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

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…

Grey squirrel basking in the sun

Grey squirrel basking in the sun

…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!

Cottontail rabbit

Cottontail rabbit

The way that the day started…

A foggy sunrise

A foggy sunrise

…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.

Northern shovelers taking flight

Northern shovelers taking flight

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.

Northern shovelers taking flight

Northern shovelers taking flight

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.

Male northern shoveler in flight

Male northern shoveler in flight

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.

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

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.

Male bufflehead taking flight

Male bufflehead taking flight

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.

Male bufflehead taking flight

Male bufflehead taking flight

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.

Male bufflehead in flight

Male bufflehead in flight

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.

Horned lark

Horned lark

I shot a few more photos while at the wastewater facility, and here they are.

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

 

Female gadwall in flight

Female gadwall in flight

 

Redheads

Redheads

 

Killdeer making little ones

Killdeer making little ones

 

Killdeer pair

Killdeer pair

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.

Early honeysuckle leaves

Early honeysuckle leaves

I also shot a number of catkins? opening, but I forgot which of these were on what trees.

Willow catkin?

Willow catkin?

 

Willow catkin?

Willow catkin?

 

???Catkin

???Catkin

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.

Black-capped chickadee and maple flowers

Black-capped chickadee and maple flowers

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.

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

I paid more attention to how well the other guy’s outfit functioned than the birds at first, but then I got serious.

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

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.

The first bumblebee of 2016

The first bumblebee of 2016

 

The first bumblebee of 2016

The first bumblebee of 2016

 

Red squirrel eating willow catkins

Red squirrel eating willow catkins

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.

Another bee

Another bee

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.

Crocus

Crocus

 

Moss

Moss

I spotted the resident pair of red-tailed hawks doing a little pair bonding, but they were quite a way away from me.

Red-tailed hawks flirting

Red-tailed hawks flirting

 

Red-tailed hawks flirting

Red-tailed hawks flirting

One of them headed my way, and this is the resulting photo.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

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.

Turkey

Turkey gobbling

 

Common goldeneye

Common goldeneye

 

Mallard

Mallard

 

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

 

Eastern phoebe

Eastern phoebe

 

Downy woodpecker

Downy woodpecker

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!

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35 responses

  1. Great set!

    April 15, 2016 at 12:37 am

    • Thank you very much Michael!

      April 15, 2016 at 2:48 pm

  2. The photos are great, Jerry! They just get better and better!

    I think we may have escaped an April snow in my part of western Oregon. I am at about 800 ft here on the farm. Spring is well underway with leaf, bud and flower.

    April 15, 2016 at 12:42 am

    • The you very much Lavinia! Any one who escaped the snow this April was very fortunate!

      April 15, 2016 at 2:50 pm

  3. Loved not only one but two squirrels and the rabbit was great too. Lots of well photographed birds and a dash of colour, what more could a person want.

    April 15, 2016 at 4:22 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! A nice landscape photo or two would have been a good addition to this collection.

      April 15, 2016 at 2:51 pm

  4. Some very nice shots, love the Horned Lark!

    April 15, 2016 at 4:52 am

    • Thank you very much Bob!

      April 15, 2016 at 2:52 pm

  5. I enjoyed every word and every photo of your “rush” job. That shot of the Horned Lark is awesome. Someone pointed them out to me one day, but they were too far away and I never got a good enough shot to see what they are like. I agree with you on a full-frame camera, and maybe the new Canon 5D Mark IV will be a good one to get, if its price won’t be out of this world.

    April 15, 2016 at 7:41 am

    • Thank you very much! The horned larks around here aren’t as people shy as most species of birds are. They look plain from a distance, the closer you get, the more of their subtle colors you can see.

      I agree about the 5D Mk IV, I’m waiting to see what Canon has in mind.

      April 15, 2016 at 2:55 pm

  6. Terrific post!

    April 15, 2016 at 8:10 am

    • Thank you very much Belinda!

      April 15, 2016 at 2:56 pm

  7. Love those running takeoff ducks! They look like a caricature you’d see in a ‘hurry up and get this great deal’ ad. I really enjoyed your observations about the way different ducks launch from the water. No wonder you are able to get such great photos – you are starting to think like a duck.

    Heard the temps there are going to creep up into the 70s this weekend. That should give spring that big kick-start you’ve been waiting for. Enjoy – you’ve earned it.

