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

Archive for May, 2015

It’s the most wonderful time of the year Part II!

Every bit of free time that I get, I’ve been out shooting more photos, putting me even farther behind in my postings. By a quirk of the calendar, I had three days off for Memorial Day, and shot close to 1,000 photos in those three days. That’s easy to do with the 7D Mk II, even shooting in low-speed burst mode, when there are lots of flying birds around. I’ve been fine tuning my settings, and while I still have a way to go yet, whether I shoot one bird at a time…

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

…or flocks of medium size birds….

Rock doves (pigeons) in flight

Rock doves (pigeons) in flight

…or small birds in  a flock…

Dunlin in flight

Dunlin in flight

…large single birds….

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

…or single small birds…

Purple martin in flight

Purple martin in flight

…the 7D has a setting to get them all.

The purple martin reminds me of another reason that I’ve been out as much as possible, it’s spring, and spring is the best time of year for birding. The purple martins were a photo life list lifer for me, as were all of the following birds.

Black-billed cuckoo

Black-billed cuckoo

Northern bobwhite quail

Northern bobwhite quail

Brewer's blackbird

Brewer’s blackbird

Common tern in flight

Common tern in flight

Grasshopper sparrow

Grasshopper sparrow

Northern rough-winged swallow

Northern rough-winged swallow

Male orchard oriole

Male orchard oriole

Vesper sparrow

Vesper sparrow

That’s nine more species that I’ve gotten photos of, and there may be one or two that I’m forgetting as I type this. Not a bad spring, since I was over 200 species to start with, and there’s still some time left.

Then, there’s the flowers, new one almost every day it seems.

Redbuds in the rain

Redbuds in the rain

Bradford pear? in the rain

Bradford pear? in the rain

Crabapple

Crabapple

Crabapple

Crabapple

That was a HDR image, even by tweaking in Lightroom, I couldn’t get a shot that looked that good. Which reminds me, I’ve been playing with more HDR images, just to learn the software better.

HDR landscape

HDR landscape

Pickerel Lake in HDR

Pickerel Lake in HDR

Pickerel Lake in HDR

Pickerel Lake in HDR

Nothing special, but I am improving the final images over what the camera could produce in one shot.

More new life is appearing.

Canada goose and goslings

Canada goose and goslings

Whitetail deer and fawn

Whitetail deer and fawn

Whitetail fawn

Whitetail fawn

The fawn was so young that it could barely walk, so I didn’t press to get a better shot, mom was having a fit as it was.

I’ve been getting better photos of some old favorites.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Green heron

Green heron

Eastern phoebe

Eastern phoebe

Killdeer on her nest

Killdeer on her nest

Sora eating a snail

Sora eating a snail

And, there’s often humorous things that I find to shoot.

Raccoon, just hanging out

Raccoon, just hanging out

Raccoon, just hanging out

Raccoon, just hanging out

Red-winged blackbird "hawk surfing"

Red-winged blackbird “hawk surfing”

Oh, and there’s always new flowers!

Lupine

Lupine

Lots of lupine

Lots of lupine

 

May apple

May apple

May apple

May apple

Iris

Iris

Iris

Iris

Even the insects are beginning to appear.

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

You know that it’s spring in west Michigan when all the ice is finally off the Great Lakes, and the lighthouses!

Grand Haven lighthouse at sunrise

Grand Haven lighthouse at sunrise

After my last (very) lengthy post, I decided to do just photos for the most part for this one, I doubt if any one will mind. 😉

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


I know that I promised, but….

In one of my most recent posts, I promised not to prattle on about photography, and that I was going to go back to my observations of the things that I saw in nature.

Several things have happened to change my mind about that, a few readers said that they’d miss my discussions of what I learned, although I suspect that they were only being kind. I’ve also got this brand new Canon 7D Mk II camera, and I’m having a ball learning how to get the best out of it. But, the topper was that I discovered something by accident in Lightroom that slapped me up side of the head and made me realize just how different digital photography is than film photography, and how important computer software is these days.

First, I have to preface this by saying that we’re having a very rainy stretch here in west Michigan, it’s rained at least a little almost every day for the past two weeks. It hasn’t mattered if it was a cool spell, or a warm one, the rain has been the one constant this month of May.

With all of the rain we’ve received, the humidity levels have also been very high, resulting in foggy mornings and hazy afternoons, neither of which are conducive to getting good, sharp photos. The almost constant cloud cover hasn’t helped either. But, I’m not making excuses, I’m setting the stage for what follows.

So, I went to the Lake Michigan shore last Sunday for a day of birding. The day started foggy and dreary, we had an hour or two of sun around noon, then, more clouds rolled in for the afternoon. One of the photos that I shot that day was a landscape of sorts, of one of the small channels that leads from the marshes that surround parts of Muskegon Lake, to Muskegon Lake proper, with a pretty sailboat at a marina where the channel meets the lake.

I was not at all happy with the way that the photo had turned out, or many of the others that I shot in the low light situations that day, they were all dull, flat, and lifeless.

So, I was reading Kerry Mark Leibowitz’s blog, LIGHTSCAPES NATURE PHOTOGRAPHY, his first post about a trip that he had just returned from along the Oregon coast. Along with his awesome photos, he mentioned how many hours he spends post-processing the images he shoots. I decided to have another crack at the landscape that I had just shot, and I fiddled with it for quite a while, but still wasn’t happy with it.

While taking a break, I noticed that the last tools in the development module of Lightroom are called camera calibration. Hmm, I wonder what that could be about?

With nothing to lose, I began playing. One of the drop down boxes is titled profiles, and it was set to Adobe Standard. When I clicked it, it offered me other choices, the settings that my cameras’ have for how they record images. On a lark, I clicked camera standard, and instantly, the photo in question was no longer dull, flat, or lifeless!

Muskegon Lake, on a hazy day

Muskegon Lake, on a hazy day

It may not have turned a sow’s ear into a silk purse, but that photos is much better than it was before. The colors are no longer washed out and muddy.

That got me to thinking, always a bad thing, so I tried several others that I wasn’t happy with, like a scarlet tanager.

Scarlet tanager, Adobe standard profile

Scarlet tanager, Adobe standard profile

Scarlet tanager, Camera standard profile

Scarlet tanager, Camera standard profile

Maybe not huge changes, but definitely noticeable, and definitely an improvement! And, the changes aren’t as apparent here in my blog as they are when I view the images full size on my computer.

“Okay,” I thought to myself, “I have to find out what these settings are, and what they can do for me”.

I didn’t get any documentation at all with the copy of Lightroom that I purchased, but I did learn a little about these profiles through the online help from Adobe. So, I did a Google search for online videos on the subject, and found several, one was very helpful in explaining these settings. The big thing that hit me though was this…

The sensor in a digital camera does not record an image, it records information about the nature of the light from each of the tiny receptors on the sensor, and records that information as a series of ones and zeros, which are meaningless to us. Software creates the image by interpreting the digital information stored in all those series of ones and zeros, software in the camera to produce the images we seen on the camera’s screen, or software on a computer, such as Lightroom, produces the images we see on our computer screens.

