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

Archive for January, 2016

Black Scoter, Melanitta americana

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Black Scoter, Melanitta americana

The black scoter or American scoter (Melanitta americana) is a large sea duck, 43 to 49 cm (17 to 19 in) in length. Together with the common scoter M. nigra, it forms the subgenus Oidemia; the two are sometimes considered conspecific, the black scoter then being referred to as M. nigra americana. Its French name, used in parts of its Canadian range, is macreuse noire (also meaning “black scoter”). The species is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN.

The adult female averages about 980 g (2.16 lb) and 45 cm (18 in) in length, while the adult male is on average 1,100 g (2.4 lb) and 49 cm (19 in) in length. It is characterised by its bulky shape and large bill. The male is all black with a very bulbous bill which is mostly yellow. The female is a brown bird with pale cheeks, very similar to female common scoter.

This species can be distinguished from other scoters, apart from common scoter, by the lack of white anywhere on the drake, and the more extensive pale areas on the female.

The black scoter breeds in the far north of North America in Labrador and Newfoundland to the southeast Hudson Bay. It also occurs on the Siberian side of the Bering Straits east of the Yana River. It winters farther south in temperate zones, on the coasts of the northern USA and Canada, on the Pacific coast south to the San Francisco Bay region and on the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts, and in Asia as far south as China.

Some birds may over-winter on the Great Lakes. This species is a very rare vagrant to western Europe; only drakes are safely identifiable out of range, so females are likely to be undetected.

This species dives for crustaceans and molluscs while migrating or wintering on the sea-coasts, and feeds on insects and their larvae, especially caddisflies, fish eggs and, more rarely, vegetation such as duck weed while nesting on freshwater. It forms large flocks on suitable coastalwaters in winter quarters. These are tightly packed, and the birds tend to take off together; in the breeding season they are less social. It has been suggested that in coastal waters this species prefers sheltered embayments, and possibly waters that include some mixed depths.

The lined nest is built on the ground close to the sea, lakes or rivers, in woodland or tundra. 5–7 eggs are laid. Each eggs weighs from 60–74 g (2.1–2.6 oz), or 8% of the females body weight. The incubation period may range from 27 to 31 days. Females brood their young extensively for about 3 weeks, after which the still flightless young must fend for themselves.

On to my photos:

Black Scoter, Melanitta americana

Black Scoter, Melanitta americana

 

Black Scoter, Melanitta americana

Black Scoter, Melanitta americana

 

Black Scoter, Melanitta americana

Black Scoter, Melanitta americana

 

Black Scoter, Melanitta americana

Black Scoter, Melanitta americana

 

Black Scoter, Melanitta americana

Black Scoter, Melanitta americana

 

Black Scoter, Melanitta americana

Black Scoter, Melanitta americana

 

Juvenile Black Scoter, Melanitta americana

Juvenile Black Scoter, Melanitta americana

 

Juvenile Black Scoter, Melanitta americana

Juvenile Black Scoter, Melanitta americana

 

Juvenile Black Scoter, Melanitta americana

Juvenile Black Scoter, Melanitta americana

 

Juvenile Black Scoter, Melanitta americana

Juvenile Black Scoter, Melanitta americana

This is number 183 in my photo life list, only 167 to go!

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

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Sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonset

First of all, I need to thank every one who commented to my last post about the crash for their concerns and wishes for my speedy recovery. I’m healing up nicely, what little there was to heal, and feel just fine. It takes more than a Mitsubishi Outlander to put me out of commission for any length of time. 😉

I’ve said it before many times, but sunrise has always been my favorite time to be outside in nature, even when I was a kid. There’s something special about a new day just beginning, and it’s also the best time of the day to see wildlife. Not only are the last of the nocturnal critters still active, and the critters of the daylight waking up, but there are far fewer people around to disturb the wildlife, and me. It’s typically the quietest part of the day, with little wind on most mornings, and most humans still sleeping soundly. I’ve always preferred the quality of light at sunrise for photography as well.

In addition to all of that, there are times during the year when full moon rising coincides with the time of sunset, and the full moon setting happens at about the same time as sunrise. This coming Saturday and Sunday is one of those times, and I hope to take advantage of it, as the weather forecast is looking good for photographing this occasion. In fact, it’s looking good for just being out and about, so I hope to get some good snow scene type landscapes, and hopefully, a few good bird photos as well. With a full moon above snow-covered scenery, I may stop to try my hand at something that I’ve always wanted to try, full moon landscapes at night.

I don’t remember which of the videos that I have watched contained this next tip, but I feel that I have to share it. It’s a way to determine shutter speeds when shooting in very low light. Most cameras will only determine the exposure correctly if the shutter speed is less than 30 seconds, so here’s how to use your camera’s meter to determine longer exposures. There are 6 stops difference between ISO 100 and 6400. So, set your ISO to 6400 and take a reading, hopefully, it will come out to be 30 seconds or less. For example, let’s say that the camera comes up with 15 seconds at f/16 and ISO 6400. Set the ISO back down to 100, then simply keep the shutter open for the same number of minutes as the number of seconds that the camera came up with, in this case, 15 minutes. It may not be perfect in every situation, but it’s a great starting point that saves a lot of guesswork. Of course you’ll need a tripod and remote shutter release to shoot very long exposure photos, but I’ve gotten to the point where I almost always use my tripod for landscapes at any time of the day.

Well, It’s now Monday morning, and I’m sure that you’ve all heard what happens to the best laid plans of mice and men. The weather on Saturday was as forecast, gorgeous, with bright blue skies and the temperature approached the freezing mark by late afternoon, although the day began quite cold. Due to my work schedule, I wasn’t able to hit the road until almost noon, that will be changing soon, as I noted in a previous post. I retraced the same route that I took during the storm two weeks ago, to show the changes in appearance of the subjects that I shot in that post. My first stop was Holland State Park, in Holland, Michigan of course, where I shot this photo as a warm up for the photos to come.

A rare sunny day in West Michigan

A rare sunny day in West Michigan

Then, it was on to Big Red, the lighthouse on the channel to Lake Michigan.

Big Red, the Holland, MI lighthouse

Big Red, the Holland, MI lighthouse

From there, I went to Port Sheldon, trying to shoot exactly the same scenes as in the earlier post.

Pigeon Lake at Port Sheldon, Michigan

Pigeon Lake at Port Sheldon, Michigan

You can see that nearly the entire lake is now frozen over, when it was completely open two weeks ago. I drove around the lake to a spot where I hadn’t shot any photos on my previous trip, due to the extremely windy conditions that day. To get to the spot where these next photos were shot, I had to climb one of the dunes that you can see in the background of the photo above, to where I could look out over Lake Michigan. The view was excellent, with the waters of the big lake in different shades of blue depending on the amount of ice cover, and how the sunshine hit it. I tried to shoot a good landscape that showed the different shades of blue, but I failed.

Lake Michigan shot from Port Sheldon

Lake Michigan shot from Port Sheldon

To really show you the beautiful blues of the lake, I had to turn the camera almost directly at the lake which made for a boring photo, but I did get the different blues.

Shades of blue

Shades of blue

It’s also hard to believe that so much ice has piled up on the shore in just two weeks as these photos show.

From there, I headed north to Grand Haven, where I shot the lighthouse there, first, from the south…

The Grand Haven, Michigan Lighthouse

The Grand Haven, Michigan Lighthouse

…then, from the north.

The Grand Haven, Michigan Lighthouse

The Grand Haven, Michigan Lighthouse

The amount of ice that has built up on everything exposed to the spray coming off from Lake Michigan in just two weeks was interesting to see.

Ice covered railing

Ice covered railing

And, here’s yet another photo of the north breakwater at Grand Haven to show that.

The north breakwater at Grand Haven

The north breakwater at Grand Haven

Retracing my trip from two weeks ago, my next stop was Hoffmaster State Park, where I shot this scene again.

P. J. Hoffmaster State Park

P. J. Hoffmaster State Park

My plan to re-shoot every scene from the previous post hit a snag at Lake Harbor Park. There were so many people out enjoying the exceptionally nice weather that there was no place to park. Since I had also planned to hike down the channel there to Lake Michigan, I was a little disappointed by that, but there were still plenty of other places to go. However, I should add that one of the amenities at Muskegon State Park is a winter sport facility with cross-country ski trails, one of which is lighted for use at night, and a luge run. The parking lot there was also filled to beyond capacity, and two DNR employees were directing traffic on the main road, and to and from the main parking lot and overflow parking in the campground. It was a day when I had to fight crowds and time my shots so that I didn’t have people walking right in front of the camera when I shot these photos. Since it was the first nice, sunny day in two weeks, it’s no wonder that every one was out enjoying the day!