    April 15, 2016 at 10:21 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! Yes, you’re right, the running ducks do look like they could be used in an ad. I may not think like a duck yet, but I’m working on it. It helps if I’m able to anticipate what’s going to happen.

      Yes, the weather this weekend is supposed to be close to perfect, and if it is, I hope to enjoy every second of it that I’m able to.

      April 15, 2016 at 3:03 pm

  8. “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.”

    John Shaw always said that the best way to become a better nature photographer was to become a better naturalist. Sounds as though you’re embodying that advice.

    April 15, 2016 at 12:53 pm

    • Thank you very much Kerry! I hadn’t heard of John Shaw before, but he is correct. But, the opposite holds true as well, the better nature photographer one is, the better the naturalist they can become. I love being able to blow up a photo to learn what critters eat, or to freeze the action in a photo to learn how critters do the things that they do, so it works both ways.

      April 15, 2016 at 3:05 pm

  9. Love all the photos especially the horned lark! Your photographs are an amazing resource – I’m learning so much about birds that I didn’t even know existed! Thank you.

    April 15, 2016 at 3:32 pm

    • Thank you very much! I love learning about the things in nature, and hope to pass what I learn along to others.

      April 15, 2016 at 11:34 pm

  10. The ducks must have very strong wings to explode out of the water like that even with surface tension holding them back.
    I’m with the others; I like that shot of the horned lark too. It’s a bird I’ve never seen.
    I think those are all willow catkins but I never knew squirrels ate them. I’d better get out there tomorrow before they’re all gone!
    That’s a great shot of the crocuses too. The light was perfect for them.
    I hope you get your fair share of good weather. Ours has been running the same as yours but we’re supposed to see a warm weekend too. Happy hunting!

    April 15, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! Yes, the ducks have very strong muscles for their wings, which is why they are among the fastest flyers in straight, level flight. I like the larks also, they look like plain brown birds from a distance, but they have a lot of purple or lavender to them as well.

      I really must pay more attention to what I’m photographing, but I was working very hard to get the photos that I did on a windy day that I forgot to note what I was shooting, other than they looked beautiful to me. I hope that our weekend is as good as ours is forecast to be, I can’t wait to see what you find!

      April 15, 2016 at 11:41 pm

  11. So many lovely birds. Very nice photos.

    April 15, 2016 at 5:50 pm

    • Thank you very much!

      April 15, 2016 at 11:41 pm

  12. I enjoyed your illustrated essay on duck take offs. The horned lark was a striking image and the vegetables towards the end were as good as the animals.

    April 15, 2016 at 6:03 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! I try to include something for every one.

      April 15, 2016 at 11:41 pm

  13. I love the shot of the male Northern Shoveler exploding out of the water. This is a great post despite you rushing to finish it; full of information and beautiful and interesting shots.

    April 15, 2016 at 6:32 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! There are times when I wonder if any one else would be interested in the same things that interest me, like how various species of waterfowl take flight. I’m glad that you found those photos interesting too.

      April 15, 2016 at 11:44 pm

      • It fascinates me too. I was watching what I thought were mallards on a pond a few years ago. They were a long way off and I didn’t have my binoculars with me. It was only when they took off by running across the water that I realised they weren’t mallards at all though at the time I wasn’t sure what made me think that. I went and did some research and found that some ducks leap straight out the water like mallards and some need to have a run at it. It was a real eye-opener for me at the time.

        April 16, 2016 at 6:14 pm

      • The more that I learn, the more I’m fascinated by nature, and the more that I’d like to learn, I think that you’re the same.

        April 16, 2016 at 6:53 pm

      • Yes I believe I am!

        April 16, 2016 at 7:01 pm

  14. Great observation about the female taking flight before the male! And i loved that first photo of the first bumblebee. Best, Babsje)

    April 18, 2016 at 12:26 am

    • Thank you very much Babsje!

      April 18, 2016 at 2:17 am

  15. So many stunning captures, Jerry!

    April 21, 2016 at 9:26 pm

    • Thank you very much Donna!

      April 21, 2016 at 11:15 pm

  16. Amazing photos of amazing creatures..Cheers.

    April 23, 2016 at 1:00 pm

    • Thank you very much!

      April 23, 2016 at 1:50 pm