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

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!

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24 responses

  1. Great post. Lovely photos.

    June 25, 2016 at 7:00 pm

    • Thank you very much Victor!

      June 25, 2016 at 7:03 pm

  2. I enjoyed your post. Great photographs!

    June 25, 2016 at 7:11 pm

    • Thank you very much Belinda!

      June 25, 2016 at 7:19 pm

  3. Very astute observations with photos to accompany them! Thanks for sharing your insights and experience.

    June 25, 2016 at 7:31 pm

    • Thank you very much! I’ve always looked at photography as a way to record the behavior of animals, and lately, I’ve been trying to work towards beings more artistic at the same time.

      June 25, 2016 at 7:35 pm

  4. What a great post to scroll through slowly, the fox squirrel and the final picture were my favourites

    June 26, 2016 at 3:36 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! Glad that you liked it, it was a fun post to do.

      June 26, 2016 at 5:43 am

  5. Nice set of photos from a kook! My fave was the ring-billed gull getting ready to take off. Lots to like about the composition of that photo for me.

    What might constitutes great portrait of a bird is probably different than what makes a great photo. I can understand the neutral out of focus background for identification purposes. But the crowd-pleasers will probably always be the ones of birds being birds – building nests, eating, singing. It’s like the official Obama portrait will probably be a stern face, sitting in front of a row of law books and a flag. The crowd pleaser are him playing basketball with his secret service guys or chatting with a young fan. Only had the portraits to view, it would be a pretty boring world.

    So, keep on keeping on. Thank your readers all enjoy the kooky variety of photos you deliver .

    June 26, 2016 at 8:09 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! Sometimes I’m in the right place at the right time, like with the gull.

      You’re right about bird portraits as judged by photographers and those judged by the general public, but did you have to bring up Barack! 🙂

      June 26, 2016 at 9:44 pm

      • OK. Let’s change it from my grade school official photo to the ones of me stuffing my face with cake at a birthday party. Better?😀

        June 27, 2016 at 7:11 am

      • It works for me!

        June 27, 2016 at 7:42 am

  6. A friend was telling me that amateur photographers can hire a hide on the other side of our region which has set up to provide guaranteed bird arrivals for the niggardly sum of £90. I think that your methods are better and are providing some excellent results. I was judge you would win most weeks.

    June 26, 2016 at 4:33 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! There are places here that you can go to rent a hide and tame critters will be brought out for a photographer to photograph, but there’s no sport in that. And, they charge an arm and a leg here also.

      June 26, 2016 at 9:45 pm

  7. I found the other day that If I sat or stood in one spot dragonflies seemed to forget I was there and just went about their business instead of flying away, and it sounds like birds might do the same.
    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mulberry tree here but I know that some crabapple trees attract large flocks of robins and cedar waxwings.
    I think your dragonfly might be a female 12 spotted skimmer and the only reason I know that is because I just had to identify the male.
    I’ve never worried much about what others will think of my photos but now that I’m blogging it’s a little different, because I always hope the photo will make people want to go out and see the subjects in person. Photos are fine but as you know, there’s nothing quite like being there and seeing it for yourself. Your photos always make me want to pay more attention to birds but right now keeping up with the rest of nature is about all I can do. At least by coming here I can learn about them, and that’s something.
    I like that shot of the fox squirrel with his nut!

    June 26, 2016 at 5:33 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! Critters of all kinds seem to have short attention spans and/or a one track mind. You don’t have to sit still for very long, and most critters will begin to ignore you. Either that, or they are so focused on food or sex that they don’t care if your there. 😉

      I know what you mean about photos versus seeing things for yourself, most of the time it’s the sounds and scents that draw me to certain places time and time again, but there’s no way to put those things in a blog post.

      I also know what you mean about time constraints. I hiked back to Lost Lake, you’d love that place, and there were close to a dozen species of sedges flowering or going to seed, and at least half a dozen species of ferns that I actually paid attention to this time. Of course, I can’t ID any of them, but at least I had an idea what they were from your blog, and I’m beginning to notice them more from your blog. But, I don’t think that any one could possibly learn all the plants, insects, birds, and other wildlife that there is in nature, so we all have to limit our areas of expertise.

      June 26, 2016 at 10:07 pm

  8. This really is a brilliant post Jerry! I loved all of it – just carry on doing what you do so well.

    June 27, 2016 at 2:21 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I plan on continuing what I’m doing, only doing it even better in the future.

      June 27, 2016 at 11:54 pm

      • Yay!

        June 28, 2016 at 6:07 am

  9. Beautiful post and lovely photos, Jerry! As Clare says, “Carry on!” Always pleased to see your posts in my mailbox.

    June 27, 2016 at 8:35 pm

    • Thank you very much Lavinia! You are too kind.

      June 27, 2016 at 11:55 pm

  10. Great post and captures, Jerry. I too have learned so much about birds by watching them in action. It’s so much fun and a tremendous stress-reliever! 🙂

    July 2, 2016 at 3:22 pm

    • Thank you very much Donna! You’re right about watching birds being a tremendous stress-reliever, when I’m watching the birds, all else leaves my mind.

      July 2, 2016 at 4:44 pm

  11. I’m always blown away by your bird shots, Jerry. It’s certainly got a lo to do with your patience and accumulated knowledge of bird behaviour. I loved the snake one too. I live in hope that one day, given the equipment, practice, time and dedication that I may produce worthy bird shots. I think I know what you mean about that moment where you get the bird looking you in the eye. I just wish I could capture it like you do! Well done. 🙂

    July 6, 2016 at 1:55 am