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

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!

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28 responses

  1. The shot of the mallard stretching to pick that bud was too funny! I can’t imagine how your images could get a whole lot better with all the new gear. They’re already quite fantastic.

    May 12, 2015 at 1:07 am

    • Thank you Gunta! Mallards have to be one of the most interesting critters on Earth, they are always up to something. I’m still learning digital photography, and my gear, so there’s still some improvement left for me to strive for, but your very kind.

      May 12, 2015 at 12:26 pm

  2. Tree swallows are among my favorites too. They nest in our shed. Great photos, as always, Jerry.

    May 12, 2015 at 1:12 am

    • Thank you Lavinia! I like all the swallow species, since they’re so good at eating biting insects. 🙂 But tree swallows are the prettiest, I think.

      May 12, 2015 at 12:28 pm

  3. The shot of the great blue heron flying past you was a great one and I enjoyed the antics of the tree swallows.

    May 12, 2015 at 3:28 am

    • Thank you Susan! I hope to find a few more herons this summer, and I’ll photograph any swallow that gets close to me.

      May 12, 2015 at 12:28 pm

  4. Wow, Jerry, what a fine collection this is! I went back to Sherwood arboretum determined to capture a few images of birds to share and saw my first native magpie geese but of course the images I took are far, far away from being the high quality of yours! I like them all, but some have an extra appeal. The soft warm colours in the swamp swallow pictures are really lovely (as is the dawn in the marshes). They would go well on my wall. The sheen on the tree swallows (and their actions) are very attractive. The nut-catcher and thrush look so soft. I’ll end up just listing all your pictures, so I’ll cut it short and say they are wonderful.:-)

    May 12, 2015 at 5:35 am

    • Thank you very much Jane! I’m very lucky in that birds and all wildlife doesn’t seem to be as wary of me as they are most people, which lets me get closer for better photos. It also helps that all the gear that I’ve purchased has been aimed at getting the best possible photos for a reasonable cost.

      May 12, 2015 at 12:32 pm

  5. Very nice shots of the gnatcatcher and thrush!

    May 12, 2015 at 6:39 am

    • Thank you Bob!

      May 12, 2015 at 12:29 pm

  6. The eye on that gnatcatcher is amazing! And dead sharp too.
    I like the shot of the marsh at dawn and I wish I could see more of that in person.
    It’s nice to see the bluebird too. That’s my favorite color for a bird but I’ve only seen one once.
    I think my favorite shots are of the swamp sparrow. I love the colors in the background!

    May 12, 2015 at 4:07 pm

    • Thank you Allen! I have some even better shots of the gnatcatcher, taken at a closer range, but it refused to look at me for those, so I didn’t use them. I love sunrises and dawn, I was beating myself up for not having taken a shorter lens to really capture that scene, but I can only carry so much camera gear at one time. 😦

      One of these days I’m going to sneak up on a bluebird and get some better photos of one, as I love their color also.

      I liked the colors of the background behind the sparrow too, but it sure makes it hard to spot the sparrows when they blend in so well. 😉

      May 12, 2015 at 9:41 pm

  7. It’s hard to choose a favorite photo when you have so many that fit the bill, and that final photo is perfect for your ending. Thanks for doing what you do…

    May 12, 2015 at 4:20 pm

    • Thank you very much!Most people would say that I lead a boring life spending so much time outdoors, but I find just the opposite to be true.

      May 12, 2015 at 9:33 pm

      • I say it’s the best kind of life.

        May 13, 2015 at 2:48 am

  8. The Blue-grey gnatcatcher wins the prize for me today. I wish our swallows would sit still for a moment so that I could photograph them but they are always on the wing.

    May 12, 2015 at 7:01 pm

    • Thank you Tom! If you keep an eye on the swallows, you’ll see that they have a few favorite spots to rest for a while. It’s usually at the edge of a field or body of water that they fly over constantly, or so it seems, but they do have to rest.

      May 12, 2015 at 9:31 pm

  9. Your images are always good, Jerry, you’re too hard on yourself! LOVE the swallow pics and all the birds. Great job!

    May 13, 2015 at 10:43 am

    • Thank you very much Sheila!

      May 13, 2015 at 2:39 pm

  10. Such a beautiful post Jerry! I love so many of these shots that I won’t attempt listing them. Just carry on doing what you are doing and you will make me very happy.

    May 14, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    • Thank you Clare! I’ll keep shooting the beautiful things I see for as long as I can.

      May 14, 2015 at 5:07 pm

      • Good! 🙂

        May 14, 2015 at 5:53 pm

  11. A peregrine falcon and a longspur in the same day! You have some really wonderful birding up there, Jerry!!! (Love the bluebird shots, too.)

    May 14, 2015 at 3:43 pm

    • Thank you very much Lori! It is a good birding area, I need some more time to track down a few more.

      May 14, 2015 at 5:09 pm

  12. I love this post! The lighting is eerily beautiful in the first photos.

    In case you didn’t notice,, that gnatcatcher is giving you the stink eye. Be careful out there.

    So glad you’re happy with all your new gear. As always, looking forward to your next post.

    May 14, 2015 at 8:47 pm

    • Thank you Judy! I love being out at dawn, the lighting is different, but it’s also hard to capture that in images.

      Birds are always giving me the stink eye, it’s a game we play. 😉

      May 15, 2015 at 12:08 am

  13. I was thinking of you the other day because for some reason I subscribed to this magazine called “Outdoor photographer” which turns out to be way above my pay grade, but still, I saw this advertisement for these harness/vest things where you can attach more than one camera and have them both to hand. It made me think of you and I wondered if you had ever tried something like that and if they really work/make things more convenient.

    I don’t mind when you prattle on about photography. Even though I don’t understand most of what you say, I find I learn things by default, somehow, and it helps me even with my limited knowledge and skill.

    I envy you that nice, clear shot of the blue-gray gnatcatcher. We saw one last weekend and it wasn’t nearly as cooperative as your subject! 🙂 Also, that last image of the tree swallow is killer.

    I love how I always learn something new from you posts, like I didn’t know that grebes and coots don’t have webbed feet! That’s a little detail I never bothered to pay attention to!

    May 14, 2015 at 9:24 pm

    • Thank you very much Amy! I haven’t tried any of those fancy rigs yet, I doubt if I will. I’ve seen a few photos of them, and all of them have something about them that I don’t like.

      If you think that the gnatcatcher cooperated, you’d be wrong. It took me close to half an hour to get that shot, after many misses and poor photos.

      I’m obsessed with getting a good photo of a coot’s feet, they’re a pretty green color, and look so odd at the same time.

      May 15, 2015 at 12:16 am