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

I’ve upped my game,

With the purchase of the Canon 7D Mk II, I really upped my game as far as being able to shoot photos of birds in flight, or any situation really. However, it seems as if the birds have retaliated and upped their game in response, as far as how hard that they try to stay hidden to avoid having their picture taken. You may think that this will be another long boring post about camera gear, but it really isn’t, I’m using camera gear as a device to move onto what will be another post on bird behavior, so please bear with me.

As I have mentioned way too often, the 7D Mk II has one of the best auto-focusing systems of any camera on the market today. Once I started getting it dialed in to be able to get photos like this…

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

…it seemed as if the that hawk put the word out and let other birds know that I could get photos of them in flight, and they’ve been keeping their distance from me. As I’ve gotten even better with the 7D, I’ve been able to catch a few swallows in flight, no easy task.

Barn swallow in flight

Barn swallow in flight

Apparently, that swallow put the word out about my new-found ability to catch them in flight, for the large flock of the swallows that formed during the fall of the last two years around here didn’t show up this year.

It isn’t just birds in flight, the same applies to perching birds as well. This juvenile indigo bunting did its best to avoid the camera…

Juvenile indigo bunting

Juvenile indigo bunting

…as it continued to hop from branch to branch…

Juvenile indigo bunting

Juvenile indigo bunting

…until it finally gave up and posed for a few photos, since it knew that it was licked, it couldn’t escape from the 7D once it had locked in on the bunting.

Juvenile indigo bunting

Juvenile indigo bunting

But, that bunting put the word out to the other birds in the area, letting them know that if they let me get a focus lock on them once, that the 7D could track them though widely spaced branches, so the other birds moved into thicker brush, or took off before I could get a good lock on them.

Eastern phoebe in flight

Eastern phoebe in flight

It got so bad that day that I gave up using the 300 mm lens and 1.4 X extender, and resorted to using the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) as I chased a family of wrens around in the brush. The Beast may not be my best lens overall, but it’s still my best lens for seeing through thick brush and finding the birds as they try to hide. It was a tough fight, but eventually, I managed to outlast a couple of the wrens for these photos.

House wren

House wren

 

House wren

House wren

 

House wren

House wren

But, not even the Beast was able to get a clear shot of one of the species of birds that’s the best at hiding, a brown thrasher.

Brown thrasher

Brown thrasher

 

Brown thrasher

Brown thrasher

 

Brown thrasher

Brown thrasher

That reminds me, several people have asked how I get so close to the birds, one way is that I get right in the thick brush with them, then, I stand motionless other than following the birds with the camera as they look high…

Nashville warbler

Nashville warbler

…and low for food.

Nashville warbler

Nashville warbler

Sometimes as I’m following the birds…

Magnolia warbler

Magnolia warbler

….they become surly, and let me know what they think of me.

Magnolia warbler

Magnolia warbler

Other birds seem to have a sense of humor, they’ll perch where they know that I can’t get a clear photo of them, then laugh at me as I try.

Blue jay

Blue jay

But, every once in a while even an intelligent species like one of the jays will slip up, and I’ll get a reasonably clear photo of one.

Blue jay

Blue jay

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this light-hearted look at the birds so far, because this all leads up to what I read in a recent study into how intelligent birds how, how well they communicate, their ability to recognize individual humans, and how long that they remember individual humans. I could type most of the important parts of the story out, but here’s a link a New York Times story about the study if you’re interested in more than the highlights that I will touch on here.

Anyway, what that study proved was that birds can recognize and remember the faces of individual humans, and do so for years. I’ve often thought that, I had a much easier time getting good, clear photos of birds at the old apartment complex where I lived than anywhere else I go. I think that’s because I was one of only two or three people who walked around the complex daily, it became easy for the birds to recognize me, and to learn that I didn’t pose a threat. Now, when I walk daily in a public park, there are hundreds of people who the birds see over the course of a week, and it’s harder for them to know which human is which. When I go to places farther from home, the birds never get a chance to learn to recognize me, hence, I have more trouble getting a clear look at them.

That’s especially true with migrating birds in the spring and fall, not only do they not get a chance to learn the faces of individual humans, they don’t know the lay of the land very well, and therefore, they tend to be even more wary, as they don’t know the best places to hide as do the birds that live in an area year round.

On the other hand, migrating birds often travel in flocks, and once you find a flock, you can pick a spot and wait out the birds until one or more of them let’s you get a good look (and hopefully photo) at it.

