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

Anything, anywhere, anytime

 

Warning!

In this post, I’m going dwell on a few things having to do with photography and gear, my efforts at photographing every species of bird seen regularly in Michigan, and I’m even going to do some bragging. This will end up being a long post, but with plenty of photos to keep every one interested.

I’m going to start with the My Photo Life List project that I began just over two years ago, I got another lifer last weekend, moving me closer to 250 of 350 species of birds seen regularly in Michigan. I never dreamed that I would be this far so soon, but maybe I underestimated myself. I know critters, I may not know each individual species of bird, but I know animal behavior, including that of birds, it is something that I’ve been observing my entire life.  I have great eyesight, and excellent depth perception, which helps me to find birds. I know the State of Michigan, and where I can find the correct habitats to find the species of birds that I’m looking for.  The skills that I learned and honed when I hunted serve me well for getting close enough to birds to get reasonable good photos of them. So, is it any wonder that this past weekend I “bagged” a species of bird on both the Federal and State endangered species list?

Piping plover, juvenile

Piping plover, juvenile

Unfortunately, I didn’t see either of its parents, but I will one of these days, it’s only a matter of time. By the way, isn’t that about the cutest bird that you’ve ever seen?

It stands out well in that photo, but here’s one of my very first shots of it, as seen through the 300 mm lens with the Tamron 1.4X tele-converter behind it, for an effective focal length of 420 mm, and cropped quite a bit.

Piping plover, juvenile

Piping plover, juvenile

You can see that it’s a tiny little thing, able to hide in the footprints that people left on the beach. Luckily, like most species of small birds, the piping plovers are hyper-active, running up and down the beach in search of food. If that one had held still, I never would have picked it out of the background. I’ll tell you, those plovers can really run when they spot food!

Piping plover, juvenile

Piping plover, juvenile

That was shot with the same set-up as the previous photos, the 300 mm L series lens, Tamron 1.4X tele-converter, on the Canon 7D Mk II camera. So, here’s where I start a discussion on camera gear that some may find boring, but others may find it helpful.

The two things that stand out most about the 7D Mk II are its incredible auto-focusing system, and the superb metering and exposure system, which I have commented on before. I seldom have to adjust the exposure when using the 7D, as compared to the 60D bodies that I have. Well, all that changes when I add the Tamron tele-converter, then, the 7D gets finicky, even erratic, when it comes to getting the exposure correct. I have to shoot, check the exposure, adjust, and keep shooting all the time, when I’ve gotten used to concentrating on other aspects of photography, and let the 7D handle exposure on its own. I believe that there’s a reason that the 7D doesn’t perform as well with the Tamron extender as it does without it, but his is mostly speculation on my part.

You see, when a company other than Canon builds a lens for a Canon camera, they don’t do it under a license from Canon, which is meaningless at first. But, that means that Canon doesn’t share any information with other lens manufacturers, Canon would prefer that you purchase Canon lenses for your Canon camera, the same holds true for Nikon, Sony, and any other camera manufacturer.

In order for companies such as Tamron, Tokina, or Sigma, to name a few, to build a lens for a Canon camera, they have to reverse engineer the lens. In the past, when everything was mechanical, that was relatively easy and straight forward, they would get a Canon camera and lens and take measurements of the components to make sure that their product would fit a Canon camera.

All that changed when cameras and lenses went digital. Now, not only do the other manufacturers have to get the physical dimensions correct, but they have to “hack” the software programmed into the Canon cameras and lenses to write software into their lenses that will communicate properly with the Canon camera. Since the Tamron tele-converter that I own was built long before Canon released the 7D Mk II, the tele-converter may not communicate with the 7D as well as it should. As you can see by how sharp the photos of the plover are, the optics in the Tamron are very good, but in the digital age, optics alone are no longer enough.

