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

Archive for July, 2016

Waiting on the weather

We’re having a warm summer here in West Michigan this year, and as I mentioned in the last post, it has also been drier than average as well. As luck would have it, it’s early on a Sunday morning as I start this post, and it’s raining outside. I know that we needed the rain, but why did it have to come on the one day of the week when I have the full day for photography?

I braved the heat yesterday to go for a medium length walk around home, and I did manage to shoot a few good photos. There was almost no breeze at all, which made the heat seem worse than it would have otherwise, but that made it a good day to shoot flowers.

Moth mullein

Moth mullein

They say that diffuse light is best for flowers, and I agree that it can be very good, but if one chooses the correct flower at just the right angle, you can also capture how sparkly many flowers appear in full sun.

Asiatic dayflower

Asiatic day flower

Even a flower like the lowly horse nettle.

JVIS9275

Horse nettle

I have a huge backlog of photos saved to be put into posts, which is a good thing in some ways. It means that as I shoot better photos of a particular subject, I can use it, rather than one of the earlier images which may not be as good.

As luck would have it, while I was out on Sunday, I shot a pair of images to compare the same flowers shot in diffused light…

Pickerel weed, diffused light

Pickerel weed, diffused light

…and in full sunlight.

Pickerel weed, full sunlight

Pickerel weed, full sunlight

But, it wasn’t a great test, as the ISO setting of the image in full sun was much lower than the one shot in diffused light. I should have had my tripod with me and set the ISO manually for a better comparison. I probably should have used the macro lens as well, those were shot with the 300 mm lens.

But, since the weather was so changeable yesterday, I had the 15-85 mm lens on the 60D to shoot landscapes if I saw a scene that I thought warranted a photo or two.

Threatening clouds

Threatening clouds

That was shot in the parking lot of the Little Black Lake Park, a new to me park that I’ve never been to before. It’s on the other side of Little Black Lake from the P.J. Hoffmaster State Park, just south of Muskegon. It had just stopped raining there when I shot that, but there were still thunderstorms all around me, so I paced the parking lot for a while. A little later, after I decided it was safe to for me to do so, I walked the park, and shot this image as well.

Little Black Lake

Little Black Lake

It does make putting together a coherent blog post a little more difficult though, as I’m pulling photos from different trips over the course of the past few months. I did weed out quite a few of my earlier photos on Saturday, since it was too hot to be outside for any length of time unless I was sitting in the shade.

I was doing just that while it was so hot on Saturday, siting in the shade, hoping that a few goldfinches would come to feed on the seeds of various flowers that I was close to.

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

 

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

I spotted an animal moving towards me in the vegetation that I was watching, at first I thought that it was probably a cat. As it continued getting closer, I saw that it was a fox. I sat very still, and even though I could have gotten a fair shot or two through the brush, I held off, not wanting to alert the fox to my presence with the sound of the shutter going off.

Like most members of the canine family, foxes depend on scent and sounds when they are hunting, and to alert them to danger. I could see that the fox was tracking something, possibly this bunny that I had seen in the area earlier.

Cottontail rabbit

Cottontail rabbit

By then, the fox was less than 20 feet from me, and less than 4 feet from the edge of the vegetation, if it had been tracking that bunny, it would have had to come out into the open to follow the scent trail. I sat very still with the camera half-way to my eye, and guess what happened. A cyclist came by, and despite my signs asking him to stop, he went blasting right on by me, which of course spooked the fox, who took off running across the field.

Red fox on the run

Red fox on the run

I’d better change the subject quickly, or I’ll go off on a rant about cyclists, and I’d better not, as a few of the regular readers and commenters to my blog are passionate cyclists.

Anyway, I thought that I had a good photo of a male cardinal preening, but when I saw the photos, I almost deleted them because it looks as if some one decapitated the poor cardinal and stuck the severed head back on the body in the wrong position.

Male northern cardinal preening

Male northern cardinal preening

It’s funny how different a two-dimensional photo looks when compared to what I saw in three dimensions as the cardinal preened. Here’s a later photo showing that the cardinal was fine, and that it was just a trick of the camera that made it look as if he had lost his head.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Maybe I’m bragging a little here, but all of the poor photos that I’ve shot in bad weather and posted here have been good practice towards being able to get a good photo in such conditions.

On my way to the Little Black Lake Park, before the rain had let up completely, I shot these two photos of a red-shouldered hawk.

Juvenile red-shouldered hawk

Juvenile red-shouldered hawk

I was well braced, but these were still shot handheld at 1/80 second with the 300 mm lens and the 1.4 X extender.

Juvenile red-shouldered hawk

Juvenile red-shouldered hawk

In fact, for most of the day on Sunday, I was shooting in low light, as you can tell from the landscape images earlier in this post.

Little Black Lake Park is supposed to be a good spot for birding, but I saw very few there on Sunday. The only one that I was able to photograph is this song sparrow bringing food to its young.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Before I began getting serious about birding, it was rare for me to see a song sparrow, now they seem to be ubiquitous, I see them everywhere there’s water nearby.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

I did see a bird of a different kind as I was waiting for the rain to end completely. This is probably a DC-3 given the color scheme…

DC-3 or C-47 "Goony bird"?

DC-3 or C-47 “Gooney bird”?

…but it could have been a converted version of the C-47, they are essentially the same plane other than slight modifications to the military version. After WW II, many of the C-47’s were sold for civilian use, which makes it tough to tell which variant any one plane is.

The lack of birds was probably due to the weather, I’ll have to return when there aren’t storms in the area.

I did see a few deer, I shot this fawn from a distance, which I normally don’t do.

Whitetail fawn

Whitetail fawn

I think that in this image, you can see how small the fawn still is compared to the vegetation.

I almost went back to my car to get my tripod and the macro lens to shoot water drops on the flowers…

Swamp rose?

Swamp rose?

…but the mosquitoes were ferocious!

Water drops on unidentified flowers

Water drops on unidentified flowers

The insect repellant that I have seems to have lost its effectiveness, I don’t know if it’s because it’s a year old, or if it is because I keep it in my Forester, and it has gotten very hot a number of times. After the rain ended, there was no wind at all, which would have made macro photos easier, but also made the mosquitoes worse.

After I purchased a good tripod, I went through a phase when I tried to use it for every macro photo of a flower that I shot. Using the tripod did eliminate camera shake, but it didn’t stop the flowers from moving in the wind, so I became very frustrated and don’t use the tripod as much as I should when conditions are right. As thick as the skeeters were, I’d have gotten frustrated again if I had taken the time to set-up the tripod to shoot those photos.

My next stop on Sunday was Lake Harbor Park, where I shot a few photos of crows. I’m not sure, but I think that the adults were teaching their young how to safely scavenge around humans.

American crow

American crow

Some one posted a link to a video in the comments to my last post about how well crows can solve problems. (Sorry, I don’t know the person’s name, just that their blog is https://lletty.wordpress.com/ )

American crows

American crows

I had seen that video before, but it led me to a full length episode of the program Nature from the BBC on crows.

American crow

American crow

I’ve always known that crows were social and very intelligent birds, but the more scientists study them, the more that they learn just how intelligent they are. If you have a spare hour to watch the video, here’s a link to it.

Here are a few of the other things that I found to photograph at Lake Harbor Park.

Unidentified flowering object

Unidentified flowering object

The mallards there are used to being fed, here’s one coming at me to see if I had food for her.

Female mallard coming in for a landing

Female mallard coming in for a landing

On the other hand, this mother mallard seem very intent on finding wild food for her young, they could barely keep up with her as fast as she was swimming.

Female mallard and ducklings

Female mallard and ducklings

I wish that I could have gotten closer to these trumpet vine flowers, but they were ringed by rose bushes full of thorns, in the low light, it probably didn’t make much difference how close I was able to get.

Trumpet vine flowers

Trumpet vine flowers

With all the close-ups of gulls that I’ve shot and posted, I hardly need to post this one, but I really like it for some reason that I can’t put my finger on.

Ring-billed gull

Ring-billed gull

One male mallard was just beginning to sprout a few new green feathers on its head, it will be a month or two yet before they are back to the colorful ducks most people think of when they hear mallard.

