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

Pushing the limits, learning what works

Well, I said in my last post that I was no longer separating images from around home and those that I shot when I went to Muskegon. However, this post will be entirely of photos that I shot on a trip to Muskegon on August 15th. I fact, I may have to do two posts, as I went to Muskegon two days in a row. For one thing, I had an unexpected three-day weekend due to lack of freight at work, and also because the temperatures this weekend were approaching 90 degrees (32 C) with too much humidity for my tastes.

On both days, I arrived well before dawn, and was ready to get set-up to shoot sunrise landscapes over my favorite marsh if the situation looked good for doing so. It didn’t on either day, although on both days, shortly after sunrise, scenes appeared worth shooting, I’ll get to those later.

With both sunrises looking like complete busts, I turned my attention to the sandhill cranes that spend the nights standing in my favorite marsh. The flock is growing a little larger all the time, there is now over 20 cranes there in the morning when I arrive.

Sandhill cranes

Sandhill cranes

On the first morning, I turned my vehicle so that the headlights would shine towards where the cranes spend the night, and to my surprise, I frightened a number of deer that were hanging out with the cranes in the marsh. Later, some of the deer returned, and even though it was still well before sunrise, I tried to get a photo. Well, I did get a photo, albeit a very bad one, even though I had braced myself enough that I thought that I could hold steady at the very slow shutter speed this required.

Whitetail deer and sandhill cranes

Whitetail deer and sandhill cranes

As soon as I opened the car door to try to get the tripod set-up, that deer, and several others with her bolted, never to be seen again that day. Since it was still too dark for my style of photography, I hung around to watch the cranes. Just at sunrise, two cranes took flight to go off in search of breakfast.

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Soon, the rest of the members of the flock began stretching their wings in preparation for taking off.

Sandhill cranes stretching their wings

Sandhill cranes stretching their wings

What you can’t see in these stills is that one of the cranes stood in the background, as all the rest walked towards the right of the frame, as if marching on orders from the one that remained stationary.

Sandhill cranes stretching their wings

Sandhill cranes stretching their wings

Then, the entire flock took flight.

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

I was using the 300 mm lens with the 1.4 X tele-converter to get 420 mm, so I never got the entire flock in the frame, and the depth of field was so short, only one crane in each photo came out sharp. That set-up is much better for shooting just one or two cranes at a time, so I learned the hard way.

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

As soon as the cranes left, a great blue heron came flying in to begin looking for food.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

As soon as that one had landed, a second one came over to chase the first heron away, but I ended up with three terribly blurry shots of the chase, even worse than what I’ve posted here so far, so they were deleted.

Rather than continue on with the rest of the happenings from the first day, I’m going to skip ahead to the second morning when I first arrived, and my flubbing of another shot of the cranes. My only excuse for posting these is that they show, however poorly it is, the behavior of the cranes.

As on the first morning, the sunrise looked to be a complete waste of time, so I just sat in my car for a while, and I even nodded off getting in a short nap before it became light enough to see into the marsh. Soon, three cranes came winging their way towards the marsh, but only one landed.

Sandhill crane landing

Sandhill crane landing

I’m not sure what the relationships between the cranes are, but a couple of the other cranes spread their wings either to welcome the newcomer, attempt to threaten the newcomer away, or just got the idea that it was time to stretch their wings out in preparation for their morning flight to their feeding grounds.

Sandhill cranes in action

Sandhill cranes in action

I don’t think that the newcomer was signaling where food was, for soon, a few of the cranes began to leave, one or two at a time, and in different directions.

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Wouldn’t you know, the day before, I had been using the set-up to give me 420 mm of focal length, too much for the entire flock. So, I thought that I was being smart by switching to the 70-200 mm lens on the second day, to get the entire flock in the frame, and with more depth of field to keep them all in focus. But, nature had her way on this day, I had to crop those quite a bit since I used the shorter lens.

I should have switched to the longer set-up, although I’m not sure that the result would be any better for this next series. As I watched the cranes, one began doing the dance that they are known for.

