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

A Fabulous Fall

Ahhh, what a difference a year makes! Last November, we were setting records for the coldest temperatures ever on a number of days, and we set the record for the most snow ever in the month of November, over 30 inches (76 cm).

This year, we’ve seen a few snowflakes, and had a couple of cool days, but overall, temperatures are running well above average. Best of all has been how many sunny days we’ve had! In a normal year, cool air coming across the relatively warm waters of Lake Michigan picks up moisture from the lake, and once the air makes it over Michigan, that moisture is turned to clouds, and often some of the moisture is dropped as rain or snow. That’s called lake effect here, and most years it clouds up early in November, and peaks at the sun  are rare until the next spring. Not this year. Hardly a cloud in the sky looking west…

An unbelievably nice November day

An unbelievably nice November day

…and even fewer clouds to the east.

A fine, sunny day

A fine, sunny day

Those two were shot November 1st, before a storm packing winds over 50 MPH hit this area earlier this week, and blew most of the leaves off from the trees.

It was almost as nice yesterday for a trip to the Muskegon area to look for rare birds that may have been blown here during the storm earlier this week. I was greeted by several thousand very common Canada geese.

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

That was just a small portion of the flock, but some how, I had moved the switch that locks out any adjustments to the settings on my camera. So instead of getting a better shot of the geese, I was trying to figure out why I couldn’t make any adjustments, since I never use that switch. I figured it out before I came to a large flock of gulls. I was looking over the flock to see if there were any rarities but there were all herring gulls in that flock from what I could see. So, I decided that since I wasn’t seeing any special birds, I would attempt to take special photos of the common birds.

Herring gull

Herring gull

 

Herring gull

Herring gull

 

Herring gull

Herring gull

In a way, that turned out to be the theme for the day. I heard from a fellow birder that there was a red phalarope hanging out in the east lagoon, but when I arrived there, all I saw were mallards.

Mostly mallards with a couple of ruddy ducks

Mostly mallards with a couple of ruddy ducks

Here’s a cropped version of that same photo to show what tricks our eyes can play on us when watching ducks battling waves. You can see a female mallard in the left side of the image with a funny look on her face because she has the head of a male mallard growing out of her back. Towards the center, there’s a female mallard playing submarine, with just her head out of the water.

The tricks our eyes can play on us

The tricks our eyes can play on us

I did find an American black duck, which look almost like mallards, other than their bright yellow bill.

American black duck

American black duck

No visit to the wastewater facility would be complete without checking the “eagle trees” to see if an eagle or two are around, there were.

Bald eagles

Bald eagles

As I was swapping the 2 X extender for the 1.4 X one, the eagle on top flew off, leaving the one on the lower branch, so I shot a photo or two of it.

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

I know that these look identical to a few that I recently posted, but on this day, I had a cloudless sky for a background. These also show again that eagles are creatures of habit, find them perched in a tree once, and it’s a likely bet that you’ll find them in the same tree at a later date.

It was opening day of firearms deer season, which was one of the reasons I went to the places that I did on this day, to avoid any hunters. I guess that this buck had the same idea.

Whitetail buck

Whitetail buck

But, I was slow getting the camera on the buck, so that very poor photo will have to do.

I saw a male northern harrier several times as I searched for the phalarope, but usually off in the distance. I did shoot a few photos for the record, as it seems as though I see many more females than males.

Male northern harrier in flight

Male northern harrier in flight

 

Male northern harrier in flight

Male northern harrier in flight

The males are grey as you can see in the photos, while the females…

Northern Harrier in flight

Northern Harrier in flight

…are brown.

I did eventually find the red phalarope, which puts me at 216 species of birds photographed in Michigan. That means that I’m closing in on the two-thirds mark as I check species off the list from the Audubon Society.

Red phalarope

Red phalarope

 

Red phalarope

Red phalarope

I walked around my favorite woodlot on the wastewater property and saw very few birds at all, but it was mid-afternoon, so I wasn’t completely surprised by that. I sure miss my old work schedule that allowed me to be up before sunrise so that I could start my days of birding at sunrise. I saw many more birds when I got an earlier start.

I decided that it was time to head for the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve to see what I could find there. Unfortunately not very much. I did shoot a few of the brightly colored leaves that had survived the storm that I mentioned earlier.

