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

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!

Advertisements

26 responses

  1. I know it’s not much coming from me but I really look forward to your excellent photos. I’m sorry that you feel frustrated by your equipment. I guess you are able to see the imperfections more than me and you know all your missed opportunities, but I was so very happy to discover your blog and think your pictures are of high standard! I’m simply amazed by all the birds you see, Jerry, and your ability and patience to capture them in their natural surroundings. I’m envious. I understand the frustrations about trying to work out the quality based on your computer screen. My photos look so different on my little laptop compared to my son’s much better one. It’s a bit annoying.
    What long hours you are working, Jerry. No wonder you don’t feel like doing anything but resting when you get home. That schedule sounds exhausting! Take good care of yourself. I love your excellent blog!

    March 22, 2015 at 7:00 am

    • Thanks Jane! Hanging around outside with the birds and other critters is the way that I like to spend my time, so neither ability or patience has much to do with my getting the photos that I do. My work schedule does come close to be exhausting at times, but the money makes that worth while.

      March 22, 2015 at 6:23 pm

  2. Some very nice shots!

    March 22, 2015 at 8:23 am

    • Thanks Bob!

      March 22, 2015 at 6:23 pm

  3. You sure got some excellent shots that day. Amazing what a little sunshine can do for a photo!
    I know what you mean about the differences between blog, computer and print. Sometimes it can be frustrating, I had to print some of mine last summer for a show and it really wasn’t a very pleasurable experience.
    It sounds like you’ve almost got too much work, but I know it’s hard to say no. I worked twelve hour days for a while once. I was making great money but all I wanted to do was sleep, so the money was meaningless. Hopefully things will calm down and you’ll find a balance between work and play.
    I think I’m a little closer to solving the mystery of the strange filaments on lichens and I’ll try to explain it in my next post.

    March 22, 2015 at 10:10 am

    • Thanks Allen! I didn’t think of it when I had the images printed, but you also have to worry about the software that they use to print photos, some of it is really bad, so you have no clue where the problem really is.

      For work right now, I’m taking all that I can legally run, until true spring weather, the flowers, and insects return. Then I’ll slack off some.

      March 22, 2015 at 6:37 pm

  4. Sorry to hear the work scedule is interfering with walking. That is quite the variety of waterfowl you have there in the Muskegon area. I like that redhead duck hanging out with the scaup.

    March 22, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    • Thanks Lavinia! Actually, the waterfowl numbers are way down this winter, both the numbers of species and overall numbers of each species. The last two winters have been very harsh, and so the ducks that were able to migrated farther south this year.

      March 22, 2015 at 6:25 pm

  5. What a great post, Jerry! I understand how disappointed you must feel when shots don’t quite work out – I get that every time I photograph anything! However, I am pleased you feel you are really progressing and that the prints showed this. All the shots are so beautiful – I especially liked the American Tree Sparrow sequence. Take care of yourself!

    March 22, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    • Thanks Clare! I probably try too hard to get better photos, but that’s my nature, if I’m going to do something, I try to do the best I can.

      March 22, 2015 at 6:26 pm

      • I quite understand that! Only the best will do. That is the only way to really improve your skills.

        March 22, 2015 at 6:47 pm

  6. What a staggeringly good set of photographs, I am unable to choose a favourite apart from choosing them all. You are so clever.

    March 22, 2015 at 3:06 pm

    • Thank you Susan! However, if I were really clever, I’d have listened to all those who told me the way to get better photos in the first place rather than do it the hard way.

      March 22, 2015 at 6:27 pm

  7. All this work must be contributing to your equipment fund in a positive way so it has a good side to it. I am always impressed by how many good shots you get of birds in the wild, The woodpeckers were really excellent.

    March 22, 2015 at 7:15 pm

    • Thank you Tom! Both the equipment fund and the tax man love the hours that I’m working. 😉

      I wouldn’t call the places where I shot these photos the wilds, but I know what you mean, they were wild birds. I’m fortunate in that birds and critters trust me more than they do most humans, which allows me to approach a little closer.

      March 23, 2015 at 1:57 am

  8. Another wonderful set of photos. I really enjoyed seeing them. Spring has arrived here now so I hope you find the time you want to spend outdoors.

    March 22, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    • Thank you Brandy! It’s turned cold again here, so I’ll keep working the long hours for now until true spring does arrive.

      March 23, 2015 at 1:54 am

  9. Jack Pohler

    Hi Jerry

    I have a Canon 7D MII and love it. It has a much improved auto-focus system. I don’t want to tempt you, but after reading your latest posts, I wouldn’t be surprised if it did for your shooting, what a new computer and Lightroom did for your output.

    March 22, 2015 at 8:46 pm

    • Thanks Jack!

      I shouldn’t complain so much about my current camera, but you know how it is when there’s a better model available, one always fantasizes about the possibilities. I have enough on my plate right now, learning a new computer, Lightroom, and how to get better photos from the 60D, I don’t need to add learning the 7D Mk II’s auto-focusing system to the mix quite yet, in a month or two. 😉

      March 23, 2015 at 2:01 am

  10. Love the sleepy-looking long tailed duck. You should also consider doing a gallery of head shots – seeing one of the mute swan made me think how visually arresting a whole series could be.

    When you find the perfect balance of money, work, and free time, be sure to let us all know what that is. Something we all try to find.

    I love your blog.

    March 23, 2015 at 8:30 am

    • Thank you Judy! I’d love to get head shots of all the birds, but very few will sit for a photo session like a mute swan will.

      Right now, money and my bank balance are the only things that concern me. Maybe when the weather warms up, that will change.

      Thanks again.

      March 24, 2015 at 7:26 pm

  11. Waterfowl, yay!!! But, have to say, I love that portrait of the American Robin. 🙂

    March 24, 2015 at 10:14 am

    • Thanks Lori! I’ll have to see if I can get some of the other songbirds to pose like that.

      March 24, 2015 at 7:23 pm

  12. Some very nice shots in this series–kudos!

    March 25, 2015 at 11:27 am

    • Thank you very much Kerry! I know that I haven’t gotten around to commenting on your last post, even though I read it. Work has been crazy the last two weeks, I barely have time to eat and sleep.

      March 25, 2015 at 8:41 pm

      • Hey, no sweat. I’m definitely not trolling for comments. 🙂

        March 26, 2015 at 12:27 pm