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

Archive for August, 2014

Left brain, right brain, staying balanced

First of all, I’d like to thank every one for the condolences that you sent after my mother passed away. At the time, I was too busy with other things to respond appropriately, so I’d like to thank all of you again for your thoughts and prayers, I appreciated them more than I can say.

The poll results from my last post about post-processing images are in, 8 people voted no, post-processing isn’t cheating, 3 said it was okay if not taken to extremes, and 1 said yes, it is cheating.

I never thought that this day would come, but I’m going over to the dark side, and at least for some of my photos, I will be using software to overcome the limits of my camera. Here’s why.

Cloudy day

Cloudy day

First of all, I learned never to put a leading line dead center in the frame! 😉 Okay, but beyond that, notice that the sky is an almost solid grey, there’s no definition to the clouds at all. The leaves of many of the trees look almost black, that’s not the way they looked to my eye when I shot that photo.

So, I did another HDR photo using Photomatix, and here’s the result.

Cloudy day, HDR rendering

Cloudy day, HDR rendering

Again, I hate to say it, but the HDR version is very close to what I saw at the time, much closer than the first photo. There’s definition to the clouds, and the leaves of the trees are green. I’m not sure why, but that image came out quite soft, I guess that I have a lot more to learn about doing HDR photos.

A few days later, we had a nice partly cloudy day for a change, rather than the hazy days that we had for almost a full week. I thought that I wouldn’t see much, if any improvement by doing a HDR over what I could get out of the camera.

Creekside Park

Creekside Park

I was wrong, again!

Creekside Park, HDR

Creekside Park, HDR

Here’s two more before and after images.

Creekside Park, south

Creekside Park, south

Creekside Park, south, HDR

Creekside Park, south, HDR

Creekside Park, east

Creekside Park, east

Creekside Park, east, HDR

Creekside Park, east, HDR

Quite frankly, I’m stunned! I have shot both of the last two views multiple times, and I’ve never been happy with the images that I got no matter how I composed them, or the exposure settings that I used.

At first, I thought that the clouds in the HDR versions looked fake, but then I realized that it was only because I’m used to seeing flat images from my camera, and that part of the reason that I liked those views was because of the sense of space that I saw in real life. Using the HDR software brought out that sense of space in my images, and you can see the lush green fields and woods, along with the clouds.

So, how does the software do on a nearly cloudless day?

Creekside Park, north, no HDR

Creekside Park, north, no HDR

This time, I went down on the exposure compensation for several series of photos, not worrying about the non-HDR versions, but to see what the final product would be. The image above was no exposure compensation, but for the HDR version, I’m using the series shot at -2/3 stop. It’s funny, here I am using software to blend three exposures together to create one image, yet I still can’t bring myself to correct the exposure of that resulting image in the software used to create it. 😉 Old habits are hard to break!

Creekside Park, north, HDR

Creekside Park, north, HDR

Okay, I’m sold, after the first of the month I will purchase the Photomatix software, the beginner version. I’ve been using the free trial version so far. I think that eventually I’ll spring for the pro version. Photomatix makes it easy to do that, If you purchase the beginner version, they credit that amount to the pro version when you upgrade. That will allow me to learn the software better, as I’m not completely happy with the photos that I’ve processed so far, they are slightly overexposed and also a bit soft to my eyes. But, all that I’ve done is to do the HDR process, and nothing else. I still need to play around with the software more so that the final image comes out more to my liking, but I can see the potential.

If you’re worried that I’ve gone completely over to the dark side of post-processing, there’s no need to worry, as I can’t see any reason to do a HDR version of birds, bugs, or blooms. Not to brag, but I think that I do quite well with them just as the images come out of the camera, with just cropping the images if I have to. I’ll be taking a balanced approach to post-processing, saving it for landscapes.

Speaking of a balanced approach, I had a difficult time staying balanced for this shot.

Cherry sap eruption

Cherry tree sap

That’s sap from a cherry tree, and I’m not completely happy with that photo. However, the tree the sap was oozing from is on a steep bank and slightly over my head. I had to put my left hand on the tree to hold myself from slipping down the bank, then lay the barrel of the Tokina macro lens across my left arm to get that shot. I would have liked to have stopped the lens down further to get a larger depth of field, but I was already at ISO 3200 and 1/200 second. By the way, the sunlight was coming from the left in that photo if you can believe it.

One of the great things about taking the same walk everyday during the week is that if I mess up a shot, I have the ability to try again the next day.

Cherry tree sap

Cherry tree sap

Cherry tree sap

Cherry tree sap

Still not what I want, but these will have to do for now.

Okay, so you may be wondering where the left brain, right brain part of the title for this post comes in. Our brains are made of many parts that I’m not going to go into, but basically, the brain has two halves. The left side of our brain is the analytical side, which when it comes to photography, is where we decide the technical aspects of photography. The right side of our brains are the artistic, creative side of our brains.

Up to this point, most of the photos that I have posted since I began my blog were shot with the left side of my brain, trying to get the technical side of photography correct, such as in these photos.

Downy woodpecker

Downy woodpecker

Woodpeckers always close their eyes as they hammer away at the wood, so I have to wait for them to pause to catch them with their eyes open, if they don’t turn their heads as this one did.

Downy woodpecker

Downy woodpecker

Here’s a critter with a few “extra” eyes, making it easy to catch it with its eyes open. 😉

Spider

Spider

Grasshopper

Grasshopper

The insects here were shot with the Tokina macro lens, and every once in a while, I find a bug that will sit still and let me get really close to it.

Grasshopper

Grasshopper

That wasn’t cropped at all, and neither were these.

Praying mantis

Praying mantis

Praying mantis

Praying mantis

I don’t know if the mantis turned away because I was so close, or if it was looking at the small black beetle below it.

Praying mantis

Praying mantis

Whenever I can, I try to shoot portraits of birds, I suppose that’s somewhat right-brained, although it involves mostly the left side of the brain, getting the technical side correct.

Female American goldfinch

Female American goldfinch

Female American goldfinch

Female American goldfinch

Female American goldfinch

Female American goldfinch

Female American goldfinch

Female American goldfinch

Okay then, with all the new photo gear that I’ve acquired over the past year, I’d like to branch out and do more artistic photography, sticking mainly with nature, but also trying other subjects as well.

Part of that urge comes from having shot some really good photos of most of the common species of birds, flowers, and other nature subjects with my new stuff as I’ve learned to use it to its full advantage. For example, I don’t have to go very far back through my archives to find a good close-up of a turkey.

Turkey

Turkey

While I am sure that I’ll get even better portraits of turkeys in the future, I no longer feel compelled to try to come up with an excellent portrait style photo every time that I see a turkey, which will lead me to shot more photos like this next one.

Turkey

Turkey

I almost didn’t shoot that last one, I knew the turkey was too far away to make a good portrait style image of, even if I had cropped it. But, I like that last image, as much for the trees in the background as the turkey being in the frame. Here’s another example, a red squirrel.

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

I have a few good photos of red squirrels, so I almost didn’t shoot that one either, but the scene said “peaceful” to me, with the squirrel sitting there in the shade eating lunch.

I shot another one from a bit closer, even though I knew that it wasn’t going to be a great photo.

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

I still like it, maybe that’s because it isn’t my usual style of photo. Up until the past month or so, this is what I’ve been trying for most of the time.

Red-tailed hawk, slight crop

Red-tailed hawk, slight crop

That’s a left side of the brain photo, and I’m very proud of it, and most of the others that I have been shooting lately. I like the images of the squirrel and turkey just as much, even though the critter is secondary to the scene overall. But, without the critter for some visual interest, those photos would be rather ho-hum.

Okay, the truth is that I’ve always wanted to express my artistic side more often, and I’ve slipped a few of those photos in here from time to time, but I think that it will happen more often from now on.

But, you don’t have to worry about over-processed images taking over my blog, and to prove it, here’s a few of my other photos from the past week. The light has been horrible most days, as it has been hot, humid, and hazy most days. It’s been so humid that fog has formed most nights, and there have been traces of the fog left when I’ve first started my walk most mornings. Some of these could have used a little post-processing. 😉

There have been several days when there was a flock of waxwings working the fields of the park, much like swallows do, here’s my best shot of one of them.

Cedar waxwing in flight

Cedar waxwing in flight

There was also a flock of flickers around for a few days.

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

I caught one of the waxwings taking a break.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

This dove was showing yellow on its neck, when they typically show pink, I shot this one too quickly.

