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

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!

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39 responses

  1. selah

    lovely and interesting photos. That hawk looks very close to the Canada Goose, and what is that the seagull is eating?

    January 4, 2016 at 10:50 am

    • Thank you very much Selah! The falcon was close to the goose, which is why I posted those photos. I don’t know what the gull was eating, more than likely, something that it picked up at the landfill nearby.

      January 4, 2016 at 1:29 pm

  2. Wow, Jerry. Your Christmas moon shot is incredible. The light on the power lines and rocks on the left side is stunning.

    So, is the snowy owl a migrant? So nice if her to let you get those gorgeous photos. It must be terrifying to be a mouse and see those yellow eyes bearing down on you in your last moments.

    And the falcon/goose sequence is very interesting. I’ve learned a lot about avian behavior from your blog.

    Don’t work too hard. Hope decent weather is coming your way.

    January 4, 2016 at 11:32 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! I worked hard to get the light reflecting off from the rocks, but what I think you saw as power lines is really the railing that runs along the breakwater.

      Yes, the snowy owls are migrants, a few fly down to spend the winter here, mostly first year males. When they return to the tundra, they’ll stake out their own breeding territory and find a mate.

      Even though I’m trying to get better photos, the real purpose of my blog remains to show people things in nature that most people seldom see, such as a peregrine falcon with a bulging crop interacting with a goose.

      January 4, 2016 at 1:27 pm

      • Duh, of course those aren’t power lines (I need to get out more)

        As an educator, you get an A+

        January 4, 2016 at 8:51 pm

      • Thanks again! That’s one of the reasons that I’d like to be able to display larger versions of my images, so people could actually see everything in them. One of the reasons that I chose to shoot from where I did was to get the reflections on the railings.

        January 5, 2016 at 4:53 am

  3. I think that part of why your animal photos have such personality is that you are capturing them in the wild. It’s also your eye/timing/equipment but the location sure does contribute. The goose/falcon series just amazing–love seeing these unexpected scenes! The most beautiful photo, though, has to be that lighthouse/breakwater shot. Gorgeous!!!

    January 4, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    • Thank you very much Lori! I do have the knack for catching an animal’s personality, which I hope that I don’t lose as I try for better photos of those moments. If I had been sure what the sunset was going to be, I would have gone to a different spot where I could have gotten a real lighthouse in the frame.

      January 4, 2016 at 1:21 pm

  4. Those lighthouse shots are uniquely amazing!

    January 4, 2016 at 12:59 pm

    • Thank you very much! I put the 7D’s features to work for me in the wave photos, shooting at higher ISO and using the high burst rate to catch the waves at the right time.

      January 4, 2016 at 1:18 pm

  5. Amazing images and nice to hear you are working on macro.

    January 4, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    • Thank you very much Victor!

      January 4, 2016 at 1:17 pm

  6. Not a big fan of birdfeeder shots either but it’s larger because I love being out in nature and if a good shot of a bird happens along, so much the better. Love the Snowy Owl!

    January 4, 2016 at 1:10 pm

    • Thank you very much Bob! Gotta love the snowys, I’m lucky to see so many of them.

      January 4, 2016 at 1:16 pm

  7. Gorgeous photos, a wonderful reminder to get out and walk more in 2016.

    January 4, 2016 at 1:21 pm

    • Thank you very much Charlie!

      January 4, 2016 at 1:29 pm

  8. Those are some incredible shots, Jerry! All very beautiful photos.

    I saw what I think was a small group of Wilson’s Snipes probing about in a drainage area out by the line of apple trees near the house. The book I consulted on birds of the Willamette Valley says they are regular winter visitors here. I have not seen the ones I think are Dunlins, so far, this winter.

    January 4, 2016 at 1:30 pm

    • Thank you very much Lavinia! Wilson’s snipe are cool birds which I wish hung around here more than a few weeks on their way north or south.

      January 4, 2016 at 3:36 pm

  9. Amazing virtual tour! Nice photos! Bye. Kamila

    January 4, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    • Thank you very much Kamila!

      January 4, 2016 at 3:36 pm

  10. I was really interested in your series of shots of the peregrine taking off into the wind. The out of focus one was clear enough for me to see what you had described. I am looking forward to seeing the results of your experiments in photographing lichen and fungi as landscape. So many lovely bird photos (I loved the goose and peregrine sequence!) and the breaker over the lighthouse is a beauty!

    January 4, 2016 at 4:33 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare. My photos don’t always come out great, but I do seem to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time to get some interesting shots of birds in action.

      January 5, 2016 at 4:38 am

      • You do! 🙂

        January 5, 2016 at 6:02 pm

  11. What a feast of excellent photographs, I enjoyed the snowy owl in flight the best.

    January 4, 2016 at 5:00 pm

    • Thank you very much Susan! I hope to improve on the images I’ve gotten of the owls so far, if I can get a few more days with good light.