Anyway, my next stop was Muskegon, where I shot these from Pere Marquette Park on the south side of the channel to Lake Michigan.

The south harbor light at Muskegon

The south harbor light at Muskegon

I think that the people in that photo add a little to it to give you a sense of how tall the light is, and how high up on the light that the spray from the waves had been hitting the light and freezing. The light on the north breakwater was completely covered in ice.

The north harbor light at Muskegon

The north harbor light at Muskegon

I checked the channel to see if there were any waterfowl present, just these gulls hanging out on the ice.

Gulls on ice

Gulls on ice

The gulls were quite cooperative, that’s a HDR image of them, as are most of the photos so far in this post, and the gulls “froze’ for the three images that I used to create the HDR image. Technically, I didn’t need to shoot most of these in HDR, I could have tweaked them in Lightroom, but I find that it’s just as easy to use the auto-bracket function of my cameras and create the HDR images when the scenes contain as much snow and ice as these do. However, this next one isn’t a HDR image, it’s straight out of the camera.

Herring gull on ice

Herring gull on ice

While I was getting a good photo of the gull above, a pair of mute swans came flying up the channel, close enough for me to get these.

Mute swans in flight

Mute swans in flight

The sounds that come from their wings as they fly is something to hear, which you can do some distance away since it’s so loud.

Mute swans in flight

Mute swans in flight

I went back to a short lens for this photo of the USS Silversides at dock. It’s hard to believe that this was all open water two weeks ago.

USS Silversides at dock

USS Silversides at dock

From there, I drove around Muskegon Lake to where Bear creek drains Bear Lake into Muskegon Lake to make a few more attempts at getting a perfect shot of a mallard. This may not be perfect, but it’s a darned good photo of a female mallard.

Female mallard

Female mallard

That was shot with the 70-200 mm lens and 1.4X tele-converter, as was this photo of a male.

Male mallard

Male mallard

Not bad, but he wouldn’t show me the blue patches on his wings, and I don’t like the reflections off the water on his side. I tried the zoom lens, thinking that I could zoom out for close-ups, or zoom in when a mallard came flying past me…

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

…but that didn’t work as well as I had hoped that it would.

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

As I was playing with the tame mallards that were willing to stay very close to me, I discovered where all the other species of ducks that are normally found in the Muskegon area where hiding, farther up Bear Creek, right on the edge of the ice shelf on Bear Lake. Every once in a while, one or two individuals of the other species would drift down closer to me, but never close enough for a really good photo of them. There were ring-billed, redhead, common goldeneye, and common mergansers there, but all that I got photos of were this…

Juvenile common goldeneye duck

Juvenile common goldeneye duck

…and a male redhead.

Male redhead duck

Male redhead duck

To show the size difference between those two species, here they are together.

Juvenile common goldeneye in front of two male redhead ducks

Juvenile common goldeneye in front of two male redhead ducks

As the two male redhead ducks headed back to the safety of the ice pack, the one in the rear blinked its nictitating membrane so I included this photo to show you what it looks like.

Male redhead ducks

Male redhead ducks

You can’t see the membrane, but you can see how it makes the duck’s eye look funny in my photo when compared to the one above this one.

I went back to trying to get the perfect mallard photo, but failed again.

Male mallard bathing

Male mallard bathing

I also shot a few photos of the Pekin ducks there.

Pekin duck

Pekin duck

They must have thought that it was spring…

Pekin duck porn

Pekin duck porn

…from their behavior. 😉

Pekin ducks after mating

Pekin ducks after mating

If it hadn’t been quite so cold, I probably would have hung around there photographing the ducks until sunset, but I needed to warm up, so I drove to Muskegon State Park to shoot this one.

Muskegon State Park dune

Muskegon State Park dune

I really wanted a tighter shot, but I didn’t dare wait, as the light was changing as the clouds moved in and out from in front of the sun. It was a good thing that I didn’t wait, after I shot that one, I was in the process of switching to the 70-200 mm lens when the light changed for the worse. I waited a few minutes, then I headed for the last stop of the day, Duck Lake State Park. I arrived a little early, which gave me time to eat a snack before going out in the cold again, and as I was eating, it dawned on me to shoot this one from my car window.

Pre-sunset at Duck Lake

Pre-sunset at Duck Lake

After my snack, I tried to get this scene composed better than in a previous attempt.

My favorite tree at Duck Lake State Park

My favorite tree at Duck Lake State Park

The deep snow covering the dune that I was walking on top of didn’t help my efforts. So, I returned to the base of the dune to shoot this.

Pastel twilight

Pastel twilight

From there, I crossed the bridge to set-up for the sunset, which while lacking vivid colors, I found to be very beautiful, and also, very peaceful.

Duck Lake serenity

Duck Lake serenity

The better view was to my right.

Duck Lake dune at sunset

Duck Lake dune at sunset

You can see how many people had visited that day from all the tracks, darn!

Then, I turned back to the left to catch the last of the colorful sky that evening.

The last color of the day

The last color of the day

My plan had been to photograph the moon rising over Duck Lake, but that plan was foiled by a cloud bank that obscured the horizon, so I packed it in, and came home.

All this week, the weather forecast had said that Sunday was going to be almost like Saturday, but with a few more clouds, wrong. I was up before sunrise, only to be disappointed to find that it was completely overcast. That left out any sunrise, moon set photos. So, hoping that the sun would make an appearance later in the day, I headed for the Muskegon Wastewater facility to look for birds.That was a mistake, as not only was it cloudy and gloomy, shortly after I arrived, it began to mist with a few snowflakes now and then. I did find this belted kingfisher still hanging around.

Male belted kingfisher

Male belted kingfisher

But, I never found a snowy owl or other interesting species of bird, other than bald eagles. There were at least half a dozen eagles there, here are my two best photos of a juvenile in flight.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Believe me, I hung out around the eagles for quite a while trying to get better images, but they all refused to cooperate by coming any closer, except for one that snuck up on me. By the time that I got him in the viewfinder and in focus, all that I got of him was one wing, his feet and tail, so I won’t even post that one. I do have a few photos of the juveniles that were chasing each other around to establish their pecking order within the flock, but I’ll save those for my next post, since they were shot at too long a distance to be good.

I was able to observe the eagles, albeit at a distance, there were several juveniles and at least two adults, all hanging out at the Muskegon County landfill, which is adjacent to the wastewater facility. It was insightful to watch the interactions between the eagles, and also the crows that were there in great numbers, as you may imagine. Occasionally, the crows would find their courage and mob one of the eagles, but for the most part, the eagles ignored the crows when they did so. It was also difficult to put a firm number on the eagles there, as one would fly off, and a few minutes later, that one or another would return. I was too far away to be able to see their markings well enough to recognize all the individuals there. I did see one that was much lighter than all the others which I could tell from the others, and the two adults because of their coloration. I just wish that I could have gotten a little closer, and/or that the light had been better.

I could tell that the weather wasn’t going to improve, so I came home and went for a walk here despite the gloomy conditions. I shot one photo of ice in the creek, but I probably won’t post it since it isn’t very good either.

Because of the change in my work schedule, I had Monday off as well as the weekend. Right up until Sunday night the weather forecast had been for a cloudy day, wrong. It turned out to be a beautiful day, so I spent quite a bit of time outside around home here. But, I’ve gone on long enough, and posted too many photos already, so that’s where my next post will begin.

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


Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus

 

The Brewer’s blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus) is a medium-sized New World blackbird. It is named after the ornithologist Thomas Mayo Brewer.

Adult males have black plumage with an iridescent purple head and neck and glossy bluish-green highlights on the rest of the body. The feet and legs are black and the eye is bright yellow. The female is brownish-grey with slight hints of the male’s iridescence. The female’s eye is dark brown. Overall, they resemble the eastern member of the same genus, the rusty blackbird; however, the Brewer’s blackbird has a shorter bill and the male’s head is iridescent purple. This bird is often mistaken for the common grackle but has a shorter tail. The call is a sharp check which is also distinguishable. This bird is in a different family from the Eurasian blackbird.

