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

Archive for June, 2015

Still more random thoughts from around home

I have to begin with some bad news, my Tokina 100 mm macro lens died on Sunday. That wasn’t completely unexpected, I’d been getting error messages at times from my camera bodies telling me that they couldn’t communicate with the lens when I tried to shoot a picture. That’s one of the reasons that I purchased the set of extension tubes that I mentioned in an earlier post, to serve as a back-up to the macro lens, as well as increase the versatility of my other lenses. After getting a couple more of those error messages yesterday, the lens quit working at all. It won’t try to focus, and the aperture is stuck partially closed. It could be a loose wire or bad connection inside of the lens, or it could be much more serious.

Now I’m faced with a decision, do I send the Tokina lens in and see if it can be repaired, or do I purchase the macro lens that I wished that I could afford when I did purchase the Tokina, the Canon 100 mm L series macro lens?

Optically, the Tokina was the best lens that I own, but it was ancient in design. The auto-focus was the old screw drive type, noisy and slower than molasses in January, and the lens didn’t have image stabilization, when macro photos are one of the times when you need it most, if you’re not using a tripod.

As you may be able to tell, I’m leaning towards replacing the Tokina, rather than trying to have it repaired. I’ve never had good luck with camera equipment that has been repaired, and while the Tokina was very sharp, I was never completely happy with the way it rendered some colors, especially blue.

Blue-eyed grass

Blue-eyed grass

I can live without the 400 mm lens that I was going to buy, but I can’t live without a macro lens at this time of year, when I never know what may slither past me…

Snail

Snail

Snail

Snail

…land next to me…

Fly

Unidentified flying object

…or what flowers I’ll see.

Flea bane

Wild rose

IMG_8088

Hop trefoil

IMG_8090

Flea bane

Flea bane

Flea bane

Moth mullein

Moth mullein

Beard's tongue

Beard’s tongue

I just installed 16 GB more of RAM in my iMac, and it has made even more of a difference when working in Lightroom than I thought that it would, it snaps right to the photo when I change which one I want to view. And, I can do a three image HDR in less than thirty seconds, not bad when it used to take my old computer twenty minutes or more. Even better, I added the 16 GB or Ram for less than half of what 8 GB would have cost me had I gotten it from Apple. It’s great to have nice things and get them at a good price!

The weather around here continues to be rainy and gloomy, although I’ve had two good days in a row this weekend. I can’t remember the last time that there was sunshine for both of my days off from work. Not only that, but it was cool for summertime, and very pleasant both days as well. Many of the photos in this post were shot in the rain, as if you hadn’t been able to tell that from the snail photos. I got more than a little wet while lying on the ground that day. 😉

The birds don’t seem to mind too much, here’s a mourning dove splashing around…

Mourning dove playing in the rain

Mourning dove playing in the rain

…but they prefer some sunshine at least once in a while also.

Mourning dove on a sunny morning

Mourning dove on a sunny morning

I shouldn’t do this, as far behind as I am in my blogging, but these photos are too good to whittle down to one or two, a turkey posing for me.

Turkey

Turkey

He had started out facing away from me as he fanned his tail out, and while a turkey’s butt is quite impressive when they fan their tail, it’s still a turkey’s butt. I was fortunate that he turned slowly and put on a show for me.

Turkey

Turkey

Turkey

Turkey

You can see how their feathers seem to change color as the light hits them differently, even better, he decided to let out a gobble for me.

Turkey gobbling

Turkey gobbling

Then he turned, looked at me as if to say “I hope that you got that, the show’s over, I’m off to find a willing female!”…

Turkey

Turkey

…before he turned and headed into the brush.

Changing gears, on day back in May, I went to the Pickerel Lake Nature Preserve. I arrived before dawn, hoping to get some good early morning landscape photos as the sun rose. That was not to be, for they lock the place up at night, and don’t open the gates until 8 AM. It was a mostly forgettable day anyway, a few minutes of sunshine early on…

Pickeral Lake after sunrise

Pickerel Lake after sunrise

(if you look closely, there’s a deer drinking from the lake in the lower left of the frame)

…before it clouded over shortly after I got started. The highpoint of the day was getting this male redstart while he was singing….

Male American redstart singing

Male American redstart singing

Male American redstart singing

Male American redstart singing

…and getting photos of bobwhite quail for the My Photo Life List project I’m working on.

Female northern bobwhite quail

Female northern bobwhite quail

Male northern bobwhite quail

Male northern bobwhite quail

I did find it interesting to find trillium still blooming there so late in the year.

Trillium

Trillium

And I remember playing hide and seek with a red squirrel.

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

It was very surprised that I had gotten into position to catch it coming out from behind the leaves like that.

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

Needless to say, it didn’t want to play after I had won round one. 😉

On the other hand, this chipmunk didn’t seem to mind being caught out in the open.

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

The only other wildlife of note was this pileated woodpecker…

Pileated woodpecker

Pileated woodpecker

…which perched in an almost impossible spot to get a good shot of it, almost directly between the sun and myself….

Pileated woodpecker

Pileated woodpecker

…so that’s the best that I could do.

I’m probably wrong, but I believe that this is the spore producing part of a cinnamon fern.

Cinnamon fern?

Cinnamon fern?

And I also think that this is horsetail beginning to “leaf” out.

Horsetail plant

Horsetail plant

My memory must be going, for I know that my mom told me what these were dozens of times, but I’ve forgotten what they are.

Unidentified flowering object

Unidentified flowering object

Since the gates to the Pickerel Lake preserve are locked until 8 AM, and because the place is so busy, I probably won’t go back until fall. There’s plenty of other places nearby, including right around my apartment where I can see enough nature to keep me supplied in photos throughout the summer.

Wild rose

Wild rose

Day lily

Day lily

Catalpa

Catalpa

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Skipper on red clover

Skipper on red clover

Skipper on red clover

Skipper on red clover

Skipper on vetch

Skipper on hairy vetch

Male Baltimore oriole

Male Baltimore oriole

Yellow hawkweed?

Yellow hawkweed?

Milkweed flowers

Milkweed flowers

Can you tell that many of these photos were shot early in the morning on the few days when there was some sunshine? I love getting out first thing in the morning, the light is better for photography, and there’s more wildlife to be seen. The one downside to getting out early is that some flowers don’t open until the sun has been up for a while. That’s okay, if they are closed on my way out, they are usually open when I’m on my way back home.

I could babble on for some time about my decision process for choosing whether or not to repair or replace the Tokina macro lens, and everything that there is to take into consideration, such as filter size, but I won’t bore you with that. I will say that I’ve decided to replace the macro lens with a Canon 100 mm L series, based on price, performance, features, and filter size to name a few of the many things that affected my decision. Maybe I’ll buy the 400 mm lens for myself for Christmas, or maybe not. I may very well find that I don’t need or even want that lens as much as I thought, only time will tell.

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

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Jumping ahead, Muskegon June 21st, making progress

Even though I still have many photos from previous trips to the Muskegon and Grand Haven areas, I’m going to jump ahead and do a post with photos from just my last trip. That’s because I learned some new things, and other things that I knew were really driven home to me. So, be prepared for some of my babbling on about photography as I start this post, and here’s the reason why. And by the way, you can click on any photo for a larger view.

Muskegon marsh sunrise

Muskegon marsh sunrise

It had rained overnight, but for once, the weather forecast was correct, and the skies were just beginning to clear when I arrive at the Muskegon County wastewater treatment facility. I like to make that my first stop when I’m getting there at sunrise, because it’s open there, and enough light to shoot wildlife just after sunrise, since there’s no trees or hills to cast shadows.

Seeing that there could be a good sunrise, I shot a couple of test photos handheld to check exposures and which lens to use, then set-up my tripod with one of the 60D bodies and the EF-S 15-85 mm lens on it. I actually remembered to get everything set correctly, I got the focus where I wanted it, then switched off the auto-focus so that there’d be no changes as I shot series of photos to create a HDR image, which is what you see above. I shut off the image stabilization, since the camera was on the tripod. I set the mirror lock-up to reduce camera shake, and even got out my flash unit, which doubles as a remote shutter release, so that I wouldn’t have to touch the camera to fire the shutter. I even remembered to use the camera’s electronic level to make sure that my horizon would be straight.

However, that still wasn’t enough to get that image, for I messed up the composition at first.

Muskegon marsh sunrise

Muskegon marsh sunrise

That’s an earlier shot, and you can see that I got one of the buildings in the frame, which I didn’t want. In my defense, it was rather dark yet, as you can tell, and the viewfinder of the 60D doesn’t show 100% of what will end up in the photo. Canon claims that it shows 96%, I think that they are pushing it. The difference has burned me before, both in macros, when I think that I have filled the frame with the subject, and in landscapes, when things that I thought were just outside the frame ended up in my photos. This is what I see when I look through the viewfinder…

Daylily

Day lily

….but, this is what I get in the final image.

