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

Along Lake Michigan, January 18th, 2015

Since the weather forecast called for a mixture of snow and rain overnight, giving way to some sunshine shortly after dawn, I headed over to Lake Michigan again, hoping to shoot a few good photos of the waterfowl and whatever else I could find. The forecast was correct in that I drove over to Grand Haven, my first stop of the day, in a rain/snow mix. The precipitation did end about the time I arrived there, and it was just before dawn.

I parked in a city park on the south side of the Grand River channel that leads to Lake Michigan to see if I could spot any waterfowl, even though there wasn’t enough light to try any photos yet. Silly me, I was sitting there viewing several rafts of ducks in the pockets of open water that were interspersed between packs of ice floating down the river. It was getting lighter by the minute, and as I thought of exiting my vehicle to see if there was enough light to photograph the ducks, I looked over to see that the walkway extending out to the lighthouse was still lit up.

I could see that the rest of the city lights were turning off, so I quickly grabbed the camera that had the 300 mm prime lens and 1.4 X extender on it to shoot this.

Grand Haven Lighthouse

Grand Haven Lighthouse

I know, I should have used the tripod, as the shutter speed was way too slow to get a sharp photo, and in fact, I did try for a better photo, but by the time I got the tripod set-up, the lights had turned off. But, that will remind me to do it right the next time I’m there that early. ๐Ÿ˜‰

To make up for that shot, here’s one from later in the day, a grey, grey squirrel.

Grey squirrel

Grey squirrel

If you’re familiar with grey squirrels, you know that they have two color variations, the one seen here, and also, some are all black. For years, I tried getting a good photo of a black grey squirrel with my old Nikon, but never did. I have shot several good images of the black ones with my Canon, however, it dawned on me that I had never tried for a good image of a grey one. Now I have. Well, at least as good as I could get in the low light of the day, since the sun never did burn through the clouds.

So, the story from this day was editing the images I shot this day. For one thing, I learned how to make the noise reduction feature of the Canon Digital Professional Photo software function. In my earlier attempts, the software froze, and never did any noise reduction when I tried it. Since the light was so poor most of the day, I had to shoot at higher ISO settings, which of course resulted in a great deal of sensor noise in most of the waterfowl photos.

I also did a lot of tweaking to the exposures of most of the waterfowl and other photos from the day. While no software can make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, doing the editing of the images from the day made it so that the trip wasn’t a complete waste of time. I would have come home with just a handful of photos if I hadn’t edited these.

Also, no amount of editing can make up for the lack of light. I shot this red-breasted merganser shortly after my failed attempt to get a good shot of the lighthouse.

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

If only the darned waterfowl would hold still, I’d have a chance for a good photo. But, that’s seldom the case. I was quite surprised at how skittish the waterfowl were, the only reason that I tried for the merganser when I did was that some one walking their dog well away from the channel was causing the waterfowl to move away from me, and out of camera range. So, I had to try that photo when I did.

When the merganser did slow down enough for the slow shutter speed that I was using could freeze his motion, he had turned so that what little light that there was at the time was wrong.

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

I knew that more people would be arriving to walk along the channel as the day progressed, so I shot what I could find in range, even in the very low light.

Greater or lesser scaup

Greater or lesser scaup

Female common goldeneye in front of white-winged scoters

Female common goldeneye in front of white-winged scoters

White-winged scoters

White-winged scoters

No award winners there, that’s for sure, but by reducing the noise and tweaking the exposures, you can see what species the waterfowl are.

Sure enough, as the people began going for their morning walks, the waterfowl either flew off to other locations, or moved to the north side of the channel, out of camera range. So, I packed up and drove to Harbor Island, but the river there was completely frozen over, so there wasn’t much to see. I continued on to the north side of the channel, and debated trying to walk the ice-covered walkway.

The north breakwater at Grand Haven

The north breakwater at Grand Haven

It didn’t matter, the ducks decided to leave well before I got close to them.

Mixed waterfowl taking flight

Mixed waterfowl taking flight

I could have, and probably should have, switched over to shoot ice formations found in the river.

Abstract ice

Abstract ice

But not me, I was there for birds, sort of.

One of the cool things about the ice on the river was the sounds that it made as it collided with itself. So, I switched over to shoot a video, hoping to capture the few remaining ducks and the tinkling sounds coming from the ice.

