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

Archive for March, 2015

Wood Duck, Aix sponsa

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Wood Duck, Aix sponsa

The wood duck is a medium-sized perching duck. A typical adult is from 47 to 54 cm (19 to 21 in) in length with a wingspan of between 66 to 73 cm (26 to 29 in). This is about three-quarters of the length of an adult mallard. It shares its genus with the Asian Mandarin duck.

The adult male has distinctive multicolored iridescent plumage and red eyes,with a distinctive white flare down the neck. The female, less colorful, has a white eye-ring and a whitish throat. Both adults have crested heads.

The male’s call is a rising whistle, jeeeeee; the females utter a drawn-out, rising squeal, do weep do weep, when flushed, and a sharp cr-r-ek, cr-e-ek for an alarm call.

Their breeding habitat is wooded swamps, shallow lakes, marshes or ponds, and creeks in eastern North America, the west coast of the United States and western Mexico. They usually nest in cavities in trees close to water, although they will take advantage of nesting boxes in wetland locations if available. Females line their nests with feathers and other soft materials, and the elevation provides some protection from predators. Unlike most other ducks, the wood duck has sharp claws for perching in trees and can, in southern regions, produce two broods in a single season—the only North American duck that can do so.

Females typically lay between 7 and 15 white-tan eggs that incubate for an average of 30 days. However, if nesting boxes are placed too close together, females may lay eggs in the nests of their neighbours, which may lead to nests which may contain as many as 30 eggs and unsuccessful incubation, a behaviour known as “nest dumping”.

After hatching, the ducklings jump down from the nest tree and make their way to water. The mother calls them to her, but does not help them in any way. They prefer nesting over water so the young have a soft landing, but will nest up to 140 m (460 ft) away from the shoreline. The day after they hatch, the young climb to the nest entrance and jump to the ground. The ducklings can swim and find their own food by this time.

These birds feed by dabbling or walking on land. They mainly eat berries, acorns, and seeds, but also insects, making them omnivores.

On to my photos:

As you’ll be seeing many of my recent wood duck photos, I went back to the best that I had saved in the past for a few of these.

Wood Duck, Aix sponsa

Wood Duck, Aix sponsa

Wood Duck, Aix sponsa

Wood Duck, Aix spoons

Wood duck

Wood duck

Wood duck, post-processed in Lightroom

Wood duck, post-processed in Lightroom

Wood Duck, Aix sponsa

Wood Duck, Aix sponsa

Wood Duck, Aix sponsa

Wood Duck, Aix sponsa

This is number 179 in my photo life list, only 171 to go!

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

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Lake Michigan birding March 22nd, a quick preview

It’s Thursday evening, and I already have 51 hours in for the week, and the legal limit is 60, so tomorrow will be a (relatively) short day. Needless to say, I haven’t been out walking at all the week, 14 hours on with 10 hours off does that to me.

Note: You can click on any of these photos for a larger version, and I recommend that you do, I’m very, very proud of these.

However, I did make it to the Lake Michigan shoreline early Sunday morning. How early? This early!

Sunrise at the Grand Haven breakwater

Sunrise at the Grand Haven breakwater

All my efforts at learning the Photomatix HDR software is beginning to show fruit, especially when I use Lightroom to do the conversion to Tiff before loading the images in Photomatix.  Not to brag, but I can see that I’m making real progress.

It was a very cold morning, I nearly froze my fingers off getting the sunrise photos, and most of the photos from the day, but it was worth it! I stopped at the Bear Lake channel that feeds into Muskegon Lake on a bit of a lark, to fool around with the mallards there…

Male mallard

Male mallard

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

…when this guy came out from under one of the boat docks there.

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

When I think about all the times that I’ve stalked wood ducks trying to get a good photo of one, well, it’s been a struggle to put it mildly. Now, I had one at close range that let me shoot all the photos that I wanted.

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

And though the light wasn’t perfect, it was good enough as you can see. To me, wood ducks are one of the most beautiful species of any type of bird, not just waterfowl, it’s a wonder that I didn’t fill the entire memory card of the camera with just photos of him. But then, I wouldn’t have shot this one of a juvenile bald eagle.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Yup, it was that kind of day.

Now, it’s time for me to shower and turn in for the night.

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


Muskegon Birding, March 8th, 2015

I haven’t made it out very often lately, my work schedule has prevented that. I’ve been working long hours, this week it was 55 hours in five days, so even though the weather has been nice, I’ve been too tired when I get out of work to do any hiking or walking.

I’ve also fallen behind in my blogging, so this post will cover a trip to the Muskegon area way back on March 8th. While I didn’t shoot photos of any new species this time, I did have better light than  I did for most of my trips there this past winter. I tried to use some of what I have learned while using Lightroom to shoot better photos in the first place, that, and get the best from my photo equipment.

Overall, I’ve been somewhat disappointed in the performance of the 300 mm L series telephoto lens I have, but when I get that lens to focus spot on, it does an exceptional job!

Male mallard

Male mallard

However, my go to lens for birding is still the Beast ( Sigma 150-500 mm lens) due to its more reliable focusing. So all the rest of the photos in this post were shot with that lens.

The photo of the mallard was shot at the Muskegon Lake channel, where I started on this day. There were plenty of waterfowl around to shoot, like this female red-breasted merganser.

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

The birding reports from the Muskegon area which showed the common eider and black scoter still there had brought out droves of people looking for them with the arrival of nicer weather. The constant movements of those people kept most of the waterfowl agitated and/or over to the far side of the channel, out of photo range. I tried for a few duck in flight photos, with mixed results…

Female red-breasted merganser in flight

Female red-breasted merganser in flight

Bufflehead in flight

Bufflehead in flight

Bufflehead in flight

Bufflehead in flight

Greater scaup in flight

Male Greater scaup in flight

…the Beast does okay, but it is not a great lens for moving subjects, at least not those that move as fast as ducks do. I should qualify that, the Beast isn’t great for moving subjects if I don’t have the time to switch the optical stabilization mode to action, or off completely for moving subjects on my Canon 60D body. It will be interesting to see how it and the 300 mm L series lens perform on a 7D Mk II body.

Yes, I have decided to upgrade to the better body, but I’ve calmed down about that again since my last post. At that time, I had just returned from a walk during which I had missed many photo opportunities due to the inconsistent focusing of the 300 mm lens. With the return of warmer weather, I’ll be able to carry the Beast more often, which works very well on the 60D bodies that I currently use. Of course, that may change by the time that you read this, I’ll be carrying the Beast around home today for the first time in months when I go for my hike.

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I try to make long-term plans, however, the spontaneous side of me hates having equipment that doesn’t function the way that I want it to, and I’m prone to make hasty decisions because of that. Because of the poor quality of the photos of the Cooper’s hawks mating in my last post, I was very upset at the time I wrote that post. I have to tell myself to calm down, that I have the rest of my life to accumulate better gear, and better photos. I don’t have to get perfect photos every time, although that’s what I try for most of the time. I know that there are going to be plenty of bad photos no matter which camera or end I use, that’s the way that nature photography is, you’re not in a studio where you can control the light and every other aspect of photography.

In a way, I feel as though I’m flying blind at the present time as far as what the quality of my photos really is. I upgraded my computer to the new iMac and began using Lightroom at the same time. Based on what I saw, I’ve changed many of my camera’s basic settings to make my images better because of that. However, everything looks different on this new computer, from my earlier photos to everything else that I view. So, I have to ask myself is it the display, Lightroom, or camera settings, a combination of all of the above, or am I being tricked into thinking my photos have improved. I may have to have a few printed out to see just where I stand at this time. So to that end, I have just ordered 8 X 10 prints of 5 of my best photos from since I began using Lightroom and the new iMac, and changed the basic settings of the camera. Once I see them, I’ll have a better idea where I currently stand as far as image quality. I guess that I’ll put this post on hold until then.

Okay, once again, I am officially amazed. Without a doubt, the prints that I had made are by far the best I’ve ever gotten from any of my cameras, including my old Pentax film camera! These were sharper, clearer, and the color reproduction was almost perfect. I’m not saying those things to brag, but it’s always good to see improvements in something that I love to do, and to know that I’m making progress.

