Muskegon birding April 12th, The one/two punch
I wished that I had received my new Canon 7D Mk II to use 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.
I set-up the second body with the Beast on it to shoot stationary birds….
…even if they didn’t remain stationary for very long…
…and did their best to elude the camera.
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 find 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.
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.
The song sparrows must have been taking lessons from their cousins.
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.
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.
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.
At least when the ducks really got airborne, I didn’t have to deal with the vegetation any longer.
I shot this one, just because it says spring with a song sparrow surrounded by the maple blossoms.
And, I shot this one just because I liked it.
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.
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.
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.
I also got a sandhill crane, one of many that I heard and saw, but only this one flew close enough for a photo.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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….
…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.
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.
I got my best photo ever of a 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…
…when it popped back up, I found that it was a female, which don’t have the pronounced “horns” that the male does…
…and when I went for the male, it dove just as I snapped the shot.
There were a few ruddy ducks around.
As well as a few canvasbacks.
Next up (literally), a pair of blue-winged teal.
One of them took off, the other turned towards me while preparing for blast-off…
…most ducks run on top of the water to build up speed to get airborne, not the teal, they explode straight up…
…which I wasn’t expecting as you can see. I got the Beast moving fast enough to catch up with the teal…
…but the camera and lens were moving too quickly for a sharp photo, until the teal leveled off.
The Beast is much better suited to stationary birds, and it gave me my two best photos to date of a male bufflehead.
And before I move on to other types of birds…
…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.
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.
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.
And to wrap this up, a turkey vulture.
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!