Changing gears, in my last post, I said that I was mulling over changes to my blog. I was thinking of doing more theme based post, such as saving photos of birds in flight and lumping them into posts with just those photos, whether individual birds…

Lesser scaup in flight

Lesser scaup in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

…or flocks of birds in flight.

Gulls flying in formation

Gulls flying in formation

I also considered doing posts on birds and what they eat, such as in these photos.

Starling eating sumac drupes

Starling eating sumac drupes

 

Starling eating sumac drupes

Starling eating sumac drupes

 

Starling eating sumac drupes

Starling eating sumac drupes

 

Starling eating sumac drupes

Starling eating sumac drupes

 

Starling eating red osier dogwood berries

Starling eating red osier dogwood berries

 

Starling eating red osier dogwood berries

Starling eating red osier dogwood berries

I also considered holding photos that weren’t cropped at all and putting them all into one post, but that would require more self-control than I’m capable of. When I get a photo of a bird when I’m so close to the bird that it more than fills the frame, then that’s most often the first photo to go into a post. I do have these leftovers though.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

 

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

I do have a number of flower photos left over from this summer, I’m going to put at least one in my posts over the winter so as to remember that winters don’t last forever, it only seems that way.

Grey cone flowers

Grey cone flowers

Having given it a lot more thought, I think that I’ll just continue to post the same as I always have, with one exception.

If you remember, a few months ago, I was having a debate with myself as to what constitutes a great photo, and whether a photo can be great even if it isn’t in the style that the experts say makes a great photo.  That is, shot using a wide aperture so only the bird, particularly the eyes, are in focus, and everything else in the frame is out of focus completely with the creamy smooth bokeh that’s more important than the subject itself. Well, I have decided to shoot more photos that for lack of a better term, are of birds as scenery, or I should say, part of the scenery.

This sort of goes along with how I began this post, it isn’t always easy to get great photos of birds perched in good light and when you have a clear view of the bird. I hoped that I would never post a photo like this one again, but it represents how hard it can be to get a clear shot of a bird. I tried to get a clear view of this Savannah sparrow for a good ten to fifteen minutes. Every time I moved slightly to avoid the intervening branches, the sparrow moved so as to put a branch between us again, before I could fire off a shot.

Savanah sparrow hiding

Savannah sparrow hiding

But, there are times when seeing a bird, even though it’s too far away for a great photo, it is worth shooting because of the background in this case.

Downy woodpecker in the fall

Downy woodpecker in the fall

It would have been even better if there had been more light for this one.

Flying downy woodpecker in the fall

Flying downy woodpecker in the fall

A lot better! 😉

That’s the small-scale version of what I’m talking about, here’s the larger scale version.

Gulls on the beach at sunset

Gulls on the beach at sunset

That one is a little too “tight”, but by the time that I removed the extender from behind the 300 mm lens to go wider, the flock of gulls was down to only one gull.

Gull on the beach at sunset

Gull on the beach at sunset

That one would have been much better if the entire flock had hung around, but maybe you’re getting the idea?

I’ll get back to this in a second, but here’s why I’m considering these types of photos. I’ve been going to Muskegon at least once per weekend, and I’m tired of shooting the same birds at the same distance all the time. No one’s said anything, but how many times to you need to see what’s about the same photo of a juvenile ruddy duck…

Juvenile or female ruddy duck

Juvenile or female ruddy duck

…or even a male that has retained some of its breeding plumage?

Male ruddy duck

Male ruddy duck

I’ve decided to hold off from shooting any more of the ducks in their non-breeding plumage, I’ll at least wait until spring when they’re much more colorful, and so that I’m not shooting more of the same old same old all the time. Besides, sometimes having a bird in the frame can add a bit of interest to an otherwise uninteresting scene.

Gull at sunset

Gull at sunset

I’ve been including more of those photos lately, since I’m trying to expand my creative horizons. These next two may give you a better idea of what I’m talking about. Yesterday, at Pickerel Lake, I saw a few geese taking life easy on the shallow end of the lake. I’ve got head shots of geese, I hardly needed to shoot a photo of the geese off in the distance. On the other hand, I thought that there may be a photo in the scene itself, so I went ahead and shot this image.

Pickerel Lake geese

Pickerel Lake geese

How boring can you get? But, by moving the focus point to move the geese to where I wanted them to be in the overall scene, stopping down the aperture, and converting the image to black and white, I came up with this.

