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

I got the bird again!

Last Sunday I returned to the Hofma Nature Preserve in an attempt to get photos of the sedge wrens that are nesting in the marsh there, and this time, I got the bird!

However, before I get to the photos, I’m going to go off on a short rant about some of the online reviews of photographic gear that I viewed over the last weekend. If you remember, I spent some time last weekend looking at some reviews of the cameras and lenses that I already own in order to learn more about them, and one review I viewed was a comparison of the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) and the Nikon 80-400 mm lens.

The reviewer spent the first 45 seconds to a minute fumbling around trying to do a size comparison between the two lenses while repeatedly stating the Sigma was just over one-third the cost of the Nikon. If they mentioned the weight of the two lenses, it was only in passing, and I feel that weight is more important than the actual physical size of a lens, but that’s just my opinion.

Anyway, at about one minute into a five-minute “review” the reviewer summed it all up, since the Sigma is only one-third the cost of the Nikon, it can’t be a professional grade lens, besides, the Nikon lens has five switches on the side of it, and the Sigma only has three. They never explained what the five switches on the Nikon Lens were for, just that there were five of them which made the Nikon the superior lens.

Image quality? Oh yeah, the reviewer stated that they could not get a good photo with the Sigma lens no matter what they tried, the lens was junk. That was the end of the comparison, the rest of the review was the reviewer alternately praising and bashing the Nikon lens. Never once did they show images shot with either of the lenses.

I’ve never used the Nikon 80-400 mm lens, and I’m not going to try to tell you that the Beast is a superior lens, because I’m sure it’s not, but I will tell you that it isn’t junk, and that it is well worth what you pay for it. And, I can prove it with photos.

On this day, I started out with the Canon EF 300 mm f/4 L series lens on my camera, along with a 1.4 tele-converter. It’s a great set-up, if I can get close to my subjects. At distances past 20 to 25 feet, the quality of the images I get drops off considerably.

I staked out a spot where I was between two male sedge wrens singing, waiting for them to pop up out of the vegetation, where I could get a photo of them. Here are two that I shot with the 300 mm prime lens and extender.

Sedge wren at 420 mm

Sedge wren at 420 mm

Sedge wren at 420 mm

Sedge wren at 420 mm

The quality of those images isn’t great, and trying to shoot them was very frustrating. The wren would only stay out in the open for a second or two, and I had to manually focus the 300 mm prime lens to pick the wren out of the vegetation. I decided to return to my Forester and swap lenses to the Beast.

Sedge wren using the Beast

Sedge wren using the Beast

Sedge wren using the Beast

Sedge wren using the Beast

The two images of the wren taken with the Beast are not professional quality, but they are superior to the images that I was able to get under the conditions that day using a professional grade lens. I can use the images that I shot using the Beast for the My Photo Life List project that I’m doing, I wouldn’t be able to use the images from the 300 mm prime lens.

My point is this, every piece of photo equipment has strengths and weaknesses, and if you want to get the best out of your equipment, you have to learn what those strengths and weaknesses are, and play to the strengths.

As bad as the Nikon 70-300 mm lens was that I used to use, it still had some strengths, which allowed me to get this shot.

Male rose-breasted grosbeak in flight

Male rose-breasted grosbeak in flight

As good as my new gear is, I doubt if I’ll ever be able to match that photo.

The Beast’s strengths are the extra 80 mm of focal length, and its amazing ability to auto-focus on birds. It’s as if the engineers at Sigma programmed the algorithms in the lens to find and focus on birds. It was extremely windy that day, so even when the wrens were perched above the vegetation, they were swaying wildly in the wind. That’s one of the reasons that the 300 mm prime lens missed the wrens, but the Beast had no trouble dealing with the moving birds.

Anyway, take any review of photo equipment with a grain (or two) of salt, especially those that don’t show actual photos taken with the equipment reviewed. You’re much better off reading a number of reviews to see if there is a “pattern” to them. A great example is the 300 mm L series lens I own, the reviews run from “It’s the greatest lens ever” to “It’s junk, I couldn’t get a sharp photo with it”, while the truth is somewhere in the middle. It usually is.

