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

Archive for April, 2015

From around home, before the 7D Mk II

I’m way behind in posting again, or still, which ever way you prefer to look at it. But, I’m having tons of fun right now, when I have time off from work, getting out and shooting loads of photos. There’s just so much to photograph this time of year, with new flowers and birds appearing almost daily.

In some ways, I’m a bit torn, do I only post my best photos, or do I post the not so great photos that are interesting, even if they aren’t the best that I can do? Should I continue to post multiple photos of the same species of birds and other subjects that I love, or do I go for as much variety as I could? Trying to decide what to put in a post, and what to leave out is becoming more difficult, especially with the backlog of photos that I have saved to post. Here’s an example, I’ve posted too many photos of mallards already, but they have so much personality, how do I stop myself from posting photos such as this one?

Male mallard being goofy

Male mallard being goofy

That one has been saved on my computer for nearly a month, but it still cracks me up every time that I view it.

You may think that with a brand new 7D Mark II that I’d be running around using it for everything, and in a hurry to show all the readers of this blog the resulting photos. Maybe it represents a turning point for me as far as photography, but I’ve been using the 7D only sparingly so far. I am beginning to see it, and all my photo gear, as a tool to be used for what it’s best at. I’ve gone to the Muskegon area twice since I purchased the 7D, and both times I had it set up for birds in flight with the 300 mm lens on it. On both trips, I had one of the 60D bodies with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) on it, and shot the majority of the photos on both trips with it, rather than the 7D. I will say that I’ve seen flashes of brilliance from the 7D already, as far as how quickly and accurately it can auto-focus, particularly on moving subjects.

I’m still learning the 7D, whereas I’ve been using the Beast on a 60D body for two years now, I know what that combination can do, and how to get the shot when I need to. I can see that the 7D does turn out better images, but, using Lightroom, I can bring what comes out of the 60Ds up to about the same level, which is pretty darned good in my opinion.

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

Even during the times that I’ve been carrying the 7D as my main wildlife camera, I still carry one of the 60D bodies for macros and landscapes.

Crocus

Crocus

On one day in particular, I saw few birds, so the 7D got little use, but it was a fine day for flowers, sunshine and no wind, so almost all the photos I shot that day were with the 60D. But, I’ll get to that when I get to the photos from that time period, the photos from this post are all from before I got the 7D. These still date back to the early spring, when the bee from several posts back was rolling in crocus pollen.

Bee covered in pollen

Bee covered in pollen

I may have been better off to delete the majority of the photos that follow, as the weather wasn’t the greatest on many of the days that I shot them. But, they are a record of my spring this year, so here goes.

I’m constantly amazed by what I see through the macro lens when I turn it towards something I see growing on the side of a tree.

A miniature jungle of moss and lichens, perhaps a slime mold?

A miniature jungle of moss and lichens, perhaps a slime mold?

We’ve had plenty of rain this spring, but it’s been coming down in torrents when it does rain, with long dry spells in between. That’s made finding lichens and mosses a bit of a challenge. I should also add that there was snow falling three days last week, it melted as fast as it fell, but it was cold enough for snow.

Anyway, you never know what you’re going to see around here.

Rooftop Canada goose

Rooftop Canada goose

Mallards following the goose's lead

Mallards following the goose’s lead

You wouldn’t think that a critter that can fly…

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

…would feel the need to perch on a roof to enjoy the view, but when it happens, I always do a double take because it’s not something that I expect.

Speaking of the unexpected, one early morning as I was walking the bike path that runs along the expressway, about a dozen small songbirds came flying out of the brush straight at me, in a big hurry, something that doesn’t usually happen. A few seconds later, a Cooper’s hawk went blasting past me, I turned, but didn’t have time to zoom in…

Cooper's hawk in flight

Cooper’s hawk in flight

…so you get an idea that the places that I walk around home aren’t exactly a wildlife preserve. I did get zoomed in and cropped the next photo of the hawk.

Cooper's hawk in flight

Cooper’s hawk in flight

But speaking of wildlife preserves, I’m signed up to get daily rare bird reports through eBird, and the number of reports that come from the area of the apartment complex where I used to live is staggering. In some ways, I wish that I still lived in the old apartment, seeing so many species of birds around there is what got me into serious birding. But, the management at the old complex went downhill in a hurry, and the place was really overpriced for what the apartment was. Besides, I do pretty well around here, and on weekends, I manage to track down plenty of birds elsewhere.

The man-made lakes in the area of the old apartment is what seems to attract many of the rarer birds to that area, but I’ve done well enough around the new apartment, capturing shots of birds that prefer open grassland, like this meadowlark.

Eastern meadowlark

Eastern meadowlark

It’s so good to hear their song again, after the long cold winter that we had. In fact, it’s great to hear all the birds singing!

American robin singing

American robin singing

American goldfinch singing

American goldfinch singing

Northern cardinal singing

Northern cardinal singing

Northern cardinal singing

Northern cardinal singing

IMG_7418

Red-winged blackbird singing

 

American robin singing

American robin singing

Chipping sparrow singing

Chipping sparrow singing

Northern cardinal singing

Northern cardinal singing

American goldfinch singing

American goldfinch singing

If there wasn’t so much background noise around here, I’d have shot a few videos, so I could record their songs, because hearing them sing is one of the reasons that spring is my favorite season.

There are some advantages to shooting photos of the more common species of birds around here, they make great practice subjects as I test new settings and techniques out in photography. Also, I’m able to observe them closely, and learn more about them, even if I don’t always shoot photos of what I learn. For instance, I never knew that flickers drummed on dead tree branches the same way that other woodpeckers do, until I saw one doing so.

Northern flicker drumming

Northern flicker drumming

It would pause for a few seconds to give out its distinctive call….

Northern flicker calling

Northern flicker calling

…then go back to drumming again.

Speaking of woodpeckers, here’s a few more.

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

Downy woodpecker

Downy woodpecker

Pileated woodpecker in flight

Pileated woodpecker in flight

Pileated woodpecker in flight

Pileated woodpecker in flight

Sorry about those last two, the pileated was really too far away, but while I’ve heard them, and caught glimpses of them, I haven’t been able to get close to them for a while now. That may change, or at least I hope that it does.

Speaking of getting close to my subjects, the fox squirrels are getting so used to my being around that they allow me to get too close to them.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

So do some of the mallards.

Male mallard

Male mallard

Male mallard

Male mallard

Male mallard clowning for the camera

Male mallard clowning for the camera

Male mallards up to something

Male mallards up to something

I never did figure out what those three were up to, but I could tell that they were up to something, you never know with mallards.

I did shoot a few good photos for this post, besides just interesting ones.

Female brown-headed cowbird

Female brown-headed cowbird

Male brown-headed cowbird displaying for a female

Male brown-headed cowbird displaying for a female

Male brown-headed cowbird

Male brown-headed cowbird

But, I wish that they had been of a different species of bird, other than the parasitic nesting cowbirds. The female cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of other species of birds, which almost always results in the death of the young birds of the “host” species. Cowbirds laying eggs in bluebird nests is what led to the sharp decline in bluebirds.

One of these days, I’ll get a really good photo of one of these, a brown creeper.

Brown creeper on the move

Brown creeper on the move

They’re always on the move, and they blend in so well with tree bark that the creepers are hard to spot. It looks as if the bark is moving. I chased that one around for a while, to get this photo.

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

On another day, I chased this one…

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

…it paused for a second, and I thought that I had it…

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

…but you can see that it had just begun moving again as I tripped the shutter…

Brown creeper catching a flying insect

Brown creeper catching a flying insect

…to snatch an insect out of the air…

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

…which the creeper ate on the run, of course.