The different profiles are different interpretations of the information that the camera stored when an image was shot as far as color rendition and contrast.

Now I get it!! The camera sensor doesn’t record an image, it records information that software uses to create an image, which is why software is so critically important in digital photography. There would be no image if software didn’t create one from the data that the camera sensor recorded.

Software may not be everything when it comes to digital photography, but it is at least as equally important as the camera and lens you are using.

I knew all along that even the best camera can not produce good images if used with a poor quality lens. And, even the best lens won’t produce the best results if used on a poor quality camera. But, with digital photography, even if you have a good camera, and a good lens, if you have poor software, you’re going to get poor images!

Okay, I’m not saying that Lightroom is poor software, it’s anything but that.

After what I had learned thus far as far as camera profiles, I went back and checked some of the images I shot with the 60D bodies to see what difference the profiles made to those images. The results were mixed, I’d call it a tie between the Adobe standard and camera standard, it depended more on the individual image than the setting.

So, I wonder, is that because the 60D has been around for a few years, and Adobe has fine tuned its profile for that body? The 7D Mk II is a relatively new body, and it took Adobe several months to release an update to Lightroom that would even read the camera RAW images from the 7D Mk II. Since this is all new to me, I assume that as time goes on, Adobe will tweak the algorithms it has programmed for the 7D Mk II?

I do know this, I could live with the Adobe standard profile for the images that come from my 60D bodies, however, for low light, high ISO images from the 7D, the Adobe standard profile creates images that are dull, and look flat as far as color and contrast. Now that I know what’s going on, I could make adjustments in Lightroom to increase color saturation and contrast to get the results that I want, but I may not have to. I can set the default camera profile for Lightroom to use the camera standard profile, for just that body, as Lightroom will allow one to set it up to make different adjustments to images as they are imported into Lightroom based on the camera’s serial number. Then, I won’t have to adjust each image individually in Lightroom. I’m not sure about doing that yet, more testing is required.

It’s funny in a way, one of the things that I did to improve the quality of the images coming from the 60D bodies was to turn off all of the extra features in those bodies, and let Lightroom handle everything. Now, with the 7D, I think that I’m going to have to use Canon’s software to form the images initially, then adjust as needed in Lightroom.

Before I forget, I should note that everything that I’ve said about the camera calibration tools only applies to Canon and Nikon cameras and RAW images. If you use another brand of camera, or shoot in JPEG, then the camera profile is locked, and can not be changed.

Now then, on to some other things that I’ve learned to do to increase the quality of the images I get.

One is that even mid-priced UV filters are junk. Since I purchased mid-range quality lenses for the most part, I assumed that top of the line UV filters costing several hundred dollars each wouldn’t make a difference, but I was wrong. I noticed that first in using the Tokina macro lens. One day when I went to use it, I noticed that the filter was very dusty, and rather than take the time to clean the filter, I simply removed it. The difference in the sharpness of the images from that day convinced me to remove the filter whenever I use that lens, and rely on the lens cover for protection instead.

Unidentified flowering object

Unidentified flowering object

I’ve surprised myself by keeping the lens covers on all my lenses all the time when I haven’t been using them, other than the birding set-up that I’m using on any given day. I don’t keep a lens cover on that lens, as it would slow me down too much to get the photos that I do.

UV filters are a bit of a joke to begin with, they really don’t do much, but their main selling point has been that they offer a layer of protection for the front element of the lens that they are on. That may be true, I’ve heard and read stories where some one dropped or bumped their camera lens, and the UV filter was ruined, but not the lens that the filter was on, but luckily, I haven’t tested that theory yet, and hope that I never do. 🙂

I do know this, I purchased UV filters ranging in price from about $50 to $100 for my lenses, and from reputable brands, but removing these filters when I shoot photos is one way that I’ve improved the quality of the images that I get. I also know that if I purchase any filters of any type in the future, they will be the top of the line, expensive ones, as every little bit counts from what I’m finding out.

Okay then, on to the 7D Mk II and what I’ve been learning about it.

The auto-focus system is incredible!

A few posts back, I listed all the different arrangements of focus points that were available to me, but the next thing that I learned is that the 7D has two different auto-focusing modes, depending on how many focus points you have selected to use. I don’t want to get too technical, but after I select to use twelve or more focus points, the camera switches to what’s called zone mode, and the camera tries to focus on the objects in a scene that are the closest to the camera. This is meant as a way to capture subjects in motion, and it works!

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Sometimes, it works too well as you can see. 😉 The gulls wingtip is in focus, but its head and body are out of focus.

It was a bit trippy to look through the viewfinder the first time that I tried the zone mode of auto-focus, the subject was a bird perched on a branch swaying in the wind. I pressed the button on the rear of the camera to start the auto-focus, and the focus points that covered the birds and branch lit up to tell me that those parts of the scene were in focus. But, as the branch and bird moved in the wind, the focus points that lit up changed, blinking on and off as they detected the movement in the scene, it was so fascinating to watch that I never tripped the shutter. But, I learned how well the system worked.

A few days later, after I had played with the zone mode a few times…

Baltimore oriole in flight

Baltimore oriole in flight

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

…as I was walking in the park, I noticed a chickadee gathering mosses and lichens to use to line her nest. Since this was near the picnic shelter in the park, and I needed a break from walking anyway, I sat down and began testing to see if I could catch her in flight.

Black-capped chickadee in flight

Black-capped chickadee in flight

I even went to the manual exposure mode for that, setting the aperture and shutter speed, and letting the ISO “float” trying to freeze the motion, but there wasn’t enough light that day to completely freeze the motion of the chickadee’s wings.

Yes, the zone mode of auto-focusing works very well for catching birds in flight!

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

That’s when I have the time to switch modes. My default setting so far has been to use just the five focus points at the center of the viewfinder, to lock onto birds that are perched. The reason that I use five and not just one, as I do with the 60D, is that the 7D MK II looks for motion since all the focus points are cross-type that are very good at detecting motion. Small birds seldom hold completely still, even when the perch somewhere, they using flick their tail, or are twisting and turning their heads as they look around. The 7D detects that motion, and focuses on it, rather than the branches or leaves in a scene that are closer to the camera than the bird. With the 60D, I hoped that the birds would remain motionless, so that I’d have time to work with the focusing system of the camera to get a lock on the birds. With the 7D, I hope that the birds continue to twitch around, as the 7D finds the birds by their motion.

Hermit thrush

Hermit thrush

In a way, all the rain and gloomy weather has been a good thing, as I’ve been carrying the 300 mm L series lens most of the time, rather than the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) due to the 300 mm lens being better sealed against the weather, and easier to keep covered in the rain between uses. Being much lighter than the Beast, I can move the 300 mm lens around to capture things that I couldn’t with the Beast. Sometimes, those things are humorous, like these robins chasing a squirrel that had gotten too close to the robin’s nest.