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

I settled down and got a better shot, but by then, the dove had stopped displaying the yellow.

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

Some one identified these flowers for me last year (probably Allen), but for the life of me, I can’t remember what they are. I looked through two months worth of my posts from last year, but couldn’t find these to jog my memory.

???

???

???

???

And to wrap this one up, a dragonfly.

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

It may be silly of me to start moving towards more artistic photos before I’ve totally mastered the technical side of photography, but I’m hoping that I can continue to learn as I go. Besides, I’m not sure than any one ever totally masters the technical side.  One thing I do know though, is that most of my photos will still be much as they have been, with just a few artsy ones from time to time.

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


What more could I ask for?

As far as photography gear, not much if anything, other than a way to lug all of it around. I’m now carrying three lenses and two camera bodies daily, and I typically use four or five lenses each week. If it’s a nice sunny day, I carry one body with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) attached, if it’s cloudy and dreary, that body has the 300 mm prime with the extender attached. In the holster bag that I have, I carry the second body, the Tokina 100 mm macro lens, and usually, the new Canon 10-18 mm lens. If I see something on one day that I can’t get the photo that I would like using those lenses, I’ll switch what I carry, which so far has been to swap the 10-18 mm for the 15-85 mm lens.

The only lens that I seldom use is the Canon 70-200 mm L series lens, which is odd, because a lens of that focal length is considered to be a “must have” by many photographers. I knew that once I had completely filled out my kit that I wouldn’t be using that lens often, which is one of the reasons that I opted for the cheapest of the five L series lenses of that focal length that Canon produces. I would almost consider purchasing that lens to have been a mistake, but I know that there will be times when it will fit the bill for landscape photos. I used it often to photograph many of the waterfalls when I went to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula last fall when I couldn’t get close enough to use the 15-85 mm lens, so I know that I will use that lens on occasion.

My latest purchase was the Canon EX 320 speedlite, which I’m still playing with, learning how to use it most effectively. I wish that it had a bit more output, but how well I can control it and its flexibility make up for that, at least that’s what I’m seeing so far. For example, on one my morning walks, I bumped into one of my song sparrow buddies. I asked him if he would pose for me, and that if he would, I’d make him a star on the Internet. His reply was “Oooo, I’ll bet you say that to all the birds!”….

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

…which is true, but he doesn’t have to know that. 😉

Not wanting to take a chance on missing fame and fortune, he did a little primping…

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Then posed for a few photos so that I could see how well the flash did while shooting toward the sun casting deep shadows on the sparrow.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

No red-eye, which I’ve always had trouble with before when using a flash on wildlife, and the images look natural, and not as if I had used a flash. But, I had plenty of practice dialing the flash unit in when I went to Muskegon the last time, learning how far I could shoot effectively with the unit, and filling in the shadows in poor light. This photo, that a couple of people liked in particular from the post that I did on that trip, the Baird’s sandpiper….

Baird’s Sandpiper, Calidris bairdii

Baird’s Sandpiper, Calidris bairdii

…was much better than the images that I shot without the flash. The EX 320 couldn’t overcome all the shadow, but it lessened it enough to make a pleasing image.

Here’s a nuts and bolts photo from one of my tests of the flash.

Testing the wireless flash function

Testing the wireless flash function

And here’s the resulting photo.

Teasel

Teasel

I’m taking this slow, and step by step. As you could see, I set the flash unit up off camera, and fired it wirelessly, with it pointed up toward the flower to provide backlighting. That’s the first step, eventually, I’ll let the flash built-in the camera to fire as well, since I can adjust the power ratio between the two units. That will give me the image that I have in mind for some subjects, but, one step at a time.

More flash examples, a yellow moth mullein without the flash.

Yellow moth mullein, no flash

Yellow moth mullein, no flash

Not bad, but with the flash, I can do better!

Yellow moth mullein, flash

Yellow moth mullein, flash

And, the final photo.

Yellow moth mullein, flash

Yellow moth mullein, flash

Now, a white moth mullein, just the flash version.

White moth mullein

White moth mullein

A side note, it was easier to get the flash correct for the white flowers than it was for the yellow ones, but yellow is a color that’s always hard to expose correctly it seems.

However, the main thing is that I’m able to get images that look natural without any harshness from the flash!

I did shoot a few photos without the flash as well, starting with this cardinal asking if his feathers make him look funny.

Male northern cardinal molting

Male northern cardinal molting

They do, but he doesn’t have to know that. 😉

BTW, that was shot with the Beast, as were the other birds so far. The mullein flowers were shot with the 300 mm prime lens. I threw that in because one day started out gloomy, so I took the 300 mm prime lens, but the sun came out while I was walking. I forgot to make the required adjustment for these two.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Other than I forgot to adjust for full sunlight with the prime lens, the other thing of note was that the cardinal was imitating a robin, pulling worms out of the ground, which I’ve never seen before. I missed the shot of that, because it dawned on me that I hadn’t adjusted the camera, and the cardinal grabbed a worm while I was making the adjustments, darn!

After making the adjustments, I shot this bee on great blue lobelia.

Carpenter bee on great blue lobelia

Carpenter bee on great blue lobelia

Carpenter bee on great blue lobelia

Carpenter bee on great blue lobelia

You can see that the bee waved hello to me, either that, or it was flipping me off. 😉

The ironweed is blooming.

Ironweed

Ironweed

Ironweed

Ironweed

Ironweed

Ironweed

And, it attracted this colorful beetle.

Unidentified beetle

Unidentified beetle

Unidentified beetle

Unidentified beetle

I’ve also been seeing quite a few honeybees lately.

Honeybee on self-heal

Honeybee on self-heal

Honeybee on burdock

Honeybee on burdock

Honeybee on burdock

Honeybee on burdock

I used the flash on the bee on the burdock, which makes this a good time to mention one short-coming of using a flash, shutter speed. My Canon 60 D camera will synchronize with the flash at shutter speeds up to 1/250, which is a relatively fast shutter speed. However, it isn’t fast enough to freeze any motion of a subject. I’ve had that trouble with birds, and you can also see that in the last photo of the bee.

Here’s a photo of the burdock without a bee.

Burdock

Burdock

The flash isn’t the only thing I’ve been playing with, I’ve never had an ultra-wide angle lens before, so I’ve been testing out the new Canon EF-S 10-18 mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM lens whenever I think of it.

Cardinal flower

Cardinal flower

Because of the large depth of field of a lens that short, and because the 10-18 mm lens focuses down to just over 8 inches, it works great on larger flowers that I have trouble getting the entire flower in focus with a longer lens. And, it’s fun to play with, testing things like depth of field.

Depth of field test

Depth of field test

I got as close to the fence rail as I could and still get it in focus, and the barn was about 100 feet away from me. I focused manually on a point about a third of the way to the barn, stopped the lens down to f/16, and was able to get both the rail and the barn in focus.

The more that I play with that lens, the more uses I find for the 15-85 mm lens that I’ve had for a while, but never thought of using for some subjects, such as these flowers.

What's left of a purple cone flower

What’s left of a purple cone flower

Purple coneflower

Purple coneflower

It escapes me at the moment

It escapes me at the moment

When I purchased the 15-85 mm, I tried it on flowers, since it focuses down to around a foot, but always at 85 mm, trying to use it as a macro lens substitute. It never dawned on me to zoom out, get closer, and use that lens’ depth of field to get entire large flowers in focus.

So, I’ve been playing with both of those lenses whenever I have the chance. But, when you think of wide-angle lenses, you usually think of landscapes, and I have been shooting a few of them lately. There’s not a lot of beautiful scenery around here, but that hasn’t stopped me from testing my equipment, so that when I do visit an area where there is scenery worth shooting, I’ll be prepared.

That brings me to the subject of dynamic range. No modern digital camera has the capability of matching what our eyes see as far as dynamic range, which simply put, is the difference between the brightest and darkest areas in a scene. In no type of photography that I can think of is that more apparent than in landscape photography.

Even in the best lighting, there are usually shadows that hide details in a photo, yet our eyes have no trouble making out the details when we view the scene in person. The old way to get around these problems were to use graduated neutral density filters when shooting the photos, and burning and dodging in the darkroom while producing prints from negatives back in the days of film.

