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

Archive for September, 2014

Where did the summer go?

It’s the first week of autumn, but you wouldn’t know it by our weather here. We had a few cool days to give us a taste of fall, then it has warmed up to summer like temperatures during the day. We have had cool nights, great sleeping weather.

I’m running out of things to photograph, at least without putting several images that look quite alike in the same post. There are days when I don’t even see any robins, and there will be a few around all winter long. Even the flock of goldfinches has thinned out. With fall arriving, I’ve seen no new flowers starting to bloom. But, Mother Nature provides, for a few early summer flowers are producing a few flowers, like this sulphur cinquefoil.

Sulphur cinquefoil

Sulphur cinquefoil

And, there’s always a few squirrels around to practice on.

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a photo of a woodchuck, so this seems like a good time for one.

Woodchuck

Woodchuck

There’s still asters blooming, and they are attracting bees.

IMG_9149

Bee on an aster

But to tell you the truth, I’ve shot too many bees already this summer, my heart just wasn’t in it as I tried for a better shot.

Bee on an aster

Bee on an aster

I found this bug on the railing of the bridge over the creek, and thought that it was kind of cute, it reminded me of Gonzo the Great from the Muppet Show.

Unidentified beetle

Unidentified beetle

I found a few apples growing in front of asters, and liked the color combination…

Apples and asters

Apples and asters

…but couldn’t get the type of shot I wanted.

Asters and apples

Asters and apples

Earlier this summer, I decided not to photograph subjects on the pavement unless I had to. For one thing, it doesn’t look natural, and for another, it makes it hard to get the exposure correct. But, for a praying mantis, I decided to make an exception.

Praying mantis

Praying mantis

The mantis spotted me, as you can see, and moved into the grass, which I thought was going to be a good thing.

Praying mantis

Praying mantis

I chased the mantis around for a good ten minutes, trying to get a good photo.

Praying mantis

Praying mantis

The mantis didn’t move very fast, but it was well aware of me and did all that it could to thwart me, so I gave up.

Flowers are easier.

???

???

Until there’s an insect on them.

Katydid

Katydid

I’m going to try not to shoot anymore upside down spiders from now on.

Unidentified spider

Unidentified spider

There’s still plenty of these around, ever since most of the summer resident birds left the area.

Grasshopper

Grasshopper

A few more summer flowers are getting their second wind.

Sweet pea

Sweet pea

Sweet pea

Sweet pea

Crown vetch

Crown vetch

I’ve been shooting a few fall color photos as practice for my trip up north this coming weekend.

Sumac

Sumac

Sumac

Sumac

Virginia creeper

Virginia creeper

Maple tree

Maple tree

As if I haven’t been posting enough images of hawks lately, one morning Bruiser the red-tailed hawk decided to have some fun with me.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

That’s from his second pass over my head, at about twenty feet. For his first pass, he came out of nowhere, and I didn’t have time to make any adjustments to the camera, so those images were terrible. He was turning directly over me, making it extremely hard to keep him in the viewfinder.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

These were all shot with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) at 150 mm, he was that close to me.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

He finally gained some altitude on his third pass.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

There for a moment, I thought that he was going to snatch my hat.

The heron that has taken up residence is still around, but the kids whose fishing poles the heron stole, stole them back from the heron, so now it has to fish like a normal heron.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

The woolly bear caterpillars are predicting a mild wither, I hope that they’re right.

Woolly bear caterpillar

Woolly bear caterpillar

Woolly bear caterpillar

Woolly bear caterpillar

And, I hope to get a better photo of one before the snow flies. 😉

The dragon and damselflies are fewer and farther between.

Damselfly

Damselfly

As are the butterflies.

Butterfly

Butterfly

To wrap this one up, a few images of pink asters that I tried out both the LED panel light and the EX 320 flash unit on, as the asters are severely backlit at the time when I walk each morning.

Pink asters

Pink asters

It’s much easier to get one right at a time.

Pink asters

Pink asters

But I kept trying for all of them.

Pink asters

Pink asters

However, I settled on this one as the best of the lot.

Pink asters

Pink asters

I’m doing this post after a day in the Muskegon area, so I’m sorry if it isn’t up to my usual standards. I have a lot of stuff to do this week, so I zipped through this post in a hurry. I have to have my Subaru serviced, and I’d like to put in a few job applications this week, and that’s on top of everything else I normally do each week. I also have photos from yesterday at Palmer Park, and today from Muskegon to finish sorting.

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


Muskegon trip September 21st, 2014

This post is about the trip that I made to Muskegon on September 21st, 2014. Since I had been to Muskegon the week before, I was going to skip a week, but I’m glad that I didn’t, for I was able to get two lifers on this trip.

The reason that I decided to go again this week was the weather, the forecast called for scattered rain showers and a stiff northwest wind, and that’s what we got. I had considered going for a hike, as the weather doesn’t bother me that much, but I don’t want to take any chances with my camera gear. The good thing about the Muskegon County wastewater treatment facility is that you can do your birding by vehicle if you want.

In fact, the first few times that I went there, I thought that drive-by birding was the only way to get close to birds there. The birds are used to vehicles moving slowly along the roads and two-tracks, but they would instantly flush if I stepped out of my car. I have since learned how to stalk the birds using the bits of vegetation, rocks, and other obstructions as cover.

The weather meant that most of my early photos aren’t very good, but bad weather often means good birding, especially early in the morning. I arrived just after dawn, and it was raining as I drove to the area known as the grassy cells. On my way, a small falcon flew past me, I was hoping that it was a merlin, but it turned out to be a kestrel.

American kestrel

American kestrel

I never noticed this before, but their markings make it look as if they have eyes in the back of their heads.

American kestrel

American kestrel

Kestrels are about the same size as a dove, so you’ll have to excuse the poor quality of those photos, taken in low light while it was raining.

Just as I arrived at the grassy cell that I had planned at starting at, the rain let up, although the wind was still quite fierce. Just as I had hoped, that cell was full of shorebirds of many species. I’ll start with a juvenile black-bellied plover.

Juvenile black-bellied plover

Juvenile black-bellied plover

Juvenile black-bellied plover

Juvenile black-bellied plover

I may have identified them as juvenile golden plovers in my last post, I’ll have to go back and check. The differences between the species are slight, as with many shorebirds. But, speaking of golden plovers, one of the adults came running towards me and got so close to me that these images were only cropped for composition.

American golden plover

American golden plover

American golden plover

American golden plover

As I was shooting those, I noticed a pair of Wilson’s snipe coming out of a clump of reeds where they had been taking cover from the weather.

Wilson's snipe

Wilson’s snipe

There’s quite a bit of difference in the coloration of the two snipe, I wasn’t sure if they were the same species or not, so I shot many photos of each of them just in case. 😉

Wilson's snipe

Wilson’s snipe

Wilson's snipe

Wilson’s snipe

Wilson's snipe

Wilson’s snipe

Wilson's snipe

Wilson’s snipe

Wilson's snipe

Wilson’s snipe

I had been looking for them all summer long, but it turns out that I was arriving far too late to catch them out in the open. Snipe feed at dawn and dusk, and sleep most of the day. They were lifer number one.

Since I was there, and this greater yellowlegs was there, I shot a few photos of it.

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

It soon began to rain again, so I drove around, checking on what species of birds were where, so that I could come back later for photos. It was while I was driving that I spotted the second lifer for the day, a green-winged teal in with a small flock of blue-winged teal.

I have to ask you to excuse the quality of these photos again. There are a number of reasons for the poor quality of these. I spotted the teal while I was driving, but knew that they would likely flush as soon as my vehicle stopped moving. My Subaru has power windows, so I hit the down button with my left hand as I was grabbing my camera with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) on it with my right hand. Trying to manuever a lens that long inside of a car is not easy! But, I got it shifted to my left hand as the window was coming down, and shut the ignition of my Subaru off with my right hand. As I expected, the teal flushed, meaning that I had to shoot them in flight from within my vehicle. It was still raining also.

Blue-winged teal in front, green-winged teal following

Blue-winged teal in front, green-winged teal following

Blue-winged teal sometimes show patches of green on their wings, so I wasn’t 100% sure that the second teal was a green-winged, but the smaller size and lighter belly, tell me that it was.

Green-winged teal in flight

Green-winged teal in flight

That’s barely good enough for me to use in the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on, but I hope that the photos I got break the ice so to speak. I’ll save the photos of the teal for now, and hope to replace them with better ones, like males of the species in their full breeding plumage.