Male mallard going green

Male mallard going green

I remember how hard I used to work trying to get a good photo of a grey squirrel that was black. These days, it’s a piece of cake, even in low light. Either my equipment is much better, or I’ve finally learned how, maybe it’s both. By the way, grey squirrels around here come in two colors, grey, which is how they came to get their name, or black, like this one. Of course it helped that some one left a pile of sunflower seeds for the squirrel to eat, and no, it wasn’t me, I just took advantage of it.

Grey squirrel, black morph

Grey squirrel, black morph

On my way to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, there were a few young turkeys along the road, so I stopped to shoot a few photos.

Turkey poults

Turkey poults

Here’s their mother.

Female turkey

Female turkey

And, since the mother turkeys usually keep their young well hidden from sight, here’s another photo of the poults, since it’s rare to see them.

Turkey poults

Turkey poults

The mother must have wanted to cross the road very badly, for like I said, it’s rare to see the poults when they are that young, even though turkeys have become very common here.

It was a tough day for birding, even at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve I was only able to catch a few birds. I’ve posted a lot of photos of the marsh wrens this summer, and because they were one of the few species of birds that I found on this day, I’m forced to post a few more. 😉

Marsh wren

Marsh wren

I thought that the photo above would be a good one, but there’s a stick in front of the wren’s face. I was quick enough to get this shot a little later…

Marsh wren

Marsh wren

…before the wren hid again.

Marsh wren hiding

Marsh wren hiding

The only reason I used that last photo is because there was some one standing next to me using a 7D Mk II with a Canon L series 70-200 mm f/2.8 lens with a 2 X tele-converter behind it, and his set-up couldn’t keep up with the wren as well as mine. I considered that same set-up for birding, I’m glad that I chose what I did instead. Also, it is yet another example of how difficult it is to photograph smaller birds well. It doesn’t take them long to hide once they know that they’re being photographed.

One of the other birds that I was able to get a photo of was this young robin that has already learned that mayflies aren’t just for trout. (Trout feed heavily on mayflies when they are available.)

Juvenile robin with a mayfly

Juvenile robin with a may fly

If you’re wondering what mayflies look like, here’s a close-up of one that I shot on an earlier trip.

Unidentified mayfly

Unidentified may fly

They often hold their front legs up like that right after they have transformed from their larval stage to an adult. They’re odd-looking things, even for the world of insects, but the trout, and now I find birds, love to eat them.

Along with being able to get good photos of the black morph grey squirrels, I’m also very pleased that I can get photos of birds with food in their beaks where you can identify what type of insect it is. Like this eastern Phoebe with a dragonfly to take back to her young.

Eastern Phoebe with a dragonfly for her young

Eastern Phoebe with a dragonfly for her young

I’ve been able to photograph several birds with dragonflies in their beaks, I had no idea that so many dragonflies were taken by the birds, since dragonflies are wary and very quick. Anyway, that’s another reason that I love photographing nature, I can learn so much from the photos when they are good ones.

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

Advertisements

Why didn’t I?

In almost every image that I shoot, once I load it to my computer and look at it in Lightroom, I see a flaw that I could have easily avoided if I had taken the time to analyze the scene that I was shooting in the first place. Take the image of the day lily that I put in my last post.

Day lily

Day lily

There’s the one dried leaf towards the bottom of the frame that stuck out like a sore thumb when I first viewed the image. I was able to use Lightroom to darken it down a little so that it’s not quite so obvious, but I could have easily plucked that leaf off if I had been paying attention in the first place. I made the same mistake in this image.

Day lily

Day lily

I should have done some judicious pruning before shooting that image as well.

I think that a lot of it has to do with the fact that my first love is shooting wildlife, mostly birds, and that I often have very little time to get any photo. Some times, I just luck out.

Male dickcissel singing

Male dickcissel singing

However, even when it comes to birds, I’m trying to be more aware of what’s in the background, and I swear, the birds know that, and what I’m attempting to do. I spotted a male cardinal singing, and so I shot a photo or two from where I was when I first spotted him. Since he didn’t fly off right away, I looked the scene over, and sure enough, there were branches right behind him. I could see that if I moved to my left a little, then there would be nothing behind him but blue sky, so that’s what I did, moved to the left. As the camera was acquiring focus, I could see the cardinal walking along the branch he was perched on until the branches were directly behind him again.

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing

Argh! I didn’t try moving back to my right so that the branches behind the cardinal in that photo wouldn’t have been there. He probably would have walked back down the branch back to where he started anyway.

Even in the image of the dickcissel above, the tip of the branch he is perched on is sticking out of his shoulder. I tried to remove it in Lightroom, with limited success.

Male dickcissel singing

Male dickcissel singing

I need more practice in both shooting photos in the first place, then in editing them later.

You may say that I’m being overly critical, but it’s the small details that separate a good image from a great image. I need to take more time when I’m shooting flowers or landscapes to be sure that the image that I’ve shot is the best it can be, and not shoot those subjects the same way as I do birds or other wildlife.

Then, there are the times when shooting a video would have been a much better choice than shooting still photos.

For those of you who don’t know, squirrels build two types of “nests”. During the colder months, they gather dried leaves and pile them up in the crotch of a tree or where a number of branches come together. Then, when the squirrel wants to sleep, it simply burrows into the pile of leaves, which act as insulation to keep the squirrel dry and warm.

That works fine for an adult squirrel, but their young are born blind and helpless, just as most mammals are. So, when a female is about to give birth, she builds a different type of nest, one very similar to a bird’s nest, using branches that she cuts off with her teeth. The branches are then woven loosely together, and the result is lined with leaves. That way, the newborn squirrels are in no danger of falling out of the nest while their mother is off feeding.

So, I found a female fox squirrel working on a nest in which to give birth, and I shot dozens of photos of her in action. This is one of those times when a video would have been so much better. How do I know that? Because in setting this up, the thing that comes to mind is to say that if you’ve ever seen a video of a dog trying to get a long stick through a narrow doorway, that’s what I was reminded of as I watched the squirrel in action.

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Oops, almost dropped it.

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Come back here.

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

I need a better grip on this branch.

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

I’ve got it now!

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Still can’t get it past the other branches.

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

More to the left.

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Maybe if I hold it here instead?

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

And so it went. The thought to shoot that as a video occurred to me later, so I returned to that spot. By then, she was in a different part of the tree, where I could just make her out, and the light was horrible as well. Nature seldom gives you more than one chance to get it right in the first place, whether it be still photos or videos, unless you have plenty of time to spend outside.

As I’ve said before, shooting video with a long lens handheld is no easy task, most of the videos that I’ve attempted are too shaky for me to post here. If I use my tripod, it works fine for stationary subjects, because I have a tripod head best suited for still photography. For video, I should have a tripod head that allows for smooth movement as I follow a subject. That means purchasing yet another tripod head, and even though the heads for videos can be locked for stills, I wonder how effective that would be. I have the feeling that I’d end up trying to carry two tripod heads and switching back and forth, or much more likely, trying to make do with the wrong one for what I’m attempting to do at the time.

I suppose that I should bite the bullet and spend the $600 for a Wimberly gimbal head like the professionals use that will work for both video and stills, maybe some day. 😉

That, and along with the theme of my last post, I’m looking forward to the days when I can spend as much time as needed to get the photo that I’d like to get, and not feel the need to rush off to the next photo-op. An example of that would be that when there’s a day with good light, and very little wind, to spend the time shooting wildflowers.

Unidentified flowering object

Unidentified flowering object

Along with their many visitors.

Honeybee on an unidentified flowering object

Honeybee on an unidentified flowering object

I missed the grasshopper on the back of the flower, it took off when I moved. But as I was looking for it, or a better one of the flowers to photograph, I saw the most beautiful bee that I’ve ever seen.

 Unidentified bee on an unidentified flowering object

Unidentified bee on an unidentified flowering object

I tried for a better image.

 Unidentified bee on an unidentified flowering object

Unidentified bee on an unidentified flowering object

But, I really should have put a tele-converter or extension tubes behind the 100 mm macro lens so that I could get closer to that tiny bee.

As small as the individual flowers were, I was quite proud of the images of them that I got, they were just over 1/8 of an inch (3 mm) across at their base.

Unidentified flowering object

Unidentified flowering object

If I would have sat there for a while with the proper set-up, the tiny bee may have returned for a better image of it, at the least, I would have gotten better images of the flowers. Even if I hadn’t, what could be better than sitting in a field of beautiful wildflowers with nothing else to do but enjoy and admire them?