I was looking into purchasing the required neutral density filters, and then learning to use them. However, I follow the blogs of several very talented landscape photographers, and none of them bother with hassle of trying out the various filters and getting them set-up correctly, they do all the corrections with software these days. Not only are the filters a pain to use, but a full set is quite expensive.

If you’ve followed my blog for very long, you’d know that I’ve been opposed to post-processing other than cropping, and maybe tweaking the exposure a little. I hate the fake looking photos created with software that seem to be all the rage these days. However, the more that I tried to learn how to use filters even before I purchased them, the better that a software solution looked. So, I sucked up my pride and downloaded a trial version of software to create High Dynamic Range photos.

So, here’s my second attempt at a HDR photo using software.

Creekside Park, High Dynamic Range

Creekside Park, High Dynamic Range

And, here’s the best that I could get straight out of the camera.

Creekside Park, no editing

Creekside Park, no editing

I really hate to say this, but the HDR photo comes very, very close to what I saw when I shot the photos, much closer than what I was able to get straight out of the camera. There was better than average light that day for that photo, a bit cloudy and hazy, so the shadows weren’t as pronounced as they would be on a sunny day.

It’s rather obvious from the watermark what company’s trial software I downloaded, Photomatix. They seem to get high marks from about every one from what I saw while doing research. The beginner version is $40 US, the pro version is $100 US, which makes even the pro version cheaper than one quality filter, and I would need several filters for each of my lenses.

I said that this photo was my second attempt, my first came out just as well, a still life that I shot inside my apartment., which I’m not going to post. However, I was quite pleased with the results from both of my attempts, as the images look natural to me. Maybe my vision is impaired by adding up the cost of filters versus buying software. 😉

As soon as I opened the software to try it out, I found out why so many HDR images look so unnatural. I suppose I should tell you how the software works before I get to that. I won’t go into all the ways that you can do a HDR image, just the “standard” way that I used. You shoot three photos, one under-exposed by 2 stops, one at no exposure compensation, and one over-exposed by two stops.

You load the three images into the software, and it blends them together using bits and pieces of all three to bring out the details in the shadows without blowing out the brighter areas in the image. Essentially, it increases the dynamic range of the camera’s sensor by a little over four stops by doing the blending. There are plenty of places on the web to learn more, or you can ask in a comment.

Anyway, back to how fake many HDR images look. The software comes with pre-sets to create fake looking photos if that’s what you prefer, I don’t. In the trial version, you can also tweak color saturation, contrast, and overall brightness, along with a few other settings that I haven’t tried yet. The pro version allows the user to make even more changes to the image than the trial version does, but the only reason that I know that is because I watched a couple of online tutorials on how to use the software.

I know that I used to say that using software to improve the quality of an image was cheating, but, I guess that I’m starting to see things differently. Maybe it’s the cost of all the filters that I would need clouding my judgement again. Besides, even a full set of filters wouldn’t have improved my test image by very much, since there’s no sharp lines between bright and shadow to delineate how I would place a graduated neutral density filter.

So, for right now, I’m leaning toward going over to the dark side and start using software to post-process some of my photos, mainly landscapes when needed.

I still see no need to post-process a photo like this if you get it right in the camera.

Grasshopper

Grasshopper

And, that goes for most of my photos these days. These may not all be great, but they’re good enough to represent the things I’ve seen this week.

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Pokeweed berries

Pokeweed berries

Side note here, after my mom’s funeral, I stopped at a park near where the service was held to look for an olive-sided flycatcher that has been seen there. I didn’t find it, but I did find a different lifer, and Acadian flycatcher.

Acadian flycatcher

Acadian flycatcher

Some people would think it horrible of me to stop to chase birds on my way home from my mom’s funeral. Well, I’ll end this post with a photo of my mom out for a hike with one of my nieces.

My mom hiking with my niece and my dad.

My mom hiking with my niece and my dad.

My dad took that photo so it is at least 20 years ago that it was taken, but it could have been taken at any time in her life while she was still able to get around. My mom loved the outdoors, unless there were too many bugs. 😉 So, I don’t feel bad about chasing a bird in the woods near where my dad grew up while on my way home from my mom’s funeral.

I was going to add a poll to this to ask if you thought that post-processing photos was cheating or not, but that part of WordPress seems to be on the blink today. So, any thoughts on the HDR photos that you include in your comment would be appreciated.

I see that now the poll shows up if you’d care to share your opinion on post-processing photos.

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


Semipalmated Sandpiper, Calidris pusilla

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.

Semipalmated Sandpiper, Calidris pusilla

The semipalmated sandpiper is a very small shorebird.

Adults have black legs and a short, stout, straight dark bill. The body is dark grey-brown on top and white underneath. The head and neck are tinged light grey-brown. This bird can be difficult to distinguish from other similar tiny shorebirds, in particular the western sandpiper, these are known collectively as “peeps” or “stints”.

Their breeding habitat is the southern tundra in Canada and Alaska near water. They nest on the ground. The male makes several shallow scrapes; the female chooses one and adds grass and other material to line the nest. The female lays 4 eggs, the male assists in incubation. After a few days, the female leaves the young with the male, the young feed themselves.

These birds forage on mudflats, picking up food by sight and feel (bill). They mainly eat aquatic insects and crustaceans.

They are long distance migrants and winter in coastal South America, with some going to the southern United States. They migrate in flocks which can number in the hundreds of thousands, particularly in favoured feeding locations such as the Bay of Fundy and Delaware Bay.

On to my photos:

Semipalmated sandpiper

Semipalmated sandpiper

Semipalmated sandpiper

Semipalmated sandpiper

Semipalmated sandpiper

Semipalmated sandpiper

Semipalmated sandpiper

Semipalmated sandpiper

Semipalmated sandpiper

Semipalmated sandpiper

Semipalmated sandpipers

Semipalmated sandpipers

Semipalmated sandpipers

Semipalmated sandpipers

Semipalmated sandpiper

Semipalmated sandpiper

This is number 167 in my photo life list, only 183 to go!

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

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The death watch is over, a celebration of a life!

As some of you may know, my mother has been in a nursing home for the past few years, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. I haven’t said anything about her condition lately, but she was going downhill quickly the last two weeks. Just last week, we had to call in hospice care again for her, as she was getting to the point where the portion of her brain that controls swallowing and eating was shutting down, making it almost impossible for the care givers to get any nourishment or water into her.

Well, today, just after noon, my mother’s suffering came to an end as she passed away, and went to the arms of her Savior, Jesus Christ.

I have very mixed feelings about this right now, on one hand, I’m deeply saddened by my mother’s passing. On the other hand, I know that she wouldn’t have wanted to continue existing the way that she has for the last year or so, so in some ways, her death is a blessing, which may come as a shock to some people. All I can say is that watching the strong, intelligent woman who my mother was for most of her life reduced to little more than a vegetable as Alzheimer’s destroyed her brain was in many ways worse than her passing.

Some of you may even be wondering why I would choose to do a blog post right now, well, it’s a form of therapy for me, and I’m going to make this post a celebration of the love of nature that my mother instilled in me as I was growing up.

Over the years that I have been blogging, I’ve mentioned a few times that both my mother and father were nature lovers, in particular, my mother loved birds and flowers. So, I’m going to start this post out with a few photos of her favorite birds, northern cardinals.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

While my mom could still get around well enough to feed the birds, she could tell you how many pairs of cardinals that she had coming to her feeders each day, and her favorite sweater had cardinals on it of course.

I wish that I had a few photos of hummingbirds for this post also, because my mom also spent hours watching the hummers come and go from the feeder she put out for them as well, sorry mom.

These will have to do, as a way of paying tribute to the love of nature that my mom passed on to me.

While my mom would never have approved of how much I spent on my photography gear, she would have loved these images. She would also commended my attempts to share what I’ve learned with others. While she didn’t have the patience to be a great teacher, she certainly had the knowledge, and she believed in sharing her knowledge with others.

So I will add which lens I shot it with, with no other comments from me.

Tokina 100 mm macro lens.

Smooth-leaved thistle?

Smooth-leaved thistle?

Tokina 100 mm macro lens.

Sedge flowers

Sedge flowers

Tokina 100 mm macro lens.

Great blue lobelia

Great blue lobelia

Sigma 150-500 mm lens

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Sigma 150-500 mm lens

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Canon 10-18 mm lens

Cardinal flower

Cardinal flower

Canon 10-18 mm lens

Cardinal flower

Cardinal flower

Canon 10-18 mm lens

Unidentified sunflower

Unidentified sunflower

Canon 10-18 mm lens

Creek scene

Creek scene

Tokina 100 mm macro lens.