Speaking of what birds eat, there’s a reason that robins are so plentiful, they have evolved to fit into nearly every type of habitat. We think of them as the quintessential suburban birds, pulling worms from manicured lawns, but they do equally as well in the “wild”. They have a varied diet that consists of both insects and vegetation, and you can spot them in the deep woods, scratching through the leaf litter for insects, in bushes eating berries, or in grassy fields chasing down insects.

American robin with a snack

American robin with a snack

One of these days…

American robin taking flight

American robin taking flight

…I’ll get better at catching those moments also.

Oh, before I forget, several posts back, or in a comment to some one, I mentioned finding lichens growing on a piece of discarded carpeting. Well, for what it’s worth, here’s a photo of those lichens.

Lichens

Lichens

Here’s a few other lichens that I shot on a frosty morning, just because I liked the light, colors, and textures.

Frosty lichens

Frosty lichens

Even though I’ve put too many photos in this post already, I have just a few more to go, starting with a red squirrel.

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

When I think of spring, this is one of the images that comes to mind, even though I have already posted several similar photos, a male cardinal in a tree singing in hopes of attracting a mate.

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing

One of these days, I’ll get “The Shot” of a cardinal in full song, just like one of these days, I’ll be in the right place at the right time to capture a spectacular sunrise or sunset, rather than at a wastewater treatment facility. šŸ˜‰

Goose at dawn

Goose at dawn

That’s just a teaser of what I hopefully will be shooting more of in the future, sans the power-lines and poles, and other man-made objects in the scene.

I’d better stop here, or this post will go on forever!

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


From Pickerel Lake, before the 7D Mk II

I haven’t had much time to post lately, or even time to get out and shoot a few photos. Ā It’s a Friday evening, after I worked 60 hours this week, including another overnight run. So, I still don’t have much time.

What I’m going to do is just post the photos from a hike that I did a few weeks ago around the Pickerel Lake Nature Preserve, and from two wetland areas that I stopped at closer to home that same day. Just photos for the most part, with few words.

Moss?

Moss?

Moss?

Moss?

Moss and lichens

Moss and lichens

The spore bearing parts of a moss

The spore bearing parts of a moss

The spore bearing parts of a moss

The spore bearing parts of a moss

Pussy willow

Pussy willow

Pie-billed grebe

Pie-billed grebe

Pie-billed grebe

Pie-billed grebe

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

Male northern flicker displaying for a female

Male northern flicker displaying for a female

My luck with wood ducks had been getting better, I actually got a few good photos of one recently. However, things reverted back to normal for this one.

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

As I was trying to get into position to get a better shot of it, I spooked its mate, which was checking out possible nesting sites, and when she took off, so did he.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Canada goose

Canada goose

Moss?

Moss?

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

Fox sparrow hiding

Fox sparrow hiding

Here’s a series of photos of a downy woodpecker finding and eating its lunch.

Downy woodpecker finding food

Downy woodpecker finding food

Downy woodpecker finding food

Downy woodpecker finding food

Downy woodpecker finding food

Downy woodpecker finding food

Downy woodpecker finding food

Downy woodpecker finding food

Downy woodpecker finding food

Downy woodpecker finding food

Downy woodpecker finding food

Downy woodpecker finding food

Downy woodpecker licking its lips

Downy woodpecker licking its lips

I played peek-a-boo with a grey squirrel for a while. It decided not to come out any more with the big bad photographer hanging around.

Grey squirrel hiding

Grey squirrel hiding

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

You can see that it had become overcast while I was walking around Pickerel Lake. Almost as soon as I started home, the sun came out. So, I stopped at a wetland area just a few miles from home, where a couple of species of rare birds had been seen earlier that week. I didn’t see any of the rare birds, but there were these two sandhill cranes with the Canada geese there.

Sandhill cranes and geese

Sandhill cranes and geese

My next stop was another wetlands area, not far from the first. I was quite surprised to walk up on a another pair of cranes, these photos weren’t cropped at all, I was that close to the cranes. However, you can see how well that the cranes blend in with the vegetation.

Sandhill cranes

Sandhill cranes

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

I spooked a small wading bird, and as it flew off, this heron followed, my first great blue heron of the spring, and I got just a few poor photos of it.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

The same holds true for the first kingfisher of the spring, a bad photo of it.

Belted kingfisher in flight

Belted kingfisher in flight

I did better with the ducks and geese.

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

Mallards and one male northern shoveler in flight

Mallards and one male northern shoveler in flight

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

Any one who has tried to photograph small birds in the brush will be able to relate to this next series. With a small flock of golden-crowned kinglets near me, I picked a spot to stand where I thought that I had the best chance of getting a good, clear shot of one of the kinglets.

Golden-crowned kinglet being difficult

Golden-crowned kinglet being difficult

Most of the time, this happened. By the time I got the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) swung around to get one of the kinglets in the viewfinder, it was already on its way to its next perch.

Golden-crowned kinglet being difficult

Golden-crowned kinglet being difficult

Or, hiding behind the branches.

Golden-crowned kinglet being difficult

Golden-crowned kinglet being difficult

Golden-crowned kinglet being difficult

Golden-crowned kinglet being difficult

Golden-crowned kinglet being difficult

Golden-crowned kinglet being difficult

I finally chased one until it had to take a short break to rest up, but then, I was shooting almost straight up at it. Not really, I just lucked out, almost, it’s hard to tell which species this is from this view. But, I’ll take it.

Golden-crowned kinglet tired out from avoiding the camera

Golden-crowned kinglet tired out from avoiding the camera

Ducks are much easier.

Ring-necked ducks

Ring-necked ducks

Ring-necked ducks in flight

Ring-necked ducks in flight

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

And finally, a newly remodeled barn, just because.

A really red barn

A really red barn

All of the photos in this post were shot with the Canon 60D bodies I have had for a while now, and various lenses, mostly the Beast and the Tokina 100 mm macro lens. As you are probably aware of, I have since purchased a Canon 7D Mk II camera, and I have a few photos from it from when I’ve had a chance to get out. I will say that the 7D produces slightly better images than the 60D, but not by much, as this was from one of the 60D bodies.

Daffodil

Daffodil

It seems like everything was coming together at the same time, that all my practicing and testing was beginning to pay off. I’m getting better photos than ever from the 60D bodies…

Hepatica

Hepatica

…and adding the capabilities of the 7D Mk II is like icing on the cake.

Black-capped chickadee with a pine seed

Black-capped chickadee with a pine seed

I still have too many photos saved for one more post, I have more from around home, plus many from another trip to Muskegon to share when I get the chance.

Right now, I’m going to eat breakfast, then head to Muskegon to see what I can find there.

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


My first efforts with the Canon 7D Mark II

The first thing that IĀ noticed as I removed the new 7D from the box was that it felt lighter than the 60D bodies that I have been using. Even though it is slightly larger than the 60D, the 7D has a magnesium frame, rather than an aluminum and plastic frame as my 60Ds have. The ruggedness of the original 7D is almost legendary, there are Youtube videos of people purposely abusing them to see how much punishment they could take before they stopped functioning. (those videos always ticked me off, why destroy a perfectly good camera when so many people would love to have one?)

Anyway, it felt solidly built as I took it out of the box, not that the 60D feels cheap, but I could tell the difference right away. Opening the 7D up to insert the battery and memory card, I could see the weather sealing there around the openings for each compartment.

Next up, the viewfinder. It’s huge and bright, even when compared to my 60D, which was a huge improvement over my old Nikon D50 which was like looking through a long tunnel when looking through the viewfinder. There’s a lot more information displayed in the 7D viewfinder as well, but I didn’t pay too much attention to that yet, that will come as I learn more about the camera.

With a memory card and battery installed, it was time to go through the menu and get the camera set-up for my first attempts at shooting photos. The menu system is fairly well laid out, but there were a lot of settings to be changed, and I managed to miss a few as I went through them the first time. I also noticed that the buttons and other controls feel more solidly built than on my 60D. I’m not sure that I like the joystick, since I’m used to the multi-controller of my 60D, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it soon enough. It’s funny, Canon took a lot of heat from reviewers when the launched the 60D, every one hated the multi-controller, which had replaced a joystick on earlier models of the xxD line. Maybe because I started with the multi-controller, I found it quite easy to use.