American robins attacking a fox squirrel

American robins attacking a fox squirrel

American robins attacking a fox squirrel

American robins attacking a fox squirrel

Fox squirrel on the run

Fox squirrel on the run

That brings up something else, the faster memory cards that I ordered arrived, and they really make a difference in how fast the 7D writes the images to the cards. I can shoot longer bursts of images now, and not have to wait several minutes for the camera to write all the images to the memory cards.

But, back to action shots, sometimes what I see isn’t pretty. One rainy day, I stopped to take a break under the picnic shelter in the park to get out of the rain for a while. I noticed a pair of robins going crazy about something, and spotted a Cooper’s hawk in a small tree, the robins were giving the hawk what for. The hawk took off, quartering towards me as I was trying to decide what settings to use, so I shot as quickly as I could.

American robin chasing a Cooper's hawk

American robin chasing a Cooper’s hawk

But, as that photo shows, not even a great camera can make up for my poor timing, or bad luck, I’ll let you decide which is to blame. 😉

Because I was moving the camera to keep up with the birds, the 7D thought that the signpost was a moving subject, and locked on it. As soon as the signpost disappeared from the viewfinder, I shot again, but before the 7D had locked unto the birds.

American robin chasing a Cooper's hawk

American robin chasing a Cooper’s hawk

An instant later, the 7D locked onto the hawk, and I got an entire series of the hawk flying away from me.

Cooper's hawk carrying off a young robin

Cooper’s hawk carrying off a young robin

That’s why the robins were going crazy, the hawk had raided their nest and taken one of their young. Even worse, now the hawk knew where a few more easy meals were to be found. I watched the parents go back to caring for their remaining young, the mother on the nest protecting the young from the rain, and the father bringing food to the nest for the young. But, I knew that the hawk would return again and again until all the young had been eaten, probably by the Cooper’s hawk’s young. Sure enough, the next day the nest was empty and abandoned.

That makes me wonder, the robin had built her nest in a very small oak tree that hadn’t begun to leaf out yet, it was right out in the open for any one, or any thing, to see. Most birds build their nests in hidden places, in pines, or thickets someplace where it’s harder for predators to find the nests. Is that something that birds learn over time? Was the robin that built the nest in the open a first time mother that didn’t know any better, and would she learn from her mistake?

I said that the mother robin returned to the nest to protect her young from the rain, as that how robins do it, I think. But with some species of birds, both parents spend time on the nest, taking turns keeping the eggs or young birds warm.

Male rose-breasted grosbeak on its nest

Male rose-breasted grosbeak on its nest

And, that’s more typical of where birds build their nests, in a protected area where only sharp-eyed photographers can see them.

After the sad story of the robins, I need to tell a story with a happy ending. Seeing a few turtles basking in the sun, I tried getting a photo of them, but all slid off the log that they were on, except one.

Turtle basking in the sun

Turtle basking in the sun

That one soon followed the rest into the water. Since the spot was a good one for birding, I decided to sit for a while to see if I could catch any birds, or the turtles if they returned. One turtle returned, and began climbing up on the log again…

turtle climbing a log

turtle climbing a log

…and I shot a series of photos to answer the question of how the turtles get on top of logs.

Turtle with a deformed shell climbing a log

Turtle with a deformed shell climbing a log

The answer to how they climb is easy, they sink their formidable claws into the wood and pull themselves up. However, as you can see, the turtle’s shell was deformed, probably by the turtle having been trapped in one of the plastic ring things that hold six packs of soft drinks. I have no idea if some one rescued the turtle, or if the ring eventually broke as the turtle grew, but one way or another, the turtle had survived and grown a great deal since it had been freed from the plastic ring.

This should serve as a reminder to every one, THROW YOUR TRASH IN THE PROPER RECEPTACLE! Don’t just leave it in the woods where it can harm wildlife.

To lighten this post up even more, how about a laughing mallard?

Male mallard

Male mallard

That was actually meant as an example of what not to do using the radial filter in Lightroom, but it’s good for comic relief.

I see that I’m up to close to 3,400 words, way too many, so here’s a few more photos, with no words.

Crabapple flowers in the rain

Crabapple flowers in the rain

Goslings

Goslings

Dame's rockets

Dame’s rockets

Dame's rockets

Dame’s rockets

Lilacs

Lilacs

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


It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

That may be the title of a song written about Christmas time, and that is a wonderful time of the year, but in my book, there’s nothing better than spring in West Michigan! As soon as you step outside, you can hear birds singing…

Savannah sparrow singing

Savannah sparrow singing

…the summer resident birds are returning…

Male Baltimore oriole

Male Baltimore oriole

…new life is already appearing…

Canada goose goslings

Canada goose goslings

…and there are flowers blooming everywhere you look!

Apple blossom

Apple blossom

But what I can’t put into my blog is how wonderful the scent from all the flowers are, or how great it is to just sit somewhere, listening to the birds, looking at the flowers, taking in the fragrances that fill the air, and enjoying a fine spring day!

A fine spring day

A fine spring day

Even in the rain, it is beautiful around here this time of year.

Green

Green

After nearly five months of snow and cold, I can’t tell you how much I love the color green right now! Or I should say, how much I love all the colors that are returning after all those months of grey and browns covered in white. Even new leaves get into the act, showing different colors as they sprout.

Shagbark hickory leaves

Shagbark hickory leaves

Oak leaves

Oak leaves

My problem right now isn’t finding things to photograph, it is finding enough time to photograph everything there is to see right now, and it doesn’t matter if I get close…

Crabapple blossoms

Crabapple blossoms

Crabapple blossoms

Crabapple blossoms

Crabapple blossoms

Crabapple blossoms

Crabapple blossoms

Crabapple blossoms

…or stand back at a distance.

Crabapple blossoms

Crabapple blossoms

Crabapple blossoms

Crabapple blossoms

Did I mention how wonderful it smells around here right now?

Lilacs

Lilacs

Lilacs

Lilacs

Lilacs

Lilacs

Lily of the valley

Lily of the valley

Even on the Biding Big Day, when I set out to photograph as many species of birds in one day that I could, I still had to pause now and then to shoot some of the other things that I saw.

Olive Shores Park in spring

Olive Shores Park in spring

Olive Shores Park in spring

Olive Shores Park in spring

Foam on a lichen covered tree

Foam on a lichen covered tree

Foam on a lichen covered tree

Foam on a lichen covered tree

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Water vole?

Water vole?

I know that I promised not to talk as much about photography and the gear that goes with it, but it’s such a great feeling to know that I have the equipment, and now some of the skills, to capture the season as I should, whether the weather is bright and sunny….

Maple flowers

Maple flowers

Maple flowers

Maple flowers

Grape hyacinth

Grape hyacinth

Dandelion

Dandelion

Violet

Violet

…or damp and wet.