From what I can tell, the settings that I had dialed into the camera to record better jpeg images muddied up (hows that for a technical term?) the images since I have switched to shooting in RAW all the time. That, and I still think that Lightroom does a much better job of converting the RAW images to jpeg for use here, or to print, than the software that came with my camera did at the conversion. No matter what the reasons are, I’m very impressed by the results that I see, both on my computer, and now in the prints that I had made.

So, in addition to the mallard photo above, here are the photos from this trip that I had printed to check on quality.

Grey squirrel

Grey squirrel

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

I also had the recent photo of the eagle printed…

Bald eagle sans twig

Bald eagle sans twig

…along with one of the robins from the last post.

American Robin

American Robin

Okay then, now that I know for sure where I stand as far as the quality of my current images, time to get back to the task at hand, my trip to Muskegon. And, in doing so, I going to post a poor photo for the record, a bald eagle that was perched on the far side of the channel, keeping an eye on things happening.

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

The eagle stayed there the entire time while I was there, it would watch the ducks and gulls fly by, and the people coming and going as if it didn’t have a care in the world. It didn’t seem to bother the ducks very much. I got slightly better photos of the common eider.

Common eider

Common eider

Common eider

Common eider

I have to thank the eider for getting on top of that chunk of ice to give me a better view!

This male long-tailed duck decided to yank my chain…

Male long-tailed duck

Male long-tailed duck

…for just as the female did the last time I was there, the male rose up…

Male long-tailed duck

Male long-tailed duck

…and I thought that it was going to dry its wings…

Male long-tailed duck

Male long-tailed duck

…but he changed his mind about that.

Male long-tailed duck

Male long-tailed duck

On this trip, a female did dry her wings, and I managed to catch it.

Female long-tailed duck

Female long-tailed duck

Female long-tailed duck

Female long-tailed duck

Here are the rest of the images that I shot while at the Muskegon Lake channel.

Ring-billed gull

Ring-billed gull

Mute swan

Mute swan

Male greater scaup

Male greater scaup

Female greater scaup

Female greater scaup

Female greater scaup

Female greater scaup

Male greater scaup

Male greater scaup

Male greater scaup

Male greater scaup

IMG_3598

Juvenile mute swan napping

 

With the steady stream of people showing up looking for the eider and black scoter, I decided to head over to the other end of Muskegon Lake and hang out at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve for a while shooting song birds.

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

The snow was still quite deep on the trails, but it was a beautiful day with comfortable temperatures for early March, so I sat down on at a picnic table in the sun to listen to the birds and photograph any that came near.

Male house finch

Male house finch

Male house finch

Male house finch

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

American Tree sparrow

American Tree sparrow

American Tree sparrow

American Tree sparrow

Grey squirrel

Grey squirrel

American Tree sparrow

American Tree sparrow

Grey squirrel

Grey squirrel

Feather in the wind

Feather in the wind

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Mourning dove taking flight

Mourning dove taking flight

I didn’t get photos of all the birds that I would have liked to, but it was nice to just sit in the sun and enjoy the day and hear the birds singing for the first time in months!

With the nicer weather, more people began to show up, which kept the birds at bay, but by then, a chilly wind coming over the ice of Lake Michigan and Muskegon Lake had cooled me to the point where it was time to find a warmer spot. So, it was off to the wastewater treatment facility to see what I could find there.

It was early afternoon by then, not the best time of day for birding, but I did find a flock of common redpolls that had stopped there on their way north to feed on the exposed seeds as the snow melted.

Common redpoll

Common redpoll

Common redpoll

Common redpoll

Most of the trails and two-tracks were still blocked by the large snowdrifts left from this past winter, which meant that I couldn’t get to many of the best birding spots. I did get a couple of shots of a rough-legged hawk in flight.

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

There were a few redhead around…

Male redhead ducks

Male redhead ducks

…I don’t know why, but one redhead was hanging out with the greater scaup, so much for birds of a feather. 😉

Male redhead duck and male greater scaup

Male redhead duck and male greater scaup

Since I’m out of practice shooting flying birds, I decided that I would practice on the gulls, I had many to choose from.

RIng-billed gulls in flight

Ring-billed gulls in flight

The gulls would have just as soon have perched on the ice for a siesta, but there was a bald eagle nearby…

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

…and every twenty minutes or so, the eagle would soar over the gulls looking for an easy meal, and that would send all the gulls into a frenzy until the eagle had returned to its perch. I tried for photos, but my timing was off, I was always in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I did get lots of practice on the gulls…

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

…and caught this juvenile eagle as it flew past to see what the adult was up to.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Well, that was it for the day, not a bad day overall, even though I wasn’t able to get anymore lifers on this trip.

I’m publishing this on Sunday morning, before I head out before dawn for another Lake Michigan shoreline trip, and tomorrow in the wee hours of the morning, I head out to do an overnight run for work, so I may not get a chance to reply to comments for a while. Sorry about that, but my schedule these days is rather chaotic, as I never know when or for how long I’ll be working, and the ten hours that I typically have off from work each day doesn’t leave me much time for anything other than eating and sleeping.

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


I’ve seen the Light(room), where do I go from here?

It’s hard to believe, but as I begin this post on March 13th, one week ago today, we had a low of 1 degree fahrenheit, and a high of 24, and that was after the warm-up began, it had been colder a few days before. Today, it’s in the mid-fifties, and I had to take my winter coat off while I was out walking. As good as that is, even better may be the amount of sunshine we have been receiving. That’s good on several counts, one, with all the snow that was on the ground, we’d be having problems with flooding if we had rain to go with the snow melt. Then, there are my photos, with more sunshine, I can shoot at lower ISO settings for better quality images before doing any post-processing.

Before I really get wound up in prattling on about photography, a couple of notes. Yes, I have plenty more photos from the Airzoo to put into a post, also, a post to do on my last trip to Muskegon. So, I really shouldn’t be starting this one now, but it’s what’s on my mind at the present time.

Seeing what I can do in Lightroom to improve my photos has definitely been an eye-opening experience. That holds true even for photos that I do little to no post-processing to in Lightroom.

Okay, before my last trip to Muskegon, I changed all the basic settings in both of my camera bodies as far as how they record the images that I shoot. Since I’m shooting everything in RAW now, and I have Lightroom to adjust my images, I didn’t need the camera trying to adjust the images the way that I did when I was shooting in jpeg. That’s working far better than I expected, apparently, Adobe has better software in Lightroom than Canon programs into their camera bodies, at least that seems to be true for my 60D bodies. In a way, I’m not surprised, if today’s cameras worked perfectly, there’d be no need for Lightroom, or any other photo editing software.

With good light, there’s really not very much that I have to do in Lightroom to improve the images produced by the 60D bodies when I shoot in RAW. That’s been perhaps the most surprising thing that I’ve learned, but maybe that shouldn’t have been. When a RAW image is converted to jpeg, whatever software is used to do so “discards” much of the digital information used to produce the images that we see on our computer screens, or on paper if we print the images. What information is “discarded” depends on the software used to do the conversion. That “discarded” information is why jpeg files are so much smaller than RAW files. We are at the mercy of software engineers to write software to do that RAW to jpeg conversion without discarding information needed to produce great images, and overall, they do fairly well. But, the software engineers aren’t perfect, and no loss of information is good when it comes to an image. Losing colors, tones, and details isn’t good if you’re trying for the best images possible.

What you see here are reduced quality jpeg images which I use Lightroom to produce from the original RAW images. In my last post, I speculated that Lightroom was much better at converting the RAW images to TIFF files to use in Photomatix to produce HDR images. Well, the same holds true for the way that Lightroom handles the conversion from RAW to jpeg, it does a much better job than what the software that came with my camera does.

You would think that the camera manufacturers would write software that does a better job of handling the images produced by their cameras, as they have a vested interest in having the images their equipment produces be look as good as possible. You could say that since it is given away free that the manufacturers don’t put much effort into their software, but that isn’t really true. The cost of the software is included in the camera price, we don’t see that, we just think that we’re paying for the camera, not the included software.

You’d also think that the camera manufacturers could do a better job with their software, as they have a leg up on outside companies such as Adobe, they programmed the camera to record the images in the first place, no matter which format is used. Well, enough of that for a while.

So, I was out walk the day before yesterday, and spotted a fox squirrel munching on sumac. I’ve seen many species of birds eating sumac, it seems to be something that most species of birds need, maybe it’s the vitamin C in sumac. But, I’m not sure if I’d ever seen a squirrel eating it before, probably, but I just don’t remember it. Anyway, the light was quartering from behind the squirrel, not the best scenario for great photos, but I gave it a shot.