I think that I’m having an epiphany at the moment, maybe it isn’t that I don’t have the time to shoot great photos, maybe I have the perception that I don’t have the time that it would take to shoot the subjects that I do in a much better way.

I have slowed down quite a bit already, and it is paying dividends. But, there’s always the nagging thought in the back of my mind that there’s a better photo around the next bend in the trail, or the next location that I plan on visiting. I need to work on that as much as anything.

I’m still learning, and maybe the next big milestone in my education is the idea that great images don’t just jump into your camera when you’re in the right place at the right time every now and then.

I can always come up with excuses as to why I shouldn’t spend more time on any given subject that I’m shooting. The light is wrong, the background is wrong, there’s too much wind, the subject isn’t perfect, and so it goes.

There are ways to work around those problems, and I’ve done so when I’ve really wanted a particular photo. I’ve said in the past that I love solving the problems that are presented to me when it comes to photography, maybe I need to take that a few steps further.

As I’m thinking about this, I’ve just remembered what the next photo that I shot after the flowers above was, it was this upland sandpiper that flew past me as I returned to my car.

Upland sandpiper in flight

Upland sandpiper in flight

That may not have been totally luck, but close to it. I do keep the 7D body with a long lens set-up ready at all times for just such an occasion, and the sandpiper flew past me right after I had set down the 60D body and macro lens, freeing my hands for that shot. However, I can’t rely on such luck all the time if I expect to shoot images like that on a regular basis.

I’ve been trying to get past the notion that there’s always a better photo somewhere else, take the sandhill cranes for example. I sat there waiting for them to take flight, hoping to get good images of them, but it was a poor day to do so. That’s because there was no wind at all, which meant that the cranes took flight in any direction that they felt like when they decided to leave the marsh to go to their feeding locations for the day. Any bird that runs to build up speed as it takes to the air…

Sandhill cranes taking flight

Sandhill cranes taking flight

…will always take off or land going into the wind for the added lift that they get from the air going across their wings, just as airplanes do.

That meant that I wasted most of the time that I sat there watching the cranes and waiting for them to fly, as none of the photos that I shot are all that great compared to what they could have been if the cranes had taken off at a different angle, towards me rather than slightly away from me. Instead of waiting around to get poor photos of the cranes, I should have been shooting more wildflowers that morning since there was no wind.

Appendaged waterleaf?

Appendaged waterleaf?

I also let some things get to me that I shouldn’t. I never found their nest, mostly because I wasn’t really looking for it, but there were a pair of green herons flying across one of the small waterways near Grand Haven…

Green heron in flight

Green heron in flight

…I could tell that they were bringing food to their young…

Green heron in flight

Green heron in flight

…if I had hung around there longer I may have gotten a good photo of them. I may have even gotten to see their young, and the adults feeding them. But, a bass boat…

Breaking the morning calm

Breaking the morning calm

…went blasting down the channel, and I let it ruin my mood, when I should have stuck around that spot for a while longer. The herons would have gone right back to bringing food to their young, they had no other option. I should know by now that such things are going to happen, I’m not out in a wilderness somewhere when I’m out shooting photos, so I don’t know why I let a small thing like the bass boat going past make me decide to pack it in where I’m at, and move to another location, where something similar is bound to happen.

I need to become more patient, that is if I’m ever going to shoot the photos that I’d like to someday. That doesn’t apply to just the quality of the images, but also the subject matter as well. I’d like to chronicle several species of birds raising their young, from while the parent(s) are incubating the eggs, as in this earlier photo of an Eastern Kingbird…

Female eastern kingbird on her nest

Female eastern kingbird on her nest

…to when the birds first hatch…

Newly hatched eastern kingbird

Newly hatched eastern kingbird

…and catch the parents feeding the youngsters. I rarely hang around a nest for very long at the present time, because I’m standing out in the open where the parents can see me, and become very upset with my presence.

It’s tough enough being a bird as it is, they don’t need me adding to their problems. However, if I were in a hide where I didn’t upset the birds, and I could record the live’s of the young as they grow and eventually learn to fly.

Before I forget, I have returned to that nest one other time, and the mother was there keeping the youngsters warm on a cool morning.

Eastern kingbird

Eastern kingbird

I’d also like to find a scene or scenes that I could shoot over the course of all four seasons, and in different weather conditions. I’m sort of doing that now at several places that I go, like Lost Lake…

Lost Lake on a foggy day

Lost Lake on a foggy day

…Duck Lake…

Duck Lake State Park after the rain

Duck Lake State Park after the rain

… around home…

Still green in the drought

Still green in the drought

(I shot that one to record how green everything still is, even though we haven’t gotten as much rain as we usually do, and we’re on the edge of a drought)

…and even at the wastewater facility.

Cloudscape after the snow

Cloudscape after the snow

However, what I’m really looking for are scenes that I could shoot from the exact same spot time after time to record not only the changing of the seasons and the different moods depending on the weather, but also any changes that occur.

Switching gears somewhat, it’s funny that I’m complaining about a lack of time as I sit here today trying to think of somewhere cool that I could go for the day. It’s been a hot summer here in Michigan so far, with quite a few days when the temperature rose above 90 degrees (32 C). Today may end up being the hottest day of the year so far, and while I tolerate heat a little better than I used to, it’s still not something that I look forward to.

I could go somewhere along Lake Michigan, where the breeze off from the lake will be about 10 to 15 degrees cooler, but every one else and their brother will be doing the same thing.

It’s also a bit funny that the last photo so far, of the cloudscape, was taken the day before I left on my vacation back in May, on a day when it had snowed earlier. That week turned out to be the turning point in our weather, from a cold spring to a hot summer. It’s also been drier than average, we’re on the verge of a mild drought, but you wouldn’t know it from looking around.

Some of the grasses have flowered…

Unidentified grass

Unidentified grass

 

Unidentified grass

Unidentified grass

…and they’re turning brown, but the trees don’t look stressed yet, and there are plenty of wildflowers blooming.

????

????

 

Wild rose

Wild rose

 

Dame's rocket

Dame’s rocket

 

Wild rose

Wild rose

 

Sow thistle

Sow thistle

 

Sweet pea

Sweet pea

 

Money wort or creeping Jenny

Money wort or creeping Jenny

 

IMG_5920

Money wort or creeping Jenny

With all the flowers blooming, I’ve seen and shot quite a few bees…

Honeybee

Honeybee

 

Unidentified black bee licking a bindweed flower

Unidentified black bee licking a bindweed flower

…and other bee-like insects.

Unidentified fly on a rose

Unidentified fly on a rose

However, I haven’t been seeing many butterflies so far this year, here’s one that I managed to get a photo of.

Unidentified skipper

Unidentified skipper

Well, I guess that it’s time to go out and face the heat, I hope that I don’t melt. 😉

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


All I’m really lacking is time

While I wish that I wasn’t working as many hours as I am right now, the good side of that is larger paychecks. Even though I’m only getting out on the weekends, I’m shooting more photos than I can post weekly any way. There’s just so much to photograph at this time of year, it’s hard to miss getting a few good shots every day on the days when I can get out.

Day lily

Day lily

I promised Tom (Mr. Tootlepedal) a photo, so I won’t keep him in suspense any longer, here it is.

English sparrow

English sparrow

Since English sparrows are an introduced, invasive species here in the United States, and are displacing our native sparrows, I seldom photograph them. However, when one of them poses as close as that one did, even I can’t resist pressing the shutter release.

With the run that I have now at work, I start at 10 A.M., I thought that it would be okay for the weekends, I’d just get up earlier than I do during the week. However, I usually get home so late on Friday nights that getting out at first light on Saturday isn’t easy. That, and I found that when I tried getting up early, I wasn’t as steady as I am when I’ve had a good night of sleep. When I’m trying to shoot photos like these…

Honeybee on spotted knapweed

Honeybee on spotted knapweed

…I find that I need to have had enough rest the night before.

Honeybee on spotted knapweed

Honeybee on spotted knapweed

On Sunday, I finally dragged myself out of bed before sunrise, but not enough before sunrise to make it somewhere in the Muskegon area to shoot landscapes there. So, I stopped on my way to shoot this photo.

