Turning the corner, again!
It looks like our winter is finally over here in Michigan, although one can’t be absolutely sure of that until the middle of May. We got more snow during the first two weeks of April than we got in the months of November and December combined this winter. It was cold enough for snow yesterday during most of the day, but it began to warm up in the afternoon, so the snow changed over to a steady rain for the rest of the day, with the temperature just above freezing. I spent the day cleaning my apartment and doing some other chores, so I suppose that the day wasn’t completely wasted.
I woke up this morning (Monday) and was surprised to see that the temperature had continued to rise overnight, and that it’s as warm outside as it has been over these last few weeks of winter. The forecast for the next week is for the temperature to climb to average, or maybe even a little above, but best of all, little to no precipitation in any form for the next week. That’s good, we need to dry out around here, as we’ve received far more precipitation than average so far this year. Best of all, I should have some sunshine for a change when I get outside to shoot a few photos this week, I hope.
Well, I did make it outside on Monday, our first sunny day in what seems like forever. I didn’t shoot many photos, at least not by my typical standards, but I think that most of the wildlife was recovering from winter’s last gasps. Take this grey squirrel for example…
…it wanted to spread out on the roof of a storage building at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve and nap while absorbing the heat from the sun hitting the roof, but some fool photographer kept disturbing its nap. 🙂
Even the rabbits were out in broad daylight taking in the sun!
The way that the day started…
…I was afraid that the fog that formed right about dawn would hold on most of the day. I’ve taken more dramatic sunrise photos in the past, but I love that one, I think that I did a good job of capturing the mood of the day at that time.
Being the complete idiot that I am, I decided that waterfowl portraits wouldn’t come out well, because of the fog and low light, so instead, I went for more action shots.
It’s hard for me to remember that just a few years ago, I had difficulty identifying many of the ducks in Michigan. Then, I began the My Photo Life List project, where I’m trying to get photos of every species of bird regularly seen in Michigan. But even before that, I found that I was learning a great deal about the behavior of birds and wildlife from my attempts to photograph them. That hasn’t changed at all, in fact, when I think about it, almost every photo that I shoot teaches me at least a little about wildlife behavior.
A few months ago, I did a post on the fact that it gets easier to identify birds the more often that one sees them. I’m to the point now that I can make a pretty good guess as to the species of a duck even when the light is so low that my eyes can’t discern any colors. Because I’ve seen the ducks through the viewfinder of my camera so many times, I can tell by the size, shape, and profile of a duck what species it is. Then there’s behavior, and that’s where the photo above comes in.
I noted in an earlier post that mallards and blue-winged teal, to name two species, launch themselves nearly straight up out of the water when they’re taking off. As you have seen in recent posts, other species, such as the bufflehead and ruddy ducks, run across the surface of the water to build up speed as they take off. The northern shovelers are somewhere in the middle. They don’t run to gain speed, they burst out of the water, but at a lower angle than mallards or the blue-winged teal. That’s another way of identifying waterfowl at a distance or in low light.
So, I wanted to catch a northern shoveler at the point of take-off to show you what I mean. Unfortunately, the birds don’t burst into flight on cue. I’d point the camera at a duck, just waiting for it to take off, and they never did, or I was too slow on the shutter release to get the shot that I wanted if they did take off. Even more frustrating were the times when I held the camera on a duck until I decided that it wasn’t going to fly, and as soon as I lowered the camera, off it went.
Then it dawned on me, the females take flight before the males 99% of the time, maybe more, and that pretty much applies to all species of waterfowl.
Applying that knowledge, I’d get a focus lock on a male with a partner, and as soon as I heard her take off, I’d start shooting, which resulted in this photo.
I got what I was after! That’s just as the first flap of its wings lifted the shoveler out of the water, and you can see the angle at which he is moving. I even got a good bonus shot.
I tried again later in the day when the light was better, but by then, it was siesta time for the ducks, and they’d just look at me as they swam away from me.
Anyway, once you learn a little about the ducks, it becomes much easier to identify them even at long distances.