Their breeding habitat is open and semi-open areas, often near water, across central and western North America. The cup nest can be located in various locations: in a tree, in tall grass or on a cliff. They often nest in colonies.

These birds are often permanent residents in the west. Other birds migrate to the southeastern United States and Mexico. The range of this bird has been expanding east in the Great Lakes region.

They forage in shallow water or in fields, mainly eating seeds and insects, some berries. They sometimes catch insects in flight. They feed in flocks outside of the breeding season, sometimes with other blackbirds.

On to my photos:

Brewer's Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus

Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus

 

Brewer's Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus

Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus

 

Brewer's Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus

Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus

 

Brewer's Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus

Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus

 

Brewer's Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus

Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus

 

Brewer's Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus

Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus

 

Brewer's Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus, female

Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus, female

 

Brewer's Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus, female

Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus, female

 

Brewer's Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus, female

Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus, female

 

Brewer's Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus, female

Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus, female

This is number 182 in my photo life list, only 168 to go!

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

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Is it cheating?

It’s Saturday January 16th as I begin working on this post, and this morning was the first time all week that I made it outside for a walk. I’ll get to the details of the past week in a while, but one of the things I’ve been doing during the cold snap that we had, was to check out more image editing software than what I’m currently using. What I currently use is Adobe Lightroom to organize my images and to do basic exposure corrections that are within the range of possibilities in Lightroom. I also use Photomatix Pro to create HDR images, which is beyond what the version of Lightroom that I have can do.

I saw an ad for Macphun photo editing software, it has been getting some attention as an alternative to Adobe Photoshop, and seeing that they are offering a free trial, I decided to check it out. One of the drawing points is that rather than being able to do just about anything to an image in one program, the Macphun software is a suite of programs, with each one doing one aspect of the editing. There’s Snapheal to remove unwanted elements in an image, and Noiseless to remove noise, as an example of how the software is structured. In the online demonstrations, they made it look so easy, and the results so good that I had to give it a try. I can’t say that I was impressed, I believe that some trickery was involved in the demonstrations. For example, in the Noiseless demonstration, not only was all the noise in the image removed, but the resolution of the image looked to be improved as well.

In my testing of my images, I never did get rid of all the noise before the resolution of the images became so poor that I’d never post them to my blog, let alone try to print them. I think that Lightroom does a much better job of removing noise.

So, I tried Snapheal to remove unwanted things from a few of my images, and the outcome was mixed. It worked well in some cases, not very well at all in others. It certainly wasn’t as it was portrayed in the demonstrations that I watched. As I said, I believe that some trickery was involved for both of the programs, such as using two different images as a before and after, but I can’t swear to that.

I also checked into Photoshop as well when I learned that they offer a free 30 day trial of that program. Again, in my very limited testing, the results don’t come close to what the online demonstration showed, but in my opinion, Photoshop performed much better.

However, the question is, is this cheating? Here’s the after image that I worked on…

Green heron after Photoshop

Green heron after Photoshop

…and here’s the before version.

Green heron

Green heron

As you can see, I used Photoshop to remove the branch that obscured the view of the heron. If only I could teach the birds to pose nicely for me, with no intervening branches, I wouldn’t have to worry if removing the branches was cheating or not. 😉

I’d only resort to cheating if the subject and the overall image was worth it, as it would take far too long to process every image that I shoot. It only took a few seconds to select the branch and remove it initially in this photo, however, cleaning up both the sky and the heron “behind” the branch so that they looked right, took considerably longer.

Anyway, I decided that if I’m going to add any software to what I already use, it will be Photoshop, even though it’s a bear to learn, and despite the fact that Adobe attempts to take over my computer. Since tomorrow’s is forecast to be even nastier outside than last Sunday was, I may give the Macphun software a few more chances before I make up my mind as to which software I’ll use, and delete the free trial of the software that doesn’t make the cut.

Speaking of last weekend, I did a little more work to this image of the Grand Haven Lighthouse.

Grand Haven lighthouse in a snowstorm

Grand Haven lighthouse in a snowstorm

And, even though these next two weren’t shot from the same spot, they do show the difference in appearance of the north breakwater at Grand Haven between a calm summer morning…

The Grand Haven channel at dawn

The Grand Haven channel at dawn

…and the fury of the winter storm last weekend.

The north breakwater at Grand Haven in a storm

The north breakwater at Grand Haven in a storm

Also, if you look closely, you can make out a gull over the breakwater, which I still find hard to fathom how they manage to fly in such weather with the falling snow and spray from the waves pelting them.

Hmm, maybe this next photo will shed some light on that.

American crow blinking

American crow blinking

I had saved that photo from my walk on Saturday to show one of the problems that I have photographing all birds, but crows in particular. Most birds have a third eyelid which moves horizontally across their eyes which is called a nictitating membrane. The nictitating membrane (from Latin nictare, to blink) is a transparent or translucent third eyelid present in some animals that can be drawn across the eye for protection and to moisten it while maintaining visibility.

Maybe it’s bad timing on my part, but I seem to catch a lot of birds in mid-blink of their nictitating membrane, or even worse in a photo as in the one above, with the nictitating membrane fully covering their eye. Since I’m trying to get the eye(s) of my subject as sharp as I can, with the nictitating membrane partially or fully closed, it ruins my photos in my opinion. I saved the photo of the crow because they seem to blink their nictitating membrane more than any other species of bird that I’ve photographed and I wanted to remember to include that in my post.

However, as I was working on this section of this post, I remember that when I’ve been choosing which photo of a gull to use for my blog, that I’ve caught them blinking their nictitating membrane and that their nictitating membrane is transparent and difficult to see, other than when they have it closed, their eye looks as if I missed the focus slightly as it doesn’t look sharp in a photo. Maybe the gulls are able to fly through blowing snow and spray from the waves of Lake Michigan because they close their nictitating membranes to protect their eyes, much as humans wear goggles while skiing or other activities where our eyes need protection, birds have built-in goggles to protect their eyes.

Okay, it’s another cold, snowy Sunday morning, a virtual repeat of the weather last Sunday. I knew that it was coming, and I’ve been trying to think of something to do today that involves photography. I’ve considered a few indoor venues, as luck would have it, this is the weekend that Frederick Meijer Gardens is holding their annual orchid show. However, I’ve been to the orchid show a few times, and while the orchids on display are beautiful, the venue is crowded and not conducive to great photography, as they don’t allow the use of a tripod and frown on using a flash.

Orchid

Orchid

Also, part of the facility is closed for the week, making it a less attractive place to spend a day.

I could go to the Airzoo again, but I have dozens of photos left over from last year that I didn’t post.

Kalamazoo, Michigan AirZoo

Kalamazoo, Michigan Airzoo

I could retrace my trip from last week, trying to shoot better photos to capture what it’s like in a snowstorm, but that seems rather silly to me right now. Why do two posts in a row of bad photos shot during a snowstorm?

I could whine about the lack of sun, over the last 9 days Grand Rapids has had just 5.3% of possible sunshine and over the last 40 days, Grand Rapids has had just 13.3% of possible sunshine, but that doesn’t change things. Neither does whining about how cold it is, with the windchill outside -10 F (-23 C) with snow falling as I type this. The winter blahs have set in, that’s for sure. However, the good news is that it’s the middle of January, which means that we’re half way through winter here in Michigan.

While I’m sure that we’ll have plenty of cold and snow left this winter, spring is now in sight, and I should begin to see the very early signs of it soon. The birds and other critters will begin behaving differently, with a few male birds beginning to practice their spring mating songs when we have a spell of good weather. Then, I’ll notice that the leaf buds on trees are showing signs that they are swelling, just a little, in preparation for when spring does arrive.

As if on cue, as I was typing that, the sun came out for a while, so despite the cold, I bundled up and went for a walk around home. It may have been the quickest three miles that I’ve walked in quite some time, as it was bone-chilling cold out there. And, it isn’t as if there were blue skies and great light, because the snow never let up the short time while I was out. Still, while it may have been tough on this old body, it was good for the soul to get out in the filtered sunshine for a change. I even shot a few photos of a pair of mallards that were feeding in the creek.

