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

Different tactics, different settings, different results?

Two nice weekends in a row! Unfortunately, it looks like that trend has passed, and that we’re going to have another cool, wet period for a while. Just a few days ago, the meteorologists were saying that it was going to stay nice through the end of April. Oh well, complaining about the weather won’t change it. At least I got to take advantage of the nicest day that we’ve had here in Michigan over the last 6 months.

On Sunday, I started at the Muskegon County wastewater facility again, thinking that I should try some different tactics to get closer to the waterfowl there, and to also use some different camera settings as well. I think that those choices worked out well enough as a test.

Male mallards in flight

Male mallards in flight

It’s great when they synchronize their wing beats, and the early morning sunlight certainly helps out too.

Male mallards in flight

Male mallards in flight

I’ve been doing foolish things, like using the same basic set-up for the 7D Mk II and the 300 mm L series lens with 1.4 X tele-converter that worked best with the 60D with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) on it for birds in flight. Not any more, I’m learning to take advantage of what the 7D Mk II can do, and do so much better than the 60D. I won’t bore you with all the details, but you should soon see an improvement in the quality of my action photos.

I had planned to shoot quite a few action photos after the way that the ducks behaved the last time that I was there, but they were much more mellow this time, spending more time feeding and less time flying around the lagoons.

But, maybe I should go back to the beginning of the day to start this. When I arrived just before first light, I could see only a few ducks, I thought that most had moved on. There weren’t enough clouds for a colorful sunrise, but I set-up and shot this one anyway, just because of the color of the Earth shadow that morning.

The Earth’s shadow or Earth shadow (also sometimes known as the dark segment) are names for the shadow that the Earth itself casts on its atmosphere. This shadow is often visible from the surface of the Earth, as a dark band in the sky near the horizon. This atmospheric phenomenon can sometimes be seen twice a day, around the times of sunset and sunrise.

Whereas the phenomenon of night (a function of being in the shadow of the Earth) is very familiar to all, the effect of the Earth’s shadow on the atmosphere is quite often visible in the sky, and yet often goes unrecognized. This shadow is visible to observers as it falls on the atmosphere of the Earth during the twilight hours. When the weather conditions and the observer’s viewing point permit a clear sight of the horizon, the shadow can be seen as a dark blue or greyish-blue band.

Assuming the sky is clear, the Earth’s shadow is visible in the opposite half of the sky to the sunset or sunrise, and is seen right above the horizon as a dark blue band. A related phenomenon is the “Belt of Venus” or “anti-twilight arch”, a pink band that is visible above the dark blue of the Earth’s shadow, in the same part of the sky. No defined line divides the Earth’s shadow and the Belt of Venus; one colored band blends into the other in the sky.

When the sun is near the horizon at sunset or sunrise, the light from the sun is red; this is because the light is reaching the observer through an especially thick layer of the atmosphere, which works as a filter, scattering all but the red light.

From the viewpoint of the observer, the red sunlight directly illuminates small particles in the lower atmosphere on the other side of the sky from the sun. The red light is back-scattered to the observer, and that is why the Belt of Venus appears pink.

Sunrise over the lagoon

Sunrise over the lagoon

Nary a duck in sight. As it grew lighter, the ducks started coming back to the lagoon, where they had been, I have no idea, but small flocks flew in from time to time.

A ducky sunrise

A ducky sunrise

The colors were too good not to shoot quite a few photos at the time, but I’ll only include one more.

Ducky sunrise 2

Ducky sunrise 2

Okay, I lied, there’s one more to share.

Bufflehead at dawn

Bufflehead at dawn

As soon as it got a little lighter, I began adjusting the settings on the camera, and shooting a few of the Bonaparte’s gulls that flew past me.

Bonaparte's gull in flight

Bonaparte’s gull in flight

This worked out okay, as they don’t fly very fast unless they have a reason to speed it up.

Bonaparte's gull in flight

Bonaparte’s gull in flight

As the sun rose higher, I moved on to faster subjects.

