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

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!

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22 responses

  1. A stunning picture of the sparrow at the top of the post but as always it was only one among a host of interesting shots.

    July 15, 2016 at 10:02 am

    • Thank you very much Tom! Your comment reminds me that I have a photo saved just for you.

      July 16, 2016 at 12:26 am

      • I am curious.

        July 16, 2016 at 5:57 pm

  2. Wonderful pictures, clever photography, I liked the cranes best.

    July 15, 2016 at 10:23 am

    • Thank you very much Susan!

      July 16, 2016 at 12:25 am

  3. Excellent post and photographs!

    July 15, 2016 at 1:49 pm

    • Thank you very much Belinda!

      July 16, 2016 at 12:17 am

  4. I wonder what the ducks think of your brother’s boat! I’d like to have one of those with a camera on it. I’d also like a drone with a camera for overhead shots.
    That sure is a tiny toad. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that small.
    That’s a great shot of the dragonfly and the orchid too. It’s hard to get that close to rose pogonias here because they usually grow where its so wet and boggy.
    You’ve reminded me that I haven’t seen a bladderwort yet this year. That’s another one that’s hard to get close to, but you got a good shot of it.
    I think the singing grasshopper sparrow is my favorite but I like them all!

    July 15, 2016 at 5:31 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! The ducks weren’t bothered by the boat, my brother kept it well away from them, and they were terrified of all the fireworks being set off early for the 4th.

      I’d love to have a drone. When I was on vacation, I talked to some one shooting a lighthouse using a drone. He told me that he “only” paid $10,000 for his set-up. In one of the “how to” videos that I watched, one of the presenters had mounted his DSLR to a radio controlled car and had shot close-ups that way.

      Yes, the toad was tiny, smaller than any tadpole I’ve ever seen. I tried to look up what they were, but I didn’t have any luck.

      I had to stand in shallow water for both the rose pogonia and bladderwort, my waterproof hiking boots were up to the challenge. At least I didn’t have to lay in the water though.

      I thought about shooting a video of the sparrow singing, but grasshopper sparrows don’t have much of a song, it’s more like the buzzing of an insect.

      July 16, 2016 at 12:36 am

  5. A superb set of photos! I especially like those macros of the frog and the dragonfly!

    July 15, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    • Thank you very much! Sometimes I get a little carried away seeing how close I can get to the dragonflies.

      July 16, 2016 at 12:16 am

  6. You share so many wonderful shots it can be overwhelming for me. It’s hard to remember what I wanted to comment on! I’m extremely impressed by your macros. The details on the bumble bee drinking (the little tongue) and the dragonfly are fantastic. I also really like the shots of the knapweed. Apart from your photography, how wonderful to see all those sandcranes!! I would love to experience all the bird species you do. If I was going on a walk with you, I’d just be happy to let you focus on your photography and I would just be pleased to spend hours silently watching the behaviour of the bird life. That would be pretty special. I saw a boobook owl during the daytime recently. It was well camouflaged in a tree and I was over the moon when I discovered it. Unlike your snowy owls, it is rare to see owls here in the daytime. I hope you’re able to get as much exercise as you need. It is a constant battle for me to keep my weight down now. I am quite short and easily turn into a round ball. 🙂

    July 16, 2016 at 6:49 am

    • Thanks again Jane! Yes, I love the details that now show up in my images, I hope to continue to do even better. Other than the snowy owls that only spend the winters here, our other owls are like yours, almost always nocturnal. But, during the spring when they have young to feed, some owls will hunt during the day, so spring is the best time of year to look for owls.

      July 16, 2016 at 8:46 am

  7. Hi Jerry. Another crop of interesting photos to ponder. Really liked the singing grasshopper sparrow, and the victorious goldfinch. Funny that I rarely see finches in my neighborhood. Maybe they are hanging around, but out of sight.

    Even if you didn’t grab a great photo, I am so envious of your seeing a fox. That would make my day.

    As always, your discussions on technique are enlightening. Keep up the good work. Happy that a soul-crushing work schedule keeping you from your real job as photographer/blogger. 😉

    July 16, 2016 at 8:41 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! It’s the season for goldfinches, so you’ll be seeing them here if not in your neighborhood. I’ll bet that there’s a few around, but your not seeing them.

      I’ve missed three foxes and a coyote so far this year, and missing them irks me. 😉

      Soul-crushing is the right term to use for my job, even on the shorter days.

      July 16, 2016 at 4:51 pm

  8. So many wonderful photos to see with interesting text to read and enjoy. Love the birds singing, swimming, fighting, posing, the beautiful flowers blooming, the fox running, and for me the best the honeybee feeding, the dragonfly and tiny toad. What a brilliant phrase ‘slower than molasses in January! I’ll have to try to remember it!

    July 16, 2016 at 11:47 am

    • Thank you very much! Slower than molasses in January used to be a common phrase here in the States, maybe you’re too young to have heard it. My favorite is one that I coined myself, slower than a sedated snail.

      July 16, 2016 at 4:53 pm

  9. I love the photo of that tiny toad! I love to see them when they are that small – miniature versions of when they are fully grown. I am always amused by pictures of your feisty Red-winged Blackbirds – they are so brave and belligerent when they are nesting. I also really liked your flower shots and the bee on the Crown Vetch.

    July 17, 2016 at 12:41 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I’ve never seen a toad that small before, it’s smaller than a tadpole of our most abundant species of toads.

      The red-winged blackbirds are fearless when it comes to defending their young, but so are kingbirds, which I hope to show in the near future. I’ve got a lot more flower photos to post, I may not be able to ID them, but that does’t stop me from trying to show how beautiful they are.

      July 17, 2016 at 7:38 pm

      • And they are all beautiful.

        July 19, 2016 at 11:23 am

  10. Enjoyed all the photos, and your descriptions, Jerry. Although hard to pick a favorite, I love that sparrow in full-throated song. And the goose coming in head-on…what a wingspan! Nice shot!

    July 19, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    • Thank you very much Lavinia! There are a few birds still singing, but it’s the time of year when I begin to notice that it’s getting quieter outdoors, always a sad time for me. The “experts” say that you’re never supposed to photograph a bird in flight with its wings spread fully and flat as the goose’s were. I saw that one of those shots now and then let every one know just how large their wingspan is.

      July 19, 2016 at 9:27 pm