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

Archive for June, 2016

As I make the transition

Luck plays a huge role in getting good nature photographs, I finished my last post with an image of a great blue heron in flight. Because of the angle at which the heron flew past me, it wasn’t the greatest photo in the world. But, I kept on shooting, and while I had a better angle on the heron for the next image, I snapped the shutter just as it flew past a boat in the Muskegon Lake channel.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

You can also see the USS Silversides, a WW II era submarine…

The USS Silversides

The USS Silversides

…in the background as well.

I didn’t even notice that I had the boat in the background in that first photo, I was concentrating on keeping the heron in the frame and in focus as I continued to shoot.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Of course by then, it was moving away from me, so these shots aren’t what I would have liked.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

One of the many things that I love about Michigan is that there’s wildlife nearly everywhere because there’s enough undeveloped land and water all around the state to keep the wildlife happy. I can go to a suburban park just on the outskirts of Michigan’s second largest city, Grand Rapids, and shoot nature photos…

Turkey

Turkey

…that few people would suspect…

Male Rose breasted grosbeak

Male Rose breasted grosbeak

…hadn’t been taken in some place more remote.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

I can go to the Muskegon County wastewater treatment facility and capture a range of subjects that many people never see in the wild.

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

 

Male ruddy duck

Male ruddy duck

 

Least sandpiper

Least sandpiper

 

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

 

Upland sandpiper

Upland sandpiper

The same holds true of the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, it’s a great place for birding…

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

 

Juvenile red-winged blackbird

Juvenile red-winged blackbird

…and other subjects as well.

Iris

Iris

 

Damselfly with lunch

Damselfly with lunch

However, one of the other things that those places, along with the other places that I go regularly,  share is people.

People are alright, after all, I’m a people too. However, they’re not so good to have around if I’m trying to get a good close-up of a bird…

Common yellowthroat

Male Common yellowthroat

…because some one else passing by usually results in a shot like this.

Male common yellowthroat

Male common yellowthroat

To go along with that, I don’t appreciate being struck by a jerk on a mountain bike who thinks that the signs saying “No Bikes” don’t apply to him. And, while I think that it’s a good idea to introduce children to nature at an early age, having a family decide that where I’ve set-up to shoot for the day is also a great place for a picnic is not going to result in a photo like these.

American coot

American coot

 

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

 

Virginia rail

Virginia rail

None of the last three were cropped at all, that’s how close I was to the birds when I shot the photos, neither was this one.

Muskrat

Muskrat

I know that the plans that I have come up with both for future purchases of camera gear, and also for how I’m going to go about getting better images in the future are going to work well. However, as I make the transition from how I have been doing it, shooting what I see while hiking, to setting up a hide and waiting for the chance for an excellent image, I see that I also have to find some more out of the way places to set-up the hide, or it will all be for nothing.

If I’m going to sit in a hide for hours hoping to get a shot like this…

Male Baltimore oriole

Male Baltimore oriole

…then I’d rather not have the chance ruined by a jogger, some one walking their dog, or a herd of other birders passing by at the wrong time. Actually, I hope that if I sit in a hide for hours that I’ll get a better photo than that one, but the oriole snuck up behind me, so the light was wrong for that one. But, it does illustrate how close that birds will approach me if I’m at least partially hidden, and remain still.

Yes, luck is part of a good nature photo, but as in every other endeavor, you can make your own luck.

Finding new places to go is especially important if I want to shoot more videos in the future, and I do. There’s too much human background noise in most of the places that are my regular stops now.

One of the things that I have on my wish list that I’ll be ordering soon is a unidirectional microphone, that will help to eliminate unwanted background noise. However, I doubt if it can totally eliminate the traffic noise that echoes off from the hills and trees around home, or at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, or the whirring of pumps and other equipment at the wastewater facility.

There’s another reason to shoot more videos, to aid in identifying species of birds. The only difference between a willow flycatcher, and an alder flycatcher is their call. It’s the same eastern and western meadowlarks, they look the same, their song is the best way to differentiate between the two species. Seen from the front, a dickcissel also looks very similar…

Male dickcissel singing

Male dickcissel singing

to a meadowlark as well.

Male eastern meadowlark singing

Male eastern meadowlark singing

However, from the back…

Male dickcissel

Male dickcissel

…it’s quite easy to tell a dickcissel from a meadowlark.

Eastern meadowlark

Eastern meadowlark

Some of the new places that I find to set-up a hide may require overnight stays, then, the laptop computer that I’m going to purchase will come in handy.

By the way, I’ll probably be placing my order for the next batch of stuff this Thursday. The model of Macbook Pro that I had on my wish list has sold out, so I’m going with a similar, but cheaper model. It has less RAM, which is okay, I can add more later much cheaper than it costs from Apple, just as I did with my iMac. It also has a 500 GB hard drive versus a 1 TB drive, but I think that 500 GB is large enough for temporary storage of photos, and I could always replace that drive with a larger one, at less money.  It’s an older model, but that’s its appeal to me, it can still be user upgraded if I want, where the newer MacBooks are factory sealed, and you can’t upgrade anything yourself. In fact, I could install a large SSD drive for less than Apple wants for the larger 5400 RPM drive. The model that I’m going to purchase now is $400 less than the model I was going to buy, but I can fill the cheaper one with RAM and install a larger, faster hard drive for around $100. That’s a $300 savings, nothing to sneeze at. With those savings, I am going to update the old version of Lightroom that I’ve been using to Lightroom 6.

If I am going to go on more weekend long trips, then the battery grip with two batteries will come in handy so that I don’t run out of juice while I’m shooting. The battery grip also makes it easier to go from this…

Water lily

Water lily

…to this.

Water lily and reflection

Water lily and reflection

While still on what I plan to purchase soon, the last item worth mentioning is the last of the 6 stop neutral density filters that I need to have one of those filters for all my lenses. I haven’t had too many opportunities to use them, but when I have…

Train trestle and dam in Hamilton, Michigan

Train trestle and dam in Hamilton, Michigan

…I’ve been very pleased with the results.

I had planned to begin scouting new locations within the Muskegon State Game Area last weekend, but the weather didn’t cooperate. It was extremely hot on Saturday, too hot for me to go tramping around in the woods all day, and it rained on Sunday morning.

What I’m going to be looking for starts with water, for not only do you need water to attract ducks…

Male Blue-winged teal

Male Blue-winged teal

 

Blue-winged teal pair

Blue-winged teal pair

…but also for shorebirds…

White-Romped sandpipers

White-Romped sandpipers

…and of course, wading birds. If I find a good spot, I may get one of these wading…

Green heron

Green heron

…instead of being perched in a tree facing the wrong direction.

In fact, I think that water features are very important for all species of birds. Of course the birds need water to drink, but there’s more to it than that. Part of it is the vegetation that grows up around bodies of water.

Eastern wood peewee

Eastern wood pewee

 

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

 

Marsh wren

Marsh wren

There are only a few species of birds that live in the tops of mature trees, and I don’t have any photos of them at the moment. Most birds prefer a mix of vegetation, especially around water, because many of them feed on insects, and near water is where there are the most species of insects…

Red-winged blackbird taking a dragonfly to its young

Red-winged blackbird taking a dragonfly to its young

 

Female Baltimore oriole taking home a bug

Female Baltimore oriole taking home a spider to its young

Also, many species of birds use mud to construct or line their nests, as with the cliff swallow from the last post…

Cliff swallow gathering mud for its nest

Cliff swallow gathering mud for its nest

…barn swallows…

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

…and robins.

American robin

American robin

Ideally, the place that I’m looking for would have a number of small ponds connected by a stream flowing through them, that empties into a lake. It would have a mix of vegetation, from cattails and reeds, to willows and alders, and the higher ground would have a mix of both pines and hardwoods.

I may never find one place that fills all the requirements that I’m looking for, but since several of the places that I go to regularly now come very close, I hope to find something similar, but with less human traffic to scare the critters away while I’m trying to photograph them.

