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

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!

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26 responses

  1. Oh, those two big birds in flight were wonderful photographs and I really enjoyed you getting closer and closer to the Fox Squrrel.

    January 12, 2016 at 3:36 pm

    • Thank you very much Susan! I’m not going to be able to get much closer to the squirrels, I’m approaching the limits of how close my lens can focus.

      January 13, 2016 at 3:19 am

  2. Once again you are too hard on yourself and your photographs made for excellent viewing. I realise that the sun would have been helpful but even without it, there was plenty of interest. What you may not realise, becuase it is all so familiar to you, is just how interesting it is to see your lake shore and lighthouses, your woods and even your roads…..not to mention the squirrel. Keep them coming.

    January 12, 2016 at 3:54 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom, you’re too kind. The photos may have been interesting, but they weren’t that good technically because of the poor light. One of these days I’ll be in the right places at the right times and be able to really show every one what Michigan is like, and how beautiful it is.

      January 13, 2016 at 3:30 am

      • OK, I’ll wait for that perfect moment.

        January 13, 2016 at 5:54 pm

  3. I don’t think those are goldenrod seeds, but I could be wrong. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen them.
    I like the shots of the snowy landscape. With the overcast skies they look cold, just like winter is.
    I like the lighthouse shots too. The waves are amazing! Is that black and white structure in the shot of the north breakwater at Grand Haven a lighthouse that has had its top taken off? I can’t guess what it is if it isn’t.
    There are stamens and pistils showing in that shot of the red flowers so they’re flowers, but I’m not sure what ones.
    Nice shots of the swan and the egret!

    January 12, 2016 at 5:46 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! I knew that I should have fought my way through the briars to get a better look at the plants that those seeds were on. I think that they looked the way that they did because we had a soggy week before the storm and cold hit, and the moisture caused the seeds to look like that.

      It was cold the day that I shot those, believe me. Still, I would have like a little sun to put a little sparkle in the snow scenes.

      The object on the north breakwater is the modern version of a lighthouse, just a plain steel cylinder about 15 feet tall that holds a small marker light rather than a beacon. With modern navigation systems on ships today, those small lights are all that’s needed, as there are two of them, the one in the photo, and one farther inland. By lining the two lights up, you have a known compass bearing to enter the channel.

      I shot those unknown flowers in the fall, and thought that they were on a bush that had flowered in spring, then again in the fall because of how mild the fall was. I know where the bush is, I’ll have to check on it this spring.

      January 13, 2016 at 4:04 am

  4. These are all really interesting shots Jerry. I agree wholeheartedly with Mr Tootlepedal – keep them coming! The egret and heron shots are beautiful and the shoreside photos of the snow and enormous waves are amazing.

    January 12, 2016 at 7:31 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! Because the wind had just kicked up a few hours before I shot those photos, the waves hadn’t had time to build to as big as they can get, which is around thirty feet. One of these days I’ll show you some real waves breaking over the tops of the lighthouses.

      January 13, 2016 at 3:33 am

      • I look forward to that Jerry!

        January 13, 2016 at 4:21 pm

  5. Do you have problem with your camera batteries in cold weather? I find that mine don’t last as long, or even die suddenly, even in temperatures much warmer than what you experienced.

    January 12, 2016 at 8:00 pm

    • Thank you very much! Actually, because I shoot far fewer photos in the winter, the battery life for both the 7D and 60D is a little better. However, when they do die, they die quickly. But, I carry spares for both bodies. 😉

      January 13, 2016 at 3:35 am

  6. Brrrrr – have to admit that was my first response to your post, Jerry. That is one, cold, Lake Michigan you photographed. No matter how many times I see waves crashing over the pierheads, I always want to see more. Your photos were superb.

    I thought Great Blue Herons migrated south for the winter. Was this just some non-conformer, or do I have my info scrambled (hard to believe).

    Lastly, a new car! Yippee!! To me, that has always brought a little spark into life. Hope you enjoy it.

    January 12, 2016 at 10:53 pm

    • Thank you very much Judy! Yes, it was cold out there near the lake as strong as the wind was. A little better light would have helped all the photos in this post.

      No, you’re not mistaken, herons do normally migrate south for the winter. However, a few stick around until the lakes and ponds begin to freeze over and they can no longer find food. Then, they fly south too.

      And yes, I’ll love my new Subaru when it gets here, this one will be quartz blue, which I much prefer over the black one that I have now. Plus, a much nicer interior.

      January 13, 2016 at 3:41 am

  7. I know you see them often, but that fox squirrel photo is so cute! Really love the egret in flight, dragonfly, and cardinals. Also congrats on the upcoming new car, Spring will be here before you know it!

    January 12, 2016 at 11:04 pm

    • Thank you very much Donna! Yes, the squirrels are so cute that I have to continue photographing them, no matter how many images of them that I have. Since winter is already half over with, it won’t be long until spring gets here, which is my favorite time of the year.

      January 13, 2016 at 3:44 am

  8. The waterfront pix are gorgeous (though the weather looks pretty chilly!!!) I felt so bad for my ducks this morning–they had to leave their cozy coop for breakfast. Brrrr!

    January 13, 2016 at 11:47 am

    • Thank you very much Lori! It wasn’t chilly, it was down right freezing! At least your ducks have plenty of down to keep them warm.

      January 13, 2016 at 1:44 pm

      • Yes, when I pick them up to carry them to the coop, you can feel the warmth coming off them, especially under the wing. Better than gloves!!!

        January 13, 2016 at 2:26 pm

  9. Your photo series is such great fun, the squirrel is really cute.

    January 13, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    • Thank you very much Charlie!

      January 13, 2016 at 1:43 pm

  10. I sure hope that your drive for perfection doesn’t take all the pleasure out of your outings. On the other hand, your shots of the snow make me so very, very grateful that snow is such a rare event out here. I think I had more than my share of the stuff in New England and Utah, thank you! Oddly enough it gets warmer out here when it’s raining or overcast. Once the sun comes out the temperatures drop noticeably.

    January 13, 2016 at 1:41 pm

    • Thank you very much Gunta! No, I had a very enjoyable day shooting those photos, I just wish that they had turned out better. I’m no fan of snow either, at least not as much as we’re getting this week.

      January 13, 2016 at 1:48 pm

  11. I’ve just started catching up on your posts again but the comments section is closed for a few of them. I wanted to say what a wonderful post “The Year in Photos – Happy New Year” was. What an extraordinary year of photography you’ve had, Jerry! It was a fantastic collection of the diversity of your subjects and your learning through the year. I know you prefer your warmer months in general, but I have to say I love to see the winter shots. The wild wave/spray and the snow scenes look special to me as well. The bright colours of the birds stand out even more against the white background and I’ve a real fondness for your snowy owls. It would be a real treat to see them in the daytime. Seeing owls of any kind is rare for me here. The fox squirrel is adorable of course. I liked how you captured the seed shot too.

    January 19, 2016 at 8:25 pm

    • Thank you very much Jane! I have my blog set to close the comments after three days to cut down on the spam that I used to get. I wish that WordPress offered options as to how long the comments could remain open, but it’s three days or forever. Snowy owls are one of the few owls that hunt mostly during the day, that’s because the spend most of their time on the arctic tundra during the summer, where it’s light almost the full 24 hours of a day. This winter has been a mild one so far, so I’m not complaining too much, yet.

      January 20, 2016 at 11:36 am

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