Anyway, I managed to navigate around the menus system without having to consult the manual, so that was a victory, even if it was a small one. šŸ˜‰ I’m certainly glad that this camera is an upgrade from another Canon camera, or the manual alone would have overwhelmed me. I’m not going to go through all the features of this new camera, as the list is quite long. Besides, you’re more interested in the photos it can produce.

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate the first day with the 7D, it was cloudy, gloomy, with off and on rain when I set out for a walk. Because of the weather, I opted to use the 300 mm L series lens, since it is also weather-sealed, and better suited for miserable weather. Right outside of my apartment, I stumbled upon a pair of mallards, first, the male.

Male mallard, first outdoor shot with the 7D Mk II

Male mallard, first outdoor shot with the 7D Mk II

That’s just as the image came from the camera, here’s the second photo of the male after a few tweaks in Lightroom.

Male mallard

Male mallard

I’ve already posted this one of the female, but I’ll throw it in again, just for the record.

Female mallard

Female mallard

I’ve been getting better images from my 60D all the time, some are much better than those, but still, there’s something about these so far that tells me that the 7D is going to be even better than I thought that it would be.

I tried shooting a few close-ups to check the camera/lens combination on subjects at varying distances.

Maple flowers

Maple flowers

Daffodil with hiding spider

Daffodil with hiding spider

My first big surprise, the metering/exposure system of the 7D nailed the correct setting for the daffodil! I shot it with no exposure compensation just to see what it would look like, and to give me an idea how much to adjust, but I didn’t need to. In a recent post, I wrote about the problem of many cameras overexposing yellow flowers, not the 7D, within limits, as you will see later.

Even though it was dark and foggy, I couldn’t resist giving the new camera the torture test of trying to shoot red-winged blackbirds in the gloom, both stationary…

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

…and like a complete idiot, in flight.

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

The slow shutter speeds required in such low light meant that I didn’t have a chance of getting a good photo, my only reason for shooting those was to test the auto-focusing of the 7D to see if it could pick up the birds and track them, which it did quite well given the poor light. I know this because as one of the birds slowed down to land, the 7D had tracked it well enough for this photo.

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

I was shooting in high-speed burst mode, which was close to 10 frames per second, the 7D is like a machine gun with a hair-trigger! I also found out that the SD card that I’m using is too slow for the camera, I’m going to have to upgrade to a much faster CF card to take full advantage of the 7D’s rate of fire. šŸ˜‰ The 7D can hold one of each type of memory cards, I’ll use a faster CF card for the main storage, and the SD card as a back-up.

The 7D also has a built-in flash, so I tested that in this photo.

Emerging leaves

Emerging leaves

Nothing special, other than the fact that I didn’t have to adjust the flash output at all for that photo, it’s straight out the camera with no adjustments. That’s another big improvement over the 60D I’ve been using, I usually went down almost two full stops when using the flash to prevent overexposing subjects.

My next big surprise came next. The 300 mm lens on the 60D has never been good at focusing in on small birds in the brush. It doesn’t matter how good or bad the light is, that lens can’t find birds when used on the 60D. On the 7D, different story!

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

I had been all set to help the lens out by manually over-riding the auto-focus, but I didn’t have to, and I didn’t even need to go down to the single auto-focusing point to get those photos.

It may have been a blessing in disguise that the weather was so poor for photography on my first time out with the new camera, while the photos are nothing special, normally I’d have discarded them, they do show me just how much better the focusing system of the 7DĀ is over that of the 60D! Even in the poor light, the 7D was focusing in quickly on the birds, just as it should, with no help from me for a change.

I shot this one at ISO 16000, the highest “native” ISO setting for the 7D, just to see what it would look like.

American robin

American robin

Not great, I didn’t expect it to be, but in a pinch, I can go that high with the ISO and get a usable photo. That’s always good to know.

It’s also good to know that the 7D does well on squirrels, for all the squirrel fans out there, and I think you know who you are. šŸ˜‰

Fox squirrel in the rain

Fox squirrel in the rain

Day Two:

The next day, the weather was much improved, so I mounted the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) on the 7D, and tested it out, starting with mallards again.

Female mallard

Female mallard

Female mallard

Female mallard

Female mallard

Female mallard

Then, I tested the new camera out on blue and green.

Blue and green

Blue and green

Then on the yellow daffodils again.

Daffodil

Daffodil

Daffodils

Daffodils

Okay, the Beast has never been good for close-ups, but that seems to be different when using it on the 7D, as these are quite good. Also, no exposure compensation was required, the 7D nailed it again!

However, that changes if yellow isn’t the dominating color in the frame, as this shot shows.

Daffodils

Daffodils

There, the daffodils are slightly overexposed, I could have fixed that if the photo was worth anything other than a test. Of all the reviews of the 7DĀ Mk II that I read, I don’t recall any of them mentioning how much of an improvement has been made to the metering system, at least not that I recall. The reviews all go on and on about the auto-focusing, and the fact that the camera can shoot 10 frames per second, and leave it at that.

It’s also much better on black birds against a blue sky!

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

One of the local hawks made a few flybys for me, but even the 7D can’t make the Beast a great lens for birds in flight.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Still, I was impressed by the way that the 7D tracked the hawk against a busy background!

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

The willows have begun to bloom, and once again the Beast on the 7D surprised me with this.

Willow flowers

Willow flowers

Then, it was time to put the 7D with the Beast to the birding test!

Female mallard

Female mallard

 

Male mallard

Male mallard

Yellow bellied sapsucker

Yellow bellied sapsucker

Yellow bellied sapsucker

Yellow bellied sapsucker

MZ1A0161

American robin

American robin

Common grackle

Common grackle

Hermit thrush

Hermit thrush

Hermit thrush

Hermit thrush

Even the Beast on the 7D needed a little help to get the grackle so deep in the brush, but otherwise, no problems finding and focusing in on birds! Still, the most amazing display of the 7D’s ability to track a moving subject was still to come! One of the local hawks came flying towards me, but on the other side of a line of trees. I tried getting a focus on the hawk through the tree branches, and not only was the 7D able to, it continued to track the hawk as I was shooting.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

To take full advantage of the 7D’s auto-focusing capabilities, you really need a f/2.8 or faster lens. The only lens that I have with a f/2.8 maximum aperture is the Tokina macro lens, but that has the old style screw-drive type of drive for the focus. I was thinking about that, and it hit me, I had no idea if the 7D had the capability of driving the focusing of that lens, many newer cameras don’t. No need for me to worry though, the 7D will drive the Tokina lens, and very well!

Unidentified white flowers

Unidentified white flowers

Dandelion

Dandelion

Unidentified purple flowers

Unidentified purple flowers

Unidentified purple flowers

Unidentified purple flowers

Unfortunately, because of my work schedule this week, I didn’t have a lot of time to play with the new camera. Even worse, I didn’t get many hours in either, so I’m going to work tomorrow, Saturday, to earn some extra money.

None of the photos that I’ve shot with the 7D so far are anything spectacular, I have better photos from my 60D, with a few more to post yet. But, I can see the possibilities of the 7D. The much improved auto-focusing will help me to get the shots I missed with the 60D. The better metering system will help to improve the quality of my images. That’s been a very pleasant surprise so far. I am also very impressed by the improvement in the image quality overall, for both sharpness and color rendition also.