Next up, another terrible photo.

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

I didn’t expect the eagle to be there, it was busy choosing from the brunch menu as I shot that photo through the windshield of my car. As soon as I opened the door to step out for a better photo, the eagle took flight, as did most of the waterfowl and gulls that the eagle had been watching.

Just a few ducks

Just a few ducks

By the way, the eagle chose ring-billed gull for brunch, but I missed that photo, and one of the eagle carry the gull off to a place where it wouldn’t be bothered by photographers.

I drove back to the grassy cells during a break in the rain and the sky lightened up a little. On my way, I shot a few herons.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Earlier this year, it was rare for me to see a great blue heron, even in the Muskegon area, there’s no lack of them now.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

You would think that when I saw this….

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

…that I’d be ready for this…

Great blue heron leaping into flight

Great blue heron leaping into flight

…and possibly, even this.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

I don’t know if the heron didn’t see me or what, but it was angling towards me at first, then made that sudden turn away from me for the typical butt shot.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

This other heron was watching all that unfold.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

You can tell that this is a different heron by the markings on their faces.

I spotted a pair of sandhill cranes, but one of the many mallards that were near the cranes spooked before I could get a good shot of the cranes. They tried their best to blend in with the flock of mallards…

Sandhill crane and mallards

Sandhill crane and mallards

Sandhill crane and mallards

Sandhill crane and mallards

…but that didn’t work out very well.

Sandhill crane and mallards

Sandhill crane and mallards

I found the named bald eagle whose name I can’t remember perched in his favorite tree.

Bald eagle, not cropped

Bald eagle, not cropped

Bald eagle, the cropped version

Bald eagle, the cropped version

As I drove around, I spent more time checking the ducks, hoping to find more green-winged teal, but I had no luck with that. I did get a fair shot of a female blue-winged teal by herself….

Female blue-winged teal

Female blue-winged teal

…and another hiding out in a flock of mallards.

Female blue-winged teal and two mallards

Female blue-winged teal and two mallards

I know that I post too many of this type of photo…

A few Canada geese

A few Canada geese

…but the number of birds there is something that I find very impressive. That was less than 1/4 of the geese in that one field, and there were several fields with just as many or more geese.

That was on my way to the area known as the Swanson/Laketon fields. While driving down a two-track between cornfields, I found this heron blocking my way, but it took flight as soon as I opened my window.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

And I spotted this northern harrier nearby.

Northern harrier

Northern harrier

Other than a few dozen turkey vultures, and a few thousand more geese, I wasn’t ale to find many other birds, so I returned to the main portion of the wastewater facility where I found a female wood duck.

Female wood duck

Female wood duck

Female wood duck

Female wood duck

And, yet another heron did a fly by.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

I have to apologize again for the poor quality of the next three images. One of the kestrels was hunting over one of the grassy cells, and fairly close to me. I shot dozens of photos trying to get good ones, but the weather was just too bad. The photos may not be good, but I really enjoyed watching the kestrel in action. They will hover for a while, then dip, dive, and put on a great display of flying ability as they hunt.

American kestrel in flight

American kestrel in flight

American kestrel in flight

American kestrel in flight

American kestrel in flight

American kestrel in flight

I did better with this pair of sandhill cranes.

Sandhill cranes

Sandhill cranes

Of course, standing birds are much easier to photograph than flying ones, like this bird, another northern harrier.

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier

Northern harrier

Northern harrier in flight

So, that wraps up another trip to Muskegon. I’m not sure yet what I’ll be doing this weekend, I should go on a warbler hunt, but yet another trip to the Muskegon area is very tempting because of the variety of species there. With the good weather forecast for this weekend, I may be able to get better photos than the ones in this post. The hawk migration is on, with many broadwing and other hawks being reported from the dunes in Muskegon State Park. I could also hunt warblers at Lane’s Landing and other places within the Muskegon State Game Area.

I know that the first weekend in October, if the weather forecast is suitable, I’ll be heading up north for fall foliage photos.

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

 


Trying to remember it all

In many ways, photography was much easier back in the days of film, and everything on the camera had to be set manually, not that there were many settings to change back then. With digital photography, it’s a whole new ballgame.

I have six lenses, and I’ve been learning the strengths and weaknesses of each one of them, which I’ll touch on later. I have several ways of adding light to a scene, the built-in flash on the camera, a LED panel light, and an EX 320 speedlite. The speedlite has a built-in LED light, the flash, and I can fire the flash from the hotshoe of the camera, wirelessly off the camera, or off the camera using a cable that I purchased. So, I’ve been trying to learn which method of adding light to a scene works best under different conditions. Of course, that changes somewhat depending on which lens I’m using, and I can combine several of the sources of light at one time also. Throw in all the different camera settings available to me depending on a scene, and I’m having problems remembering all the possibilities. But, I am getting better at it, the more that I practice.

It would be a lot easier if I didn’t try to shoot such a wide variety of subjects, and in all-weather conditions, from cloudless sunny days, to shooting in the rain in the early morning hours. I’m jumping way ahead here, but here’s an example from Sunday, Sept. 21st at Muskegon. It’s an image of two Wilson’s snipe, a lifer for me, shot just after dawn, while it was raining and there was a 30 MPH wind blowing.

Wilson's snipe

Wilson’s snipe

The snipe had taken shelter from the wind-driven rain in the lee of the reeds, and I caught them just as the rain let up. Not too shabby if I do say so myself, but, it may have been better had I used the flash for that photo.

I wish that I could carry all my photo gear everywhere that I go, but I’m too much of a wimp to do so. The Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens), the Canon 60 D body, and the EX 320 flash unit weigh in at over 8 pounds (3.6 kg) combined. There have been a few times when my mind said that I should shoot a subject that probably would have yielded a so-so photo, but the muscles in my arm rebelled and refused to lift the camera up to my eye.

I did carry the EX 320 on the camera all the time for a few days, so that I’d always be ready, but that was too much weight, so now I carry the flash in my pocket and hope that I have the time to get it out and on the camera when needed. I carry the LED panel light in another pocket. I have the holster style camera bag that holds the second camera body, the Tokina macro lens, one of my wide-angle lenses, a spare battery for the camera, filters, and a few other odds and ends as well. My body tells me that’s all the gear that I need on my three-mile long daily walk, and more than enough for the longer hikes on weekends. My mind tells me otherwise, but my body has to do the work, so it wins out.

I really wish that I could bring my tripod along all the time, even though I wouldn’t use it that often. It’s one of those things that my body says I can do without, even though when I need it, I really need it. I did purchase a light weight carbon fiber tripod, it’s light enough. But, I purchased a lower priced, relatively heavy head to go on it, the macro focusing rail that my brother gave me weighs more than the tripod legs do, and the nifty carrying bag for the tripod all add up to too much weight.

I know that I said that this year I was going to bring the tripod all the time, and for a while this spring, I did. But, I made some huge mistakes. I’d set the tripod up, mount the camera to it, then set the camera to ISO 100 with the lens stopped all or nearly all the way down, and shoot dozens of fuzzy photos. The shutter speeds that I was shooting at allowed any breath of wind to move most subjects around so much that I never got sharp photos. But, that was all before I had the external sources of light that I have now, and I’ve realized the mistakes that I made in camera set-up. Still, more weight is not something that I want to carry all the time.

Photography is a constant learning experience. The more that I learn, I realize that there is much more to learn than I thought.

Okay, I’ve been extolling how great the Beast is as a birding lens, and for smaller songbirds in the brush, it’s hard to beat the Beast. That is, up to a distance of about 100 feet or so, then the Beast begins producing soft images.

On the other hand, the 300 mm Canon L series lens is great from 5 feet to around 30 feet, then it goes soft for some reason, until the subject is 100 feet or more from the camera. From that distance on, it is sharp again. I had forgotten that last part.

Last week, there were reports of a pair of white pelicans near where I live. So, I loaded some of my camera gear in my car, and headed over to where the pelicans were hanging out. White pelicans are very rare around here, so I wanted to be sure that I got usable photos of them. I took the Beast on one camera body, and as a back-up, I mounted the 300 mm prime lens with the Tamron extender on the other body. I shot way too many photos, most of them with the Beast, but to make sure, I shot a few with the 300 mm prime/1.4 X extender set-up. When I got home, I found that the 300 mm prime set-up….

American white pelicans

American white pelicans

…had produced much better images than the Beast….

American white pelicans

American white pelicans

…and here’s one more from the 300 mm prime.

