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

Muskegon, November 30th, in a fog

This post is about a trip that I made to Muskegon on November 30th, and it will be relatively short. The weather report had promised a nice morning, with a front arriving during the mid-afternoon, bringing some rain. They were wrong, it was already raining lightly by the time that I got to Muskegon just after sunrise. Making things worse as far as photography, there was also a fog developing, which became so thick at times that it was hard to see the birds, as you will see. I did get the bird that I went after though, a snowy owl.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

But, back to the beginning of the day, two bad images of a rough-legged hawk taking flight.

Rough-legged hawk taking flight

Rough-legged hawk taking flight

Rough-legged hawk taking flight

Rough-legged hawk taking flight

Here’s a red-tailed hawk for comparison.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

I also shot these very poor photos of a snow bunting, which ticks me off, since this is the first time that I’ve seen one out in the open.

Snow bunting

Snow bunting

I tried the noise reduction software that came with my camera on this next image, it didn’t help.

Snow bunting

Snow bunting

I saw a number of bald eagles, and shot photos equally as poor as the ones so far, but one eagle did perch close enough to me for a few photos of it playing with its food.

Bald eagle eating breakfast

Bald eagle eating breakfast

You can see that the eagle had been banded (ringed), which I didn’t know still took place with bald eagles, since they have become so numerous around here. Anyway, here’s a uncropped image of the eagle moving so that I couldn’t see what it had killed that morning.

Bald eagle eating breakfast

Bald eagle eating breakfast

By the way, these were shot with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens), and as well as that lens performs in good light, in poor light, it doesn’t do well as you can see. One more from it, of the eagle letting me know that it didn’t appreciate being photographed as it ate.

Bald eagle eating breakfast

Bald eagle eating breakfast

I also had the Canon 300 mm L series prime lens set-up with the 1.4 X tele-converter on the second camera body, and used it for this one.

Bald eagle eating breakfast

Bald eagle eating breakfast

I have to say that the Beast produced images that look almost exactly as the scene looked, fog and all, but that the 300 mm lens was able to cut through the fog, and produce a much better image, most of the time. Later, I saw a golden eagle, and the 300 mm prime produced a sharper, clearer image, but the color of the golden eagle’s neck didn’t reproduce accurately, so I’ll I have use the ones from the Beast.

Golden eagle

Golden eagle

Golden eagle

Golden eagle

Golden eagle

Golden eagle

I even tried running an image through Photomatix HDR software to get rid of the noise, and for more accurate color, but it didn’t help.

Golden eagle, cloned HDR image

Golden eagle, cloned HDR image

That’s funny, the software not helping, because I saw this scene…

Foggy morning

Foggy morning

…and tried a HDR image of it…

Foggy morning

Foggy morning

…and Photomatix removed most of what little fog that the fog that the wide-angle lens had captured. I had forgotten that telephoto lenses make a fog look thicker than it is, and wide-angle lenses make the fog look less thick. Darn, I liked the scene as it appeared to the naked eye, with fog partially obscuring the silo and woods behind it.

You’re probably wondering if I was able to shoot any good photos, sort of, I got close enough to the snowy owl to get a few good ones.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

But, I made a mistake while shooting those. Because of the poor light, I opened up the aperture of the Beast so that I could shoot at a lower ISO setting. Then, to make sure that I got the owl’s face perfectly in focus, I switched from using the center focusing point to the highest one available on my 60D. The owl was ten to 12 feet above me, so I was shooting up at more of an angle than it looks in these photos. I was worried that if I used the center focusing point, I’d get the owl’s chest in focus but not its face. It did work great while the owl was perched.

I had shot quite a few photos of the owl, then stepped back a short distance while I reviewed a few images to see how well that they had come out. It was then that the owl decided to give me a great photo-op, by circling around me, which I completely blew!

In the first place, swinging the Beast around isn’t easy. In the second place, the owl was so close to me that I couldn’t get him all in the frame at 500 mm. To make things worse, do you know how hard it is to find a white bird against a white sky? And, to top everything off, I still had the camera set to use the highest focusing point.