Icy mallards

Icy mallards

 

Female mallard

Female mallard

I also saw one of our resident red-tailed hawks, and it was closer to me than when I shot this photo on Saturday…

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

…but today, the hawk was on the other side of a row of trees so that I didn’t have a clear view of it. I only included that photo to remind myself of how well the settings that I have programmed into the second back button focusing set-up work, even though I continue to fine tune them. However, with the 7D Mk II, it’s getting to the point where I can spot a perched bird like this hawk and use the first button for a portrait…

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

…then switch to the other button when the hawk takes flight…

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

…and the 7D continues to track the hawk very well, almost like shooting fish in a barrel…

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

…even with the woods in the background. By the way, those photos of the hawk were shot on my way to the Muskegon area one morning last month, and I’ve just gotten around to posting them.

My other photos from around home on Saturday were these two, I like this first one…

Queen Anne's lace in winter

Queen Anne’s lace in winter

…but this next one was a practice shot, learning how to expose a turkey in the snow while using the 7D, since its metering system is completely different from what the 60D that I’m more used to has.

Turkey

Turkey

As good as the metering system in the 7D is, it doesn’t seem to like snow very much, and since this is my first winter using that camera in the snow, so I have much to learn yet.

Well, it’s now Monday morning, I frittered around with the free trials of the software that I downloaded last week, reviewed a few more images shot by others that have been uploaded to Flickr!, and generally wasted the day other than my walk early on. Not much has changed weather wise, it’s still very cold with occasional lake effect snow.

When it comes to the software, the biggest debate that I’m having with myself is whether or not I even need it. I found it difficult to force myself to go back and attempt to improve any of the photos that I’ve shot in the last year since I began shooting in RAW 100% of the time. Going back further makes little sense, all those images are Jpegs, and not worth bothering with because the software can’t improve those images as much as they can RAW images. And, the only reason to edit any of my images that need it is to test the software, since I have shot far better images of most subjects either before or after the images that need work. That’s why I’ll never turn into one of those people who spends a great deal of time editing images, I know that it’s far better to shoot good images in the first place, and sooner or later, I will get a good photo of most subjects. Compounding that is the improvement that I’ve been making in my techniques to shoot better images. I see little reason to attempt to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, when the silk purse will come in time as long as I continue to shoot more photos and improve my basic photography skills.

If you go back to the top and view the image that I captioned “The Grand Haven channel at dawn”, the only thing that makes it a good photo is that I caught the first sunshine at dawn hitting just the end of the breakwater and the boat leaving the channel, otherwise it would be even more hum-drum than it is.

I’d be much better off spending more time outside, learning to put myself in the best places at the best times to get good images in the first place than I would be sitting inside at the computer, trying to make a poor image into a good one.

To that end, I have located a source for camouflaged material that can be used to build temporary hides for me to use to get closer to wildlife. It’s reasonably priced and much lighter in weight than the pre-made hides are, so come spring, I’ll be ordering one color to see how well it works. If the material is worth it, I can order a fall camo pattern later.

The other news from around here is that next week I’ll have a different schedule for work. I don’t know what that will be yet, I’ll find out tomorrow which of the runs that I bid on I got, if any, and what my schedule will be.

That brings up something completely unrelated to nature or photography, the trucking industry. The company that I’m working for now prides itself on how they treat their drivers and how well they retain the drivers that work for them. However, I started there just over a year ago, and the company has approximately 200 drivers working for them. In that year, I went from the bottom of the seniority list to number 79 when I put in my bid sheet for a different run this time. That improves my chances of getting a better run than the one I’ve been doing the past few months, but it also means that the company has lost over half the drivers that were working there when I started. Some drivers ahead of me on the seniority list retired, but most of them have quit to go to work for other companies. There was one day when three drivers quit in the short time I was in the office doing my paperwork.

There have been more than a few times when I had to fight the urge to quit, but I want to gut it out until I have used up my vacation time, which I’ll do in May. As I move up the seniority list, I will be able to get better runs all the time when they are open for bidding, so I’ll see how it’s going after my vacation before I make a decision whether to stay or look elsewhere.

My timing is terrible, it’s now Tuesday afternoon, and I made it out for a walk today. It was still cold, but the wind has dropped off to almost nothing, which also meant that we lost almost all the lake effect clouds. I say almost, because it was sunny when I began my walk, then the clouds rolled back in until I had almost finished my walk, when the skies cleared again. The important thing from today is that for the first time in over two months, I felt warmth from the sunshine! That goes with what I was saying earlier, spring is on its way no matter how bad the weather gets in the next few weeks, we’ve turned the corner on winter. In honor of the occasion, I’m going to post the last photo that I shot today, even though it’s a nothing photo.

Snow covered evergreen tree

Snow covered evergreen tree

My only reason for posting that photo is that I can see that the quality of light is getting better over what it has been the past few months. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch the best light when I shot these earlier in the day.

Black Lab playing in the snow

Black Lab playing in the snow

 

Black Lab playing in the snow

Black Lab playing in the snow

Since I didn’t see a bird in flight today on which to test my most recent changes to my camera settings, I made do with the dog, and since the dog is black, it was also a good test of my exposure settings in a snow scene as well.

The only wildlife that I found to shoot was this fox squirrel.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Not bad considering the conditions at the time, but I can hardly wait until I’m shooting photos like this one again.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

It won’t be that long now until I’m shooting photos like these again.

Red-spotted purple butterfly

Red-spotted purple butterfly

 

Red-spotted purple butterfly

Red-spotted purple butterfly

 

Heal-all seeds

Heal-all seeds

 

Juvenile cedar waxwing

Juvenile cedar waxwing

 

Daddy long legs spider caught in another spider's web

Daddy long legs spider caught in another spider’s web

 

Spider and web

Spider and web

It’s currently Wednesday morning, and the big news today has little to do with nature or photography. Even though the temperature outside has moderated a little over what it was the beginning of this week, and even though there’s some filtered sunshine, I won’t be going for a walk today. That’s because last night, as I was walking across a parking lot to get a cup of coffee for my trip back to the home terminal where I work, I was struck by a car. I managed to escape being hit directly by the front of the vehicle by moving out of the way, but the ditz driving the car turned hard left and struck me with the side of her car.

I’m okay, other than bruises on both elbows, a gash on my left arm from where the car’s outside mirror hit me, and scrapes on my right elbow from when I hit the pavement. Both arms are sore, so I don’t feel like lugging a six pound camera/lens combination around on slippery trails. I’ve been injured much worse in dirt bike wrecks and some of the other stupid things that I used to do when I was younger, but I’m feeling my age today. By tomorrow or Friday, I’ll be back to normal again.

I think that her car is in worse shape than I am, her outside mirror is gone and she has a big dent in the door from where she hit me. It was funny in a way, I was sitting on the ground taking stock of my injuries, and the ditz driver was whacking me with her door as she tried to get out of her car to see how badly injured I was.

The other big news is that starting next Tuesday, my assigned run will be the same run that I had for the first half of this past summer. That will mean that I’ll be out very early to catch sunrises and also have the best light for wildlife! In my opinion, early morning light is sharper than late afternoon light, although afternoon light is warmer. Each has its merits, but I personally like being out at sunrise much more than at sunset, even though sunsets can be more spectacular than sunrises. I also love what the warm late afternoon light does for wildlife photos, but I see more wildlife to photograph at dawn than I do at sunset. Maybe I should nap in the middle of the day and catch both sunrise and sunset?

Anyway, I’m going to throw in a few more images that I have left from last year, then call this post done. I’ll start with a sunrise photo in honor of getting back on an assigned run that will work much better for me.

Ducks at dawn

Ducks at dawn

I don’t think that I posted many photos of this species this year.

Eastern wood peewee

Eastern wood pewee

And I’m surprised that I haven’t posted these two before, my first good photos of a female scarlet tanager.

Female scarlet tanager

Female scarlet tanager

It’s easy to spot the males, since they are scarlet as their name implies, but the duller colored females are harder to spot, and usually stay more hidden than this one did.

Female scarlet tanager

Female scarlet tanager

It’s easy to confuse this next bird with the pewee from above, but phoebe have an all black bill as opposed to the pewee’s bi-colored bill.

Eastern phoebe

Eastern phoebe

This next one is to remind myself that better weather will be here soon…

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

…as is this one, besides, I miss this bird’s cheerful songs.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

I was able to get quite a few good photos of monarch butterflies this past summer, here’s another.