And hearing the sounds coming from the common goldeneyes as the came in for a landing prompted me to try catching the sound from a flock of them as they flew past me.

I wouldn’t call either of those a great success, but I hope that it gives you an idea of the sounds that go along with the sights that I see. Also, it highlights one way of identifying some species of birds by sounds when you can’t see them well enough to ID them.

So, there I was, trying not to slip and fall over the railing as I worked my way carefully along the ice-covered breakwater, with flocks of ducks flying past me at regular intervals, but I couldn’t get close to any of them, until four male goldeneyes came in for a landing close enough for me to shoot these.

Male goldeneyes landing

Male goldeneyes landing

Male goldeneyes landing

Male goldeneyes landing

Male goldeneyes landing

Male goldeneyes landing

Male goldeneyes landing

Male goldeneyes landing

Considering the poor light, not bad. A little noise reduction, and a few tweaks to the exposure, and I have photos worth posting, rather than deleting as I used to do.

I considered switching modes again, this time to landscape photos.

Frozen beach

Frozen beach

The lighthouse would have been a fine subject if I had put more thought into these.

The lighthouse at Grand Haven

The lighthouse at Grand Haven

The lighthouse at Grand Haven

The lighthouse at Grand Haven

But, the footing was treacherous everywhere that I tried to walk, it seemed as if everything near Lake Michigan at Grand Haven was covered in ice. Also, the clouds would occasionally spit a little rain or snow at times, and I didn’t want to be changing lenses at those times. So, I walked back to my vehicle and swapped to the 70-200 mm lens for this one.

The lighthouse at Grand Haven

The lighthouse at Grand Haven

I shot several others not worth posting, then in the shelter of my vehicle once more, I switched to my two wider angle lenses in turn, but neither of them produced an image worth posting. It wasn’t the fault of the lenses, but my unwillingness to risk a slip and fall on the ice while carrying my expensive gear. Not to mention, it was cold out there exposed to the wind.

So, I packed up once more, and headed north to Lake Harbor Park, on the Mona Lake channel to Lake Michigan. There, I found one of the resident mallards taking a bath….

Male mallard bathing

Male mallard bathing

Male mallard bathing

Male mallard bathing

….then striking a pose….

Male mallard

Male mallard

…before drying his wings.

Male mallard

Male mallard

This subtly colored, but beautiful female mallard hybrid was still there.

Female mallard hybrid  preening

Female mallard hybrid preening

She was making herself look pretty for this shot.

Female mallard hybrid

Female mallard hybrid

I also found this gal there, it looks like a female green-winged teal, but since she was hanging out with the other mallards, she may also be a hybrid.

Female green-winged teal?

Female green-winged teal?

Female green-winged teal?

Female green-winged teal?

I thought that the light was improving a bit, but that was just while I was around the mallards. Farther down the channel, it grew darker again, just as I spotted a few other species of ducks, like this male bufflehead.

Male bufflehead

Male bufflehead

He was hanging out with this female red-breasted merganser.

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

I looked back at the bufflehead just in time to catch him “saluting” me.

Male bufflehead

Male bufflehead

I swear, that’s the duck equivalent of giving me the finger, as shortly after that, he dove, and I never did see him again.

I shot a few photos of the ice formations there as well.

Ice formations on Lake Michigan

Ice formations on Lake Michigan

Ice formations on Lake Michigan

Ice formations on Lake Michigan

Most of the goldeneyes that I saw at Grand Haven were males, but here at Lake Harbor park, I saw mostly females.

Female common goldeneye ducks

Female common goldeneye ducks

Female common goldeneye duck

Female common goldeneye duck

Female common goldeneye duck

Female common goldeneye duck

Again, noise reduction and tweaking the exposure saved these photos, for what they’re worth.

My next stop was the Muskegon River channel, where I shot my gull portrait of the day.

Ring-billed gull

Ring-billed gull

And then, caught this female common goldeneye in flight.

Female common goldeneye duck in flight

Female common goldeneye duck in flight

Other than her, and more ice, there wasn’t much else in range of the camera, so I headed to the other end of Muskegon Lake to visit the aptly named Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, where I spent some timeย shooting songbirds.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

That’s also where I got the grey squirrel from earlier in this post.

Grey squirrel

Grey squirrel

Grey squirrel

Grey squirrel

It wasn’t the only mammal around.