Breaking news! With this weekend being the long 4th of July weekend, and with me possibly getting Monday off from work, I placed the order for the new stuff this evening. Hopefully, I will have some new toys to play with  new tools to learn to use this weekend!

I will continue with what I’m looking for as far as new places to go and other things in my next post.

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


A kook like me

There are several things that motivate me to continue to photograph what I see in nature, and also to continue to improve my photos. I love that moment when I make eye contact with a bird, even through the camera lens. I know that I have done posts similar to this in the past, but not with images that are as good as what I’m getting now.

Marsh wren

Marsh wren

Also, like some little kid, I get an inordinate amount of fun out of sneaking up on a bird and capturing the surprised look on its face when it realizes how close I am to it.

White-crowned sparrow

White-crowned sparrow

Take this poor catbird, it was enjoying the morning sun and doing a little preening…

Grey catbird

Grey catbird

…when I snuck up on it, causing it quite the start.

Grey catbird

Grey catbird

Of course, if I’m shooting a series of photos of the birds, like a robin gathering mulberries to take to its young…

American robin

American robin

…the bird will spot me…

American robin

American robin

…and the last shot in the series is usually this one.

American robin

American robin

Sometimes, I can pull that trick off more than once with the same bird…

American robin

American robin

 

American robin

American robin

However, there’s another, more mature, even serious side to it as well. I love to learn about nature, and my photos help me to learn. I find that by getting close when I shoot the images, then cropping them, that I can learn what the birds or other wildlife is eating, when I can’t see it with the naked eye alone. I also learn how they eat what they do.

Cedar waxwing eating a mulberry

Cedar waxwing eating a mulberry

I’ve photographed the waxwings eating several other types of berries before, and they always swallowed the berries whole…

Cedar waxwing eating a mulberry

Cedar waxwing eating a mulberry

…but with mulberries, the waxwings crush the berries…

Cedar waxwing eating a mulberry

Cedar waxwing eating a mulberry

…before swallowing them. I don’t know why that would be, unless the mulberries taste so good that the waxwings prefer to enjoy the taste for a little longer than if they swallowed them whole. I never saw a pit or seed fall from the berries as the waxwings crushed them, and I’ve seen waxwings swallow larger berries whole, so I can think of no other reason than taste for them to eat mulberries differently than other berries.

I also learn which foods are popular with the most species of birds, as are mulberries, but also with other critters as well.

Red squirrel eating mulberries

Red squirrel eating mulberries

Find a mulberry tree or bush with ripe berries…

Red squirrel eating mulberries

Red squirrel eating mulberries

…and you’ll find photo ops if you’re a nature photographer.

Red squirrel eating mulberries

Red squirrel eating mulberries

I’ve also learned that while all the other critters are enjoying the mulberries, there’s always one that goes its own way.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

 

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

However, even as good as my photos have gotten, there are times when I can’t figure out what the bird that I’m photographing is eating.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

The waxwings are omnivores, they will eat both plant matter and insects…

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

…but I can’t tell if this one was eating something from the tree…

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

…or insects hiding there…

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

…but, there’s always another reason to hang out and watch them, the chance for a good photo.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

On many occasions, when birds have finished eating, they will hang out for a short time before moving on. It’s during this time frame that I get some of my best images of them.

Okay, I suppose that brings up the discussion of what constitutes a good image. I have learned that there’s a huge disconnect between the experts consider a good image, and what the general public thinks. To satisfy the experts, the image has to be a close-up with only the subject in focus, and the background completely out of focus. Most nature photographers that win judged contests create a scene, then sit in a hide waiting for the subject to enter, to get the exact image that will be a winner.

To the general public, about the only thing that matters is the popularity of the subject. As long as the subject is popular, the image could be shot on a cell phone in a zoo, with the bars of the cage visible, and it could still win a photo contest.

Well, I haven’t gotten to the point where I’m ready to sit in a hide for days to capture a perfect image to make the experts happy. Nor do I get many opportunities to photograph any of the really popular subjects that would win a contest judged by the general public.

So, being the kook that I am, I have my own standards for what constitutes a good image to me. Of course the image has to be sharp and exposed correctly, the image of the marsh wren that I started with is a good example of what I’m going for as far as quality. But mostly, I like to capture my subjects doing something, like eating in some of the photos above here, or these photos.

Cliff swallow gathering mud for its nest

Cliff swallow gathering mud for its nest

 

Cliff swallow gathering mud for its nest

Cliff swallow gathering mud for its nest

 

Cliff swallow gathering mud for its nest

Cliff swallow gathering mud for its nest

Those photos will never win any type of photo contest, but I love them. That’s because I captured a species of bird that I love in the first place, and it’s engaged in behavior that few people ever see close-up like that. The swallow never stopped fluttering its wings as it scooped up a beak full of mud to build its nest.

I will admit that I used my Subaru as a hide of sorts to get that image, as well as this one.

Ring-billed gull taking flight

Ring-billed gull taking flight

I should have titled that one “Determination”, because of the look on the gull’s face. I also like the gull in the background which seems to be thinking “There goes George, showing off for the photographer again”.

So, I suppose that I should add that I’m trying to capture a subject’s personality in my images also, like this house wren.

House wren

House wren

All wrens are small birds with a huge amount of attitude. I thought that this one was giving me the stink-eye…

House wren

House wren

…but it turned out…

House wren

House wren

…that the wren was worried about a blue racer snake on the ground that I hadn’t noticed at first.

Blue racer snake

Blue racer snake

I’m not sure if the wren would have attacked the snake, it didn’t have to, the snake saw me, and slithered off. The wren had its nest nearby, which is why it was so interested in the snake. Wrens may not be as aggressive as red-winged blackbirds, but they’re fearless little birds that don’t hesitate to attack predators much larger than themselves to protect their young. The wren was so grateful to me for having caused the snake to leave, that it posed while singing for a few photos.

House wren singing

House wren singing

You can tell that this little guy was very happy that the snake was gone because of the way he was belting out his song.

House wren singing

House wren singing

Well, I kind of got sidetracked again, didn’t I? I was talking about how I was using my Subaru as a hide, then switched topics to trying to catch a bird’s personality. In a way, they are related, for while I wasn’t sitting in my Subaru as a hide to get the wren, I was hanging out in the shade of the porch at the headquarters of the Muskegon State Game Area. I was there in an attempt to get better photos of bluebirds, that didn’t go quite as well as I hoped though.

Male eastern bluebird

Male eastern bluebird

 

Male eastern bluebird

Male eastern bluebird

Something that I’m doing more of is finding an inconspicuous place to stand or sit in an area where a particular species of bird can be found, then waiting for the birds to come to me. I still don’t have the patience to sit in a hide for hours on end, but I can see how well that could work by the photos that I’m getting just by slowing down and letting the birds get used to my being there.

It helps if there are other things around to photograph while I’m waiting on the birds.

Unidentified dragonfly

Unidentified dragonfly

 

Unidentified spider with lunch

Unidentified spider with lunch

 

Dame's rockets

Dame’s rockets

 

Future grapes

Future grapes

I’m finding that I can hang out for an hour or so, if I’m seeing birds, not necessarily shooting photos of them. As long as they’re around and there’s a chance for a photo, I can get by with just observing them in action, which also helps me in the future. The more I learn about bird behavior, the easier it becomes to photograph them. The more photos that I shoot, the more I learn about birds. It’s a never-ending circle that I hope truly never ends.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

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


I suppose that there will always be those days

Well, where do I begin?

I had been on a roll, shooting a few good photos every time that I made it outside, until yesterday that is. But, some of that was just bad luck, some of it was the weather, and I suppose that every one has a bad day now and then.

I’ve been trying to pass on tips that I have learned that help me to get photos like these…

Common grackle

Common grackle

….even if it’s just a common grackle.

Common grackle

Common grackle

While I was on vacation, I relied on the tried and true settings for my cameras that I have found work well enough for me. However, before then, and especially since then, I have experimenting a lot with different settings, and also subject matter, as you will see later.