Fox squirrel eating sumac

Fox squirrel eating sumac

They sure are messy eaters! The squirrel looked me over as you can see, then went back to feeding its face.

Fox squirrel eating sumac

Fox squirrel eating sumac

Fox squirrel eating sumac

Fox squirrel eating sumac

Yes, I probably could have toned down the background a little more, but that’s very close to what I saw when I shoot those photos, despite the light coming from behind the squirrel. I left a few of the highlights blown out a little as well, I kind of liked those photos that way. In the photos the way that they are, you can see that it was a bright, cheery day, and after 4 months of lake effects clouds, bright and cheery is something not seen around here lately.

Actually, there are probably quite a few more edits that I could do to improve those images even more, I know that some people spend hours working on each image, but I have to consider the subject matter along with many other factors as I decide how much time to devote to working on a particular image. I’m very happy with these the way that they appear here, and it is only a fox squirrel in the photos, not something that’s going to win any awards or draw many comments other than cute squirrel.

There will be images that I do sweat over for hours as I edit them to make them the absolute best that they can be, although I haven’t shot any of those since I’ve had Lightroom to work with.

So, here are a few more photos that I did little to no editing on. With warmer weather, the geese are returning. That almost sounds strange, because in recent years, when we had milder winters, there were usually a few geese around all winter. Not this winter, it’s been months since I’ve seen a goose around home.

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

There’s nothing like bright white snow on a sunny day to act as a reflector to put more light under the wings of flying birds! In a way, I’ll almost miss the snow, just kidding. 😉

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

This next one was cropped slightly, but that’s about all that it required as far as editing.

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

The same holds true for this mourning dove, other than cropping, I didn’t do much to it.

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

In my last post, I had photos of lichens, and there were white fibers or hairs on the lichens. Allen and I have discussed what those could be, so I went back for a closer look. I put the Tamron 1.4 X extender behind the 100 mm Tokina macro lens, mounted them to my monopod, switched to manual focus, and got as close as I could to the lichens.

Lichens

Lichens

I thought that the fibers, or whatever they were, were gone, but when I blew that photo up on the computer, there was one left. So, even though that photo is life-size, I cropped to get even closer.

Lichens cropped, with white "filament"

Lichens cropped, with white “filament”

I still have no idea what the filament is, and I’m not sure if the one in this photo is the same as the ones in the earlier photos, this one is finer in size, it almost looks like a spider or other insect’s web. But, the spiders aren’t out yet, or are they?

Spider on snow

Spider on snow

I had to do some major work as far as exposure to get that spider to look as good as it does. It was just a black spider shaped blob in the image as it came from the camera. I also used the wrong lens for that photo, the 300 mm telephoto, so the image was cropped a good deal along with fixing the exposure. I wasn’t even sure that it was a spider when I shot that photo, I thought that it was just something that resembled a spider, or, I would have laid down in the cold, wet, sloppy snow to shoot it with the macro lens like I should have.

Back to the lichens, I went looking for more of the unknown fibers, but didn’t find any, but the photos are cool.

Tiny lichens

Tiny lichens

Tiny lichens

Tiny lichens

The Tokina macro lens will go to 1 to 1 on its own, and slightly larger than life-size when I use the extender, but I still had to crop that last photo quite a bit because what I saw was so tiny.

Anyway, I wonder if the white fibers in my earlier photos are related to this stuff.

Unknown web lookalike

Unknown web lookalike

I think that I used to know what that was, but have forgotten. It’s everywhere on the grass as the snow recedes, there’s no way insects made it, it has to be some type of plant life or something similar.

Since I have one macro photo left, here it is.

Ice

Ice

I tried converting that to black and white, but didn’t like the result. The pattern and contrast are there, but it didn’t have the slightly blue cast to it that the color version does, and I think that the blue makes this a better photo. Even if you can’t detect any blue tint to the ice, believe me, it’s there, until I converted to black and white, then the blue was converted to shades of grey.

Okay then, speaking of blue and Lightroom, here’s a photo of a bluebird straight out of the camera.

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird

Here’s the same bird after a few clicks in Lightroom.

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird

Still not great, but much better than straight from the camera, and, it’s so good to see and hear that the bluebirds are back. In fact, many species are returning. I saw robins in a tree ahead of me and was going to go for a photo of them, but as I got closer to them, they all began squawking and took off, with this right behind them.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Of the six photos of the hawk that I shot, that’s the only one worth posting, but much more on that later. After the hawk flew past me, I continued on to the tree where the robins had been, and I was surprised to find a few of these still in the tree.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Another first of the year. But, as you can see, it had clouded over by then, and it remained cloudy that day as I watched a large bird soaring overhead. At first, I just gave it a glance and assumed that it was the hawk circling in the distance, but when I checked again to see if it was getting closer to me, I got a better look at the way it held its wings, it wasn’t a hawk.

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

The easiest way to tell a vulture from a species of raptor at a distance, whether hawk or eagle, is by the way that they hold their wings while soaring. Raptors hold their wings flat, while vulture’s wings start-up from their body at an angle, then flatten out towards the tips of their wings. That’s hard to see when they are directly overhead though.

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Not a bad week, the robins, bluebirds, cedar waxwings, and turkey vultures have all returned with the arrival of spring!

Spring runoff

Spring runoff

Oh, by the way, I did get a shot of a robin, albeit not a very good one.

American robin in flight

American robin in flight

So, now it’s Sunday afternoon, and I’ve been out for my hike today. A few things occurred which reinforced where I was going to go with this post anyway. To begin the day, I caught a robin in good light, but had one chance for a quick shot before it flew away.

American Robin

American Robin

That one looks better here than it does on my computer, as I used the 300 mm prime telephoto lens, and it missed the focus slightly. It did better with this house finch.

Female house finch

Female house finch

There were a couple of males hanging around her, but she wanted nothing to do with them, and eventually chased them both away.

Looking over at the roof of a nearby building, you could see that it had been a frosty morning, but that the sun was making short work of the frost except in the shade of a tree.

Frosty roof

Frosty roof

This seed pod hadn’t been in the sun for very long.

Frosty seeds

Frosty seeds

Since I’m out of practice shooting birds in flight, I shot a couple more geese as they flew overhead.

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

Yes, a layer of bright snow on the ground does make a great reflector!

I got to the park, and a red-tailed hawk was trying its best to stay hidden…

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

…so that the bunny….

Cottontail rabbit

Cottontail rabbit

…nor robins would see it.

American robin

American robin

I think that these next photos are my personal best as far as robins.

American robin in landscape

American robin in landscape

Getting closer, I switched to shoot portraits.

American robin portrait

American robin portrait

And, I found one that was hungry.

American robin eating crab apples

American robin eating crab apples

Although that particular crab apple didn’t taste good to the robin.

American robin eating crab apples

American robin eating crab apples

It soon found a few to its liking.

American robin eating crab apples

American robin eating crab apples

American robin eating crab apples

American robin eating crab apples

American robin eating crab apples

American robin eating crab apples

American robin eating crab apples

American robin eating crab apples

Okay then, yes, I’m doing better than ever with the 60D body that I have, as long as help the auto-focus out, and the subjects are stationary.  Those weren’t cropped at all, and I did very little to them in Lightroom, other than to fix the color balance. I have heard that you can shoot with the camera set to auto white balance all the time, and fix the images that need fixing in Lightroom, so I tried that, and didn’t like it. Maybe the robin’s orange breast threw the camera off? No, I had to fix the white balance on almost every photo from today. So, I’ll be back to setting it manually in the camera again as the lighting changes.

Other than that, I don’t think that I could have gotten much better photos with any camera and lens combination, they’re sharp, clear, and the color after fixing the white balance is excellent, or at least I think so.

The weakness of the 60D body, at least the two I have, has always been the focusing system, in both auto and manual. You may remember that shortly after I purchased the first 60D, I purchased a Canon 70-200 mm L series lens, but exchanged that first lens for another, as I couldn’t get a sharp photo from it. The second lens was better, but not great.

When I purchased the second camera body, I found that the 70-200 lens performed much better on the second one than the first.

Since I purchased the 300 mm L series telephoto lens last summer, I’ve had poor results many times as that lens doesn’t focus accurately with either body. I even talked to the tech rep from Canon about it, and learned a few tricks to make that lens work better, and those tricks help me get sharper images from all my lenses.