Oak leaves in the rain

Oak leaves in the rain

Unidentified flowering object in the rain

Unidentified flowering object in the rain

Willow catkins in the rain

Willow catkins in the rain

Bluets and other flowers in the rain

Bluets and other flowers in the rain

The same holds true with birds, come rain…

Starling

Starling

Grey catbird

Grey catbird

…or shine…

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Turkey

Turkey

…I can get pretty good images of the birds, even when they’re moving…

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

I was just getting started, and I’ve already gone over my limit for photos in one post, and I’ve hardly used any of the photos that I have saved for posting, so I think that this one will have to be continued. 🙂

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


Going back in time, Muskegon area, April 19, 2015

After my last post, which included several poor images due to the rain and fog, along with my quest to rack up a large number of species of birds just to see how many I could get, I was ruthless in selecting better images for this post. Not that there aren’t a few clinkers here and there, but overall, the images are much better. I see from the date that I’m still nearly a month behind in my postings, that helped me to weed through the photos for this post as well.

It’s been so long ago that my memories of the day have already begun to fade away, I’m not sure, but I think that the was the first weekend after I had purchased the new Canon 7D camera body. I put the 300 mm lens on it, and thought that I had it set-up fairly well for bird in flight photos, but it turns out that I was wrong. Not that it didn’t work well for birds in flight, but as I have used the camera more, and learned more about the auto-focusing system, the settings I used on this day were far from optimum for action photos.

I mounted the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) on one of the 60D bodies, and carrying both cameras, set out looking for birds at Lane’s Landing, in the Muskegon State Game area. I arrived as planned, just after daybreak.

Dawn in the marshes

Dawn in the marshes

The low light made it challenging to get good bird photos, even though they were out and about to greet the day.

American coot

American coot

A pair of geese flew past me, so I grabbed the 7D and turned it loose shooting way too many photos of the geese, but I was testing my settings for the day. That wasn’t a good idea, for the camera hadn’t finished writing all the images to the very slow memory card I had in the camera when a great blue heron flew past me, following the geese. The camera buffer was still almost full, so I only got a few shots of the heron before the buffer was full again, here’s one of the better photos.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

In some ways, it’s a good thing to be behind in posting these to my blog, as I can look back and see what I did wrong, and I know what I’ve learned since then. Getting to know the 7D has been a real learning experience, and I feel that I’m just coming to grips with what it can do now, a month later. But at the time, I didn’t know just how little I knew, so I continued to shoot away whenever any bird flew close enough for me to test the camera out.

Male ring-necked duck in flight

Male ring-necked duck in flight

Since I had just upgraded from the 60D, I was using the settings that I had learned worked well for it for my settings in the 7D. I can’t say that those settings were totally wrong, but close to it, the 7D is an entirely new ballgame compared to the 60D, as far as its capabilities, and the settings I should be using to get the best out of it. However, I don’t want to get too technical, as I did in a previous post.

So, I walked the trail that leads to the Muskegon River from the parking area at Lane’s Landing, carrying the Beast in my hands, with the 7D and 300 mm lens slung around my neck. If I saw a perched bird, I used the Beast…

Swamp sparrow

Swamp sparrow

Swamp sparrow singing

Swamp sparrow singing

…and if a bird flew past me, I’d set the Beast down on the ground and grab the 7D…

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

…to shoot shots like that one.

It works well enough, if I have the time to set the Beast down somewhere safe, and if I have the time to make the switch, as I did when I noticed a large, lanky bird flying towards me.

Osprey

Osprey

I find it just a bit odd that there aren’t more osprey around the area, as it seems like it would be the perfect habitat for them, with the open waters of Lake Michigan, Muskegon Lake, the Muskegon River, and other bodies of water close by. Maybe it’s because there are so many bald eagles in the area already? It would be great to see more osprey, as they are still rare here in west Michigan.

Anyway, I continued to the river and back, shooting these on my way.

Male hairy woodpecker

Male hairy woodpecker

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Hermit thrush

Hermit thrush

I was a week or two too early for many of the migrating birds, so I didn’t find much to photograph there at Lane’s Landing. It was much the same at the headquarters of the Muskegon State Game Area, even though I walked farther there than I have ever walked before. Most of the birds and other subjects that I found to shoot were within sight of the headquarters building and parking lot, like these tree swallows checking out a nesting box.

Tree swallows

Tree swallows

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

Sorry for so many photos of the swallows, but they are one of my favorite species of birds, and difficult to get a good photo of, or at least it used to be. I seem to be doing quite well with them this spring, as you will see.

Here’s a species that I see often, but it’s another that I have trouble getting good photos of, bluebirds. Like wood ducks, I see them, but can never get close to them to get a really good photo, so these will have to do.

Eastern bluebird in flight

Eastern bluebird in flight

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird in flight

Eastern bluebird in flight

I shot those while I was standing in the parking lot of the headquarters, and chatting with two conservation officers from the Michigan DNR. They found my efforts rather humorous, a couple of great guys.

I’m going to throw in a little side note here. I have the new iMac, new to me software in Lightroom, and the new 7D camera, and I’m in seventh heaven! There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t learn something new about at least one of those items, often it’s more than one thing. I love to learn, so that’s making this a lot of fun to me, but I am so tempted to do post after post of me telling you of what I’ve learned. I’ve already done too much of that in the past, so I’m holding back even though it’s hard for me.

Anyway, back to the post at hand. Since this trip was before the spring migration got into full swing, I hadn’t seen many birds on this day. So, I headed over to the wastewater treatment facility, where I knew that there’d be at least waterfowl to photograph. I may as well begin this segment out with the worst photo from the day that I’m going to post, a pair of bald eagles hiding in the trees.

Bald eagles

Bald eagles

Since the ice is off the lakes, the eagles that overwinter near Muskegon have returned to their summer homes, so I see fewer of them now. What I can’t figure out is why the last few times that I have seen them, they’ve been hiding back in the tree branches like songbirds do. Oh well, it’s still a thrill to see them even if the view is obscured.

Okay, now for the waterfowl from the day.

Gadwall

Gadwall

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

This mallard was reaching up and nipping the buds off from the bush above him.

Male mallard

Male mallard

Male mallard

Male mallard

It’s no wonder that there are mallards everywhere, they’ll eat just about anything that doesn’t eat them. 😉

I still had the Beast on a 60D body, and it seemed as though every bird began to move at about the time I was almost ready to press the shutter.

Horned grebe taking flight

Horned grebe taking flight

Horned grebe taking flight

Horned grebe taking flight

American coot taking flight

American coot taking flight

People think of grebes and coots as ducks, but they’re not. They don’t have webbed feet as true ducks do, as you can see in these photos. They have fleshy appendages on their oversized feet that are similar to the webbing of a duck’s foot, but both grebes and coots still have individual toes. Both species also have very small wings, so it takes them a great deal of effort to get airborne. You know that they are very skittish when you see them take off and fly, both of them would rather swim from danger than fly if possible.

Of course the birds that I would have liked to have seen fly wouldn’t, so I can’t show you the blue wing patches that gave this species its name.

Blue-winged teal

Blue-winged teal

The rarest bird of the day was this female Lapland longspur.