American white pelicans

American white pelicans

That was exactly the opposite results of what I got this summer when I went chasing the sedge wrens near Grand Haven, Michigan. Then, I started out with the 300 mm prime/1.4 X extender, and couldn’t get a sharp photo of any of the wrens. So, I had gone back to my vehicle and switched over to the Beast.

The differences were that the wrens were small birds bobbing in the wind, which was also blowing thick vegetation around. The 300 mm prime set-up couldn’t handle those conditions, but those conditions played to the strengths of the Beast.

Part of the Beast’s downfall on the pelicans was the low light, but that was a good thing really. If it had been a sunny day, I would have been shooting into the sun, and neither lens would have done well. But, low light isn’t the entire answer…

Mute swan

Mute swan

Mute swan

Mute swan

…for those two were shot with the Beast under the same light, it was all about the distance, and which lens worked the best at the distance the pelicans and the swan were from me. With the swan being much closer, the Beast did a good job with it.

I’m getting ahead of myself again, but I had the chance to test the two set-ups out again on Sunday, on a bald eagle. First, the 300 mm prime/ 1.4 X extender…

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

…then, with the Beast.

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

It just so happened that the eagle was perched at a distance from me where the performance of the Beast was just starting to fall off, and the performance of the 300 mm prime was coming back again. The nod goes to the 300 mm prime, which is one reason that I’d love to be able to carry both lenses with me all the time. But, the thought of carrying both of those heavy lenses all the time is not something that I care to do, even if it would mean better photos a times.

Then, there are camera settings, and on a digital camera, there are many to play with.

For birding, I shoot in aperture priority 99% of the time, using partial spot metering, ISO set to auto, and only the center focusing point enabled. Since there’s often little time to make many, if any, adjustments, I’ve found that those settings do well under a variety of lighting conditions. I’ll start with a hummer on a very cloudy day…

Juvenile ruby-throated hummingbird

Juvenile ruby-throated hummingbird

Juvenile ruby-throated hummingbird

Juvenile ruby-throated hummingbird

…A molting male goldfinch in full sun…

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

…that saw me photographing it, and moved to a better position…

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

….to pose for me.

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

I do have to adjust the exposure compensation up and down quite a bit, depending on the light and background. Against the blue sky, I had to go up 1/3 stop for the goldfinch, I went down 2/3 stop for this song sparrow.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

This goldfinch is one of the few birds that I’ve shot at zero compensation lately.

Female American goldfinch

Female American goldfinch

By using the partial spot metering, I can get usable, although not great, photos of birds even when the light is coming from behind them, as with this grosbeak.

Rose-breasted grosbeak

Rose-breasted grosbeak

Rose-breasted grosbeak

Rose-breasted grosbeak

Or this goldfinch.

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

But, great lighting produces the best images…

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

…especially when I find a bird that will let me get very close to it.

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

I had just shot those two of the goldfinch, having gone down a full stop in exposure compensation, and hadn’t had time to adjust back to my starting point, when a red-tailed hawk zoomed past me.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

This is what I can do when the hawks give me time to get ready.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

The second one was shot at one full stop up in exposure compensation, although I think that +2/3 would have been better.

When it comes to the second body, that I use for most subjects other than birds, I’m all over the place as far as settings. In fact, I have a hard time believing all the changes that I make to the camera. Some of that has to do with the fact that I use the second body for macros, like this…

Milkweed beetle

Milkweed beetle

…to wide but fairly close shots…

Petunias

Petunias

…to landscapes.

Landscape, using Photomatix

Landscape, using Photomatix

Three different completely different subjects, three different lenses, and three different camera set-ups.

For macros of insects, my set-up is about the same as I use for birds. I use the center focus point, partial spot metering, and auto ISO as a starting point. That way, I get the bug in focus, exposed correctly, and can keep the lens stopped down for the depth of field needed to get at least most of the bug sharp. If I have the time before the insect disappears, I may tweak those settings.

For the petunias, I used the 10-18 mm lens at 10 mm, evaluative metering, ISO at 100, and I enabled all nine focus points. I used evaluative metering because the Canon 60 D is very good at protecting the highlights, that is, it typically doesn’t blow out the lightest things in the frame, and I had no idea where to start with the exposure for the vibrant colors of the flowers. Using all nine focus points, I could tell that everything that I wanted to be in focus was in focus.

For the landscape, I switched to shooting RAW, since I knew that I would be using Photomatix to post-process the images. I shot a few test shots, which told me that -1/3 EV was the best my camera could do with the scene on its own. I then went to auto-bracketing at plus and minus 1 2/3 EV, also based on my test shots. I set the camera to low-speed burst shooting to get my bracketed images. I manually focused on what I judged to be 1/3 of the way into the scene. The ISO was set to 100, and I used center weighted exposure control, since the center of the frame contained the part of the image I was most concerned with getting right.

If all that sounds like a lot to remember, it is, and I didn’t cover all the changes that I made to the settings. But, I didn’t start out making that many adjustments to the camera between subjects.

What I have done from the time that I purchased the Canon camera is to tackle one control at a time, until I was comfortable in knowing that I had at least an idea of what I was doing and why. Then I would move on to another setting, and learn that one. Eventually, I got to the point where I was changing more than one thing at a time, and learning how the combined setting changes worked together.

Another thing that helps me remember what to change is the quick menu on my 60 D. To tell you the truth, the first time that I pressed the “Q” button to call up that menu, it scared me a little. I had no idea what all those icons meant, or what changing any of them would do. Now, I press that button and I’ll make changes to half a dozen or more setting through that menu system. It also helps me to remember to return settings to what I use as my default settings.

Anyway, I’ll bet that most people have found all of this so far boring, but there are a few novice photographers who read my blog who may find this helpful. Right now, it’s time for a few more photos.

Soapwort

Soapwort

Hen turkey

Hen turkey

Asters?

Asters?

Spider web and dewy grass

Spider web and dewy grass

Spider web

Spider web

???

???

???

???

I need more practice shooting birds in flight, I’ve lost my timing. That brings up a point about my Canon 60 D bodies, they have quite a bit of shutter lag. That’s the time between when you press the shutter release and the time when the camera actually fires to record the image. I had gotten my timing of the shutter lag down fairly well, but I didn’t shoot many flying birds the past two months, so I’m a bit slow.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

I shot a number of photos of this doe and her fawn, but the light was so poor that I’m only including one.

Whitetail doe and fawn

Whitetail doe and fawn

That is, until the fawn passed me later on.

Whitetail fawn

Whitetail fawn

I’ve given up trying to identify which species in the lobelia family these flowers are.

??? Lobelia

??? Lobelia

Now, for a little humor. This is actually the last photo of the series, I shot it with the Tokina macro lens just for the heck of it, and it does set the scene. A great blue heron had purloined a couple of kiddie fishing poles, and was taking life easy on the bank while waiting for a bite.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

This was the first photo, taken with the Beast at 400 mm.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

The heron was not happy that I was capturing its method of fishing “on film”.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

I zoomed all the way to 500 mm for these next two.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

I was hoping to watch the heron reel in a fish, but fishing was poor that morning.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

In good light, there’s very little fall off in image quality between 400 and 500 mm with the Beast. But, the lower the light is, the more apparent the loss of quality becomes. But, I’ve already prattled on long enough for now.

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


Muskegon trip September 14th

This post is about the trip that I made to Muskegon on September 14th, 2014. I hit the Muskegon County wastewater treatment facility, Lane’s Landing in the Muskegon State Game Area, and the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. In other words, one of my typical Muskegon area trips.

The weather forecast was a cool, sunny day, and I was up early and on my way before the sun had come up. Pre-dawn light may be good for landscapes and some other subjects, but not so good for birds when using the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens). I somehow spotted this red-shouldered hawk looking for breakfast as I was driving to wastewater facility.

Red-shouldered hawk

Red-shouldered hawk

Low light is even worse when trying to shoot flying birds.

Red-shouldered hawk in flight

Red-shouldered hawk in flight

So, I arrived at the wastewater facility just as the sun was coming up, but the waterfowl had beaten me there.

A duck hunter's dream

A duck hunter’s dream

Most of the ducks were northern shovelers, blue-winged teal, and mallards, but there were a few others that I’ll get to later.

That reminds me, this post is going to be even heavier on photos than is usual for me, which means way too many, sorry. I shot some of my worst recent photos, and some of my best, the worst were of interesting things, of course. The best were of some more common species, but they’re too good to delete.