      January 5, 2016 at 4:39 am

  12. The thing that the people who go to zoos and animal farms will never have is a real deep knowledge of animal behavior. There are thousands of nuances in nature that can only be learned by being in nature, and no matter what their photos might show they’ll never be able to describe what they see as well as someone who lives it can. Nature is an excellent teacher, but only if you attend outdoor classes.
    I’m not sure if the yellow flowers are woodland sunflowers. There are so many that look almost alike that it’s just about impossible to tell from a photo.
    I can’t tell if those are yarrow leaves either. They almost look like young Queen Anne’s lace leaves, but I’m not sure.
    One thing I am sure of is the hugeness of those waves as tall as that lighthouse! That’s really something, especially when you remember that we’re looking at a lake.
    I like that shot of the mushrooms. They look like deadly galerina mushrooms (Galerina autumnalis,) so I hope you never sample any!
    Nice shots of the owl, woodpecker and crow!
    I’m glad that winter is treating you kindly. It doesn’t look like you got too much snow.

    January 4, 2016 at 5:46 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! You’re right, the people who go to zoos or animal farms learn very little about nature, but they do set the bar very high when it comes to photographs. It’s hard enough to get a photo of a peregrine falcon in the wild, there’s no way I can do as well as some one shooting a falcon perched on the handler’s arm.

      I did a lot of research last year and identified the three sunflowers growing wild around the park that I walk in, but I no longer remember which of the three that photo was of.

      They could be Queen Anne’s lace leaves, I’m going from memory since there’s no flowers present, but that shot was from where I see the most yarrow flowers during the summer.

      Yeah, Lake Michigan is a lake, only because it’s freshwater, it’s over twice as large as the entire state of New Hampshire in area. You should see it when the waves are big, those were just moderate waves.
      No, not too much snow so far this year, but that’s about to change as the lake effect snow machine gets wound up next week. Something that I’m not looking forward to at all.

      January 5, 2016 at 5:23 am

  13. I would hang my head in shame at my lack of get up and go compared with you but luckily you can’t see me because I am hiding behind a bird feeder. I am not a naturalist at all so it is very good for me to be able to see the results of all your hard work in your posts. I always look forward to them. Your photography tips are handy too.

    January 4, 2016 at 6:04 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! I suppose that it’s a matter of to each their own. I’d no more think about a 50 mile ride on a bicycle than I would jumping off from the Empire State Building, but you can’t see me, as I’m tucked down in the brush waiting for a bird to perch near me. 😉

      January 5, 2016 at 4:42 am

  14. Fantastic captures, Jerry! I loved the Peregrine falcon and Canada goose series, what fun to see what occurs when two species come together rather quickly and unplanned. And the Snowy Owl, WOW, I still am envious of all who get to capture one of those beauties. Well done! 🙂

    January 4, 2016 at 8:46 pm

    • Thank you very much Donna! As much as I’d like to spend time in your area to see the incredible amount of waterfowl there, West Michigan does afford me many chances to get photos many other people can’t. A peregrine falcon and a snowy owl on the same day, along with a few eagles that I didn’t post photos of is pretty darned good day.

      January 5, 2016 at 4:45 am

      • not a good day….. A GREAT DAY!! 🙂

        January 5, 2016 at 3:17 pm

  15. Excellent blog, as always, Jerry! i wish I could position myself to catch better in-flight shots at my favorite lake, but to do that I’d have to go wading in a peat bog. I’ve tried getting back there, but it’s so bad I almost lost my wellies. Guess I’ll just have to keep waiting for the wind to shift! Until then, I’ll just keep admiring your beautiful flight shots. 🙂

    January 4, 2016 at 9:13 pm

    • Thank you very much Jan! Peat bogs are great for wildlife, not so great for humans to walk through. Despite what you’ve said here, you get some great bird in flight photos from around the lake.

      January 5, 2016 at 4:56 am

  16. Many of my photos of birds (especially close ups) are taken near feeders. I do this only during winter months (Dec-Feb). I know, I haven’t mention each time but I neither said I took them into the wild.

    I like very much Canada geese in flight.

    January 9, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    • Thank you very much Cornell! I don’t think that you have to mention that the photos were shot at or near a feeder in every post, most of us can remember that. I’ll have to see if I can find one of the videos that really got my goat on that subject.

      January 9, 2016 at 3:53 pm

  17. Beautiful blog you have here! I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit and had no idea that snowy owls and bald eagles ever visited the Lower Peninsula – thank you for the gorgeous ornithology lesson!

    January 16, 2016 at 4:54 pm

    • Thank you very much! I live near Grand Rapids, on the west side of Michigan, and the snowy owls and eagles were photographed near Muskegon. However, there are now snowy owls at the GR airport most winters, and several pair of eagles nesting along the Grand River.

      January 16, 2016 at 5:52 pm

      • Very cool! I hope one day to get a glimpse of such majestic birds…

        January 17, 2016 at 10:10 am