Fabulous fall 1

Fabulous fall 1

 

Fabulous fall 2

Fabulous fall 2

 

Fabulous fall 3

Fabulous fall 3

This next series reminds me to mention something that I’ve learned from all the tutorial videos that I’ve been watching online, but first, a couple of photos.

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

 

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

I shot those with the camera pointed almost directly at the late afternoon sun, I was fortunate that the shade that the tree provided produced relatively even lighting. However, when I first viewed this images as they came out of the camera, they were too blue, due to the shade. That brings me to a point.

In watching the online tutorials, different experts have different ways of setting up their cameras to get the shots that they do, in this case, it has to do with white balance and color temperature. So, to illustrate this, I went back into Lightroom and made a virtual copy of one of the nuthatch images, and set the white balance back to where it was when I shot the photo.

"Blue" white-breasted nuthatch

“Blue” white-breasted nuthatch

And here’s the same image with the corrected white balance/color temperature.

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

That reminds me, I love using Lightroom, the ability to make virtual copies to use in experimentation is just one small reason. That feature is also great if you want to have both a color and black and white version of the same image(s). But, I digress.

We think of sunlight as white, when it really isn’t, it’s made up of different wavelengths of light which produce different colors, as seen in a rainbow when water drops act as a prism to separate the different wavelengths of light. I don’t want to get too technical, but differing weather conditions and the way that sunlight travels through the atmosphere at different times of the day shift the color of sunlight slightly. We don’t notice it so much, our brains do the corrections automatically, our cameras can’t, which is why there is the ability to change the white balance setting in cameras, or in this case, post-processing.

Some experts say that you should leave the white balance set to auto, let the camera determine and adjust for the color of the light, and then fix your images as needed during post-processing. That’s what I used to do, but that didn’t work out very well for me.

Other experts say that you should always adjust your light balance as the light changes. That may work if you are photographing landscapes or other subjects that don’t move, or for when photo ops don’t pop up quickly as the nuthatch did for me. Just a minute or two before, I had been photographing one of the leaves in full sun. I didn’t have time to fiddle with any more adjustments before the nuthatch flew off.

Still other experts say that you should always use the daylight setting for white balance, and fix your images as necessary during post processing. This is what I generally do with the birding/wildlife set-up, it’s one of the ways that I’ve improved my images.

Actually, I should say that I use a combination of the second and third recommendations. The birding set-up is normally set to daylight white balance, unless it’s a very cloudy day, with a solid deck of clouds. Then, I’ll switch to the cloudy setting. Since it was a sunny day when I shot the nuthatch, I had the 7D set to daylight, which is why the nuthatch photos were too blue out of the camera. It was easy to change the images in Lightroom by simply clicking the cloudy white balance setting, so the images look correct as I saw them as I shot them. The overall blue cast to everything is gone, and the colors in the image look like what we see under those conditions.

For landscape photos, I always manually set the white balance for the lighting at the moment that I’m shooting. As the light changes, I’ll change the white balance.

I’ve been learning a lot from the videos that I’ve been watching, sometimes it’s what not to do. One of the experts said that he often set the white balance manually to around 8,000K when shooting at sunrise or sunsets, to juice up the colors. So, I opened one of my sunrise images in Lightroom, and began dragging the color temperature slider to increase the temperature, planning on going to the 8,000K the expert recommended. I didn’t even get to 7,000K before I said “Whoa, too much, that looks so fake no one would believe that the image is a true representation of what I saw!”.

I ended up at around 6,500K, only a few hundred degrees K more than the image was originally shot at.

So, I thought that maybe 8,000K in Lightroom was different from shooting with the camera set at 8,000K, nope, it was still way too much when I set the 7D to 8,000K and tested the results. With the camera set to 8,000K, the images looked surreal, with the colors over-saturated and shifted way too far towards orange. Heck, I get photos that I think are over the top as it is with the camera set to daylight and shooting toward the setting sun, there’s no reason to juice up the colors even more by going that high with the color temperature.

But, that brings me to my main point. When listening to the experts, you will find that they differ on their settings, and it’s up to you to find out what works best for your equipment, and the subjects that you shoot. It also depends on what you find pleasing. I apparently prefer slightly cooler images than most people do, but that may be due to the way that my eyes perceive nature in the first place.