Barn at surise

Barn at sunrise

I had been checking out that scene on my way home from Muskegon each week, I thought that it would make a fair landscape photo when the light was right. I know, I have the horizon almost centered in the shot, I tried other compositions…

Barn at surise 2

Barn at sunrise 2

…but, I didn’t like them as well. Not too bad for being out of practice. I did a little better later on, after a few rain showers had moved through the area.

Duck Lake State Park after the rain

Duck Lake State Park after the rain

There had been sunny skies early in the day, I was hoping to capture the approach of the predicted storms, but it didn’t work out for that because the clouds rolled in long before the weak storms came along.

IMG_6626_7_8

Duck Lake State Park after the storm 2

Instead, I caught the storms moving out of the area, with the sun just beginning to hit the Duck Lake area while I was there.

It was a strange day, the storms were duds, but almost as soon as the rain ended, the sun came out, as you can see, and the wind began to pick-up, a lot!

I had been birding before the storms, but as fierce as the wind became in a very short time, I gave up on any idea of shooting birds any more that day.

Duck Lake State Park is about half way between Muskegon and White Lake, so I decided to head to White Lake, since I hadn’t been there in a while. I stopped on my way to the breakwater to shoot a photo of the lighthouse there.

The lighthouse on the White Lake channel

The lighthouse on the White Lake channel

One look at the breakwater told me that I wasn’t going out on it this day.

Waves breaking over the breakwater at White Lake

Waves breaking over the breakwater at White Lake

Even though the wind had just come up, Lake Michigan was getting roiled up already…

Lake Michigan on a windy day

Lake Michigan on a windy day

…the wind was from the south, blowing the waves in a northerly direction, until they hit the breakwater, where would “bounce” off from it, and crash into other waves coming from the south…

IMG_6685

Lake Michigan on a windy day 2

 

…with the wind blowing the spray across the breakwater as if it was snow drifting in the wind.

Spray drifting across the breakwater

Spray drifting across the breakwater

It was hard to stay dry. 😉

The wave that almost got me

The wave that almost got me

 

More wave action

More wave action

So, I went back and shot a better photo of the lighthouse…

The White Lake lighthouse

The White Lake lighthouse

…and the flowers planted in the yard around the lighthouse.

The grounds at the White Lake lighthouse

The grounds at the White Lake lighthouse

I knew that none of the images that I had shot so far truly conveyed how large the waves were, so I headed back to Muskegon to see if I could do any better there…

Lake Michigan wave action at Muskegon

Lake Michigan wave action at Muskegon

…not really.

Lake Michigan wave action at Muskegon

Lake Michigan wave action at Muskegon 2

So, my next stop was Grand Haven, I’ve seen photos of waves going right over the top of the lighthouse there, but not on this day.

The lighthouse at Grand Haven, Michigan

The lighthouse at Grand Haven, Michigan

 

The lighthouse at Grand Haven, Michigan 2

The lighthouse at Grand Haven, Michigan 2

Between the wind and the waves crashing over the breakwaters, it was hard to hear anything else, but this thing made enough noise that I could hear it.

US Coast Guard helicopter

US Coast Guard helicopter

I’ve been told by aviation aficionados that you should never use a high enough shutter speed to completely freeze the motion of any aircraft’s propellers, so when the helicopter came past me again, I slowed down the shutter a little…

US Coast Guard helicopter 2

US Coast Guard helicopter 2

…but, probably not enough. As low as they were flying…

US Coast Guard helicopter 3

US Coast Guard helicopter 3

…I assumed that some idiot had been washed off from the breakwater.

People do get washed off from the breakwaters along Lake Michigan on a regular basis, because some people make a game of trying to get out to the end on days like this one. Here’s a series of photos showing the game in action. When they see a wave coming…

So they run to the next support for the catwalk

They run to the next support for the catwalk

and hold on for dear life

and hold on for dear life

as the wave crashes over them

as the wave crashes over them

The wave game

The wave game

The wave game 2

The wave game 2

The wave game 2

The wave game 3

I know that you had to look closely to see it, but the wave went over the head of the guy next to the light. You wouldn’t catch me out there, I’m not afraid of water, but I have a healthy respect for moving water, it’s a lot more powerful than most people realize.

Anyway, I did get in some birding earlier in the day, so I’ll post a few of the photos from then, starting with a lesser yellowlegs.

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

 

American black duck

American black duck

 

American black duck in flight

American black duck in flight

 

Mute swan

Mute swan

The sandhill cranes weren’t in the marsh when I arrived, so later in the day they came looking for me, first one…

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

 

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

…then, in small flocks of three…

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

…or four.

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Darn, I’ve about reached my limit for photos, and still have a few to go. I suppose that I’ll add them to the pile to be posted later, except for this one, a slightly better photo of a bobolink.

Bobolink

Bobolink

I’d rather not sit and whine about how little time that I have for photography presently, but it limiting what and where I shoot. As I said, the upside is a little more money each week, I’m not sure that it’s worth the trade-off, but it is what it is for the time being. Because of that, my next few posts may be shorter, at least as far as what I type, but with the same number of photos.

Speaking of that, I know that most of the photos in this post aren’t that great, but they are a record of my day, and the weather. There are times when that has to be enough. I rushed this post, I didn’t spend as much time editing the images that I included, so that plays a part as well.

I love what Lightroom can do for my images, but there are times after a day of shooting that I’d rather wait to do the serious editing, but I have little time for that now either. The good news is that while editing my images, I’m learning how to shoot them so they don’t need as much editing, but I always seem to miss something as I’m shooting.

Well, it’s time for me to get something to eat and then head off to work, so this will have to do.

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


For right now

For the time being, I have decided to scout a few locations, but I think that it would be better if I didn’t bother trying to set-up any type of blind or hide. I’m working so many hours during the week that my only time to get outside is on weekends. I need the exercise that I get from walking, so while I may scout some areas for in the future, I’ll have to keep doing things more or less the way that I have been for now. It’s been working well enough for shots like this.

Grasshopper sparrow

Grasshopper sparrow

You may ask how I’m sure that the bird is a grasshopper sparrow, and not the similarly colored Savannah sparrow…

Savannah sparrow

Savannah sparrow

…it’s because I heard them both sing, getting this close-up of the grasshopper sparrow as he did.

Grasshopper sparrow

Grasshopper sparrow

Those were both shot yesterday, Sunday, July 10, as I start this post, at the Muskegon County wastewater facility. It hadn’t been my plan to go there, it wasn’t even my intended destination when I left my apartment. However, it was cool, even chilly outside, and as I approached Muskegon, the temperature dropped another 10 degrees due to the natural air conditioning provided by Lake Michigan. I had worn only a light T-shirt because it was forecast to get very warm in the afternoon, which it did. At the wastewater facility, I can use my car as a hide and stay warm as an added benefit, so when I felt how cool it was as I was driving, I turned off to go to the wastewater facility rather than the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve.

Like I say, I hadn’t intended to go there, the waterfowl are molting, so they make poor subjects for photos, and there’s only a few shorebirds there, either the ones that nest here, or I think that some immature birds of other species spend their first summer there before migrating all the way north to their breeding range the next year. I’m not sure about the second half of that, I’d love to talk to an expert on shorebirds to verify it. There are a few individuals of several species that don’t normally breed in Michigan hanging around at the wastewater facility.

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived there, the sandhill cranes had also.

Sandhill cranes

Sandhill cranes

There were about 40 of them, milling around, and doing a lot of preening as they are also molting into their fall and winter plumage as well. I did shoot a short video of them, but I probably won’t post it, as the cranes were surprisingly quiet yesterday.

So, I sat there for a very long time, I’m not sure just how long I was there, but it had just gotten light when I arrived, and the sun was fully up when the first few cranes left to go to the area where they feed during the day. I wasn’t going to post these photos, since they aren’t very good, but since they also show a fearless red-winged blackbird taking on the small flock of cranes, I decided to throw these in this post anyway.

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a flock of sandhill cranes

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a flock of sandhill cranes

 

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a flock of sandhill cranes

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a flock of sandhill cranes

 

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a flock of sandhill cranes

Male red-winged blackbird attacking a flock of sandhill cranes

So, I sat there quite a while, watching the cranes, and shooting a few other things between the hundreds of shots of the cranes. It was a great learning experience, both watching the cranes, and noticing how much the light changed the appearance of things as the sun rose higher in the sky.

