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

So much for that idea

In my last post, I was contemplating taking an early retirement, but continuing to work most of the year after that, until I reached the full retirement age for me, 66 years and two months. While the calculator on the Social Security website had me believing that it could work, reality has set in. If you take an early retirement, you are locked into the lesser benefit amount for the rest of your life. By working while you’re drawing those benefits, you can increase the benefit after you do fully retire, but only for a few years, then the benefit drops back down. That’s where I went wrong, the online calculator didn’t go out for very many years, so I assumed that the higher benefits continued out for life. They don’t, they would eventually drop back down to a level that I know wouldn’t be enough for me to live on. Darn!

So, it looks as if I’m stuck working full-time until I do reach full retirement age. However, that wouldn’t stop me from saving enough money to take a leave of absence from work, to use as a longer vacation. The company that I’m working for now prides itself on giving people time off when they want it, or so they say, I guess I’ll see if that’s true, or just another one of their lies to get people to come to work for them. I’ll also say that if I die before I’m 70, I’ll regret having not taken an early retirement.

Okay, enough of that. This post will be about two trips that I took to the Muskegon area the past two weekends. I shot very few bird photos during either trip, and saved very, very few from the first trip. Yesterday’s trip was more productive, as I went to Duck Lake State Park to shoot the sunrise, and then hiked one of the trails there. I had the 60D with my 15-85 mm lens on it set-up on my good tripod to shoot the actual sunrise over Duck Lake, but I wished that I had brought everything with me from the parking lot to where I set-up, for I could have used a second tripod, camera, and lens to shoot in the opposite direction to have gotten a better photo than this one.

Lake Michigan sunrise

Lake Michigan sunrise

I shot that one with the 7D and 300 mm L series lens handheld at too low of a shutter speed, and too wide of an aperture for the shot that I really wanted. Because of those limitations, I didn’t get the beautiful pink color of the sky as well as I would have liked. But, as I said, the camera mounted on the tripod was busy capturing this image at about the same time. I spent the time right around sunrise running back and forth between Duck Lake itself, and the Lake Michigan beach there just a 100 yards away to the west.

Duck Lake sunrise

Duck Lake sunrise

You can tell by the ripples on the lake that it was a very windy morning, the ripples show even though that image is a HDR image, three long exposures blended together. Once I had shot that one, and decided it was the best that I would get, I raced under the bridge to try to get a better version of the first photo, but by then, it was too late, most of the color in the sky had faded and I settled for this one to remind me of what could have been.

Almost full moon over the Duck Lake channel

Almost full moon over the Duck Lake channel

In fact, all during the duration of the sunrise, I was shooting sunrise photos with the tripod mounted camera from time to time, and shooting other photos with the 7D and 300 mm lens handheld. I like keeping the bird/wildlife set-up with me all the time, because I never know what I’ll see. When I first got to where I set-up to shoot the sunrise, I could see raccoon tracks in the sand, and I could also see spots in the sand from water dripping off from the raccoon and they were still wet…

Raccoon tracks and water drops

Raccoon tracks and water drops

…which meant that the raccoon had passed by just before I had arrived. I may have even frightened it away as I approached in the near darkness at the time, which is why I prefer to always be prepared. However, these next photos could have been better if I had shot them correctly.

Early morning sand 1

Early morning sand 1

 

Early morning sand 2

Early morning sand 2

 

Sunrise over Duck Lake long

Sunrise over Duck Lake long

 

Rocks glowing in the sunrise

Rocks glowing in the sunrise

Yes, all four of those would have been better if I had shot them correctly, but that’s a quandary that I run into all the time. My backpack which holds all my gear is very heavy, butย it was a cold, windy morning, so I didn’t want to have to bother with everything. Besides, I don’t feel comfortable leaving that much camera gear sitting in one spot while I wander around shooting other things with the second camera, like those photos above, or the gulls flying overhead in the early morning light.

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

I shot dozens of photos of the gulls flying past me, but these are the only two that I’ll post from sunrise.

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

In fact, I have too many photos of flying gulls as it is, but the only way to stay good at bird in flight photos is to practice all the time, and gulls are easy practice subjects. I watched another online tutorial about bird in flight photography that reminded me of that fact. While I have the 7D dialed in so that it works extremely well for birds in flight, if my technique isn’t correct, then I’ll miss shots like this one.

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

That was taken later that same morning at the Bear Lake channel, but for right now, it’s back to Duck Lake just after sunrise. I waited around for a short time hoping to catch some magical light hitting the dunes there, this is the best that I came up with.

