Muskegon, December 6th, am I spoiled? Part I
This post is about a trip that I made to Muskegon on December 6th, and I have to ask myself, am I getting spoiled by all the somewhat rare birds that I see so often? Maybe the better way to phrase the question is am I getting spoiled by everything that I see in nature that few people get to witness in a lifetime?
Seeing a bald eagle isn’t as rare of an occurrence as it used to be here in Michigan, but how many people ever see seven eagles together squabbling over a kill?
Or, as in my last post, get photos of bald eagles, a golden eagle, snowy owl, snow bunting, rough-legged hawk, and a red-tailed hawk all in the same day, no matter how poor the quality of the photos were.
And speaking of my photos, I was thoroughly disappointed in the quality of them in my last post, except for the heron in flight, and most of the photos that will appear in this post.
Warning: One of my long-winded rants is to follow!
As you know, I’m planning to purchase a Canon 7D Mk II early next year, in hopes that it will improve my images. To make sure that I’m making a wise purchase that will actually help me to improve my photos, I have been watching some online video reviews of that camera. That may well lead to another rant, but I’ll stick to just one right now.
One of the videos that I watched was titled something along the lines of “Photographing wildlife using the new Canon 7D Mk II”, so I thought that I would find it helpful, not really.
It turned out that some guy who worked for an online photography magazine, and didn’t seem to know much about photography, joined one of Canon’s paid professional wildlife photographers with pre-production versions of the 7D Mk II.
They didn’t go to some wilderness location to shoot actual wildlife, they went to an animal ranch where they shot semi-tame mountain lions and wolves. They were out at mid-morning, with great lighting, and first a handler brought out a mountain lion and fed it treats to keep it performing for the photographers, who didn’t have to worry about bad lighting or the big cat running off. Next up, another handler brought out two wolves, and fed them treats to perform for the photogs, who were just a few feet away from the “wildlife”. The longest lens the photographers used were 70-200 mm.
I was thinking, that’s not the real world as far as wildlife photography that I know and do, any one can shoot good photos under the conditions that were shown in this video.
That video isn’t the only one that I’ve watched where the “wildlife” photographers were shooting in a controlled environment, another example is that many of the great images of raptors are shot at rehab centers for the raptors. The photographers can use a short lens, stick the camera right in an raptor’s face, and shoot away. They have the bird positioned for the best possible light and background, so of course they get great photos.
In fact, the more that I try to learn how the experts get such great photos, the more that I learn that most of them shoot in at least somewhat controlled circumstances these days. I think that I read or heard of one award-winning wildlife photographer being “busted” for having shot many of his images at zoos.
Well, I really don’t see much difference between shooting at a zoo, a raptor rehab center, or an animal ranch were trained wildlife is trotted out to perform for photographers.
So, the question is, how can I attempt to get photos of equal quality when I’m chasing totally wild critters as they go about their business? I can’t, although I’m always disappointed in that. I suppose that I’ll always be trying, even though logic tells me that it’s a losing battle.
However, that brings up something else, the dichotomy within myself. On one hand, I want to shoot the very best images that I can, on the other, I love watching wildlife in “action” and capturing those moments to share with others who never get the chance to see what I do.
Here’s an example of that, how many people have seen a bald eagle slip and fall on the ice? Watch the eagle on the far right.
(Yes, I know that I used poor grammar in the caption, it’s from the old Tweety Bird cartoons)
Notice all the other eagles watching the one fall.
Missing from those still photos are the sounds that the eagles were making, I swear that I heard a few snickers coming from the others as the one crashed on the ice. 😉
Okay, that may be stretching it, but the eagles were very vocal, especially in this next sequence. In the flock, there was one adult, with the rest of the eagles being juveniles of varying ages. I think that the juvenile eagle with the kill was one of the adult’s offspring, and that the adult tried to chase the other juveniles off in this series.
Notice the postures of the other eagles.
The adult was using the wind to provide most of the lift to keep it airborne, it hardly flapped its wings at all.