Anyway, I drove to what are known as the grassy cells while trying to see any birds in the low light. I found this song sparrow, and hopped out of my Forester for this shot….

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

…while looking for other birds as I stood by my vehicle, I saw this pair of sandhill cranes…

Female sandhill crane

Female sandhill crane

Male sandhill crane

Male sandhill crane

…I couldn’t believe that I had seen the sparrow before I saw the cranes, the light was that low. So, I stood there a little longer, and noticed birds much smaller than the cranes out feeding on the mudflats, a flock of American golden plovers. Here’s my best shot of an adult.

Adult American golden plover, non-breeding plumage

Adult American golden plover, non-breeding plumage

I was able to get photos of a juvenile last year, and there will be a few more of them later, from when the light improved slightly. But, when I returned for the better photos of the juveniles, the adults stayed out of camera range, darn. Maybe next spring I’ll catch adults in their breeding plumage, which is very colorful for a shorebird.

I watched the mudflats for any movement, and noticed that there were also many killdeer running across the mud.

Killdeer

Killdeer

And, a great blue heron flew almost directly overhead…

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

…as what I think was an adult male looked on from the next cell…

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

…and a third heron rose up out of another cell.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

I think that so many large birds flying over it made this horned lark nervous.

Horned lark

Horned lark

If you remember, I said that the forecast was for sunny skies, but, it had cooled off so much overnight that a thick layer of lake effect clouds had formed which hung around until after noon. I shot this shot just to see if I could pull it off in the very low light.

Double crested cormorant

Double crested cormorant

It turned out better than I had hoped. I went back to the large lagoon where I started, and shot a few of the newly arrived waterfowl.

Blue-winged teal

Blue-winged teal

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

What could be cuter than a ruddy duck with its tail up?

Ruddy duck

Ruddy duck

A pair of them.

Ruddy duck pair

Ruddy duck pair

There was almost a break in the clouds, and I shot these Savannah sparrows then.

Savannah sparrow

Savannah sparrow

Savannah sparrow

Savannah sparrow

I caught a least sandpiper taking a bath….

Least sandpiper

Least sandpiper

…to dry off, it jumped straight up out of the water and flapped its wings, hovering in place.

Least sandpiper

Least sandpiper

A short time later, another was bathing….

Least sandpipers

Least sandpipers

…and the other two you see came running to see if the one taking a bath was stirring up any goodies to eat…

Least sandpipers

Least sandpipers

…but the one taking a bath was splashing so much that the other two decided not to get too close.

I didn’t see as many red-tailed hawks as on my last trip, but there were still a few around.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

There were also a few of the semipalmated plovers around yet, also.

Semipalmated plover

Semipalmated plover

It started getting a little brighter, finally, so I went back to the grassy cells looking for the golden plovers. The juveniles were there close to me.

Juvenile American golden plover

Juvenile American golden plover

Juvenile American golden plover

Juvenile American golden plover

Talk about tough lighting, as you can see, the sun had come out a little, and blue sky was reflecting off from the water. A few seconds later, the clouds blocked out the sun, and the water reflected black clouds.

Juvenile American golden plover

Juvenile American golden plover

Juvenile American golden plover

Juvenile American golden plover

A heron, maybe one of the ones from earlier came swooping in.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

As much as I wanted to hang around waiting for better light, I headed up to the Lane’s Landing area in the Muskegon State Game Area. That could be considered a mistake, for I saw fewer birds there than any other time that I’ve been there. But, there were other things to shoot.

Unidentified blue flowers

Unidentified blue flowers

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

I did see a few cedar waxwings, so I shot one just to say that I was able to get a bird at Lane’s Landing.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Then, it was on to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. The birding started out slow there too, so I shot a few other subjects.

Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

Even though I have a hard time getting a good shot of a monarch butterfly, I thought that I’d try for a double.

Monarch butterflies

Monarch butterflies

Monarch butterflies

Monarch butterflies

But the way the wind was blowing, I gave up and went for a single.

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

I started seeing birds.

Caspian tern in flight

Caspian tern in flight

Caspian tern in flight

Caspian tern in flight

Unidentified sparrow

Unidentified sparrow

And, I got what I thought was a relatively good image of a flicker.

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

They are wary birds, I seldom get close to them. So, I was shocked when one perched right in front of me, in the open, in good light, and started posing like a model!

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

On the other hand, a juvenile catbird saw that I was about to shoot its picture, and took off running through the foliage…

Juvenile grey catbird

Juvenile grey catbird

…and thought that it had found a place to hide. But, I had the Beast, and there’s no hiding from it!

Juvenile grey catbird

Juvenile grey catbird

I wonder if this counts as a new species, a banded chickadee?

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

I was shocked when the first flicker posed for me, I nearly had a hear attack when a second one did the same!

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

It looked me over, decided that I wasn’t a threat, and then went looking for ants.

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

I’m including this next one to show you how well they blend into the grass as they feed on ants, their favorite food.

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

This is how close it got to me.

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Next up, three images of a viceroy butterfly, because I can’t choose the best of the three.

Viceroy butterfly

Viceroy butterfly

Viceroy butterfly

Viceroy butterfly

Viceroy butterfly

Viceroy butterfly

By then, it was late afternoon, and I was tired. But, there were these tiny white flowers growing on bushes near the parking lot. I tried to get a good photo of one using the Tokina macro lens.

Unidentified white flowers

Unidentified white flowers

But, I was too tired to fight the wind, so I switched to the 10-18 mm lens to get a “flock shot” and about that time, a monarch butterfly landed in front of me.

Monarch butterfly on white flowers

Monarch butterfly on white flowers

I was going to switch back to the macro lens, but the monarch flew off, so here’s the flowers.

Unidentified white flowers

Unidentified white flowers

There were plenty of bees on the flowers, so I decided to see how close I could get with the 10-18 mm lens.

Honey bee

Honey bee

Again, I’m sorry for including too many photos, but I didn’t feel like breaking them up into two posts. I won’t bore you any longer, so this is the end.

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

 


Pickerel Lake Nature Preserve, the wood duck curse continues

On Saturday, September 14th, I went to the Pickerel Lake Nature Preserve again, hoping to find a few migrating birds, and to also play around photographing mushrooms. I was able to shoot quite a few birds, including a Philadelphia vireo, but the thing that sticks out most to me is that I can not get a good photo of a wood duck.

In the first small pond that I came to just after crossing the boardwalk, I spotted this male wood duck in fall plumage, and in what I thought was great light.

Wood duck

Wood duck

So I shot away, thinking that I was finally getting good photos, but every one of the images was slightly out of focus. I couldn’t believe that the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) would let me down like that. I swear, when it comes to wood ducks, there’s a curse on me! 😉 That becomes even more apparent since right across the trail from where I had shot the wood duck, this Philadelphia vireo was in a thicket on the bank of the pond, and in poor light.

Philadelphia vireo

Philadelphia vireo

There were even more birds in that small area, but it was about then that one of many herds of humans I had to deal with this day went tramping past me, scattering the birds. I later learned that the great herds of humans had kicked over almost all of the larger mushrooms that I had come to shoot.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, if I were to ever win the lottery, I’d purchase a large tract of land and limit access to only serious nature photographers. No children would be allowed there unless they were leashed and gagged. Later in the day, as I was trying for a warbler, I had some brat start yelling at the top of his lungs while he was less than three feet behind me, and his dad was only twenty feet in front of him. Needless to say, that scattered all the birds there.

I’m all for getting kids out into nature, but they should be taught to respect nature, or at least other people who go to a nature preserve to view nature.

In all fairness, by the time the brat started screaming right behind me, I was in a bit of a foul mood anyway. I had some equipment problems, totally my fault since I didn’t check the battery status of either my LED panel light or the EX 320 flash unit. The LED light was completely dead, and the EX 320 batteries were close to it.

I’m loving the EX 320 speedlite, but Canon could add a few features to it and the nifty case that it comes in to make it even better. A battery charge indicator would be really nice so that I’d know when to carry extra batteries. The case would be even better if it had a belt loop on the back of it so that I didn’t have to carry it in a pocket or camera bag, but could slip it on my belt. It would have also been nice if they had added space for a spare set of batteries. But, I suppose that you can’t have everything. 😉

Anyway, with that stuff out of the way, here’s a few of the images that aren’t of birds that I shot. I just liked the deep greens in this first one.

Green

Green

I found a few coral fungi that hadn’t been destroyed, here’s my best image of it.