Dayliy

Day lily

Okay, enough of that, back to the sunrise photos. The second one isn’t a HDR image, it’s one that I processed in Lightroom just to see if I could get the desired results. Since the building being in the frame ruined the photo, it was time to play. Yes, Lightroom certainly made a big difference, but at a cost. You can’t see it in the smaller size as it appears here, but there’s tons of noise in the shadows, too much to be removed. If I were to print that second photo, it would look horrible because of the noise. You can only raise the shadow detail so much in Lightroom before that happens.

The next step was to load the images into Photomatix to create a HDR image, I tried tone mapping…

Muskegon marsh sunrise, tone mapped

Muskegon marsh sunrise, tone mapped

…but that looks fake, as the shadows are almost completely gone, the green of the grass is over saturated, and tone mapping destroyed the special lighting that only occurs around sunrises and sunsets. They are called the golden hours for a reason, because of the way the light is bent as it passes through the atmosphere, it takes on a golden glow, which is gone in the tone mapped version.

Here’s the exposure fusion version of the same image as above.

Muskegon marsh sunrise, exposure fusion

Muskegon marsh sunrise, exposure fusion

Much better, the golden glow is there, but the building is also still there. I finally noticed that, but I got sidetracked for a little bit, when a cedar waxwing flew out in front of me, and perched in front of the sunrise. I cautiously grabbed the 7D with the 300 mm L series lens on it for this shot.

Cedar waxwing at sunrise

Cedar waxwing at sunrise

There’s some real advantages to having more than one camera, and there’s one of them! Also, the 300 mm lens is much better than the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) in low light, so I had even prepared in advance, and had the right lens on the camera for the time of day that I’d be starting out at. I was lucky, the waxwing stuck around long enough for me to select the right focus points to get that shot. Even more amazing, it hung around, giving me time to move slightly, change the camera position to portrait, and select the correct focus points, to get this shot.

Cedar waxwing at sunrise

Cedar waxwing at sunrise

If I would have had to remove the camera from the tripod, switch lenses, and change almost every camera setting, I would have missed that photo. I suppose that I could try to remove the insects that look like spots in the lower part of the frame, maybe when I have more time, I’ll give it a try. And, I wish that the upper branch didn’t obstruct the view of the waxwing’s crest, but it would be a miracle if things went perfectly for me. 😉

Anyway, back to the sunrise. I repositioned the camera and tripod, and shot this.

Muskegon marsh sunrise, wrong workflow

Muskegon marsh sunrise, wrong workflow

I captioned that “wrong workflow, for not only do you need the right camera equipment, set correctly, and the right software to process digital images, you need to do the processing of images in the correct order to get the best results.

The very first image in this post, and that last one, are the HDR versions of the same three images, the difference between the two is the difference in the order that I did things. In that last photo, actually done first, I did the exposure fusion in Photomatix first, then went in and removed chromatic aberration, allowed the lens profile correction in Lightroom, and adjusted the color balance, to name a few things. Then, I remembered that you’re supposed to do all those things to the RAW images first, before loading them into Photomatix. So, that’s what I did, I cleaned up the RAW images in Lightroom first, then did the exposure fusion in Photomatix, and finally, did a bit of tweaking to the resulting image in Lightroom to get the best results, which I will add here again so that the difference is more apparent.

Muskegon marsh sunrise

Muskegon marsh sunrise

The differences may be subtle, but they’re enough to make a big difference in the overall appearance of the image. And that reminds me, a few months ago I said that the HDR images I produced looked better since I was loading the RAW images from Lightroom into Photomatix (The HDR software) in 16 bit Tiff format, rather than sending the RAW images directly to Photomatix. It turns out that I wasn’t imagining things, Kerry Mark Leibowitz, who shoots some of the best landscape photos I have ever seen, confirmed that while Photomatix can handle RAW images, it can’t handle them well. The only way to get really good HDR images in Photomatix is to use other software to do the RAW conversion first, as I’m doing now with Lightroom, then let Photomatix create the HDR images.

Maybe the most amazing thing about the sunrise photos is how proud of them I am, for what they are. A sunrise over a man-made marsh designed to remove contaminants from water at a wastewater treatment facility. 😉

One of these days though, it will be of something really special, and I think that I’m much better prepared for when that happens. I’m getting very close to having the camera settings down for those types of photos, and I’m learning the software end of it by shooting these types of photos.

Being prepared is everything, for as I said earlier, I had the 300 mm lens on the 7D and all set to go when this great blue heron decided that I had gotten too close to it.

Great blue heron taking flight

Great blue heron taking flight

I continued to shoot photos of the heron…

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

…the auto-focusing of the 7D had locked onto the heron, which gave me this as the heron circled me.

Great blue heron in flight

Misty morning heron in flight

Since I purchased the 7D Mk II, I’ve had lots of good things to say about it, and it’s difficult not to fill every post with praise for the 7D. I said some time ago that I wanted to begin exploring more artistic photos, and the 7D is the camera to do that with. Not only is the auto-focus great for birding, but the other features of the camera lend themselves to the more artistic images, as I hope that you’ll see in later posts.

However, the rare birds on this trip were shot with my “old standbys”, one of the 60D bodies with the Beast attached.

Egyptian geese

Egyptian geese

Egyptian goose

Egyptian goose

I don’t get to count those in the My Photo Life List project, as they’re not on the list from the Audubon Society, they’re probably escapees from some one’s farm, or some one’s pets that got away, and are taking up residence at the wastewater plant.

One of the 60D bodies was also responsible for these, shot with the macro lens.

Black-eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan

Chicory and unidentified insect

Chicory and unidentified insect

Chicory and unidentified insect

Chicory and unidentified insect

Chicory

Chicory

Alfalfa flowers

Alfalfa flowers

Timothy grass flowers?

Timothy grass flowers?

Whether you find these cute or not is a matter of personal taste I suppose, but they are newly hatched birds, in this case, gulls.

Very young unidentified gull

Very young unidentified gull

Very young unidentified gull

Very young unidentified gull

This was the first nice, sunny day when I’ve gotten out in some time, and between how late in the year it is already, and the nice weather, finding wildlife was harder than usual.  I’ve always said that bad weather is the best time to see wildlife, up to a point, and it held true on this day.

I did find an assortment of sparrows to photograph.

Savannah sparrow

Savannah sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

And, I almost found a dickcissel singing, but he chose to stay mostly hidden on this day.

Dickcissel singing

Dickcissel singing

I didn’t have the same problem with this guy!

Male Indigo bunting

Male Indigo bunting

He hopped over to another branch and did some wing and leg stretches to warm up…

Male Indigo bunting

Male Indigo bunting

…then started belting out his favorite song again.

Male Indigo bunting

Male Indigo bunting

Male Indigo bunting

Male Indigo bunting

I’m going to post this one, just because I can.

Male Indigo bunting

Male Indigo bunting

One of his kids was hoping that dad would do less singing, and more looking for food.

Juvenile Indigo bunting

Juvenile Indigo bunting

It tried its best to convince dad that it was hungry.

Juvenile Indigo bunting begging for food

Juvenile Indigo bunting begging for food

I think dad thought that the youngster was old enough to find some of its own food, for while dad did feed the youngster, dad ignored the young bird for much of the time that I watched the two of them together.

This year is flying past me, there’s already plenty of young birds around, and some of the birds are beginning to molt into their fall colors, or I should say, lack of colors. I had plenty of chances to shoot mallards, but didn’t bother, as they are already molting, as is this guy.

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

He was really too far away for a good photo, and on that note, I’ll add a few more not so good photos, just for the record of what I saw this day, starting with three different juvenile bald eagles that I found on the northern edge of the wastewater property. I spotted the first as it perched on one of the irrigation sprayers…

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

…I tried sneaking up on it to get closer, that didn’t work…

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

…and as I was walking back to my car, eagle two took off from somewhere in the woods for this bad photo…

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

…to top it off, as I was getting back in my car, eagle three took off from even closer to where I had parked.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

It looks as though it has been a great year for a bumper crop of eagles! I still can’t believe that I didn’t spot the other two eagles earlier though, they’re huge and hard to miss.

A couple of more for the record shots, I don’t remember why I had pointed the camera at these, a female mallard and her brood, along with a gadwall.

Female mallard, her young, and a gadwall

Female mallard, her young, and a gadwall

Maybe it was because I thought it odd that the gadwall was hanging out with the mallards, but the gadwall was a rude one, for I guess it thought that the mallards weren’t moving quickly enough, it nipped the female mallard in the butt to get her to move faster.