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

So, that wraps up another one. The weather forecast for this weekend is looking pretty good so far, it won’t feel like spring yet, but it’s forecast to be partly sunny with temperatures right around the freezing point. If that holds true, I’ll be heading to the Muskegon area for one day this weekend, hopefully I’ll be able to track down a snowy owl and a few eagles.

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


American Wigeon, Anas americana

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

American Wigeon, Anas americana

The American wigeon (Anas americana), also American widgeon or baldpate, is a species of dabbling duck found in North America. This species is classified with the other wigeons in the dabbling duck genus Anas, which may be split, in which case wigeons could go into their old genus Mareca again. It is the New World counterpart of the Eurasian wigeon.

The American wigeon is a medium-sized bird; it is larger than a teal, but smaller than a pintail. In silhouette, the wigeon can be distinguished from other dabblers by its round head, short neck, and small bill. It is 42–59 cm (17–23 in) long, with a 76–91 cm (30–36 in) wingspan and a weight of 512–1,330 g (1.129–2.932 lb). This wigeon has two adult molts per year and a juvenile molt in the first year, as well.

The breeding male (drake) is a striking bird with a mask of green feathers around its eyes and a cream-colored cap running from the crown of its head to its bill. This white patch gives the wigeon its other common name, baldpate (pate is another word for head). Their belly is also white. In flight, drakes can be identified by the large white shoulder patch on each wing. These white patches flash as the birds bank and turn. In non-breeding (eclipse) plumage, the drake looks more like the female.

The hens are much less conspicuous, having primarily gray and brown plumage. Both sexes have a pale blue bill with a black tip, a white belly, and gray legs and feet. The wing patch behind the speculum is gray. They can be distinguished from most ducks, apart from Eurasian wigeon, by shape. However, that species has a darker head and all grey underwing. The head and neck coloring of the female is different as opposed to the Eurasian wigeon. It nests on the ground, near water and under cover. It lays 6–12 creamy white eggs. Flocks will often contain American coots.

The American wigeon is a noisy species, and in the field can often be identified by their distinctive calls. Drakes produce a three note whistle, while hens emit hoarse grunts and quacks. The male whistle makes a wheezy whoee-whoe-whoe, whereas the female has a low growl qua-ack.

It is common and widespread, breeding in all but the extreme north of Canada and Alaska and also in the Interior West through Idaho, Colorado, the Dakotas, and Minnesota, as well as eastern Washington and Oregon. The majority of the population breeds on wetlands in the Boreal Forest and subarctic river deltas of Canada and Alaska. Although wigeon are found in each flyway, they are most numerous in the Pacific Flyway. Key wintering areas here include the Central Valley of California and Washington’s Puget Sound. Farther east, the Texas Panhandle and the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Texas also support large numbers of wintering wigeon.

This dabbling duck is migratory and winters farther south than its breeding range, in the southern half of the United States, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and the Mid-Atlantic coastal region, and further south into Central America and northwestern South America. It is a rare but regular vagrant to western Europe.

In 2009, an estimated 2.5 million breeding wigeon were tallied in the traditional survey area—a level just below the 1955–2009 average. In recent decades, wigeon numbers have declined in the prairie-parkland region of Canada and increased in the interior and west coast of Alaska. The American wigeon is often the fifth most commonly harvested duck in the United States, behind the mallard, green-winged teal, gadwall, and wood duck.

The American wigeon is a bird of open wetlands, such as wet grassland or marshes with some taller vegetation, and usually feeds by dabbling for plant food or grazing, which it does very readily. While on the water, wigeon often gather with feeding coots and divers, and are known to grab pieces of vegetation brought to the surface by diving water birds. For this reason, they are sometimes called “poacher” or “robber” ducks. Wigeon also commonly feed on dry land, eating waste grain in harvested fields and grazing on pasture grasses, winter wheat, clover, and lettuce. Having a largely vegetarian diet, most wigeon migrate in the fall well before northern marshes begin to freeze

On to my photos:

American Wigeon, Anas americana

American Wigeon, Anas americana

 

American Wigeon, Anas americana

American Wigeon, Anas americana

 

 

 

American Wigeon, Anas americana

American Wigeon, Anas americana

 

American Wigeon, Anas americana

American Wigeon, Anas americana

 

American Wigeon, Anas americana

American Wigeon, Anas americana

 

American Wigeon, Anas americana

American Wigeon, Anas americana

 

American Wigeon, Anas americana

American Wigeon, Anas americana

This is number 181 in my photo life list, only 169 to go!

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

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Wasting time?

We had a couple of nice days here last week, but I wasn’t able to get outside to enjoy them. Now, the weather has changed to a more normal pattern here at this time of year, cold with lake effect snow on most days.

For newer readers, lake effect snow is caused by cold air coming across one of the Great Lakes, the water temperature of which is still around 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 C). As the cold air crosses the lake, it picks up moisture from the lake, which then falls as snow when the air gets back over land again. The benefit of this is that our temperatures are also a bit warmer than on the other side of the lake. This morning (January 11) is a perfect example. It’s 13 F (-10 C) here, with clouds and occasional snow, while on the other side of Lake Michigan, in Wisconsin, it’s clear with a temperature of -6 F (-21 C). So, we get the almost constant clouds with occasional snow on most days during the winter, with the trade-off being slightly milder temperatures when compared to other parts of the country at the same Latitude as Michigan.

To tell you the truth, 13 degrees is darned cold to me these days, those temperatures didn’t use to bother me as much as they do now. I’d just as soon hibernate the winter away these days. Part of that is because it’s hard to get good photos under the constantly gloomy skies around here this time of year. I’ve been thinking of just going for a walk and leaving my camera home where it’s safe and warm. I may well do that a few times this winter, however, I never know what I’m going to see on any particular day, for on Saturday, I spotted this…

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

…flying towards me. I had some trouble getting the camera out of the dry bag that I use to protect it from the snow, or I would have gotten an even better image of the heron as it came at me.

Otherwise, it was just the few winter resident species of birds that I saw.

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

 

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

 

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

And, there’s always a fox squirrel that’s willing to pose…

Fox squirrel eating crab apples

Fox squirrel eating crab apples

…no matter how close that I get to them.

Fox squirrel eating crab apples

Fox squirrel eating crab apples

With the arrival of the colder temperatures, I just as soon not stress the birds any more by trying to get close to them anyway. They have a tough time finding food over the winter months, they don’t need me frightening them away from food.

As I’ve noted in the last post, I’ve been playing around inside, trying to find a better way of photographing some of the smaller things that interest me, such as fungi, lichens, and mosses. So, on the last warm day that we had, I tried to put what I had learned inside to use outside, with mixed results. Since it was cloudy and foggy, meaning almost no light to work with, I knew that my images wouldn’t be very good no matter what, but on the other hand, what difference would it make since I was looking at this outing as a learning experience. I used the 10-18 m lens on the 60D body to shoot these two, the only ones of many that I shot that I’m going to post.

Small stump

Small stump

 

Fungi

Fungi

On the plus side, I was able to convey a sense of depth with these photos, on the minus side, the 10-18 mm lens is too wide for what I would like to achieve. I suppose that I could have cropped these, and the others that I shot, but I’d rather not. I think that the 15-85 mm lens will work better in the real world outside, whereas the 10-18 mm lens seemed to be the best choice inside. Those were shot handheld, and since there was little light to work with, the shutter speeds were too low for really sharp photos. I should have used my good tripod, as the one that I carry on my backpack is useless for macro photography since I can’t get the camera low enough with it. Overall, it was a positive test, as the photos that I shot don’t look as dull and flat as what most of my previous attempts have been.

My brother informed me that there’s a 15 mm true macro lens on the market, and so I checked into it. Sure enough, it will go all the way to 1:1 and is only 15 mm. I almost bit on that, however, to achieve 1:1, the subject has to be almost touching the front element of the lens, meaning lighting the subject would be nigh on to impossible. After thinking about it for a while, I decided that if I can’t get the look of my photos with the lenses and accessories that I have now, I’d be better off using focus stacking software since it’s cheaper than any lens that would work for what I want is.

One other thought on my testing, it would have been much better if there hadn’t been the snow on the ground when I shot those. The bright white of the snow put the scenes well out of the dynamic range of the sensor in the 60D, meaning that I should have created HDR images to get the full effect of what I was going for.