Duck Lake dune

Duck Lake dune

I went back to my vehicle after that to warm up and decide what to do next. Since I had seen many birds there while hiking the trails, I decided that a hike was called for again. Maybe it was because of the wind, but I saw very few birds, and didn’t shoot any photos of them until I was almost back to the parking lot. However, the ones that I did get…

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

…sort of made up for the lack of quantity…

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

…for these where cropped just a little for the purpose of composition more than anything…

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

…and it isn’t easy to get that close to a kinglet. I tend to forget just how much practice it takes to keep up with the very small birds in the brush, especially birds that move as quickly and as often as the kinglets do. I have half a dozen photos of them that are blurry because they were moving when the shutter went off. I finally remembered to limit myself to trying to keeping one in the frame, and let the 7D do all the work of focusing while shooting away in burst mode. If I had tried to time that last shot, I would have missed it, for the kinglet only fluffed itself like that for a split second before it turned around and flitted away.

Actually, I should have come up with a title for this post that had something to do with practice, for it seems like a long time since I’ve been out taking photos. I needed to practice to get the kinglet. I also shot some practice landscapes there at Duck Lake other than the sunrise shots.

Duck Lake birch trees

Duck Lake birch trees

 

Duck Lake pines

Duck Lake pines

And, I also practiced shooting some of the smaller things that I saw.

Colorful tree trunk

Colorful tree trunk

 

Mossy branch that looked like a turtle

Mossy branch that looked like a turtle

 

Lichens and moss

Lichens and moss

 

Looking up a hollow tree

Looking up a hollow tree

 

Moss and fungi

Moss and fungi

All of those are HDR images shot with the 60D body and 15-85 mm lens as I try tried to bring out the colors, along with getting depth to my photos. I think that the playing around in my apartment during the winter paid off. When I see these photos, they look almost exactly as I saw the scenes when I shot them.

Seeing a chipmunk…

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

…I practiced stalking it so that I could get closer and to have better light.

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

And I practiced keeping my eyes open to the other things in nature which I have not been paying enough attention to lately. I was seeing many partridge-berry plants, and I found a few that still had berries.

Partridge berry

Partridge berry

I have no idea what this next plant was, but there were a few of them growing in a ring which leads me to think that they are a parasitic plant that grew on an old tree stump underground, but I didn’t check that theory.

Unidentified once flowering object

Unidentified once flowering object

The next one is simple, it’s the edges of two chunks of ice that were floating on the lake.

Ice on Duck Lake

Ice on Duck Lake

I have no idea what this is, it could be just trash for all I can tell. However, it looked like it was emerging from the ground the way that there’s dirt on the top of it.

I have no idea

I have no idea

That wraps up my time at Duck Lake. My next stop was the Bear Lake channel, where I stopped to eat my lunch, and to watch the mallards and Pekin ducks there. Just a few quick shots of the ducks there…

Pekin ducks

Pekin ducks

…told me that the light was “dead” and that there was no reason to attempt the perfect shot of a mallard. Still, while I was there eating my lunch, whenever I had a chance to catch a mallard in flight, I did. I was attempting to fill the frame without cropping…

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

…but keeping a fast flying mallard coming in for a landing…

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

…in the frame without clipping its wings off was tough.

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

It’s obvious that I need more practice. It may have worked better if I didn’t have the camera beside me as I ate, grabbing it when a mallard took flight, as this one did, coming straight at me.

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

 

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

After playing with the ducks for a while, I headed over to the wastewater treatment facility to see what I could find there. The only thing of note was that a few of the northern shovelers had returned as they’re migrating back to the north.

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

That really didn’t surprise me, the prior week while I was there, I found very few things to photograph, and because of the light, what photos I did shoot…

Rough-legged hawk taking flight

Rough-legged hawk taking flight

…weren’t very good. That was shot just a few minutes after sunrise though…

Sunrise over the lagoon

Sunrise over the lagoon

…and as you can see, it was going to be a cloudy day. I did get a bad photo of a golden eagle though…

Golden eagle

Golden eagle

…and any day that you see a golden eagle is a good one, no matter how poor the photos of it turn out. I suppose that the same could be said of this one as well…

Red fox on the run

Red fox on the run

…but I still kicked myself for not getting a good shot of the fox. I caught it napping in the early morning light, what there was of it, but by the time I got into position to shoot a photo, it had noticed me and taken off for a safer place to sleep the day away.