But, there’s more to learn than just that. I shot this photo a few weeks ago, but I didn’t post it here as I didn’t think any one else would be interested. Maybe you’re not, but here it is anyway.
Two things struck me about that photo, one, male bufflehead have pink feet, which I didn’t know before. Two, I was amazed at the amount of water that the bufflehead is displacing with its feet in that photo, when I first saw the photo, my thought was that they must have very strong legs for such a small duck. Then, I shot this one on Monday.
Wow! Look at the size of those feet, they’re larger than a mallard’s feet, and a mallard is almost twice the size of a bufflehead. No wonder the little buggers can move so much water when they’re taking off, big, strong legs and feet, and that makes sense, since they dive for their food, and mallards seldom do. And because they use their powerful legs to get airborne, they can have shorter, more compact wings which is also helpful while they are diving.
Oh, I got a good bonus shot to go with that one too.
I’ll admit that the things that I learn through photography are not great earthshaking things that would warrant more scientific study, but what I do learn are the little things that aren’t included in most field guides about birds for example. In my observations and efforts to get closer to wildlife, I do pick up on things, such as the fact that it is almost always the females that bolt first when danger approaches. The more that I learn about bird behavior by trying to photograph them, the easier it becomes to get better photos, and the better that my photos become, the more that I learn about the birds.
Anyway, after several years of trying, I finally got a good photo of a horned lark that shows how they came by their name.
I shot a few more photos while at the wastewater facility, and here they are.
I wasn’t having much luck getting close to any of the birds at the wastewater facility, so I headed over to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve to see what I could find there. The first thing that I noticed is that the honeysuckle bushes are beginning to leaf out.
I also shot a number of catkins? opening, but I forgot which of these were on what trees.
I’m going to have to learn which plants are which, then shoot photos of more of the plants to remind me of what parts go with which plant. Maybe one of these days I’ll have the time to learn plants the way that I’m trying to learn birds and photography now.
The chickadees were out in force, and I wanted to catch one with maple flowers in the same shot, this was the best that I could do.
A little later on, I bumped into another bird photographer that I have spoken to a few times in the past when we were birding the same places. He couldn’t resist showing me his new camera and lens for birding, a Nikon D810 camera with a Nikon 200-500 mm lens. The D810 is the high-resolution camera body that doesn’t have a low pass filter, and I have to say, you can really see an improvement in the amount of details that the Nikon captured when compared to what my 7D Mk II does.
That’s not really a fair comparison though, my 7D is a crop sensor body, while the Nikon 810 is a full frame camera.
While we were chatting, we were shooting photos of golden-crowned kinglets in the brush near us.
I paid more attention to how well the other guy’s outfit functioned than the birds at first, but then I got serious.
I would say that the 7D was quicker to focus on the birds, as was expected, but when the other guy got a photo of one of these quick little buggers, the image quality was noticeably better, as you would also expect. All in all, we spent around a half an hour chatting about birds, places to go, and photography while shooting the kinglets, a very pleasant way to spend the early part of the afternoon. Seeing the images produced by the full frame sensor Nikon body only strengthened my resolve to add a full frame sensor body to my arsenal of camera gear, one of these days.
Anyway, I managed to make it outside on Thursday after work to shoot these images.
I wanted a better photo of the red squirrel, but a person walking their dog spooked the squirrel, so that was the best that I could do quickly.
The weather forecast for this coming weekend looks to be about perfect, with sunny, pleasantly warm days, and cool nights. So, I’m going to use up all the photos that I have saved for posting, but hadn’t posted yet. These are the ones left from around home.
I spotted the resident pair of red-tailed hawks doing a little pair bonding, but they were quite a way away from me.
One of them headed my way, and this is the resulting photo.
This next batch of photos are ones that I shot in the Muskegon area, but didn’t have the room in my previous posts to insert them.
This post was kind of a rush job, I haven’t had much time to work on it, sorry about that. But, with the great weather forecast, I’m sure that I’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors the next few days shooting more photos, so I won’t have time to do much blogging then, either.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!