Sandhill crane dancing

Sandhill crane dancing

Sandhill crane dancing

Sandhill crane dancing

Sandhill crane dancing

Sandhill crane dancing

Sandhill crane dancing

Sandhill crane dancing

Sandhill crane dancing

Sandhill crane dancing

Sandhill crane dancing

Sandhill crane dancing

Stills just don’t do justice to the crane dance, they hop around, twist, turn, and pluck their own feathers to use as props during the dance. So, I got this great idea to shoot a video, problem was, I was using the 7D for those, and I couldn’t remember how to shoot video with it. No problem, I had the second 60D body set-up with the beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) on it, and I know how to shoot video with the 60D. So, I grabbed that and I waited, and waited, and waited, so long that when one of the cranes began dancing again, 4 seconds into the video, the camera’s sensor was overheating from being held at the ready for so long in live view.

ARGGGGGGHHHHHHH!

So, I set that set-up aside, and shot landscapes with the 7 D and 70-200 mm lens, as suddenly, clouds were developing just as the sun rose.

Sunrise 4

Sunrise

Sunrise

Sunrise 2

Sunrise 2

Sunrise 3

Sunrise 3

Sunrise 4

Where the clouds suddenly came from, I have no idea, they hadn’t been there a few minutes before the sun broke over the horizon.

I was keeping an eye on the cranes, looking for the same signs that they had given me the previous morning that they were about to take off. No such signs were given this day, no fidgeting, no wings stretches by multiple birds, no talking between them, they just all took off.

I wish that I could shorten that video to cut off the end as I fumbled to turn the video capture off. I have iMovie on my iMac which is supposed to be able to edit videos, but there’s no instructions, so you’ll have to put up with another of my mistakes. I also wish that the cranes had been as vocal as they had been the day before, as hearing them is a major part of the experience of watching them.

I have decided that I had better get more practice shooting videos, as that’s really the best way to show some of the crane’s behaviors, and include the sounds that they make as well.

As I said earlier, on both days the sky was virtually cloud free when I arrived before sunrise. On both days, things changed dramatically after the sun had been up for a while.

Here’s what it looked like on the first day.

Sunrise 5

Sunrise 5

Geese flying into the fire

Geese flying into the fire

Also on the first day, after finishing with the cranes, I shot a killdeer in flight…

Killdeer in flight

Killdeer in flight

Killdeer in flight

Killdeer in flight

…then, I got a better shot of one of the Egyptian geese, just to prove to myself that I could shoot a good photo of a bird.

Egyptian goose

Egyptian goose

Soon after that, fog began to develop even as the sun rose in the sky, and the fog grew thicker with every passing minute for a while.

Foggy sunrise

Foggy sunrise

The obligatory lone tree in the fog

The obligatory lone tree in the fog

On the second day, fog also formed after sunrise, but it wasn’t as thick, and the best colors in the sky occurred well after sunrise.

Sunrise on the road

Sunrise on the road

Sunrise on the road 2

Sunrise on the road 2

I have some in between shots from the first day, but once again, I’m going to skip ahead.

I found an eastern phoebe willing to pose for me, so I shot a series of photos using the 300 mm lens and 1.4 X extender.

Eastern phoebe, 420 mm and cropped

Eastern phoebe, 420 mm and cropped

Eastern phoebe, 420 mm and cropped

Eastern phoebe, 420 mm and cropped

Since the phoebe wasn’t in a hurry to go anywhere soon, I switched over to the new 2 X extender, and shot another series. When I cropped these, I had Lightroom crop to the exact same physical dimensions as the series shot at 420 mm, a perfect way to test how sharp the 2 X extender really is.

Eastern phoebe, 600 mm and cropped the same as before

Eastern phoebe, 600 mm and cropped the same as before

Eastern phoebe, 600 mm and cropped the same as before

Eastern phoebe, 600 mm and cropped the same as before

Eastern phoebe, 600 mm and cropped the same as before

Eastern phoebe, 600 mm and cropped the same as before

Eastern phoebe, 600 mm and cropped the same as before

Eastern phoebe, 600 mm and cropped the same as before

Sorry for so many photos of the cranes and the phoebe, but they’re all part of my learning my equipment, and what it is capable of. The images of the cranes when they are stationary aren’t too bad for having been shot in predawn light, but I need to work on my action shots in low light yet.  I won’t post as many from now on, unless I catch something so interesting that I feel that I have to post it.

That’s the only reason for all the crane photos, few people get to watch them close-up as I do, and fewer people have seen them dance, which is one of the truly fascinating things to see in nature. I just hope that the next time, my skills have improved to where I can get better images. 😉

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

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34 responses

  1. I think just seeing the cranes dancing would make the trip worthwhile, but with sunrises like that thrown in, who could ask for a better way to start the day?
    Odd that the fog comes after sunrise. Here it’s just the opposite and the sun burns the fog off. I like the foggy tree and the sunrise with geese. Beautiful colors!