Anyway, while I was at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, I spent some time on one of the observation platforms watching the passing gulls in hopes of spotting a rare species. Besides, it was such a nice day, it felt good to stand there in the late afternoon sun. Still, just standing there was a bit boring, so I had to shoot a few photos of any gulls that came close to me.

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

Here’s a gull impersonating an eagle.

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

Using the polarizing filter on the 300 mm lens with the 1.4X extender slows the auto-focusing of the 7D down a little, but when that set-up works, it really works!

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

My next stop was the channel where Bear Lake enters Muskegon Lake. All that I found there were more gulls, mallards and some escaped Pekin ducks. Still, with good light, I thought that I’d shoot a few photos.

Ring-billed gull flexing

Ring-billed gull flexing

And, who knew that either the inside of their beak or their tongue was orange?

Ring-billed gull

Ring-billed gull

With mallards around, I had to shoot a couple of them.

Mallard drake

Mallard drake

 

Mallard hen

Mallard hen, the Michigan leaning duck

I also shot a few photos of the Pekin ducks.

Pekin duck

Pekin duck

 

Pekin duck

Pekin duck

I knew that they had orange feet…

The foot of a Pekin duck

The foot of a Pekin duck

…but I didn’t know what pretty blue-grey eyes they have.

Pekin duck

Pekin duck

I tried for a similar shot of a male mallard, but the darn drake duck ducked…

Mallard drake ducking

Mallard drake ducking

…just as I pressed the shutter release.

I considered going to Duck Lake for the sunset, but things didn’t look very promising for a good sunset, not a cloud in the sky. I had noticed some nice opportunities for photos on the road that leads to Duck Lake on previous trips, so I thought that I’d shoot them this evening. However, the storm this week had blown all the leaves off from the trees, so that photos that I should have shot earlier this month would have been junk this day. I turned around at what’s known as the blockhouse, sorry, no photo of it this time. I did shoot a few Juncos there.

Dark-eyed juncos

Dark-eyed Juncos

And, a bird of a different kind.

Drone in flight

Drone in flight

I hadn’t been able to tell where a strange buzzing sound was coming from until I looked up and spotted the drone over my head. They will be something to watch for in the future as they become more popular.

I also shot a spotted knapweed flower in the late afternoon sun.

Spotted knapweed

Spotted knapweed

With no clouds in the sky, I didn’t think that the sunset would be worth shooting, but I still didn’t want to leave until I was sure, so my last stop of the day was the Muskegon Lake channel where it empties into Lake Michigan. No sunset, but I did shoot these.

Goldenrod in the sun

Goldenrod in the sun

 

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

I think that I worked as hard for this next photo as for any that I have ever shot as far as camera settings.

Having a brain fart, I used to grow these and still can't recall their name

Having a brain fart, I used to grow these and still can’t recall their name

The light was so poor that I couldn’t get a photo without the flash. But, since the fastest shutter speed the camera will synchronize with the flash is 1/250 second, and Canon cameras default to ISO 400 when using the flash, that entails setting the shutter, ISO, and aperture all manually to get a good photo when shooting at 420 mm of focal length. That, and a steady hand as I leaned over a fence to get the composition the best that I could.

My last photo of the day, just dune grass in the sun.

Dune grasses in the sun

Dune grasses in the sun

I just love the way that the dune grasses light up in the late afternoon sun, even though it makes for a very busy photo.

So, overall it was a day for practicing my photography skills more so than finding rare birds, although I did get the red phalarope. I should apologize for so many photos of the gulls and ducks, but I won’t. They are some of the best photos of those species that I have ever shot, which is my goal, continuing to improve the images that I shoot. They may be common, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to get great photos of them, and the practice of photographing them is always good, as they say, practice makes perfect. I still have a long way to go to even approach perfect, but I do like the progress that I’m making.

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

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19 responses

  1. Awesome photos! Bald eagles are my favorite…and it’s tough to beat the beauty of fall!

    Cheers
    Josh

    November 18, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    • Thank you very much Josh! Yes, fall in Michigan is beautiful, too bad that our long, cold winters follow on fall’s heels. 😉

      November 18, 2015 at 3:02 pm

  2. Congratulations on the Red phalarope! Love your leaf shots as well as the Nuthatch. What is it about that bird?

    November 18, 2015 at 3:04 pm

    • Thank you very much Bob! I’m not sure, maybe it’s because they are almost always upside down.