Spotted knapweed

Spotted knapweed

A Canada goose came flying directly at me, not a good angle for a great image, but it was a good way to warm up to shoot more flying birds later in the day.

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

It was also odd to see a lone goose, they are also in the process of forming flocks for their migration south.

There was also a wood duck playing around in the marsh for a while.

Wood duck

Wood duck

I was hoping that it would swim over closer to me, but no luck there. It’s already in its fall plumage, so I suppose it’s no big deal anyway. As the sun rose higher, I shot a few more of the spotted knapweed.

Spotted knapweed

Spotted knapweed

And, when a few of the cranes spread their wings, I shot them in anticipation that they would be taking flight soon.

Sandhill cranes

Sandhill cranes

 

Sandhill cranes

Sandhill cranes

I’ve complained about how slow the auto-focus of the 300 mm lens is when I have the 1.4 X tele-converter behind it, which is 99% of the time. One thing that I could do to speed the auto-focusing up would be to use the range limiting switch on the lens more often. I have two options with that lens, either the full range that the lens will focus in, or if I slide the limiting switch over, it limits the lens to focusing from 3 meters ( Approx. 10 feet) to infinity, rather than 1.5 meters to infinity.  The lens seems to be programmed to focus up close first if the switch is set to the full range, but it seems to go to the longer end of its range first if I use the switch. However, this morning was a perfect example of why I keep forgetting that. One minute I was shooting photos of wildlife…

Female mallard in flight

Female mallard in flight

…the next minute, I was shooting the flowers…

Spotted knapweed and guests

Spotted knapweed and guests

…up close.

I’ve tried to make use of the range limiting switch, but I’m usually going back and forth so often that I give up, and leave it set to the full range most of the time. That’s especially true when I’m in thick vegetation, and there’s the chance that I’ll be shooting a bird closer than 3 meters. You’d be surprised how often that happens.

Grey catbird at my feet

Grey catbird at my feet

That image wasn’t cropped at all, how I managed to walk up on a catbird that close is beyond me, they are normally quite shy. The images of the grasshopper sparrow at the top of this post weren’t cropped either, although I was using the 2 X tele-converter behind the 300 mm lens for them. If I had the lens set to limit the focusing range, I may have well missed the shot of the sparrow. I also used that combination for this one.

Bumblebee on spotted knapweed

Bumblebee on spotted knapweed

I have no qualms at all about using that combination, despite what some people say about the loss of image quality. The 2 X extender is like any other piece of photography gear, you need to learn how to get the best out of it. I’ve learned a few tricks that help me get good sharp images while using it, one is bumping up the shutter speed to at least 1/1000 second. Even though the effective focal length of the extender on the 300 mm lens is 600 mm which in theory means that 1/600 second should be fast enough, I find that faster shutter speeds help a lot. That’s even though the 300 mm lens has image stabilization, but I don’t think that the IS of the lens is “tuned” correctly for the 2 X extender.

The other things that I do is to get the focus close manually first, then let the auto-focus take over. If the 300 mm lens and 1.4 X extender are slow, then with the 2 X extender, it’s like a sedated snail as far as how quickly it auto-focuses. Then, once the lens seems to have gotten a good focus on the subject, I’ve learned to wait a split second or two longer to let it refine the focus lock. The camera may say that it has the subject in focus, and it may look like it through the viewfinder, but if I hesitate just a bit, the images are even sharper…

Red-tailed hawk trying to hide behind wires

Red-tailed hawk trying to hide behind wires

…even if there’s an obstruction in the way, especially if the subject moves at all.

Red-tailed hawk taking flight

Red-tailed hawk taking flight

The downsides to the 2 X extender besides the slow focusing are that I lose 2 stops of light with it, which means I can only use the center focus point even with the 7D Mk II. I’ve gotten a few good bird in flight images with that set-up, but it isn’t easy. The other downside is that I can’t effectively use a polarizing filter when using the 2 X extender, as the filter reduces the light coming into the camera another 2 stops, for a total loss of 4 stops of light. The 7D will auto-focus with the polarizing filter on the lens, but then the auto-focus is ridiculously slow, and also inaccurate. Still, I now consider it to be an indispensable part of my arsenal of gear which helps me get better images all the time.

I don’t want this post to be all my prattling about photo gear, but there’s one more quirk to the 300 mm lens with the 2 X tele-converter behind it that I’d like to share. It is slower than molasses in January to acquire focus in the first place, but once it achieves a focus lock, it seems to track movement quite well. I still remember shooting the bufflehead ducks earlier this spring as they were engaged in their mating rituals, and I’ve also captured a few other action scenes with that combination. Why it will track motion faster than it will focus in the first place is beyond me, it’s all in the way that the camera, extender, and lens are programmed, just like the way that some lenses have been tuned by Canon so that the IS of the lens functions better when using an extender.

Still, I wanted to learn just how fast the 300 mm lens was by itself, so when I went to my brother’s house for the 4th of July, I shot a few photos of his radio controlled boat.

My brother's boat

My brother’s boat

The test was a success, I learned exactly how fast the Canon 7D and the 300 mm lens are as far as tracking fast-moving subjects, and they’re extremely fast.

Another test shot

Another test shot

After that, a flock of swimming ducks was a piece of cake.

Pekin ducks

Pekin ducks

Anyway, once I do get around to setting up a hide somewhere, one of the first species of birds that I’m going to go after is this one.

Belted kingfisher

Belted kingfisher

 

Belted kingfisher

Belted kingfisher

 

Belted kingfisher

Belted kingfisher

They are extremely wary and always on alert, it’s telling that those are among my best images of kingfishers despite how many times I’ve tried to get close to one. They seem to know what the effective range of my camera gear is, and stay just out of range even as my equipment and skills improve. I’m usually very good at sneaking up on a bird, and catching the surprised look on its face when it sees me.

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

And, other birds seem to be very relaxed even when I’m close to them.

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

Then, there are the other species of birds that no matter how hard I try, I can’t get a good photo of them.

Bobolinks

Bobolinks

I shot these mid-morning, and it was already getting so hot outside that atmospheric distortions were giving me fits.

Bobolinks

Bobolinks

No matter how good of a camera one uses, or how long of a lens one has, you can not overcome all of the bad conditions for photography, although I continue to try. It’s one of the things that I love about photography, solving the problems that nature presents to us as we try to photograph various things. This next photo is a good example of that, even though the photo isn’t anything special other than what I had to do to get it.

Wood frog

Wood frog

That was shot on a very dreary, rainy, foggy day, when there wasn’t enough natural light to shoot a photo. I used the 60D and 100 mm macro lens, and what I have learned about setting the camera up from using the 7D to use the built-in flash of the 60D to get that image. I’m not going to list all the settings that I changed, other than to say that I used manual mode for that one. It’s something that I do when confronted with tough lighting situations, but other than during those times, I still see no great advantage to using manual vs either aperture or shutter priority.

Maybe when I do get to the point where I’m sitting in a hide shooting one specific subject I’ll use the manual mode more often, but when walking around and shooting quickly most of the time, I find that the other two modes are a touch faster to use. Still, it pays to learn how to shoot in manual for times when there’s no other way to get a photo, such as in the case of the frog.  Shooting in manual requires practice, just as all things having to do with photography do, so it pays to stay in practice.

Since I’ve talked about the range limiting switch of the 300 mm lens, and have now mentioned the 100 mm macro lens, I should prattle on a bit more son that subject. The 100 mm macro lens has a three position range limiting switch, and I use it quite often. The positions are the full range of the lens, from minimum focusing distance to infinity. Then, there’s a setting that limits how close the lens will focus, but allows it to go to infinity, it’s the setting that I rarely use. The third setting allows the lens to focus from its minimum distance out to only 1.6 feet (49 CM), and that’s the setting that I use when I want to get really close to a subject, such as this tiny toad.

Tiny toad

Tiny toad

You can tell how small the toad was in relation to the leaf it’s on, and the cap of an acorn in the background. It was a tough fight, but in the end, I managed this photo of the toad, in part, by using the range limiting switch on the lens.

Tiny toad

Tiny toad

I also used that setting for this image.