Water strider

Water strider

Sigma 150-500 mm lens

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Sigma 150-500 mm lens

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Sigma 150-500 mm lens

Juvenile red-bellied woodpecker

Juvenile red-bellied woodpecker

Sigma 150-500 mm lens

Juvenile red-bellied woodpecker

Juvenile red-bellied woodpecker

Sigma 150-500 mm lens

Juvenile red-bellied woodpecker

Juvenile red-bellied woodpecker

Sigma 150-500 mm lens

Sumac leaves in the sun

Sumac leaves in the sun

Sigma 150-500 mm lens

Caterpillar

Caterpillar

Canon 10-18 mm lens

Sunny day

Sunny day

Tokina 100 mm macro lens.

Silver spotted skipper

Silver spotted skipper

Tokina 100 mm macro lens.

Primrose moth, Schinia florida

Primrose moth, Schinia florida

Sigma 150-500 mm lens

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

Canon 300 mm prime lens and Tamron 1.4 X tele-converter

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Canon 300 mm prime lens and Tamron 1.4 X tele-converter

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Sigma 150-500 mm lens

Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly

Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly

Sigma 150-500 mm lens

Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly

Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly

Canon 300 mm prime lens and Tamron 1.4 X tele-converter

Joe Pye weed

Joe Pye weed

Canon 300 mm prime lens and Tamron 1.4 X tele-converter

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

Canon 300 mm prime lens and Tamron 1.4 X tele-converter

Pink chicory

Pink chicory

Canon 300 mm prime lens and Tamron 1.4 X tele-converter

Pink chicory

Pink chicory

Canon 300 mm prime lens and Tamron 1.4 X tele-converter

Pink chicory

Pink chicory

Canon 300 mm prime lens and Tamron 1.4 X tele-converter

Great egret in flight

Great egret in flight

Canon 300 mm prime lens and Tamron 1.4 X tele-converter

Great egret in flight

Great egret in flight

Canon 300 mm prime lens and Tamron 1.4 X tele-converter

American robin

American robin

Canon 300 mm prime lens and Tamron 1.4 X tele-converter

American robin

American robin

Tokina 100 mm macro lens.

Great blue lobelia

Great blue lobelia

I said that my mom wouldn’t have approved of how much I spent on photo gear, as she was a very frugal person. On the other hand, I can’t remember the number of times I heard as a kid, “Anything worth doing is worth doing right!”, so, I listened to half of what she tried to teach me at least.

I feel as though I should write a lot more about the person that my mother was, but I don’t have it in me right now, I’m feeling drained more than anything.

It’s been very difficult watching my mom’s health decline the past two weeks, and that has weighed heavily on me. Both of my parents are now gone, and I know that I’ll miss my mom as much or more than I do my dad. But, every time I see a bird, or hear a one singing, every flower I see blooming, will remind me of both of them.

Bye mom, I love you!


Muskegon trip Aug. 16th, still more shorebirds

This post is about the trip that I made to Muskegon on August 16th, 2014, not one of my better days. I think that some of the first waves of shorebirds had already departed, as I didn’t see more than a handful of species of them. I am positive that this will be the shortest post that I’ve ever done on a trip to anywhere in the Muskegon area, and I shot less than 200 photos for the day as proof of how little I saw.

I went to the wastewater facility again, and warmed up taking a few photos of a horned lark.

Horned lark

Horned lark

Horned lark

Horned lark

I posted quite a few images of red-tailed hawks in the last two posts I did from Muskegon, but when one poses for me, I just have to shoot it. 😉

Red-tailed hawk, not cropped

Red-tailed hawk, not cropped

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk, slight crop

IMG_8920

Red-tailed hawk, slight crop

One of these days I’m going to have to buy a good lens other than that junk Sigma 150-500 mm, otherwise known as the Beast. 😉

When I got to the first of the man-made lakes, there was a mixed bag of birds to be seen.

Greater yellowlegs rear, Wilson's phalarope center, Semipalmated sandpiper front

Greater yellowlegs rear, Wilson’s phalarope center, Semipalmated sandpiper front

I shot a few more of the greater yellowlegs, since I posted just lesser yellowlegs last week.

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

While I was shooting those, another birder/photographer showed up, and I showed him my trick of hiding in the weeds to get better photos than from his vehicle. Too bad that somewhere in there I managed to switch the mode of my camera from aperture to manual without knowing it, and I fought that for most of the day. I checked everything else out when I started having trouble, but never thought to check the shooting mode, as I seldom change it.

Anyway, we were kneeling in the weeds, and the Wilson’s phalarope swam right over to us.

Wilson's phalarope

Wilson’s phalarope

Wilson's phalarope

Wilson’s phalarope

Wilson's phalarope

Wilson’s phalarope

Wilson's phalarope

Wilson’s phalarope

As you can see, I over-exposed the last two images quite a bit, darn!

I did manage a few halfway good shots of the semipalmated sandpipers.

Semipalmated sandpipers

Semipalmated sandpipers

Semipalmated sandpiper

Semipalmated sandpiper

Semipalmated sandpiper

Semipalmated sandpiper

Later in the day I was able to get even more, but I won’t bore you with them now.

Instead, I’ll bore you with a few eagle images. The first one was shot from inside of my Forester.

Bald eagle, 500 mm

Bald eagle, 500 mm

I eased outside for this one.

Bald eagle, 500 mm

Bald eagle, 500 mm

Since the eagle seemed in no hurry to leave, I put the Tamron 1.4 X tele-converter behind the Beast for these next to, giving me a focal length of 700 mm.

Bald eagle, 700 mm

Bald eagle, 700 mm

Bald eagle, 700 mm

Bald eagle, 700 mm

Fair, since I have to manually focus, I never know if I missed the focus or it that combination of the Beast and extender is just soft past about 75 feet.

Another very poor shot, four sandhill cranes and a murder of crows out in the middle of one of the fields eating grasshoppers I assume.

Sandhill cranes and crows

Sandhill cranes and crows

That’s one of those “for the record photos” that I don’t post many of any longer. There were between 30 and 50 crows out in the field along with the cranes.

Next up is the most interesting sequence of photos from the day, a pair of American kestrels engaged in what I assume was pair bonding.

American kestrels

American kestrels

I had watched one of the kestrels chase a hawk out of the area, then it was joined by the second kestrel. They were fooling around in the tree at first, then one took to the air to make passes at the other.

American kestrels

American kestrels

American kestrels

American kestrels

American kestrels

American kestrels

American kestrels

American kestrels

Then, the second one took wing, and the two of them flew in formation together for quite a while as I watched.

American kestrels

American kestrels

American kestrels

American kestrels

American kestrels

American kestrels

I shot plenty of photos, too bad the kestrels had moved to where I couldn’t get a good image of them.

After that, I went back and got a few more shorebirds.

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

Baird's sandpiper

Baird’s sandpiper

The rest of the images of the Baird’s sandpiper I used to correct one of the mistakes that I made in the My Photo Life List project. One down, one to fix yet, but I didn’t get any shots of a stilt sandpiper, maybe next time.

I’m not sure when that will be. I’m a bit burned out on shorebirds right now, so I think that I’ll skip a week at least before returning to the wastewater facility unless the birding reports tell me that I’d better not. But, I have a week to figure out where to go next weekend. It will depend on the weather, also. It’s hot out there in the mid-day sun, I could use a break from that as well.

Other than that, I don’t have much to say, it was a long day, and not a very productive one at that.

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

 


I knew in a flash

In my last post I said that I had been researching flash units, and had decided on the Canon EX 320. Well, I picked one up Thursday morning before I went for my daily walk, and all I can say is wow, I should have bought one a long time ago!

This will sound funny, but what I like most about it is how much I can control its output and make my photos look as if I hadn’t used a flash of any kind. I maybe a kook, buying a flash unit so that I can shoot photos that look as though I didn’t use a flash, but I’ll have more on that a bit later.

To begin with, I had the flash mounted on my Canon 60 D  body with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) on it, and spotted some morning glories in the shade, a good subject to begin my testing. I had the flash settings of my camera still set to what I had been using for the camera’s built-in flash, and my first images with the EX 320 were way too dark, a very good sign to me.

The built-in flash of my camera over-powers and tries to over-expose everything all the time, and I have been setting it to – 2 1/3 stops to prevent that. So, I started dialing in the EX 320 for these.