Coral fungi

Coral fungi

I believe that this next one is the seed head of a buttonbush.

Buttonbush seeds?

Buttonbush seeds?

Why is it that the insects willing to pose for extreme close-ups when I use the Tokina macro lens are flies?

Fly

Fly

Especially when there are these guys around.

Green frog

Green frog

Unidentified froggy object

Unidentified froggy object

I found this interesting.

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

I was able to get a few birds between herds of humans stampeding through the park.

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

I didn’t say that they were great photos, only that I shot a few. 😉

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

Female common yellowthroat

Female common yellowthroat

There was enough of a charge left in the batteries in the EX 320 to give this chipmunk red-eye.

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

I wonder why? That’s the first time that I’ve been able to tell that I’ve used the flash on a critter with the EX 320. Maybe it was because the chipmunk was in very deep shade and its pupils were dilated so that it could see in the low light?

The batteries also held up for these images.

Unidentified purple fungi

Unidentified purple fungi

Unidentified yellow fungi

Unidentified yellow fungi

Unidentified orange? fungi

Unidentified orange? fungi

I didn’t need the flash for these.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

The heron was grabbing frogs with regularity, but it was really too far away for good photos of the “kill”, and besides, I have more and better photos of herons for later posts. However, I am going to add a few images of the heron as it moved to another area to hunt frogs.

Great blue heron taking flight

Great blue heron taking flight

That photo makes me wonder where the herons hide the muscles to flap those giant wings when they have such a scrawny body? They are graceful in flight though.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Fall is coming, whether we like it or not, I’m one who does.

Fall colors starting to show

Fall colors starting to show

A few more bird photos from Pickerel Lake.

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

Remember, I didn’t say that they were good photos. 😉

White-breasted nuthatch in action

White-breasted nuthatch in action

White-breasted nuthatch in action

White-breasted nuthatch in action

White-breasted nuthatch in action

White-breasted nuthatch in action

White-breasted nuthatch posing

White-breasted nuthatch posing

White-breasted nuthatch posing

White-breasted nuthatch posing

White-breasted nuthatch posing

White-breasted nuthatch posing

The good bird photos came from Huff Park, where I stopped on my way home to attempt to find the olive-sided flycatcher that’s been reported there frequently this fall. I didn’t find it, but, there were plenty of other birds to be seen.

Black-capped chickadee shot with flash

Black-capped chickadee shot with flash

Black-capped chickadee shot with flash

Black-capped chickadee shot with flash

Black-capped chickadee no flash

Black-capped chickadee no flash

By the way, the images of the chickadee weren’t cropped at all.

Cooper's hawk looking for supper

Cooper’s hawk looking for supper

Cooper's hawk looking for supper

Cooper’s hawk looking for supper

Cooper's hawk looking for supper

Cooper’s hawk looking for supper

Cooper's hawk looking for supper

Cooper’s hawk looking for supper

Cooper's hawk looking for supper

Cooper’s hawk looking for supper

Sorry for so many of the hawk, but it was fun watching it watching the other birds flying all around it.

Eastern phoebe

Eastern phoebe

Eastern phoebe posing

Eastern phoebe posing

Eastern phoebe posing

Eastern phoebe posing

There were other critters to photograph besides birds.

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk diving for cover

Eastern chipmunk diving for cover

Black morph of a grey squirrel giving me the finger

Black morph of a grey squirrel giving me the finger

Black morph of a grey squirrel

Black morph of a grey squirrel

I used the flash on the second photo, no trace of red-eye. So far, the first chipmunk is the only critter that I’ve used the flash on and had it show that I used the flash.

At one point, I bumped into another birder/photographer, and we spent some time taking about both birds and camera gear. At the same time, a flock of mixed species of birds came through the area where we were standing.

Juvenile magnolia warbler

Juvenile magnolia warbler

Juvenile magnolia warbler

Juvenile magnolia warbler

Juvenile magnolia warbler in pastel leaves

Juvenile magnolia warbler in pastel leaves

Red-bellied wwoodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

I missed three times as many species as I got, but Clinton, the other birder, and I just happened to be discussing the Canon 7D camera, and I can’t talk cameras and shoot one at the same time. He has been saving for one, then he heard that the Mark II may be released soon, so he didn’t want to make the purchase then. He’s in luck, they are taking orders for the Mark II, and Bob Zeller has already ordered one. Bob does the Texas Tweeties blog, and it will be interesting to read how he likes the 7D Mark II when it arrives.

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


Just another week around home

The big news for me this week is that Canon has announced the long-awaited, much-anticipated 7D Mark II camera body. I’m not going to go on about it too much, as it is far more camera than most people need. However, Canon has taken one of the best wildlife/birding cameras and made it even better. To me, the improved auto-focus capabilities are the big thing, it will now focus with an f/8 maximum aperture lens, not that there are any f/8 aperture lenses on the market. The important thing about that is that you can use a 1.4 X or even 2 X tele-converter behind nearly any lens and the 7D will still auto-focus, unlike my 60 D bodies, where I have to manually focus if I use even the 1.4 X extender with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens). It will also auto-focus down to -3 EV light, a great thing when chasing small birds in deep shade!

The 7D also has an improved sensor for better image quality, and dual Digix 6 processors that let it shoot at 10 frames per second, a built-in time-lapse feature, and a bulb timer, just to name a few of the new things that I’d love to have. Canon didn’t cheapen the construction either, it’s still a magnesium frame body that is weather and dust sealed.

The one thing that Canon didn’t add that I wished they added was the vari-angle LCD display. But, after I thought about it for a while, I decided that the display was no big deal. I seldom use the vari-angle capabilities on my birding set-up, that’s a feature I use for macro photography or when using the tripod.

I can’t afford one now, that’s okay, I can wait, I hope. 😉 It will be a year or two before I can afford a 7D, and by that time, Canon will have worked out any bugs in their new design, and they’ll be offering rebates at times on the 7D. I’m sure glad that I didn’t fall for the 70 D when it came out.

The 70 D is probably a fine camera, but it’s only a baby step above the 60 D that I have, the 7D is a giant step up, a top of the line crop sensor camera with most of the same features as Canon’s best full frame sensor cameras. Time to start saving up for one.

Anyway, the weather here turned cool and I’m loving it! I tried not to complain too much about the heat and humidity this summer, but there were a few days when the weather wore me out. With cooler weather, I feel ready to take on the world again. That is, except for my knees. I’m going to have to get serious about finding another job, even if it means less time for photography and blogging.

I was just starting to look for a new job when my mom’s health took a severe turn for the worse, and then she passed away, so that held up my job search. Then, it was a dental appointment, I thought that I may as well let the insurance that I pay for cover that appointment, but it led to another appointment, so I’ve been on hold in the job search.

In other news, I’ve gotten photos of at least two more lifers for me, a Philadelphia vireo and American white pelicans, along with slightly better photos of American golden plovers. But, no photos of them in this post, I’m running behind again.

For this post, I’ll start with a hummingbird.

Juvenile or female ruby-throated hummingbird

Juvenile or female ruby-throated hummingbird

While I was shooting photos of one, a second one showed up…

Juvenile or female ruby-throated hummingbirds

Juvenile or female ruby-throated hummingbirds

…they had a short conversation…

Juvenile or female ruby-throated hummingbirds

Juvenile or female ruby-throated hummingbirds

…then the second one looked around for something to eat, and took off….

Juvenile or female ruby-throated hummingbirds

Juvenile or female ruby-throated hummingbirds

…leaving just one for me to try to get a better photo of.

Juvenile or female ruby-throated hummingbird

Juvenile or female ruby-throated hummingbird

With most of the summer resident birds gone, one of the few species left is goldfinches.

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

I don’t know if that one was a male that had already molted to fall plumage, a female, or a juvenile, in a few weeks, they’ll all look the same.

There are still a few insects around to shoot.

Bee or wasp on pokeweed

Bee or wasp on pokeweed

That was just another excuse to attempt to get a good photo of the pokeweed. 😉

There’s still quite a few monarch butterflies around.

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

But, I have plenty of photos of them from this past weekend, so one will do for now. In the meantime, a few more birds.

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

This is far from my best image of a waxwing, but I kept it to remind me of the next photo.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

While shooting the waxwing, I saw this bird fly high overhead…

Unidentified flying object

Unidentified flying object

…and it is truly an unidentified flying object, darn. It is obviously a tern or gull of a species that I’ve never seen before. But, I had time for just that one photo before it flew out of sight.