It then let the wind take it backwards…
…where it made a very graceful landing on the ice.
I also had photos of the adult skating across the ice by spreading its wings and letting the wind blow it across the ice, and a series of one of the other juveniles attempting to chase the one with the kill away from the food. But, the question is, how interesting would people who read my blog find those photos, when there are so many of the same flock of eagles?
Another question is, how could I improve those photos? Well, I could have gotten the white balance correct for the conditions at the time. Those were shot just as daylight was providing just enough light to let me shoot those with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens), and the images were not cropped at all. I suppose that I could have cropped a little, but the main point was all the eagles together on the ice.
At least I got the white balance better on those than my first shot of the morning, an eagle flying over a flock of several thousand Canada geese.
In my defense, I had anticipated a sunny morning, so I had my cameras set to sunny for white balance, and didn’t have time to switch the setting in time to capture the eagle over the geese. All that ice didn’t help either, turning everything blue, I suppose that I may have been able to fix that with software, we’ll see in a few months. This is one time when setting the white balance to auto may have been the best choice, as I tried both the cloudy and shade settings, and everything still looks too blue because of the early morning light on the ice. And, since it was daybreak as I shot the flock of eagles, the light was changing rapidly, as you’ll see.
This is one of those bad photos that I love, the eagle with the kill decided that it had enough of the other eagles trying to take its food away from it, and took off hoping to find some peace and quiet. As all the other eagles were taking off, one was left standing on the ice watching the others as if asking “Hey, where is everybody going?”.
The eagle with the food was soon followed by two other eagles…
…and eventually, the entire flock.
The one with the food landed, and the squabbling began all over again.
These next two images, while very poor, show how brave, or foolhardy, a crow can be.
I’m not sure, but I think that the eagle is the golden eagle, but the light was too poor for me to be able to make a positive ID. It doesn’t matter, either species of eagle could have had the crow for breakfast if it were a mind to. So, how did the crow know that it was safe to walk that close to the eagle?
I drove over to the Swanson/Laketon fields in hopes of finding some snow geese, no luck there, but there were four more eagles there as this poor photo shows.
I know that these four can not be part of the flock on the ice, there’s no way that they could have flown past me without my having seen them. Besides, I shot poor photos of one of those four flying past me, coming from the opposite direction of where I had left the flock of seven just a few minutes before. So, that’s thirteen eagle seen so far, the seven fighting for food, the eighth on the ice, out of the frame, the eagle with the crow walking past it, now these four. But still, no photos that I would consider to be very good at all.
While at the Swanson/Laketon fields, I shot my favorite silo to capture the mood of the morning in a HDR image.
The 14th eagle of the morning let me shoot a few better photos, this is the same eagle on the same fence post as in my last post.
You may be able to tell that I had to shoot with the eagle between myself and the early morning sun, and that I moved around, trying to get the best light and background. You may also be able to tell that it was a bit windy.
As I was shooting the eagle, a huge flock of starlings flew past, resulting in this horrible photo.
My only reasons for including it is to show what I saw, and when I returned to photographing the eagle, I could tell that it was unhappy about being upstaged by a flock of starlings.
Then, it gave me my best photo ever of a bald eagle in flight, sort of. These two have not been cropped at all.
Just my luck! This eagle has chosen a fence post that borders the county landfill as one of its favorite places to perch, and when I catch the eagle in flight, it’s with the landfill in the background, sigh.
That gets back to how I began this post. On one hand, I had eagles up the wazoo, up to fourteen at this point, and I saw plenty more over the course of the day. But, as the day went on, it was too difficult to keep track of which ones I had already seen, and which ones were “new”, so I stopped counting.
On the other hand, I saw fourteen eagles and got only fair shots of one of them, with bad lighting and background. I could have easily gone to the Blandford Nature Center, where they rehab raptors, and shot great images there without having to work for the photos.
