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.
It’s great when they synchronize their wing beats, and the early morning sunlight certainly helps out too.
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.
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.
The colors were too good not to shoot quite a few photos at the time, but I’ll only include one more.
Okay, I lied, there’s one more to share.
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.
This worked out okay, as they don’t fly very fast unless they have a reason to speed it up.
As the sun rose higher, I moved on to faster subjects.
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.
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.
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.
Then, I got two male bufflehead showing off their rainbow faces.
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.
These are cropped much less than I usually have to crop a photo of a ruddy duck, since they are so small.
Occasionally, a gull would fly past, so I shot a few for practice.
A coot swam past me, one of hundreds, but this was the one that came the closest to me.
As a pair of northern shovelers swam past, the male had an itch that had to be scratched.
He looks much more dignified when not scratching. 🙂
Next up, a redhead duck
Then came the even better photos of a ruddy duck.
I can’t stop myself from posting these next two, as you can see how the ruddy ducks dive…
..with just their cute little tail out the water for a split second as they dive.
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.
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.
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.
This horned lark didn’t show his horns, instead, he sang for me!
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.
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.
As well as this double-crested cormorant.
The biggest surprise of the day was this great horned owl, although I didn’t get a clear shot of it.
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.
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…
…the other did a fly by.
A quick check of the headquarters area of the Muskegon State Game Area didn’t produce any bird photos, just these signs of spring.
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.
By then, it was early afternoon, and not many birds active, but I found two more…
…and an eastern phoebe gathering twigs for its nest.
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.
The last photo from this day was also a surprise.
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!