On the other hand, this I caught this red-eyed vireo in relatively good light…

Red-eyed vireo

Red-eyed vireo

…but it dove for shade when it spotted me.

Red-eyed vireo

Red-eyed vireo

Then it teased me by almost making its red eye visible.

Red-eyed vireo

Red-eyed vireo

Red-eyed vireo

Red-eyed vireo

Red-eyed vireo

Red-eyed vireo

Oh well, I was able to sneak up on one last spring to catch the red eye, at least this one showed me enough to make a positive ID without the red eye.

The squeamish, who don’t care for spiders should look away now.

Spider

Spider

The next series came as quite a surprise to me, such a surprise that I blew most of the shots. It’s rare for a great blue heron to visit any of the ponds in the apartment complex where I live, and so I was surprised last week when I saw one here. This week, I was even more surprised to see one chasing a great egret around. I didn’t catch the chase because of obstructions in my way, but here’s the heron, which I believe is a juvenile…

Juvenile? great blue heron

Great blue heron

…and here’s the egret, which I believe is also a juvenile.

Great egret

Great egret

I shot that one quickly, and was going for a better shot when the heron charged the egret again…

Great egret taking flight

Great egret taking flight

…but I was so close that there was no way for me to get both birds in the frame, so I decided to stick with the egret, even though I was a bit slow…

Great egret taking flight

Great egret taking flight

…I started tracking the egret well, just as it flew behind a tree…

Great egret flying behind a tree

Great egret flying behind a tree

…but I was able to get a lock on the egret just as it came in for a landing…

Great egret landing

Great egret landing

…but I cut its head off! Arggh!

The heron had a good laugh about that…

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

…I shot one of the egret at 500 mm…

Great egret

Great egret

…then zoomed out for this one…

Great egret

Great egret

…and then zoomed out to get all of the laughing heron in the frame.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

I sure wish that the birds would let me know in advance what they were going to do so that I could be prepared! It’s hard to zoom in and out, adjust the exposure, and all the other things that need to be done to get a good photo, like sawing down a tree in the way. 😉

It’s so much easier to photograph mushrooms.

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

I think that the next ones are all of the same species, but in different stages of development, if that’s the correct term for how they grow.

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

All those were shot with the 10-18 mm lens if I remember correctly, this next one was from the Tokina macro lens.

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Finally, the ugly…

House wren

House wren

Wrens are very difficult to get a good photo of, they love staying in the darkest corners of the woods.  But, I fooled this one, after that bad shot, I was able to sneak around to the other side of the thicket before the wren spotted me.

House wren

House wren

House wren

House wren

What the heck, it’s early, so here’s the pelicans.

American white pelicans

American white pelicans

And, here’s the Philadelphia vireo.

Philadelphia vireo

Philadelphia vireo

I shot the pelicans at a man-made lake right next to the apartment complex where I used to live. It still amazes me how many species of birds use that area during migration. The vireo was shot at Pickerel Lake on Saturday. I’ll do a post on that trip, and another on the trip to Muskegon on Sunday, where I spent the day birding.

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


A fun(gi) day at Pickerel Lake Nature Preserve

On Saturday, September 7th, I went to the Pickerel Lake Nature Preserve, once again hoping to find a few migrating birds. I did get a lifer, an olive-sided flycatcher, but overall, it wasn’t a great day of birding for me. I was too slow to catch the smaller birds as they flitted about under the leaf canopy of the trees, and I saw very few larger birds. Oh well, nature always provides plenty of subjects for photography if one takes a little time to look for them.

Feather

Feather

Water lily

Water lily

I know, the high contrast of those two isn’t every one’s cup of tea, but I do like to play with different styles, and I’m a sucker for back lighting.

Having two camera bodies means more weight to lug around with me, but, there have already been a few times when the following has happened. I was shooting this dragonfly with the Tokina macro lens….

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

…when I heard a cardinal almost overhead. I set the camera with the Tokina lens on it down, grabbed the body with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) on it, and shot this.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

It hasn’t always been a dragonfly and a cardinal, once it was a goldfinch perching nearby while I was shooting flowers, another time, an eagle while I was shooting landscapes. But, you get the idea, two bodies come in handy.

I always have the one body with a long lens on it set up for birds, I use the other body for my other lenses and make the setting changes required for different subjects to it, so the birding set-up is at the ready all the time. I’ve gotten much better at remembering to reset any changes I make, but I do slip up from time to time, and it has cost me a few shots. There’s nothing like trying to photograph an insect, and when I press the shutter release, I find that I still have the mirror lock-up enabled and set to the two second timer. By the time the shutter actuates, the bug has gone. 😦 I’d hate for that to happen if I had a rare bird in the viewfinder at the time. 😉

Anyway, I continued on my way, shooting anything that caught my eye.

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Juvenile red-bellied woodpecker

Juvenile red-bellied woodpecker

Unidentified flowering object

Unidentified flowering object

Painted turtles in a stare-down

Painted turtles in a stare-down

The weather was close to what most people consider to be perfect, so one of the reasons I didn’t see many birds was the steady stream of herds of humans passing me. I took a long break on the shore of the pond where I shot the turtles after several particularly loud groups had passed me. That paid off, as I saw more birds while I took my break than the rest of the day combined. Most of the birds were common species, but I did catch my lifer for the day as I started moving again.

Olive-sided flycatcher

Olive-sided flycatcher

Olive-sided flycatcher

Olive-sided flycatcher

Also on the shore of the pond, I spotted a bee going in and out of lobelia flowers, but the light was horrible there. I considered using the EX 320 flash unit that I recently purchased, but decided that the flash would probably be too bright at such short-range. I decided to try the LED light that’s also built into the EX 320.

Bee coming out of a lobelia flower

Bee coming out of a lobelia flower

Two things about this photo. First, you can see that the way that the flower grows insures that insects visiting the inside of the flower to drink the nectar will most likely rub pollen off from the stamen of the flower, which the insect will transport to other flowers to pollinate them.

Two, the LED light of the EX 320 worked extremely well, which sort of surprised me. I had tried to use it to kill shadows in direct sunlight before, and I hadn’t been impressed with the output of the LED light, the flash worked better. But, in the deep shadows that the flowers were in here, the LED light had just the right output to make the scene look as if I had shot it in full sun. There’ll be more on that later.

Why is it that spiders spend so much time upside down?

Spider

Spider

Why can’t they be more like dragonflies?

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

That was shot with the Beast, as the dragonfly took off before I could get the second body with the Tokina macro lens ready.

Now we come to the fungi. I had seen some earlier, but the herds of humans stampeding down the trails had seemed to go out of their way to destroy all the fungi, not so with this one.

Chicken of the woods?

Chicken of the woods?

I used the 10-18 mm lens for that shot, to make use of the extremely long depth of field of that lens. That was also the smaller of two clumps of the fungi, I checked to see if I could get all of the larger one in focus.

Chicken of the woods?

Chicken of the woods?

Seeing part of the smaller clump in the frame, I just had to see if I could get all of both clumps in focus. 😉

Chicken of the woods?

Chicken of the woods?

So, spotting a few other mushrooms, I started playing.

Unidentified fungal objects

Unidentified fungal objects

I had the base of the camera resting on the ground, and used live view to focus on the mushrooms, which were only about 3 inches tall. Then, I switched to the Tokina for this one.

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

That was shot at a slightly different angle, but at about the same distance as the first.

While walking around the area looking for more mushrooms, I saw a green heron near the shore of the lake…

Green heron

Green heron

…but the lighting was so poor that this is the best I could do.

Green heron

Green heron

I did spot a few more small fungi, too small for the 10-18 mm lens, so I used the Tokina for these.

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal objects

Unidentified fungal objects

I would have liked to have used the Tokina for this one, but I couldn’t get close enough to the spiders, so I had to use the Beast.

Spiders

Spiders

I don’t know what the spiders were up to, that was the best shot that I could get, and it isn’t as if I didn’t try. 😉

Speaking of trying, this toadstool made a great subject to play with lighting and the 10-18 mm lens.

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Boring! So, I diffused the flash unit built-in to the camera for this one.

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Maybe I should have tried the EX 320 on the camera, but I assumed that it was too tall to get any light under the fungus. I also tried to think of a way to make use of the wireless capability of the flash unit, but in such tight quarters, I couldn’t find a way to position things the way that I needed to for wireless. So, I fired up the LED light again with the flash unit off to one side.