I still have a few other photos from both of the trips, but I’ll save them for later, except for this one, my best image from the first trip.

Horned lark

Horned lark

I may not make it out for a walk again this week, because of the weather. Last week, we got nearly a foot of snow during the middle part of the week, but by Sunday, we set a record high for the date. It would have been a perfect early spring day, except for the winds pushing the warm air into the region. By Sunday night, it was snowing again, and we’re in for another snow storm for overnight tonight. Then, it’s supposed to warm up for next weekend, I sure hope so. This pattern that we’ve been in, with snow and cold part of the week, and warm temps for the other part is getting old. It’s better than the last two winters with just snow and cold, but I’m ready for spring. I’d like to be able to spend some quality time outside, just sitting and observing the wildlife, rather than freezing, or worrying if sand is going to be blown into my camera gear as I switch lenses.

March is coming in like a lion, this storm starting tonight is forecast to bring us another 6 to 8 inches of snow. I sure hope that this month lives up to the old saying and goes out like a lamb.

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

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21 responses

  1. Good luck with your financial plans and thanks for all those wonderful views. That was a sweet little chipmunk too.

    March 1, 2016 at 3:36 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! I knew that I had to get a good shot of the chipmunk, since I missed the few squirrels that I saw. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      March 1, 2016 at 3:51 pm

  2. So sorry that the pension plans didn’t work out. I do hope you can get some longer leave approved by your bosses! It must have been disappointing. So often those online calculators don’t give the full picture.
    I wish I could give you a little of my sunshine although I know you don’t like overly hot weather. It would be lovely as you say, to have some fine weather to just sit and observe the wildlife without getting too cold or wet. I went for a walk today and it kept being rainy and windy. I only enjoyed it because it was unusual, but if it was gloomy all the time, I’d be frustrated. Trying to keep the camera dry and the lens not fogging up was tricky. It reminded me of some of the weather you have to put up with.
    I loved the shots of the adorable golden-crowned kinglet! What a little sweety and such a beautiful picture. I also especially liked the shot of rocks glowing golden in the sunlight. It really did glow on my screen. The whole gallery was wonderful as usual. I am envious of your ability to take flying shots. I really struggle to keep them in my sight and to move the camera with them. Sympathies about the 6-8 inches of snow coming! Stay safe out there. ๐Ÿ™‚

    March 1, 2016 at 8:26 am

    • Thank you very much Jane! I knew that early retirement sounded too good to be true, and it was. I’d do okay until I hit 70, then my benefits would drop to about 2/3 of what I need to live on.

      Our cold, gloomy, snowy weather will be around for the rest of this week, but I see changes coming after that. Then, You’ll see what a sunny spring looks like in Michigan!

      Birds, especially those in flight, are never easy, but that’s why I practice as often as I do. The more that you try it, the easier it will become.

      March 1, 2016 at 4:04 pm

  3. Awesome series, Jerry! Love the mallards in flight! And the Golden-crowned kinglet captures are absolutely gorgeous, what a cutie, I’ve never seen one before. And a golden eagle, wow! Yep, seeing one of those makes the day! ๐Ÿ™‚ As to the future, you’re on a mission, so stay with it, I hope it all works out for you!!

    March 1, 2016 at 8:54 am

    • Thank you very much Donna! You’re right, I’m on a mission, and I think that this post was a giant step in the right direction, even if the subjects weren’t that unusual. I really put a lot of thought into most of the non-wildlife photos, and I’m very pleased with the results.

      March 1, 2016 at 3:50 pm

  4. Figuring out retirement isn’t easy. Sorry to hear the early retirement didn’t work. I am looking forward to it and will take it as soon as I can. Hopefully they will give you some quality time off at work.

    The photos of the area and the wildlife this time of year are beautiful. I love the one with the view up the decaying tree giant. An unusual perspective, and almost looks alive!

    March 1, 2016 at 11:28 am

    • Thank you very much Lavinia! I saw that tree and knew that there had to be a better way to photograph it than just to stand back and take a typical shot. The one I got came out better than I had hoped, which proves that I have to put more thought into my photos as I did with that one.

      March 1, 2016 at 3:48 pm

  5. Your photos on this page are so amazing, especially those of that mallard suspended in mid air. Once in a while I see them in flight, usually away from me. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Years ago, I noticed people were leaving their jobs early, some in their 50s, because they were getting nice and fat packages from their employers. Today I am told that we mayhave to work p

    March 1, 2016 at 3:11 pm

    • (continued) past retirement age because our salaries and savings have not kept up with inflation and escalating health care costs. Some have told me to keep working as long as possible. I don’t know what that “possible” is. Like you I think one should be able to enjoy some decent years of retirement before our health becomes the limiting factor.