Female lapland longspur

Female Lapland longspur

I wish that it had been a male, I could use photos of a male in breeding plumage, but the only times I’ve seen this species before has been in the fall when the sexes look similar.

The second rare bird that I got was a peregrine falcon.

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

IMG_4378

Peregrine falcon in flight

I was hoping that it would land and perch for some close-ups, but no luck there.

These are the only birds that wanted their portrait taken.

Killdeer

Killdeer

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

Even the turkeys were running away from me.

Turkey

Turkey

It’s been just over two years now since I replaced my old Nikon with the first of two Canon 60D bodies, and began collecting lenses to use with them. During those two years, I’ve been prattling on about photography and gear more than nature.

It’s been just about a month now that I’ve had the new 7D Mk II. I’m not going to say that I have it all figured out yet, far from it. Canon has a 56 page manual on how to get the most from the auto-focus system alone, it’s that complicated. However, I can already tell it’s as close to perfect for me as there is on the market right now. It’s going to allow me to get the shots that I’ve been missing with the 60D, as far as action shots.

All the pieces of the photography puzzle are coming together nicely right now, I have one large piece to go, along with some accessories to pick-up over time, but I think that my posts where I go on and on about photography are nearing an end, and I’ll be getting back to blogging about my observations of what I see in nature.

This little guy probably says it best, “It’s about time!”

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

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


The birding big day, my way, in rain and fog most of the day

Okay, I’m jumping way ahead with this post. May 9th was the Birding Big Day, when every one is supposed to go out and count birds. Well, I did it my way, photographing the birds rather than counting. I have two warnings to begin with, I went for the largest number of species that I could get a photo of, and there will be too many photos in this post. On top of that, many of the photos are of rather poor quality, because the weather was horrible for photography, and I was chasing numbers, not quality.

Why else would I post a photo like this….

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

…when I have photos like this of the same species saved and waiting for me to have time to post it?

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Well, it was because I was trying to see how many species of birds I could shoot in one day. Better weather would have helped, in both image quality and number of species, but I think that I did okay.

So, it was raining with a bit of fog in the air as I got ready to leave home, but I was able to get an early start on the birds with this photo, taken outside of my apartment as I was packing my camera gear into my car.

Canada goose and goslings

Canada goose and goslings

I knew that over near Lake Michigan would be my best bet for racking up the greatest number of species, but on the other hand, I also knew that the places that I usually go would be packed with other birders out for the Big Day bird count. So, I began my quest at Olive Shores Park, near Port Sheldon, Michigan. I had never been there before, I was actually headed somewhere else, but I saw the signs, and decided to check it out.

With the rain and fog, I was using the new 7D Mk II with the 300 mm L series lens on it, since they’re both weather sealed. I missed a few birds because the 300 mm lens didn’t have the reach that I needed, but the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) isn’t weather sealed, and the rain never let up. I did get this photo of a chipping sparrow there though.

Chipping sparrow

Chipping sparrow

Three species so far.

My next stop was the Palomita Nature Reserve, which I saw signs for along the road as I was driving to the first park. The Palomita Reserve is owned by the Land Conservancy of West Michigan, is approximately 40 acres in size, and protects the Great Lakes marsh at the mouth of Little Pigeon Creek. I had never been there either, but I’m sure that I’ll return. I’d tell you why, but this post is going to be too long as it is. So, here are the birds that I got there.

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Wood ducks

Wood ducks

Rose-breasted grosbeak

Rose-breasted grosbeak

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

White-crowned sparrow

White-crowned sparrow

American robin

American robin

Up to ten species, and I was just getting started.

My next stop was Grand Haven, Michigan. I hadn’t planned on stopping at the Grand River channel, but as I was driving past it, I spotted a Caspian tern, so I pulled into the city park there to try for a photo. I got it.

Caspian tern in flight

Caspian tern in flight

I could say something about the jerks that walked right in front of me, even though I asked them not to, but I won’t. I could also rave about the auto-focusing system of the 7D, but I’ll save that for a later post. 😉

Eleven species.

My real goal near Grand Haven was Harbor Island, which I have written about in the past. It was filled with birds, and there, I managed to get these.

Male mallard

Male mallard

Spotted sandpiper in flight

Spotted sandpiper in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Warbling vireo

Warbling vireo

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

Brown-headed cowbird

Brown-headed cowbird

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

JVIS1586

Yellow warbler

Yellow warbler

JVIS1602

Song sparrow

About this time, the rain let up, so I switched to the Beast, which helped a lot to get these next ones.

 

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

Scarlet tanager

Scarlet tanager

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Blue jay

Blue jay

Mute swan

Mute swan

Up to twenty-seven species so far, not that the photos are that great. I wouldn’t have included the last two, and never even would have tried the last one of the swan if I hadn’t been going for numbers.

You can see that the sun came out for a while, but that was short-lived. By the time that I made it to my next stop of the day, the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, the rain and fog had returned. The rain was light, so I stuck with the Beast for these.

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

Eastern kingbird

Eastern kingbird

Grey catbird

Grey catbird

Common grackle

Common grackle

Baltimore oriole

Baltimore oriole

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Those put me up to thirty-three species for the day, but the rain began coming down harder, too hard for me to be carrying the Beast around unprotected. So, I headed towards the Muskegon County wastewater facility, where I could bird by car, and I thought that I’d be able to really rack up some big numbers there.

However, the weather continued to go downhill, and the birds were more skittish than I had ever seen them there. I think that there had been numerous people there earlier for the Big Day bird count. I had already run into quite a few other birders that day, and I’m sure that the wastewater facility had been hit hard earlier. But, I managed to add a few more species to my total for the day, even though some of these photos are bad, really bad.

Killdeer

Killdeer

Turkeys

Turkeys

Lesser scaup

Lesser scaup

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

Northern shoveler

Northern shoveler

Common mergansers

Common mergansers

American coot

American coot

Ruddy duck

Ruddy duck

Bonaparte's gull

Bonaparte’s gull

Gadwall

Gadwall

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

Pie-billed grebe

Pie-billed grebe

American crow

American crow

That makes 46 species, and the next one not only added to the daily list, but my life list as well, a vesper sparrow.

Vesper sparrow

Vesper sparrow

I had considered packing it in, but the Lifer prompted me to carry on. I didn’t know that I was up to 47 species, I had been too busy trying to get the photos to keep count.

It was getting close to dusk, but the rain let up, so I was able to add these to my list for the day.

Horned lark

Horned lark

Common raven

Common raven

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Upland sandpiper

Upland sandpiper

Blue-winged teal

Blue-winged teal

Least sandpipers

Least sandpipers

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

So there you’ve it, 54 species of birds photographed on the Big Day. There were a few notable misses, like the common tern or red-breasted nuthatch, but I don’t think that 54 species photographed in a day is too shabby, even if some of the photos are.

In other news, I’ve ordered faster memory cards for the new 7D, that will help a lot.