I couldn’t figure out why the camera wouldn’t focus on the owl as it flew past me at first, then, I remembered the focusing point, and tried to keep the right one on the owl instead of keeping the owl in the center of the viewfinder.

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

I did get it’s far wing in focus, sort of. The camera didn’t like focusing on a white bird against a white sky very much either.

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

But, the real killer was this one.

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

I had the upper focusing point on the owl, but then, most of the owl was out of the frame. The owl had made a tight circle around me, landed in the same spot it had taken off from, but didn’t stick around long after. He took off for the far side of the field, and I was left to kick myself repeatedly for not getting better photos because of my stupidity.

You may ask why I didn’t switch the focus point as the owl flew around me, I didn’t have the time. The owl’s flight lasted less than 10 seconds, and I have to push three buttons to change focusing points.

Anyway, I did get very good shots of a great blue heron, although the first one isn’t that great. I was as surprised to see a heron still there, and the heron was surprised to see a human out on a day such as it was.

Great blue heron taking off

Great blue heron taking off

Two things about that photo, one, I didn’t have a chance to get set before I began shooting, so I missed the composition that I would have liked. Two, that was also shot with the Beast in the fog, why these came out so clear is beyond me, but I’m glad that they did.

Great blue heron taking flight

Great blue heron taking flight

Great blue heron taking flight

Great blue heron taking flight

The heron kept coming almost straight at me.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Needless to say, none of those were cropped at all. I only wish that the black drainage pipe wasn’t there, I wonder if I could Photoshop that out? 😉 Those were shot at ISO 3200, the eagles at ISO 1600, there are times when I’m not quite sure why images end up looking as they do. The eagles at a lower ISO were horrible, this heron came out well.

Anyway, I also shot a whitetail deer running.

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

And, I caught two mature bald eagles having a conversation.

Adult bald eagles

Adult bald eagles

Adult bald eagles

Adult bald eagles

But, not long after that, I decided to pack it in and give up for the day, since the weather was going downhill even more than it had been. I did find another heron though on my way out.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Okay then, with the promise of better weather yesterday, December 6th, I returned to Muskegon again. All the way over as I was driving, I could see a bright full moon as it was about to set in the west. Guess what happened? Just as I got off from the expressway, the clouds rolled in for a few hours.

So, I got to the Muskegon County wastewater facility just at dawn, as I had planed, but instead of sun, I got cloudy skies. I shot over 600 photos, but I’m going to have to decide how many to bore all of you with that look like this.

Seven bald eagles squabbling over food

Seven bald eagles squabbling over food

As I sat there shooting the eagles, I got images of them threatening to pounce on the others, them sliding around on the ice, and one of the eagles falling as it slid on the ice, and so on. But, they were all shot in the pre-dawn light as the one above. I haven’t decided how many to use. There were actually eight eagles in sight, but one stayed out of the frame the entire time. No matter how poor the images are, it still impressive to see so many eagles all together like that, and watch how they interact.

I did get a snowy owl in better light, but wasn’t able to get as close to it.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

I also shot another video of the huge number of geese there.

I lost the focus about half-way through, but the sound is still impressive.

I guess that this one is finished, I don’t have much else to say that isn’t boring.

That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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18 responses

  1. The noise from the geese is really impressive! The shots of the great Blue Heron flying towards you are great as is the last heron shot and the snowy owl ones. I don’t know that I would like to be stared at by a Bald Eagle, it would make me feel quite uncomfortable!

    December 7, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    • Thank you Clare! The eagles aren’t as tough as they look, or that intense for that matter. Maybe it’s just me, but I love capturing the times when raptors look straight at me.

      December 7, 2014 at 11:34 pm

      • I do understand. I feel quite honoured when a creature looks at me, especially if they don’t run/fly away immediately. It’s great to have a connection, however short, with something that’s not human.