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

And, a shot to show you how I did it.

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Still not great, but I was getting better. I should have worked harder right then, but I thought things over as I continued my walk, until I spied this coral fungi backlit by the sun.

Coral fungi?

Coral fungi?

Maybe too much back lighting, so I tried dialing in the EX 320 to blend flash with the sunlight.

Coral fungi?

Coral fungi?

I was just getting close to what I wanted when the sun went behind a cloud.

Coral fungi?

Coral fungi?

I should have waited for the sun to come out again to continue playing with the light and other lenses than the Beast, but Coral fungi are common, so I’ll have plenty of chances.

Besides, it was getting late, and I was tired, so I wanted to finish up my hike. I did shoot several series for use in testing out the Photomatix HDR software, here’s the best before and after of the day.

Pickerel Lake, non-HDR

Pickerel Lake, non-HDR

Pickerel Lake, HDR

Pickerel Lake, HDR

I used exposure fusion, and the results look natural and a touch better than straight out of the camera, so I’m happy, I just need to practice more.

I continued walking and shooting what I saw that interested me.

Unidentified froggy object

Unidentified froggy object

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Butterfly

Butterfly

I was almost back to my Forester when I saw another toadstool style mushroom to play with the lighting a little more.

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object, no extra light

I shot that one as a benchmark, then started playing with the flash, both on and off camera, and LED light of the EX 320 speedlite, which is what I used for this one.

Unidentified fungal object, using LED lighting

Unidentified fungal object, using LED lighting

A couple of things come to mind. I love the wireless function of the EX 320, but there’s no way to make use of it while shooting small subjects at very close range. I’ve had the same problem while trying macro photos with the flash. I think that I’m going to need a cable, so that I can use the EX 320 off camera, but not have to be set-up to make the wireless function work.

Another thing is that the more that I play, the more that I wish that I could carry even more gear with me. The LED panel light that I have would work well with the LED light of the EX 320, as the output of the 320 isn’t adjustable as the panel light is. I guess that I’m going to have to make room for the panel light and a few other things in the camera bag that I carry daily. Either that, or switch to the larger bag that I use mostly for storing the gear that I don’t carry daily.

I’d also like to carry the 15-85 mm lens with me as well, the more that I use the 10-18 mm lens, the more times there are that I wished that I had its “big brother” along also.

But, maybe it’s just as well that I can’t carry everything with me. Trying to remember the capabilities of all my gear as I take small steps forward would probably overwhelm me. It’s better that I continue to learn each item as I go, so that what I learn sticks with me.

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


Some days the birds win

On Saturday, September 6th, I went to Roselle Park hoping to find a few birds to photograph. I guess that I got my wish, there were few birds there. 😉 By the end of the day, I learned that I haven’t spent enough time shooting small songbirds, my timing was off for one thing, I’ve spent too much of my time birding on shorebirds lately. The quality of my bird photos also suffered because it seemed like when I did see birds to shoot, the lighting was very poor at that moment.

For example, I started out shooting this female or juvenile common yellowthroat…

Female or juvenile common yellowthroat

Female or juvenile common yellowthroat

…and from about the same spot, I was getting the exposure dialed in on this eastern phoebe….

Eastern phoebe

Eastern phoebe

….as you can see, the birds don’t just jump in front of my lens to have their picture taken! Oh wait, yes they do! The yellowthroat hopped in front of the phoebe and insisted that I shoot more photos of it.

Eastern phoebe photo-bombed by a Female or juvenile common yellowthroat

Eastern phoebe photo-bombed by a Female or juvenile common yellowthroat

The yellowthroat must have thought that I quit shooting it the first time because it had a few feathers out-of-place, so it did a little preening…

Eastern phoebe photo-bombed by a Female or juvenile common yellowthroat

Eastern phoebe photo-bombed by a Female or juvenile common yellowthroat

….then struck a pose.

Eastern phoebe photo-bombed by a Female or juvenile common yellowthroat

Eastern phoebe photo-bombed by a Female or juvenile common yellowthroat

When the yellowthroat thought that I had shot a sufficient number of images of it, it departed, and let me get dialed in on the phoebe.

Eastern phoebe

Eastern phoebe

One great thing about nature is that if the birds don’t cooperate, there’s usually something else to photograph.

Grey-headed coneflower?

Grey-headed coneflower?

Grey-headed coneflower?

Grey-headed coneflower?

Grey-headed coneflower?

Grey-headed coneflower?

Those were shot with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) just as the sun was breaking through the clouds. A few minutes later, the sun was fully out, and I switched to the Tokina macro lens for these.

Aster?

Aster?

Aster?

Aster?

Aster?

Aster?

Aster?

Aster?

I never did get the one with the water drop on it the way that I wanted it, water seems to change the focus point a great deal. If I got the part of the flower under the drop in focus, all the rest of the flower was out of focus and vice versa.

A band of clouds moved in to block the sun, about the same time that I found a small flock of bluebirds, none of which would pose in front of a background that would let me get a good photo of them.

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird

That’s the way my day went, when I saw birds, I couldn’t get a good photo of them.

Eastern wood pewee

Eastern wood pewee

Black-throated green warbler

Black-throated green warbler

You wouldn’t believe how hard that I worked for those two rather poor photos. In fact, hard work seemed the rule for the day, I spotted this brightly colored beetle…

Beetle

Beetle

…and chased it around…

Beetle

Beetle

…and around…

Beetle

Beetle

…trying to get a good photo of it, but I had to settle for this one.

Beetle

Beetle

That bug wore me out. On the other hand, this one was so ugly that it doesn’t have to move to hide from predators.

Ugly beetle

Ugly beetle

With those spines, nothing in its right mind would try making a meal of that thing, not even a nearby frog.

Leopard frog

Leopard frog

Of course the frog was hiding from predators such as this one.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

And the heron was hiding because I had bungled my approach to the stream, which brought laughter from this crow behind me that was still smirking at me when I turned to shoot it.

American crow

American crow

I was providing so much amusement for the crow that it was a bit slow to take off, but it did.

American crow

American crow

At least I got a good shot of its feet.

A little later, I found a patch of wildflowers filled with goldfinches. Of course the males stayed on the wrong side of the wildflowers as far as lighting…

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

….while the females stayed on the right side for good photos.

Female American goldfinch

Female American goldfinch

I tried sneaking up on the heron again.

Great blue heron hiding

Great blue heron hiding

It didn’t work, they are such wary and intelligent birds.

Great blue heron hiding

Great blue heron hiding

On the other end of the scale are mallards, who love to pose for photos.

Mallard pair

Mallard pair

Next up, a dragonfly that I don’t remember ever seeing before, so I shot a couple of quick photos with the Beast to make sure that I got the dragonfly.

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

While I was looking for a safe place to set the Beast down while I used the Tokina macro lens for better images, the dragonfly moved to a less photogenic spot, but I tracked it down for these.

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

I said it was a day when I had to work for my photos, here’s another example. I tried very hard to get not only this bug’s face in focus, but also its wings.

Lacewing?

Lacewings?

But, the darned bug kept moving on me, ruining my photos.

Lacewing?

Lacewings?

On a completely different subject, I noticed the differences in color and textures of the leaves on these trees.

Color and texture

Color and texture

By the way, I shot that with the Tokina to get the sharpest possible photo so that the texture differences showed up in that image. I’ve tried that type of photo before, but it never came out quite right with other lenses.

I’ve said it before, but the Beast seems to sniff out birds hiding in the foliage…

Unidentified feathered object

Unidentified feathered object

But despite how well the Beast does, there are times when I still can’t make an ID from my photos.

Unidentified feathered object

Unidentified feathered object

Unidentified feathered object

Unidentified feathered object

From the shape color, and size of the bird’s bill, I think that this was a vireo of some species, but it could also be a warbler. So, I’ll copy those photos to my unidentified file, and hope that someday I’ll be able to get a few more photos of whatever species the birds is, make the ID, and match the new photos to these.

The next day, Sunday, I didn’t have much better luck with the birds, although I did get a lifer at Pickerel Lake, so I spent some time learning how to photograph fungi better than I have in the past. But, that’s another post.

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


Mostly monarchs

I spent most of this past week chasing monarch butterflies around, and playing with all my photo equipment and new software. I know that I’ve shot too many photos of the monarchs, but this is the first year in some time that I’ve seen so many around here. They’ve been everywhere that I’ve gone, and there was one period of time when I was watching five at one time. So, here goes.