Since I was out wasting time anyway, I also shot a few other types of photos with the 10-18 mm lens, since I need to practice shooting with my wide-angle lenses more often. Here’s one of the images that I shot.

Bridge

Bridge

The only other interesting thing from that walk was this.

Seeds

Seeds

I don’t know if I’ve never noticed those before or if the way that the seeds appeared was due to a quirk because of the weather. I think that it was goldenrod plants that had those seeds, but I’m not sure about that.

One thing that I am sure of is that it was too nasty on Sunday the 10th to go out for a walk. With wind chill temperatures below zero because of strong winds out of the northwest gusting to 50 MPH and driving lake effect snow, I decided that it was time for a drive instead. My first stop was Holland Michigan, where I finally got around to shooting “Big Red” as it is known locally.

Big Red, the Holland, MI lighthouse

Big Red, the Holland, MI lighthouse

I was hoping to catch a wave crashing into the lighthouse, but the wind had too much of a northerly component to drive the waves on Lake Michigan into the lighthouse. A few seconds later, a band of lake effect snow hit, and this was my view of the lighthouse. That’s how quickly the weather can change around here during the winter. One minute no snow, the next minute, you can barely see 100 yards ahead of you.

Big Red, the Holland, MI lighthouse

Big Red, the Holland, MI lighthouse

So, I headed north to Grand Haven, Michigan, to shoot the lighthouse there, even though I’ve photographed it a few times in the past.

The lighthouse at Grand Haven, Michigan in the snow

The lighthouse at Grand Haven, Michigan in the snow

I sat there and waited for some time, hoping that the snow would let up there, but it never did. I used a fence to steady the camera, as the wind was so strong that it was impossible for me to stand steady enough for photography the way that the wind was blowing me around. I considered using a tripod, but as strong as the wind was, I was afraid that tripod, camera and lens would be blown over. In fact, I had difficulty even walking to the fence in the wind, due to the ice on the ground from the windblown spray coming off from the lake and the wind buffeting me as I walked.

The best spot to shoot that lighthouse from is the north breakwater at the Grand Haven channel, but I wasn’t about to risk this…

The north breakwater at Grand Haven, Michigan

The north breakwater at Grand Haven, Michigan covered by waves

…just for a photo. 😉

My next stop was Port Sheldon, where I shot this photo looking across Pigeon Lake.

Pigeon Lake at Port Sheldon, Michigan

Pigeon Lake at Port Sheldon, Michigan

That was between snow squalls, but I missed the ten seconds of sunshine that made this scene catch my eye in the first place. That’s one of the curious things about lake effect snow, it sets up in bands running in the same direction as the wind. Then, those bands wobble back and forth so that the snow falls everywhere, but not at the same time. There are even patches of blue sky occasionally between the bands. So it was at Port Sheldon, there had been a patch of blue sky overhead, but by the time that I parked and got set-up to shoot that scene, the clouds had moved back overhead, and a few minutes later it was snowing heavily there again. I waited for a while to see how quickly that band of snow would move on, but I decided that the scene wasn’t worth waiting for any longer. So, my next stop was P. J. Hoffmaster State Park.

I haven’t been to Hoffmaster in a few years, I should have toughed it out and walked to the beach, but I wimped out. I did stop to help push a car out of a ditch though, that was enough of the cold and wind, even though the young woman driving the car had slid off the road in a sheltered spot.

That reminds me though, one of the reasons that I missed the three days of better weather last week was because the lease on my Subaru is about to end. When I had the last scheduled service done on it, the dealer gave me a brand new Forester as a loaner for the day. Subaru hasn’t changed the exterior enough to notice, but the interior of the new ones is much nicer than mine. So, I had a decision to make, purchase the one that I had leased, or turn it in at the end of the lease and get a new one.

I really like the one that I have, it’s sure-footed, fun to drive, and it hauls everything I need when I go camping. I’ve even slept in the back of it when I haven’t wanted to take the time to set-up my tent. All of that applies to the newer ones also.

However, I put more miles on this one than I had planned on, even though I’m still under what the terms of the lease called for. And, it looks like I may live longer than what I had planned three years ago when I leased the Forester that I have now. So, I made two trips to the dealer, one to explore my options, the second, to put down a deposit on a new one, just the way that I want it.

I had leased the one that I have now from dealer stock, so it has options that I never use, but it’s also lacking some options that I would have liked to have had. It may have been a silly move on my part, but I think that I’ll love the new one even more when it arrives this spring, just in time for my vacation!

Anyway, while there at Hoffmaster State Park, I shot this photo.

Snow scene at Hoffmaster State Park

Snow scene at Hoffmaster State Park

As I continued north along the Lake Michigan shore, I stopped off at Lake Harbor Park, where I shot this scene of what’s known as the sugar bowl, a popular spot for sledding.

Snow scene at Lake Harbor Park

Snow scene at Lake Harbor Park

If only I’d gotten a peek of sunshine at either of those places, the photos would have been much better. At each location I had waited for a while, trying to get the best light possible, but as the day wore on, there were fewer gaps in the clouds overall. The same held true when I got to the south side of the channel at Muskegon. I shot this series there.

A wave crashing over the harbor light at Muskegon

A wave crashing over the harbor light at Muskegon

 

A wave crashing over the harbor light at Muskegon

A wave crashing over the harbor light at Muskegon

 

A wave crashing over the harbor light at Muskegon

A wave crashing over the harbor light at Muskegon

The “specks” that you may have seen in those photos were in fact gulls waiting for fish to be thrown up on the breakwater by the waves, where the gulls could easily pick the fish up. My question is, how the heck can birds fly in such terrible weather? The gulls were battling the wind, and I know that in some ways, the wind helps to create lift. But, a steady 25 MPH wind with gusts to 50 MPH? How do they see? My eyes were stung several times by the wind-blown snow, I can’t imagine trying to fly through the snow and spray driven by winds as strong as they were.

This gull had the right idea.

Ring-billed gull resting

Ring-billed gull resting

Although, I think that I would have chosen a spot where I was sheltered from the wind rather than a wide open parking lot.

The waterfowl that I saw had picked places where the wind was deflected to some degree, and I’m going to include two photos of them. A common merganser, since I haven’t posted any photos of them for a while…

Male common merganser

Male common merganser

…and this young mute swan that was grazing in the shallow water of Muskegon Lake in the area known as Snug Harbor.

Juvenile mute swan

Juvenile mute swan

I continued north, pausing to shoot this photo of a marsh while on my way to Duck Lake State Park.

Marsh near Duck Lake

Marsh near Duck Lake

And, my last photo from the day is this one, taken while on my way home along the road as it passes through Muskegon State Park heading towards the beach.

Snow scene in Muskegon State Park

Snow scene in Muskegon State Park

All of my photos from a week around home, and a day along Lake Michigan, and I haven’t filled a post, that’s rather disgusting. I feel as though I was wasting my time, since none of the photos are very good. I did learn that if I’m going to capture the fury of one of these storms as they hit the area, I’m going to have to dress warmer and battle the elements to get into better positions to shoot the photos. If I’m going to shoot snow scenes, I may as well wait for a rare sunny day to do so.

On the other hand, I do see some improvement in the way that I’m composing my landscape photos, and I think that I’m on the right track when it comes to the smaller things that I see. Also, I’ve been checking out some of the wildlife photos on Flickr, a photo sharing website. When it comes to wildlife photos, my good ones rate right up there with all but the very best of what I see there. So, I am making progress, and that’s what counts.

I also have a few photos saved from this past fall that I haven’t used yet. I don’t know if these are flowers that opened in the fall, or seed pods that had burst open, I don’t remember having ever seen them before.

Flowers or seed pods?

Flowers or seed pods?

They were on a small tree or large bush if I recall correctly.

I also have another dragonfly to share.

Unidentified dragonfly

Unidentified dragonfly

These two photos of a deer are from two weeks ago.

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

 

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

Also, I can’t believe that it took me until January to post these two photos of a great egret.

Great egret in flight

Great egret in flight

 

Great egret in flight

Great egret in flight

While those aren’t that good, it isn’t as if I see egrets everyday.

Since I’m a bit bummed out about the weather around here now, I’ll throw in these two photos of flowers from last summer to cheer me, and hopefully, a few other people up.