I think that I’ll see more improvements in the quality of the images as I learn to use the camera to its full potential, I’ve just scratched the surface so far. Now, it’s time for me to get some sleep before I go back to work again. šŸ˜¦

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


Muskegon birding April 12th, The one/two punch

I wished that I had received my new Canon 7D Mk II to useĀ this trip, as it would have been a great day to test the auto-focusing system of that camera. I couldn’t have asked for better weather, the day began cool and clear, but quickly warmed up to be the warmest day so far this year, and the warmest since the end of October. For once, no lake effect clouds developed in the afternoon to block the sun.

You’re probably tired of hearing this, but I purchased a Canon 300 mm L series lens to use as an alternative to the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) due to the weight of the Beast, and because it is far from the ideal lens to use when trying to photograph birds in flight. On this day, I took both of them with me while I was hiking. I set-up one camera body with the 300 mm lens on it specifically to capture birds in flight, and set the lens for that as well. I think that it worked well enough.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

I set-up the second body with the Beast on it to shoot stationary birds….

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

…even if they didn’t remain stationary for very long…

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

…and did their best to elude the camera.

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

On this trip, I began the day at Lane’s Landing, which is in the Muskegon State Game Area, as the birding reports showed some promise that I may findĀ a few rare birds there. Unfortunately, I never did get a lifer on this day, but still, it was a glorious day to be out and about.

I had just started my walk at Lane’s Landing when a pair of mallards took off, and I hadn’t figured out exactly how I was going to carry and use both cameras with long, heavy lenses on them, so this was shot with the Beast.

Male mallards in flight

Male mallards in flight

I let the one body with the 300 mm lens on it dangle on the camera strap around my neck, and carried the other body with the Beast on it in my hands. That wasn’t comfortable for very long, but it was the only way of carrying both set-ups with me.

I tried to get a clear photo of some fox sparrows I spotted, but once again, they managed to stay partially hidden all the time.

Fox sparrow

Fox sparrow

The song sparrows must have been taking lessons from their cousins.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

In fact, that seemed to be the theme of the early part of the day, the birds were doing very well at staying partially hidden from me.

Male hooded merganser

Male hooded merganser

Male hooded merganser

Male hooded merganser

That was the closest that I’ve ever been to a hooded merganser, but I had to shoot through the vegetation, so the photos aren’t very good.

I had slightly better luck with a ring-necked duck.

Ring-necked duck

Ring-necked duck

Ring-necked duck

Ring-necked duck

At least there was more distance between the reeds and the duck so that the reeds don’t show as much in those photos, but they sort of spoiled these next two.

Ring-necked duck taking flight

Ring-necked duck taking flight

IMG_4122

Ring-necked duck taking flight

At least when the ducks really got airborne, I didn’t have to deal with the vegetation any longer.

Ring-necked duck in flight

Ring-necked duck in flight

I shot this one, just because it says spring with a song sparrow surrounded byĀ the maple blossoms.

Spring song sparrow

Spring song sparrow

And, I shot this one just because I liked it.

Flood reflections

Flood reflections

The storms which spawned the deadly tornadoes in Illinois last week crossed Lake Michigan and hit the West Michigan area quite hard also. We didn’t have the severe weather, but the storms did drop copious amounts of rain, so many areas of both Lane’s Landing, and the state game headquarters area were under water.

Some boring camera talk follows, so you may want to scroll past this section.

I had set-up the camera body with just the 300 mm lens on it to servo auto-focus and high-speed continuous shooting, along with some other adjustments specifically for birds in flight. I didn’t use the 1.4 X tele-converter, as I wanted to see just how quickly and accurately the lens could focus without the extender. At 300 mm, the lens wasn’t long enough to get good close-ups of birds in flight, but that was okay for this day, as it was only a test of sorts.

Whenever I spotted a bird in flight, I would set down the camera with the Beast on it, and begin shooting with the 300 mm lens ass soon as the bird got within range.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

It didn’t take me long to get an idea of how many frames the camera could shoot before the buffer filled, so I shot in quick bursts. When I first looked at the images after downloading them to the computer, I thought that they were all very good. But as I zoomed in on each photo, I found that only about a third of the images were really as sharp as I would like.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Two thirds of the images were a bit soft from the focus being off slightly, but since I had shot so many photos, I came up with quite a few good ones. By the way, there were two hawks there at the time, I don’t know if they are a mated pair, or just happened to be hunting together.

Red-tailed hawks in flight

Red-tailed hawks in flight

I also got a sandhill crane, one of many that I heard and saw, but only this one flew close enough for a photo.

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Without the tele-converter behind it, the 300 mm lens did an excellent job of auto-focusing on the flying birds that I shot on this day, the problem is, 300 mm just isn’t long enough most of the time. I will say that this set-up was a joy to use, much lighter and easier to swing around and follow moving birds than the Beast is. I had the hare-brained thought of canceling the 7D Mk II and going for the 400 mm L series lens instead, except for the number of rejects that I still got.

News flash!

I am now (finally) the proud owner of a Canon 7D Mk II! I picked it up this morning, and managed to get in a walk in the rain to break it in the hard way. I won’t include any of the few photos that I shot, since the weather was so poor for photography, I gave the camera the torture test by trying shots that I knew that I wouldn’t be able to get with the 60D that I currently use.

Three things stood out right away about the 7D, the auto-focus is light years ahead of the 60D, but it’s going to take me a while to learn how to take full advantage of its capabilities. It has 65 focus points versus 9 for the 60D, and a lot more flexibility in using them. I can use any one of the focus points, use small groups of them, medium size groups of them, one-third of them as a group, or all 65 at once. In addition, there are six preloaded scenarios for how the camera tracks moving subjects, and those can be fine tuned even more to suit the subjects that I shoot.

The exposure meter is also much improved over the 60D, I didn’t make many adjustments to the exposure as the system in the 7D got it right nearly every time, despite the dreadful conditions, something that I didn’t expect.

Also, while the weather was poor today while I was out, I think that the 7D is going to produce better quality images over what the 60D is capable of, which is another pleasant surprise.

What the heck, I’ll throw in one image from this morning, because it shows how the 7D produces images that have a “finished” look to them.

Female mallard

Female mallard

Not all my images from this morning looked that good, but I was testing the auto-focus to see if it could zero in on small birds in the brush, and for the first time ever, I was able to get reasonably good shots of the birds while using the 300 mm lens without having to help the lens out.

Anyway, I’ll have a lot more to say about the 7D in coming posts, so back to the trip at hand.

I had walked as much of the Lane’s Landing area as I could without a wetsuit and snorkel, so my next stop was the headquarters area of the Muskegon State Game Area. That’s where I got the photos of the yellow butt, and my first turtle of the year.

Painted turtle sunning

Painted turtle sunning

I saw plenty of birds, but due to the flooding, I wasn’t able to get close to any of them, other than the warbler above. But, this is where the 300 mm lens’ ability to focus quite close came into play.

Comma butterfly

Comma butterfly

Comma butterfly getting a drink

Comma butterfly and a few flies getting a drink

Willow? catkins

Alder?Ā catkins

I’ll tell you, carrying two cameras, one with the Beast on it, the other with the 300 mm lens on it was no fun, but they do make a great combination! The Beast is the Beast, it gets the small birds trying to hide, and at a pretty good distance away from me. The 300 mm lens did great on flying birds, and also serves well as a near macro lens for small subjects too close for the Beast to focus on.

Those were the only photos that I shot at the Headquarters area, so it was on to the wastewater treatment facility to shoot some ducks.

Lesser scaup

Lesser scaup

Lesser scaup

Lesser scaup

With some good light for a change, I thought that I was going to get a good shot of a male bufflehead to show how colorful they are….

Bufflehead ducks

Bufflehead ducks

…but the female ran in front of the male as I was shooting, which ruined the photo, and prompted the male to go after her.

Male bufflehead duck

Male bufflehead duck

I think that it was the reflection of the bright sunlight that caused this lesser scaup’s head to be lit in a weird way.

Lesser scaup

Lesser scaup

I got my best photo ever of a pie-billed grebe!