    August 17, 2015 at 5:04 pm

    • Thank you Allen! Yes, seeing a crane dance is one of those magical moments nature provides us. It was very odd for the fog to form after sunrise, but with the cold waters of Lake Michigan just a few miles away upwind, one is never surprised by odd weather. You’d have to see it to believe it, but it can be totally sunny a mile from the lake, but the lake itself be socked in with fog, even with a stiff wind, or vice versa.

      August 18, 2015 at 12:28 am

  2. Wonderful shots of the cranes flying even if you didn’t get the whole flock. I hope you can find instructions for editing the videos (youtube tutorial?) as I would like to see more of them.

    August 17, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    • Thank you Tom! Seeing and hearing a dozen or more birds with 6 foot wing spans taking flight is an impressive sight, so I will attempt to learn the video editing software.

      August 18, 2015 at 12:24 am

  3. I loved the shots of the cranes and also the video. There’s nothing like video to get the complete picture so I hope you can find an editing tool. I use Windows Movie Maker but that’s no use to you with your Mac. I really liked all the sunrise shots very much and that phoebe… what a cute little bird!

    August 17, 2015 at 6:26 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! Yes, I need to play with videos more, and find subjects that are more cooperative. The sounds that the cranes normally make is worth the effort of learning a new skill.

      August 18, 2015 at 12:21 am

  4. Have you done the 1.4 with the 150-500? I have always played with the idea of getting a 1.4 but seem to find other things instead to play with. It was fun seeing your post and what you tried.

    August 17, 2015 at 11:39 pm

    • Thanks for the comment! Yes, I tried the 1.4 with the 150-500, but mostly on a 60D body, which will not auto-focus with that combo. The results were very good up to about 40 feet, then image quality dropped off dramatically, but that may be due to my efforts at manually focusing. I did try the 1.4 and 150-500 on the 7D , which will auto-focus, up to a point, but the results weren’t that good. I should note that I also have the older 150-500, not the newer version that Sigma released in the past year or so.

      August 18, 2015 at 12:19 am

      • me too … older version. Thanks.

        August 18, 2015 at 12:45 am

  5. These are all utterly wonderful. Even the ones you weren’t entirely happy with!

    August 18, 2015 at 1:31 am

    • Thank you Gunta! I think that you’re being too kind, the photos were interesting, but hardly wonderful.

      August 18, 2015 at 2:16 pm

      • Well, I like them. Does that count? I love the cranes. You are so fortunate to catch these marvelous birds. The sunrises are fantastic. I simply love seeing your landscape (and sunrise) shots improving so much. Remember that I’m noting the improvements you’re making from back when I first started following you and that has been truly wonderful to watch!

        August 18, 2015 at 2:35 pm

      • Well, thank you again. I know that my skills continue to improve, and I also know that I am fortunate to be so close to so many species of wildlife that few people have the chance to see. Now, I have to take the next step(s) and learn to capture what it is about the landscapes, sunrises, and critters that I love, and with better image quality.

        August 18, 2015 at 2:48 pm

  6. Such splendid shots of the cranes, I enjoyed the video too. Loved your sunrise shots, you do such a good job.

    August 18, 2015 at 3:10 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! I keep plugging away, sooner or later, I may actually live up to your kind words.

      August 18, 2015 at 2:20 pm

  7. I read this in the morning but didn’t have a chance to comment properly. Wonderful shots and videos of these highly interesting birds, Jerry. I know you weren’t happy with the way some things worked out but I really liked them. Sand cranes seem similar to our brolgas. Do you know them? Brolgas are long legged birds that do wonderful courtship dances. Anyway, I can imagine how wonderful it was to experience them in real life. Perhaps I will get an opportunity one day when I start to travel. The sunrise photos were excellent too, as always. Thanks for sharing them with us! 🙂

    August 18, 2015 at 5:43 am

    • Thank you very much Jane! I wasn’t familiar with brolgas, I looked them up online, and the look very close to our sandhill cranes, and their behavior sounds like almost a complete match. I hope that you are able to travel someday, there’s so much to see in this world!

      August 18, 2015 at 2:22 pm

  8. Another beautiful set of photos, Jerry. Sunrises are always a favorite. Killdeer we have here. Sometimes they consider nesting in our gravel driveway. I love the action photos you caught of one in flight.