Morning glory

Morning glory

That looked so good to me that I had to crop it slightly.

Morning glory

Morning glory

Here’s a two more to show what difference the flash made.

Morning glory, flashed

Morning glory, flashed

Morning glory, no flash

Morning glory, no flash

I was hoping to find some birds perched in the shade under the leaf canopy of trees, but had no luck finding any, so these geese had to do for testing the flash.

Canada geese

Canada geese

I probably should have gone up 1/3 stop for the geese, but that photo tells me what I need to know, the flash has a fairly good range, and will kill the shadows without the image showing that it was shot with a flash.

So, I spent the rest of the day playing, shooting various subject with and without the flash, but I won’t bore you with those photos. I’ll just throw in a two more to demonstrate how well I can control the EX 320 to get a good image with it that still looks natural.

Bull thistle

Bull thistle

Autumn is coming

Autumn is coming

I really, really like the fact that I can use the flash to get the shot without ending up with the very harsh shadows typical of many flash photos! I can set the EX 320 to add just enough light to add a little pop to the colors, shoot at a lower ISO for better image quality, and yet have the image look natural!

I didn’t need the flash for this butterfly, which was shot with the Tokina macro lens.

Viceroy butterfly

Viceroy butterfly

The last shot from Thursday shows one of the many features of the EX 320, wireless control of the unit. I can have that unit off from the camera and trigger it to fire wirelessly, as this rather crude test demonstrates.

Wireless testing of flash unit

Wireless testing of flash unit

Other features are a constant LED light, similar to the LED light panel that I already have. I don’t know how useful the LED light will be from the EX 320, it has a rather low output. If nothing else, it will make a good work light while I’m shooting sunrises or sunsets and can no longer see the camera controls.

The EX 320 also has a camera remote control feature, useable whether or not I have the EX 320 fire. That will come in very handy and it saves me from purchasing a separate remote control. For sunsets and sunrises when I have the camera on the tripod, I can fire the camera without the flash remotely to reduce camera shake, and for macro photos, I can fire the camera while holding the flash off camera and pointing the flash where I want the light to go. Very handy.

I’m not going to go into how flexible the EX 320 with the Canon 60 D bodies are as far as flash control, that will come with time as I learn to make use of all the controls that I have now. The only thing that I see may be a problem is that the EX 320 may not have a high enough output for when I’m in the Muskegon area trying to shoot towards the sun as often happens. That remains to be seen, but, I can also try firing both the EX 320 and the camera’s built-in flash to get a higher output. But, it doesn’t matter that much to me anyway, I am so happy with this unit’s performance so far for the types of photos that I shoot around home that I wouldn’t think of returning it.

I have a couple of photos from when I was trying to use the built-in flash for examples. Here’s an evening primrose with no flash in the rain.

Evening primrose in the rain, no flash

Evening primrose in the rain, no flash

Here’s the same flower with the built-in flash as best as I could do.

Evening primrose in the rain, with flash

Evening primrose in the rain, with flash

Of course the one with the flash is better, without it the image is just dead and lifeless. But, I think that the image shot with the flash would have been better if I could have dialed down the power output of the flash a little more. We’ll see, I’m almost hoping for more rain so I can try it. 😉

Okay, enough about flash photography for now, even though some of these photos that follow where shot with the camera’s flash.  I won’t tell you which ones, or what lens I used, because it’s been a while since I shot these, and I’ve forgotten many of the details. 😉

I’ll start with pillow rock.

Pillow rock

Pillow rock

I don’t know why I find that rock so interesting but I do.

I do remember that I shot this beetle with the 300 mm prime lens.

Unidentified beetle, 300 mm lens, cropped

Unidentified beetle

Because when I grabbed the second body with the Tokina macro lens, I bumped the plant causing the beetle to fall down to another leaf. It must have been mad at me for interrupting its meal, for it skulked off and wouldn’t pose for me after that.

Unidentified beetle

Unidentified beetle, Tokina 100 mm lens, not cropped

This is the last rose-breasted grosbeak that I’ve seen around here, I think the rest of them have headed south already.

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

I don’t usually shoot the house sparrows around here, but I had to shoot this mother and juvenile.

Mother and juvenile English house sparrow

Mother and juvenile English house sparrow

I think that all parents can relate to the look on the mother’s face in this next one.

Mother and juvenile English house sparrow

Mother and juvenile English house sparrow

I don’t know what this flower is, nor have I been able to find it again to get a better image of it.

Unidentified flower

Unidentified flower

My model in training, the female northern cardinal.

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

My lame attempt at an artistic photo of a morning glory.

Morning glory

Morning glory

I spotted a male indigo bunting, but he was perched where I had just the blue sky as a background, and because of it, the bunting’s true colors don’t show up well.

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

I was having a bad day that day anyway, I was too slow on the shutter all morning.

Male American goldfinch taking flight

Male American goldfinch taking flight

Unidentified insect taking flight

Unidentified insect taking flight

But then, my luck changed, I spotted the bunting again, but in the shade, so I still didn’t get the photo of him that I wanted.

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

He must have felt sorry for me, because he hopped over into the sunlight for these next images.

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

Do you know how hard it was for me not to post every photo of the bunting that I shot? 😉 Those are cropped just a bit, and they are some of my best photos of the buntings.

The Michigan lilies are still blooming.

Michigan lily

Michigan lily

I was trying to get a photo of this butterfly with its wings backlit.

Unidentified butterfly

Unidentified butterfly

But a clear-winged moth flew by, and I ended up losing track of both the moth and the butterfly.

Unidentified butterfly and clear winged moth

Unidentified butterfly and clear winged moth

It’s hard to lose track of one of these.

Giant swallowtail butterfly

Giant swallowtail butterfly

A couple of insects on flowers.

Carpenter bee on chicory

Carpenter bee on chicory

Unidentified wasp on self heal

Unidentified wasp on self-heal

I don’t know if this sparrow is an adult molting, or a juvenile.

Chipping sparrow

Chipping sparrow

A few of the other flowers blooming now.

Boneset

Boneset

Boneset

Boneset

Self heal

Self heal

I shot this next one as much for the grass as the dragonfly perched on it.

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

This next one proves that I’ll shoot just about anything. 😉

Fish

Fish

Another example that shows that summer is winding down.

Autumn abstract

Autumn abstract

I haven’t seen many of these lately either, come to think of it.

Damselfly

Damselfly

And finally, a young red squirrel hiding from me.

Juvenile red squirrel

Juvenile red squirrel

Well, that’s about all for this one. I’m sure that I’ll have plenty more about the new flash unit coming up soon, but I’ll try to keep things brief when I do.

One thing that I learned today that has very little to do with photography is that one should be careful with their cell phone. I messed up the outer screen of my flip phone today while lying on the ground trying to shoot a water strider. Oh well, it was time for a new phone anyway, and this one still works, so I’m in no hurry.

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


Muskegon trip Aug. 10th, more shorebirds

This post is the second from the trip that I made to Muskegon on August 10th, 2014, you can see the first one here.

I may as well start with a few photos of a pectoral sandpiper which I have also used to update the post on them that I had done earlier in the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on, since some of my earlier photos weren’t as good as these.

Pectoral sandpiper

Pectoral sandpiper

Pectoral sandpiper

Pectoral sandpiper

Pectoral sandpiper

Pectoral sandpiper

Not only weren’t some of the photos very good, I had incorrectly put a few photos of an upland sandpiper in that post.

Identifying shorebirds is still difficult for me, but the more of them I see frequently, the easier it is becoming. The first time that I went to the Muskegon County wastewater facility to photograph shorebirds, they all looked alike to me. I’m getting better, I could tell that the pectoral sandpiper wasn’t a yellowlegs…

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

…nor was it a solitary sandpiper, as this is.

Solitary sandpiper

Solitary sandpiper

I’m learning to spot the slight differences in the color patterns on their backs, in their bills, and leg color, all of which are clues to their ID.

Another thing that I’m learning is how to get good photos of them. The first few times that I tried I had a very hard time getting the exposure correct. With the sunlight reflecting off from the water and rocks, it results in “confused” light entering the camera. Confused lighting isn’t easy to work with, but getting closer helps a lot, along with checking the images and adjusting the exposure for each and every situation. You can see some of the reflections from the water in the first photo of the pectoral sandpiper. However, those aren’t the worst offenders as far as reflections, it’s the ones that you can’t see which make photography difficult.