Pie-billed grebe

Pie-billed grebe

I wasn’t so lucky with a pair of horned grebes. I saw them and put the camera on the one in front, just as it dove…

Horned grebes

Horned grebes

…when it popped back up, I found that it was a female, which don’t have the pronounced “horns” that the male does…

Horned grebes

Horned grebes

…and when I went for the male, it dove just as I snapped the shot.

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

There were a few ruddy ducks around.

Ruddy duck

Ruddy duck

As well as a few canvasbacks.

Canvasback duck

Canvasback duck

Next up (literally), a pair of blue-winged teal.

Blue-winged teal

Blue-winged teal

One of them took off, the other turned towards me while preparing for blast-off…

Blue-winged teal

Blue-winged teal

…most ducks run on top of the water to build up speed to get airborne, not the teal, they explode straight up…

Blue-winged teal

Blue-winged teal

…which I wasn’t expecting as you can see. I got the Beast moving fast enough to catch up with the teal…

Blue-winged teal

Blue-winged teal

…but the camera and lens were moving too quickly for a sharp photo, until the teal leveled off.

Blue-winged teal in flight

Blue-winged teal in flight

The Beast is much better suited to stationary birds, and it gave me my two best photos to date of a male bufflehead.

Male bufflehead duck

Male bufflehead duck

Male bufflehead duck

Male bufflehead duck

And before I move on to other types of birds…

Northern shovelers

Northern shovelers

American coot

American coot

…all in all, a pretty good variety of ducks on this day, and in breeding plumage in good light for a change.

The tree swallows have just arrived, and they’ve already begun building nests.

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

I’m going to end this one with a few more birds in flight, starting with a male northern harrier, sometimes called grey ghosts, as they are typically much lighter than the females.

Male northern harrier in flight

Male northern harrier in flight

Male northern harrier in flight

Male northern harrier in flight

Male northern harrier in flight

Male northern harrier in flight

Male northern harrier in flight

Male northern harrier in flight

I had to include the butt shot to verify that it was a northern harrier, the white band around the base of the tail is a dead give away.

Since I’m on butt shots, another red-tailed hawk.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

And to wrap this up, a turkey vulture.

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

It’s Monday morning, just after 8 AM, and I just got home from work. The weather is cool but clear, and I’m tempted to grab the 7D and head out for a walk. However, I’m dead tired and really need some sleep, so I think that I’ll hold off for now and go out this afternoon after I’ve slept. There’s no reason to attempt to learn the new camera when my mind isn’t working, so that’s it for this one.

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


Muskegon birding March 28th, mostly songbirds

Way back on March 28th, I went to Muskegon to see if I could find any rare migrant birds, no luck there. However, I did get quite a few really good photos of some of the early arriving songbirds, although not every one would consider the common grackle to be a songbird. šŸ˜‰

Male common grackle

Male common grackle

They may produce many sounds, but song isn’t the word that comes to mind when I hear them. I don’t name or classify birds, I just photograph them. šŸ˜‰

Anyway, I began at the wastewater treatment facility, where I didn’t find many things to photograph. There was a rough-legged hawk, but too far away for a good photo.

Rough-legged hawk

Rough-legged hawk

I saw these rocks and their reflections in the water, and shot this specifically to play with in Lightroom.

Lightroom tests

Lightroom tests

It may not look like it, but I spent more time in Lightroom working on that photo than any other so far. Not that there’s a lot of difference between this and the original image, as the original was quite good to begin with. This one was all about very small changes to many of the settings in Lightroom to fine tune an image while learning Lightroom.

I probably should have used some of what I learned in that previous image for these, but what I was after with these was showing the “horns” of a horned lark, which gave it its name.

Horned lark

Horned lark

Horned lark

Horned lark

Horned lark

Horned lark

You can see that it was still very early in the morning from the long shadow being cast by the lark. So early that I caught a small herd of deer feeding in one of the fields.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

If you remember the video of the male hooded mergansers displaying for a female…

…here’s two still photos that I shot and had to crop way too far.

Male hooded mergansers

Male hooded mergansers

Male hooded mergansers

Male hooded mergansers

Here’s a few of the geese that were adding their honking to the video…

Canada geese

Canada geese

…and one of the male red-winged blackbirds that provided background sounds as well.

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

Sorry for posting three photos of the same bird, but I love the fact that by using Lightroom to tweak these, I can get mostly black birds to look in my photos the way that they look in real life.

My next stop was the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve…

A glorious day!

A glorious day!

…which is on the other side of the Muskegon River from the power-plant that you can see in the background. It was a glorious day as you can see, but still a bit on the cold side.

Sunny and warm, but still lots of ice left

Sunny and warm, but still lots of ice left

I sat under the edge of the shelter that’s there at the preserve, shooting the songbirds in the brush around the shelter.

American robin

American robin

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

American robin

American robin

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

Common grackle

Common grackle

Common grackle

Common grackle

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

I also found a few things other than birds to shoot photos of.

Larch cones

Larch cones

Larch cones

Larch cones

Catkins

Catkins

Tree leaf bud about to open

Tree leaf bud about to open

Last fall's seed pods

Last fall’s seed pods

Now then, I must apologize for not properly identifying some of those things, but I’m rushing through this post for a reason.

It’s the early pre-dawn hours on Saturday as I’m throwing this post together. Because of changes to my work schedule this week, I ran over to the camera store yesterday afternoon after I finished working for the week, to pick-up the new 7D Mk II camera that I’ve been saving for. My plan was to make the purchase, then come home, unpack the camera, and get the battery charged as I slept. However, they were out of camera only kits at the store, so I have the free spare battery, 32GB SD card, and a HDMI cable that are part of the current promotion from Canon, but no camera. That’s supposed to arrive around noon today, Saturday.

My new plan is this, I’m rushing through this post, which I won’t publish until Sunday night or Monday. As soon as it’s light (and warm) enough this morning, I’m going to go for my regular walk using my “old” 60D bodies. Then, I’ll pick-up the new 7D Mk II, and return to the park to try it out, since I’ve charged the spare battery already. So, by the time that you read this, I’ll have already been out with the new camera, and will have tons of photos to review taken with it. Depending on how the photos from Saturday look, and how quickly I’m able to get the basics of the 7D down, I may well go to Muskegon on Sunday, or at least somewhere other than around home, to shoot another ton of photos to review. At least that’s the plan as of right now. I may very well throw in a photo or two shot with the new camera here towards the end, since I won’t be publishing this post as soon as it’s done.

Anyway, here’s a mute swan that I shot at Muskegon State Park, which was my last stop of the day on this trip.

Mute swan

Mute swan

Mute swan

Mute swan

Mute swan

Mute swan

I walked back to the eagle nest there at the state park, but I couldn’t tell if the female was on the nest or not. On the way to the nest, I shot this photo just to test something out…

Along the trail on a great spring day

Along the trail on a great spring day

…and tried a quick HDR image of the same scene.

Along the trail on a great spring day, HDR

Along the trail on a great spring day, HDR

I think that I didn’t get the exposure settings correct for the HDR version, as there’s not much difference between the two.

An update, so much for the best laid plans of mice, men, and camera buyers. My new camera did not arrive at the store today as scheduled, they had vehicle problems. The camera was coming from Kalamazoo, Michigan, less than an hour south of here. So much for local knowledge and service, this will be the last purchase I make at the local store!

I had called earlier in the week to let them know I’d be there this weekend sometime to pick that camera up, but they didn’t send one then. I’ll tell you, I’m close to cussing some one out, which I don’t make a habit of doing. That store used to be good, but they’ve got a bunch of flakes working there now, you can’t depend on their advice, that’s been proven to be incorrect more often than not, and you can’t depend on them to do what they say they’ll do.