You have to see if a lens’ strengths fill a need for you.

That reminds me, I wonder who the intended audience was for that review that I bashed? I would assume that professional wildlife photographer would already have a professional grade telephoto lens, and, that they would know that the Beast was more of an advanced amateur lens.

If the review was intended for advanced amateurs, then the reviewer did the intended audience a huge disservice.

I wish that I could afford Canon’s 500 mm f/4 prime telephoto lens, and couple it with a 1.4 X tele-converter to have gotten even better photos of the wren, but I don’t have $11,000 in spare change lying around to make such a purchase.

Anyway, I shot a couple of other birds while I was there at the Hofma Preserve, this common yellowthroat…

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

…and a bonus lifer, a least flycatcher!

Least flycatcher

Least flycatcher

The flycatcher was very nice, it even struck a pose to help me get this photo to aid in my identification of it.

Least flycatcher

Least flycatcher

Either that, or the little bugger was mooning me! 😉

I had planned on stopping in Grand Haven to try for photos of purple martins, but it had turned out to be a cloudy day, so I skipped that stop and went to Lost Lake in Muskegon State Park to photograph flowers instead.

I shot these photos on the hike back to the lake using the 300 mm prime lens and extender. By then, the sun had come out.

Unidentified grass seeds forming

Unidentified grass seeds forming

Unidentified sedge seeds forming

Unidentified sedge seeds forming

Unidentified marsh flowers

Unidentified marsh flowers

Mushroom pushing up next to birch bark

Mushroom pushing up next to birch bark

Water lily

Water lily

Water lily

Water lily

Water lily

Water lily

Unidentified mostly white moth

Unidentified mostly white moth

At the lake itself, I used the Tokina macro lens for these.

Indian pipes

Indian pipes

Indian pipes

Indian pipes

Yellow hawkweed

Yellow hawkweed

At one point, I had one of my feet right on the edge of the water, or in the water, and I heard a splash and saw movement out of the corner of my eye. It was this gal. (Thanks to Jomegat who corrected me!)

Bullfrog

Female green lfrog

I didn’t think that the frog would stick around for a close-up, but I was wrong.

Bullfrog

Female green frog

The frog was helping itself to a few of the insects that became trapped in the sundew that grows right to the water’s edge, you can see a little of the sundew in the bottom left of the images. I was hoping to catch the frog picking the insects out of the sundew, but I guess she was full by then.

Sundew plants lure, capture, and digest insects using stalked mucilaginous glands covering their leaf surfaces. The insects are used to supplement the poor mineral nutrition of the soil in which they grow.

You have to give the frog credit, it had learned to “belly up to the bar” and help itself to some easy pickings.

Sundew

Sundew

Sundew

Sundew

Sundew

Sundew

Here’s two of the plants that grow near Lost Lake that aren’t carnivorous.

Atlantic blue-eyed grass

Atlantic blue-eyed grass

Cranberry flower

Cranberry flower

Cranberry flower

Cranberry flower

Cranberry flower

Cranberry flower

These bladderwort are a carnivorous plant. They have small chambers under water that have trap doors. When prey enters the chamber, the trap door slams shut, providing food for the plant.

Bladderwort

Bladderwort

Bladderwort

Bladderwort

These orchids aren’t carnivorous as far as I know.

Rose pogonia

Rose pogonia

Rose pogonia

Rose pogonia

I had a difficult time getting those photos. The orchids are growing right on the edge of the water this year, because Lost Lake is almost a foot higher than it was last year. Of course all the orchids were open towards the water. I had to hold the camera out over the water and use the live view by flipping the LCD display around to shoot the photos. They may not be great, but at least I was able to salvage two images.

And to wrap this up, I used the new 10-18 mm and its depth of field for this image of ferns.