I also tend to forget that most people never see fourteen (or more) eagles in a year, let alone one day, but that’s Muskegon for you. There are several breeding pairs of eagles in the Muskegon area to begin with, then, as the inland lakes begin to freeze over, the eagles that reside in those areas migrate out to the Lake Michigan shoreline so as to be able to find fish, their favorite food.
Some of you may remember a post I did a few years ago in the spring, when another photographer and I watched nearly three dozen eagles in action, fishing a small patch of open water on Mona Lake. I try not to become jaded, but after a while it becomes “Oh, another eagle, I want to see something new”. That’s probably a bad thing, but it does say a lot about the comeback that the eagles have made here in Michigan. It’s no longer a surprise to see one anywhere, anytime. It’s not even unusual to see several of them together any longer.
Still, the photographer in me wants far better photos than any that I have gotten to this point, and I tend to forget that it was just over a month ago that I shot some really good photos of two eagles.
Sorry, I had to throw that one in to remind myself that I do shoot good photos from time to time.
I know that I’ve done several posts along the same lines as this one, bemoaning the fact that the critters and weather don’t often cooperate in ways that would enable me to shoot better images more often. It’s also something that I struggle with as I’m choosing which photos to save and put into my blog posts.
I could put more emphasis on just posting very few, but higher quality images….
…for how many people have seen a snowy owl, let alone one watching a bald eagle soaring overhead. I deleted the photo of the eagle, as I’ve posted enough of them already, and it wasn’t very good.
I did shoot a few videos on this trip, the “goose explosion” in my last post was one of them, here’s another, of the snowy owl.
I removed the 1.4 X tele-converter from behind the 300 mm prime lens for that video.
Here’s the flock of eagles from earlier, as shot with the Beast.
All my videos seem to share three common elements, the wind, the sounds of geese honking, and the need for improvement on my part in shooting video. 😉 Add a fourth thing to that list, most of my videos have been rather boring. All the owl did was turn its head back and forth, and the eagles were taking a break from their fighting while I shot the video of them.
However, that ties into my rant about wildlife photographers that shoot under controlled conditions, there wasn’t an animal handler just out of view tossing treats to either the eagles or the owl to keep them within range of my camera. I never know what’s going to happen, or when it’s going to happen.
And, when it does happen, the critter may be moving at the time, resulting in a slightly blurred image.
By the way, that was the second snowy owl of the day, here’s the first, shot at very long-range and cropped as much as I dared to.
So, am I spoiled? Yes I am! I live 45 miles from a place where I can watch over a dozen bald eagles, see at least two snowy owls, and all the other wildlife that I’ve posted photos of over the past few years. I’m not as spoiled as the “wildlife” photographers who shoot captive critters though, and I’ll probably never be able to match the quality of their photos.
However, I still have a long way to go in improving my photography skills. I try to analyze things that I did right, and things that I did wrong after every photo outing that I make, even my daily walks around home.
One thing that stands out about this trip is that I need to think ahead more, and be better prepared. I have two camera bodies, and two fairly long lenses, but up to this point, I’ve been using both set-ups the same way to account for the differences in performance between the Beast and the 300 mm prime lens as far as how sharp that each lens is at different distances.
One thing that I did right, when I first saw the second snowy owl, was that I shot a few photos in jpeg using each camera set-up. Then, since the owl wasn’t going anywhere soon, I switched over and shot RAW using the Beast for all the rest of the images, in anticipation of being able to edit my images in the future. What I should have also done was to set-up the second camera body to shoot action photos in case the owl had decided to fly away, which you know that it did eventually. But silly me, I still had both set-ups dialed in for portraits, so when the owl did fly away, I only was able to get one fair shot of it.
I was sitting there in my vehicle watching the owl as it looked around…
…fluffed itself against the cold wind…
…and did some preening…
..and I sat there just watching it, rather than getting ready for what I should have known was going to happen, leaving me with photos like this one.
If I had set-up the second body to shoot the owl when it flew off, I could have gotten a much better image, as I did here.
To be continued…..
That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!