I’ve sung the praises for the Canon 7D Mk II that I have, its great exposure metering system, the auto-focusing system, and how you can program it to suit how you want it. But, what I’ve really come to love about it is how predictable it is when trying new settings. If I tell it to do X, it does X, if I tell it to do Y, it does Y, better than any bit of electronics that I’ve ever dealt with. It does have a few quirks, but I’ve gotten used to them. Not only that, but it’s how well the controls are positioned on the camera. Take the depth of field preview button for example. I’m using it more all the time to check to see if I have the aperture set correctly to get the results that I desire, as in the photos of the grackle. I love the appearance of the water in the background almost as much as I love how sharp the grackle is.

I compare that to the 60D bodies that I have, and for the life of me, I don’t know how the Canon engineers thought that any one would be able to find and press the depth of field preview button on that camera. It’s a tiny little thing, and I have to contort my finger into an uncomfortable position to even find the button, and when I do, in the position that my finger is in, I can’t generate enough pressure on the button to operate it. I may have found the answer to that question, today, while using the 100 mm macro lens, I was cradling the lens in my left hand, and found that I could push the depth of field preview button quite easily with the pinky of my left hand. I guess the Canon engineers meant for that camera to be only used with short lenses.

Anyway, I knew that all the bad images that I shot yesterday were due to just having a bad day, I was back in fine form today, and here’s a small sample from today.

Cedar waxwing eating a mulberry

Cedar waxwing eating a mulberry

 

Marsh wren singing

Marsh wren singing

A thought occurred to me, I had been thinking that most people start off with a lower cost camera with fewer features, and work their way up to better cameras as their skills improve, and that may be the wrong way to do things. Using the 7D Mk II with all of its capabilities has made me a better photographer, and that I probably should have waited until that camera was available.

On the other hand, I’d be lost if I were just starting out with that camera, I’d have no idea how to take advantage of all the capabilities it does have. I’m still a bit overwhelmed by it, even having used the 60D for over a year first, and the 7D for a little over a year now.

One thing that I haven’t figured out though, is why things that I tried with the 60D before I purchased the 7D didn’t seem to work very well, but after having tried them with the 7D, they now work with the 60D, and work quite well. I’m getting the best images from the 60D that I’ve ever gotten…

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

…even though I only use it for macros…

After the snow storm

After the snow storm

…and landscapes.

By the way, that last one was shot on the Sunday before I left on my vacation, right after a snow squall had moved through the Muskegon area. It’s hard for me to remember that it was only a month ago that we were still having occasional snowy days, even if the snow didn’t stick, and that my vacation was also a month ago now.

There are so many directions that I could take this post that it’s hard for me to focus on just one. Maybe it’s time for a My Photo Life List project update.

This spring, I’ve only gotten three new species of birds to check off from the list that I’m working on, the Connecticut and Tennessee warblers, and the Virginia rail.

Virginia rail preening

Virginia rail preening

But, I have been getting better photos of some of the birds that I have already checked off from the list, both in the quality of the images, and catching the birds in breeding plumage rather than their duller winter plumage, like this Wilson’s phalarope.

Female Wilson's phalarope

Female Wilson’s phalarope

 

Female Wilson's phalarope

Female Wilson’s phalarope

 

Female Wilson's phalarope

Female Wilson’s phalarope

In that species of bird, the female is the more colorful of the sexes, the opposite of how it is with most species. Here’s a pair of them together to show the difference.

Male and female Wilson's phalarope

Male and female Wilson’s phalarope

The male is in front, with the larger, more colorful female behind him.

I may have shot better photos of these two species before, if so, not by much.

Semi-palmated plover

Semi-palmated plover

 

Semi-palmated sandpiper

Semi-palmated sandpiper

I feel myself going off on a couple of tangents here, for one thing, from the shorebird counts that Brian Johnson did this spring, it was a record spring for shorebirds in the Muskegon area.

“Spring 2016 proved to be the best in our long participation with the Inter-national Shorebird Survey (ISS). Our overall total of 1,349 individual shorebirds of 21 species sets new records for both number and diversity. The historical spring averages were 561 birds of 16 species.”

The second tangent is that I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m getting better images of the species that I’ve already photographed, since the overall quality of the images that I shoot is continuing to improve. Still, it’s been very satisfying to get much better images of the less common species that I don’t see that often, and to become better at identifying them.

As I knew would happen, now that it’s nicer weather, I’m getting so many photos that I probably won’t post another species of birds in the My Photo Life List project until next winter. I have photos from several trips to the Muskegon area that I’m behind on putting into posts, as well as photos from around home here. There are too many subjects like flowers…

Bird's foot trefoil

Bird’s foot trefoil

…and insects…

Unidentified damselfly

Unidentified damselfly

…as well as the summer resident birds…

Yellow warbler

Yellow warbler

…to photograph this time of year for me to have the time to do posts to life list project.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Lightroom as something that has helped me to improve my images, well, Lightroom and learning to expose correctly knowing that I’m going to edit my photos in Lightroom.

A brief bit of technical talk here. The sensors of our cameras do not record an image, they record data that the software in our cameras and on our computers use to form the actual image. In addition, the way that the light meters in our cameras work is to try to render something that is 18% neutral grey correctly in our final image. If the subject we’re shooting is lighter or darker than 18% neutral grey, that’s where the troubles begin.

In addition, the sensors of our cameras can’t capture the full range of the intensity of the light that hits it, which is known as dynamic range. Sometimes, we can use that as an advantage to isolate well-lit subjects…

Curly dock seeds?

Curly dock seeds?

…from a darker background…

Fuzzy

Fuzzy

…and shooting a white subject makes that even easier.

Water lily

Water lily

Because of the way that the sensors record data about the light that hits it, and because of the way that the metering systems in cameras operate, the two hardest colors to shoot are white and black, with blacks being the very hardest to get correct. That’s because if we get the black in an image correct, the highlights are normally blown out, as in this image.

Damselfly

Damselfly

I did that on purpose, as I wanted to capture the detail in the damselfly’s wing, and I knew that I’d be editing the image in Lightroom, to bring down the highlights.

Damselfly

Damselfly

If I had exposed for the highlights, then if I raised the shadow slider to bring up the detail in the damselfly’s wing, then it would have introduced noise into the image, and that would have interfered with the details in the wing itself. I’m not sure how software creates noise much like a camera’s sensor does, but it does, even if a low ISO setting was used when shooting the image.

I actually spent a lot of time (for me) trying to get the best possible image at the time I was shooting those. My first attempts were from a higher position, and I could see how much glare that there was coming off from the leaves. I wished that I had brought my polarizing filter with me to cut down on the glare, but it was at home, darn. I’ve had good success shooting both birds and insects, even flowers for that matter, with the polarizing filter on the lens to cut down on glare, but because that filter reduces the amount of light entering the lens, it also slows down the auto-focusing, there’s always a trade-off in photography.

Anyway, I kept getting lower and lower, trying to reduce the glare off from the leaves, the first image above was the best that I could do in the camera, since I didn’t have the polarizing filter with me. It’s called exposing to the right, where you purposely over-expose the image slightly so that you don’t get noise from trying to lighten the darker areas in an image. That has helped the quality of the images that I’m getting now quite a bit, especially when shooting dark subjects, such as this crow.

American crow in flight

American crow in flight

 

American crow in flight

American crow in flight

Also, the red-wing blackbirds that I’ve been shooting lately.

Red-winged blackbird bringing a dragonfly to its young

Red-winged blackbird bringing a dragonfly to its young

If I can get the blacks of those birds correct, and also the white of flowers…

Water lily

Water lily

…in with other colors, then I’m ready for just about anything.

I guess that the time has come to change the subject a little, since I mentioned red-winged blackbirds. They will attack about anything that gets close to their nest, here are four of them picking on a turkey vulture.

Red-winged blackbirds attacking a turkey vulture.