Gadwall nipping a female mallard in the butt

Gadwall nipping a female mallard in the butt

There are jerks in the bird world too, for how could the gadwall nip a poor mallard mother positioning herself to protect her young? It’s not as if the gadwall moved any quicker once the mallards were out of its way.

Another slightly unusual occurrence, a wood duck in the east storage lagoon, which is like a man-made lake nearly one mile square.

Wood duck in open water

Wood duck in open water

I do see wood ducks there at the wastewater facility, but never out in open water like that, they typically stick to the smaller ponds and canals, closer to cover. In the wild, I never see them in the open, they are always close to, or in cover.

I’m not sure about this next photo, I don’t think that I took enough time to get it right when I shot it. I was going for a spotted sandpiper, but as I was looking for it through the camera, I saw this, and shot the photo.

Grass

Grass

Then shot the spotted sandpiper.

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

One thing that I haven’t learned how to do is sneak up on birds that live in open fields, like this bobolink.

Male bobolink singing

Male bobolink singing

That’s as close as I could get using the Beast and cropping quite a bit.

I’m much better at sneaking up on birds in the woods…

Eastern wood pewee

Eastern wood pewee

…and getting a quick photo or two before they spot me.

Eastern wood pewee

Eastern wood pewee

Then, there are the birds that don’t seem to mind that I’m close when I shoot their portraits.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Eastern kingbird

Eastern kingbird

Even though I’m over my self-imposed limit for photos, I have one more left to share.

Milkweed flowers

Milkweed flowers

I probably won’t be returning to the wastewater facility until the fall bird migration begins in August, which isn’t that far away. There are too many other places that I like that I haven’t visited this year, one of them being Lost Lake in Muskegon State Park. If we get a few hours of good light this weekend, Lost Lake, and the plants, flowers, and insects there, may be my destination.

I’m sorry for so many of the sunrise/landscapes in the beginning, but I’m still coming to grips with the idea that $200 worth of software, and using it correctly, is as important as any piece of actual photo gear to getting good landscape images. Now, if I could convince the birds to hold perfectly still long enough to get three shots of them, I’d try a HDR image of a bird. 😉

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


More highlights from several lakeshore trips

Where do I start? I’m attempting to reduce the photos that I shot while on several trips to the Lake Michigan shore down to just one post, and it’s tough deciding what photos to use, and which ones to delete.

For example, I’ve posted quite a few photos of northern shovelers lately, but does that mean that I shouldn’t post one of my best of one of the shovelers in flight?

Male northern shoveler in flight

Male northern shoveler in flight

What about ruddy ducks, I’ve posted a lot of images of them lately as well, but if I catch one napping on the rocks and get very close to it before it notices me, I think that I should add it here.

Female ruddy duck in the rain

Female ruddy duck in the rain

Or, if I catch one flying near a mallard, I think that I shot post it to help out those who are learning how to identify birds. Not only is the mallard much larger, it’s long and lean compared to the ruddy duck. Its short, wide wings are really pronounced when viewed next to a mallard.

Ruddy duck and male mallard in flight

Ruddy duck and male mallard in flight

Even without a mallard near it, you can still see that the ruddy ducks have a completely different profile while they are flying, along with a completely different pattern of flapping their wings.

Ruddy duck in flight

Ruddy duck in flight

Not to mention those oversized feet!

Should I leave out my sunrise photos, even if the sunrise was less than I had hoped that it would be?

Sunrise at the lagoons

Sunrise at the lagoons

What if there’s a rare bird in the sunrise photo, such as a pelican?

American white pelican at sunrise

American white pelican at sunrise

Should I delete the photo where I zoomed in on the pelican, and cropped it severely also?

American white pelican

American white pelican

It isn’t every day that one sees a pelican, or an angry sun, just after sunrise.

Angry sun

Angry sun

What about the zoomed in version, where the sun looks even angrier?

Angrier sun

Angrier sun

Then, there’s this photo, shot before any of the sunrise photos.

Killdeer before sunrise

Killdeer before sunrise

I didn’t add any effects from Lightroom, other than basic exposure correction. The killdeer would stand perfectly still, until a wave broke over the rock it was standing on. Then, the killdeer would pluck any goodies the wave had brought, and then return to standing perfectly still again. The shutter speed was 1/3 of a second, long enough to blur the motion of the water, but other than the one feather blowing in the wind, the bird was still enough for a reasonably sharp photo. It also shows the effectiveness of image stabilization, for that was shot with me bracing the camera against the door of my car. Other than a great blue heron stalking its prey, I’ve never seen a bird stand as motionless as that killdeer, which I found quite interesting.

I go to the lakeshore for the birds, but I see other things, should I leave them out?

Female snapping turtle laying eggs

Female snapping turtle laying eggs

English plantain

English plantain

Black racer?

Black racer?

Early sunflower?

Early sunflower?

Early sunflowers?

Early sunflowers?

Red clover

Red clover

And if I do include subjects other than birds, how many should I use? Take deer for example, one good shot of a doe and last year’s fawn?

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

Should I stop there, or include one that shows the graceful power of a deer as it runs?

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

Or, should I include this portrait…

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

…as she stopped to check me out, and to remember a moment, which I missed…

Whitetail deer after being attacked by a red-winged blackbird

Whitetail deer after being attacked by a red-winged blackbird

…because I thought that I had enough photos of the deer and was zooming the lens out in preparation of putting it away, until I saw the blackbird smack the deer in the butt, sending the deer on its way.

What about this one of a buck just starting to grow what look like they will be a good set of antlers?

Whitetail buck

Whitetail buck

He’d better hide better than that come hunting season!

I’ve been telling myself that I shouldn’t go to the lakeshore as often, but that’s the area that works best when the weather won’t cooperate. As you can see, most of these photos were shot in low light, but they weren’t all shot at sunrise. The weather pattern here remains the same, with some rain almost every day. Continuing a trend, we’ve had rain 10 of the last 11 days. No complete washout, when it rains all day, but scattered on and off showers every now and then. Along the lakeshore, I can stay in my vehicle while it’s raining, then take short walks in between the showers, rather than be out in the rain. The funny thing is that I don’t usually mind walking in the rain, but not when it’s an everyday thing, this is getting ridiculous!

The places that I go along the lakeshore are relatively close together, so if I time it right, I can move from one place to the next while it’s raining, and once the rain let’s up, wander around a bit to see what I can find.

I have to throw in a short segment about my project to photograph every species of bird regularly seen in Michigan. I have photos that would put me to the two-thirds mark as far as species photographed, which is quite an achievement, not that I’m bragging. 😉 That’s in just over two years since the idea to do a photo life list hit me. I haven’t posted anything towards that series in a while, since I don’t have the time to do so right now. Besides, with all the flowers, wildlife, and other subjects to shoot, I’m still way behind on my posting anyway. I’ll resume that series this winter, when I don’t have many other photos to share.

But, I have to say a few things about taking on a project like that, and what I’m learning from it. One thing is how to shoot better photos, of course. But, it’s been so much more than that. Learning the behaviors of the different species of birds that allows me to get as close to them as I do. Learning new places to go, and coming to appreciate different types of habitat much more.

I grew up in the woods, and I’ve always leaned towards hiking in heavily wooded areas, such as the Pigeon River Country. I avoided swamps and marshes, especially in the summer when the skeeters, deer flies, and black flies can make you wish that you had never set foot outdoors. Well, in the spring and fall, before or after the bugs, those are beautiful places in their own right, and home to many species of birds that I never knew existed.

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat singing

Common yellowthroat singing

Swamp sparrow

Swamp sparrow

Swamp sparrow singing

Swamp sparrow singing

Before starting the My Photo Life List project, I avoided open fields, as I thought that they were boring, hardly, for I’m finding just the opposite to be true, if I take the time to learn what there is to see in an open field.

Male dickcissel singing

Male dickcissel singing

Male dickcissel singing

Male dickcissel singing

Those were shot on two different days, obviously, the reason that I included the second one is that after that male finished his song, he’d look high and low to see if any females were responding, which I found to be very humorous.

Male dickcissel looking for a mate

Male dickcissel looking for a mate

Another thing that I’ve learned from taking on the My Photo Life List project is to appreciate “my” part of the state of Michigan even more than I did. When I first thought of that project, I thought that I’d be traveling to different parts of Michigan much more to get as far as what I have. Yes, I’ve gotten a few species of birds on my trips north, but most have come within 45 miles of home. Really surprising has been the number of species that I’ve gotten while doing my daily walks from my apartment, when I’m never more than two miles from the door of my apartment.

