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

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.

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 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.

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 by 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? 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!

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27 responses

  1. Looking forward to see more of your photos taken with the 7D Mark II. So far so good!

    April 14, 2015 at 8:32 am

    • Thank you very much! You’re right, so far, so good.

      April 14, 2015 at 2:22 pm

  2. So happy you finally got the 7D. You’ll have a blast learning all the new tricks.

    Every time I see one of your posts with waterfowl, I’m amazed at the variety of breeds you see in a single outing. When I see a duck, I think, “Oh, there’s a Mallard”. Surely, they can’t all be Mallards!

    Just another reason I love reading your blog. Can’t wait for the next edition.

    April 14, 2015 at 8:49 am

    • Thank you Judy! Until just a few years ago, I was much the same, there were mallards, then the “others”, none of which I could properly identify, even though I’d see them regularly while fishing.

      While I’m excited over the prospect of learning the 7D, it seems a bit overwhelming also, there’s going to be a LOT to learn.

      April 14, 2015 at 2:25 pm

  3. Great !
    Take your time with your new camera. Glad it has arrived.
    I liked very much photos of Pie-billed grebe, Yellow-rumped warbler and that of Sandhill crane!
    A lot of waterbirds!!!! Lovely!

    But, where do Tree swallows go when is Winter there?

    April 14, 2015 at 10:51 am

    • Thank you very much Cornel! Unfortunately, I’m not the patient type when it comes to new equipment, even though I try to be. I want to know it all now, which is going to be impossible with this camera.

      The tree swallows fly south to the most southern parts of the United States and to Mexico to spend the winters, then return here in the spring to breed and raise their young.

      April 14, 2015 at 2:28 pm

  4. What a varied feast of excellent photographs, I especially enjoyed the trees reflected in the water.

    April 14, 2015 at 11:13 am

    • Thank you Susan! Sorry, I forgot to add a squirrel to that post for you.

      April 14, 2015 at 2:29 pm

      • I’ll let you off this once!

        April 14, 2015 at 2:31 pm

  5. It’s arrived at last! I hope you have fun getting to know it. That mallard shot is very good especially as you say the conditions were so poor. As Judy says, you really see so many different types of waterfowl followed closely by raptors. We have our first warm day today and all the trees and hedges are greening up as I look at them. With the southerly breeze I hope we may start to see our summer visitors too.

    April 14, 2015 at 11:20 am

    • Thank you Clare! Yes, I’m lucky to live in a state where they’ve always put at least some effort into preserving our natural surroundings and the wildlife that makes it their home. It may be slightly ironic, but many of the photos I shoot in the Muskegon area are shot at a state game area, an area set aside for hunters, and hunting is still a big thing here. No matter why the land was set aside, the wildlife makes use of it, which is a good thing.

      I do hope that you get some fair weather there soon as well, after our miserable winter, we’ve having a fairly good spring, although winter tries to make a return for a couple of days each week.

      April 14, 2015 at 2:35 pm

      • Thanks Jerry. Hunting and breeding animals for food etc is a sure way of preventing animals becoming extinct and if other creatures can take advantage of the preserves and so on, so much the better.

        April 14, 2015 at 4:13 pm

  6. A Painted Turtle! Love them. I used to see a lot of turtles when I was young and lived back east. The rapid development and draining of swampland in the area coincided with fewer and fewer turtle sightings.

    How is Bufo americanus, the American Toad, doing in your area?

    April 14, 2015 at 2:06 pm

  7. All these shots looked good to me but I still can’t wait to see what the new camera will do.
    If the mallard shot is any indication I don’t think that you have anything to worry about.
    I haven’t seen a turtle or a butterfly here yet but I did see a couple of snakes today.
    I’m glad you’re finally getting some decent weather!

    April 14, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    • Thanks Allen! I did have a better than average day, with several best of species, a new term that I just invented. 😉

      So far, the 7D seems to love mallards, but they are one of the few species that I’ve seen since I got the new camera. The auto-focus is faster, and more accurate so far, but I’ll need time to really come to grips with it. The surprising thing continues to be the improved metering system, as it seems to read the color of a subject and adjust accordingly. Examples are yellow daffodils, it actually underexposed a few shots of them that I had to adjust upwards in Lightroom. Another example is red-winged blackbirds, it seems to adjust up for them all by itself. Not always enough, but it does try. The clarity of the images are better as well, which is never a bad thing. The downside is that the improved image quality may be exposing the shortcomings of the Beast to a degree, but time will tell about that. I may have to calibrate that lens to the camera. I have much to learn and do before I can really say how well the new camera will work for me.