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Okay, enough of them, at least for now. Still, it’s good to see so many of them when their numbers are said to be decreasing rapidly.

In my last post I had a few images of a female northern cardinal that I thought were really good. But, what I think are really good images keeps changing.

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

These were shot with the 300 mm prime lens, 1.4 X tele-converter, and I used the new EX 320 flash unit.

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

That reminds me. I don’t shoot in burst mode, I press the shutter release for each photo. However, I’m not exactly slow on the shutter, and so far, the EX 320 flash unit has kept up with me. I have it set-up for “quick flash”, which means it doesn’t have to recharge completely before it will fire again. As long as it has enough of a charge to send out the needed light for the exposure settings, it will fire whether it’s fully charged or not. For fill-in flash as I’ve used it most of the time, I have yet to have to wait for the flash, even after firing six to ten shots relatively quickly.

While I’m on the subject of flash, here are two of my playing around photos. I used a very slow shutter speed along with the flash for these images of moving water.

Water abstract

Water abstract

Water abstract

Water abstract

The strobe effect of the flash unit tries to freeze the motion of the water, while the slow shutter speed blurs the motion. One of these days I’ll strike the correct balance between the two effects.

I didn’t go to Muskegon this past weekend, there haven’t been any reports of special species of birds there, and, I used the gas money that I would have spent getting there and back to purchase the pro version of Photomatix software for HDR photos.

I was going to start with the beginner version, then upgrade later, but I changed my mind, and here’s why.

The tone mapped version….

Tone mapped HDR

Tone mapped HDR

…and the exposure fusion version of the same scene.

Exposure fusion HDR

Exposure fusion HDR

You can see that in the tone mapped image, the shadows are almost completely gone, which doesn’t look as natural as the exposure fusion version, which has shadows, but you can see what’s in the shadows. Since you can’t do exposure fusion in the beginner version of Photomatix, I decided to go all the way to the pro version. There’s no sense in learning one method of HDR only to turn around and learn a second method later.

But, I have one last tone mapped image to share, just because of the clouds in it.

HDR testing

HDR testing

I don’t want to get too technical and explain the differences between tone mapping and exposure fusion, so I’ll leave it at this. I see more realistic results while having to make fewer changes when I use exposure fusion. But, I’m also learning that loading properly exposed images into the software is key to getting natural looking photos out, no matter which method I use.

The first few videos that I watched over simplified things. They said that you should set your camera up for automatic exposure bracketing at plus and minus 2 stops. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t, it’s far better to get an exposure correct for the brightest part of the scene, and one for the darkest part of the scene. Then, fill in between those two with as many shots as it takes going one stop at a time. It’s more work while you’re shooting photos, but a whole lot less work when you load the images into Photomatix.

Anyway, enough of that for now. Here’s a few more of my recent photos.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male house finch

Male house finch

The only mushrooms that I’ve seen lately have all been the toadstool type, and very short. I’ve been hoping to find a taller one so I can photograph it from the side with the 10-18 mm lens.

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Butterfly

Butterfly

Carpenter bee

Carpenter bee

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

Song sparrow blending in

Song sparrow blending in

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Fly

Fly

Fly

Fly

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

So, I finally found a taller fungus, and it was on a day when it was raining. It was the first day in at least two months when I had brought only one camera body and a long lens with me, when I’ve normally brought the second body, the macro and 10-18 mm lenses with me. Oh well, this one shot with the 300 mm prime will have to do.

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Little did I know at the time that over the upcoming weekend, I’d have a few opportunities to shoot fungi with the short lens, and even play with lighting. But, that’s another post, for now, time to wrap this one up.

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


Light, lenses, and backgrounds

These are photos taken over the Labor Day weekend, yes, I’m running behind again. But, for good reason, I’m getting too many good photos lately.

It helps that with three days off from work, I was up before dawn on Labor Day, and caught the excellent early morning light, when it was able to find an opening in the clouds. Also, between the raindrops that fell a little after I got started.

My day started well, I spotted these mushrooms by the hundreds.

Unidentified fungal objects

Unidentified fungal objects

I wanted to get a better shot of them, but a flock of turkeys were out feeding in the same field that I saw the mushrooms in. I thought that I could shoot the mushrooms on my way home, but they were all shriveled up by then. I did get the turkeys though.

Turkeys

Turkeys

A hole opened up in the clouds, and the sun was just like a spotlight on one of the Toms.

Turkey

Turkey

I moved so that I could isolate just the one Tom, but by then, the hole in the clouds was closing.

Turkey

Turkey

All that preening to look good for nothing, as the light had already changed, still, it wasn’t bad.

Turkey

Turkey

I’ve walked past this hundreds of times….

Wounded pine

Wounded pine

…but it looked worth shooting in the early morning light.

I’m getting unbelievably picky about my images these days, when I have the time to be. Here’s an example.

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

That was my test shot. I stepped a few feet forward to get a better view of her, then shot a series of photos going up and down between -2/3 and one full stop. I wish that I could adjust the exposure in 1/4 stop increments as there are times that 1/3 seems too much.

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Next up were two goldfinches, a female feeding on common mullein seeds…

Female American Goldfinch

Female American Goldfinch

Female American Goldfinch

Female American Goldfinch

…and a juvenile fluffing its feathers.

Juvenile male goldfinch

Juvenile male goldfinch

As low as the light was, the motion of the feathers moving out blurred that a little due to the slow shutter speed, but I lucked out, and the goldfinch held this position long enough to get a good photo.

Juvenile male goldfinch

Juvenile male goldfinch

Then, he turned around for me.

Juvenile male goldfinch

Juvenile male goldfinch

I’m going to keep shooting pokeweed berries until I get a good one.

Pokeweed berries

Pokeweed berries

You can see the water drop, as it had begun to rain lightly. When I reached an overpass, I took a break as the rain shower moved through the area. While taking the break, I shot this.

Model A Ford?

Model A Ford?

And after the rain ended, this is what I got.

Fallen

Fallen

A few more from Labor Day.

Some one drop a pancake?

Some one drop a pancake?

That fungus almost looks edible, but something only took one bite of it. I didn’t see any dead critter nearby, but you never know with fungi.

Juvenile chipping sparrow

Juvenile chipping sparrow

I had to pay my rent, so I dropped everything off in my apartment except for one camera body and the 300 mm prime lens and walked over to the office. To my surprise, there was a great blue heron in the pond across from the office.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

I couldn’t resist shooting a few ducks while was there.

Female mallard

Female mallard

Mallard hybrid preening

Mallard hybrid preening

Mallard hybrid posing

Mallard hybrid posing

Male mallard preening

Male mallard preening

Male mallard posing

Male mallard posing

The next few photos were shot over several days after Labor Day. In a recent post I had a photo of a turkey vulture and I said that it would have been a much better photo if there had been a blue sky that day. Well, I got what I wanted.

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

I also said that I like to find a dark background when I shoot flowers, well, there are some flowers so tall that you have to make do with what you can.

Smooth ox-eye sunflower

Smooth ox-eye sunflower

That was shot with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens), hardly my first choice of lenses for flowers. But, because of the extremely narrow angle of view of that lens, I was able to line the flower up in front of plain dark blue sky.

When I switched to the 10-18 mm lens, which is a better lens for flowers that large, the wide angle of view of that lens got this photo.

Smooth ox-eye sunflower

Smooth ox-eye sunflower

The flower is actually better in the second photo, but the white clouds in the background ruin the over all photo, at least in my opinion.

So, the next day I did some testing. I chose one flower, shooting it first with the Beast.

Smooth ox-eye sunflower

Smooth ox-eye sunflower

And then with the 10-18 mm lens, but this time I used a polarizing filter on that lens.

Smooth ox-eye sunflower

Smooth ox-eye sunflower

Smooth ox-eye sunflower

Smooth ox-eye sunflower

To me, darkening up the sky, and causing the clouds to “pop” a little from the filter makes these two pretty good ones, at least to me.

I also shot a couple with the Tokina macro lens, which I don’t have a polarizing filter for.

Smooth ox-eye sunflower

Smooth ox-eye sunflower

Smooth ox-eye sunflower

Smooth ox-eye sunflower

So, the point of all this is that when considering which lens to use on a subject, it isn’t only how close or far away from the subject you are, or can get. A longer lens makes it easier to control the background behind the subject because of the narrow angle of view of a long lens.

The second point is that if you must have distractions in the background, make them a part of the overall photo any way that you can, in this case, by using a polarizing filter.

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