But, getting the focus dead on takes me a few seconds each time, and I find myself missing photos as the birds fly away before I can get a sharp focus. I even looked into replacing the focusing screen of the camera, as the one that comes standard makes it hard for me to see when a sharp focus has been achieved, but the only better screen Canon makes will only work with f/2.8 or faster lenses, and only my macro lens fits that criteria.

My reasons for rehashing all this? Like I said, I’ve been missing chances for photos during the time it takes to get a sharp focus, and most of the bird in flight photos I shoot with the 300 mm prime lens stink. One of the reasons that I bought that lens was for bird in flight photos.

Well, today what may be a once in a lifetime event happened, I saw a pair of Cooper’s hawks flying together.

Cooper's hawks in flight

Cooper’s hawks in flight

I thought that they were up to something, they sure were!

Cooper's hawks in flight

Cooper’s hawks in flight

Cooper's hawks in flight

Cooper’s hawks in flight

Cooper's hawks in flight

Cooper’s hawks in flight

I shot those one at a time when the hawks got close to each other. Then, when they began “pair bonding”, I let the camera go in high-speed burst mode and full auto-focus.

Cooper's hawks mating

Cooper’s hawks mating

Cooper's hawks mating

Cooper’s hawks mating

Cooper's hawks mating

Cooper’s hawks mating

Cooper's hawks mating

Cooper’s hawks mating

Cooper's hawks mating

Cooper’s hawks after mating

You can see the falloff in image quality as the series progressed, I couldn’t crop the last few images as much because of how much the focus was off, argh!

I’m almost positive that I would have been better off using the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) for those shots. That lens presents its own problems when trying to capture action shots, its size and weight mostly, and also its optical stabilization produces ghosting in images if the lens is tilted much above horizontal.

It’s because the Beast isn’t well suited for action shots that I purchased the 300 mm L series lens in the first place, but that is beginning to look like a poor decision on my part. I had changed my mind back and forth between the 300 and 400 mm L series lenses from Canon, and finally decided on the 300 mm based on its close focusing ability.

Yes, it does do extremely well up close, but I found that I’d rather lug the Beast around during the summer rather than the much lighter 300 mm lens, because the Beast seldom misses a shot. I use the 300 mm lens during the winter, because it’s weather sealed, and the Beast isn’t.

Anyway, I had convinced myself that I was in no hurry to run out and purchase another lens, or camera body, but that may change soon. I could afford the 400 mm L series lens today, but would I have the same problem with it that I do the other two L series lenses, that it won’t focus accurately on the 60D body?

At the rate that I’m raking in the bucks at my new job, I may be able to afford the Canon 7D Mk II next month, or early May if not. It has a much better and faster auto-focus system, and it can be calibrated to each lens, a feature that my current 60D bodies lack.

However, I’m afraid that the 300 mm lens won’t perform very well on the 7D body either, I think that the problem lies in the way that the lens is programmed. I can see it missing the focus on a bird in a tree, but there are so many times that it can’t even find the tree.

I suppose I could be content to shoot bird portraits for a while longer.

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

That’s all that I have time for right now, aren’t you lucky! 😉

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


Around home, learning Lightroom and more

First of all, while my new iMac is capable of running Windows by using the Boot Camp utility that comes with an iMac, I have decided that I’m not going to “dirty” this new computer by installing Windows on it. The only software that I really needed Windows for was the software for my handheld DeLorme GPS unit, but I have decided that it wasn’t worth the time, effort, or disk space to install Windows just for that software. I seldom use that handheld unit any longer, since the battery life is atrocious, the thing eats batteries faster than I can purchase them. One of these days, I may get around to seeing if DeLorme has finally produced a Mac version of their software, but I’m in no big yank to do so.

For the spreadsheets that I used, I was able to import them into “Numbers”, the Mac equivalent of Microsoft Office with no problems at all. It was the same with my text documents as well, they all imported nicely into the Mac software that came installed on my computer. So, I’m able to do everything that I could on my old laptop, and so much more, like running and learning Lightroom.

To start with, I’ve learned how to get Lightroom to put the images I shoot into the folders in the way that I want them, I had written before that Lightroom created date based folders that I didn’t want. I still find that it works best if I create the basic folder structure outside of Lightroom first, and then let Lightroom create a new sub folder when I upload the images from my camera. Since every one organizes their images differently, my exact folder structure isn’t important, but I can offer this Lightroom tip. Turn off the organize by date check box and check the create a new sub folder check box instead. Then, type the name that you want the sub folder to have in the space provided in Lightroom, even if you include date information in the sub folder. For example, when I returned from my last trip to Muskegon, I put all the images in a sub folder with the name Muskegon_02_28_2015 rather than let Lightroom create dated sub folders. I’m not sure that I’m explaining this well, but the important things are to turn off the check box in Lightroom for organizing by date, and make your own sub folder names instead.

That sounds rather simple, but while Lightroom is relatively easy to use overall, it does so much that it can be a bit overwhelming at first. For example, as I am importing the images from my camera, Lightroom copies them from the camera and puts them into the folder(s) that I choose on the external drive that I store my photos on, it builds previews on the computer’s main hard drive, and it also makes a back-up copy of the images on the second external drive that I have set-up for backing up my computer, all at the same time.

Then, there are all the editing features within Lightroom, and I’m not going to attempt to list them all here. I will say this, even something as simple as adjusting the overall exposure can really make a difference, more than I thought. I had written before that I was to the point where I wished that my camera could adjust the exposure by less than the one-third stop that is the minimum amount of adjustment that the camera allows. In Lightroom, I can adjust by one-tenth of a stop, and I’m finding that such small adjustments can really make a difference in the overall appearance of my images.

I could go on and on about Lightroom, but there are plenty of other sources of information about it that are far more qualified than I am for any one interested in learning more about it. I can recommend two videos on YouTube from B&H photo with Tim Grey, one is…

The other is…

I watched both several times, or I’d be fumbling around trying to figure Lightroom out.

As it is, I’m having a ball learning new things all the time since I purchased this new computer and Lightroom, but one thing stands out, how little I knew in the first place. I’d often heard that if one shot in jpeg, the camera made many decisions on how the image should be recorded in jpeg versus RAW. I had no idea just how much editing of an image went on inside of a camera body when recording an image as a jpeg. But, as I read more about camera bodies and the images that they produced, when two bodies share the exact same sensor, yet one produces much better images than the other, then that has to be because of the “editing” done by the software programmed into the camera. So you can now count me in as a firm believer in shooting in RAW all the time from now on.

I have to include learning Photomatix to create HDR images in this mix as well. As it happens, I’m much happier with the images produced by Photomatix using it as a plug-in to Lightroom than I was using it as standalone software. The final images are now as sharp as what they should be. I believe that is because Lightroom converts the Canon proprietary RAW files to 16 bit TIFF files first, before exporting them directly into Photomatix.  As a standalone product, Photomatix handled the conversion of the proprietary RAW for its use. I think that Lightroom is much better at handling the RAW files as they come out of the camera. That’s my theory anyway, and I’ll stick to it until I learn differently. 😉 No matter why, the final images from Photomatix are much better now that what I used to get.

So, since I’ve been getting more brave as far as editing some of my existing images, I went back to the trip that I took up north last fall, and did a new HDR version of one of my favorite photos from the trip using Photomatix to blend three images shot with different exposure settings into one image. Then, even though it looked a lot better than my best single image of the same scene, and better than my previous HDR image, I tweaked it a little more in Lightroom to get this.

The mouth of the Jordan River

The mouth of the Jordan River

Yes! That’s what I saw when I pressed the shutter release! So, seeing that, I went back and got my previous best version of that scene.

The Jordan River in East Jordan

The Jordan River in East Jordan

The differences may be subtle, but I think that my latest attempt at editing produced a much better image.

From the same trip, I had photos of a wood duck, one of which I have already posted after one of my first tests of Lightroom, here’s another.

Wood duck

Wood duck

That was shot at the same location as the landscape photo above, within minutes as well, so you can see the conditions that I was shooting under, not the best for wildlife photos. I’m not completely happy with that one, or the previous one, but I’m learning.