      I’ll try to send some of the wonderful weather we’re having your way, I just got back from a walk wearing just a T shirt.

      April 14, 2015 at 6:33 pm

  8. I hope that you get some decent weather soon to try the new camera out. It sounds impressive. You may even find it makes things too easy for you and you will have to look for more and more unpromising situations just to try it to its limit.

    April 14, 2015 at 6:44 pm

    • Thank you Tom, your wish for better weather here came to pass! The new camera is making getting the exposure correct easier, it does much better than my other bodies do. I found out today that the new one will track a hawk flying behind the treetops, so you may be right, it will be too easy for me. 😉

      April 14, 2015 at 7:34 pm

  9. Can’t wait to see the images using the new 7D! Seems like little room for improvement already, but you keep doing it.

    April 14, 2015 at 9:44 pm

    • Thank you Gunta! I was a bit worried that I’d see no great improvement in image quality, but I have. I bought the 7D to get the shots that the 60D can’t more than for image quality. The exposure metering system of the 7D is a huge improvement over the 60D, but I never read a word about that in the reviews.

      April 14, 2015 at 9:56 pm

  10. Whoo hoo…I just got a new 7D Mark II yesterday! I’m excited to play with my camera also. I will be watching your posts closely. Your photos are lovely as always and so much helpful information. Keep up the great work!

    April 14, 2015 at 9:56 pm

    • Congratulations on your new 7D Mk II! If you’re like me, you want to try out every feature right away, but I’m going to force myself to go slowly and tackle them one at a time, starting with the auto-focus.

      April 16, 2015 at 1:38 pm

  11. Really enjoying seeing your spring unfold. The maple blossoms are very pretty . We don’t have them here. I’m quite fond of turtles so am looking forward to seeing more of them where you live. My children had a pet one for many years. He was very intelligent and could tell us apart (he would react differently to different people). He would do quite funny things to get our attention. I also really like the tree reflection in the water. You should take more pictures just because you like them! 🙂 The butterfly and the catkins are lovely shots and of course I am very envious of all your bird photos. The grebe is quite a cutey, which is In contrast to the turkey vulture!

    April 14, 2015 at 10:47 pm

    • Thank you very much Jane! There are very few places in the world other than Michigan where I’d like to see spring arrive. While the trees here, including the maples, don’t produce large colorful flowers as some trees do in other parts of the world, their small size requires that a person slow down to see the beauty that is there. Having to slow down while out viewing nature is never a bad thing. 🙂

      I’m glad that you enjoyed the photos, there’ll be plenty more to came, as spring has just gotten here in earnest.

      April 16, 2015 at 2:06 pm

  12. The action shots are so amazing…It appears that you had as much fun taking the pictures as I did looking at them, a truly amazing series.

    April 15, 2015 at 1:18 am

    • Thank you very much Charlie! I do have fun taking nature photos, yu could say that I live for it.

      April 16, 2015 at 1:43 pm

  13. Wow, Jerry, this post is a veritable feast!! I’m not sure where to start with my comments! I enjoyed all of it so much and felt like I was right there with you! Oh wait, I was sort of doing the same thing on the same day! 😉 LOLOL

    I really love that tree reflection and the turtle and the sand hill crane in flight. And the ducks! Oh my, where do I even start?! They were obviously a bit more cooperative than the ones I saw, haha, plus you have way better equipment and much more skill. I loved all your photos. I just think the Nike swoosh on the ring-necked duck is one of the coolest things ever! You had the same problem with the horned grebes that I had with the buffleheads, diving just when you get focused on one! It’s nice to know that even though I’m a greenhorn amateur that other experienced photographers have some of the same troubles I do! Isn’t is just so exciting to see so many different species in one day? I’m exciting just reading about your day and seeing your photos! It’s a great reminder of what fun we had seeing so many.

    The northern harrier photos are awesome, too! Have fun with your new “toy”! I’m looking forward to reading about all your learn and seeing what kind of images you produce with it.

    April 16, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    • Thank you very much Amy! My skill in getting the ducks isn’t so much related to photography as it is to my having an idea where the ducks are likely to be, and getting close to them before they swim or fly too far away for a good photo. Still, one can never control the behavior of the ducks, so having them dive out of sight is something we all have to deal with.

      Yes, it’s great to see so many different species in a day, it’s that time of year. It won’t be long and the warblers will be migrating through the area, and hopefully, I’ll have similar outings shooting them.

      April 16, 2015 at 9:14 pm