Cottontail rabbit

Cottontail rabbit

Cottontail rabbit

Cottontail rabbit

But mostly, it was birds that I photographed. You may have noticed that the chickadee was on a bird feeder, something that I rarely do. I suppose that what I did do is much the same, I sat down on a picnic table close to the feeders and caught these birds as they came and went.

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

This cardinal was so close to me that I was cutting off her tail with the camera in the landscape position.

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

So, here she is with the camera in the portrait position, these were not cropped at all.

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Funny, I used to crop photos, but do no other editing. Most of these weren’t cropped at all, or just a little, but I edited them to reduce noise, and improve the exposure slightly when needed.

Still, it doesn’t help when the birds don’t play nice, I had this male cardinal all lined up for a great shot, but as I pressed the shutter, he turned away from me.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

This one tried to hide, but not very hard.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Juncos can be difficult to get close to, I lucked out, and had one perch this close to me as seen through the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens).

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Getting the noise reduction software to work sure helped those out.

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

Finally, my last stop of the day was the Muskegon County wastewater facility. I did the quick tour, no snowy owls in sight, but I did find one bald eagle just on the edge of the Beast’s range.

Adult bald eagle

Adult bald eagle

As you have seen, we never did get the promised sunshine this day, oh well, I should know by now to never believe a meteorologist. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Okay then, now for some boring camera talk. As I speculated earlier, as I learn how to edit the images coming from my Canon 60D bodies, I’m happier with them than I have ever been. I’d still like to upgrade to the new 7D Mark II, but I’m no longer chomping at the bit the way that I was when it was first announced.

Part of my conversion to some one who post-processes his photos has been learning the details of the different camera models. My 60D has the same sensor as the original 7D has, so theoretically, the image quality from both should be the same. Straight from the sensor, that’s probably true. However, Canon programs their more expensive camera bodies differently than they do the lower end models.

Probably the best example of that is the 70D and the 7D Mk II, they share the exact same sensor. But, the reviews of both models say that the 7D Mk II is much better as far as noise at higher ISO settings. How can that be, if they have the same sensor? The answer is the software programmed into the camera by Canon, the 7D Mk II does a better job of editing the images in the camera.

If software is the reason, then what difference does it make if the software is programmed into the camera, or in some other software, say Lightroom, for example. It doesn’t matter, other than the time that it takes to edit the images outside the camera in post-processing, rather than having the camera’s software do it automatically.

Since I have learned that no camera can faithfully record many scenes due to the limitations of the current sensors built into cameras, post-processing is required anyway. So, I may as well do the noise reduction with software, as well as fixing the exposure weaknesses in the images coming from my camera.

Yes, I’d still like to upgrade to the 7D Mk II for its better weather sealing and auto-focusing system, but until I max out what is possible with my current camera, then I can wait until the new 7D has been on the market long enough for Canon to offer rebates on it, to save some money.

Well, since this post is already quite long, and the text has disappeared again, it’s time to wrap this one up!

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

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33 responses

  1. All that ice is making me feel cold. Very nice shots of the Cardinal and Dark-eyed junco.

    January 29, 2015 at 9:02 am

    • Thank you Bob! I hope for better ones in the future.

      January 30, 2015 at 10:25 am

  2. Beautiful photos, as always! It dawned on me this morning that one species I have not come across in my local area is the swan, even though we are not far from Foster Lake and the Santiam River. We had quite a few back east, seemed like most bodies of water had swans on them. I checked ODFW’s site. Looks like our Trumpeter and Tundra swans are found mainly east of the Cascades or up along the Columbia River out towards Sauvie Island.

    I love the cardinals. They bring back a lot of memories for me.

    January 29, 2015 at 9:51 am

    • Thank you Lavinia! Sorry, I can’t help you out with the swans, as far as talking them into moving their range to closer to you. I can tell you that you’ll soon be seeing swans here though.

      January 30, 2015 at 10:26 am

  3. What a feast of good bird pictures, however I loved your grey squirrel and cottontail rabbits. You catch them in such appealing poses.

    January 29, 2015 at 11:01 am

    • Thank you Susan! Patience is the key to getting the poses that I do, that and shooting many more photos than I post.

      January 30, 2015 at 10:27 am

  4. Great photos ! Some of the birds are wearing a ring on the right leg, so they had an encounter with an ornithologist ๐Ÿ™‚

    January 29, 2015 at 2:57 pm

    • Thank you Michel! The bands are the work of Brian Johnson, an ornithologist that works at the nature preserve from time to time.