Red-winged blackbirds attacking a turkey vulture.

Even great blue herons are afraid of the RWBBs, here’s a heron that had just landed and was checking out the hunting conditions.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

A RWBB landed on shore close to it, and the heron was off in a shot.

Red-winged blackbird scaring a Great blue heron

Red-winged blackbird scaring a Great blue heron

The RWBB will even chase ducks…

Red-winged blackbird chasing a female mallard

Red-winged blackbird chasing a female mallard

…since ducks are some of the fastest fliers of the bird world when it comes to level flight, I didn’t think that the blackbird stood a chance…

Red-winged blackbird chasing a female mallard

Red-winged blackbird chasing a female mallard

…but he stuck to the duck pretty well until she kicked it into high gear when she saw him coming.

They will even attack people.

Red-winged blackbird dive bombing people

Red-winged blackbird dive bombing people

What I wasn’t able to catch then, or when the RWBB was dive bombing me, was that the barn swallows that have a nest under the platform there would come to our rescue when the blackbird got too aggressive towards us. The swallows would come along and attack the blackbird as it hovered over people’s heads, squawking, and occasionally dive bombing us. Once the blackbird moved away a short distance, the swallows would go off in search of insects again. When I was out there, the action was taking place less than 10 feet over my head, and I couldn’t follow the birds with my long lens. I guess that the blackbird took the hint, and it wouldn’t stick around long attacking other people. As soon as the swallows showed up, he would leave.

This turkey wasn’t fortunate enough to have barn swallows protecting it.

Turkey

Turkey

I had seen the end of what happened when the first turkey crossed the road, so I was ready when this second one started across.

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

Yup, there was the blackbird in full attack mode…

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

…grabbing the turkey by the tail…

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

…until the turkey threw him off…

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

…but that only slowed the blackbird a little, he was soon back at it…

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

…pouncing on the turkey’s tail again…

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

…and trying to drag the turkey in the other direction…

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

…I swear that I heard the blackbird say “Come back here and fight like a bird, you coward!”…

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

…the turkey was able to throw the blackbird again…

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

…so the blackbird got up a full head of steam…

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

…going so fast that he missed the turkey’s tail…

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

…and even with full air brakes on, he wound up doing a faceplant in the grass, ouch…

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

…which made him even angrier…

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

…as he went after the turkey again…

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

…this time, making sure that he connected with the turkey’s tail…

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a turkey

Unfortunately, the last shot of the two of them together as the turkey entered the taller grass with the blackbird still on its tail was blurry, but I’m sure that you’ve gotten the idea by now.

In the meantime, two other turkeys from the flock were yet to cross the road, and I can imagine that the one was saying to the other, “Did you see that Mabel? We’d better be quick about crossing the road!”.

Turkeys

Turkeys

The blackbird didn’t attack them, for all I know it was still stuck to the other turkey’s tail.

That entire sequence was shot in just a few seconds, turkeys can move very fast when they want to, and they want to when there’s some one photographing a blackbird attacking them. I was fortunate enough to have had a second or two to prepare for what was about to happen as the turkey that was attacked debated crossing the road in the first place. But, it was mostly luck that I was able to capture the action as well as I did. Well, luck and the capabilities of the 7D Mk II. 😉

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


On my way home

I stayed up north until Saturday morning, which dawned cloudy…

Sunrise over Lake Huron

Sunrise over Lake Huron

…and still warmer than it had been by a few degrees, but with hints that it would become sunnier later.

Sunrise at Ossineke State Forest campground

Sunrise at Ossineke State Forest campground

After shooting those, I shot one last photo of my campsite, as seen from the beach.

My campsite at Ossineke SF campground

My campsite at Ossineke SF campground

As I drank my morning coffee, I opened up the tent/cot completely to dry the dew off from it, and hung my sleeping bag and pad out to thoroughly air out before packing them up. I then grabbed the camera and set off for my last walk up there this trip, but before I could get out of the campsite, this green heron landed above me.

Green heron

Green heron

As I walked along, I reflected on how great the week had been. My legs not only had held up well, they felt better than they had in a couple of months. Except for a couple of very chilly mornings with the temperature near freezing, the weather had been great. Instead of driving all over that part of the state, I had stayed relatively close to the campground, visiting the same places two, three, or more times. I had taken much better care of myself, ate better, and remembered to stay hydrated, rather than running myself ragged to the point where I couldn’t function well any longer as I had on some of my previous vacations.

I’d say that it marked a turning point for me, but that had really come earlier, when I had decided that my previous ways of doing things while on vacation was the wrong way. This week was a test of sorts to see if what I had in mind for the future would work as well as I hoped that it would. It did!

That includes photography, and how I approach it. I no longer run around trying to make every trip out, whether at home, along the Lake Michigan shore near home, or this trip, a birding Big Day, where I try to photograph as many species of birds that I possibly can, regardless of the quality of the images that I get. I slowed down a lot, concentrating on the species of birds that I rarely see, and trying to get the best photos of them that I could.

I say that even after having just put the poor photo of the green heron in this post, but, a green heron perched over my head while still in my campsite is something special in a way, I will remember that far longer than some of my better photos of more common birds, or the squirrels…

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

 

Grey squirrel

Grey squirrel

…that I shared my campsite with that week.

It was a strangely quiet morning, I didn’t hear or see many birds, even the common terns were perched quietly on a stump out in Thunder Bay, when they’re usually quite vocal.

Common terns

Common terns

A common merganser flew past me, but in the low light, a good photo was impossible.

Male common merganser in flight

Male common merganser in flight

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) still shows a one mile long walking loop off from the Ossineke State Forest Campground where I was staying, but I’ve yet to find it, or any signs of it. I think that the trail didn’t get much use, so it has grown over, and due to a lack of funds, the DNR stopped maintaining it. Still, it seemed like a good morning to see if I could find it. I found a footpath leading to the south, so I tried that. It wasn’t the loop I was looking for, it was a path down a bit of higher ground between the marsh of Lake Huron to the east, and a more traditional upland marsh to the west. It was a very pleasant walk, and I found this guy there.

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

But the big find along the path was a stand of old growth white pines, but all that I had with me was my birding set-up, so here’s the best shot that I could come up with to show the size of some of the trees.

Huge, old white pine

Huge, old white pine

The trunk of that tree was close to 4 feet in diameter, the limbs you can see ranged from one to two feet in diameter as well. There were a few of these magnificent giants right on the tip of land between the marshes, I assume that they weren’t cut down back in the logging days because they had so many low branches, they weren’t ideal for lumber. It was a wonderful little spot, standing there between the towering old pines, but I only tarried a short time, I still had to pack and head for home. So, I reluctantly retraced my steps back to my campsite, if I hadn’t, I knew that I’d never leave.

I had taken my kayak with me, but I never used it. Thinking about it while I was up there, it’s been a while since I’ve been kayaking, and I didn’t think it wise to risk my expensive camera gear getting the hang of it again. Also, I had spent a considerable amount of time on top of the hill overlooking the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary, and other than the black terns, I hadn’t seen much wildlife activity there. However, I had only been there in the afternoons, I would think that early morning would be much better.

I thought about getting a motel room for one night, and getting out there on the water right after dawn. That way, I wouldn’t have to wait to drink my coffee or get something to eat in the morning, or make the short drive into town to get to sanctuary. I may very well do that the next time that I’m up there, it’s an idea worth exploring.

On my way back home, I stopped twice to shoot photos that illustrate what northern Michigan away from the Great Lakes looks like.

Northern Michigan in the spring

Northern Michigan in the spring

It’s rolling hills and trees, lots and lots of trees. Unless you’re in one of the farming communities, or a road has been cut through the trees, you can’t see the forest for the trees.

Northern Michigan in the spring 2

Northern Michigan in the spring 2

So, that takes me to the boring part of this post. I said that this trip exposed the strengths and weaknesses of my camera gear, and I’ve decided that there are three things that I could do about the weaknesses. One is to whine about it, and do nothing. The second would be to buy more gear that may not have those weaknesses. The third thing is to find ways to work around those weaknesses, and to get the photos that I want despite not having the ideal gear.