I should go back and rework this post, but I don’t feel like it now, I’m thoroughly ticked off to put it mildly. So, I’m going to throw in a couple of more photos of the bee from my last post….

Bee in a crocus flower

Bee in a crocus flower

Bee in a crocus flower

Bee in a crocus flower

Bee in a crocus flower

Bee in a crocus flower

Bee in a crocus flower

Bee in a crocus flower

…the first field sparrow of the spring…

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

…and an artsy shot that I took this morning, before I learned my camera hadn’t been shipped.

Foggy morning

Foggy morning

It’s a beautiful spring day outside, I’ve already done one walk, as soon as I finish some chores, I’m going to do another. Hopefully, I’ll get better photos of the first meadowlark to show up here this spring…

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

…and the eastern phoebe that has also returned.

Eastern phoebe

Eastern phoebe

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


From around home, more learning everyday

Well, it’s time, beyond time really, for a post of the photos and things that I’ve seen around home, when I’ve had a chance to get out. The long hours that I’ve been working, and the flood in my apartment from the burst pipe in the building have curtailed my walks this last week, but I had a long Easter weekend to make up for it.

I’ve been singing the praises for Lightroom lately, and using it has improved my photos, at least I think so, but still it isn’t so much the editing capabilities of Lightroom that’s responsible for much of the improvements that I see. Every time that I do edit an image, what I have to do to it sticks in my mind, and the next time a similar situation occurs when I’m shoot a photo, I try to adjust the camera to minimize what editing I have to do to the photo.

It helps that we’ve had some relatively nice weather, cold, but sunny for much of the time when I have made it out. The snow is finally about gone here, other than a few large drifts or piles left from plowing. I say that even though I was thoroughly chilled after a five-mile long hike around Pickerel Lake on Saturday, but it was worth it, I got my best photo ever of a tree swallow.

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

That was shot and edited on Saturday, and I’ve learned some new tricks since, and it’s only Monday.

Tree swallow 2

Tree swallow 2

Same basic image, but I increased the saturation of blue of the sky in the second image to make up for what was lost when I worked to get the exposure of the swallow correct, and the second version is much closer to what I saw while shooting that photo. Just a subtle increase in the blue was all that was required, which is what I find works best in Lightroom most of the time, subtle.

Every day I learn something new, most days, several things. As rapidly as I’m learning new skills in Lightroom, I’m learning new tricks when I shoot the photos in the first place. As silly as it may sound, it’s becoming more difficult every day to go back and view the photos that I shot just a month ago, and was very happy with then.

I’ve tried to stay away from any of the color saturation adjustments in Lightroom, as I see so many photos where some one has pushed the saturation well above anything ever seen in nature, and I see no reason to do that. But, one trick that I learned recently had to do with times when I shot photos of birds against a grey sky.

Song sparrow singing

Song sparrow singing

When I first saw that photo, I thought that the sky had been blown out, but the histogram said otherwise. I did try to tone down the highlights, but that negatively affected the white breast feathers of the sparrow. So, I took a different approach and played with the luminance and color saturation of the background colors to produce a more pleasing image, at least in my opinion. At least the background no longer overpowers the bird.

By the way, I shot that one to remind myself to say how great it is to walk outside and hear birds singing everywhere! If it wasn’t so noisy around here, I would have shot a video of the sparrow.

Anyway, I shot some photos of a red-winged blackbird today…

Red-winged blackbird "singing"

Red-winged blackbird “singing”

…but when I increased the exposure so that the bird looked right, I lost most of the blue from the sky, so I thought, “Well, I have been toning down backgrounds, maybe I can reverse that and bring the bright blue sky back”, and I could! Now that looks like what I saw when I tripped the shutter! So, I went back and touched up the second swallow photo as well.

I still have some epic fails, but that’s okay, I know that it’s still going to happen, but overall, things, and my photos, are looking better.

One of my epic fails from lately was trying to photograph a bee in a bright yellow crocus.

Epic fail, bee in a crocus

Epic fail, bee in a crocus

My camera always has trouble rendering bright yellow correctly, I often underexposed by a full stop or more to get yellow flowers to appear right in my photos. So, with Lightroom, I tried lowering the color saturation instead of under exposing in the first place, with limited success.

Yellow crocus

Yellow crocus

The problem when the bee landed in the flower is that parts of it were the same color as the flower inĀ that the bee was yellow and black, when I lowered the saturation of the flower so that it looked good, I took all the yellow out of the bee, not good.

My problems with the bee may have been compounded by the fact that I was using three sources of light to shoot those. It was a great day for macro photography, bright but diffused light, and little wind. But, one thing that I’ve learned is that it takes a ton of light to get enough depth of field for the photos that I’d like to shoot. So, I set the LED panel light up on the Gorillapod to shine on the flowers, as that light also produces diffused light. It worked for the flower, but I could tell that it wasn’t enough for the bee, so I also used my flash on the bee. Three different light sources, at three different color temperatures probably wasn’t a good idea.

Or, it could be that I still have much to learn.

Anyway, that brings me to some other thoughts that I’ve had. I’ve made a list of the camera kit that I want to have with me all the time, and it won’t all fit in the holster bag that I’ve been using. I’ve been good at carrying my monopod with me for extra camera support when needed, but it’s too tall and not steady enough for many subjects, so I’d prefer to carry my tripod, at least more often than I do. Besides, the way that I’ve been carrying the monopod leaves it swinging around, bumping into my camera, the lens, or my knees, all of which I’d like to get away from.

That, and I’m going to be adding to my kit soon, possibly this coming weekend.

I’m happier than ever with the image quality produced by the Canon 60D bodies that I currently have, when I can get the shot. I no longer rely on the auto-focus to get the focus correct, I have to play games to get this kind of sharp photo.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

The problem is, that the small birds don’t often sit still long enough for me to get the super sharp focus that I’d like. That was hammered home again this weekend while trying to shoot several species of small birds that have just returned for the summer, none more than golden-crowned kinglets.

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Those three were shot as quickly as I could shoot, all three in just over a second, which didn’t give me the time to play the focus game. I had given up, because the kinglets never sit still long enough for me to play the game.

So, I’m going to spring for the 7D Mark II, like I said, possibly this weekend, I’ll know for sure tomorrow evening, when I see how large my next paycheck will be on Friday. This time, I’m under no delusions that “better” gear will guarantee better images, but the faster, more accurate auto-focusing of the 7D has to help in situations when I have to settle for what the camera can do without any extra time spent getting the focus exact. I assume that even the 7D will need help getting super-sharp images when I have the time to play.

I’m also leaning on making my next purchase after the new body to be the Canon 400 mm f/5.6 L series lens, but that will depend on how well the 300 mm L series lens works on the 7D with or without the 1.4 X tele-converter behind it. The 300 mm L series lens produces excellent images of subjects close to me, but it’s never been the birding lens that I hoped it would be. I bought it to carry instead of the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) when carrying more gear on longer hikes, but I ended up carry the Beast instead, as it’s a much better lens for birding in good light, like the tree swallow shows. I may find that on a better camera body, one that can be tuned to the lens, that the 300 mm lens works much better than on my 60D bodies, we’ll see. No matter what, I’ll probably end up with that 400 mm lens sooner or later anyway.

I’d dearly love a lens longer than the Beast at 500 mm, but even at this new job, I’ll never be able to afford them since their cost is in the 5 figure range. After I purchase the 7D Mk II, I’ll see how the 300 mm lens performs while using the tele-converter, and go from there. I may get a 2 X tele-converter, which would make the 300 mm lens a 600 mm lens.

Yes, I know that there are now several good 150-600 mm lenses out there, but they cost a lot more, and are even bigger and heavier than the Beast is. The size and weight of the Beast is too much for good shots of flying birds, other than the large slow birds such as turkey vultures.