In work related news, on Tuesday at 2 AM, I start my bid run, which I’ll be doing every day unless the load is cancelled for some reason. Every three months, the company that I work for opens up the dedicated runs that they have available for us to bid on, based on seniority. I lucked out and got one of the runs towards the top of my list. I chose it so that I would work Tuesday through Saturday, with Sundays and Mondays off. That way I can schedule any appointments such as dentist or what have you on Mondays without worrying about my work schedule. It will also mean that I’ll have an entire weekday off from work for outdoor things when the parks shouldn’t be so crowded.

The run that I got can be completed in eight hours if everything goes to plan, and then I have the option of working longer if I choose to, or calling it a day. Two AM may not sound like an ideal start time, but I think it will work well for me. During the week, I should be able to get a walk in after work, and on weekends, I can sleep in, and still be up at dawn, my favorite part of the day.

Anyway, sorry for the poor quality of the photos in this post, but considering the weather, the 7D did quite well.

In reality, this day wasn’t much different as far as the species that I see on any given day, but this time I went for numbers, rather than shooting more photos of fewer species, when I could get very close, and had the best lighting of the day.

I still have photos from three previous trips to the lakeshore area, and a few from around home yet to post. Hopefully, my new work schedule will allow me more time for blogging as well as getting out more than I’ve been able to the last few months.

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


Aman Park 2015, A bit early, sorry Allen

In recent years, I’ve gone to Aman Park, just west of the city of Grand Rapids every weekend until I caught the trilliums there at their peak. Here are a few links to the posts that I’ve done in past springs.

https://quietsolopursuits.wordpress.com/2013/05/05/aman-park-on-the-shores-of-the-trillium-seas-2013-part-i/

https://quietsolopursuits.wordpress.com/2013/05/05/aman-park-on-the-shores-of-the-trillium-seas-2013-part-ii/

 https://quietsolopursuits.wordpress.com/2012/05/05/aman-park-on-the-shores-of-the-trillium-seas/

The number of trilliums in bloom is quite amazing, but I was a week too early this year. This year, I wasn’t that worked up about hitting the same park every weekend in order to do yet another similar posts to those I’ve done in the past. So, even though I was a few days too early this year, I didn’t return the next weekend to catch more to the trillium while they were open. In fact, I arrived at Aman Park at mid-morning, and I had to fool around for a while waiting for almost all the wildflowers that I shot for this post to open for the day.

That was okay, I had the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) on the new Canon 7D Mk II to play with, photographing birds and a few other things, including some woodpecker porn.

Red=bellied woodpeckers mating

Red-bellied woodpeckers mating

Since I started with a bird photo, I’ll get the rest of them out of the way, then get to the flowers later.

Red-bellied woodpeckers

Red-bellied woodpeckers

Female Red-bellied woodpecker

Female Red-bellied woodpecker

Female Red-bellied woodpecker

Female Red-bellied woodpecker

Female Red-bellied woodpecker in flight

Female Red-bellied woodpecker in flight

When I can get the 7D locked in on a bird, it tracks it very well as you can see. Here’s another example, although the image isn’t as good, since the bird was a tiny blue-grey gnatcatcher flitting about in the treetops.

Blue-grey gnatcatcher flitting about in the treetops

Blue-grey gnatcatcher flitting about in the treetops

That’s one of those bad photos that amaze me, the 7D tracked the gnatcatcher as it flew through the branches rather than focusing on the branches. However, I don’t want to rave too much about my new camera yet, I still have a lot to learn. Instead, here’s the rest of the wildlife photos, mostly birds, from this day.

Male Red-bellied woodpecker

Male Red-bellied woodpecker

Male Red-bellied woodpecker

Male Red-bellied woodpecker

Female downy woodpecker

Female downy woodpecker

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

Grey squirrel, black morph

Grey squirrel, black morph

Grey squirrel, black morph

Grey squirrel, black morph

Bumblebee

Bumblebee

Turtles basking in the sun

Turtles basking in the sun

As you can see, it was a bright sunny day, what you can’t tell from the photos is that it was the warmest day in nearly six months. That had the flowers opening up as the day progressed, so here they are, starting with Dutchman’s breeches.

Dutchman's breeches

Dutchman’s breeches

Dutchman's breeches

Dutchman’s breeches

Dutchman's breeches

Dutchman’s breeches

Next up, a few of the spring beauties that I saw.

Spring beauty

Spring beauty

Spring beauty

Spring beauty

Spring beauty

Spring beauty

Spring beauty

Spring beauty

Hepatica is a small flower that comes in several different colors, so here are a few that I found on this day.

Hepatica

Hepatica

Hepatica

Hepatica

Hepatica

Hepatica

Hepatica

Hepatica

Hepatica

Hepatica

Hepatica

Hepatica

I should note that my ability to ID flowers isn’t the best, so I may be making a few mistakes here and there. Some people may say that it’s a mistake to lay on the ground shooting photos of small flowers, because you could come face to face with one of these.

Garter snake

Garter snake

I tried to slither closer to the snake, but it being much more experienced in slithering than I, was able to slither away from me. 😉

I’m not positive, but I believe that these are cutleaf toothwort.

Cutleaf toothwort?

Cutleaf toothwort?

Cutleaf toothwort?

Cutleaf toothwort?

Here’s my worst flower photo of the day.

Witch hazel

Witch hazel

I think that the part of this day that I’ll remember the most is how quickly the flowers opened as the day went on. I had arrived at mid-morning to find only the Dutchman’s breeches out, with just a few of the other flowers just starting to open. By early afternoon, there were flowers everywhere, although I was a few days too early to catch the trillium at their peak. My new 7D has the ability to do time-lapse series of photos built-in, one of these days I’ll have to test it out to show a flower opening.

Anyway, here’s a couple of photos of trout lilies.

Trout lily

Trout lily

Trout lily

Trout lily

As the day progressed, the bloodroot flowers opened.

Bloodroot

Bloodroot

Bloodroot

Bloodroot

Bloodroot

Bloodroot

Bloodroot

Bloodroot

The real stars are the trillium, and I tried to get a few shots to show just how many there are, but, I brought the wrong lenses with me for that. In addition to the Beast and the 100 mm macro lens, I had taken the 10-18 mm lens, but it was really too wide for a good shot, I wished that I had taken the 15-85 mm lens instead, or even the 70-200 mm lens.

Trillium

Trillium

My heart wasn’t into it anyway, since only one-third to half of the trillium were open, so you wouldn’t be able to see just how many there are no matter which lens I had brought with me. Still, I tried a couple of shots with the Beast at 150 mm.

Trillum

Trillium

Trillum

Trillium

A sidenote, I found another park, quite by accident, which has almost as many trillium as Aman Park does, it’s Grose Park in northern Ottawa County. I took the back roads home from Muskegon one day, and found this new to me park because I saw a park boundary sign, and had to check it out. It’s a small park, and I imagine quite busy in the summer since it is on a lake, but there were few people there in the spring, just me and the trillium.

Trillium

Trillium

That was also shot with the Beast on the 7D, and I’m amazed at the quality of that image. There’s more to the 7D than just its superior focusing abilities!