One thing that I meant to try was to use a polarizing filter to cut down on the reflected light coming from the water and rocks, but I haven’t shelled out the big bucks for one of those filters to fit the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) yet. It takes an 86 mm filter, and they don’t come cheap for a good one of that size. I do have a polarizing filter for the 300 mm prime, but I didn’t want to do any testing and risk missing a photo of something special. It turns out that I didn’t see any birds that fit that category, but you never know around Muskegon.

Another thing that I want to try is using fill in flash to help when the lighting is less than ideal. I’m jumping way ahead, but just before I packed it in for the day, I found a treasure trove of birds to photograph, but on the north shore of the lagoon. That meant that I was shooting towards the sun, and my photos from that spot are not what I wanted, but they’ll have to do.

Bonaparte's gull in breeding plumage

Bonaparte’s gull in breeding plumage

The only photos that I had up until them of the Bonaparte’s gull were of juveniles, or adults after they had molted. I didn’t know it when I shot that photo that just a bit later I would get a chance to photograph another of the gulls while perched on shore.

Adult Bonaparte's gull

Adult Bonaparte’s gull

Still, the light was wrong for that shot, but it was the best that I could do, birds don’t always perch where I would like them to for the best images. 😉

I used to use the flash on my Canon Powershot camera for fill-in flash quite often, but that camera seemed to be programmed to get good results that way. My old Nikon was junk, but I learned some bad habits from it, like not using fill-in flash. I also made a poor decision in purchasing an off brand flash unit that had little control over the unit’s output for the Nikon.

I thought about trying the flash on my Canon to improve the gull photos, but as large and long as the Beast is, I didn’t think that the built-in flash would work well. I could have been wrong. It’s been rainy the past two days, so I’ve been playing, but not with the Beast on the camera. However, the results when using the flash and the 300 mm prime lens have been encouraging so far.

Still, if I’m going to get serious about using a flash more often, as my brother keeps telling me I need to do, I need a better, more controllable flash than the one built-in on my camera.

I’ve been researching Canon’s speedlites, and I’ve settled on the 320 EX. It can be used as a wireless slave in addition to or instead of the camera’s flash. That means that I don’t have to have the flash mounted on the camera in order to fire it. The camera will do that wirelessly, meaning I can hand hold the flash off to one side for macro photography. In addition, I can have the camera on a tripod, point the flash at the camera and press a button on the flash to trigger the camera’s two second shutter delay, and it’s the same as pressing the shutter release on the camera using a two second delay. The two seconds will allow me to position the flash before the shutter fires. I can even trigger the camera remotely with the flash, and have the flash not fire, just like the remote control that I was going to purchase.

So, that flash will kill two birds with one stone, not only will it work as a flash, but it will also work as the remote control that I needed. Speaking of birds, it’s time for a few more.

Killdeer

Killdeer

I included the killdeer because I saw so many of them, dozens at least.

This spotted sandpiper was jumping from rock to rock in search of food…

Spotted sandpiper jumping from rock to rock

Spotted sandpiper jumping from rock to rock

…and seemed quite proud of itself after making the leap without getting wet.

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

I tried to catch a jump, but I missed, a little early on the shutter.

Spotted sandpiper jumping from rock to rock

Spotted sandpiper jumping from rock to rock

By using the sparse brush along the dike that created the lagoon, I was able to sneak up on the short-billed dowitcher from the last post.

Short-billed dowitcher and least sandpiper

Short-billed dowitcher and least sandpiper

Short-billed dowitcher and least sandpiper

Short-billed dowitcher and least sandpiper

A little closer.

Short-billed dowitcher and least sandpiper

Short-billed dowitcher and least sandpiper

Short-billed dowitcher and least sandpiper

Short-billed dowitcher and least sandpiper

I almost got even closer to the dowitcher, but a bird that I hadn’t seen as it hid in the rocks took off when I spooked it, and spooked the dowitcher as well. Birds weren’t the only critters hiding between the rocks.

Thirteen lined ground squirrel or gopher

Thirteen lined ground squirrel or gopher

Thirteen lined ground squirrel or gopher

Thirteen lined ground squirrel or gopher

Thirteen lined ground squirrel or gopher

Thirteen lined ground squirrel or gopher

I did get two poor shots of the dowitcher in flight.

Short-billed dowitcher in flight

Short-billed dowitcher in flight

Short-billed dowitcher in flight

Short-billed dowitcher in flight

I also saw a small flock of semipalmated plovers, they’re such cute little birds!

Semipalmated plover

Semipalmated plover

Semipalmated plovers

Semipalmated plovers

Semipalmated plover

Semipalmated plover

The look like killdeer, but they’re less than half the size, only have one black band at the neck, and have slightly webbed feet, which if you look closely at the last photo, you can see.

For the other birds that I saw, there were quite a few hawks….

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk taking flight

Red-tailed hawk taking flight

….another juvenile bald eagle…

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

…a great blue heron…

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

…a common raven…

Common raven

Common raven

…and last, but certainly not least, a sandhill crane.

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

I had mentioned earlier in this post that I had found a treasure trove of birds along the north shore of one of the lagoons. That’s where I shot the gulls and plovers. But, by that time I had nearly baked my brain again in the hot sun as I stalked the shorebirds from this post and the last. Since I had been sick that morning from too much sun the day before, and since the light was so poor on the north shore of the lagoon, I decided to call it quits for the day. The rest of the photos were shot as I drove slowly towards the exit of the wastewater facility.

I’ll probably be going back this next weekend, I know of no other place where I can see and photograph the variety of birds that I do there.

I think that I’ll pick-up the flash unit tomorrow if it is in stock locally, that will give me time to read the manuals for it and my camera, and test it out around home here before I try it on some rare bird that I may spot.

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

 


Muskegon trip Aug. 10th, sharing a thermal

I had great plans for the day, starting with getting up early so I’d beat the heat of the day. I was up early, but I was also sicker than a dog, so I piddled around home for a while until I felt well enough to go. That meant that I had to change my plans a bit. I was going to start at Lane’s Landing again, but instead, I started and finished at the Muskegon County wastewater treatment facility.

I shot 600 photos, and no, I’m not going to post them all, not even close. The “curse” of the wastewater facility struck again, I have to be very close to a subject to get a sharp photo of anything there. I’ve discussed possible reasons for that in the past, no need for me to rehash them again. It is a shame though, there are more birds to be seen there than anywhere else I’ve ever been. The area is mostly open as well, making it hard to sneak up on the birds. The first few times I went, I shot most of my photos from my vehicle, but I am learning a few tricks that let me get closer to the birds on foot, so that my photos are a bit better at least some of the time.

As soon as I turned off from the main road to enter the facility, I began shooting photos, starting with a red-tailed hawk and a great blue heron, but those images have been deleted, since both species made frequent appearances during the day. On the other side of the road I spotted some spotted bee balm, and so I decided to look them over and if they looked good, I’d set up my tripod and get some good macro photos of them. Silly me, since the flowers were within a few feet of the road, I didn’t grab a camera, and several species of waterfowl went winging past me as I inspected the bee balm. I quickly returned to my Forester and grabbed the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) but the waterfowl seemed to know that I had a camera then, and stopped flying past me. The spotted bee balm was well past its prime, but I did find this insect feeding on the few remaining flowers.

Wasp-like insect on spotted bee balm

Wasp-like insect on spotted bee balm

Not bad for a “junk” lens not worth buying. 😉 But, I’ve hammered that review of the Sigma lens enough, time to move on.

And move on I did, checking what are called the grassy cells for any birds that were worth exiting my vehicle and attempting to stalk on foot. I did spy a red-tailed hawk recharging after a rough morning.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

A little farther on, this great blue heron.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

As good as the Beast is, the 300 mm prime is better under the right circumstances, and I’d love to see what the prime lens can do on a heron. So, I drove down the road a short way until I could find a place to park in the shade, swapped lenses, and started back on foot, hoping to sneak up on the heron. It didn’t work.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

I don’t know if the heron heard me, or if it just decided to try other hunting grounds, but you can see that it left well before I got close to it.

However, what happened next was one of those magical moments in nature that I’ll never forget, although it began on the bland side. I was walking back to my Subaru when a small flock of vultures came from over the woods out in the open very close to me.