      March 1, 2016 at 3:18 pm

      • Thank you very much! Here’s a simple trick that I learned from watching a video by Arther Morris, keep the sun and the wind at your back when you want to photograph birds in flight. Just as with airplanes, larger birds take advantage of the lift generated by the wind blowing around their wings. The mallard you liked, and others, were returning to a flock that was getting ready for their mid-day siesta. It was easy to just hang out there in the right spot, and wait until another mallard came in to land.

        Sometimes I wonder if there is a sinister motive behind the advice to hold off taking Social Security. The plan is on shaky footing financially, if people try to hold off signing up but die before they draw benefits, the plan with be financially stable longer. As for me, when I hit full retirement age I’m done working full time. I’ve been working for 50 years, I want to enjoy what’s left of my life.

        March 1, 2016 at 3:45 pm

  6. I too am sorry your early partial retirement plans didn’t work out. I hope you can get extended leave and get a good break away from home. I just loved all these shots Jerry! The mallard ones are fantastic and the little kinglet is so cute! I would love to be able to see a golden eagle but they are so rare in this country. I also liked the sand pictures, especially the second one. Spring is nearly here! We had a very mild and wet day today but it’s back to cold nights again tomorrow.

    March 1, 2016 at 4:01 pm

  7. I wondered if you hadn’t gotten some misleading info about early retirement, though I was hoping you hadn’t. But hey, what’s six more years to people who have been through as much as we have? It should pass quickly. At least I hope so.

    I love the landscape photos in this post and especially the sunrises. That last one should have a frame around it. I think you’ve found the perfect spot to get shots of those.

    I’m not sure what your unidentified plant is either. I can’t remember ever seeing one like it.

    Your chipmunks are out earlier than ours. I just saw my first one today.

    Here’s hoping for an early spring and a long life after retirement!

    March 1, 2016 at 5:15 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! The Social Security website is a bit ambiguous about things, and the calculator there only went to age 70. My plan would have worked that far out, but after that, my benefits would have dropped back off, too low to live on. Oh well.

      Yeah, my landscapes are still improving, it’s a matter of thinking things through as I look over a possible scene to shoot. I can’t wait for better weather when surveying a scene doesn’t result in frozen fingers. ๐Ÿ™‚

      My problem when I see things that I’ve never seen before is that I don’t investigate any further, I shoot a photo and wonder, rather than look for more clues as to what it is that I found. I hope that the plants are still there and that I can find them again.

      March 2, 2016 at 12:06 am

  8. Your weather is most unreasonable. How can you plan when things are like that. All the same you did manage to take your usual raft of excellent shots in between the snow storms. The golden crowned kinglet was my favourite.

    March 1, 2016 at 5:28 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! The weather here is going to get even more topsy turvy in the next week, we are getting dumped on by snow now, next week, 30 degrees above average, so all the snow will melt quickly.

      March 1, 2016 at 11:59 pm

      • The jet stream seems to be keeping your weather away from us at the moment.

        March 2, 2016 at 5:11 pm

  9. From what I understand, Social Security is secure for the next 35 years (and beyond that with very minor tweaks) UNLESS you listen to the Republican hacks who want to put Social Security into the stock market. Can you imagine relying on the crazy ups and downs of the stock market? Seriously? http://preview.tinyurl.com/zg8p46w You can also thank Reagan and the Republicans for the raised retirement age. I’ve never understood why so many folks actually vote against their own self interest.

    But enough politics. I’m loving your landscape shots of late. Don’t know why you’re so hard on yourself.

    March 1, 2016 at 10:13 pm

    • Well, when it comes to politics, I remember the Social Security plan Reagan signed as a great example of of the parties working together, since Tip O’Neil helped draft that plan first put forward by the Democrats. Maybe we should limit our conversations to photography. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      March 2, 2016 at 12:13 am

  10. Love all your wonderful photos as usual but especially the ones of the tree sparrow and the kinglet …little charmers. Sorry your retirement plans aren’t working out at the moment …maybe you should have an exhibition of your amazing work and generate enough to retire now!

    March 2, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    • Thank you very much for the kind words! My photos aren’t that good when compared to those shot by true professionals, but it’s a hobby that I enjoy immensely.

      March 3, 2016 at 12:01 am