I thought that I was observant before, but since starting this project, my eyes have been truly opened to just what there is to see close to home, if one takes the time to look. It also begs the question, why didn’t I see these species of birds before? Well, some of them I probably had seen before, but never took the time to look them up in a field guide to positively identify them. To me, any small brown bird that hopped on the ground most of the time was a sparrow, the exact species didn’t matter to me. There was also a time when I was hiking at Muskegon State Park when I saw what I thought looked like a flock of pelicans flying high overhead, but I had no idea at the time that pelicans were ever seen in Michigan, so I assumed that my eyes were tricking me. Little did I know at the time that pelicans do visit my neck of the woods regularly.

Another thing that I’m learning is that you have to be careful driving, or even walking around this time of year, for there are lot’s of these around.

Just hatched spotted sandpiper

Just hatched spotted sandpiper

The only way that I know that it’s a spotted sandpiper is because mom was nearby, having a fit. That little thing was so small that any gust of wind would blow it over, so I shot one more photo…

Just hatched spotted sandpiper

Just hatched spotted sandpiper

…and then turned around.

I’m also happy to report that there seems to be a bumper crop of these this year.

Juvenile upland sandpiper

Juvenile upland sandpiper

Juvenile upland sandpiper

Juvenile upland sandpiper

Their dad would fly around me, at one moment looking as if he were going to attack…

Upland sandpiper in flight

Upland sandpiper in flight

…and the next, he would pretend that he was injured and flutter to the ground, a good distance away from his young.

Upland sandpiper in flight

Upland sandpiper in flight

Mom, on the other hand, placed herself between her young and the big bad photographer, ready to take him on if he approached to close.

Female upland sandpiper defending her young

Female upland sandpiper defending her young

Female upland sandpiper defending her young

Female upland sandpiper defending her young

Female upland sandpiper defending her young

Female upland sandpiper defending her young

Once she thought that her young were safely hidden in the grass, she changed tactics, and performed the “broken wing” act, to lead me away from the young.

Female upland sandpiper pretending to be injured

Female upland sandpiper pretending to be injured

Female upland sandpiper pretending to be injured

Female upland sandpiper pretending to be injured

Once I had moved far enough away, she’d give one last look to make sure that I was leaving, then rejoin her young in the tall grass.

Female upland sandpiper

Female upland sandpiper

On the opposite end of the cuteness scale from the young sandpipers are these birds.

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

But, I can’t end on that note, so here’s one more photo, just to brighten up your day.

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Yes, that’s how far behind I am, that photo shows the leaves just beginning to emerge, and the Juncos were still around before heading north to their summer homes. As it’s now getting towards the end of June, some of the birds have already begun to molt into their fall plumage. This year is racing past me at a blinding speed, but it’s my own fault, for working as much as I have this year, because I’m greedy. However, there’s a reason for that right now.

I returned to the Muskegon area again yesterday, and while I didn’t find many birds to photograph, the subjects that I did find to shoot really drove home the need to have the correct equipment for the subject at hand. Luckily, for what I found to photograph, I did have the right stuff with me, for I used more of my camera gear yesterday than I have in a very long time. I have one more lens that I want to purchase, and a few more accessories, so I’m willing to work long hours right now to complete my kit, then, I’ll back off from work, and spend more time enjoying life.

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


More random thoughts from around home

Even though the photos in this post will be ones that I shot around home, I have to start with my day yesterday, as it fits in with the last post, and what I’ll talk about in this post to some degree. It was another day of off and on rain showers, so I went to Muskegon, where I can stay in my car, or close to it, while birding. I was correct, the new backpack is too heavy to carry very far, but it sure was handy to lug all my gear around in only one bag for the first time in years.

I have purchased another backpack, smaller and lighter than the first, I may not get all my gear into it, but I will be able to fit the “must haves” in it, and be able to carry it. I’ll give it a try today, once the sun comes up. Another nice thing about this smaller pack is that I don’t have to undo everything to get to my gear. I set the large one in the back of my Subaru yesterday, opened it up, and left it open until I returned home, as it does take a minute or two to open it up or close it. The smaller one will work fine for day trips, I’ll use the larger one for longer trips, they will compliment each other nicely.

I mentioned in my last post that I’ll be buying the Canon 400 mm f/5.6 L series lens next month, now I’ll tell you why. The Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) is a very good lens, but it weighs over 4 pounds (1.8 Kg) by itself, attached to the camera, it’s over 6 pounds (2.7 Kg), and that’s a lot of weight to carry, and to sling around as I’m trying to photograph fast-moving birds. I’ve said that before, but there’s also another reason I want the 400 mm lens.

My two sharpest lenses are the Tokina 100 mm macro lens, and the Canon 70-200 mm f/4 L series lens. One thing that those two lenses share is a lack of image stabilization.  I think that the lack of IS is what makes those two lenses sharper than my others. More layers of glass in the IS system has to degrade image quality at least a little, no matter how good the glass is, or computer controlled machines are at grinding the lenses. I’m hoping that the same will be true of the 400 mm lens, without IS, it will be a touch sharper than my other lenses that I use for birding. Since it doesn’t have IS, it’s almost exactly the same weight as the 300 mm L series lens that I have. That, and I get ghosting of birds in flight from the IS system if I don’t have time to turn it off before I shoot the photos. The 300 mm lens is also a tad too short for serious birding, even birds in flight.

Without IS, I’ll use the 400 mm lens on nice weather days, and the 300 mm on really rotten lighting days, and save the Beast for special occasions when it’s the best choice of the three. Without IS, the 400 mm lens should be just the ticket to throw around when I’m trying to shoot birds in flight. I’m hoping that the weather pattern here changes by the time when the new lens arrives, as I’m tired of the rain and shooting photos in low light.

Like I said, it rained off and on yesterday, the forecast is the same for today, along with another dense fog advisory for the morning. That seems to be the story for the past month, if I have time to get outside, it rains on and off, although there have been some sunny spells too, they’ve not lasted for very long.

Wild rose

Wild rose

One other short camera related things that I have to say, sometimes what I thought would be overkill turns out to be just what the doctor ordered. The 60D camera bodies I use have just 9 focus points, one in the middle, then eight more in an oval pattern that seems to work well for composing photos to the rule of thirds. The 7D Mk II body has 65 focus points, which I thought was far more than any one would ever need, but I was wrong. Not only do all the focus points come in handy while shooting birds in flight…

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

…but by selecting the correct points to use, I can get my composition just the way that I want it for other subjects.

Wild roses in bloom

Wild roses in bloom

Nightshade

Nightshade

Iris flowers

Iris flowers

I’m back from my walk this morning, I actually had light that was okay for most of the time. The smaller bag worked well enough, although it’s a tad smaller than what would be best, and I didn’t strap the tripod to it yet. One step at a time, I did walk the entire 5 miles today with the backpack on, once my muscles are used to it, I’ll add the tripod.

Why is that my favorite photos are the ones from my last time out?

Turkey gobbling

Turkey gobbling

Maybe it’s because they are so much better than the ones I have saved.

Crab apple flowers

Crab apple flowers

I have photos going back to when the lilacs were in bloom.

Lilac

Lilac

I put that in just to bring back memories of how good they smelled! It’s the same reason for these.

Lily of the valley

Lily of the valley

Lily of the valley

Lily of the valley

I had to look high and low to find one with its flowers turned up enough to see inside.

Lily of the valley

Lily of the valley

But these were no problem at all.

Geranium

Geranium

Although it took me a few days to find some that were totally dry.

Geraniums

Geraniums

Thankfully, it hasn’t been too warm yet this year, with all the rain we’ve received, if we do get any sunshine, it gets very humid, so humid that the squirrels spraddle out on the tree branches to stay cool.

Fox squirrel keeping cool

Fox squirrel keeping cool

When they aren’t lounging around, you may see them in the treetops filling their belly’s.

Fox squirrel chowing down

Fox squirrel chowing down

I had a photo of a poor, bedraggled deer that I was going to post along with a story. The past two winters have been so hard on the deer in Michigan’s upper peninsula that the state was considering suspending the hunting season for this fall. The deer herd is down by around 40% in the UP, but their were so many protests from hunters and the businesses that rely on the hunters that the state caved, and will allow hunting, but the state won’t issue as many doe or second buck permits as they have in the past. I deleted the photo of the very skinny deer, because it only took a few weeks of good food to get the herd here back to looking fit and healthy again.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

That one was running around in the field next to the park, either she was confused, or running just for the heck of it. I have photos of her going back and forth, but I won’t bore you with them. But, these two other deer found the antics of the first to be amusing.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

They soon joined the first, but there’s no reason to post those photos either.