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

As I was standing outside of the car, changing back to the Beast, the vultures continued to circle above me, catching a thermal updraft to help them gain altitude without expending much energy. The vultures were still over me as a pair of sandhill cranes came from across the grassy cells, headed straight at me, giving me plenty of time to get ready for them.

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

The cranes joined the vultures circling over me as they gained altitude also. Next, a red-tailed hawk came along to do the same.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

By then, I had a flock of vultures, the cranes, and a hawk all riding the thermal upwards, which begs the question, how do the birds know where to find updrafts? Because the vultures and the hawk as well as more birds I haven’t mentioned yet came from over the woods, I don’t know how far away from the updraft that they were to start. But, I know the cranes flew a quarter of a mile directly towards the updraft to get to it.

Can the birds tell by the lay of the land, experience, weather conditions, or a combination of various factors to find an updraft?

Anyway, the first hawk had hardly gotten out of photo range when the young eagle joined the parade.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

I was getting arm weary keeping the beast pointed almost straight up, but the birds kept coming.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

I thought about zooming out and trying to get several of the birds in one photo, but the vultures were mere specks in the sky by then, the cranes were slightly closer, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell what they were, and besides, more hawks joined the upward spiral.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

You may think that I’m cheating and using many photos of the same hawk, but I’m not. Look closely at the markings of the hawks and you can see that there were five individual hawks circling over me, along with the eagle, cranes, and vultures.

It was truly an awesome display, seeing all those birds circling over me, I forgot how sick I had been earlier. 😉 I neglected to say that I think that I felt as poorly as I had because of my allergies kicking in combined with too much sun the day before. I had gotten the top of my head sunburned even though I wore the same hat that I always do.

I may not have gotten a great photo of the heron which I had set out for, but I have to thank the heron anyway, for if I hadn’t parked there to try, I would have never seen all those graceful birds flying over me to begin circling above me.

For most of the rest of the day, I spent my time chasing shorebirds, of which there were many. The fall migration has begun in earnest, believe me! Two years ago I had never heard of most of the species of shorebirds that I saw this day, and it was just a year ago that I wondered if I would ever get a good photo of a species like the lesser yellowlegs. Little did I know.

There were so may yellowlegs everywhere that there was no way I could keep count of them all.

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

IMG_8251

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

I’m sorry for so many photos of them, but they were everywhere! And as many of them as there were, there were even more least sandpipers!  (I won’t bore you with as many photos though)

Least sandpiper

Least sandpiper

Least sandpipers

Least sandpipers

Least sandpipers

Least sandpipers

Least sandpiper

Least sandpiper

Least sandpipers

Least sandpipers

When I did see a species of shorebird other than those two, my biggest problem as far as photography was getting the other species alone. Most of the time, there were either least sandpipers or yellowlegs in the frame at the same time. Here’s a wider shot showing a Short-billed Dowitcher in a mixed flock of shorebirds.

Short-billed Dowitcher and mixed shorebirds

Short-billed Dowitcher and mixed shorebirds

Luck was on my side, later I caught the dowitcher even closer, with just one least sandpiper in the frame. However, those photos and the rest that I saved from this trip will be in the next post. 😉 And I promise, no more yellowlegs or least sandpipers unless they just happened to be in the frame as I shot another species of bird. 😉 But, I know of no other way to convey the shear numbers of those two species that I saw on this trip.

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

 


Ready or not, it’s coming!

Fall that is, I’m seeing more signs every day that summer is winding down and is about ready to give way to fall. It’s been a wonderful summer so far, no real heat waves, we haven’t even made 90 degrees (32 C) at all this year, although we’ve come close a few times. We’ve been in a weather pattern with great, but warm weekends, the cold fronts have come through on Mondays or Tuesdays, which have resulted in cool, pleasant conditions during the work week. We could use some rain, but overall, I have no complaints with the weather.

As summer is winding down, the fall bird migration is picking up in intensity. I’ve seen fewer summer resident species with each passing week for the past month, and from the birding reports, more of the species that spend the summer north of here are being spotted as they work their way south.

Every week, new flowers are blooming, and a few leaves are even beginning to change color, so while it’s quieter around here without the songs of the birds, it is getting more colorful to the eye.

Unidentified sunflowers

Unidentified sunflowers

Unidentified sunflower

Unidentified sunflower

I think that I have done a good job of not going crazy and getting as close to things as I can with the Tokina macro lens so far, that may change.

Unidentified sunflower

Unidentified sunflower

Unidentified sunflower

Unidentified sunflower

I purposely stayed farther away from these flowers to show the leaves of the plants the flowers are on.

Unidentified ground cover

Unidentified ground cover

It’s quite remarkable, almost every time I point the Tokina at flowers, I see insects that I didn’t see with the naked eye.

Swamp milkweed and spider

Swamp milkweed and spider

I’m not sure what that was, it seems to have too many legs to be even a spider, which aren’t technically insects, even though most of us lump them in with insects. I tried for a better shot, but the bug was better at hiding than most birds are.

Swamp milkweed and spider

Swamp milkweed and spider

Looking for an excuse to use my new 10-18 mm lens, I shot this.

Maple tree

Maple tree

That lens is everything that it’s cracked up to be, maybe more! Being all plastic, it feels like a toy, but it’s as sharp as a tack. I was sitting on the ground less than ten feet (3 M) from the trunk of the tree in that photo and was able to get the entire tree in the frame, I even had to zoom in a little. Really surprising is how well it works as a near macro lens. In a future post, I’ll have close-up photos of a teasel flower taken with that lens. Oh what the heck, I’ll throw them in now even though it will make this post longer than I intended.

Teasel flower

Teasel flower

Teasel flower

Teasel flower

The only complaint that I have with the 10-18 mm lens is that even with the aperture wide open, as it was in the last photo, the depth of field is too great. 😉 Oh, and for the record, both of those images were cropped, but not as much as you may think. Like I said, it surprised me just how well that lens performs close-up!

The next few were shot with one of three lenses, the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm), 300 mm prime, or the Tokina 100 mm macro lens.

Fall abstract

Fall abstract

Seal all

Seal all

Unidentified pink flowers

Unidentified pink flowers

Orange jewelweed

Orange jewelweed

Don't know but should

Don’t know but should

IMG_7961

Queen Anne’s lace

Fall abstract 2

Fall abstract 2

Queen Anne's lace

Queen Anne’s lace

Goldenrod

Goldenrod

Boneset

Boneset

Cardinal flowers

Cardinal flowers

Cardinal flowers

Cardinal flowers

It sure is nice to have right lens for the job! That’s especially true for the birds, and there are a few left around here.

Adult and juvenile cedar waxwing

Adult and juvenile cedar waxwing

Juvenile cedar waxwing

Juvenile cedar waxwing

While the juvenile waxwing looks like an adult, I had no trouble identifying it as a juvenile by the way it was begging its parents for food.

Here’s a short series of a juvenile downy woodpecker finding food for itself.

Juvenile downy woodpecker looking for lunch

Juvenile downy woodpecker looking for lunch

Juvenile downy woodpecker finding lunch

Juvenile downy woodpecker finding lunch

Juvenile downy woodpecker finding lunch

Juvenile downy woodpecker finding lunch

Juvenile downy woodpecker

Juvenile downy woodpecker

Next up, a pair of a pair of mourning doves.

Mourning doves

Mourning doves

Mourning doves

Mourning doves

The barn swallows are still around to amuse me.

IMG_7667

Barn swallow yoga

And for me to amuse them.

IMG_7672

Barn swallows keeping an eye on me

The cardinals stick around all year, so I shouldn’t be posting these now, but what the heck.

IMG_7700

Female northern cardinal

IMG_7926

Female northern cardinal

IMG_7715

Male northern cardinal

IMG_7931

Female northern cardinal

This little song sparrow was following me around and talking to me.

IMG_7701

Song sparrow

We had a pleasant conversation.

IMG_7702

Song sparrow

The sparrow was wondering what I was doing.

IMG_7705

Song sparrow

I tried to explain what photographs are, I’m not sure that the sparrow quite grasped what I was telling it.

IMG_7707

Song sparrow

I interrupted this robin’s preening session.

IMG_7932

American robin

And finally, one more cardinal.

IMG_7943

Male northern cardinal

Well, that’s all I have to say for this one. Tomorrow, I’ll be going to Muskegon to attempt to track down some migrating birds, especially shorebirds. I goofed on some of my identifications in the posts I’ve done so far, and/or mixed up the photos as I saved them to folders to be saved until I posted them.