Anyway, a few close-ups of the trillium before I end this one. I’ve learned two things shooting this type of photo. One, is that Lightroom uses color to determine what it thinks is a shadow in a photo. If there’s a shadow on a light-colored flower, I haven’t found a way in Lightroom to lessen the shadow, yet. The other side of that coin is that Lightroom assumes that anything black in an image is shadow, so adjusting the exposure of images of black subjects can be tricky at times.

Trillium

Trillium

I have also learned that the LED panel light that I have isn’t bright enough to overcome the shadows either, so I spent a lot of time looking for blooms that were just right as far as lighting.

Trillium

Trillium

Trillium

Trillium

These next two probably shouldn’t be included in this post, they are of henbit flowers that I found here at home after I returned from Aman Park, but I like these, so I’m going to add them in here.

Henbit

Henbit

Henbit

Henbit

In a way, I feel bad about not going back again the next weekend to catch the trillium at their peak, but it’s also the peak time of the year for birding. Since the trees are just beginning to leaf out, it’s easier to see and photograph birds, it’s the peak of the spring migration, and the birds are also in their breeding plumage, making it easier to ID them.

Sorry Allen, I know that you like seeing the masses of trillium, maybe next year. I learned a good deal on this excursion, starting with this. Early morning light may be great for most subjects, but if the flowers haven’t opened for the day, it’s rather silly to be there before they open. During the mid-day hours, the shadows from the trees are something that has to be considered when going for the wider shots of the fields of flowers. In looking everything over, I concluded that late afternoon would be the best time to go to Aman Park to photograph the flowers. I also have a better idea which lenses I should bring with me to get the best photos of the flowers. It was so much easier when I used the Canon Powershot point and shoot that went from very wide-angle to 40X without changing lenses. 😉

I have made a note in my calendar for next year, which reminds me of something else.

Because my old laptop computer was on its last legs, I hadn’t been using it as much to do online research, or to keep track of events and places the way that I had in the past. Now, I’m just getting back into the swing of doing those things with the new iMac. It’s only been in the last two weeks that I put Google Earth on the iMac, to check out the small park that I mentioned earlier, and to view the area of Lane’s Landing and other parts of the Muskegon State Game Area to find possible pathways to walk while looking for birds.

I had forgotten what an invaluable tool a computer connected to the Internet can be in finding good places to go to find wildlife. On some rainy day, I need to spend some time tracking down many of the links that I had on my old computer, and adding them as bookmarks on my new one.

Anyway, before I go too far afield on that subject, I think that it’s time to stick a fork into this post, it’s done.

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


From around home, with the 7D Mk II

Where do I begin? I suppose that I’ll start by quibbling about a few of the things that I don’t care for about the new 7D Mk II camera.

I don’t know why, but Canon went cheap on the strap that comes with the camera, it’s not as well padded as the straps that came with the 60D bodies that I have, and it also seems to be made from a cheaper fabric that irritates the back of my neck. Maybe Canon assumes that every one will purchase one of the trick aftermarket straps for higher end camera?

I miss the vari-angle display of the 60D bodies as well, even though I keep them in the storage position 99% of the time. That’s one of the reasons that I miss that feature, the screen of the 7D is always exposed to being scratched or broken, since it’s in a fixed position. I haven’t tried live view photography or shooting videos with the 7D yet, I’m sure that I’ll miss the vari-angle display even more when I do.

I love all the options as far as the focus points that I have with the 7D, but I also have a small quibble about making the selection of which mode I’m going to use. I have to press a button to enable making changes to the focus point(s), then use a lever to cycle through the options, of which there are six or seven, I’ll list them shortly. The lever only works in one direction, so I have to move the lever repeatedly to get to the mode that I want to use, rather than being able to move more quickly to get to the one that I want.

Okay, I think that’s all the nitpicking that I have to do for now, so it’s time to get to the good stuff!

There are seven different focus point(s) settings:

A super small one for pinpoint auto-focusing, but that only works with a lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 or larger I believe, the manual is a bit unclear about that. I did try it while using the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) and the results weren’t very good.

Then, there’s a single point mode, and you’re able to select any single point of the 65 available to use.

Next, AF point expansion, which uses five focus points grouped together, and you can select which five.

Then, AF point expansion II, which uses nine points, and again, you can select which nine.

Next, Zone AF, which uses twelve points in one of nine zones that you can select.

Then, there’s large zone AF, which uses any one-third of the focus points available.

Finally, 65-point automatic selection AF, which uses all 65 focus points, depending on the lens.

I’m already getting more technical than I would like, but as a quick example, the 10-18 mm lens I have can’t use all 65 focus points, it’s limited to “only” 45 focus points. All of my other lenses can use all 65 focus points, but only the Tokina f/2.8 macro lens can make use of the dual cross-type point in the center of the screen, all my other lenses are restricted to “just” single cross-type points, darn. 😉

Anyway, I think that by listing all of the ways that I can make use of the focus points, you’ll understand why I would like the selector lever to work in both directions, it takes a while to cycle through all the options available, and here’s why it matters. If I’m trying to shoot a bird in the brush, I’d like to use a single point to make sure that the camera focuses on just the bird, not the intervening brush.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

However, for birds in flight, trying to keep only one focus point on a moving bird is difficult, and as fast as the 7D Mk II auto-focuses, if the focus point moves off from the bird for even a split second, the camera has focused on something in the background rather than the intended bird. So, for moving birds, I prefer to use the mode with five or nine focus points, so I can keep at least most of the focus points on the bird.

Osprey in flight

Osprey in flight

Osprey in flight

Osprey in flight

Osprey in flight

Osprey in flight

By the way, those photos aren’t truly indicative of what the 7D is capable of when it comes to birds in flight. For some reason, I let myself get distracted in trying to positively ID the species at the time, rather than concentrate on getting the images, and making a positive ID from the images. I could tell right away that it wasn’t a red-tailed hawk, but I wasn’t sure what it was when I began shooting. I think that must have been one of last year’s young osprey, as it didn’t look as large or as lanky as adult osprey appear. Anyway, it was cool seeing an osprey here at home!

Anyway, like I said, I prefer to use one of the focus point groups, such as the five or nine-point groups, for birds in flight, but that’s of right now as I’m learning the 7D. If I use more than just the smaller groups, the auto-focus becomes “confused”, trying to focus on both the bird and the background at the same time.

I hinted that the auto-focusing of the 7D Mk Ii is fast, it’s much faster than that of the 60D, by a considerable margin. I’m not sure how it speeds up the focusing motors built into the lenses, but it does, boy does it ever! Even with my long lenses, the Beast and the 300 mm L series, the 7D is on focus almost instantly most of the time. Low light, and/or low contrast subjects take a little longer, but that’s true of the 60D bodies I’m used to.

Now then, I’ve already told you that the 7D has improved the focusing of the 300 mm L series lens, it also works better when I use the Beast at the close end of its focusing range. The specs say that the Beast can focus down to around eight feet, but it never worked well for me under about ten feet, on the 60D. That’s all changed.