I’ve also deleted a good many poor quality bird in flight photos that I shot while learning the 7D MkII’s auto-focusing system, but here’s a couple that I’ll post even though they aren’t that good.

Male northern cardinal in flight

Male northern cardinal in flight

Male northern cardinal in flight

Male northern cardinal in flight

Male northern cardinal in flight

Male northern cardinal in flight

Those are all of the second of two cardinals that were fighting over that flowering bush as their territory. They were at it for quite a while, over half an hour as I remember. One would pop out of the bush and then dive back into it on the other side, then I’d wait for the second to do the same, but sometimes it cheated and took shortcuts through the bush instead.

Let’s see, what other birds do I have saved?

Chipping sparrow

Chipping sparrow

Starling

Starling

Starling

Starling

I can’t believe that I’m as far behind as I am and I’m posting photos of starlings, when I could be posting these instead.

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

Yellow-Dumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

Eastern meadowlark

Eastern meadowlark

Baltimore oriole

Baltimore oriole

Baltimore oriole

Baltimore oriole

Warbling vireo

Warbling vireo

The grosbeaks were taking turns on the nest until a little over a week ago.

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

About the same time that the young grosbeaks fledged, the kingbird was just starting her nest.

Eastern kingbird building a nest

Eastern kingbird building a nest

Eastern kingbird building a nest

Eastern kingbird building a nest

If you’re not familiar with kingbirds, they are just as territorial and quick to defend their nest as any species of bird is. You may know that red-winged blackbirds will attack any size predator, such as a red-tailed hawk…

Red-winged blackbird attacking a red-tailed hawk

Red-winged blackbird attacking a red-tailed hawk

…and even larger birds, a snowy owl near Muskegon in this case.

Red-winged blackbird going after a snowy owl

Red-winged blackbird going after a snowy owl

The kingbirds are just as fearless in their defense of their young.

Eastern kingbird attacking a Cooper's hawk

Eastern kingbird attacking a Cooper’s hawk

I also had photos of a Baltimore oriole chasing a very ragged crow out of its territory, but I decided that it wasn’t good enough to post. It’s amazing to watch the smaller songbirds taking on what seem to be giants to them though.

Anyway, I have room for a few more photos, so here’s a bird that I don’t see everyday.

Black billed cuckoo

Black billed cuckoo

I missed getting a photo of a yellow billed cuckoo while at Lane’s Landing a few weeks ago, and I also missed a least bittern, which really ticked me off, they are hard to see in the first place, and this was a male in full breeding plumage. I missed the cuckoo by playing around too long trying to get the best photo possible, rather than shooting a couple of quick shots, then going for a better one. The bittern was missed because it flew across the path in front of me and disappeared into the marsh before I could react. Oh well, maybe next time.

So, I suppose that I’ll end this one with one of my favorite subjects to shoot, a male mallard posing for me.

Male mallard

Male mallard

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


Some random thoughts from around home

I’m still way behind in my blogging, this is one of the photos that I have saved yet to go into a post.

Trout lily

Trout lily

If you’re familiar with the trout lily, you’d know that they flower here in Michigan towards the end of April, first of May, I’m still that far behind.

Anyway, I’m going to throw a few random thoughts together, and see if I can build a coherent post around them.

When I was looking for a computer to replace my old laptop, I had settled on a 21.5 inch display iMac, with extra ram in order to run Lightroom. Then, I found out that getting extra ram made the computer a special order item, so for about the same price, I purchased a 27 inch display iMac, but with only the standard amount of ram, thinking that I would add more later. That was a wise choice, I absolutely love the larger display, and Apple charges $200 per 8 GB or additional ram, while I can purchase it and install it myself for $50 per 8 Gb, a huge savings!

It’s not that the new iMac is slow, hardly, it screams compared to my ten-year old laptop, but more ram will help when I am running Lightroom, or it should.

I got two more species of birds towards my Photo Life List yesterday, eared grebes…

Male eared grebe

Male eared grebe

…and red-throated grebes.

Male red-throated grebe

Male red-throated grebe

Going back to my last post on identifying birds, I was working on it for a few days, and between my last trip to Muskegon, when I got the grebes, and the comments that were made by readers, I had an idea. I thought about turning a few photos into black and white images devoid of any color or other ways to ID the birds other than by shape.

Grebe profile

Grebe profile

You can see that grebes ride low in the water, have small pointed bills, long , thin necks, and that their heads are triangular-shaped, rather than round, like most ducks. But, I ran into several problems, the first being that most ducks have at least small patches of white on them, so they don’t convert to B&W as well as the grebe did. Then, I’d have to catch each species that I was going to do at the same relative angle, so viewers would have the best frame of reference to go by, and finally, getting all the species to appear at their correct relative size to one another.

I did do a conversion of the easiest species of duck, just to show what I had in mind.

Black scoter

Black scoter

Even with an almost all black species of duck, that bright yellow portion of its bill would be something that I would have to find a way to change. It would be much, much worse doing most species of ducks that have lighter, or even white areas within their plumage.

I’m sure that there’s a way I could do that, but it would mean hours and hours of work, time that I don’t have right now.

Besides, Cornell University has put together a series of videos that does much better explaining how to identify birds than I could ever hope to, here’s the link

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/page.aspx?pid=1270

Anyway, my backpack to hold my camera gear arrived today, and so I loaded it up, boy, did I ever. It’s heavy, that’s for sure, I don’t know how far I’ll be able to tote it, but it is comfortable, with wide, well padded straps and more than enough room for me to put all the stuff I would like with me, other than a birding set-up, which I’ll carry in my hands as always. I’d show you photos, but all but my two longest lenses are in the pack, along with my flash unit and LED light. I’d have to take it outdoors to photograph it. 😉

I may find that I can do without an item or two, and it may be surprising that one of them is the Tokina macro lens. I’ve said that it’s the sharpest lens that I own, the only rival is the Canon 70-200 mm f/4 L series lens. But, that lens won’t do macros, or it wouldn’t until I purchased the extension tubes.

Unidentified fluttering object (Skipper, I believe)

Unidentified fluttering object (Skipper, I believe)

That’s what I can do with the 70-200 mm lens and the extension tubes. I think that it’s just as sharp as the Tokina, and with better color rendition to boot!

But on the other hand, this is what the Tokina can do without extension tubes.

Unidentified fly object

Unidentified fly object

By the way, the butterfly was shot with the 7D Mk II, the fly with one of the 60D bodies. Isn’t it a bummer to have so much very good gear that I have a hard time choosing what to use?

I may have to though, not only is the pack that I bought very heavy when fully loaded, it isn’t very convenient either. I have to take the pack off, un-strap the tripod, unbuckle two straps, then unzip the main compartment to get to the extra body or any of the lenses. It would be ideal for when I go to a specific place to take specific photos, as during many of the recent vacations that I’ve taken. Having to do so much to get to my gear would be fine when I got to a scenic spot to shoot landscapes, or to an area where I was going to shoot many species of flowers all close to one another. But, to have to do all of what is required to access the second body for a macro shot of a flower I see along the trail seems a bit much, and I’d likely skip it and do the best that I could with which ever long lens I happen to be carrying that day.

But for almost daily use, I think that I’m going to have to purchase another, smaller, but more convenient to get to my gear quickly. I’ll think about it for a while.  The one that I did purchase has been discontinued, so I got it for over $100 of the normal price, that would almost pay for the other, smaller but more convenient, one that I almost purchased instead. I wouldn’t mind taking the backpack off and quickly unzipping a flap to get to the second body for one or two photos.

As it has been, I’ve carried an extra camera body, the Tokina Macro lens, one of the wide-angle lenses, and accessories in the holster bag that I have. When the temperature is cool enough,  I carry my lighting gear and another lens in the pockets of my coat or the vest that I have, so I’m not adding that much weight when I put it all into just the backpack, but it sure seems a lot heavier for some reason.

Maybe lugging all that weight with me would force me to slow down, I’ve been moving too fast as I’ve been out hiking this spring, which is why I haven’t been getting many photos of smaller birds. They require a slow pace, stealthiness, and quiet, not some one on a mission to cover as many good birding spots in a day as they can, which is what I’ve been doing.

Serious birding is all but done for a couple of months, the trees are entirely leafed out now, making it difficult to spot many of the smaller birds. Young birds are appearing as they fledge, making identification a real chore, and the males of some species are already beginning to molt to their non-breeding plumage.

Speaking of the trees being all leafed out, this is the greenest June in Michigan that I can remember!

Green!

Green!

While other parts of the country are getting too much, or not enough rain, the weather here has been just what the plants love.  It’s made it rough to get good photos, as many days look like this…

Foggy

Foggy

…or this…

Grand Haven fog

Grand Haven fog

…not like this.