    August 18, 2015 at 9:55 am

    • Thank you Lavinia! Funny story about the killdeer in flight, I shot those to see if it was really a different species of bird, rather than a killdeer. I liked the photos so much that I posted them.

      August 18, 2015 at 2:24 pm

  9. Jerry,

    I’m enjoying riding along on your photographic adventure. Love the shots of the Sandhill Cranes!

    Bob

    August 18, 2015 at 10:55 am

    • Thank you very much Bob! I’m thinking of going to Bosque del Apache someday to shoot the huge flocks of cranes and geese that winter there.

      August 18, 2015 at 2:25 pm

  10. I like your photos of cranes. I didn’t know they take off so fast…silly me.
    Eastern phoebe seems to be a timid little bird.

    August 18, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    • Thank you Cornel! The cranes move surprisingly fast for as large as they are. The phoebes are retiring birds, unless you’re a predator near their nest or young, then they turn into little demons willing to attack hawks, cats, or anything else that threatens.

      August 18, 2015 at 10:45 pm

  11. Those cranes are amazing! They look huge! Like, how can they even get airborne?! And the scenics are quite lovely, too. Good luck with iMovie–it just takes a little time and you will get the hang of it! Have fun!

    August 19, 2015 at 9:10 am

    • Thank you very much Lori! The sandhill cranes are one of the largest birds in North America, and they fly like any other bird, by flapping their wings. 😉

      I found out that iMovie will load and play videos shot with my Canon 60D, but will not edit the movies, darn.

      August 19, 2015 at 4:34 pm

      • Wait, why not? If it loads into the software, that seems very weird. And you have a new system, I know. Maybe there’s a conversion setting? It would be worth it to dig around a bit on the Help menu on your Mac to see. Or to call Canon and ask what format the files are in (if it doesn’t tell you in the instruction manual) and see if they’re compatible. I’ve worked in a number of different editing suites and am just getting used to iMovie myself (plus, they’re always changing it!) so I’m not totally expert but I would think if you can play the clips, you should be able to work with them. Good luck!!! And thanks for sharing those magnificent cranes!

        August 19, 2015 at 5:20 pm

      • Thanks for the help! I did go to the help menu in iMovie, and the first thing that I noticed was a link to a list of compatible cameras, and only a few of the newest Canon model bodies are listed, not the 60D that I have. Canon has a habit of writing their software in such a way that the images and apparently movies it produces, only work with their own proprietary software. It took Adobe almost 6 months to release an update to Lightroom that would allow people using the new 7D Mk II to load the images that camera produced into lightroom, or any of the other photo editing software that Adobe writes, as an example of what I’m trying to say. Maybe I should load the Canon software on my iMac, and see if that will work.

        August 19, 2015 at 11:23 pm

      • Aieee, what a pain! My old film cameras were Canon & I loved them but haven’t tried their digital line at all. Having to deal with these kinds of issues is very off-putting, I must say. Good luck!!!

        August 20, 2015 at 8:58 am

      • Thanks again. Maybe I should just learn to shoot good videos that don’t need editing, it would be easier.

        August 20, 2015 at 4:13 pm

      • You’re doing fine! PS, I’ve always felt, though, that editing in camera (that is to say, deciding what you want before you start) is the easiest/best way to get good results. But even then, stuff happens so even the most prepared photographer might need a little help. 🙂

        August 21, 2015 at 5:58 am

  12. great captures, loved seeing all the sandhill cranes!

    August 23, 2015 at 7:01 pm

    • Thank you Donna! We don’t get the huge numbers of birds that other parts of the country get, but we do alright for a midwestern state.

      August 24, 2015 at 4:05 am

  13. Ahhhhhhhh, love those Sandhills, especially the racket they make. You got some great in-flight shots. Somebody told me once that farmers HATE having Sandhills on their property, because they stomp down huge patches of ground for their mating dance. Could you track that down, and video, please? 🙂

    Beautiful sunrises.

    August 24, 2015 at 9:01 am

    • Thank you Judy! If there’s a farmer that’s worried about a few stalks of corn knocked down, at most, then he’s crazy. Cranes eat their weight in destructive insects every few days, they love grasshoppers, which do far more damage to crops than the crane mating dances. I will work on the photos and videos though. 😉

      August 24, 2015 at 12:35 pm