I took a different approach to editing that photo compared to the one in the previous post, overall, I like this one better. I could list the changes that I made to the photo of the duck, but I won’t, as there’s two things more important about that photo that I have to say. One is that as I improve my skill at editing photos taken on my Canon 60D camera, I am happier with it than ever. I’ve said that before, but with every Lightroom session that I do, it becomes more apparent to me just what a good camera the 60D is.

The second thing about these sessions with Lightroom that I’m learning is yes, Lightroom can improve images shot in poor conditions, or make up for having the camera set to less than ideal settings for a particular shot, but the better that the image is that I bring into Lightroom, the better the final output will be. Like this eagle from my last trip to Muskegon.

Bald eagle sans twig

Bald eagle sans twig

That probably sounds obvious, the better that the image is that you start with, the better the final image will be after using Lightroom to improve it. However, what’s important about that is learning how to set the camera to get the best images to load into Lightroom. In a way, learning Lightroom is also helping me learn photography even better, an unexpected bonus. In fact, I’m beginning to rethink all my basic camera settings from the ground up. I was afraid that I’d do what some photographers do, get lazy about changing the camera settings, thinking I can fix it Lightroom later. I’m finding the opposite to be true, I want the best possible photos to load into Lightroom, therefore, I’m paying closer attention to even the minor camera settings.

Something else is happening as well, I’m having the urge to shoot more varied subjects than just birds, or even nature. Nature photography has always been my first love, and remain so. However, I thoroughly enjoyed photographing the planes at the Airzoo, and would like to expand to other subjects as well. I’d love to work more landscapes into what I post, along with images of some of the historic buildings from the area. More than anything, I just want to get out and shoot some more photos!

So far, the brutal cold has continued around here, making getting out to shoot photos more of a challenge than I would prefer to face. Today is the 23rd day in a row with colder than average temperatures and during this stretch we’ve been nearly 17 degrees colder than average, setting the record for the coldest February on record. It’s now March 6th as I type this, but we were down to zero again last night.

One thing that I have noticed this winter, my lenses don’t like the extreme cold any better than I do. I’ve had trouble with the auto-focus of most of my lenses being sluggish and/or off slightly during this cold stretch, when I have tried to get out. All that maybe going to change soon, starting the weekend. The weather forecast for next week is calling for temperatures almost thirty degrees warmer than today! That will be so wonderful after this long cold winter, seeing the snow melt, hearing the birds singing, and watching the flowers begin to bloom! It won’t be long now!

That’s really a good thing, as I have few recent photos to use for this post. As spring finally gets here, I’ll be swamped with images to play with. But until then, I went back in time to some of my older photos to play with in Lightroom, just to learn how to use it. I still need to develop a step by step approach to editing my images, learning the best order to make adjustments in. That will come in time as I learn the way that Lightroom works on photos taken with my camera. Most of the wildlife photos need some noise reduction, since they are typically shot at higher ISO settings. I should start there, as otherwise the other adjustments work on the noise as well as the parts of the image that I want to keep. I’ll learn, as you can see.

Trumpeter swan and mallard

Trumpeter swan and mallard

Eastern swallowtail butterfly?

Eastern swallowtail butterfly?

Eastern kingbird chasing a red-tailed hawk

Eastern kingbird chasing a red-tailed hawk

Okay, I’m officially amazed by what Lightroom can do, especially in that last photo. Just a couple of clicks, and it went from so-so, to not bad, not bad at all. By brightening the shadows a little, it brought out the details of both the hawk and the kingbird. That works really well in landscapes as well.

Un-name pond, Pickerel Lake Nature Preserve

Un-named pond, Pickerel Lake Nature Preserve

While that last one may have been better if I had done a HDR image, the Lightroom alone version is a huge improvement over what came out of the camera. The leaves are green, not black from being in the shadows, the sky is the same deep blue that I saw when I shot that photo, and the white clouds aren’t blown out. By the way, do you notice that I’m using photos that are a preview of things to come? 😉

Butterfly

Butterfly

A mostly black butterfly on a white/light green flower, and Lightroom made all the difference in the world to that image. I was able to bring out the details in the butterfly’s wing without blowing out the flower too badly to use that photo.

Even my best images look better after a tweak or two.

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Michigan lily

Michigan lily

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

If only I had been shooting in RAW when I took those. Oh well, now that I can see the advantage of doing so, and have the storage capacity to handle the larger files, from now on, I’ll always be shooting in RAW.

Well, I went for a short walk today, despite the cold, made even worse by a stiff wind out of the south. I think that it was because of the cold and wind that I didn’t see many birds at all, and only this poor squirrel trying to stay warm.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

It was also trying to stay out of sight of a Cooper’s hawk that was roaming the area, but I never got a shot of the hawk. That’s common enough, but something unusual did happen, in a way. I shot a few series of photos with the intention of playing with in Photomatix and Lightroom. I doubted if I would use any of them, but I’ve changed my mind on that.

I’ve told you what a difference that post-processing can make, and I’ve shown a few before and after photos in the past. Proving that the learning never stops, here’s a series of before and after processing images that I shot today.

Creek scene before

Creek scene before

Creek scene after

Creek scene after

Fence scene before

Fence scene before

Fence scene after

Fence scene after

Okay, I know that I have a tendency to under expose my photos both to protect the highlights, get better color saturation, and to add a little more contrast to my images. It’s rather obvious that the after images are brighter, but there’s a lot more than that going on in these photos, there’s more vibrancy, for the lack of a better term, in the after photos. You can see the sunlight playing on the various parts of these after images that you can’t see in the before versions. In both, the after is much closer to what my eyes saw, I suppose that’s a given, or should be by now. In both of the after photos, there’s more color, and the colors seem livelier as well. That’s especially apparent the background of the Fence scene, you can see the colors of the trees and bushes in the background of the after image, whereas they are a dark mess in the before version.

One thing that I have to keep in mind concerning HDR images is that doing one does not expand the dynamic range so much as it pulls colors and tones from the middle of the spectrum. In photography, you have white on one end of the scale, and black on the other, that doesn’t change, it can’t change, black and white are absolutes in photography. The reason for making a HDR image is to bring out the colors, tones, and details lost by the camera’s sensor inability to accurately record them.

It may be difficult for you to see exactly what I’m talking about in these smaller versions of the photos, and of course, you haven’t seen the other subtle changes in my photos as I’ve played in Lightroom, but I think that it is time to rethink all of my basic camera settings. I won’t bore you any longer with those thoughts, but I do have one more thing to say.

I’m very proud of the fact that I’ve had Lightroom for about a month, and I haven’t gone crazy with the adjustments for color saturation or contrast yet, and doubt if I will. My reason for using Lightroom is to make the most accurate reproductions of what nature reveals to me, not surreal “art” that is barely recognizable as something from nature by the time the “artist” is finished.

Well, one more thing about Lightroom, and that is how easy it is to find images that you are looking for, and I’m just getting started there. Today I was looking at the metadata for an image and noticed arrows next to some of the metadata, including date, cropped size, lens, among others. Not knowing what the arrows did, I clicked on the one near the lens info, and Lightroom brought up every image shot with that lens, way cool!

Sorry, it’s a few days later and I have even more to prattle on about. Yes, I’ve changed many of my basic camera settings because I’m now shooting in RAW and using Lightroom to tweak the images I get. However, between going back through my old photos looking for candidates to use to learn Lightroom, and trying to improve both the older images and the new ones I’m shooting, I see that I have to rethink my entire approach to photography if I’m going to improve my photos. Lightroom is great, but it can’t fix stupid, and I make a lot of stupid mistakes while I’m shooting photos.

To fix that, one thing that I’m doing is using my monopod more often when shooting macro photos. Using my tripod would be better, but the monopod helps.

Ice crystal

Ice crystal

Lichen or fungi?

Lichen or fungi?

Lichens

Lichens

Lichens

Lichens

Seeing these, I wonder what those white “fibers” are?

Anyway, another thing that I’m doing is paying more attention to the background in my photos.

Frosty goldenrod

Frosty goldenrod

Frosty leaves

Frosty leaves

Frosty oak leaves with water drop

Frosty oak leaves with water drop

Frosty pine needles

Frosty pine needles

I do wish that I lived in a more photogenic area, when I went for my walk yesterday, the light was magical for about half an hour, but these are the best photos that I could get around here.

Misty, frosty morning

Misty, frosty morning

I wonder if I could edit out the snowmobile tracks?