Bufflehead taking flight

Bufflehead taking flight

 

Gadwalls in flight

Gadwalls in flight

As a matter of fact, I tried many times to get a good photo of one of the gadwalls, as they have nicely colored patches on their wings that can only be seen when they’re flying. I never did manage a good one, this one would have been better if a northern shoveler hadn’t flown past the gadwall as I was shooting.

Male northern shoveler and gadwall

Male northern shoveler and gadwall

Most of my action photos that morning were butt shots, the ducks flying away from me, because unless I spooked them, they were content to confine their movements to swimming. I have tons of the bird portrait equivalent of the butt shot, the over the shoulder look back as the ducks swim away from me, like this lesser scaup is doing.

Male lesser scaup

Male lesser scaup

That doesn’t make it a horrible photo, you can see the purple sheen to the scaup’s head and neck, and you have a good idea of their overall colors in that as well. But, I want better, so I parked my brand new pretty blue Subaru where there were a few weeds to help obscure it from the view of the ducks, and I waited, just as I would if I were in a hide. I put the 2 X Tele-converter behind the 300 mm lens and waited a while longer. Eventually, a horned grebe swam past.

Male horned grebe

Male horned grebe

Then, I got two male bufflehead showing off their rainbow faces.

Male bufflehead

Male bufflehead

I thought that these would be my best of a male ruddy duck in full breeding plumage, I was wrong, as you’ll see later, but I still love these.

Male ruddy duck

Male ruddy duck

These are cropped much less than I usually have to crop a photo of a ruddy duck, since they are so small.

Male ruddy duck

Male ruddy duck

Occasionally, a gull would fly past, so I shot a few for practice.

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

A coot swam past me, one of hundreds, but this was the one that came the closest to me.

American coot

American coot

As a pair of northern shovelers swam past, the male had an itch that had to be scratched.

Northern shovelers

Northern shovelers

He looks much more dignified when not scratching. 🙂

Northern shovelers

Northern shovelers

Next up, a redhead duck

Male redhead duck

Male redhead duck

 

Male redhead duck

Male redhead duck

Then came the even better photos of a ruddy duck.

Male ruddy duck

Male ruddy duck

 

Male ruddy duck

Male ruddy duck

I can’t stop myself from posting these next two, as you can see how the ruddy ducks dive…

Male ruddy duck diving

Male ruddy duck diving

..with just their cute little tail out the water for a split second as they dive.

Male ruddy duck diving

Male ruddy duck diving

I suppose that I should post this one too, as it shows that a male shoveler’s head can look blue when the light is right.

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

While I may have better images of each of these species, I have never gotten as many good images of all of them in one day before. That goes for the flying gulls as well.

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

I was also trying different settings when using the 2 X extender, to get these photos as sharp as they are, every little bit helps. That goes for these, also.

Killdeer

Killdeer

This horned lark didn’t show his horns, instead, he sang for me!

Male horned lark singing

Male horned lark singing

I wished that I had been ready to shoot a video to also capture the lark’s cheery song, but I wasn’t quick enough. 😦

I stopped at what are known as the clay ponds, where I saw a pie-billed grebe, but it saw me at the same time, which made for this photo.

Pie-billed grebe sinking out of sight

Pie-billed grebe sinking out of sight

Other waterfowl will fly, still others will dive, but pie-billed grebes will most often just sink straight down out of sight, as this one was doing.

I did catch a female belted kingfisher in flight though.

Female belted kingfisher

Female belted kingfisher

As well as this double-crested cormorant.

Double-crested cormorant in flight

Double-crested cormorant in flight

The biggest surprise of the day was this great horned owl, although I didn’t get a clear shot of it.

Great horned owl

Great horned owl

That could be because as I was trying to sneak up on it from behind, a flock of crows were in full attack mode from the front. I tried for a photo, but the owl stuck to flying in cover as much as it could, here’s the best that I could do.