      January 30, 2015 at 10:28 am

  5. I enjoyed your icy landscapes a lot. You must be very sure footed to even think about walking along that ice encrusted walkway.

    January 29, 2015 at 5:29 pm

    • Thanks Tom! It wasn’t quite as bad as it looked, but it was still very slippery. Caution was the word of the day, as I didn’t want to slip and go over the railing into the water.

      January 30, 2015 at 10:30 am

  6. What fun I could have had with that ice! I would have stayed all day just for shots of it. The video is really interesting. I’ve never heard ice make that tinkling sound.

    I’ve seen so many red squirrels on your blog that somehow I got thinking that you didn’t have gray squirrels there. I keep hoping to see a rabbit this year but so far all I’ve seen is their tracks.

    That female mallard hybrid is a beautiful bird and your shots of the birds around the feeder are excellent. Interesting that almost all of them have been banded. They must be regulars.

    If I’d come back with just the shot of the eagle I’d have been very happy. In spite of the low light it looks like it was a pretty good day to me!

    January 29, 2015 at 6:16 pm

    • Thank you Allen! Yes, Brian Johnson, an ornithologist bands birds at the nature preserve on a regular basis.

      It’s funny what we take for granted, the ice on the rivers and the sounds it makes happen here every winter, I wish that I had gotten more of the sounds in my video though.

      We have plenty of red and fox squirrels near where I live, but I usually have to go farther north for grey squirrels, which is why I seldom post photos of them lately. There are a few along Lake Michigan though.

      Learning to use the software that came with the camera made huge improvements in the photos from the day, I can’t wait for a new computer and Lightroom to see how much better I can get from the 60D to look once I do.

      January 30, 2015 at 10:35 am

  7. Another great selection of photos. I really liked the sequence of goldeneyes landing and the close shots of the female cardinals.

    I found your views on low light conditions, ISO settings and post-processing not at all boring and very informative. Thank you.

    January 29, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    • Thank you Brandy! I never know how deep to go into my discussions about photography itself. Some people don’t care at all, others do find them useful, I’m glad that you did.

      January 30, 2015 at 10:55 am

  8. You have many birds there, and where is a bird there is also joy.
    Grey squirrels looks nice and you have taken some good photos of them.

    January 29, 2015 at 7:30 pm

    • Thank you Cornel! It’s good to see that you’re back to posting again, I’ve missed your photos.

      January 30, 2015 at 10:55 am

  9. I was keeping a list of things in my head of things I wanted to comment on but then it got far too long and I lost track. You are testing my aging memory with so many nice pics and interesting narration! I might have to start making notes with a pen and paper. The icy landscapes are beautiful and just so foreign to me. I think I was most drawn to the predominantly brown frozen beach. Warm colours but an icy scene and there are different textures as well. So many beautiful bird shots! And all these in winter! What will spring be like? I think that female mallard trying to look pretty looked quite coquettish. ๐Ÿ™‚ I am learning a lot more about squirrels since reading overseas blogs. Now I’ve learned from your blog that grey squirrels can be black. I suppose our red kangaroos aren’t all red. The males are mainly red but the females are more of a blue-grey. But that is a sex thing, not a general variation in colour like these squirrels. I enjoyed the videos as well. Once again, the tinkling sounds of ice in a river is completely new to me. What a wonderfully diverse and beautiful world we live in. Take care on those treacherous icy paths.

    January 29, 2015 at 7:35 pm

    • Thanks Jane! The Lake Michigan shoreline has over two hundred miles of sandy beaches. In the winter when the winds blow, the sand and snow mix together creating natural abstract works of art. I also forget that people living in other parts of the world don’t see piles of ice 30 feet or more high from the ice being piled up on itself. Since the Great Lakes are freshwater, they freeze much quicker than the oceans, which contain salt.

      Your comments about the squirrels tells me that I need to save a photo of each of our species and post them together as a comparison so people can see the differences. I think that I need to invest in a better microphone for my attempts at video, as it is often the sound ore than motion that I’m trying to capture, whether it’s the sounds of the birds, or the ice.

      January 31, 2015 at 9:59 am

  10. Thanks for getting up before the crack of dawn to get such a moody photo of the GH lighthouse with all the lights. It’s such h a perfect. Kod.