Daffodil, as shot with the Beast

Daffodil, as shot with the Beast

Okay, so I’m not typically going to shoot flowers with the Beast, not when I have the Tokina macro lens for them.

Heptacia?

Hepatica?

That was from one of the 60D bodies, just for the record.

Back to the 7D for now. Getting the Beast to focus at the close end of its range is what got me these.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

I actually had to rock back on my heels a few times because I was so close to the chickadee that the Beast couldn’t focus on it, even on the 7D. Those weren’t cropped at all, I’m thinking of having one printed to create a giant chickadee. 😉

Since I’ve only had the 7D for a couple of weeks, I’m still not completely used to it yet, I’ll get faster at getting to the correct auto-focus settings for the subject at hand as time goes on, but here’s why it matters. Just after I had shot the photos of the osprey, I was reviewing the images when I heard a scratching sound coming from the tree above me. I looked up to see this.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker

Yellow-bellied sapsucker

Yellow-bellied sapsucker

Yellow-bellied sapsucker

I was still set on nine focus points, so the camera focused on the tree limb, rather than the bird. Because of the short depth of field with the Beast at 500 mm, the tree limb is in focus and sharp, but the sapsucker’s head is a bit soft from being slightly out of focus.

Okay, changing gears a bit, I got a free SD card with the 7D when I purchased it, and I got what I paid for. The camera store must have rummaged through their stock and found an old, outdated SD card that’s extremely slow. It was taking the 7D forever to write the images to the card, I missed a few shots because of that. I have since begun using one of the much faster cards that I bought for the 60D, and that has sped the 7D writing to the card up so that I no longer have to wait several minutes if I have shot a series of photos.

Still, to really take advantage of how fast the 7D is, I need to pick-up an even faster CF card for it. The 7D holds one of each, SD and CF cards, so I’ll set it to use the CF card as the main storage device, and keep a SD card in it also for backup if I ever fill the CF card. I have tried the full speed test of the 7D a few times, and it really does shoot at ten frames per second under the right conditions. That’s really a bit crazy, but I can see that there’ll be times when it comes in handy. Most of the time, I leave it in the slow mode, only five frames per second, which is still faster than my 60D bodies.

The next item to report, ever since the first day that I used the 7D, I’ve been amazed at how accurate the exposure metering system is. That holds true for each of the three lenses that I’ve tried on the 7D so far, the Beast, the 300 mm L series, and the 70-200 mm L series lenses. However, that changes dramatically when I use the Tamron 1.4 X tele-converter with the 300 mm lens, which is the only lens I’ve used the extender on extensively. With the extender, the exposure is way off most of the time, usually overexposed by a full stop or more. I’m not sure why that would be, I half suspect that it’s the way that the 7D is programmed, to work well with Canon lenses and extenders, but not so well with other manufacturer’s equipment. But it’s something that I can live with, the osprey was shot with the 300 mm lens with the extender. I just dial the exposure compensation down when I install the extender, and go from there.

I have done limited testing of the extender and the Beast, but I lose the ability to auto-focus if I zoom the Beast past around 400 mm, due to the variable aperture of the Beast. Since that’s the case, I’m usually better off without the extender, and zooming the Beast all the way to 500 mm.

Well, I’m going back to the 7D’s auto-focusing system, that’s the main reason I purchased it, and there’s still more for me to say. It works much better in the servo mode of auto-focusing than the 60D does, that’s the mode where the camera is constantly focusing. I found that the servo mode produced too many out of focus images when I used it on the 60D. Not so with the 7D, since the entire auto-focusing system is so much improved. That may become the mode that I leave the camera in most of the time, but I’ll have to use it a bit more to be sure.

Back button auto-focusing helped the 60D bodies out, that does even better on the 7D, it works exactly as it should.

Okay, what does this all mean, I can see myself going crazy with bird in flight photos, and other action shots. During my last trip to the Muskegon area, I found a flock of Bonaparte’s gulls feeding in one of the man-made ponds there. I got the 7D set-up for action photos, did the same with the 300 mm lens, and even with the extender in the stack, I put the auto-focusing points on one of the gulls and let the 7D do all the rest of the work. It turned out dozens of images like this.

Bonaparte's gull in flight

Bonaparte’s gull in flight

It was almost too easy! I watched the birds while holding the shutter release down, and that’s all there was to it, no muss, no fuss, just lots of good photos to sort through. The 7D kept the gulls in focus as they moved around, and the shutter kept cycling away at five frames per second.

So, a gull is a rather easy subject for the 7D to track, but it also does well on smaller birds.

Blue jay on the move

Blue jay on the move

If I can get the focus points to lock onto a bird, the 7D stays locked on the birds as they move, and it can keep up with the birds, as you can see.

The 7D comes with six pre-programmed scenarios for how it tracks moving subjects, and each can be customized by the user. It will take me a while to get to know each of them, and which one works best for different situations. I have a lot to learn, a whole lot to learn. I’ll try not to be so technical in the future. So, from what I’ve seen so far, all three of my longer lenses perform much better on the 7D than they did on either of the 60D bodies, as far as focusing and sharpness.

But then, I’m still learning how to get the best results out of the 60D, which is no slouch of a camera if used correctly. Here’s a few images shot with the 60D with the Tokina macro lens.

Violets

Violets

Pennsylvainia sedge?

Pennsylvania sedge?

Box elder flowers

Box elder flowers

Box elder flowers

Box elder flowers

Vinca minor

Vinca minor

Maple flowers

Maple flowers

Hepatica

Hepatica

Hepatica

Hepatica

But, back to the 7D Mk II, what a camera! I have a few more of some of the very first photos that I shot with it, and at the time, I was thrilled with these.

Willow flowers in the sun

Willow flowers in the sun

Cottonwood catkins

Cottonwood catkins

Bumblebee in flight

Bumblebee in flight

Bumblebee in flight

Bumblebee in flight

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing

Box elder flowers in the breeze

Box elder flowers in the breeze

Now, those look worse than many of the photos that I rejected after my walk today. I’m not going to try to tell you that the 7D only shoots great photos no matter what, no camera can do that. However, I never thought that I would see this kind of image quality in a photo shot with the Beast.

Spring maple flowers and leaves

Spring maple flowers and leaves

Also today, I was following a red squirrel as it foraged for food in a small tree. The squirrel hopped down to a lower branch, and I followed it with the lens. Normally, I’d have to restart the focusing process since the squirrel had moved so far. But, the 7D snapped into focus before I could react to restart focusing, it had tracked the squirrel during its leap, I wish that I had thought to shoot while the squirrel was still in midair, but I didn’t. I did catch the landing though.

Red squirrel landing on a branch

Red squirrel landing on a branch

Am I a happy camper? You bet, I’ve had the 7D for just over two weeks, and the only surprises so far have been how well it does live up to its reputation of having one of the best focusing systems on the market today. Well, other than it doesn’t set the exposure as accurately when I use the Tamron tele-converter, and I have to go back to thinking while I’m shooting. 😉

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