        December 8, 2014 at 11:46 am

  2. Fantastic shots. I very rarely see owls here and when I do, it is just a glimpse of a silhouette really at night. These snowy owls are just beautiful. The raptors are fascinating too. I’d love to be able to capture action shots such as yours. Very impressive! Thanks. 🙂

    December 7, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    • P.S. The noise must have been deafening from the geese!

      December 7, 2014 at 11:49 pm

    • Thank you Jane! Snowy owls aren’t native to the area where I live, a few migrate from much farther north to winter here. They hunt in the daylight more than any other species of owl, since their native range is the “land of the midnight sun”. I don’t think that my action shots are all that great, I’m out of practice, since I have been trying to shoot mostly portraits of wildlife lately. And yes, the geese were very loud, and I love hearing them.

      December 8, 2014 at 6:27 am

  3. Love the geese video – it’s amazing to be in the center of all that ruckus, isn’t it?

    The snowy owl surprised me. Looks fairly compact while perched, yet it seems to have a pretty big wingspan. Looks like a totally different bird! Not sure if I would have recognized on inflight, although I have seen one perched before.

    Only you would stumble upon a gathering of bald eagles. I still get a thrill when I see a single one.

    Your posts are always fun to read.

    December 7, 2014 at 11:55 pm

    • Thank you Judy! The snowy owl can be deceiving, as you’ll see in my next post. One minute they look like giant feathered puffballs, the next, they look sleek and streamlined. But yes, their wingspan is huge, almost as big as an eagle’s. But there’s no mistaking them for any other bird around here, since they’re almost all white.

      I’m not the only person to see the eagles flock together, although the number of people willing to get out before sunrise to see the eagles is small. 😉 I think that going to Muskegon is spoiling me, eagles are a dime a dozen, literally, as I saw at least 15 individual eagles on Saturday. There were so many that it was hard to keep track of them all.

      December 8, 2014 at 6:39 am

  4. You shot some splendid pictures despite the fog, the snowy owl at the head of the post was very good indeed. Thank you for going to so much trouble.

    December 8, 2014 at 3:13 am

    • Thank you Susan! Believe me, it was no trouble going to shoot those photos, it’s what I love to do. I was raised by parents who loved watching wildlife, it’s what we did as a family as a hobby, and it continues today.

      December 8, 2014 at 6:29 am

  5. I’d have to repeat your sentiment when I posted my eagle shot… it’s too bad the birds don’t give you some warning when they’re going to favor you with something spectacular. Great shots you got there even so! Far better than most folks ever get to see!

    December 8, 2014 at 10:51 am

    • Thank you! You’re right about the birds giving us a warning, but if I had my wits about me, I’d have switched my camera over ready for anything rather than be in a hurry to review the images.

      December 8, 2014 at 11:11 am

  6. The heron shots are really great and the owl was good too with so little contrast for the camera to work with.

    December 8, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    • Thanks Tom! The owl under those conditions was a challenge.

      December 9, 2014 at 6:31 am

  7. I’d say any day that you see a snowy owl, 7 eagles, and a great blue heron flying right at the camera was a good one! I love the shots of the owl and the explosion of geese was fantastic!
    I think once you get settled with a new computer and get Lightroom installed on it you’ll be a little happier. One of the things Lightroom can do is change the exposure of a photo and it comes in handy at times.
    You could Photoshop that drainage pipe out of those shots but you might need to take a bit of a rest in a nice sanatorium afterwards!

    December 8, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    • Thanks Allen! In my quest for better photos, there are times when I forget how lucky I am to see the things that I do. Things that few people ever have the opportunity to see. I’m working on a post about that right now, but it will be a while before it’s finished.

      I think that you’re correct, a new computer with the ability to tweak a few of my photos will help. And, there are people who would say that bit of a rest in a nice sanatorium is just what I need. 😉

      December 9, 2014 at 1:49 pm

  8. Love the snowy owl and the snow bunting (adorable!) And the action shots of the great blue heron. BTW, I think those geese were headed this way. Thx for sharing. 😉

    December 11, 2014 at 9:37 am

    • Thanks Lori! I don’t think that any of the geese headed your way, we still have plenty of them here.

      December 11, 2014 at 10:30 am