Unidentified lacy ferns

Unidentified lacy ferns

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

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28 responses

  1. I love those shots of the sundew.

    The bullfrog is neither a “guy” nor a bullfrog. It’s a female green frog. They look a LOT like bullfrogs, but if you know what to look for, it’s easy to tell them apart. The ridge that runs from the eye along the timpanum is the key (the timpanum is that circle behind the eye – it’s an eardrum-type of organ, and thus the name). If the ridge wraps around the timpanum and stops, it’s a bullfrog. If the ridge continues down the back, it’s a green frog.

    As for the sex, if the timpanum is larger than the eye, it’s a male. If it’s about the same size or smaller than the eye, it’s female.

    July 12, 2014 at 9:04 pm

    • Thanks! I had it backwards, again.

      July 12, 2014 at 9:55 pm

  2. Pretty pro tech stuff – another reason I just buy post cards.

    July 12, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    • Thanks Carl!

      July 12, 2014 at 9:55 pm

  3. Oooooooooh wow, where do I start??? That shot of the flying grosbeak is sooooo cool! And those water lilies are breathtaking, and the sundew… And of course I love the frog.

    Congrats on adding to your life-life with the sedge wren and the least flycatcher. It did look like it was lifting its tail at you! 🙂

    Fantastic post, Jerry!!!

    July 12, 2014 at 9:35 pm

    • Thank you Amy! The old Nikon camera and lens that I had were not very good, but one thing that they did excel at was flying songbirds. I look at those photos now and wonder how the heck I got them. For the water lily, I surprised myself and paid attention to the backgrounds for the reflections. For the sundew, I was laying on my belly in the mud to shoot them.

      July 12, 2014 at 10:06 pm

      • I think we need a photographer to get photos of you taking photos so we can see exactly what it is you do to get all these shots! 😀 (Maybe if your friend Judy tags along with you? LOL)

        July 13, 2014 at 8:35 am

      • Thanks Amy! I really don’t do anything special but wander around in the woods carrying a camera. But, I think that my eyesight and knowledge of wildlife helps me find things to photograph.

        July 13, 2014 at 9:04 am

  4. Very nice composition in the middle water lily shot, with the reflection.

    July 12, 2014 at 11:45 pm

    • Thank you!

      July 13, 2014 at 12:38 am

  5. Jerry, you have seen my photos, so you know that I know what I ‘m talking about. Would you believe that I sold my Canon 500mm f4, because my new Tamron is equal to it, and much easier to handle. And only 1069.00. There is about a three month waiting lists for them now.

    July 12, 2014 at 11:46 pm

    • Thanks Bob! I think that we’ll see a lens war soon. After Tamron brought out the lens you have, Sigma has begun producing a 50 mm lens that’s sharper than the legendary Zeiss 50 mm lens, and they have also come out with a set-up that lets the user adjust the auto-focus firmware and other features of their updated lenses. All the manufacturers are going to have to step up their game, which will be good for us in the long run.

      July 13, 2014 at 12:44 am

  6. Interesting post! I bought the Sigma 150-500 (for a Nikon camera) a few months ago, and I really like it. It’s taken awhile to adjust to the differences from the old lens (Nikon 55-300mm), but I’m beginning to get some photos that are better quality than those I took with the smaller lens. My only criticisms are that it takes longer for the autofocus to adjust to a ‘new’ focus spot and it’s a little bit ‘clunky’ when it adjusts. But for my level of photography expertise, it really does the trick. I’m grateful that there are lenses out there that are so much more affordable!

    July 13, 2014 at 1:41 am

    • Thanks for the input! I have heard that the Canon version of the Sigma lens performs better then the Nikon version, one of those unexplanable things I guess. But, not every one can shell out three grand or more for a lens, so the Sigma does fill a void. It does very well in good light, and I’m more than happy with mine. My brother owns the Pentax version, and it does well for him. Good luck with yours!

      July 13, 2014 at 8:45 am

  7. Lots of good pictures but I liked the bird in flight the best.

    July 13, 2014 at 7:11 am

    • Thank you Susan!