      November 18, 2015 at 3:11 pm

  3. A splendid mix of beautiful birds and striking autumn colours, thank you.

    November 18, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    • Thank you very much Susan, I’m glad that you enjoyed it!

      November 18, 2015 at 3:26 pm

  4. How dare that duck duck? At least it smiled when it did!
    I think the flower you forgot the name of might be a gaillardia. That’s a nice shot of it too.
    The trees were beautiful there this year and I’m glad you were able to get such great shots of them.
    I’m not sure what to think about the drones. In a way I’d like to have one with a camera for aerial shots, but on the other hand I’d rather not have them taking shots of me without permission.
    I’d say that any day with a buck and an eagle in it had to be a good one but I think my favorite this time is that cute little nuthatch.

    November 18, 2015 at 6:08 pm

  5. Superb shots of the gulls today among a great collection. There is no doubt that all the studying that you are doing is having a great effect on your photography. You are an example to many hopeful but slap happy photographers.

    November 18, 2015 at 6:26 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! It’s time consuming, but I’ll watch the same video again after a few weeks to see if I missed anything the first time, and I usually have. Plus, I can see the progress that I’ve made, and where I can make more improvements.

      November 19, 2015 at 6:09 am

  6. Good to see lots of everyday birds beautifully photographed. Loved the Pekin duck’s blue eyes! The dune grasses and the first couple of shots of the trees and blue sky are really lovely. Congratulations on the Phalarope!

    November 18, 2015 at 7:54 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! It was both fun and a great learning experience photographing the more common gulls and ducks. While these were good, I can still see plenty of room for improvement.

      November 19, 2015 at 6:06 am

  7. Love your photo album, such a wonderful reminder of how special the world can be.

    November 19, 2015 at 12:14 am

    • Thank you very much Charlie! The world of nature is beautiful, when we take the time to really see it, and get good photos.;)

      November 19, 2015 at 6:02 am

  8. I enjoyed your day of “practising” immensely. You may remember I have a fondness for gulls and mallards so I particularly enjoyed those as well as the vibrant landscapes and the single leaf pictures. I do remember what November from a year ago was like from your blog. What a difference! I’m glad you’ve had more sunshine as I know your winters can seem very long! 🙂

    November 19, 2015 at 6:27 am

    • Thank you very much Jane! Yes, the weather this fall has been awesome, but we’re going to get a dose of the cold and snow from last year this weekend. But, it’s supposed to warm back up a little for at least a week after this cold shot, so I’m a happy camper.

      November 19, 2015 at 11:56 am

  9. Guess I have to differ from the comments of the pack here, as my favorite shots are the Pekin duck (especially the foot shot). Also love all the dramatic lighting of your leaf shots.

    Where is that gravel road in your first shots? Looks like a great place to take my fat tire bike.

    Congratulations on the phalarope. The new bird sightings are fewer and farther between now, aren’t they?

    November 19, 2015 at 8:52 am

    • Thank you Judy! Since I find so many things in nature interesting, I usually come up with enough different subjects to keep every one happy.

      The road in the photo is in the part of the Muskegon Wastewater property that runs between the different farms fields and woodlots interspersed across the northern portion of of the property. It’s also part of a larger system of snowmobile trails, but I never investigated that, as I don’t snowmobile. I would think that it would be okay to cycle it, but the part that I drive/walk is only a few miles long.

      I’m still getting one or two new species a month, but yes, that is much slower, and it will probably slow down even more. I haven’t been emphasising new species very much because not many people seemed to care. There are some species that I’ll have to travel to the Detroit area to find, and others only found in the UP.

      November 19, 2015 at 11:54 am

  10. A beautiful road, blue sky and fall colors! The drone is an interesting addition to your collection. I am not quite sure how I feel about those things, but can see the utility for some purposes. The photos are lovely as always, and please feel free to show us new species you come across.

    November 21, 2015 at 6:31 pm

    • Thank you very much Lavinia! I’m not sure about other people having drones, but I sure would like to have one. 😉

      November 21, 2015 at 10:05 pm