So, you may remember that I was planning to purchase a Canon 400 mm L series lens the first week of July, but those plans were changed when the Tokina macro lens died. I spent part of the money I had saved towards the 400 mm lens on a Canon 100 mm macro lens instead. Well, with the money that I had left over, I just purchased a Canon 2 X tele-converter, in part, to see if I really wanted the 400 mm Lens. I can put the 2 X extender behind my 70-200 mm lens to turn it into a 140-400 mm lens, which could be very good for flying birds, we’ll see. The extender will also turn the 300 mm lens that I have into a 600 mm lens, for critter portraits or longer range shots.

I was going to do a blurb about theory, and how many reviews say that the 2 X extender degrades image quality too much, as did two commenters to my blog when I mentioned purchasing one in the past.

On the other hand, professional wildlife and sports photographers use 2 X tele-converters, and get images that can be sold, so there must be a trick to them.

Again, this is speculation on my part, but I believe that using the 2 X extenders behind a great lens, and in front of a higher end camera is the secret to how the professionals get by using the extenders, and many hobby photographers don’t.

I haven’t had very much time to play with mine yet, but I can already tell that it was a worthwhile purchase. The first thing that I noticed about the 2 X extender is that it slowed down the auto-focusing of the 300 mm lens to the pace of a sedated snail, it’s really slow. So slow that I didn’t think that it was ever going to find a focus, but it eventually did.

Day lily, 300 mm lens plus 2X extender for 600 mm

Day lily, 300 mm lens plus 2 X extender for 600 mm

The second thing that I noticed when using the extender is that it gets me close, really close!

Canada goose portrait at 600 mm

Canada goose portrait at 600 mm, not cropped

The third thing that I noticed is that the metering of the 7D was just as accurate with the extender as it is without, unlike the Tamron extender. It has to be that the software in the Canon tele-converter is up to date and the 7D Mk II communicates with it properly, while to older Tamron tele-converter doesn’t.

Okay, it isn’t quite as sharp as my lenses are without the extender, but the difference isn’t that much. I’d lose more in image quality if I cropped down from an image taken at 300 mm than I lose with the extender to get this close.

Juvenile cedar waxwing, 600 mm, not cropped

Juvenile cedar waxwing, 600 mm, not cropped

The auto-focusing with the 300 mm lens is too slow for action shots though.

So, the next step was to try the extender with the 70-200 mm lens, now a 140-400 mm lens.

Canada geese at play

Canada geese at play

Did you notice the second goose surfacing as the first one passed it? Here it is as it breaks into a run to race the goose in the foreground. I wish that their positions had been reversed so that you’d have a better view.

Canada geese at play

Canada geese at play

I don’t know the reason for the game, but many of the geese would all dive at the same time, then, pop up above the water to gain speed, and finally hit the water as if to see who could create the biggest splash.

Canada goose playing

Canada goose playing

Canada goose playing

Canada goose playing

But, none of my splash photos were timed right, I got the splashes, but not the goose that made it.

In good light, that set-up had no trouble tracking the geese as they played around in the pond. It can even track a slow flying large bird well.

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

I do get more bad images while using the 2 X extender that what I do without it, but that’s to be expected. It didn’t help that it was a very cloudy day with very little light today, but I can see that it was a good purchase despite some short-comings.

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

That was shot from about 12 feet (3.6 meters) away from the monarch, I didn’t crop that image at all, and it’s not bad. It isn’t as sharp as I could get using the Canon 100 mm macro lens, but I couldn’t have gotten close enough to the butterfly to use that lens.

Speaking of that, you may ask how the new Canon macro lens is working out, well, very well!

Robber fly

Robber fly

Cabbage white butterfly

Cabbage white butterfly

Unidentified dragonfly

Unidentified dragonfly

Switching gears yet again, I continue to practice my landscape photography, both at sunrise…

My favorite marsh at sunrise

My favorite marsh at sunrise

…and during the sunnier parts of the day.