Great horned owl being mobbed by crows

Great horned owl being mobbed by crows

You can just make out one of the owl’s wings to the left of the power pole as two crows dive on it, with a third crow circling for another attack.

Crows will mob most predators, but they have a special hatred for great horned owls, because the owls are the number one killer of crows. You can tell when crows are mobbing an owl, just by the crows’ “voices”, which are a call to action to every other crow in the area. Plenty of crow reinforcements were on their way, but the pine trees in the photo above were on the other side of a creek from me. To get closer, I had to go back to my vehicle and circle around to find a bridge, by that time, the owl and crows had moved on.

My last photos from the wastewater facility are two of red-tailed hawks, one was perched…

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

…the other did a fly by.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

A quick check of the headquarters area of the Muskegon State Game Area didn’t produce any bird photos, just these signs of spring.

Poplar catkin

Poplar catkin

 

Spring beauties

Spring beauties

 

Spring beauties

Spring beauties

From the SGA, I headed to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, where I shot this image of a chickadee that didn’t need to be cropped at all.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

By then, it was early afternoon, and not many birds active, but I found two more…

Yellow-Romped warbler

Yellow-Romped warbler

…and an eastern phoebe gathering twigs for its nest.

Eastern phoebe

Eastern phoebe

I spent most of my time there on the boardwalk over the marshy area looking a Virginia rail that had been seen there earlier in the week, or the marsh wren that I had heard several weeks ago. I could hear rustling sounds in the reeds and cattails, and occasionally hear splashing sounds, along with seeing the vegetation moving, but all I could find was this muskrat hiding as it groomed itself.

Muskrat

Muskrat

The last photo from this day was also a surprise.

Scilla or Siberian squill?

Scilla or Siberian squill?

I’m not sure of my identification of the flower, as I didn’t know that any of them grew here in Michigan.

All in all, a very good day. It’s too bad that this coming weekend looks to be cloudy with rain, as I was spoiled by this one day.

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

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25 responses

  1. Wow, you have surpassed yourself, those pictures with reflections especially the buffleheaded duck, how did you do it!

    April 23, 2016 at 4:04 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! I paid more attention than ever to the light, and only shot photos when I had the best light.

      April 23, 2016 at 1:12 pm

  2. Great post, great shots.

    April 23, 2016 at 6:07 am

    • Thank you very much Victor!

      April 23, 2016 at 1:12 pm

  3. Synchronized wing beats and reflections, very nice!

    April 23, 2016 at 7:04 am

    • Thank you very much Bob!

      April 23, 2016 at 1:12 pm

  4. Terrific shots and impressive variety of subjects!

    April 23, 2016 at 7:12 am

    • Thank you very much Belinda! I’m fortunate to live in the area that I do where there is the variety of subjects.

      April 23, 2016 at 1:18 pm

  5. I can never tire of looking at these pictures and following your account. Those of flying ducks and birds are so well done, a new high bar for me to aim for. Thank you for sharing!

    April 23, 2016 at 7:27 am

    • Thank you very much for the kind words! I spent less time shooting photos this time, and more time observing the waterfowl as I waited for them to come closer to me. That, and I positioned myself to get the best light possible.

      April 23, 2016 at 1:29 pm

  6. I love the silkiness of the water in some of these shots and the rising sun coloring the mallards is beautiful.
    I’ve seen the earth’s shadow a thousand times but never really paid much attention to it. Now that your post has tuned me in to it I’ll have to be more aware. There’s just so much to see!
    I love the thought of the Pie-billed grebe just sinking out of sight. It’s a great way to avoid predators and conserve energy at the same time. That’s a great illustrative shot of it.
    Getting shots of spring beauties in full sunlight is no easy thing to do, but you managed to show them in all their splendor. They’re so worth spreading yourself out on the ground to see.
    That last flower is a scilla, which is also called Siberian squill. They’re a fall planted bulb like a tulip, so they can grow virtually anywhere. What interests me about that particular plant in your photo is where it grew. They’re very invasive in places like Minnesota and have apparently escaped into the wild, which is something I’ve never heard of them doing here in New England. If the plant in your photo was just off in the woods somewhere, then they’re probably doing the same in Michigan that they are in Minnesota, and that would be too bad.