Sunny day for a change

Sunny day for a change

It’s not as if it’s been foggy or rainy all the time, and we aren’t that much above average when it comes to total rainfall, it’s been that it rains a little almost everyday. We may get a few peeks at the sun in between the showers, but we’re well below the average amount of sunshine that we normally get. So, I have lots of photos like these.

Wet oak leaves

Wet oak leaves

Wet cherry blossoms

Wet cherry blossoms

Wet shagbark hickory leaves

Wet shagbark hickory leaves

This one doesn’t have any water drops, but it was shot on the same day as the last one.

Shagbark hickory leaves

Shagbark hickory leaves

It’s funny, a year ago I was opposed to doing any post-processing of photos, now, I can’t understand why I held that view. One of the small things that has helped improve the quality of my photos is removing chromatic aberration from the photos shot in lower light. I can’t say that I’ve noticed any chromatic aberration in any of the photos that I’ve shot with my Canon camera or lenses, at least not what I used to get from my old Nikon, but just a simple click in Lightroom telling it to remove any chromatic aberration makes a slight, but noticeable difference in the appearance of my images. They look a little cleaner and sharper, enough so that I’ve set the default in Lightroom to automatically remove the chromatic aberration in all my photos when they are imported from the memory cards to my computer.

Of course, the true beauty of Lightroom, or any good post-processing software, is being able to “fix” what the camera has trouble reproducing correctly, such as in this series of a male turkey wooing a potential mate.

Male turkey displaying for a female

Male turkey displaying for a female

Male turkey displaying for a female

Male turkey displaying for a female

Male turkey displaying for a female

Male turkey displaying for a female

If these had been better to begin with, I would have spent more time getting them correct, but as it was, I was able to do quite a bit in a very short time. Since the turkey is very dark, when I exposed correctly to capture the subtle colors in its plumage, everything else in the frame was overexposed, including the grass, which turned out a sickly shade of yellow in the original images. This is one of the few times that I’ve made any adjustments to color in any of my photos, so these aren’t great, but I can see the possibilities there.

I could spend much more time on those photos, but all I had time to do was make them acceptable to post here, I spend far more time on images that look good to begin with. It takes much longer to do subtle changes to optimize a photo than it does to correct obvious flaws.

One thing that I have been doing frequently is this. I love the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens), but the out of focus areas in a photo in the background (known as bokeh) have a harsh, geometric appearance. Since to many people, bokeh is everything these days, I have been using the radial filter tool in Lightroom to soften the backgrounds in some of my images.

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

I can reduce the sharpness and clarity of the background to make it more pleasing to the eye, and keep the main subject sharp, just a subtle change makes a big difference in the overall appearance.

I find myself adjusting the exposure tenths of a stop, and sometimes that isn’t a fine enough adjustment, and I go down to hundredths of a stop, who would have thought?

I’ve watched a few more how to in Lightroom videos, and it seems that each presenter has his or her own way of doing things. That’s okay, as since I’m still learning the software, seeing different options is very helpful to me. One thing that does stand out though, is that each person appearing in the videos concentrates on just one form of photography, one person shoots mostly landscapes, another does still life photos, and one does architectural photography. It sure would be easier for me, both in Lightroom, and as far as all the gear that I’d like to have with me if I didn’t attempt to photograph everything in nature and beyond.

I’ve been working on this post for nearly a full week now, and I was going to repeat some things that I’ve said in the past, but I won’t. I will say this, because the weather pattern here has been so poor for photography, and because I like seeing my bank account grow despite the buying splurge that I’ve been on lately, I’ve been putting in a lot of hours at work. It’s now the predawn hours of a Sunday morning, and it rained off and on yesterday, so I worked close to 14 hours, after two 12 plus hour days before yesterday. The forecast for both today and tomorrow, the two days that I have off from work, call for more of the same, scattered showers and thunder showers, some may be heavy, as in more than an inch of rain in an hour. What I wouldn’t give for one clear, dry day on one of my days off!

However, that isn’t likely to happen soon from the weather forecasts this morning, there’s at least the chance of showers every day for the next ten days. I’m sitting here working on this, and trying to decide what to do today, and where to go. I’m sure that I’ll be in the same boat tomorrow morning as well. But, enough of whining about the weather, it is what it is.

So, what I’m going to do is dump some of the better photos from around home shot over the past months in this post and call it good, sorry if it doesn’t live up to any one’s expectations, but I’m too far behind in posting. Because of the long hours I’ve been putting in, I haven’t had time to get out to shoot more photos, or catch up in posing the ones that I’ve shot already shot.

Male northern cardinal and white flowering tree

Male northern cardinal and white flowering tree

Bee on honeysuckle

Bee on autumn olive

Bee on honeysuckle

Bee on autumn olive

Fox squirrel enjoying lunch

Fox squirrel enjoying lunch

Blue jay

Blue jay

Cedar waxwing enjoying lunch

Cedar waxwing enjoying lunch

Cedar waxwing enjoying lunch

Cedar waxwing enjoying lunch

Cedar waxwing enjoying lunch

Cedar waxwing enjoying lunch

Red squirrel enjoying lunch

Red squirrel enjoying lunch

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

White-crowned sparrow

White-crowned sparrow

Magnolia warbler

Magnolia warbler

Female yellow warbler

Female yellow warbler

Grey catbird

Grey catbird

Grey catbird siinging

Grey catbird singing

Lincoln's sparrow

Lincoln’s sparrow

Blue-headed vireo

Blue-headed vireo

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Common grackle in flight

Common grackle in flight

Unidentified grass about to flower

Unidentified grass about to flower

White campion?

White campion?

To add to my difficulties in catching up, it looks as if I’m having internet problems, or WordPress problems, and I’m not sure which, if any, of these photos is going to show up when I publish this. So, I’ll end with this one, a few seconds of sunshine ahead of the next rain shower headed my way.

Green before the storm

Green before the storm

My blog is supposed to be a chronicle of what I see as the seasons change, on a more frequent basis than I’m going to be able to do this year. I suppose that’s okay, as I do still have the photos from this spring, even if they never get posted to my blog. I still have far too many photos saved to ever hope to be able to post them all, so I’m just going to have to delete the versions saved for blogging, and keep the full size versions to look back on myself, sorry.

Things should get better in the next few months. I have plans to purchase a Canon 400 mm f/5.6 L series lens next month, which will about complete the camera gear that I’d like to have. That’s the lens that I added to my wish list first, but somehow, I’ve gotten sidetracked, and it will be the last lens that I purchase in the foreseeable future. After I have that lens, I’m going to purchase a smartphone, probably an iPhone 6+ after the lens. Then, when I’m sitting at a loading dock for hours, I can work on my blog instead of being bored out of my mind as I am now. That will be a good thing, being paid to work on my blog. 😉

I sat at one place for four hours on Friday, so I’d have had plenty of time to type out what I wanted to say, then, I can insert the photos from my computer at home. At least I hope that I can insert the photos, I’m having trouble doing that this morning for some reason, so I’m not sure how many will actually show up when I post this. So, there’s really no reason to continue for now, until things get back to normal.

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


It does get easier

With several budding birders and bird photographers following my blog, I thought that it would be a good time to pass on a few tips on how to identify birds quickly, and maybe a few tips on photographing birds. That’s because on one of my recent trips to the Lake Michigan shoreline, I noticed that I was identifying ducks in poor light, and at longer distances, when two years ago, I had a difficult time telling a scaup from a grebe, which isn’t really a duck to begin with.

First of all, taking photos so that you have time to consult field guides to help you make the ID is a good idea, but it isn’t often that a male in full breeding plumage of any species will calmly swim past you in nearly optimal conditions so that you get a great shot.

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

You may ask yourself why I chose a northern shoveler, when by the size of their snout, they should be easy to ID. Well, yes and no, you can’t always see their bill for one thing.

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

And, they have about the same colors as male mallards do, but in different places.

Male mallard and northern shovelers

Male mallard and northern shovelers

Sometimes, the northern shovelers will even try to act like a mallard by being goofy.

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

But, they just aren’t as good at being goofy as mallards are.

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

So, if you go back to the photo of the mallard with the shovelers, you can see that both species are very close to being the same overall length, but that mallards are stockier, shovelers are long and lean, and therefore, appear to ride lower in the water than what mallards do. After you see them often enough, every species of duck presents a different profile when seen at a distance.

So, it isn’t only by color that one can go by, it is many things, size, shape, behavior, and I’ll try to touch on more as I go along here.

If you see a small duck, less than half the size of an adult mallard, it’s probably a ruddy duck, positively if it has its tail sticking straight up.