Pickerel Lake geese, take 2

Pickerel Lake geese, take 2

Yes, I did consider the black and white conversion when I shot that, but I should have moved the geese a little more to the left. Still, it’s much better than the first photo as far as the overall scene, which is what I was going for.

No, that doesn’t mean that all my photos from now on are going to be B&W, nor of birds in the distance, but I’ll probably shoot more of those over the winter until spring arrives with more things to photograph again. Expanding one’s horizons is seldom a bad idea. It’s just like the neutral density filters I’ve recently purchased, I’m not going to go crazy looking for moving water to blur, but those filters will come in handy under the right conditions. If I can’t freeze moving water to get a sharp image, then I’m better off blurring the water until it’s smooth. There’s a time and place for every technique, the secret is learning when to use them, and when not to.

So, I’ll continue posting as I have, with the exception that until I get tired of doing separate posts of birds as part of the scenery, I’ll be doing one of them from time to time.

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

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28 responses

  1. Rossj781

    The pictures are great! I’m hoping to get a new camera as well in a few months!

    November 9, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    • Thank you very much Ross! I hope that your new camera arrives in time for Christmas.

      November 9, 2015 at 3:27 pm

      • Rossj781

        Oh one could wish! Probably have to wait until summer to afford one. But got a decent one for the time being!

        November 9, 2015 at 3:29 pm

  2. avian101

    Great shots, congratulations for your new camera! 🙂

    November 9, 2015 at 5:09 pm

    • Thank you very much!

      November 10, 2015 at 4:34 am

  3. I’m glad that I read such a wide variety of blogs so I can see all of the things that I miss when I’m in the woods! As I’ve said before, colorblindness pretty much ruled out bird watching for me so your photos give me a good look at what I’d otherwise never see, and I appreciate it.
    I’m glad that you do go right into the brush with the birds because those are the hardest of all for me to see. Unless they show themselves like chickadees I walk right by them, I’m sure.
    That’s a nice shot of the hard to get blue jay but I think my favorite is of the gulls on the beach at sunset.

    November 9, 2015 at 5:14 pm

    • Thanks Allen! I forget that you’re colorblind, no wonder you seldom see any birds despite being in good places to see them. And yes, I’ll bury myself in the bushes with just a few openings to shoot through, hoping that a bird will land where I can get a good look at it. The gulls, beach, and sunset combination is like shooting fish in a barrel, I’m bound to get a good photo or two. 🙂

      November 10, 2015 at 4:37 am

  4. I enjoy the great variety of pictures in your posts and hope that you continue to provide this. I also enjoy your internal dialogues and your dogged pursuit of the perfect post with the ideal image in it. I hope that you never succeed becuase if you did, you would stop posting and that would be our loss. Keep trying.

    November 9, 2015 at 6:26 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! With statements like yours, you fuel the fire in me to keep trying to better both my blog and photos.

      November 10, 2015 at 4:40 am

  5. I simply love all of your bird shots. I get very disappointed with my camera or lens with its persnickety focus (esp. the bird shots). Perhaps time to upgrade… maybe when the house sells. Closing deadline is the day after Thanksgiving. I’m almost holding my breath for it to all go smoothly.

    November 9, 2015 at 8:57 pm

    • Thank you very much Gunta! I hope that the closing goes smoothly for you. Having dealt with my share of focusing problems, I know exactly what you’re talking about. The same lens on a different body may suddenly work great, or a different lens on the body you have may work great, there’s no way to really test any combinations at a store.

      November 10, 2015 at 4:42 am

  6. Whatever you decide to post is fine by me – I love all your photos and enjoy reading about your journey towards the perfect shot. We were discussing whether birds recognised us a week or so ago – thank-you for the link. I have a robin in my garden that likes to help me when I work outside. Robins often like to sit near gardeners because then they can feed on the worms and insects that are uncovered. My robin sings very quietly while he’s waiting for his food which I find quite charming! I love your shot of the woodpecker in the fall and also the series of photos of the starlings.

    November 9, 2015 at 9:12 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! It must be really cool to have a robin singing beside you as you work in the garden, that’s one of those things that may sound small, but has a large impact on a person’s happiness.

      November 10, 2015 at 4:51 am

      • Yes! That small thing gives me such great joy!

        November 10, 2015 at 6:51 am

  7. My favourite picture from this post is the gulls flying in formation, you have captured them perfectly in my opinion.

    November 10, 2015 at 3:31 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! Gulls are almost too easy to photograph, but easy isn’t always a bad thing. 😉

      November 10, 2015 at 4:43 am

  8. Funny, but I’m not really sure I would even have noticed if you changed the general organization of your blog – I accept that it changed with each post, depending on your mood, and I like that. Your running commentaries are, to me, what make your blog so compelling to read – hope you don’t push them into the background.