    April 23, 2016 at 9:54 am

    • Thank you very much Allen! Dawn is such a great time to be outdoors, with the colors of the sky and the great light for photos, but I’ve always been a morning person.

      I had forgotten, but the pie-billed grebes can trap water in their feathers to control their buoyancy, which is how they sink straight down without moving. Since they don’t create a disturbance in the water when they do that, they are less likely to attract the attention of a predator, or to spook their prey as they dive for fish and crawfish.

      I cheated on the spring beauty photos, those are HDR images again. I love how the software removes the harshest shadows and renders the most true to life colors that I have ever gotten in photos before. No matter how I got the images though, you’re right, it was wonderful to lay down near a patch of them and admire them for a while as I picked and chose which ones to photograph.

      I’ve never seen the scilla here in Michigan before. The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve used to be an industrial landfill of sorts, for mostly broken concrete, rocks, and a few other things from what I can tell. They were trying to slowly fill in a marsh to use the land for other purposes. I think that when it was turned into a nature preserve, that they simply bulldozed a bit of topsoil over the rubble, and the bulb could have gotten there that way. Since I know what they look like now, thanks to your blog, I’ll keep an eye out for them.

      April 23, 2016 at 1:50 pm

  7. Great shots one and all. Had to chuckle at the grebe sinking into the water. My friend pointed out that behavior when we were at a wildlife refuge in Nevada. Great adaptations to catch in action!

    April 23, 2016 at 12:53 pm

    • Thank you very much Gunta! It wasn’t so funny when I was first trying to photograph the grebes and they’d sink out of sight, but now that I have a few good photos of them, I love watching them disappear that way.

      April 23, 2016 at 1:52 pm

  8. A great picture of the chickadee among a wealth of fine ducks and handsome flowers. The sunrise over the lagoon was a real treat too with the delicate blending in of the colours. I definitely think that you are beginning to get the hang of taking pictures. 🙂

    April 23, 2016 at 5:14 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! One of these days, I may get to be as good as you are.

      April 23, 2016 at 5:51 pm

      • Ha. When I have your patience and good eye and attention to detail, I may perhaps take a decent picture.

        April 24, 2016 at 5:33 pm

  9. I join everyone else in congratulating you on such a fine post. The flying bird shots and the flowers are superb. I am sorry the weather isn’t supposed to have been good enough for you to go out this weekend.

    April 23, 2016 at 7:00 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I’ll be out this weekend, but the weather forecast is for cloudy and cool, so my photos probably won’t be as good as they were in this post.

      April 24, 2016 at 1:34 am

  10. The photos just keep getting better and better, Jerry! The mallards in flight have taken on a beautiful golden hue with the lighting. Thanks for the lesson on Earth shadow and pink Venus belt. I have seen these so often but never really considered what phenomena formed them. Wonderful post. Thank you!

    April 24, 2016 at 8:52 pm

    • Thank you very much Lavinia! I wasn’t sure if I should explain the phenomenon that create the Earth shadow and Venus belt, or just let them be the beautiful mystery that they were to me until I looked up why they occur.

      April 25, 2016 at 3:46 am

  11. It’s such a treat to sit in front of the computer with a full screen and scroll down and just enjoy your wonderful photos- then to start at the beginning again and read your interesting and informative post. Thank you for sharing these delights.

    April 25, 2016 at 3:09 am

    • Thank you very much! I admire your willingness to scroll through any of my long-winded posts twice, I have a hard time doing that as I’m doing the final edits.

      April 25, 2016 at 3:44 am

  12. The two mallard in flight, simply wow!

    April 26, 2016 at 8:08 am

    • Thank you very much!

      April 26, 2016 at 1:24 pm