Dragonfly portrait

Dragonfly portrait

I find that when I’m getting so close as to shoot true macro photos, that using the range limiting switch helps out a great deal.

Although, due to a number of factors, one being a lack of focus points available with the 60D body, I sometimes switch the auto-focus off, manually focus, and move back and forth until the subject is in focus.

Blue-eyed grass

Blue-eyed grass

It helps that a when I’m using the macro lens I can reach the depth of field preview button on the 60D to make sure what I want to have in focus really is in focus.

Pink pogonia orchid

Pink pogonia orchid

This may be the most obvious statement that I’ve ever made here, but it pays to learn how to use every feature that your camera has. For example, the 60D body has an articulated view screen, and I used it and live view focusing to get this image.

Bladderwort after the rain

Bladderwort after the rain

The alternative to using the articulated screen would have been to lay down in the water to get that angle if I had used the camera’s viewfinder. I’ll do a lot of things to get a photo, but laying on my belly in six inches of water is not one of them, at least not so far. 😉 There was more than my comfort in play then as well, I didn’t want to lay on any of the rare plants that grow in that location either. Unfortunately, I miss-timed the water drop, a split-second earlier, and that image would have been much better.

Well, I’ve done it again. I didn’t mean to dwell on the photography aspect in this post as much as I did, but it seems like every one of my posts evolves in that direction once I start it. I can’t help it, recalling how I got the shot has become very important to me, for it helps to have that information so ingrained in my mind that using the camera is like an extension of myself. I think that it’s one of the most important things as far as my getting better photos all the time. I no longer have to think as much about how to get the shot, it’s becoming automatic, even though it takes a little while to set the camera and lens to the settings required. Sometimes, that means having the camera set-up in advance, anticipating what type of photos that I’ll be shooting.

However, trying to anticipate what type of photo I’ll be shooting has its downsides as well. On a recent walk through the park near where I live, I paused to take a drink from my water bottle. Just then, two goldfinches got into one of their territorial disputes, which they settle on the wing. I was close enough that it would have made a great photo, if I hadn’t had my water bottle in my hand. I had to settle for this shot of the winner.

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

I’ve thought time and time again that I should have my camera set-up for songbirds in flight as I walk that part of the park, so having missed the goldfinches, I did set-up the camera for what I anticipated I’d be shooting. It was just after that when a fox stuck its head and shoulders out of the tall grass to take a look around. As soon as the fox saw me, it was off like a shot. There I was, having planned on shooting birds flying overhead against the bright blue sky that morning, with a fox running down the road in front of me. I saw a focus point light up telling me the camera had a focus, so I fired, but it was the wrong focus point.

Out of focus red fox

Out of focus red fox

I finally got the right focus point on the fox to get this poor shot.

Red fox on the run

Red fox on the run

That’s the way that the entire day went, which is why I did a post about bad days a while back. I used to let bad days like that affect me a lot more than I do now, because I know that it’s just one day, and that the next day, I’ll be back to shooting good photos again.

Honeybee and crown vetch

Honeybee and crown vetch

Good, but not great, however I’m pretty sure that great will come in the future. I have to be quicker when it comes to changing settings, like going to shutter priority with a faster shutter speed to freeze the motion of the bee in that last image. Or, changing the auto-focusing mode of the camera so that I would have gotten a better shot of the fox.

With all the photos that I shoot that I’d have it all down pat by now, but it requires split-second decision-making and knowing exactly where the right controls are on the camera, and how to change them as quickly as needed. Those things will come in time as I grow more familiar with my equipment, especially the 7D Mk II, which is opening up an entire new world for me.

When it comes to the photos that I shoot most of the time, the 7D won’t do anything that the 60D will, however, because of the way that the controls are laid out, and the way that I’ve been able to customize them to suit me, I can change settings more quickly to be able to experiment more with the 7D, to learn what works and what doesn’t. Until I get to where I have the time to sit by a few flowers and dedicate myself to getting the best possible image of a bee in flight, being able to change settings as quickly as needed is very important for right now.

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


How far do I go?

First of all, I must apologize for the way that I ended the last post. Since I’m now working between 11 and 12 hours a day, I don’t have as much time for blogging as I would like. I had been piddling around with that post for close to a week, and even though I only have the weekends for photography now, I’m still getting behind on getting the photos into posts again.

In some ways, that’s not all bad. One thing that I’ve come to realize is that the professional photographers whose work I admire are often on assignment for a month or more to shoot the images that they show in their how-to videos that I watch. They don’t show the thousands of images that they shot that they culled the keepers from. I’ve been deleting a few photos from earlier this spring every time that I go through the images that I have saved, because I’ve shot better photos since then. Maybe that’s the secret to great photography, working from behind so that you can improve on images that you’ve already shot. 😉

Despite what most of the people who commented on my last post said, I’m not a great photographer, at least not yet. I’m very good at getting close to wildlife as these uncropped images show…

Whitetail deer fawn

Whitetail deer fawn

…explaining to them that I only want to take a photo of them…

Ring-billed gull

Ring-billed gull

…then shooting away as they pose for me.

Ring-billed gull

Ring-billed gull

But, there are problems with each of those photos which I should have avoided when I shot them.

I shoot completely wild animals as I find them, when I know that most of the really stunning wildlife images that I see were shot in at least somewhat controlled conditions, most of the time. Although, the Audubon Society just announced the winners of their yearly photo contest, and there are some stunning images that were shot in the wild, in fact, most were shot in the wild. By the way, the winning photo of an eagle and herons was shot with a 7D Mk II, so I can’t blame my equipment for my poor photos. 😉

Anyway, if I set-up hides to shoot photos of wildlife from, should I also put out a bird feeder or two to attract the birds to the area in the first place? I don’t have a problem when people who feed birds also shoot photos of the birds, as long as they are honest about it. Heck, I’ve even shot a photo…

Brown thrasher sunning

Brown thrasher sunning

…or two, of a bird on a feeder.

Brown thrasher sunning

Brown thrasher sunning

Although in this case, the bird wasn’t there to eat, as no one had filled the feeders for months. No, the thrasher was there to do the weird thing that I see birds do when it’s hot, spreading their feathers out as far as they can, and they seem to go into a trance as they are doing it.

It can’t be to cool off, since they always do it in a sunny spot. I thought when I saw robins doing it on the ground that it had to do with anting, where birds rub ants on their feathers because ants secrete formic acid, which may remove parasites like feather mites. But this thrasher, and a few other birds that I’ve seen doing this, have been off the ground where there aren’t many ants, if any.

Oh well, I’m sure that some day I’ll read the explanation why birds some times behave that way.

Other than the thrasher, I’ve only shot a handful of photos of birds on one of the feeders at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and I’ve only posted one or two here. When I did shoot birds on the feeders, it was to test out new equipment or a new technique that I wanted to try, and see how good the results could be.

Would putting up a feeder or two be any different from hanging around a tree or bush full of berries that I know the birds love, and shooting photos of the birds when they arrive?

Cedar waxwings eating honeysuckle berries

Cedar waxwings eating honeysuckle berries

What a pig, two at a time!

Cedar waxwings eating honeysuckle berries

Cedar waxwings eating honeysuckle berries

It’s no wonder its crop is bulging out so much.

Cedar waxwings eating honeysuckle berries

Cedar waxwings eating honeysuckle berries

Apparently, the waxwing was hungry.

Cedar waxwings eating honeysuckle berries

Cedar waxwings eating honeysuckle berries

But then, it slowed down to one berry at a time.

Cedar waxwings eating honeysuckle berries

Cedar waxwings eating honeysuckle berries

I also hang out around thistle plants, not only to shoot the flowers…

JVIS6833

Unidentified thistle

…but also because I know that goldfinches love thistle seeds.

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

Switching gears, I started this post with idea of prattling on longer about what I would like to do in the future, but I’ve decided that I’ve gone on long enough about that. I still haven’t decided whether I’ll ever begin shooting photos of birds around a feeder or not, but there’s other things that I’d like to shoot other than birds, or wildlife, flowers, insects, and while they may be something from nature, of a more artistic bent. I’ve been working on that.

Patterns

Patterns

I purposely shot that out of focus, it’s the reflection of the sun coming off from the creek here at home. That one came from this attempt at being more artistic.

Reflections

Reflections

And, the second one was a result of this attempt.