    In any case, love the single gull on the beach, primarily because it shows all the waves. I’d always rather see rough water than calm water, excepting of course, the few times when I may be in a boat!

    November 10, 2015 at 8:36 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! Yes, my blogs reflect my mood at the time, and also what I’ve been photographing lately. Things seem to run in cycles, so I’ll think that I’m posting too many photos of one species of bird, or one style of photo. I like variety, it is the spice of life. If you like rough water, then you may want to head over to the lake on Thursday, there should be some boomers hitting the shore if we really do get 50 MPH wind gusts. How I wish that I were retired and could go where I wanted when I wanted, but sadly, I’ll be working then.

      November 10, 2015 at 11:20 am

      • So, Jerry….I’ll try to get over to the lake to get some crappy photos Thursday in the wind. Will share them with you, so that you don’t feel too bad about working.

        The comment about your blog reflecting your mood was meant as a compliment, not a criticism. I’m happy that you feel free to share and discuss all these post/blog thoughts with your readers.

        November 10, 2015 at 1:35 pm

      • I didn’t take offense to your comment at all, I was trying to explain why I post the way that I do. I do hope that you make it to the lake, if you really want to, don’t go just on my account. I do think that if the weather forecast is correct, it could be an awesome show.

        November 10, 2015 at 3:54 pm

  9. I love your photos…all of them and I love your running commentary- not only do we have the pleasure of viewing your amazing photos but we know what you are thinking too!

    November 10, 2015 at 3:52 pm

    • Thank you very much! I should work on my writing skills as much as I work on my photography skills. 😉

      November 11, 2015 at 3:38 am

  10. Indeed, you have really stepped up your game…Your action shots are really spectacular.

    November 10, 2015 at 4:13 pm

    • Thank you very much Charlie!

      November 11, 2015 at 3:39 am

  11. Hi Jerry,
    I have to say I gasped when I read that you think the birds have changed behaviour/put the word out that you’ve got a new camera as I was just thinking something similar about insects and my new camera. In the past I could get up really close to butterflies and dragonflies and take shots (I had to with the old camera) but now that I have a new one they seem to fly away when I am a few metres from them! I’ve lost the “insect whispering” ability. 😉 Actually, I am wondering if it’s something about the way the front of the camera looks now, the reflection of light on it. It is not made out of the same material as the old camera which may look very different to an insect. Or maybe it is me that has slightly changed my behaviour in some way that affects them…like moving too quickly? I suspect I am too eager to try out shots with the new camera and don’t go slowly enough. Perhaps it’s just my imagination. I’m sure it’s not the case for you though. Anyway, it was funny to read your thoughts about it. I have noticed that the birds at Sherwood Arboretum seem used to me now and let me get much closer. I’m assuming they remember me from all the hours I spend there without causing them harm. Birds are definitely smart critters and sometimes I really do think they enjoy teasing us! 🙂
    Anyway, back to your shots. They are excellent, Jerry. I am always satisfied with what you share with us. I’m never bored or disappointed so keep on posting however you like. I’m sure others feel the same way. 🙂

    November 11, 2015 at 1:59 am

    • Thank you very much Jane! I’m convinced that birds do learn to recognize individual humans, and I’m quite sure that they are able to send warnings to other birds in the area, beyond what our human ears can hear. I doubt that they can say to one another “Hey, look out for the guy with the camera, he’s trying to take your picture.” though. 😉

      It may be that you’re too eager to get close to insects with your new camera, you do have to approach them slowly. Although, since they are cold blooded, the temperature and other weather conditions play a role in how close and how quickly you can approach them.

      November 11, 2015 at 10:34 am

  12. Charming bird tales told well yet again! I do like those moody long shots, too. Taking notes again on which camera you’re using. Plan to head into the city later this month and check out the Canons. PS, love the crow story you linked to in the NY Times. I took a crow as my avatar on Twitter. I mean, isn’t it birds that tweet, after all??!

    November 11, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    • Thank you very much Lori! I think that you’d be happy with a Canon 60D, but I’m not sure about that. I haven’t checked the price lately, but for a while, you could get them at half the price that I paid since Canon is or has discontinued them. But, the only photos that I know that you shoot are the ones from your blog.

      November 11, 2015 at 3:55 pm