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

The 400 mm lens with a 1.4 X tele-converter is sharper than any of the 150-600 mm lenses currently available, and cheaper as well. That makes the 400 mm lens a 560 mm lens, and if I go to a doubler, it would become a 800 mm lens. That wouldn’t be an everyday set-up that I’d use while walking around, but I’d use it on those trips to the Muskegon area and other places to get a little more reach when trying to photograph rarer birds that I can’t get close to. I can use my tripod, or rest the camera and lens on the window of my vehicle during those times.

Anyway, getting back to my list of “must have” gear that I want with me. I currently carry both camera bodies, one long lens for birding, the macro lens, and oneĀ of myĀ wide-angle lens with me, as that’s all that there’s room for in the holster bag that I use. I love the holster bag, as it is belted along with a shoulder strap to keep it snug to my hip. It’s also very quick and easy to pull the second body out of when I need it. However, it puts all the weight on one shoulder, which gets to be a bit much after a few miles. And, there’s no room in it for any of the smaller items I’d like to carry, such as my light sources or all the filters for my lenses.

So, I have decided that I’ll try one of the backpack type bags, so I can carry both wide-angle lenses, the macro lens and the 70-200 mm lens with me, along with the filters, lights, and other small things, like spare batteries for the flash. That won’t be too much heavier than I currently carry, and being a backpack with two shoulder straps, it may actually be easier to carry than the holster bag is to wear and carry. There are reasons that I purchased those lenses, and they do me no good sitting in my apartment when I need them.

My main reason to not trying a backpackĀ before was convenience, having to take the backpack off to get to anything in it. However, carrying extra gear in the pockets of my coat is no better, if I get down on the ground for macro photos, I have to empty my pockets first in fear of laying on something that may damage what I carry in my pockets. I’d rather not have the things that I carry in my pockets now fall out and get damaged or lost either, or to forget to pick something up after I’ve set it on the ground to take photos.

I have a feeling that it will be the smaller items in my kit that will make the biggest increases in image quality in the future, filters, tele-converters, and possibly extension tubes. Well, that and having more of my stuff with me when an opportunity arises. For example, one morning as I was walking toward the park, one shaft of sunlight shone down through some dark storm clouds….

Lucky lighting

Lucky lighting

…as it happened, I had put the 10-18 mm lens in my bag that morning, and seeing the clouds and reflections, I quickly set-up to shoot the three images required to produce that HDR image you see. The subject is nothing special, just a rainwater retention pond close to the road. Maybe I like it too much for what it really is, because for once, I had the correct gear with me and set it up to get that image in time to capture the moment. In addition, I’ve begun post-processing my images, or that opportunity would have been another failure. I could post the best single image to show you how much the HDR process added to the quality of that one, but it’s the same old story, the clouds were overexposed, the trees and reflections underexposed, so it looks dull and lifeless, and not at all as my eyes saw that scene.

That gets me back to why I want to continue to improve the gear that I use, and carry more of it with me as I’m out and about. I’m fortunate, in that I live in a good area for nature photography to begin with, and over the years, learned the places to go to get good photos. I get to spend more time outside than most people, so I’m presented with many more opportunities to see things that most people never do. I think back on a few of those things, and in the past few months, I’ve seen one of a flock of eagles slip and fall on the ice. I’ve seen a peregrine falcon chasing gulls, and gulls chasing the falcon. I missed shots of an eagle chasing gulls, but I did get photos of a gull chasing an eagle out of the area. I’ve seen the mating behavior of Cooper’s hawks, and the mating displays of hooded mergansers.

That reminds me, it’s a bit out-of-place in this post, but here’s a video that I shot of two male mergansers attempting to woo a female.

Yes, I shot still photos, but they don’t quite capture the scene the way that the video does. By the way, the “croaking” sound that you can barely hear over the geese, red-winged blackbirds, and other sounds are the “song” the mergansers sing.

And, I’m still interested in shooting more photos that aren’t really nature photos, like this one.

Geometry

Geometry

Sorry, I liked the lines and geometric patterns, and just had to shoot that one.

And, these as well, although I’m back to nature with these.

Maple buds

Maple buds

Maple buds

Maple buds

Lichen

Lichen

Lichen

Lichen

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

Female mallard

Female mallard

Moss or plant?

Moss or plant?

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

And then, there are my series of photos, like this flicker doing its best to hide while singing and then looking for a suitable spot for its future mate to raise his offspring.

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

And this series, of a goldfish who became annoyed when I’d shoot photos of him as he was singing.

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

He heard my camera and shot me a dirty look or two….

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

…then went back to singing….

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

….until he heard my camera again…

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

…that last one just shouts, “Do you mind?”. šŸ˜‰

It’s now Tuesday afternoon, and I’ve been able to check out how large my next paycheck will be, and I will be able to purchase a 7D Mk II this weekend. I thought that the news would have me delirious, but not so much. I’ve learned that equipment isn’t everything, it’s just part of the whole. The 7D will bring a huge learning curve with it, just mastering the auto-focusing system is huge learning experience from what I’ve read. On one hand, I’d rather not be starting over right now, learning a new camera body. On the other hand, the longer I wait, the less time that I’ll have while the weather is good and there are plenty of subjects to practice on.

Canon has lowered the price by $100, and they are throwing in a spare battery and a SD card, although I know that if I wait, I could probably get an even better deal. The weather forecast for this weekend is for two great days, so now is as good of time as any to make the plunge.

Back to some recent photos, ever seen a macro shot of a snake?

Garter snake

Garter snake

Yes, I got down in the mud and shot that one with my 100 mm macro lens, it hasn’t been cropped at all.

Here’s threeĀ that I think that Allen will appreciate.

Which witch hazel?

Which witch hazel?

Which witch hazel?

Which witch hazel?

Which witch hazel?

Which witch hazel?

And, I’ll finish this postĀ off with three photos of the first field sparrow of the year.

Field sparrow posing for the camera

Field sparrow posing for the camera

Field sparrow posing for the camera

Field sparrow posing for the camera

Field sparrow posing for the camera

Field sparrow posing for the camera

One last thought on purchasing the 7D Mk II, I still have several days to think about it. One thing putting me off is that I don’t want to waste a good day of weather inside reading the manual for it. Then it dawned on me, run to the store as soon as they open and pick up the camera. Go home, unpack it, and get the battery charging while I go for my regular walk. Then, I can take the camera and manual to the park and try it out as I’m reading the manual. That sounds like a plan, and then, I should be ready to bring the new camera along on Sunday if I go someplace other than around here, and I should be close to being set to go with it.

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


Lake Michigan birding March 22nd, The long boring version

It’s Sunday afternoon as I start this, the wind is howling like banshee outside in advance of the snow that’s forecast to arrive later. I’m sure glad that I got my walk in early this morning!

But, that is thisĀ weekend, the weather was just about as cold as it was yesterday and today last weekend when I went to the Lake Michigan shoreline. I arrived in Grand Haven just as it was beginning to get light. I had planned to go back and get better images of the breakwater and lighthouse while the lights were on for some time, ever since I tried shooting the scene handheld several weeks ago. There wasn’t as much ice left on the breakwater as there had been before, but I still set-up my tripod and camera to capture the scene anyway.

Grand Haven breakwater at dawn

Grand Haven breakwater at dawn

That’s the HDR version, otherwise, the photo is practically devoid of color, other than the white lights. I shot several series of photos to get that one HDR image, and I was about to fold the tripod up to put it away, when I saw the sunrise beginning to show signs of being a good one, in the other direction. So, despite my fingers going numb from the cold, I set-up to shoot this one, more for practice than anything else. I haven’t done much night photography since I switched from film to digital, and I thought that the practice would be just the ticket.

Sunrise over Grand Haven from Grand Haven State Park

Sunrise over Grand Haven from Grand Haven State Park

The only reason that I’m including that one is so that you can see what Grand Haven State Park is like. The yellow lines on the pavement denote the “campsites”. You should see that park in the summer, the “campers” are packed in there like sardines! Yet, that campground is almost always full, just because it is right on the beach. Not my cup of tea in any way, shape, or form.