Sparkles

Sparkles

None of those are that good, but I enjoyed playing around while exploring a more artistic side of photography, I wish that I had more time to work along those lines. But, I am beginning to see and even realize some of the shots that I’ve been trying to get for some time now.

Sumac patterns

Sumac patterns

I love the patterns in the leaves of the sumac bushes, and I’ve been trying for years to get a photo of them that conveys the things that I love about them. That one is very close.

I had sat down on the ground to shoot this pink.

Pink

Pink

As I was sitting there deciding whether or not I had gotten the best photo of the flower that I could ( I didn’t), this fly came along, and I decided to shoot it.

Green bottle fly?

Green bottle fly?

It was then that I saw the sumac leaves, with the sun on one side of the leaves, and backlighting the other half of them. The problem was that I’ve failed so many times at catching the shot that I wanted that I didn’t take the time to shoot the sumac leaves exactly the way that would have given me the shot that I ultimately would like to get.

About this time, you’re probably thinking that I’ve gone off my rocker, maybe I have. But, there’s a lot to like about that image beyond the nature photography aspect of it. The pattern of the growth of the leaves from the stem of the plant, their texture, the lighting, the composition, the depth of field, and so on. It’s not so much a nature photo as it is an exploration of the art of photography as the art form it can be. I know that not every one will like it, that’s okay, I understand that most people come to my blog to see the pretty birds…

Male scarlet tanager beginning to molt

Male scarlet tanager beginning to molt

…the action shots that I get…

Barn swallow attacking a Cooper's hawk

Barn swallow attacking a Cooper’s hawk

( a side note, there were several species of birds attacking the hawk at the same time, here’s a kingbird making its pass at the hawk)

Eastern kingbird attacking a Cooper's hawk

Eastern kingbird attacking a Cooper’s hawk

…or maybe people come here for the flowers…

Roses

Roses

…or macro photos.

Robber fly?

Robber fly?

So then, why am I so bent on also trying to become more artistic?

Ox-eye daisy

Ox-eye daisy

I’m not sure that I can answer that question, other than to say that it’s something inside of me trying to get out. It’s what stops me in my tracks when I see one flower that stands out from the thousands of other that surround it.

Unidentified clover

Crown vetch

 

JVIS5986

Unidentified clover

It’s what drives me to shoot an occasional landscape photo just to stay in practice, even though I know that the resulting image won’t be that good.

Dying thunderstorms approaching

Dying thunderstorms approaching

I was hoping to get a lightning bolt, didn’t happen.

Green and blue at Lost Lake

Green and blue at Lost Lake

No, I didn’t boost the color saturation, that’s how green it was under a cloudless blue sky.

After the storm at Duck Lake

After the storm at Duck Lake

I don’t know why, but my camera cuts through the fog, or more accurately, it creates blotches of fog in my images when the fog was more spread out when I shot the photo.

Anyway, I’m getting off track again, which always happens, even when I’m out shooting photos.

When it comes to setting up hides in places, I worry that I’ll end up with lots of shots of a very few species of birds, the ones that inhabit the type of habitat that I’ve chosen for the hide. The species that I post here runs in cycles already, as new species arrive in the spring each year, and the same happens in reverse during the fall migration. For example, I’ve been seeing and shooting many dickcissels the last few weeks, since they are late arrivals here.

Male dickcissel

Male dickcissel

 

Male dickcissel

Male dickcissel

Earlier this spring, I spent an inordinate amount of time (for me) getting the photos of the marsh wrens and Virginia rails that I’ve posted recently. That time was well spent, since I’m proud of the photos that I got of both of those species.

However, I’m easily bored, so I also shot a lot of bad photos of them…

Male marsh wren singing

Male marsh wren singing

…before getting the ones that have appeared in earlier posts.

I’m also debating whether I should spend more time near a bird’s nest.

Female eastern kingbird on her nest

Female eastern kingbird on her nest

That one was impossible to miss, the kingbird had built her nest less than 10 feet (3 meters) from the road in a completely dead tree with no foliage to hide her or her nest. Once I had gotten the photo that I wanted and moved on.

However, at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, I discovered that a pair of Baltimore orioles had built their nest…

Male Baltimore oriole feeding his young

Male Baltimore oriole feeding his young

…hanging over the picnic pavilion where I’ve been sitting to shoot photos of the birds that I see there. I shot far too many bad photos of the orioles coming and going as they fed their young. This oriole had built her nest in a well concealed spot where it was almost impossible to get a clear view of the adults as they came and went.

Male Baltimore oriole feeding his young

Male Baltimore oriole feeding his young

But, I kept returning to the pavilion for a few weeks, as I figured that if the oriole had chosen that spot for her nest, my sitting there quietly snapping a few photos now and then wouldn’t bother them. Generally, if I spot a bird on a nest, I do as I did with the kingbird, get a good photo, then move on, avoiding getting close to the nest again.

Changing the subject, it’s been a killer week at work so far this week. Fifteen hours on Tuesday, almost 12 hours yesterday, and they wanted me to work longer. Yesterday was another 14 hour plus day, which leaves me no time to do anything other than eat and sleep.

I haven’t had much time to work on this post at all, so of course, I’m not happy with it. I’m also feeling guilty about not having the time to properly reply to people who’ve made such wonderful comments to my last few posts, nor have I had the time to properly comment on their recent posts.

I’m not sure want the answer is, I could probably get by posting a few images without babbling on as I do, but by putting my thoughts into words, as haphazard as they have been lately, helps me to work out the things that I’ve been pondering.  I could just add a few words about each photo, saying where and how I got it I suppose, but that may get to be boring after a while. I thought about taking my new Macbook with me so that I can work on these posts as I’m sitting somewhere, like the three hours I spent waiting for a load outside of Chicago on Tuesday. I’m not sure that I want to subject it to the bouncing around that it would take if I did take it in the truck with me though.

Anyway, one last image for this one…

White campion?

White campion?

…and then I’ll post this one.

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


As I make the transition, Part II

I hope to begin scouting a few places in the Muskegon area this weekend where it would be both feasible and worthwhile to set-up a hide to photograph wildlife from. I’m starting with the Muskegon area, because it’s only an hour drive from where I live. There are other reasons as well, there’s a wider variety of species of birds to be seen along the shores of the Great Lakes in Michigan than there are in more inland areas. It’s also cooler near the Great Lakes in the summer, and that also appeals to me in the summer.

I have the feeling that any place that I find close to home in the near future will be test sites that I’ll use for the time being, but eventually I’ll be traveling farther north to get the best photos and videos. I’m not sure that there’s anyplace so close to home where there won’t be human background noise that will end up on any videos that I shoot. One way to get around that in the short-term is to get out there early, before most people begin their daily lives. I plan to do that anyway, since dawn is both my favorite time of day, it’s when there’s good light…

Ring-bill gull at dawn

Ring-bill gull at dawn

…and it’s when the most wildlife is active.

Whitetail fawn

Whitetail fawn

That’s one of a pair of twins, here they are together.

Whitetail fawns

Whitetail fawns

For the photo of the fawns together, I tried something that usually works very well. I have the Canon 7D Mk II set-up so that it only activates the focusing system when I press either of the two rear buttons that I have programmed for that. When I press the shutter release, it doesn’t activate the focusing system, only the exposure metering system, and of course, the shutter release when I press the button all the way down.

I wanted a photo of the two of them together, but then, the focus point would have been on the background vegetation, and the fawns would have been out of focus, unless I had taken the time to move it so it was on one of the fawns. That’s what I probably should have done, but I didn’t know how long the fawns were going to stick around. They were quite nervous as they watched a cyclist approaching from the direction that they’re staring so intently towards. The fawn on the left was also moving at times as it debated whether it should flee or continue to eat.

What I did was put the focus point on the butt of the fawn on the right, and once the camera had a focus lock, I would let off from the focus button, then move the camera so that both fawns were in the frame. I chose the butt of the fawn on the right, as I thought that it was about half-way between the two fawn’s faces, so both of them would be in focus.

Anyway, that image isn’t as sharp as I wish it were, I don’t know if I missed with the focus, or if it was due to the slow shutter speed, since there wasn’t much light at the time. That was shot at 1/80 of a second at 420 mm and taken handheld.