Ruddy ducks

Ruddy ducks

So, even if the light is poor, if you see this…

Ruddy ducks

Ruddy ducks

…you know that they’re ruddy ducks. You don’t need a great view of them, just their profile and a few hints of their colors are enough to make the ID.

The only duck close in size to a ruddy duck is a wood duck, and there’s no mistaking an adult male wood duck for any other species.

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

You could mistake a female wood duck for another species, but even that isn’t easy to do, they have such a unique look to them.

Female wood duck in flight

Female wood duck in flight

The most important tip I can give you is that you should take every opportunity that you can to see the same species over and over again, so that you have them memorized. Then, it’s easy to tell a blue-winged teal…

Male blue-winged teal in flight

Male blue-winged teal in flight

…from a green-winged teal…

Male green-winged teal in flight

Male green-winged teal in flight

…from a mallard.

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

And, you’ll know that when you spot a duck that doesn’t have quite the same shape as any of the ducks that you see regularly, that you should try to get a closer look, and see what if any color differences there are between the ducks that you’re familiar with, and those you’re not, such as part of its bill being bright yellow.

Black scoter

Black scoter

I could go on about ducks, as I can now tell a scaup…

Male lesser scaup

Male lesser scaup

…from a grebe…

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

…but I’m going to move on to other birds that are far more difficult to ID than ducks are, shorebirds.

One of my first attempts to see, photograph, and identify shorebirds was at Isaacson’s Bay, near Alpena, in northern Michigan. I was walking along the mudflats, scanning way off in the distance expecting to be able to see the shorebirds running around from a distance, then get closer. I nearly stepped on what I thought was a killdeer, except that it didn’t look exactly like a killdeer…

Killdeer

Killdeer

…the bird I nearly stepped on had a colorful bill, and wasn’t as large as a killdeer, it was a semipalmated plover I learned later.

Semi-palmated plover

Semipalmated plover

The first tip I can offer is this, if the shorebird has a short, conical bill, it’s a plover or turnstone. If the bill is long and slender, then the bird is a sandpiper or other related species, such as dowitcher or godwit to name two others.

Again, photos can help, but photos can also be deceiving at times. One mistake that I made early on was trying to isolate one single bird as I have in the photos above. But, when it comes to identifying shorebirds, size is one of the keys. For example, here’s a dunlin and a semipalmated sandpiper (not semipalmated plover, two species that sound alike) together.

Dunlin and semipalmated sandpiper

Dunlin and semipalmated sandpiper

You can see that the dunlin is huge compared to the semipalmated sandpiper, but, there’s an even smaller species of sandpiper, the least sandpiper.

Least sandpiper

Least sandpiper

From my photos, the least sandpiper looks larger than the semipalmated, because I got closer to the least than I did the semipalmated. The semipalmated sandpiper has black legs, the least sandpiper has yellow legs, one of the ways that I can tell them apart.

If you see this…

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

…then, as the caption says, it’s a spotted sandpiper, one of the easiest to ID. Not only do its spots give it away, but if you see a shorebird bobbing its tail end up and down, it’s a spotted sandpiper

Now then, here’s a lesser yellowlegs, it’s easy to see how they got their name.

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Here’s a bird that’s about the same size, and has yellowish legs, but it’s an upland sandpiper.

Upland sandpiper

Upland sandpiper

It’s easy to tell the difference between these two, by the color of their bills and their markings. Making it even easier is that the upland sandpiper prefers open fields whereas the lesser yellowlegs is almost always near water, so habitat is a huge clue. And, you need every clue that you can find when it comes to shorebirds.

When I blow this photo up on my computer, I can see that the bird’s legs and bill have a greenish tint, which you may not be able to see here. What you can see is that it looks like some one splattered white paint on the bird’s back, making it a solitary sandpiper.

Solitary sandpiper

Solitary sandpiper

Solitary sandpiper

Solitary sandpiper

That’s another tip that I use, there isn’t much difference in the markings of the shorebirds, so I use tricks to help me remember those small differences. I can remember splattered with white paint easier than I can remember “Back dark olive with scattered small white spots. Bold white eye ring. Tail distinctly barred. Rump and center tail feathers dark.” as their description on All About Birds reads. Coming up with your own ways to help you remember the markings of birds, rather than relying on descriptions will help you memorize birds as you add them to your life list.

I’ve been lucky, I’ve had several conversations with Brian Johnson, a professional ornithologist, Caleb Putnam, who is in charge of confirming the accuracy of submissions to eBirds, and several other excellent birders over the past two years. One topic comes up time and time again, that even the best field guides are just starting points to identifying birds. The people who write the field guides put a lot of work into them, but there’s no way that they can cover all the regional and seasonal variations in a bird’s plumage, nor account for individual variations.

If you have a bird feeder in your backyard, I’m sure that after a while, you begin to recognize individual birds when they all looked exactly alike to you when the birds first began coming to your feeder. For example, not all male northern cardinals look exactly the same when we see them often and at close range. Some are a deeper red than others, some are plump, some are skinny, and so it goes for all birds. When we start out birding, we think that they are all identical, but they are not, there are variations within all species of birds, and there’s no field guide in the world that can cover them all.

That point was made clear to me while watching Brian at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. He was banding birds that day, and as he removed them from the nets used to capture them, he would explain some of the variations shown by the individual bird, literally in hand, as compared to the descriptions in most field guides. It was a very enlightening day to say the least!

I’m not saying that you can’t rely on field guides to be correct, but even the best descriptions, and even photos, are just starting points. You need to pay attention to where and when you saw the bird, any sounds that it may have made, and its behavior, as all are important clues to help identify which species it is.

Another difficulty in using field guides is that you may see a bird in a dense thicket, early in the morning, one poor light…

House wren

House wren

…or, you may see the front of the bird…

House wren

House wren

…when your field guide shows you photos of the species taken in great light taken from the rear of the bird…

House wren

House wren

…making it harder to compare the bird that you saw and/or photographed with what you see in the field guides.

House wren

House wren

Fortunately, wrens seldom keep their mouths shut for very long…

House wren singing

House wren singing

…and their songs are a positive way to ID them. Just make sure that the bird that you think you hear singing is the one actually singing, as these guys…

Grey catbird

Grey catbird

…along with brown thrashers and mockingbirds are very good mimics, and they can sing snippets of many other bird’s songs.

Although they aren’t known for mimicking other birds, one early morning I came across this robin singing softly, but not they typical robin song, it sounded like a catbird, singing parts of other bird’s songs.

American robin

American robin

The sounds the robin was making were just barely audible, but they were definitely bits of the songs of other birds.

If you watched the video of the dunlin in action in my last post, you’ll know that these shorebirds seldom hold still, getting sharp photos of them is often difficult. If they’re not running in search of food, then their heads are bobbing up and down, it’s often referred to as sewing machine movement, and if you watch the video again, you can see why.

Or, here’s a whole lot of them in action.

And, here’s a photo of a lot of dunlin in action.

A flock of dunlin in flight

A flock of dunlin in flight

I included those for a reason, how the birds behave is a clue to their identity. Dunlin are almost always seen in large flocks that stay together, even in flight. The solitary sandpipers got their name because they seldom are seen together in a flock as the dunlin are.

I know that I haven’t said anything that hasn’t been said before, that you need to go by size, shape, color, behavior, and where and when you see a bird to correctly identify it, but hopefully, seeing those things illustrated in photos, along with my personal experiences can help.

My way of remembering birds is photographing them. If you asked me to describe a red-eyed vireo…

Red eyed vireo

Red eyed vireo

Red eyed vireo

Red eyed vireo

…other than that they have red eyes, I’d be at a loss for words as to how to describe them. I remember birds by the photos that I take of them, rather than descriptions.

Larger birds are generally easier to photograph, you don’t have to get as close to them, and they tend to move slowly unless you spook them.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Small birds typically move quickly no matter what they’re doing when you see them. That makes it tough to get close and get a clear view of them.

Ruby crowned kinglet

Ruby crowned kinglet

Ruby crowned kinglet

Ruby crowned kinglet

Timing is critical to getting a good photo, you have to anticipate what the bird is going to do before it does what it’s going to do, and be ready when you get that split second chance for a photo, when dealing with small birds.

So, I see a bird that I want to photograph, and I’ll watch what it’s doing, which direction it is moving, and try to get ahead of it in a spot where I think that I have the best chance of seeing it in the clear, and with at least half-way good lighting. If you see a brown creeper, for example, they start at the base of a tree and work their way up, going around the tree as they work their way up. I’ll pick a spot on the tree where I think that the creeper will appear, have the camera focused on that spot, and wait…

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

…and hit the shutter release when the bird appears.