Lost Lake

Lost Lake

You may be able to tell that I’ve been watching more instructional videos in what little spare time that I have. 😉 One thing that I’m learning is that each expert has his or her own way of doing things, that may be in direct opposition to what other experts say to do. For example, I watched one video, that I picked up a few pointers while watching, where the presenter said to always use just the center focusing point no matter what. If you didn’t like to composition that using just the center point gave you, you should focus on what you want to be in focus, lock the focus, then recompose. His logic behind that was that you may forget to switch back to the correct focus point later.

By that logic, should we ever change any setting? We could forget to change it for the next subject that we would like to photograph.

I will say that his way may work for some types of photography, but not for small birds that move all the time, and certainly not for macro photography, where precise focusing is extremely critical!

One of the things that made the most improvement to my landscape photos was following a tip from Tim Cooper in one of the videos that B&H camera has online. That is, focus one-third of the way into the scene that you’re trying to photograph. The reason that it works so well is that you use the entire depth of field that your camera and lens can give you. If you let the camera focus on the background, as it usually does when shooting landscapes, then much of the foreground will be out of focus. Being focused on infinity and beyond “wastes” depth of field. So, what I do is to focus, either manually or in auto-focus, on something that I judge to be one-third of the way into the scene, then turn the lens to manual focus so that it can’t re-focus when I set the camera and lens up on the tripod. I’ve also been using a tripod religiously for my landscape photos, it really does make a difference.

By the way, almost all my landscapes and macro photos are still shot with one of the 60D bodies, they are more than enough camera for those types of photography. The 7D Mk II is a specialized camera designed with the avid wildlife or sports photographer in mind. Most people don’t need its auto-focusing system, or the improved metering system. Unless I want to use the 7D features such as the bulb timer or ability to do time-lapse photography, I’ll continue to use the 60D for landscapes and macros.

Anyway, back to the videos that I’ve been watching. I’ve found them to be very helpful to me in my quest to improve my skills. Sometimes the tips that I pick up are what help, but just seeing the work of other photographers, and hearing how and why they shot a particular photo is enlightening. I’m also learning that my wildlife photos aren’t all that bad either. I may not be shooting exotic species from Africa or Alaska where the critters are baited to get the photographers close and with the light right, I’m just shooting what I see in West Michigan, where and when I see it. I know that this is an unreasonable goal, but I’m working towards being able to get a good photo of anything, anywhere, at any time.

My life would be so much easier if I could train birds to perch out in the open, in good light, with nothing in the background to distract the viewer’s eyes.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Even if I do catch a bird out in the open, I don’t crop that photo to remove the background, because I liked the color combination, even though the green leaves are a distraction.

But, that’s not the way that I see most birds, most of the time, I’m shooting up at them from under the canopy of trees.

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Red-breasted nuthatch

Red-breasted nuthatch

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Blue jay

Blue jay

Blue jay

Blue jay

This has to be the ultimate in foolhardiness, shooting through a leaf to get a poor shot of a house wren. 🙂 Even though I would like all my photos to be perfect, I still like to have fun trying things that I shouldn’t.

House wren

House wren

Who knows, one of these days it may be a rare bird, not a female oriole, that I catch feeding on mulberries while hanging upside down.

Female Baltimore oriole

Female Baltimore oriole

Female Baltimore oriole

Female Baltimore oriole

Female Baltimore oriole

Female Baltimore oriole

Female Baltimore oriole

Female Baltimore oriole

Or maybe, it will be something like a pine marten that I catch peering at me through the leaves, and not a red squirrel.

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

I haven’t found many videos that discuss getting better wildlife photos, and that’s probably just as well. With one exception, most of them are of some renowned wildlife photographer showing photos of exotic critters that they photographed on a very expensive wildlife tour where the guides bait the critters to get the perfect set-ups, and the photographers have an itinerary of what they are going to shoot and when. The photographers arrive at the site or hide well in advance, and already know which lens to select and set their camera up to get the best photos. Then, it’s a matter of waiting for the polar bear, lion, zebra, or what have you to arrive, and begin shooting photos.