Misty, frosty morning

Misty, frosty morning

On Sunday, I went to Muskegon again, and I also paid more attention to the lighting, background and other details much more than I usually do. I’ll do a post on that trip, more photos, fewer words, but I want to show you what I can do when I pay attention to details.

Grey squirrel

Grey squirrel

Of course, better light, lower ISO settings, and getting closer to the subject go a long way towards making a better photo. 🙂 But, I am learning, more every day. More about using Lightroom, but even more about getting better images to load into Lightroom before I begin the editing process.

Male greater scaup

Male greater scaup

So, since this is already longer than it should be, I’ll end it here. Be forewarned, I’ll probably be prattling on again soon as I continue to learn this stuff.

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


Birds of a different kind, The Warbirds

Okay, so we’re on pace for the coldest February on record, at least a spot in the top three coldest ever. We’ve set around a half-dozen record cold temperatures this month, and we have a chance to set one or two more before February is done with. So, before I go off on a long-winded rant about the weather, I’ll tell you what I did on Sunday, February 22nd to escape the cold. I went to the Airzoo in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Founded in 1977, the Air Zoo has a rich history of honoring and celebrating air and space flight. In other words, it’s an airplane and space museum.

First of all, the general admission is a very reasonable $10, although some of the rides cost extra. Since I wasn’t interested in the kiddie rides, that was no big deal to me. Secondly, the lighting was horrible for photography, it was very dark in most areas of the Airzoo, as you will see. It took me a few test shots to figure out how to get any usable photos, but by using my flash, and jacking the ISO up to 2,000 I did fairly well I think. Still, my best two photos from the day were HDR images that I shot and combined in Photomatix. I didn’t use  a tripod, I rested the camera on a solid post or rail to do the HDR images. With as many people as there were in sometimes tight areas, using a tripod would have been a pain, both for myself, and the other visitors. So, I’ll start with one of the HDR images, of one of the planes that I most wanted to see, a B-25 Mitchell.

B-25 Mitchell

B-25 Mitchell

The North American B-25 Mitchell was an American twin-engined medium bomber manufactured by North American Aviation. It was named in honor of General Billy Mitchell, a pioneer of U.S. military aviation. The B-25 first gained fame as the bomber used in the 18 April 1942 Doolittle Raid, in which 16 B-25Bs led by Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle attacked mainland Japan, four months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The mission gave a much-needed lift in spirits to the Americans, and alarmed the Japanese who had believed their home islands were inviolable by enemy forces. Although the amount of actual damage done was relatively minor, it forced the Japanese to divert troops for the home defense for the remainder of the war.

The raiders took off from the carrier USS Hornet and successfully bombed Tokyo and four other Japanese cities without loss. Fifteen of the bombers subsequently crash-landed en route to recovery fields in Eastern China. These losses were the result of the task force being spotted by a Japanese vessel forcing the bombers to take off 170 mi (270 km) early, fuel exhaustion, stormy nighttime conditions with zero visibility, and lack of electronic homing aides at the recovery bases. Only one B-25 bomber landed intact, in Siberia where its five-man crew was interned and the aircraft confiscated. Of the 80 aircrew, 69 survived their historic mission and eventually made it back to American lines.

Here’s a few more photos of the B 25.

B 25 Mitchell

B 25 Mitchell

B 25 Mitchell's awesome firepower

B 25 Mitchell’s awesome firepower

B 25 Mitchell

B 25 Mitchell

B 25 Mitchell

B 25 Mitchell

B 25 Mitchell

B 25 Mitchell

I included the last photo not only to show the rear firepower of the B 25 Mitchell, but also to show you the lighting conditions I was shooting under.

As you can see, the ceiling of the Airzoo is painted black, with spotlights shining down on selected parts of the various planes. Overall, the majority of the Airzoo is rather dim, as you will see in some of my other photos. Not only is the lighting poor for photography, but many of the planes are very close together, making it impossible to get just one in the frame at a time.

But, that’s a good thing in a way, the Airzoo is growing at a rapid pace, they have already filled their main building and have more planes and other exhibits in a second building, but I’ll get to the second building later. For right now, a little more about the history of the Airzoo itself.

When you first walk through the main entrance, you enter the Suzanne Parish Atrium, and see this.

The P 40 Warhawk owned by Suzanne Parrish

The P 40 Warhawk owned by Suzanne Parrish

First, a little about Suzanne Parish. Suzanne DeLano Parish (November 13, 1922-May 12, 2010) was an American aviator, a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, and the co-founder of the Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum, known as the Airzoo. Ms. Parish learned to fly in 1941, when she was 19 years old, and joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots when she was 21, after having accumulated 350 hours in the air. After the war, she attempted to get a job as a commercial pilot, to no avail. She married Preston “Pete” Parish in 1948 and gave birth to five children. When her husband purchased a share in a single engine 35C Bonanza in 1959, she decided to take up flying once more. She and her husband soon purchased a Stearman, an AT-6, and a Grumman Wildcat. The last plane they purchased was the P-40. Parish flew the P-40 Warhawk, which she had painted pink, in several air shows for over 25 years, until she reached her 60s. Deciding that she could no longer handle the G-forces, she flew that plane last in October, 1993. In 1977, she and her husband co-founded the Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum, more popularly known as the Air Zoo. The nucleus of the collection was their own planes.

Tribute to Suzanne Parish

Tribute to Suzanne Parish

Now, a little more about the plane she flew, the P 40 Warhawk.

The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk was an American single-engined, single-seat, all-metal fighter and ground-attack aircraft that first flew in 1938.  The Warhawk was used by most Allied powers during World War II, and remained in frontline service until the end of the war. It was the third most-produced American fighter, after the P-51 and P-47, by November 1944, when production of the P-40 ceased, 13,738 had been built. Although the P 40 was a workhorse that saw service until the end of WW II, it could not match any of the German or Japanese fighter planes in a one on one dogfight. It’s main claim to fame is that it was the plane used by the Flying Tigers (1st American Volunteer Group) led by Colonel Claire Chennault in China before the United States officially joined the war. While the P-40s could not match the maneuverability of the Japanese Army air arm’s Nakajima Ki-27s and Ki-43s, nor the much more famous Zero naval fighter in a slow speed turning dogfight, at higher speeds the P-40s were more than a match. AVG leader Claire Chennault trained his pilots to use the P-40’s particular performance advantages. The P-40 had a higher dive speed than any Japanese fighter aircraft of the early war years, for example, and could be used to exploit so-called “boom-and-zoom” tactics. The AVG was highly successful, and its feats were widely published, to boost sagging public morale at home, by an active cadre of international journalists. According to their official records, in just 6 1/2 months, the Flying Tigers destroyed 115 enemy aircraft for the loss of just four of their own in air-to-air combat.

So, here’s a few more photos of the P 40 flown by Suzanne Parish.

P 40 Warhawk owned by Suzanne Parish

P 40 Warhawk owned by Suzanne Parish

P 40 Warhawk owned by Suzanne Parish

P 40 Warhawk owned by Suzanne Parish

P 40 Warhawk owned by Suzanne Parish

P 40 Warhawk owned by Suzanne Parish

P 40 Warhawk owned by Suzanne Parish

P 40 Warhawk owned by Suzanne Parish

P 40 Warhawk owned by Suzanne Parish

P 40 Warhawk owned by Suzanne Parish

I’m not going to write very much about the rest of the planes that will be in this post, I’m sure that every one is savvy enough to do a web search for more information if they want.

The next one up is a P 47 Thunderbolt, meant to be a long-range fighter to escort Allied bombers during raids on Germany. While it was adequate for those missions, it was soon replaced by the P 51 Mustang, which was an even better long-range escort fighter. The P 47 really excelled as a fighter-bomber in a ground support role. At 8 tons, it was one of the heaviest single engine propeller driven aircraft ever built.

P 47 Thunderbolt

P 47 Thunderbolt

P 47 Thunderbolt

P 47 Thunderbolt

P 47 Thunderbolt

P 47 Thunderbolt

P 47 Thunderbolt

P 47 Thunderbolt

Next up, a Bell P-39 Airacobra. The P-39 was an unusual plane in that the engine was mounted behind the pilot, supposedly for better balance, and the prop was driven by a series of shafts and gears. While the concept may have looked good on paper, in actual flight, the P 39 was not the dogfighter that the designers had hoped it would be. It was in service at the beginning of WW II, and was pressed into service, mostly in the Pacific Theater, as it was one of the few fighters that the US had available at the time. It was outclassed by all of the Japanese fighter planes at the time and was at even more of a disadvantage against Germany’s planes. It was soon replaced by better planes, the few P 39s that remained in service were used for close air support until they too were replaced.