Well, this post is getting quite long already, and I’m really just getting started. So, I’ll sum this one up by saying that both identifying birds, and photographing them, does get easier over time.

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


The highlights from several lakeshore trips

This is getting ridiculous, I have photos from 6 trips to the lakeshore saved right now. I also have multiple folders full of photos from around home as well. The photos date back to when the willows were just beginning to bloom, as well as the daffodils and trillium.

Going back through the photos, many of them are the same species of birds, but shot on different days, and quite a few of them aren’t very good. Some of that was the cloudy, wet month of May that we had, some of it was because I was arriving at my first stop of the day at sunrise.

Sunrise at Muskegon

Sunrise at Muskegon

Lone Canada goose at sunrise

Lone Canada goose at sunrise

Ruddy ducks at sunrise

Ruddy ducks at sunrise

Sunrise at Muskegon

Sunrise at Muskegon

Sunrise at Muskegon

Sunrise at Muskegon

Silly me, I can’t help but shoot photos not only of the sunrises, but I try to shoot photos of the birds and other critters that I see then.

If you want a true handle on the amount of wildlife in any area, be there at sunrise! You may think that there’s a lot of wildlife if you get outside around 8 or 9 AM, but that number pales in comparison to what you’ll see when the sun just starts above the horizon. Of course, getting good photos of the wildlife in that light is next to impossible, but that never stops me, as this photo of an obviously very pregnant deer should tell you.

Pregnant whitetail doe

Pregnant whitetail doe

While she foraged for food close to the ground, this buck that was nearby went for the leaves of a tree that he found to taste the best.

Whitetail buck just beginning to grow his antlers

Whitetail buck just beginning to grow his antlers

The photos that I’ve included so far bring up a point, that when I do a lakeshore trip, I have all my photography gear with me in my vehicle. When I get to some places, such as Lane’s Landing for example, I’m limited in what I carry with me, due to the weight of all my gear, and I miss some great shots because of that. Not birds, I always carry a birding set-up, but I miss flowers…

Appendaged Waterleaf

Appendaged Waterleaf

Unknown flowering object

Unknown flowering object

…and insects.

Unidentified skipper

Unidentified skipper

Now that I’ve brought up photography gear, you know that I’ll have to prattle on about that for a while. 😉

One of the things that I’ve wanted to do now that I have the new Canon 7D Mk II is to try out the 70-200 mm f/4 L series lens that I have on the new body. I got home from work one day with a little bit of extra time, but not enough to go for a walk, so I decided to try that lens out inside. It was a dark and dreary day anyway, so why not stay inside? I handheld the camera for the first few photos, then decided it was stupid to test out the lens/body combination in low light and high ISO settings. So, I set-up my tripod and dialed the ISO down to 100 and shot a series of photos that way. I am happy to report that the 70-200 mm lens works great on the 7D Mk II, just as the 300 mm L series lens does, none of the problems that I had with those lenses on the 60D bodies that I have.

Since I had the camera on the tripod, and still more time to kill, I dialed in the camera’s built-in flash, and also the EX 380 Speedlite, both on the camera, and as a slave unit. It was a very productive afternoon, as I also learned how to get the mirror lockup to function, as well as other camera functions that I hadn’t tried yet.

I’ve done similar tests the past two days, as I have purchased a set of Kenko extension tubes to use. For those who don’t know, extension tubes can turn a regular lens into a macro lens by moving the lens away from the focal plane of the camera, making it as if the lens can focus closer than it actually can without the extension tube(s). The Kenko set, which consists of 12mm, 20mm, 36mm long tubes, costs less than the 20 mm long tube from Canon costs alone. From the reviews, there’s no real difference between the Kenko tubes and those from Canon, and there’s no glass in an extension tube, it is as the name implies, a hollow tube that fits between the camera and lens. These fit all my lenses, I’ve tried them all. The odd thing about the tubes is that they make far more of a difference with short focal length lenses than they do long lenses. Anyway, they add more versatility to every lens I own, here’s a shot of a tiny blue wildflower with all three tubes behind the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) at 150mm.

Tiny blue wildflower

Tiny blue wildflower

And here’s a photo from the Tokina 100 mm macro lens with all three tubes behind it.

Tiny blue wildflower

Tiny blue wildflower

I didn’t crop those photos at all, I wish I could have had something in the frame to show you how small those flowers are, about 1/8 inch (3 mm) across, they look like blue specks scattered across the lawn rather than flowers.

Anyway, I probably won’t use those extension tubes often, but they will come in very handy from time to time in certain situations, so I’d like to have them with me all the time. That goes for the 70-200 mm lens as well, I seldom use it, as I don’t have room for it in the holster camera bag that I’ve been using to carry my gear with me. I think that it’s the second sharpest lens that I own, behind the Tokina macro lens, and I also believe that it delivers the best color rendition, even better than the Tokina. To have a lens like that sitting around and not using it is rather silly.

However, since the 300 mm lens focuses to almost the same distance as the 70-200 mm does, it’s a wiser choice for near macro photos of dragonflies, larger flowers, and butterflies. I’ve gotten some good landscape photos from the Beast set to its shortest focal lengths,, but the 70-200 mm would have been a better choice of lenses.

What I’m getting to is that this week, I’ll be ordering a backpack type camera bag to carry my ever-growing collection of camera gear. No earth shattering news there, but I’m ready for one, as I’m tired of missing shots because I didn’t have the right equipment with me at the time.

Now then, a few words about the 7D Mk II, without a doubt, almost everything it was cracked up to be! I say almost, I can’t say that I see a huge difference in image quality between the 7D and the 60D in low light, High ISO situations. When the Mk II was first released a lot of people, mainly paid Canon spokespersons it turns out, raved about its performance at high ISO settings. Yes, it’s slightly better than the 60D, but I still have to clean up the noise in Lightroom, so really it’s no big deal.

The Auto-focus is something that people raved about which has turned out to be true, no matter how hard birds try to hide from me, if they even breathe hard, the 7D Mk II detects that motion and locks onto them.

Brown thrasher hiding

Brown thrasher hiding

Grasshopper sparrow hiding

Grasshopper sparrow hiding

Since birds are almost always moving, even if they are perched…

Hermit thrush twitching its tail

Hermit thrush twitching its tail

Hermit thrush twitching its tail

Hermit thrush twitching its tail

…the 7D seeks them out so well that it’s almost scary at times. But, I’m sure that you’re all tired of hearing about how well the 7D auto-focuses.

The metering system, which few reviewers mentioned, also is better than I expected, I seldom adjust the exposure, the 7D gets it right on its own.

With the new, faster CF memory cards, I have yet to fill the camera’s buffer while shooting in low-speed burst mode, and I’ve tried.

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Those are just a few of the photos that I shot of that duck, the same goes for these. You can tell by the sour look on the male’s face that he wasn’t happy about another male showing off for his mate.

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

So, he decided to show the first male who was head duck around there.

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

I’m not sure, but I think that the female was flirting with the first male behind her mate’s back, both literally, and figuratively.

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

A number of waterfowl have hung around longer than they did last year, giving me a chance to get photos of the males in full breeding plumage.

Male ruddy duck

Male ruddy duck

I’ve also been able to observe their behavior more since they’ve been around longer. I’ve seen mallards bobbing their heads up and down while peeping like a chick, but I learned that male northern shovelers do the same thing.

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

I don’t know what the peeping means, but fights often break out soon after.

Male northern shovelers fighting

Male northern shovelers fighting

Male northern shovelers fighting

Male northern shovelers fighting

Male northern shovelers fighting

Male northern shovelers fighting

It looks as if the butt bite is a universal thing in the waterfowl world, along with the victor making sure that every one knows who won.

Male northern shoveler declaring victory

Male northern shoveler declaring victory

Male northern shoveler declaring victory

Male northern shoveler declaring victory

Male northern shoveler declaring victory

Male northern shoveler declaring victory

I mentioned how good it was to have all my gear with me, three camera bodies may seem excessive, but I used all three in short order a couple of times. The 7D Mk II to shoot good stills while using the Beast.

Dunlin

Dunlin

Then using the first 60D body with the 300 mm lens to shoot a video.

And finally, the second 60D body with the Tokina 100 mm lens to get a wider view of mallards wondering what all those small brown birds were that had surrounded the mallards.

Mallards watching assorted shorebirds

Mallards watching assorted shorebirds

I’ve already thrown in too many photos, and I haven’t even gotten to any of the cute ones yet.

Baby fox squirrel

Baby fox squirrel

Or, the good ones.

Common yellowthroat singing

Common yellowthroat singing

So, I guess that they’ll have to wait until the next post.

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