Spotted bee balm

Spotted bee balm

 

Butterfly weed

Butterfly weed

Well, I guess that’s all that I have to say for right now, other than I may not be posting this type of post as often for a while. I do have several more posts on individual species of birds for the My Life List project finished, and I’ll post one of them per week instead. That is, unless something miraculous happens around here, and I get some good photos this winter. The chances of that happening in the next week or two is slim to none. Not only does winter affect my photography, but I end up working much longer hours due to the weather slowing down traffic. I didn’t get home until after 4 AM this morning, which leaves me little time for anything other than eating and sleeping before going back to work to do it all over again.

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


American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana

 

The American avocet (Recurvirostra americana) is a large wader in the avocet and stilt family.

This avocet has long, thin, gray legs, giving it its colloquial name, “blue shanks”. The plumage is black and white on the back with white on the underbelly. The neck and head are cinnamon colored in the summer and gray in the winter. The long, thin bill is upturned at the end. The adult bird measures 40–51 cm (16–20 in) in length, 68–76 cm (27–30 in) and 275–420 g (9.7–14.8 oz) in weight.

The breeding habitat is marshes, beaches, prairie ponds, and shallow lakes in the mid-west as far north as southern Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, and on the Pacific coast of North America. American avocets form breeding colonies numbering dozens of pairs. When breeding is over the birds gather in large flocks, sometimes including hundreds of birds. Nesting occurs near water, usually on small islands or boggy shorelines where access by predators is difficult. The female lays four eggs in a saucer-shaped nest, and both sexes take turns incubating them. Upon hatching, the chicks feed themselves, they are never fed by their parents.

This species is migratory, and mostly winters on the southern Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Mexico and the United States.

The American avocet forages in shallow water or on mud flats, often sweeping its bill from side to side in water as it seeks its crustacean and insect prey.

On to my photos:

American avocet

American avocet

 

American avocet

American avocet

 

American avocet

American avocet

 

American avocet

American avocet

 

American avocet

American avocet

 

American avocet

American avocet

 

American avocet

American avocet

 

American avocet

American avocet

 

American avocet

American avocet

 

American avocet and yellowlegs for size comparison

American avocet and yellowlegs for size comparison

This is number 180 in my photo life list, only 170 to go!

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

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Looking forward to 2016

Well, it’s now 2016, a new year just begun. As I was out for my almost daily walk on the Wednesday before flipping to a new calendar, a few thoughts hit me as I was thinking about my photography.

However, I have something to clear up first. I’m not opposed to people photographing birds that come to bird feeders that the photographer has put out. It’s a fine hobby and a good way to get good photos of birds. In fact, it’s a great way to practice photography skills and to learn more about birds and their behavior at the same time. As long as the photographer makes it clear that the photos where shot at or near a bird feeder, I have no problem at all with doing so.

What I am opposed to is photographers who put out bird feeders, or otherwise bait birds or other animals, and then claim that they are some great nature photographer who has tracked the critters down in the wild. Just as bad in my opinion, are photographers that go to resorts where semi-tame animals are paraded in front of the photographers who then get great photos of animals under controlled situations, much like a model in a studio, and pass their photos off as taken in the wild. The same applies to those photographers who visit an animal rehab center, and get great close-ups of raptors, owls, or other animals, then pass those photos off as having been shot in the wild.

Maybe there’s a hint of jealousy in my opinions on the subject, because the photographers who do the things that I’m opposed to set the bar very high when it comes to photo quality, a bar that some one such as myself, who truly does shoot all of their photos in the wild can seldom reach.

Another thing that I need to clarify is my statement that birds usually take off and land going into the wind. That applies to larger birds such as eagles, hawks, herons, geese, gulls, and waterfowl in general. The best position to be in to catch good photos of the larger birds is with both the sun and the wind at your back as you face the bird. Smaller songbirds don’t need the extra lift generated by taking off into the wind, that’s because they have shorter, broader wings, and are also much lighter. They’ll often hop off from a branch with the wind, and let the wind blow them to their next desired landing spot, hardly flapping their wings at all other than to steer.

As it happens, I shot a series of photos on the day after New Years Day of a peregrine falcon that illustrate how much facing into the wind is used by the larger birds to take off. The falcon had been perched on a rock on a day with a steady, strong west wind…

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

…when the falcon decided to move on, it simply unfolded its wings…

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

…leaned forward into the wind…

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

…and began to rise without ever flapping its wings at all. Unfortunately, I thought that the 7D had locked focus on the falcon, but it had really locked on the rock the falcon was perched on. So, as the falcon rose, it went out of focus before I realized what was going on, leaving me with this horrible photo of the falcon rising…

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

…so I’m throwing in one more that’s much better, shot after I had re-focused on the falcon.

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

It’s pretty cool when I can shoot a series of photos that illustrate a point that I’m trying to explain in words in the same timeframe as I’m working on a blog post.

Okay, with that out of the way, it’s time to start 2016 off. As you know, I’m always trying to improve my photos, and one area that I really need to work on is my macro photography. I do alright when shooting larger insects, such as dragonflies…

Unidentified dragonfly

Unidentified dragonfly

…the same applies to flowers.

Woodland sunflowers?

Woodland sunflowers?

However, when I see fungi or lichens…

Lichens

Lichens

…I feel that I’m not doing a very good job of capturing how beautiful a scene like the one above is in real life. I got the different species and colors in that scene, but the photo is dull, flat, and lifeless. The thought occurred to me that I should approach a scene like that as I would a landscape photo, but a miniaturized version of a landscape. This is the photo from a recent post that influenced my thinking on the subject.

Fungi as art

Fungi and moss as a landscape

Because there are different layers to that image, there’s more depth and life to it. That image would have been even better if I had gotten closer, switched to a shorter lens to get more depth of field with everything in the frame in focus.

So, on New Years Eve, I spent a couple of hours playing around with different set-ups in an attempt to get a better handle on such things as depth of field at different focal lengths and distances, and many other variables as well. I’m not going to post any of the photos that I shot during the test, but I hope to pass on what I’ve learned.

One, as any one who does macros already knows, it takes an incredible amount of light. In my well-lit dining room, I was coming up with exposure times of over 30 seconds if I didn’t add more light to the subject. Since I was using a tripod, that wasn’t as big of an issue as it would be if I were trying to shoot hand-held. After all, I’m learning to shoot in very low light at night.

Christmas full moon rising over Muskegon Lake

Christmas full moon rising over Muskegon Lake

The other photo that I posted from that night was a HDR image, this one is not, but I did a lot of editing in Lightroom to it.

Anyway, I got sidetracked right from the start when I was testing, going for extreme close-ups, when what I had intended to do was stay back a little, and shoot a scene instead of a close-up. However, I learned a great deal from those experiments that I’ll be able to use when I do go for close-ups, or landscapes for that matter.

I was using a 60D body with the Canon 100 mm f/2.8 L series macro lens on it. I tried the Tamron 1.4X extender by itself, the set of three extension tubes one at a time, and ended up with all three extension tubes behind the lens with the extender on it.

As with most things, there was a decreasing change as I added one extension tube at a time behind the lens and extender. In fact, I didn’t get that much closer that way than I did by using either just the extender or all three tubes behind the lens, there’s no reason to use both. I should also add that image quality when using either the Tamron extender or the extension tubes didn’t suffer enough to notice when zoomed to 1:1 in Lightroom, and that even with both the extender and tubes, image quality was still very good. However, since using both didn’t get me any closer, there’s no reason to do so.

The next thing that I learned is that stopping down that 100 mm macro lens past f/16 results in diffraction, which reduces image quality more than the increased depth of field that I got at such narrow apertures helped. That held true for the lens alone, the lens plus the extender, or the lens and the extension tubes.

I also went the other way, I started at f/2.8 and went up one full stop at a time all the way to f/32 to see how much depth of field I would get at each setting. I was surprised by how much depth of field that I did get at f/2.8, but the best working range with the 100 mm lens is between f/8 and f/16.

Since I was shooting inside, it was easy to take a few test shots, load them into Lightroom to check them, then shoot more test shots. Along the way, I learned that increasing the shutter delay to 10 seconds after pressing the shutter release versus a 2 second delay made for slightly sharper photos. The same held true for using mirror lock-up. I think that it was because the tripod was on a carpeted floor which gives a little under the tripod. However, I didn’t think that the management here would appreciate my extending the spiked feet of my tripod, and poking them through the carpet to make the tripod more stable. 🙂

I also learned that the best way to get the sharpest focus was to use live view and zoom in to 10X. By the way, I was using the focusing rail I got from my brother to focus, I had the auto-focus of the lens, and also the image stabilization turned off. That was with the 60D, and I’ve never been happy with the focusing screen in that camera. I didn’t try the 7D body, although it does have a better focusing screen in it.