Without making a conscious decision on my part to do so at first, I have been working on over coming the weaknesses in a variety of ways.

Yes, I would still like a full frame camera one of these days for better low light performance and better resolution for landscapes, but the 60D body with the lenses that I have for it do very well for right now.

Train trestle and dam in Hamilton, Michigan

Train trestle and dam in Hamilton, Michigan

I haven’t played with the neutral density filters that I purchased very much, but when I have used them, I’ve loved the results.

The old mill raceway in Hamilton, Michigan 1

The old mill raceway in Hamilton, Michigan 1

 

The old mill raceway in Hamilton, Michigan 2

The old mill raceway in Hamilton, Michigan 2

 

A closer look at the dam in Hamilton, Michigan

A closer look at the dam in Hamilton, Michigan

With the 100 mm macro lens on it, the 60D does just fine as well.

Unidentified green fly on the steering wheel of my car

Unidentified green colored fly on the steering wheel of my car

I just need to train the bugs to land somewhere more photogenic than the steering wheel of my Forester. 😉

Okay, I’ve said that the auto-focusing of the 300 mm lens with the 1.4 X tele-converter was too slow to catch small birds, and that the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) was better. The Beast is faster, but it still wasn’t fast enough by itself to catch the flying dragonfly that most people commented on in my last post. That took a combination of things, probably the one that led to my eventual success in getting that photo was to take the time to observe the dragonfly for a while to learn that it often stopped to hover in about the same spot on a regular basis.

Still, even though I knew where the dragonfly would be, not even the Beast was fast enough by itself, I had to help it out by getting the focus close manually, then letting the auto-focus take over.

I suppose that I should put the photo of the dragonfly in this post now to illustrate where I’m going.

Dragonfly in flight

Dragonfly in flight

It’s a good photo, but it’s lacking some of the fine detail that the better quality glass in the Canon macro lens can deliver as you can see if you compare the dragonfly image to the one above it, or this one, shot with the 300 mm lens with the 2 X extender…

Viceroy butterfly

Viceroy butterfly

…even when I moved back a little…

Viceroy butterfly

Viceroy butterfly

…the Canon glass is obviously better than that used in the old version of the Beast that I have. When I can get a sharper image with more detail using a 2 X extender than what the Beast can produce, well, I guess that says it all. The differences aren’t huge, but there are differences.

But, if the 300 mm lens with the 1.4 X extender is slow, then with the 2 X behind it, it’s darn right painfully slow, and it hunts for a focus most of the time.

So, being the idiot that I am, I’ve been using that set-up at Muskegon quite a bit, where it got me a lifer, a Virginia rail.

Virginia rail

Virginia rail

You may well ask why I’m using the slower set-up more often, and I’ll get back to that in a second, but first, a few words about the Virginia rail.

Virginia rail

Virginia rail

This is what the All About Birds website says about them, “A secretive bird of freshwater marshes, the Virginia Rail most often remains hidden in dense vegetation.”, and I can agree with that. They are about the same size as sora, or an American robin, and they live in the same habitat that sora do, but that’s where any similarity ends. Sora move through the vegetation slowly and deliberately, as if they know that they are well hidden, and that they don’t have a care in the world.

On the other hand, the Virginia rails act as if every predator on the face of the Earth is about to pounce on them, they never sit still if they’re someplace where they can be seen. They even have forehead feathers that are adapted to withstand wear from pushing through dense marsh vegetation. If they do cross an opening in the vegetation, they do it quickly, as in so quickly that all you see is a brown blur, even with the naked eye, there’s no way to catch them with a camera, at least not that I could find. There were two of them, calling back and forth to each other, I managed to see and photograph one of them. I never saw the second one, but I could hear it, and see the vegetation moving when it moved.

Okay then, back to the extremely slow auto-focusing of the 7D, 300 mm lens, and the 2 X extender. I can’t make the actual speed at which that combination physically auto-focuses, but I can do things that speed up how quickly that I can obtain a sharp focus. I used a few tricks in combination to get the photos of the rail…

Virginia rail

Virginia rail

…such as pre-focusing on a small opening in the vegetation where I thought that the rial would pass through, then as soon as I saw its eye, I’d fire off a few shots. I did a lot of manually focusing to get close to having the rail close to being in focus before letting the auto-focus take over as well, just as I did with the dragonfly.

Another trick has to do where I would put the focus point of the camera in the scene. The auto-focusing system uses a number of things to determine when the focus is correct, one of them being contrast between colors. If I put the spot dead center on the bird’s brown body, the camera had a hard time determining that it was in focus. But, if I put the focus point where it was mostly on the bird, but partially on the background, then the camera could read the differences in color, and focus correctly. In that last photo, I had the focus point over the rail’s neck, with a little of the background covered by the point as well.

Though not related to auto-focusing, another thing that I did to get sharp photos of the rail was to use shutter priority, Time Value (TV) if you use a Canon, to shoot at a faster shutter speed than I would have gotten if I had used aperture priority as I normally do. Since the rail was never completely still, that helped a lot. I’ve been using shutter priority, and even the manual mode, more often all the time, especially when using the 300 mm lens and 2 X extender. It’s all about getting the best out of the camera gear that I have.

Sometimes, that means improving my skills, more so than anything having to do with the camera or lens, as in this photo.

Green frog

Green frog

That was shot at 1/60 of a second, handheld, at 600 mm, the 300 mm lens and 2 X extender. Yes, the lens has Image Stabilization, but that isn’t enough to produce that photo at such a slow shutter speed given the focal length of the lens. That was me getting into a position where I could hold the camera steady and get a good, sharp image at such a slow shutter speed. It’s all about pushing the limits, of both the gear that I have, and myself.

That photo does bring up another point, I should shoot with the camera in the portrait position more often, because this is a good photo…

Mourning dove with twig

Mourning dove with twig

…but, this is a much better one.

Mourning dove with twig

Mourning dove with twig

Neither of those were cropped, I was that close to the dove. Simply rotating the camera so that I didn’t cut off the dove’s tail makes the second one better in my opinion. If I had been close enough for just a head and shoulders shot, things may have been different.

Anyway, after my last post, when I was in a quandary whether I should purchase a better long zoom lens, or other things first, I have made a decision. All of the accessories and the Macbook computer add up to almost exactly what a better long zoom lens cost, so I’m going with the accessories and computer come July.

It’s all about the future for the most part, and my vacation proved to me that the plan that I’m working on is the right one for me. There will be times when I kick myself for going the route that I’m going, but I’d do that no matter what.

So, with the laptop computer I’ll be able to take it on trips, and download each day’s photos to it, rather than waiting until I’m home and having to wrangle with thousands of images all at once. In addition, I think that I’ll be able to use that computer for tethered shooting, especially videos as I work to shoot more of them. I can also take it in the truck while I’m working, and when I’m sitting at a dock somewhere, work on my blog rather than being bored to death. I’m so far behind now that I still have photos of henbit flowers…

Henbit flowers

Henbit flowers

…and these unidentified flowers left over from April.

IMG_4633_4_5

Unidentified flowering objects

As well as these from later this year.

IMG_5409

Black medic

As always, I’m seldom sure of my identification of the flowers that I see.

IMG_4683_4_5

White violet?

As a sidenote, you can see that the images of the flowers has improved as I put to use what I’ve learned to use the same tricks to get sharper images of birds to get better images of flowers as well.

Anyway, the battery grip that holds two batteries will insure that I don’t run out of juice in one day any longer. In addition, the grip also allows the use of AA batteries if I’m out in the boonies with no way to recharge the Canon batteries. But, maybe the biggest reason I’d get more use out of the battery grip is that it is designed to make shooting with the camera in the portrait position much easier. It has all of the same buttons as the camera itself has, so I wouldn’t be sticking my thumb in my eye as I try to change settings or start the auto-focus any longer, as I do now when I hold the camera vertically.