In many ways, that last photo can serve as an example of why I’m making the plans that I am for the future. A full frame camera body with better low-light performance would have resulted in less noise in the image. Getting into a hide before dawn, and using a tripod would have resulted in a much better photo also. And finally, getting away from other people may have given me the chance to catch the fawns looking at me, or at least not away from me as they watched some one else.

It’s why I’m going to wait to purchase a full frame camera body until Canon makes one that has all of the features of the 7D Mk II that I’ve come to rely on so heavily, like being able to decouple the auto-focusing system from the shutter release button. I keep the 7D in the servo mode of auto-focusing, so it can track moving subjects like this as long as I am pressing one of the rear buttons for focusing.

Ring-billed gull carrying nest material in flight

Ring-billed gull carrying nest material in flight

But, I can release the auto-focus button so that it functions like one-shot focusing as I did with the fawns. If I don’t have the time to shift the position of the focus point, I can put the center point on what I want to have in perfect focus, such as a subject’s eye, then let off from the button, recompose the shot, and shoot it.

I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve tried the same trick with the 60D body, but it doesn’t work, because I can’t decouple the auto-focus from the shutter release. The 60D does have rear button auto-focus, but if I let off from that button, then press the shutter release, that body re-focuses again, so I have to start all over, remembering that it doesn’t work the same way as the 7D. Not to mention how limiting I find the nine focus points of the 60D compared to the 65 points that the 7D has.

My plan is simple, really, it’s to get to a hide before dawn with a full frame camera body with the longest fixed focal length lens/tele-converter combination mounted on my tripod to shoot portraits like these.

Upland sandpiper

Upland sandpiper

 

Pie billed grebe

Pie billed grebe

 

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

And, I’ll have the long telephoto zoom I plan to purchase mounted on the 7D for any action photos, like these.

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

 

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

 

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

 

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

Although, I probably won’t remember to zoom out so as not to cut off a bird’s wing when it gets that close to me. 😉

I love that my large bird in flight photos are now about as good as my bird portrait shots of just a few years ago. It’s all the practice shots of gulls that I shoot.

 

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

I still need to work on my photos of smaller birds in flight though.

Barn swallow in flight

Barn swallow in flight

 

Tree swallow in flight

Tree swallow in flight

 

Barn swallow in flight

Barn swallow in flight

But, they are getting better, as are my photos of other types of action.

Canada geese in a territorial tussle

Canada geese in a territorial tussle

 

Canada geese in a territorial tussle

Canada geese in a territorial tussle

 

Canada geese in a territorial tussle

Canada geese in a territorial tussle

 

Canada geese in a territorial tussle

Canada geese in a territorial tussle

I miss the days at the old apartment complex where I could shoot the geese and ducks on a daily basis. Since most of the waterfowl that I see these days are during their migration, most of the time they are feeding or sleeping. But, every once in a while a fight breaks out.

Male northern shovelers fighting

Male northern shovelers fighting

Okay then, this may sound funny at this point, but I’ve come to realize that I am not a great photographer. I’m trying to get better, but I don’t know how far that I’ll be able to go. I occasionally shoot a good photo of a flower…

Wild rose

Wild rose

…or insect…

Eastern swallowtail butterfly

Eastern swallowtail butterfly

…or, a bird.

Semi-palmated sandpiper

Semi-palmated sandpiper

However, there’s nothing very artistic about the vast majority of the photos that I shoot, and that includes landscapes as well.

As the rain ends

As the rain ends

No, I’m not a great photographer, my real skills are my ability to spot and get close to critters, and the natural affinity that wildlife seems to have for me. Take this guy for example…

Muskrat

Muskrat

…he swan right up to me to give me a demonstration of how muskrats go about choosing what to eat. First, they give it the smell test…

Muskrat

Muskrat

…then, they lick it to see how it will taste…

Muskrat

Muskrat

…if it passes that test, then it’s time to munch away.

Muskrat

Muskrat

I watched it do the same thing with the tubers of some of the vegetation, but he had his head even more obscured by the vegetation then, so I’m not going to post those photos.

Most people would say that it’s only a muskrat, and that they couldn’t care less about them, what they eat, or how they eat it. But, that stuff fascinates me, I loved watching it pull young cattail shoots out of the mud, wash the tubers that they grow from off in the lake, sniff them, taste them, then eat them.

So, I have to take my lack of artistic skills into account, and play to my strengths as I search for out of the way places to set-up a hide.

It’s Sunday morning on the 3rd of July as I’m typing this now, the middle of three days off from work. However, these three days aren’t going to give me very much time to get outdoors. Yesterday, I had to get the first oil change done on my almost brand new pretty blue Subaru and some other chores that I don’t have time to do during the work week. Today, my brother and sister-in-law are having a family get together at their place, starting at noon, so that cuts this day in half as far as outdoor time. Also, I picked up the box of goodies that I had ordered from B&H on my way to work on Friday, so I’ve been busy with that stuff.

I think that I wasted my money upgrading from Lightroom V5 to V6, there doesn’t seem to be any new features that I thought that the newer version had, but at least I’m not as far behind as I was before the upgrade. I guess that I’ll eventually have to go to Lightroom CC, but I’m in no hurry to do that.

The new Macbook Pro is a great little computer from what I can tell so far, it’s everything that I wanted in a laptop computer to take on trips with me. However, after using a 27 inch iMac, the small display of the Macbook is going to take some getting used to. The main thing is that I can upload photos that I shoot on a trip to the laptop, sort out the obviously bad images, then transfer the images from the Macbook to the iMac once I’m home to do the real editing.

The battery grip for the 7D Mk II is a winner, although it will take some getting used to as well. Not only does it make the camera easier to hold when shooting in portrait orientation…

Day lily

Day lily

…but because of the shape of the grip, it also makes it easier to hold the camera in the landscape orientation as well as making it more comfortable to carry the camera. The second set of buttons on the grip aren’t exactly the same as on the camera itself, but they are close, but that’s what’s going to take some getting used to. When I used it yesterday, I’d forget that it had its own buttons, and I’d fumble around trying to find the old buttons as I used to do. It’s a well thought out piece of equipment, to install it, one removes the door to the batter compartment of the camera body, and there’s a place on the grip to store the door so that there’s no chance of losing it if you want to remove the grip for some reason. I can’t see myself doing that, the camera feels even better in my hands with the grip on it than it did without it.

I think that the new microphone is going to prove to be a winner also. I used it to shoot this video yesterday.

The sound quality is much better than what I could get with the camera’s built-in microphone, but I can tell that if I’m going to shoot more videos, I have to use a tripod most of the time. That, and remember to always bring my glasses so that I can see the small screen on the back of the camera to make sure that what I’m shooting is in focus.

The microphone has a built-in pre-amp that boosts the sound by 10 dB if you flip the pre-amp on, which I did for the meadowlark in that video. When I get as close to my subjects as I hope to in the future, then I can turn the pre-amp off to keep from having the sound too loud. There are other options, but for right now, I mounted the mic to the camera’s hot shoe, which is very convenient for having it ready to go quickly.

The subject of the video was an eastern meadowlark, and after three years of trying, I’ve gotten my best photo ever of one.

Eastern meadowlark singing

Eastern meadowlark singing

I still had to crop that one quite a bit, but it’s the closest that one of them has ever allowed me to get. Now if I could train one to perch somewhere other than the fence around the ball field, it would be even better. 😉

As I said, I’m not very artistic, but I’m working on it. Here’s an robin that I purposely shot as a silhouette.

American robin in silhouette

American robin in silhouette

I’ve also been shooting backlit birds on occasion…

Grey catbird singing

Grey catbird singing

 

Killdeer

Killdeer

…and I can see some possibilities there.

Still, my bread and butter, if you will, is getting close to wildlife…

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

…that wasn’t cropped, and I shot that as she began to move away from me. Here’s one of the earlier shots I took of her when I caught her eating.

Whitetail doe eating

Whitetail doe eating

But then, she had her head in the bush that she was feeding from.

I’ve been working on this post for too long already, so I’m going to throw in a couple of photos from today, then hit the sack.

Bambi (Whitetail fawn)

Bambi (Whitetail fawn)

 

Thumper (Cottontail rabbit)

Thumper (Cottontail rabbit)

 

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

 

Ring-billed gull

Ring-billed gull

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