    Curiously enough, my favorite shot of the group was the second one marked female green-winged teal. You may not have realized it at the time, but the ripples in the water matching the markingss of her feathers were quite remarkable to me. Also loved the mallard shower. You have such a great way of putting words with you your photos.

    Makes me a bit homesick for winter and Michigan. But, just a bit. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    January 29, 2015 at 11:51 pm

    • Thanks Judy! I’m one of those oddballs that likes to be up well before dawn if the day is going to be spent outdoors. The next time I go to GH, I’ll know to start at the state park, and set my tripod up for good shots of the lighthouse with the lights on.

      I didn’t notice the pattern of the ripples matching the teal’s markings, but now that you mention them, they do. It may help the teal remain unseen as predators fly over.

      It’s a nice day here in Michigan today, but it won’t last, half a foot of snow in the forecast for tomorrow. I’d stay in Arizona if I were you. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      January 31, 2015 at 10:07 am

  11. Delightful post,despite the freezing weather these creatures add so much beauty to the season.The post reminds me of the 8 years l lived in Chicago.My regards.

    January 30, 2015 at 1:21 am

    • Thank you very much! I’m glad that you escaped Chicago, it’s one of my least favorite cities.

      January 31, 2015 at 10:09 am

      • You are welcome. l still love Chicago.

        January 31, 2015 at 10:42 am

  12. So many good shots – I especially loved the beautiful feathers on the mallard duck hybrid, the female cardinal shots and the last grey squirrel shot. Keep on posting the videos! I was very interested in your analysis of the image editing software. As you say, why pay out a lot of money for integral software when you could easily do the editing yourself.

    January 30, 2015 at 10:38 am

    • Thanks Clare! These photos weren’t bad, but I can’t wait until there’s some sunshine, and I have better software to tweak my images.

      There are some reasons to upgrade to a more expensive camera, some things can’t be done in post-processing. The new Canon 7D Mk II has one of the most advanced auto-focusing systems of any camera, which sure would help as I try to keep up with quick moving birds.

      January 31, 2015 at 9:51 am

      • Sounds wonderful! I hope you get it soon.

        January 31, 2015 at 10:00 am

  13. WOW! I loved seeing all the birds, ducks and geese. I need to look through your archives to see if you have ever photographed a Loon. I have a collection of pictures and hand carved loons. I have never saw one on a lake but I will one day. I collect them for a reason… one day I may share the story on my blog! You take fabulous pictures!!

    January 31, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    • Thank you Nancy! Yes, I have photographed loons in the past, but not very often. Their population is declining rapidly in our area due to habitat loss, so I try not to disturb any that I do see.

      February 1, 2015 at 9:23 am

  14. What a brave and hearty soul you are, going out along Lake Michigan in all that ice and wind!! I was happy to see all your waterfowl photos and am sooooooo looking forward to getting a chance to see some for myself soon (well, probably April, LOL). It’s also nice to know that someone as knowledgeable and proficient in photography as you struggles with the light conditions from time to time. That makes me feel a teensy bit better about the soft images I got this past Saturday in the gloom.

    Loved those shots of the female cardinal. Gorgeous! And the junco, too. They are just such sweet little birds.

    What’s the status of the new computer?

    February 2, 2015 at 8:57 am

    • Thanks Amy! The light is what it is, when it comes to nature photography, there’s not much that you can do about it. Every one, no matter what camera they have, is going to get soft photos when the light is soft, unless you have some type of giant flash unit that can reach birds a good distance away from you. But flash brings another set of problems, like the slow shutter speed that the flash unit demands in order to synchronize with the camera’s shutter.

      The new computer is still about two weeks away, that’s because I have decided to go with a more expensive model that’s loaded, rather than the base model I had been eyeing.

      February 2, 2015 at 10:28 am

      • Two weeks will go by lickety-split! I’m glad you are getting a really good one. I’m anxious to hear about it when you start using it for your photo editing!

        February 2, 2015 at 1:48 pm

  15. Loved your captures, especially the cardinals. And the ice formations on the lighthouse are amazing! And gave me chills, LOL! Glad to be back and travel with you through your posts, Jerry. ๐Ÿ™‚

    February 2, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    • Thanks Donna, it’s nice to have you along once more! I was thinking of trying for better shots of the lighthouse this weekend, but the Coast Guard is warning every one to stay away since it’s too dangerous after the storm this week.

      February 3, 2015 at 3:58 am