I could prattle on longer, but I think that it’s time for a few more photos as I try to catch up.

Dames rockets

Dames rockets

 

Goatsbeard

Goatsbeard

 

Lily of the valley

Lily of the valley

 

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

 

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

 

Future dandelions

Future dandelions

 

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

 

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

 

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

All of those were shot around home, as was this one, a mallard welcoming me home after one of the best vacations of my life.

Male mallard

Male mallard

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


Day five of my vacation

The morning of day five of my vacation started out with completely clear skies, and the warmest temperature so far that week. As good as the weather had been on the previous day, on this day, it turned out to be even better. I say that because just before sunset, a few clouds rolled in to create this wonderful sunset, first, looking to the east…

Sunset over Lake Huron

Sunset over Lake Huron

…then to the west…

Sunset over Thunder Bay 1

Sunset over Thunder Bay 1

…as the colors became more intense.

Sunset over Thunder Bay 2

Sunset over Thunder Bay 2

You may find it hard to understand why, but I’ve been having trouble writing this post, and choosing which photos to include.

In one of the earlier posts that I did on my week of vacation, I said that the 300 mm lens with the tele-converter behind it was too slow to auto-focus to catch most of the smaller birds as they flitted about. The Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) does much better, but the image quality it produces isn’t as good as what I can get from the 300 mm lens, especially in low light.

I also said that I visited each spot up there more than one time, and that I carried different camera gear with me on each visit. One time I would take the 300 mm lens and extender, along with a 60D body and a wide lens for landscapes, and the next time, I’d take the Beast, and the 60D body with the 100 mm macro lens on it.

To make a long story as short as I can, this trip really exposed the strengths and weaknesses of the camera gear that I currently use home to me.

But, it isn’t just the camera gear itself, it’s the way that I try to photograph a little of everything, from small birds perched in low light…

Ovenbird

Ovenbird

…to larger birds in flight…

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

…small birds in flight if I get the chance…

Tree swallow in flight

Tree swallow in flight

…flowers using my macro lens…

Siberian squill

Siberian squill

…landscapes…

Isaacson Bay's edge

Isaacson Bay’s edge

…to anything else that I find interesting at the time.

Tug pushing a barge loaded with cement from the LaFarge plant near Alpena, Michigan

Tug pushing a barge loaded with cement from the LaFarge plant near Alpena, Michigan

I know, I’ve said all that before, too many times.

However, that’s what I was thinking about the entire length of my vacation. On my way to the next location, I’d be thinking about which gear to bring, and what to leave in the car. It’s what I thought about as I was walking along the trails up there, and it’s what I’ve been obsessing over since I’ve been back home.

Making things worse is how spoiled the 7D Mk II has made me. I can’t put into words how well that it works for me, and until I looked at some of my older photos recently, I hadn’t really noticed that so much.

Not to brag, but the heron and swallow in flight photos are pretty darned good. But, there aren’t perfect, so I was a bit disappointed when I first viewed them. That’s funny when I think about it, I would have been thrilled with either of those images not that long ago, and now, they’re just a few more good, not great, photos of birds in flight. As the quality of the images that I’m getting increases, my standards are increasing at the same rate, or faster.

To make matters worse, even before I went on this vacation, I had begun to try different settings and combinations of settings, to learn more of what my camera gear is capable of, and how to get the best out of it. I’d also begun to shoot very common subjects in different ways and in different lighting than I have in the past, to also increase my skill level.

Maybe I’ve been on a temporary hot streak, but I’ve been getting the best images of my life during and since this vacation.

That’s why it’s hard for me to write about this day of my vacation, I spent the morning at the Besser-Bell Natural Area in the single-minded pursuit of a good photo of a black-throated blue warbler. I had seen them there earlier in the week, and had gotten one or two fair shots of one. Most of the photos that I saved from this day there are of the black-throated blue warblers hopping, jumping, or flying from one branch to another. I saved a few of them, intending to show every one how difficult it is to get good photos of small, quick birds. But, I’ve done enough of those types of photos in the past, so I’m going to delete all of the ones that I had intended to post here.

However, as an example of what I’ve deleted, here’s a black and white warbler moving just as I pressed the shutter release, resulting in a blurred image of it.

Black and white warbler on the move

Black and white warbler on the move

And, I saved that photo because it’s the only one of that species I was able to get, and I seldom see them around home.

Did I get the black-throated blue warbler photos that I wanted? Sort of.

Male Black-throated blue warbler

Male Black-throated blue warbler

 

Male Black-throated blue warbler

Male Black-throated blue warbler

Those are much better than I have shot in the past, but he was still way up in the treetops, and I hadn’t caught him singing.

It was about then that I spotted the ovenbird from earlier in this post, and not only did I get the previous shot, but it turned around and posed nicely for me.

Ovenbird

Ovenbird

 

Ovenbird

Ovenbird

At the time, I thought that while I hadn’t gotten the black-throated blue warbler the way that I wanted, at least I had gotten my best ever photos of an ovenbird.

I’m not sure if what happened next was a coincidence, or what, but I hadn’t moved more than a few feet when I heard another black-throated blue warbler singing, and I was able to spot him way up in the top of a tree. Even before I could begin to raise the camera up to try for a photo, he came flying down to my level, and posed, as if he had seen the ovenbird posing for me, and knew what I was after.

Male black-throated blue warbler singing

Male black-throated blue warbler singing

Okay, my patience, persistence, and perseverance paid off, I got better images of two species of birds that I seldom see around home, so why have I been driving myself crazy agonizing over what gear I should purchase in the future, and how I approach photography.

As I said, this vacation really exposed the strengths and weaknesses of the gear that I’m using now, but on the other hand, I’m shooting my best photos ever.

I was able to save the entire week’s worth of photos on two 64 GB memory cards in the 7D, and a 32 GB card in the 60D, but it was a royal pain in the posterior to download, sort, separate, and edit all of the approximately 3,000 images that I shot that week once I returned home. It would have been so much easier if I had a laptop computer along so that I could have downloaded the images from the cameras each day, and sorted out the ones that I found were junk right then, rather than going through 3,000 images all at once.

While I had plenty of storage for images, battery power was a bit of a problem. Luckily, I have a power inverter that I can plug into my vehicle, and I used that to recharge the batteries for the 7D, or I would have run out of batteries for that body. The 60D body chugged along all week on just one battery, as I knew that it would, so that wasn’t a problem.

My dilemma stems from not being able to afford everything that I would like to have now, and how to get what I’d like on my limited budget. For example, Canon is offering rebates on some of the lenses that I’d like to have, but you have to purchase two lenses or a lens and a camera body to qualify for the rebates. I’d really like a quality long zoom lens to replace the Beast, and I have a wide-angle lens picked out for when I purchase a full frame body, but I don’t know if I want to spend the money on both lenses right now, even though I could afford it. The wide-angle lens would work on the 60D body for landscapes, and it’s a L series lens, so it’s probably a better lens than my current one, but the one that I have now does well enough for the time being.

B&H Photo has some older Macbook Pro laptop computers in stock, at about half the cost of the newer models. That would work just fine for what I intend to use it for in the future, but it wouldn’t get much use at all at the current time, it would be sitting around most of the time. Should I grab one now before they run out of stock, or risk having to spend a lot more in the future, when it won’t be used very often now?

I definitely need more battery power for the 7D, and I’d like a battery grip for that body that holds two batteries, so I’d be sure not to face a dead battery during a day of shooting. There have been several times that I’ve had to switch batteries in the 7D because I can drain a battery in one day, and that’s especially true of the off-brand battery that I got as a freebie with the 7D. That battery didn’t last an entire day when I used it during my vacation.

I didn’t really want to go into all of this in this post about my vacation, but it was during my vacation that many of these issues came up. Working on this post is even more difficult because I’d like to jump ahead to photos that I’ve shot since then to illustrate my points.

