6:33 am

    • Thanks Allen! I understand not being able to auto-focus in low light, that happens frequently, I expect that. I don’t expect a lens/body to not be able to focus on something as large and close as the gull was.

      I need to remember my LED light more often also. The Tokina macro lens is excellent, worth ever penny that I paid for it. However, I’m still learning how to use it. My biggest problem has been wind, the slightest motion of a flower swaying in the wind has ruined some otherwise awesome images that the macro lens can produce.

      June 6, 2014 at 9:41 am

  4. The fact that you can bird ducks and warblers on the same outing just makes me jealous..jealous..jealous. I get either, or. Not both! What brand is this 300mm? I’m assuming you have the center focus point right? Humm…too bad if it doesn’t like the birds.

    June 6, 2014 at 7:41 am

    • Thanks Emily! I would have thought that areas along the Chesapeake Bay would be very similar to the bays along lakes Michigan and Huron, where I get warblers, shorebirds, wading birds, and waterfowl all at the same time.

      The lens is the Canon 300 mm f/4 L series lens. I use it with a Tamron 1.4 X tele-converter most of the time. It turns out that the lens likes birds well enough, but it doesn’t like one of my 60 D bodies. Just like the 70-200 mm L series lens, it works well on one body, but not the other. However, I hadn’t figured that out yet on the day that those photos were taken. I had a Canon rep, who was in town, check the two bodies out, and he can’t explain it either, it’s just one of those things.

      June 6, 2014 at 9:48 am

      • That is really really odd and I bet it drives you crazy. I really liked that 300mm L lens and loved it’s sharpness. Although I practiced on ponies and not little birdies.

        June 6, 2014 at 6:22 pm

      • I do love the 300 L, it’s like a long macro lens for flowers, dragonflies and butterflies. And, it turns out some superb bird photos, so I just have to learn how to get superb all the time. 😉

        June 7, 2014 at 1:37 am

  5. Sorry you were fighting your new lens so much, but you managed to get a fabulously wide array of birds in one post. Great series of the yellow warblers, they are precious! My favorite in this post is the one of the turtles, I just love those silly buggers! 🙂

    June 6, 2014 at 7:57 am

    • Thanks Amy! I had to leave out many images of the common birds, I shot almost 400 photos that day.

      June 6, 2014 at 9:30 am

  6. Very nice, eclectic set of images.

    I don’t use AF very often myself (nature of the beast given my subject matter), but I’ll ask a couple of questions anyway–does the problem you have with the 300/4 crop up both with AND without the use of the TC?

    I also see, based on your response to an earlier comment, that you’re having some issues with another lens (70-200). Is this problem with the same camera body as the 300/4 issues or a different one?

    Have you messed around with AF fine tuning with any of your camera/lens combinations?

    I certainly have to wonder if there’s some kind of a defect at play here.

    I definitely would NOT give up on trying to figure out what’s going on as what you’re describing isn’t at all normal (or, IMO, acceptable given the amount of money I’m sure you must have shelled out for this gear). If nothing I said is the key to solving the problem (and I’ll bet it isn’t), I’d suggest heading over to Naturescapes.net (www.naturescapes.net), registering if you aren’t already registered there (it’s free), and posting about your experience in the Photography Equipment forum. There are some very, very experienced avian photographers who hang out there, the majority of whom shoot with Canon gear, who can almost certainly be of assistance and/or point you in the right direction to get things working as they should be for you. There’s no reason that these camera/lens combinations should be operating the way they are.

    June 6, 2014 at 10:51 am

    • Thanks Kerry, for both the nice words and for trying to help.

      I have isolated the problem to one of the two 60 D bodies that I have. One does not work well with either of the Canon L series lenses that I have, but works fine with the Sigma 150-500 mm and my short lenses. The extender makes the problem slightly worse, but not by much.

      With the “cheap” 60 D body, I can’t fine tune the auto-focus, and even worse is the focusing screen in that body. I can’t tell when the focus is dead on or just close. I’ve looked into other screens, Canon makes one, but it will only work with lenses of f/2.8 or faster, which doesn’t help me a bit. Some people have purchased focusing screens from other manufacturers, I may end up going that route, but if one body works fine with the L series lenses, I’ll just use them on that body. It isn’t right, but if it works, I’ll live with it. Photographing birds, I don’t often have the time to tweak the focus anyway, before the birds are gone.

      The “bad” body works fine for landscapes and macro photography with my short lenses, so I’ve swapped settings between the two bodies. Especially with my macro lens, I’m manually focusing anyway, and most of the time with my wide lens as well.

      I should go back to the store where I purchased the body, but that was over a year ago, so I doubt that there’s anything that they can do now. But, how was I to know that the first body hated L series lenses?

      June 6, 2014 at 1:52 pm

      • I have to tell you, Jerry, it certainly sounds to me as though you’ve got a defective camera body on your hands. Did it EVER AF properly with L lenses?

        Assuming you bought it new, it should still be under warranty. I’d definitely take it in to the store where you made the purchase (I’m assuming this is an authorized Canon dealer) and have them at least look it over. It may well need a trip to Canon service, but assuming it shouldn’t cost you a dime to have it put in working order.

        June 6, 2014 at 2:50 pm

      • Thanks again! I still have one of your posts to comment on, sorry about being late, but I’ve been busy.

        You’re probably right about the camera body, but I thought that they came with a one year warranty, which would be expired. The first body never has worked well with an L series lens, I returned the first 70-200 L series lens because I couldn’t get a sharp photo with it. The second lens was better, but not great, just like the 300 mm is now on that body. Both lenses work well on the second body, so even if Canon won’t make the first body right, at least I’m not screwed. I did buy both bodies and the 70-200 locally, but not the 300 mm. But, it’s the body that’s the problem. That, and the sales staff at the store. I’ve been back several times for help, and other than one person there, they’re about as dumb as rocks.

        June 6, 2014 at 3:21 pm

  7. Your juvenile bald eagle is super, great capture. They certainly look “mottled,” don’t they? Must be awkward to be an adolescent bald eagle, seeing your grown-up parents with their spectacular head and tail feathers.

    June 6, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    • Thanks! It could be that the younger eagles like their fancy feathers and think that the adults look rather plain. 😉

      June 6, 2014 at 1:36 pm

      • 🙂 You may be right!

        June 6, 2014 at 6:02 pm

  8. Love how you are always able to capture the singing birds, and your captions always make me smile. Some of this would make a great kids’ book.

    June 7, 2014 at 7:25 am

    • Thanks Judy! I do try to keep my blog family friendly, but still, I can’t see it as a kid’s book.

      June 7, 2014 at 10:23 am

  9. Pingback: From two days in the Muskegon area, Part II | Quiet Solo Pursuits

  10. I’m sorry you had such a frustrating time but you still managed to produce some really good and interesting shots. The first photos of the Dame’s Rocket were so good – even the grains of pollen were clear. I liked all the singing birds. I have also wanted to have recordings of the birds to listen to at the same time. There must be something that can be done!

    June 8, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    • Thanks Clare! I’ve thought about shooting video to capture birds singing, then every one could hear them too. But, that would cost more than I can afford right now, maybe some day.

      June 8, 2014 at 9:53 pm