Bell P-39 Airacobra

Bell P-39 Airacobra

Bell P-39 Airacobra

Bell P-39 Airacobra

Bell P-39 Airacobra

Bell P-39 Airacobra

The last of the WW II combat aircraft from the main building of the Airzoo is a scale model of a P 38 Lightning. It was designed by Clarence “Kelly” Johnson and went on to become the most successful twin-engine combat aircraft. The P-38 primarily served in Europe and North Africa. Its long-range and twin engines made it well suited to duty in the Pacific, although smaller numbers were deployed to the Pacific theater due to production limits. The P-38 played a vital role in Allied war efforts, helping to achieve air superiority over Africa in 1942 and 1943, supporting the invasion of Sicily, escorting B-17 and B-24 bombing runs, and bombing Romanian oil refineries. Many P-38s were fitted with cameras and used as reconnaissance aircraft, providing valuable intelligence data throughout the war.

Lockheed P-38 Lightning (scale model)

Lockheed P-38 Lightning (scale model)

Lockheed P-38 Lightning (scale model)

Lockheed P-38 Lightning (scale model)

Lockheed P-38 Lightning (scale model)

Lockheed P-38 Lightning (scale model)

Now then, on to the Warbirds from the second building.

From what I could tell, the second building used to be the Airzoo’s warehouse and workshop, but their collection of planes has grown so much that they’ve had to use portions of it for exhibiting their collection of planes. Why do I say that? Because along with the planes, you will also see things like these.

Replica Sopwith Camel in progress

Replica Sopwith Camel in progress

The workshop at the Airzoo

The workshop at the Airzoo

The workshop at the Airzoo

The workshop at the Airzoo

I also had a shot of around a dozen aircraft engines in storage, but I must have deleted that one. Anyway, here are the three WW II era Warbirds from the second building, starting with a Grumman FM-2 Wildcat.

The Grumman FM-2 Wildcat was the US Navy’s frontline fighter at the beginning of the war.

Grumman FM-2 Wildcat

Grumman FM-2 Wildcat

It was soon replaced by the more capable Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat….

Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat

Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat

…and Goodyear FG-1D Corsair.

Goodyear FG-1D Corsair

Goodyear FG-1D Corsair

Sorry about those photos, the way that the planes were positioned made it nearly impossible to get good images of each plane individually.

I’m going to finish this post off with a plane that has a Michigan connection, a Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless dive-bomber. It was the United States Navy’s main bomber throughout much of WW II, and here’s a few interesting facts about it.

Twenty-one different tail and rudder configurations and 12 different aileron profiles were tested with the Dauntless in order to find a satisfactory combination.

The aircraft did not have folding wings and therefore was built as small as possible. When viewed from above, the plane had a particularly broad but short wing, which was helpful in air-to-air combat. It was very rugged and could take a lot of punishment from both overloading and enemy action.

The SBD was slow, but it was very stable in a dive and maneuverable enough to shoot down enemy fighter planes. On a dive bombing mission, the pilot would generally attack at about 70 degrees, the lower flap depressed 42 degrees and the upper rose to 37.5 degrees. Bombs were released at 1,500-2,000 feet, giving the Dauntless enough remaining room to pull out of the dive.

SBD stands for “Scout Bomber Douglas.” Many of the men who flew and maintained them often jokingly called them “Slow But Deadly.”

Now then, for the Michigan connection as far as the plane on display. During WW II, some navy pilots were trained at the Glenview Naval Air Station, which is in Illinois, on Lake Michigan. I could type out the entire story of this plane, but they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so you can read about this plane here in the photo.

IMG_6349

Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless story

And, here’s the way that the plane looked when it was recovered from the bottom of Lake Michigan.

IMG_6351

Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless

And now, the way that it looks today after being restored at the Airzoo.

IMG_6317

Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless

IMG_6346

Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless

IMG_6347

Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless

It’s difficult to fathom how many hours of work went into restoring that plane! In fact, they did such a superb job on the Dauntless, that they have been selected to restore and display another Wildcat that was also recovered from the bottom of Lake Michigan.

Before I wrap this one up, I should include a link to the Airzoo’s website.

I plan on doing one or two more posts on the planes and other things to be seen at the Airzoo, it depends in part on the response that I get to this one. There’s so many things to see and do there, I spent a good three and a half hours there just shooting photos, I didn’t have time to thoroughly look over the other displays and information there. If you plan on visiting, I’d allow for a full day there, and you still may not cover everything there, for I have just begun to scratch the surface in this post. I know that my next post will touch on the space museum a little, some WW I era replica planes, and the jet engined powered planes. However, my main interest was the WW II era planes, so that’s where I have begun.

Note:

Since I last worked on this post, the Airzoo made the following announcement.

“Join us for the 2nd Annual “Photo Safari at the Air Zoo”, where we will turn up the lights and open our doors after hours, to give photographers exclusive, up-close access to our incredible, world renowned collection of over 60 aircraft and spacecraft!”

As much as I would like to attend, it is on a week night, and my work schedule won’t permit me to go. It would be great to shoot the planes under some better light, but I think that I did okay with my photos. Maybe next year. 🙂

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


Tennessee Warbler, Oreothlypis peregrina

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Tennessee Warbler, Oreothlypis peregrina

The Tennessee warbler is a New World warbler that breeds in eastern North America and winters in southern Central America and northern South America.

The Tennessee warbler is 11.5 cm (4.5 in) long, has a 19.69 cm (7.75 in) wingspan, and weighs roughly 10 g (0.35 oz). The breeding male has olive back, shoulders, rump and vent. The flight feathers are brownish-black. It has a slate gray neck, crown and eyeline. The underside is a gray-white. The female is similar to the male, but is much duller and has a greener tinge to the underside. The Tennessee warbler has long wings, short tail and a thin, pointy bill. Juveniles and first-year birds are quite similar to the female.

Tennessee warblers resemble female black-throated blue warblers. The only difference is that the black-throated blue has a darker cheek and two white wing spots.

This bird can be confused with the red-eyed vireo, which is larger, moves more deliberately and sings almost constantly. The orange-crowned warbler can also look similar, but lacks the white eyebrow, is greyer-brown above and has yellow undertail coverts.

The song has three parts, which can be repeated endlessly: tecky tecky tecky tick tick tick tick tyew!tyew!tyew!tyew! It’s call is a sharp tyick. The flight call is a buzzy zzee.

It breeds from the Adirondack Mountains in New York through northern Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine north and west throughout much of Canada. Also found breeding in northeast Minnesota and northern Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It is migratory, wintering in southern Central America and northern Colombia and Venezuela, with a few stragglers going as far south as Ecuador. It is a very rare vagrant to western Europe. This bird was named from a specimen collected in Tennessee where it may appear during migration.

The Tennessee warbler feeds mainly on insects and prefers the spruce budworm. This species fluctuates in population with the quantity of the worms. It also likes flower nectar, fruit and some seeds.

This warbler, like most others, is nervous and quick while foraging. It creeps along branches and is found at all levels. It is solitary while nesting, but forms mixed flocks after breeding.

The Tennessee warbler prefers coniferous forests, mixed conifer-deciduous forests, early successional woodlands and boreal bogs. They make a cup shaped nest made of dried grasses and moss lined with finer grasses, stems and hair. The nest can be placed on the ground or above a bog in moss or in the base of a shrub. The nest is built by the female and she lays 4–7 white eggs with brown splotches on them.

On to my photos:

Tennessee Warbler, Oreothlypis peregrina

Tennessee Warbler, Oreothlypis peregrina

Tennessee Warbler, Oreothlypis peregrina

Tennessee Warbler, Oreothlypis peregrina

Tennessee Warbler, Oreothlypis peregrina

Tennessee Warbler, Oreothlypis peregrina

Tennessee Warbler, Oreothlypis peregrina

Tennessee Warbler, Oreothlypis peregrina

Tennessee Warbler, Oreothlypis peregrina

Tennessee Warbler, Oreothlypis peregrina

 

This is number 178 in my photo life list, only 172 to go!