Basically, it comes down to this, do I spend my money now on lenses that will have a direct impact on the quality of the images that I shoot, or should I save money now by buying the laptop computer, along with accessories for my cameras that may not impact the quality of my images, but are things that would make my life easier, now, and especially in the future?

Making the decisions that I face tougher is the fact that I’m continuing to learn how to get the best out of what I have now. This is a shot from my morning at Besser-Bell, using the 60D and 100 mm macro lens.

Wood bluets

Wood forget-me-nots

And, this is what the Beast is capable of with a little help from me as far as focusing.

Dragonfly in flight

Dragonfly in flight

One of the many things that I have been trying lately is manually focusing in tough situations when the camera and lens hunts for a focus for too long a time. Sometimes, as with the dragonfly, I only have to get close with the focus, so that the camera and lens know what I want to focus on, then I can hit the button to let camera take it from there. Other times, I have to completely focus manually, as with this crow snoozing in the tree tops.

American crow

American crow

Well, it had been snoozing until it heard me playing around under him or her, then it took off…

American crow in flight

American crow in flight

That’s not a very good photo, I have much better ones that I’ve shot since I’ve been home, but it would be cheating to use one of the newer ones in that one’s place.

The same applies to this photo of a cedar waxwing…

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

…I have much better images from around home here, but that was the best that I could get while on vacation.

I suppose the good news is that working with the Beast a bit more for birds in flight, I was able to get these, as well as the earlier ones in this post.

Common tern in flight

Common tern in flight

 

Common tern in flight

Common tern in flight

 

Common tern in flight

Common tern in flight

These common mergansers synchronized their wing beats nicely…

Common mergansers in flight

Common mergansers in flight

…,but I was out of position to take full advantage of that.

Common mergansers in flight

Common mergansers in flight

I was working on bird in flight photos because I wanted to get better photos of the black terns that I’ve seen every time that I’ve been to the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary, but once again, they stayed just out of range for a good photo.

Black tern in flight

Black tern in flight

 

Black tern in flight

Black tern in flight

 

Black tern in flight

Black tern in flight

Not great, but better than my previous efforts.

I knew that my vacation was winding down, and the weather was as close to perfect as it could be, so I spent a lot of time just sitting on top of the hill in the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary just enjoying my time there. I didn’t put much effort into photography, unless something came to me.

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

 

Juvenile male American redstart

Juvenile male American redstart

 

Pine warbler

Pine warbler

 

Mute swan family

Mute swan family

After dinner, I stopped off at Partridge Point one last time on my way back to the campground, where I shot these.

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

 

Female downy woodpecker

Female downy woodpecker

 

Female downy woodpecker

Female downy woodpecker

 

Female downy woodpecker

Female downy woodpecker

 

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

I knew that the next morning, I’d be winding up to fly also.

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

From there, it was back to the campground, where I shot the sunset photos that I began this post with.

I’m not really happy with this post, I didn’t want to dwell on the photography aspect as much as I did, although I could have gone on much longer about that. But, this vacation was nearly a month ago, and a lot has happened since then. Also, in many ways, this vacation was a test of sorts for what I hope will be more, and longer vacations in the future. So, not only was this vacation wonderful as far as getting away from home for a while and enjoying myself immensely, it also told me that I was on the right track as far as what photo gear and accessories  that I have on my wish list.

In addition, what has transpired since I’ve been back home has added fuel to the fire, so to speak, of where I’d like to go with my photography, how much that there still is for me to learn, and how I go about getting photos in the future. One of those things that has happened is that I got another lifer for the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on, not big news by itself, but how I got the photos is. And, I’ve shot many of the best images of my life in the weeks since this vacation, so that has been on my mind as well. Now, I need time to get caught up in my blogging.

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


Day four of my vacation

Warning! There’s no way that I can stay under my self-imposed limit for photos in one post although I will try to keep them as short as I can. If I included all the photos that I would like, I’d be blogging about my vacation until July.

With hardly a cloud in the sky, the sunrise on the fourth day of my vacation wasn’t worth photographing. However, as I was drinking my coffee, I shot this photo of a squirrel eating a breakfast of leaf buds in my campsite…

Grey squirrel

Grey squirrel

…while this one chose to take his breakfast out to a dead tree on the beach where he could soak up a little early morning sun.

Grey squirrel

Grey squirrel

That could be because even though the thermometer said that it was a little warmer than it had been at dawn on the previous days, it felt a little chillier. That’s because there was just a bit of a breeze that morning, when the others had been dead calm.

The other photo that I shot that morning while in the campground, was of this lyre-leaved rock cress.

Lyre-leaved rock cress

Lyre-leaved rock cress

My legs had been feeling a good deal better as the week wore on, I had noticed that there was almost a spring in my step the previous day, but I took it easy not wanting to over do it. I was also eating better this week than what has been my usual routine on vacations the last few years. Instead of trying to get by with eating as little as possible except for supper, I was going to a sit down restaurant when I got hungry, both for real food and a chance to rest my legs. That, and I didn’t try to be on the go 100% of the time like I usually do while on vacation, I was taking the time to enjoy this one.

Anyway, with my legs feeling much better, I decided that it was the day to tackle the trails at Negwegon State Park, just a few miles south of the campground that I was staying at. This is where I had met my Waterloo on my last trip to this area. I only made it half way up the north trail before my body gave out from all the abuse that I had subjected it to in the days leading up to that hike. It wasn’t because the trail is difficult, just the opposite, it’s an easy trail to hike. But, I had let myself get run down and dehydrated by the time that I hiked there on my last vacation there. Not this time, I was feeling good, and the day went very well.

I don’t know if it is the same pair, but once again, a pair of Phoebe have made their nest under the roof of the information kiosk in the parking lot. Here’s one of them, out looking for insects to feed to its young.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

One of the things that I’ve been working on this year is to shoot what I call mini-scapes. That is, using my wide-angle lens to photograph smaller scenes, like this one.

Negwegon State Park mini-scape.

Negwegon State Park mini-scape.

I love the variety of vegetation, I could have spent an hour or more there trying to shoot each species of plant individually, but then there’s no context as to how they all grow together, and how lovely the overall scene is. I need to work on those more though…

Marsh marigolds

Marsh marigolds

… as well as my traditional landscape photos.

Lake Huron at Negwegon State Park

Lake Huron at Negwegon State Park

I tried that scene two different ways, I’m not completely happy with either of them.

Lake Huron at Negwegon State Park 2

Lake Huron at Negwegon State Park 2

I should have looked for a better spot to shoot from.

This is what happens when I have the 60D body with the 15-85 mm lens on it shooting landscapes when a bald eagle flies past me.

Almost a bald eagle in flight

Almost a bald eagle in flight

I didn’t have time to set the 60D down and grab the 7D with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) on it, so I was shooting with the camera set-up for HDR images, with a 2 second time delay on the shutter release, bracketing the exposure by 2 stops, along with slow shutter speeds from having the ISO set to its lowest setting, 100. But, I was getting so few eagle photos that I thought that I had to try, I should have deleted that one. However, I saved it to remind myself to always be ready, and not let myself be lulled into forgetting about possible wildlife shots while I’m enjoying the day as much as I was at that point.

I a way, I’m surprised that I noticed the eagle at all, as I was in a state of near total bliss at the time. The weather was as close to perfect to be out walking as it can get, although not so good for landscape photos. I was alright with that, I felt great, it was a beautiful spot to take a break and enjoy the day, all was right with the world as far as I was concerned at the time.

If it matters, that was at the first walk-in campsite that you can reserve there in Negwegon State Park, there are several more scattered through the park, which has been left in its wild state as much as possible.

Anyway, as I started back up the trail, I met a flicker leaving her nest.

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

It turned out to be a woodpecker kind of day, as you will see later, but first, some breaking news. Next week, I’ll be starting a new run at work, this one starts at 10 AM vs. the old run I have been doing which started at 2 AM! For at least the rest of this summer I should be able to get a walk in before work, just after sunrise, my favorite time of the day to be outside!