If I sound a little jealous, maybe I am, but to me, that’s not wildlife photography, at least not how I think it is. To me, it’s spotting something that I’d like to photograph, then using my outdoor skills to get myself into position to get the best photo that I can. Otherwise, you may as well go to the zoo and shoot wildlife there, to me, there’s not much difference if you’re shooting baited or trained wildlife. Sometimes my way works, as with the piping plover, sometimes it doesn’t, as you can see from my other photos.

I will say this though, a zoo is a great place for a beginner to go to practice their skills as a photographer, then, they can concentrate on photography and not have to worry about finding things to photograph.

Anyway, enough of that, you’d think that flowers would be easier subjects to photograph, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Getting the right light isn’t easy.

Sweet pea

Sweet pea

And I suppose that I could do as some photographers do, carry a spray bottle with water or glycerin to spray the flowers to catch them with water drops on them.

Sweet pea

Sweet pea

Sweet pea

Sweet pea

Sweet pea

Sweet pea

Wild onion?

Wild onion?

Day lily

Day lily

But, as with my bird and wildlife photos, I shoot what I see when I see it, and that also applies to insects.

Unidentified fluttering object

Unidentified fluttering object

Unidentified fluttering object

Unidentified fluttering object

Unidentified fluttering object

Unidentified fluttering object

Hoverfly

Hover fly

I really should stop watching the videos from wildlife photographers, I always go on a rant about how baiting isn’t real wildlife photography to me. But, I do learn from the videos, and that’s what counts. So, I keep on shooting what I see when I see it, and hope for the best.

A riot of color

A riot of color

Now, I’m going to eat breakfast, then go to Muskegon to practice my sunrise photos at first, then try for some bird and dragonfly photos using the 2 X tele-converter to see how well it works.

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

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27 responses

  1. What a feast of excellent photographs, well done for getting the Piping plover, such a rare bird. I loved the marsh at sunrise and the red squirrel particularly.

    July 26, 2015 at 3:29 am

    • Thank you very much Susan. Fortunately, the piping plovers are no longer as rare as they were a few decades ago.

      July 26, 2015 at 4:08 am

  2. Well done. Another excellent collection, Jerry! The plover juvenile is indeed adorable. I noticed what looks like tags on its legs, unless my eyes are deceiving me. (Not unusual!) Perhaps you mentioned it in your blog and I missed it? It made me curious. How often do you see tagged birds on your wanders? Are their many breeding programs in the area?

    I must say it can be easy to get cynical or deflated about some professional photography sites out there when you find out all their tricks. I suppose I was naive to think that the pics are not set-up. Even many gorgeous fungi shots are often taken in special dark greenhouses where they are cultivated for that purpose!

    Oh, if only we could train the birds to sit on a nice branch with a plain background. 😉 Rainforests are full of bird sounds here but they are hidden high in the branches most times. I was excited just to get just one pic recently of a yellow robin at Springbrook rainforest!

    It certainly looks like the macro lens is working very well. Continue to enjoy your passion, Jerry, and thank you for sharing it with us. 🙂

    July 26, 2015 at 3:43 am

    • Thank you so much Jane! I see banded birds often, as I hang out in the same places that a local ornithologist studies birds which also includes banding them. However, he’s not responsible for the plover’s bands, those are the work of the US fish and wildlife officials who band every piping plover that they find. Anytime that a nest is found and reported, the officials show up and fence off the area to protect the nest, and band the the birds right after they hatch.
      I think that most of the peregrine falcons that I’ve seen have been banded also, there are several breeding programs for them in this area, I’ll show a photo of one of the nest boxes one of these days.

      I suppose that if your paycheck depends on getting the shot, that shortcuts will be taken, but it is disheartening as you pointed out.