Some one was kind enough to let me know, so I hope to be able to get the correct photos soon. I goofed on the ID of the stilt sandpiper, although it’s been so long ago that I’m not sure what happened. My post on Baird’s sandpipers has photos of semipalmated sandpipers, but I have a folder of photos labeled as that species, however the photos in the folder are of Baird’s sandpipers. I think that as I was trying to sort and saved the photos from a day when I shot almost 500 photos, that I sent the wrong photos to the folders that I had set-up. I’ll get it fixed soon.

In the meantime, that’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Lane’s Landing, Muskegon, I got the bird!

Another Sunday, another rather hot and humid day, so I left early for a birding trip to the Muskegon area, starting at Lane’s Landing. Lane’s Landing is within the Muskegon State Game Area, and it has become one of my favorites places for birding.

Before I get to the sparse details about this trip, a word about the weather here in West Michigan this summer. We’ve been in a pattern where the warmest, most humid days of the week have been on the weekends, a front with rain passes through the area on Sunday night into Monday, then we have had cool, pleasant days during the work week as the heat builds slowly towards the weekend. Almost perfect weather!

I don’t have very much to say in this post, I walked as far at Lane’s Landing as I could before the mosquitoes got too thick as I approached the Muskegon River, then, I did a short tour around the Muskegon County wastewater treatment facility, and finished up in a wooded area of the Muskegon State Game Area.

Upon my arrival at Lane’s Landing, I warmed up shooting this juvenile common yellowthroat.

Juvenile common yellowthroat

Juvenile common yellowthroat

Juvenile common yellowthroat

Juvenile common yellowthroat

I heard the distinctive voice of a marsh wren behind me, so I turned around for these.

Marsh wren

Marsh wren

Marsh wren

Marsh wren

Those aren’t great, I was shooting towards the sun, but at least I’ve finally gotten photos of a marsh wren. Like most wrens, they spend most of their time hidden in the thickest of vegetation. I’ve heard marsh wrens a few times, and I may have even seen them before, but I could never make a positive ID before. The photos may not be great, but they’re a start, and I can cross another species off from my list of birds to photograph. If things go as they normally do, I’ll get better photos the next time I see them.

Anyway, as I shooting the wren, this willow flycatcher was watching me.

Willow flycatcher

Willow flycatcher

I got to the pond where I had seen the common gallinules (moorhens) the last time I was there, but there was only one juvenile in sight.

Juvenile common gallinule (moorhen)

Juvenile common gallinule (moorhen)

I installed the 1.4 X tele-converter behind the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) and tried for a better photo, but that was an epic failure. None of the photos I shot were any good. I have to manually focus when the extender is used with the Beast, so I don’t know if I missed the focus, or if using the extender with the Beast is a lost cause at longer ranges. I’m beginning to think that it’s the latter. I shot these two with the same set-up, and they aren’t very good at all.

Female ruby-throated hummingbird

Female ruby-throated hummingbird

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

But, I had a chance to test that set-up later in the day, so I’ll get back to that when I get to those chances. For right now, here’s the rest of the photos from Lane’s Landing worth posting.

Unidentified flowering object

Unidentified flowering object

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Willow flycatcher?

Willow flycatcher?

That wraps things up for the Lane’s Landing portion of the day, the next stop was the wastewater facility, where I shot these bobolinks.

Female or juvenile bobolink

Female or juvenile bobolink

Female or juvenile bobolink

Female or juvenile bobolink

Female or juvenile bobolink

Female or juvenile bobolink

Since they were relatively close, and I could rest my camera on the door of my Forester, I installed the tele-converter again for this juvenile male bobolink.

Juvenile male bobolink

Juvenile male bobolink

Juvenile male bobolink

Juvenile male bobolink

Juvenile male bobolink

Juvenile male bobolink

Way too soft again! I was wondering how I was able to get such sharp photos of waterfowl using that set-up earlier in the spring, when it dawned on me, the waterfowl were so close that I didn’t have to zoom to the full 500 mm to fill the frame with the birds. But, by then the bobolinks had moved out of range to try that. In the meantime, I found large flocks of shorebirds of several different species.

I didn’t want to do what I did last year, shoot almost 500 photos to try to sort through and ID the birds, so I limited myself to just these two.

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

It was hot out in the open, and I wasn’t in the mood to ID shorebirds, so I headed to the woods of the Muskegon SGA to keep cool, and was able to get these.

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird

I haven’t seen many bluebirds this year, so it was good to see one. I also saw a family of red-headed woodpeckers, but only this juvenile perched where I could see it.

Juvenile red-headed woodpecker

Juvenile red-headed woodpecker

Juvenile red-headed woodpecker

Juvenile red-headed woodpecker

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Right after I shot the monarch, I looked up to see several birds the right size and shape to be red-headed woodpeckers flying overhead. Red-headed woodpeckers feed differently than most woodpeckers, they will often catch insects on the wing. I’ve watched them fly from a branch to pluck an insect from the air, then return to their perch to wait for another insect to fly past. However, the birds that I saw this time were behaving more like swallows, staying airborne as they fed on insects. I’m not 100% sure that the birds were red-headed woodpeckers, but they sure looked like it.

Red-headed woodpecker in flight

Red-headed woodpecker in flight?

I’m still trying for a really good photo of Dianthus flowers.

Dianthus

Dianthus

I saw this ovenbird, and as soon as it spotted me, it did what they usually do, started running for cover.

Ovenbird on the run

Ovenbird on the run

This one made a mistake, it had to pass an area in the sunlight on its way to cover, so when it got in the sun, I whistled, and the ovenbird stopped to figure out what was going on.

Ovenbird

Ovenbird

That gave me time for this shot.

Ovenbird

Ovenbird

I had to shoot these next few through a tiny opening in the foliage.

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

The nuthatch would see me, and change positions so that I no longer had even the poorest of views of it. So, I’d wait, the nuthatch would come back into view as it wanted to dig a caterpillar out from under the bark of the tree.

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

Not great, but, sometimes you have to take what the birds give you, and this nuthatch wasn’t giving much.

On my way out of the state game area, I had one more chance to test using the Beast with the tele-converter, this time using a bald eagle as the subject. Here’s the eagle at 500 mm with the image not cropped at all.

Bald eagle, 500 mm, not cropped

Bald eagle, 500 mm, not cropped

Normally, I would have tried to get closer, or at least a better angle on the eagle, but I decided that I would test my equipment and not worry if the photos were only fair. I was using the luggage rack on top of my Forester as a makeshift tripod. Here’s the cropped version shot at 500 mm.

Bald eagle, 500 mm,  cropped

Bald eagle, 500 mm, cropped

I then installed the tele-converter for this next one, still using my Forester as a tripod and focusing manually.

Bald eagle, 700 mm, not cropped

Bald eagle, 700 mm, not cropped

I then got my tripod out, set it up, and mounted the Beast to the tripod. I also grabbed my new umbrella to shade the LCD display of the camera, switched to live view to auto-focus for this one.

Bald eagle, 210 mm, cropped

Bald eagle, 210 mm, cropped

At that point, the eagle flew off.

Bald eagle in flight, 700 mm, cropped, with the OS on, and manually focused

Bald eagle in flight, 700 mm, cropped, with the OS on, and manually focused

Test results, incomplete.

When I mounted the Beast on the tripod, I had zoomed back out all the way to get the eagle in the viewfinder and the tripod adjustments locked down. I switched to live view, using the live view zoom to zoom in 10 X without adjusting the zoom on the lens, silly me. That’s why the last photo of the eagle while it was perched was only 210 mm. By the time I had looked that photo over and realized my mistake, the eagle had flown. Since I didn’t get the OS shut off for the eagle in flight, it’s a crappy photo.

I need a subject that will sit still for 10 or 15 minutes so that I can try to work out all of the variables, but I did learn a little more. One, the Canon 60 D will auto-focus in live view at smaller apertures than it will when trying to auto-focus using the viewfinder. Two, I don’t think that the tele-converter will extend the range that I am able to get good photos at, due to atmospherics, as I’ve said before. Still, it would be nice to know for sure, maybe one of these days I’ll find a willing model that will stick around long enough for me to test it out correctly.

You’d have thought that the eagle would have stuck around to watch the silly photographer fumbling around with his equipment while holding an umbrella for shade, but maybe the eagle wasn’t in the mood to watch a comedy of errors. 😉

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