      July 13, 2014 at 8:45 am

  8. Itt gets harder and harder to pick out my favorite photo each week. The frog has to be near the top, though.

    I always take online reviews of anything with a grain of salt. So many reviews are written within 10 minutes of the buyer getting the product home. What kind of review is that? We read LOTS of campground reviews, and there are always folks who LOVE and HATE the same spot. Makes me wonder if some aren’t written by employees and competitors….

    July 13, 2014 at 7:25 am

    • Thanks Judy! Yeah, I forgot to mention the planted reviews, they do show up. I’m sure that campground reviews are much like any other type of review. I was looking for a campground in the Muskegon area and read several reviews for one, all were negative, too much noise, save one reviewer, who loved the place because the management let him make as much noise as he wanted. 😉

      July 13, 2014 at 8:48 am

  9. I bought my Canon powershot SX40 HS after reading Bob Zeller’s blog post about it. I thought if he liked it, that was good enough for me and I’ve been real happy with it. If a reviewer isn’t a user, I don’t want to hear it.
    Your flowering grasses are actually sedges. The first is porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) and the second is shining burr sedge (Carex intumescens.)
    You’re so lucky that you can find sundews and orchids just growing on pond edges. I think the shots of the orchids are excellent. I also like the water lilies.
    I know how small those cranberry flowers are, so it’s easy to see that the macro lens is doing its job!
    The ferns might be hay scented fern.

    July 13, 2014 at 9:03 am

    • Thanks Allen! You bring up a good point that I was going to put into another post, many reviews are done by people who have never used an item. They’ve read the specs, and base their reviews on them, not how well an item performs. Very misleading!

      I felt the stems of the sedges, the one I labeled as a grass felt round, maybe I didn’t do it right. 😉

      It’s funny, I hiked around Lost Lake for several years, always in the early spring, late fall, or winter, and never knew about the wealth of plants that grew around it. One summer day I was looking for a cool spot to escape the heat, tried that spot, and “discovered” what a unique ecosystem exists around the lake.

      I’m very happy with the macro lens, none of those photos were cropped at all.

      I’ll comment on your latest post tonight, I’m breaking an old habit and meeting some one for a walk today, so I have to watch the clock for a change. 😉

      July 13, 2014 at 9:17 am

  10. I enjoyed reading your rant! I also loved all the photos (congratulations on the photos of the sedge wren) especially the water lily, the frog, the moth and the ferns. The ferns were so good it looked as though all I had to do was put my hand out and I would be able to touch them.

    July 13, 2014 at 9:21 am

    • Thank you very much, Clare!

      July 13, 2014 at 8:09 pm

  11. Great shots all round. The waterside shots were my favourites today.

    July 13, 2014 at 6:06 pm

    • Thanks Tom!

      July 13, 2014 at 7:35 pm

  12. The flowers, esp the water lilies, are lovely! Without weighing in too much on the relative pluses & minuses of the telephoto lenses, I would say that light–quality & quantity–play a huge role. It’s all very complicated & then you have to get the animals to go along with the plan as well!!! 😉

    July 14, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    • Thank you Lori! I think that you’re correct about the telephoto lenses, and especially the critters.

      July 14, 2014 at 1:10 pm

  13. Such unique wildflowers that you have in your area. Hadn’t ever heard or seen the Sundew one, what a fun plant that is!

    For the photo gear – agreed, learning the strengths and weaknesses of each piece of equipment you have really does help get the best shot possible. Funny about the reviewer, surprised you lasted through the whole thing.

    July 15, 2014 at 10:07 pm

    • Thanks Emily. That’s funny about the plants, as some aren’t very common here, it’s thought that birds had brought them here from the east coast. The Atlantic blue-eyed grass is a plant that’s only found in four places in Michigan, it’s native to your area.

      I watched the entire review because I couldn’t believe how incomplete it was, I was expecting much more.

      July 16, 2014 at 2:38 am