I knew that there wasn’t time to drive to a more scenic spot, so I did the best that I could from that location.

Grand Haven, Michigan sunrise

Grand Haven, Michigan sunrise

Then, much to my surprise, the red in the sky extended well past me to the west, over the breakwater, so I turned around again for this one from my last post.

Sunrise at the Grand Haven breakwater

Sunrise at the Grand Haven breakwater

Okay then, time for me to prattle on a little. As you know, I’ve had my new iMac and Lightroom for just over a month, and I’m continuing to learn new things all the time. One thing that I’ve learned, and this may sound silly, is to not sit as close to the computer screen as I used to when I still used the old laptop. The display of this new iMac is huge, when I’m working on a photo in Lightroom, the image is a little larger thanĀ an eight by ten print, which shows all the flaws in an image even before I crop the image at all. Taking a cropped image up to that size makes it look as though the quality of the image is the pits, but it isn’t really as bad as it appears to be.

And, there is so much to learn in Lightroom, I found another series of tutorials online, these are from Adobe, the company thatĀ publishes Lightroom. They are much shorter than the two tutorials that I posted links to in the past, these average about twenty minutes long. However, they sure pack a lot into a very short time, I’m glad that I started with the two longer videos from B&H Photo to get to know Lightroom, now, I can almost keep up as I learn new tricks for using it in these videos from Adobe.

And, there are so many tricks to learn in Lightroom, not just editing photos, but storing, organizing, and finding the exact photo that one is looking for. There’s often several ways to accomplish any task, so the learning continues.

Lightroom is an amazing program, but I’d rather not turn this blog into yet another “how to” blog about Lightroom, there seems to be plenty of sources for tips about using it already available.

News flash, I came home from work on Monday afternoon after working a fourteen hour shift, only to find that my apartment had been flooded again, this time by a pipe that burst in my neighbors apartment. This flood was much worse than the one back in January, the damage from which they had never gotten around to repairing yet. Just as well, they would have had to do most of it all over again.

To make a long story short, I spent three nights in motels, two nights at my expense, one night on the company that I work for expense, as I did an overnight run to southern Ohio since I couldn’t stay in my apartment anyway. So, that’s the reason I was late replying to comments here, and got behind on other people’s blogs. Sorry, I had no internet access for most of this week. That’s also put me way behind in my blogging.

As it happened, I worked close enough to what I can legally work for a week by Thursday afternoon, thatĀ I have Friday off, and don’t have to return to work until Monday evening, a nice long Easter weekend for me. I went for a walk in the morning, talked to the maintenance supervisor about how the repairs had or had not been done, and I’ve been doing some major cleaning since then. A maintenance person showed up to do the last of the needed repairs, but most of the clean up of my property remains for me to do. The only thing the maintenance people care about is the company’s property, the carpeting and drywall, my stuff is my problem. Oh well, at least nothing was damaged.

Now then, back to the trip at hand.

Because it was still so cold out, I drove to several spots in Grand Haven where I could scope out the Grand River and other waterways, including Harbor Island, using my binoculars to see if there were any waterfowl or other birds worth trying to photograph. The only photos that I shot during this portion of the trip were of the first killdeer I’d seen this spring.

Killdeer

Killdeer

I drove to the north, to the Mona Lake channel and Lake Harbor Park to see what, if anything there was worth photographing. I found the first song sparrow of the year there.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

A few common mergansers.

Common mergansers in flight

Common mergansers in flight

Common merganser

Common merganser

My first American coot of the year.

American coot

American coot

Although it was still a bit early for good light for photography, as you can see. I walked the trail along the Mona Lake channel to the Lake Michigan shore, pausing to shoot one of the last American tree sparrows of the spring, as these will be heading north to their breeding grounds soon.

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

Most of the ice on Lake Michigan had melted, but what was left had been piled up along the shore by the wind, so I shot a few photos, using the wrong lens.

Spring ice on Lake Michigan

Spring ice on Lake Michigan

Spring ice on Lake Michigan

Spring ice on Lake Michigan

Spring ice on Lake Michigan

Spring ice on Lake Michigan

I shot those using the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens), but I wished that I had taken one of my short lenses with me for those photos, to give you all a wider view of the icebergs on the lake.

Anyway, as I was walking back to the parking area, I saw a juvenile bald eagle flying in my direction. I was watching it through tree branches as it approached, so I couldn’t start shooting as soon as I saw it, but that worked out well, for I had time to get the camera and the Beast set-up for when the eagle cleared the trees.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

That wasn’t cropped at all, that’s how close to me the eagle flew as it cleared the trees.

The eagle continued on, out over Mona Lake, I could post a few more not as good shots of the eagle as it did, but then something happened that was more interesting. One of the many gulls hanging around the area began attacking the eagle.

Gull attacking a bald eagle

Gull attacking a bald eagle

Gull attacking a bald eagle

Gull attacking a bald eagle

The eagle turned around, flying back in my direction, with the gull hot on its tail.

Gull attacking a bald eagle

Gull attacking a bald eagle

Gull attacking a bald eagle

Gull attacking a bald eagle

Who knows, maybe one of these days I’ll catch something like this happening when there’s good light so my photos will be better. But, that’s the way it goes for me. I guess that I’m luckier than most, as I see these things more often than most people, but seldom in good light. I do find it interesting that on one day, the eagles will be chasing the gulls, looking for an easy meal, the next day, the gulls will be chasing the eagles away. How do they decide who is going to chase who each day?

Anyway, my next stop was the Muskegon Lake channel, then it was on to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and I’m not going to add any of the few photos that I shot at either of those locations. The light was still poor, and the things that I saw weren’t that noteworthy. Ā That changed at the next stop, the Bear Lake channel to Muskegon Lake.

That’s not one of my usual stops, as there’s no public access there, other than the parking lot of the Bear Lake Tavern. Since it was still relatively early on a Sunday morning, the tavern was closed, so I stopped to shoot a few photos of the mallards there. The weather was finally getting better, and playing with the mallards seemed like a good way to get some practice.

Male Mallard

Male Mallard

Male Mallard

Male Mallard

Since I had all my camera gear with me in my car, I had switched to using one body with just the 300 mm L series lens on one body, and the 70-200 mm L series lens on the other, as I could easily get too close to the mallards with either lens.

I was a bit surprised to see a pair of Pekin ducks there…

Pekin ducks

Pekin ducks

Pekin ducks

Pekin ducks

Pekin ducks

Pekin ducks

…and I was even more surprised when this guy came out from under one of the boat ducks along the channel to pose for me!

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

So, I hung around the area, shooting the mallards, the wood duck, and a few gulls that showed up, trying various lenses and settings for these.

Male mallard

Male mallard

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

Female mallard/black duck hybrid

Female mallard/black duck hybrid

Female mallard/black duck hybrid

Female mallard/black duck hybrid

Male mallard

Male mallard

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

The last two images were shot with the Beast, as I had switched back to that lens as I prepared to leave.

My last stop of the day was the portion of Muskegon State Park on the north side of the Muskegon Lake channel. The only photos that I shot were of a male northern cardinal as he sang.

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing

So, I switched my camera over to shoot video, for those of you who have never heard a cardinal’s song.

Not great, but do you know how hard it is to hold a camera with the Beast on it stationary at 500 mm when pointed nearly straight up and at arm’s length?

So, that wraps up another one, it’s early on Saturday morning now, I have my apartment in a livableĀ condition for now, although I still have a lot of work left to do. But, I’m going to take this morning off, and head to the Pickerel Lake Nature Preserve to see what I can find there while the weather is fairly nice. The forecast is for rain/snow mixed tomorrow, that’s apartment cleaning weather.

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