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

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Muskegon Birding, February 28th, 2015, Two lifers

I haven’t made it out very often lately, between work and the weather. Last weekend, I went to the Airzoo in Kalamazoo to shoot photos of the planes in the museum there, and I’m still working on a post on that trip.

The Kalamazoo Airzoo

The Kalamazoo Airzoo

We’ve shattered the record for the coldest February on record, a full two degrees colder than the previous record, set in 1978. That’s been reason enough to stay indoors where it’s warm. 😉 But, with the promise of some sunshine, and reports of some rare birds coming from the Muskegon area, I’d been hibernating long enough, and just had to get out to shoot some photos. Low temperature this morning,  -4 F (-20 C),  the 7th time in the last 14 days we’ve been below zero.

Sure enough, it was sunny while I was driving towards Muskegon, and the sunshine even managed to hold long enough for me to shoot photos of one of two lifers that I saw this day, a black scoter.

Male Black Scoter

Male Black Scoter

But, it soon clouded over right along Lake Michigan, which was a shame, as there were plenty of waterfowl around for me to photograph.

Male White-winged scoter

Male White-winged scoter

I realized that I’ve posted quite a few images of the male white-wing scoters in the past, so here’s a series of photos of a female, diving, then surfacing to eat what she had found.

Female White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

I thought that this female long-tailed duck was going to dry her wings after coming up from a dive…

Female long-tailed duck

Female long-tailed duck

Female long-tailed duck

Female long-tailed duck

Female long-tailed duck

Female long-tailed duck

…but that was as far as she went, then she said “The heck with it, it’s too cold to generate any kind of a breeze”.

Female long-tailed duck

Female long-tailed duck

With halfway decent light for a change, I got better photos of common goldeneyes as well.

Female common goldeneye duck

Female common goldeneye duck

Male common goldeneye ducks

Male common goldeneye ducks

Although, I have to admit that I used Lightroom to improve those, and most of the images in this post.

The ducks were quite skittish, so I sat in my car, waiting for them to return close enough for good photos. That worked fairly well, other than a steady stream of people stopping by to look for the rare birds. Every time some one pulled into the parking lot, the ducks would all swim to the north side of the channel, well out of camera range. I’d wait, the ducks would come back towards me, and I’d get a few photos before the next car arrived. On the other hand, the mute swans would swim over when some one pulled up, looking for a handout, as a few people feed the swans and ducks.

Mute swan

Mute swan

I probably should have zoomed out a bit for that one. 😉

There was one redhead duck that never went very far, however, he refused to pose, as he was trying to sleep.

Sleeping male redhead duck

Sleeping male redhead duck

And, this female red-breasted merganser refused to look at me, even though I was so close that this image hasn’t been cropped at all.

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

I did catch her drying off though….

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

…before she moved away to do some preening.

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

The males were more skittish, and so I got one fair photo of one of them.

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

As the ducks were returning after their swim to the other side of the channel, I got a redhead and a greater scaup together….

Male redhead duck and greater scaup

Male redhead duck and greater scaup

…then, I shot each one individually.

Male greater scaup

Male greater scaup

Male redhead duck

Male redhead duck

I think that you can see how quickly the light was changing, from almost sunny, to cloudy, then sunny again, for a few seconds. That soon came to an end, and by the time that I had walked out to the end of the breakwater to catch the common eider, the snow had begun.

Common eider

Common eider

Common eider

Common eider

Not bad, two lifers in one trip! I have to give a shout out to the two serious birders who helped me spot both of the lifers, I think that I would have found them anyway, but having some one with a spotting scope point them out sure speeds things up.

On my way back to my Forester (and hoping that I didn’t lose any fingers to frostbite), I shot a few more photos there at the Muskegon Lake channel.

Common mergansers

Common mergansers

This female goldeneye had just surfaced with a crayfish, and wasn’t about to leave it behind when I spooked her, so she took it along with her.

Female common goldeneye in flight

Female common goldeneye in flight

This male followed her.

Male common goldeneye in flight

Male common goldeneye in flight

Male common goldeneye in flight

Male common goldeneye in flight

One last photo from the Muskegon Lake channel, here’s a long-tailed duck and a mallard to show you how tiny long-tailed ducks are.

Long-tailed duck and mallard

Long-tailed duck and mallard

Looking toward the east, I could see that the clouds were hugging the Lake Michigan shore, and that inland, it was sunny. So, I headed over to the other end of Muskegon Lake to visit the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. It was sunnier there than at the channel, but it wasn’t any warmer, and there’s nothing to block the wind, so I didn’t linger long enough to shoot a single photo. Instead, I headed even farther inland, to the Muskegon County wastewater treatment facility. I finally used my long-term visitor’s pass!

Unfortunately, with all the snow that has fallen around Muskegon, the trails, and even some of the two-tracks were blocked, unless I wanted to do some serious drift busting, and I didn’t. Not on foot, or in my Subaru, not as deep as some of the drifts were. So, I think that this is a good spot for this HDR image, even though I shot it later in the day.

Snow scene

Snow scene

I’m not sure that I needed to do a HDR, but it so fast and easy now to do them on my new iMac while never exiting Lightroom, that I figure that it was better safe than sorry. I shot a number of them, that’s the only one worth posting though. I kept getting distracted by birds, mostly eagles.

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

There were numerous bald eagles there, how many I can’t say for sure, but at least a dozen, maybe more. Most of them were hanging around the landfill, fighting the gulls, crows, and ravens for scraps. But every once in a while, one of the eagles would go off to other areas in search of food. I had plenty of opportunities to shoot bad photos of eagles in flight, as they weren’t cooperative in the least. Once, while I was shooting snow scenes, an eagle was soaring very close to me, but the light was all wrong at the time. I kept an eye on the eagle, hoping that it would continue moving slowly in the same direction it had been as it circled near me. Eventually, the eagle did move to the other side of me, I set the camera with the short lens on it down in my car, grabbed the camera with the long lens, and the eagle immediately took off in a straight line to get back to where the light was wrong. I hopped into my car and took off trying to pass the eagle to get the light right, the eagle won, only because it took the direct route, and I had to stay on the plowed road.

Darn, I need a lot of practice shooting flying birds, it’s been so long that my timing was way off, as you will see. Anyway, here’s a better shot of the eagle above.

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

With some sunshine, I was able to get a few good photos of other birds as well.

Female common goldeneye

Female common goldeneye

Male gadwall

Male gadwall

Male gadwall in flight

Male gadwall in flight

Male greater scaup

Male greater scaup

Female gadwall

Female gadwall

And, it wasn’t just waterfowl.

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Unidentified gull, probably a juvenile ring-billed

 

Horned lark with a kernel of corn

Horned lark with a kernel of corn

Horned lark

Horned lark

Pigeons, or rock dove

Pigeons, or rock dove

There’s nothing like some good light for a change to improve my photos! Well, good light, and now Lightroom. 😉

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

My best shot of an eagle from the day, and it has a twig “growing” out of its beak. 😦

No problem, I can fix that in Lightroom now.

Bald eagle sans twig

Bald eagle sans twig

Removing the twig was cool, but it’s getting the exposure correct that I really love about Lightroom. Bald eagles in the sun are tough to photograph well, if you expose to get their chocolate-brown bodies correct, then the their heads and tails are usually blown out. If you expose for their heads and tails, then, you usually lose the details of their feathers on their bodies. I look at that last one and I think “That’s exactly what a bald eagle looks like!”. A funny (to me) story about that eagle. It was perched in the tree so long that I shot a number of photos using just the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens). I then added the 1.4 X tele-converter to the Beast, but I never got a usable photo. I did get a good shot of the eagle’s tail as it flew off though, but I’m not going to post it.

As I was switching back to just the Beast, I happened to look up to where the eagle had been, and it was back again. This time, I just drove a little closer to it to get those last two photos, rather than add the tele-converter again. 😉

I was disappointed that I didn’t find a snowy owl to photograph in the sun, I think that they have all left to return home above the Arctic Circle for mating season. But, I did find this eagle who was willing to act as a stand in for the owls though.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

I think that the eagle was confused, I thought that they soared overhead looking down for prey, this one was on the ground watching the gulls fly overhead. Maybe it had been watching the snowy owls hunting from the ground all winter long and decided to give that technique a try, 😉

Anyway, that wraps this one up, I have several posts to do from my trip to the Airzoo, so it’s probably alright that I haven’t been shooting many photos during the week.

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