Anyway, back to my hike. I found a few early spring flowers still blooming, here are two of them…

Hepatica

Hepatica

 

Trillium

Trillium

…and this mid-spring flower.

Yellow violet?

Yellow violet?

I was looking up in the trees most of the time, hoping to catch some warblers, vireos or thrushes, instead, I found a red-breasted nuthatch.

Red-breasted nuthatch

Red-breasted nuthatch

I also found a yellow-bellied sapsucker working on a nesting cavity.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker

Yellow-bellied sapsucker

There were also dozens of blue jays, more on them later as well as the woodpeckers, but here’s a preview.

Blue jay

Blue jay

The only warbler photo from my hike was this one.

Black-throated green warbler

Black-throated green warbler

There were plenty of palm and yellow-rumped warblers as well, but they’ve been appearing here regularly, so I’ll hold of posting any from this day.

Along the entire length of the trail, there was one of these about every 30 feet or so.

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

If I had set my mind to it, I could have done a post of nothing but the different chipmunks chattering at me as I walked along the trail.

I spotted a red-bellied woodpecker off to my right, but as I was raising the camera to get a shot of it, I noticed this fly up to me to my left, so I quickly turned and shot him instead…

Red-headed woodpecker

Red-headed woodpecker

…because these are much less common that the red-bellied…

Red-headed woodpecker

Red-headed woodpecker

…I’m posting three shots of him.

Red-headed woodpecker

Red-headed woodpecker

I arrived at the South Point campsite, and once I got past the view…

The view from South Point in Negwegon State Park

The view from South Point in Negwegon State Park

…I noticed that on the island in Thunder Bay that you can see in the right side of the photo above, the gulls and crows were creating quite a commotion.

Birds on Bird Island

Birds on Bird Island

The name of the island just happens to be Bird Island, the gulls and other birds probably nest there in the hundreds or even thousands. Unfortunately, the crows were probably hanging around to pick off a careless young gull or eggs that a female gull left unprotected.

Earlier I had a photo of a blue jay, and I said that there were dozens of them. They weren’t acting as blue jays normally do, sounding their alarm calls whenever they saw me, they were all quiet other than their social calls to one another. I’ve never thought of blue jays as migratory birds, as there are always some around all winter, but it turns out, many of them do migrate, and here’s a few of them heading back to the north.

A migrating flock of blue jays

A migrating flock of blue jays

I zoomed in a little for this next one, so that you can tell that they are blue jays.

A migrating flock of blue jays

A migrating flock of blue jays

Here’s a strangler trying to catch up to the flock, but I couldn’t get it and the flock in focus al at once.

A migrating flock of blue jays

A migrating flock of blue jays

I sat there at the campsite at South Point for quite a while, just enjoying the fine spring day, I also shot this one last photo from there, a paper birch catkin.

The catkins from a paper birch tree

The catkins from a paper birch tree

I didn’t really want to leave, but I was running low on water, and although my legs felt great, I still had two and a half miles to go to get back to my car, so I set off on the return walk back. Along the way, I stopped to shoot this guy…

Male yellow-bellied sapsucker

Male yellow-bellied sapsucker

…as long as he kept posing…

Male yellow-bellied sapsucker

Male yellow-bellied sapsucker

…I kept shooting.

Male yellow-bellied sapsucker

Male yellow-bellied sapsucker

I heard several pileated woodpeckers that day, and saw one flying across the trail in front of me, but I was never able to get a photo of any of them. That’s the way that the entire week went as far as that species is concerned.

I walked at a brisk pace on my way back to my car, as by now, there were few birds singing any longer, and I really wanted to test my legs. They held up just fine, and as I type this, I’m happy to report that the improvement continues, and that I’m back close to 100% again.

After that hike, it was time for something to eat, so I drove into Alpena for that. On the way back to the campground, I stopped at Partridge Point once again to shoot these…

Great egret

Great egret

…sorry for so many egret photos from this trip, but they were everywhere, and I rarely see them around home. Not so with these guys, but it is my first photo of a kingbird this year…

Eastern kingbird

Eastern kingbird

…and any time that I get a chance to photograph a brown thrasher out in the open…

Brown thrasher singing

Brown thrasher singing

…I’ll take it, if they are singing…

Brown thrasher not singing

Brown thrasher not singing

…or not.

I don’t know if it is because we had a mild winter after two harsh ones, but not only am I seeing more flowers than I have the last two springs, I’ve already seen more dragonflies…

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

…and butterflies than I had the last two springs. I finally caught one of these tiny blue butterflies with its wings open…

Unidentified fluttering object

Unidentified fluttering object

…but wouldn’t you know, there was that plant obscuring my view, and casting a shadow on the butterfly. As soon as I moved, so did the butterfly. I didn’t have that problem with this though.

Snail

Snail

That was in one of the many puddles along the trail at Partridge Point, which was still mostly flooded due to all the rain this spring.

When I returned to my car, I had a nice conversation with a guy who owns a gorgeous home with a magnificent view looking out over Partridge Point and Thunder Bay as he waited for his grandchildren to return from school. He told me where to find the second access site that I had looked for, but hadn’t been able to find, as it looks like the driveway to a home. I didn’t have time to check it out then, I returned the next day for that. Since it was getting to be late afternoon, I wanted to get back to the campground for a walk there, and to shoot the sunset if was a good one.

On the way back to my campsite, I paused at the public access site nearby, where the Devil’s River flows into Thunder Bay and Lake Huron. I had seen a few birds there in previous years, but found only robins there on this day. However, I did shoot this landscape of the river as it flows between the houses just before it meets Thunder Bay.

The Devil's River at Thunder Bay

The Devil’s River at Thunder Bay

Normally, I try to shoot photos in less developed areas, but that sums up the weather that day, and how pretty northern Michigan is in the spring.

As I was doing my evening tour back at the campground, I heard the tree swallows making a commotion out over the lake and was able to shoot this.

Tree swallows in flight

Tree swallows in flight

I don’t know if it has to do with mating or if it’s just part of their social behavior, but swallows often chase each other around squawking as they do.

One thing that I had intended to do was to take my camp chair down to the point where I see so many birds and just sit there and shoot away. But if you can believe it, the one thing that I forgot to pack was the chair. I wish that I hadn’t, because of all the places that I went while on this trip, that point in the campground is where I saw the most birds and in a very limited area, as waves of migrating birds passed through.

On my first evening there, I missed many birds because I was using the 300 mm lens with the extender behind it, and that set-up couldn’t focus fast enough for the birds that I saw. On the second evening there, I missed one of these…

Wilson's warbler

Wilson’s warbler

…because of how I had to move to get the Beast through the brush and up to my eye, scaring the warbler off before I could get a photo. This one seemed to be quite content to pose for me…

Wilson's warbler

Wilson’s warbler

…and even put up with circling it to get better light.

Wilson's warbler

Wilson’s warbler

So, things worked out well in the end, as I did get my best photos ever of a Wilson’s warbler. There were a few other birds there…

Yellow-Rumped warbler

Yellow-Rumped warbler

…but that was the only other photo from that evening that I’m going to post, as far as birds that is.

With hardly a cloud in the sky, the sunset was a bust, but as I looked across Thunder Bay, I could see a mirage forming on the other side.

A mirage across Thunder Bay

A mirage across Thunder Bay

It was a bit weird seeing the opposite shoreline and an upside down mirror image of it above the real shoreline, but those are the tricks that the weather can play on your eyes when conditions are just right.

I don’t think that my photos from the day reflect just how close to perfect this day was. The temperature was great for hiking, a light breeze coming off from Lake Huron mixing with the scent of pines and cedars on shore, and my legs not only made to the end of the hike, they felt great afterwards! I slept so well that night that I never woke up when a group of campers unloaded four vehicles to set-up five tents in the campsite next to mine. I could have posted a wider variety of birds from this day, but I chose instead to post multiple photos of birds that I rarely see. The next day would be much the same, if anything, even better.

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