      July 26, 2015 at 4:15 am

  3. Congratulations on the piping plover. Where did you find her? There’s a warning of a plover nesting area on a trail near Nordhouse Dunes, but I’ve never been fortunate enough to see one. Since I probably wouldn’t recognize it anyway, it would be a wasted sightng. Better to leave the rare viewing to someone who can really appreciate it. I’m happy to have the secondhand view. Looked like she had three separate i.d. bands. Wonder what they all mean?

    Love the dark pink sweet pea shots, and I’m always fascinated by dragonflies. They seem to be the most elegant of insects.

    We’ve had a long, long summer of zero camping. We are finally getting near the end of the very long list of house-related stuff we have had to do, and will be hitting the road next month for a few weeks. Looking forward to seeing a bit of wildlife, other than the few city birds who show up in my backyard. A Monarch floated thru here last week – first one I’ve seen in a long time. Going to plant some milkweed, and encourage a few more to hang around.

    Keep up the great camerawork, Jerry. Love your posts.

    July 26, 2015 at 8:02 am

    • Thank you Judy!

      I found the plover at the beach at Muskegon State Park. They had the nest area fenced off, but the brood was on their own now, which is why I waited so long to check on them.

      I haven’t been camping or anything this summer either, hopefully I’ll get a chance or two yet this fall.

      July 26, 2015 at 6:24 pm

  4. An awesome series Jerry, and I’m so proud of you growing up in your craft. You’re doing what’s best. Experimenting, seeing what works for you. Try a little bit of this, a little bit of that.

    I bet that like me, when you look back at some of your images from a couple of years ago you can see the huge difference in your work. It’s so rewarding to see your own progress, and in the meantime having a blast out in the field. Ok..well maybe a few curse words when the darned camera won’t focus and you miss the shot. 🙂

    Keep shooting, keep adventuring.

    July 26, 2015 at 10:06 am

    • Thank you very much Emily! I hate looking back at photos that I shot two months ago, let alone two years ago. With the 7D Mk II, there are few curse words, it seldom misses the shot.

      July 26, 2015 at 6:29 pm

      • LOL !! Add that extender and you’ll be cussing more. I was trying the combo out this past week on the beach. Loved the reach on more still subjects. 🙂

        July 26, 2015 at 6:46 pm

      • I’m getting the hang of the extender already, got some flying gulls and eagles today.

        July 26, 2015 at 7:05 pm

  5. The piping plover is very cute indeed, and the shot of it running is so good! I always enjoy your posts, as you know, especially as you include such a variety of shots. You not only photograph creatures and landscapes that you see but you also photograph interesting behaviours too, like the playing geese. Thanks Jerry!

    July 26, 2015 at 12:37 pm

    • Thank you Clare! I’ve fallen into the habit of going for portraits of birds, but I hope to catch them in action more from now on.

      July 26, 2015 at 6:33 pm

  6. That piping plover is a plump little thing, isn’t it? I think you should get some kind of award just for being able to ID it! I got some shots of a small shorebird last week and even though I’ve looked at photos of shorebirds until my eyes crossed, I still have no idea what it is.

    I think that first shot of the pink sweet pea is about as close to perfect as a flower photo could be but I know like me, you’ll keep trying for better.

    I had a 2X extender back in the film days that was all but useless in all but bright sunshine, but I also had a slow zoom lens that I used it on. It doesn’t look like yours is giving you the same trouble.

    Great photos. I think my favorite is the sunrise.

    July 26, 2015 at 2:25 pm

    • Thank you Allen! Shorebirds are about the toughest to ID of any family of birds other than gulls. It took me many hours of checking field guides to learn what little I know about them.

      I keep working on my flower photos, which reminds me that I didn’t make it to Lost Lake today. I spent all my time photographing flowers in the open fields around the wastewater facility, including some that I’ve never seen before.

      The 2 X extender will see limited use, on days when the lighting is good. But, I’m glad that I have it.