That about sums up the extreme close-up part of my testing. I then switched to the 15-85 mm lens, with and without the extension tube(s) to see what I could come up with as far as shooting a scene versus an extreme close-up. I played around for a while, but that lens may not be the right candidate for what I’m attempting to accomplish. I think that I may have hit upon something, but I’ll have to try it out in a real situation, rather than shooting in a controlled situation on my dining room table.

The lens that I haven’t gotten to yet, is the 10-18 mm lens. One of the deciding factors in my purchase of that lens was its close focusing capability. The fall that I purchased it, I had some success with getting the type of image that I’m trying for, but then winter came along, and I forgot what I had learned. Since I’ve been out for my walk on this cold, snowy day, I may spend the afternoon playing with the 10-18 mm lens today.

But first, my first photo from 2016, which I shot this morning, New Years Day 2016.

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

I got a few more shots of him, including these two.

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

That reminds me, you can see snowflakes falling in that image, well, I have to be extra careful when there’s snow falling, the auto-focusing of the 7D is so sensitive, it tries to focus on the snowflakes as they float by.

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

Since no other birds that I saw were willing to pose, I did some playing attempting to get more depth in my still life photos. I’m only going to post these two of the bark on a sycamore tree to give you an idea of what I’m trying to do.

Sycamore tree bark

Sycamore tree bark

I rotated the photo 90 degrees, as you can see, and I also thought that the image would be a good candidate for a black and white version, it was.

Sycamore tree bark

Sycamore tree bark

However, I still can’t decide which version I like the best, so you get to see both of them.

It’s now the 2 days after New Years Day, as I said earlier in this post I started before New Years Day. On the day after New Years Day, I went to Muskegon since it was a rare sunny day here. So, I haven’t gotten around to playing with the 10-18 mm lens for the type of photo that I’m trying for yet. I may get around to that later today, after my walk.

However, since I did go to the Muskegon area, I have plenty of photos from yesterday. You’ve already seen the peregrine falcon taking off, so I may as well throw these in now, of the same falcon landing near a Canada goose. I think that the goose had been injured and couldn’t fly, I’m not sure about that, as I lost track of it as I shot the photos that appeared earlier in this blog. I thought that the falcon was going to try to make a meal of the goose as the falcon dropped from the sky…

Peregrine falcon and Canada goose

Peregrine falcon and Canada goose

…however, once I cropped these images down, I can see that the falcon’s crop is full, as you can see by the bulge in the falcon’s throat…

Peregrine falcon and Canada goose

Peregrine falcon and Canada goose

…it was looking for a place to land where it could digest its latest meal, and that just happened to be near the goose…

Peregrine falcon and Canada goose

Peregrine falcon and Canada goose

…but the goose figured that discretion was the better part of valor…

Peregrine falcon and Canada goose

Peregrine falcon and Canada goose

…and beat a hasty retreat as the falcon flew past…

Peregrine falcon and Canada goose

Peregrine falcon and Canada goose

…still, it was interesting to watch this unfold.

Peregrine falcon and Canada goose

Peregrine falcon and Canada goose

I saw another snowy owl, I know that it’s not the same one that I saw on Christmas Day, as this one has a lot more brown on it.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

This one had its eyes open, so I sat back in my vehicle, letting it get used to my presence before I attempted to move closer. As I sat the watching the owl, it took off, coming straight at me…

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

…so, I sat there and shot away…

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

….thinking that the owl was going to fly into my car through the open window…

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

…but, it veered off at the last moment.

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

Earlier in the day, I had parked near a flock of American tree sparrows trying to get an excellent photo of one of them. At times, some of the sparrows would use my car as a perch, I had one perched on my outside mirror for a few seconds, until I reached for the camera with the macro lens on it, the only way that I would have gotten a photo of it. However, none of the sparrows would move into the area that I could shoot through the window of my car for quite a while. Eventually, one of them did, giving me several of my best images ever of this species.

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

Using my car as a blind or hide works very well at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, which is mostly open and flat, with no cover to hide in as I attempt to approach birds as close as I can. That is one of the things that has me leaning towards using a hide more often in the coming years, however, my Subaru as a hide wouldn’t work as well in other places. Another nice thing about my Subaru this time of the year is that it’s heated. 😉

I know that crows aren’t the favorite birds of most people, but I love them. They are very intelligent and social birds, with a huge vocabulary. Not only that, but they are difficult to photograph well, because they are all black. Since I love a challenge, getting a very good image of a crow, whether stationary…

American crow

American crow

…or in flight…

American crow in flight

American crow in flight

is something that I practice as often as I can.

Okay, it’s now the first Monday of 2016, and I’ve done some playing inside with the 10-18 mm lens, and I can see some possibilities with that lens for the type of image that I’d like to be able to shoot. I’m not going to post any of the test photos that I shot inside, however, I will post this one from my walk yesterday. It isn’t exactly what I want, but it’s much better than my past efforts.

Yarrow leaves?

Yarrow leaves?

I’m trying to capture the delicate, lacy nature of the leaves, along with their pastel colors. I had to lay in the snow to get that, but it was worth it. I’ve learned that shooting almost straight down does not show what I want my photos to show, the images are dull, flat and lifeless, just as the lichens were in the photo up above were. Also, since that was shot with the birding set-up which tends to compress the space between things in a scene, I didn’t really show how open and delicate the leaves are, nor did I get the depth of field that I wanted. But, it was another learning experience along the road to better images.

I have a few photos left over from my trip to the Muskegon area on Saturday left to post yet, so I’ll get back to them. Because this winter has been so mild so far, there are still a few species of birds being seen which are normally long gone around here this time of year. One is this juvenile white-crowned sparrow.

Juvenile white-crowned sparrow

Juvenile white-crowned sparrow

Another is this belted kingfisher, I almost hate to post this photo, since the light was so poor when I shot it, but it does record the fact that a kingfisher was still in the area in early January.

Male belted kingfisher

Male belted kingfisher

The same holds true of this photo, it’s only here as a record of Tundra swans still here.

Tundra swans

Tundra swans

I know that I’ve posted a lot of photos of gull recently, but here’s two more, of one of them trying to eat something which I can’t identify.

Herring gull

Herring gull

I’m not sure, but I think what the gull was trying to eat was a bone with a little meat left on it that the gull had found at the nearby landfill.

Herring gull

Herring gull

I spent a good deal of time working on my bird in flight photos, here’s three mallards taking off.

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

More gulls.

Gulls in flight

Gulls in flight

More geese.

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

To show that the weather here has changed from the very warm December that we had to a more normal January, I shot this.

The ice is growing

The ice is growing

I went to the channel in hopes of getting some good sunset photos, but with no clouds in the sky, that didn’t materialize. Besides, with a stiff wind churning up Lake Michigan, any effort at a HDR image would have been worthless. Instead, I shot a few photos of a windsurfer, and the waves crashing over the breakwater.

Sunset windsurfer 1

Sunset windsurfer 1

This is the most color from the sunset that I could get.

Sunset windsurfer 2

Sunset windsurfer 2

So, I worked on getting a wave as it broke over the breakwater…

Sunset waves

Sunset waves

…with my best photo coming right after the sun had set.

After sunset waves

After sunset waves

With the weather here turning colder, the lagoons at the wastewater facility will soon freeze over, and most of the waterfowl will move south for the winter. Although there will be the snowy owls and more eagles there soon, I won’t be making that trip unless I have good light for photography, or some very rare bird has been spotted there. Last winter, I went almost every weekend, and on most of those trips, I had to deal with very poor light, so my photos are also poor. I can stay home and shoot bad photos, so there’s no reason for me to drive to Muskegon if all that I’m going to get is bad photos.

I may work as many hours as possible for the next few months to earn a little extra cash. I’ve been dogging it the past few months so that I could spend more time outside. With more typical Michigan winter weather, with days on end of no sunshine, I may as well work instead. I guess that’s all I have to say right now, I have some errands to run this morning, so I’d better get going.

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