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

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!

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23 responses

  1. As always, highly interesting, educational and visually enjoyable – thank you so much for all your hard work to give us pleasure. What a treat that turkey story is,😃

    June 22, 2016 at 9:06 am

    • Thank you very much! I don’t think of it as hard work, it’s something that I truly love doing, and doing well.

      June 23, 2016 at 6:53 am

  2. Wonderful pictures whatever you say, I felt sorry for the turkey.

    June 22, 2016 at 11:22 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! I felt sorry for the turkey also, they wouldn’t harm anything larger than a grasshopper.

      June 23, 2016 at 6:54 am

  3. Wonderful photographs especially love the dragonfly, the cedar waxwing and the common grackle (great names too) – lots of oohs and aahs! Your turkey tale (!) would delight every child I know especially if there was a happy ending for both birds. We have a magpie who is attacking our car wing mirror on a daily basis – wonder why are these birds so aggressive?

    June 22, 2016 at 2:11 pm

    • Thank you very much! I don’t think that any one knows why some species of birds are timid and shy, while others are extremely aggressive. Many species of birds are also fascinated by their reflection in a mirror, sometimes they try to make friends with the reflection, other times they mistake it for a rival.

      June 23, 2016 at 6:59 am

  4. This post is so entertaining, with that Red-winged Blackbird attacking bigger birds! I wonder if they would attack humans if we somehow end up close to their nests. About the 7D Mark II, I agree fully that it’s a very good camera, at a reasonable price. Your pictures taken with it these past few months are clearly outstanding, even though the ones you took before were not so bad.

    June 22, 2016 at 5:57 pm

    • Thank you very much! Yes, the red-winged blackbirds will occasionally attack people. Also, deer, cars, and about anything else that enters their territory.

      June 23, 2016 at 7:00 am

  5. Excellent shots! I can say that red winged blackbirds will go after humans because they’ve done it to me 2 or 3 times when I’ve stumbled into their nesting sites. The males hovered just above my head and screeched loudly until I left. They never pecked me but they easily could have. I don’t think there is anything or anyone that they’re afraid of.
    The plant does look like curly dock with its pearl like seeds.
    I love the shots of the dragon and damselflies, and the water lilies too.
    I’m glad that you’re able to get out around home more now. I’m guessing your hours have finally changed. It’ll be good to see some of the local wildlife again!

    June 22, 2016 at 6:12 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! I get attacked several times a day no matter where I go, but then, I’m usually working the edges of fields and marshes, which are the blackbird’s favorite places to nest.

      Yes, I’m working different hours, longer ones. The run that I have now is one that no one else wanted, because it takes too long to complete in relationship to the pay that we get for it. The good thing is that it is more pay than I got on the other run though, I think. The next check that I get will be the first one with just the pay from this new run on it. Yesterday, I got to work at 9:30 AM, and got home at 11:30 PM, that leaves no time for a walk, or much of anything else.

      June 23, 2016 at 7:19 am

      • That’s too bad. I was hoping you’d have more time to yourself when you mentioned that you were starting at a different time. But it’s hard to live without money, so I don’t blame you. Retirement is right around the corner!

        June 23, 2016 at 5:18 pm

      • I should have more time, but the places that I’m going are so slow that I have less time off. I thought that I could get outside for an hour or two in the morning, but there are nights when I don’t get home until close to midnight.

        June 24, 2016 at 12:14 am

  6. Your running g commentary on the red-winged black birds was hilarious. Your voice carried this series of shots loud and clear! They are nasty little devils – seems like they will attack everything in sight!

    I first followed your blog because of your stunning bird photos. Now I find that they are just a sliver of what I enjoy – your macro flower and insect shots are amazing. I learn something new every time I read a post.

    Hope you’ll agree to letting me hike with you in the next month or so. I’m so inspired by your photos – would love to see it all come together in person.

    June 22, 2016 at 9:52 pm

    • Thank you very much Judy! Put something pretty or colorful in front of me, and I’ll shoot it, be it a flower, bird, insect, or a scene from nature.

      My hikes have become more like strolls, Ive slowed down a lot, and that was even before the heat hit. I find that the slower I go, the more I see, and the better my photos of what I see are. But, I’d love to have you join me if you don’t mind spending time with a kook like me.

      June 23, 2016 at 7:26 am

  7. The water lily shots were my favourites today. They took some skill to get.

    June 23, 2016 at 9:41 am

    • Thank you very much Tom! The shots you mentioned weren’t that difficult to get, other than changing metering modes, all I did was change the angle at which I shot them depending on the results that I wanted.

      June 24, 2016 at 12:11 am

  8. This is such an enjoyable post Jerry! I love the sequence of RWB and Turkey shots and the macro photos are exquisite. I hope you get a little more leisure time soon so I can enjoy even more of your photographs.

    June 23, 2016 at 11:19 am

    • Thank you very much Clare! Unfortunately, more leisure time for me doesn’t seem to be happening, I’m working more hours, not less. The good news is that I’m getting more good photos in the time that I do have off.

      June 24, 2016 at 12:12 am

  9. Fantastic photography and information, Jerry! And I just loved the RWB and the turkey action series and story. Crazy little birds, they love going after the big fellas, lol. 🙂

    June 24, 2016 at 12:57 am

    • Thank you very much Donna! The red-winged blackbirds are crazy, I’ve watched them chase deer and rabbits before, which don’t present any threat at all.

      June 24, 2016 at 7:13 am

  10. What a great series of shots of the turkey and blackbird! Always enjoys your posts!

    I agree with you on cameras. Getting the best one can afford is probably the better way to go. A lot of good shots are lost due to lack of good hardware.

    June 27, 2016 at 8:44 pm

    • Thank you again Lavinia! Better equipment alone isn’t always the solution, one needs to learn what makes it better and how to put it to use to produce better images.

      June 27, 2016 at 11:57 pm

  11. It’s been a while since I’ve checked out your blog, Jerry. I didn’t think you could improve on your already great shots, but somehow you keep getting better. I admire your dedication to improving your skills. It’s great to have great equipment but you still need to be able to learn to use it, be savvy about wildlife behaviour, be patient and compose them well. These are things you’ve excelled at. Sorry I’ve not caught up properly yet. 🙂

    July 6, 2016 at 1:51 am