      July 26, 2015 at 7:04 pm

  7. Out here it’s the Snowy Plover that’s endangered and protected. During breeding season, they usually set up fences on the beach and restrict access to give the little guys half a chance to raise a family without being disturbed. It makes it very difficult to get close enough to shoot, but their survival come first of course.

    July 26, 2015 at 3:49 pm

    • Thank you Gunta! The piping plover nesting areas are fenced off here too, I waited until the chicks were on their own before I went looking for them.

      July 26, 2015 at 6:41 pm

  8. You’re getting some excellent results with that new body. 250 out of 350, I’m impressed!

    July 26, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    • Thank you Bob! I know that the species will come harder with time, but I’ve been racking them up at a good clip so far.

      July 26, 2015 at 6:37 pm

  9. A visual feast.

    I have trouble this summer in finding flowers that aren’t covered in raindrops! I think we should have a picture of you ready for an outing with all your gear to hand. I feel quite tired just listening to the gear that you take with you. But it does get you splendid results so it must be worth it.

    July 26, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    • Thanks Tom! I know that you’ve been having too much rain this year, I hope that things turn around for you. I’ll see what I can do about a selfie of me with my gear one of these days.

      July 26, 2015 at 6:51 pm

  10. That piping plover is just too cute for words!! Great job, Jerry, on those photos! Kind of “funny” that you would see and shoot one because I had just been reading about Wilderness State Park up by Mackinaw and wanted to go there this past weekend. It is a breeding spot for the piping plovers, according to what I read. Unfortunately, with the work going on at our place, we didn’t get away for any real expeditions. How interesting that this one is a juvenile and yet appears to be banded.

    LOVED the series of the female oriole eating the berry!! That made me laugh out loud so Mark had to look over my shoulder to see what I was laughing at.

    That first sweet pea photo made me ooh and aah!! Really spectacular. I had no idea “professional” photographers carried spray bottles of water with them. Who knew? Some of the tricks-of-the-trade are kind of amusing. You do fabulous work without having to use any deceptive tactics! Keep up the great work and just being you!

    July 28, 2015 at 9:29 pm

    • Thank you Amy! I knew that the piping plovers had nested at Muskegon State Park, but waited until the chicks were on their own before going there. The nest sites are fenced and even caged to protect from both people and predators, and the chicks banded shortly after they hatch. The same is done to peregrine falcon chicks hatched in the breeding boxes that the parents use.

      Professional photographers are always in a hurry, you know the old saying, time is money. They try to recreate what is already found in nature, but they don’t take the time to find it, which is sad in a way.

      July 29, 2015 at 12:37 am

  11. Your bird action photos are second to none! (I think the training must be going pretty well!) PS, did you notice the leg bands on that little plover? Is there some kind of tracking program going on? I know that golden plovers travel long distances but not familiar with this particular breed and its possible challenges.

    July 30, 2015 at 6:56 am

    • Thank you very much Lori! Yes, I noticed the leg bands. Since the plovers are an endangered species, as soon as a nest is found and reported, the nest sites are fenced and even caged to protect from both people and predators, and the chicks banded shortly after they hatch. The same is done to peregrine falcon chicks hatched in the breeding boxes that their parents use. I think all but one of the peregrines that I’ve seen have been banded, and a few of the eagles as well. But the eagle population is exploding here, I think that the breeding and banding programs are done here.

      The piping plovers don’t migrate as far as some of the other shorebirds, most of those go all the way to the Arctic Circle, the piping plovers nest around the Great Lakes.

      July 30, 2015 at 2:06 pm

      • We love plovers so happy someone’s looking after the cuties! 🙂

        August 1, 2015 at 6:32 am

  12. Gorgeous variety, so many wows! Your sunrise shot of the marsh, stunning!

    August 5, 2015 at 8:37 pm

    • Thank you very much Donna!

      August 6, 2015 at 12:23 am