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

This, that, and the other thing

In my last post I said that I had joined the North American Nature Photographers Facebook page as a way to judge my images as compared to the ones shot by other people so that I know what areas of photography I still have to work on. It’s funny, I posted the best photo of the peregrine falcon and the flying dragonfly from the last post to that group’s Facebook page, and the flying dragonfly…

Dragonfly in flight

Dragonfly in flight

…is the one that drew the most responses. By the way, with the 7D Mk II set-up the right way, I can shoot shot after shot…

Dragonfly in flight

Dragonfly in flight

…after shot…

Dragonfly in flight

Dragonfly in flight

…of dragonflies as they fly. It isn’t easy to follow a dragonfly in flight, but it can be done.

Anyway, I was a bit surprised that the dragonfly drew more responses than the falcon, but maybe that’s due to the degree of difficulty involved. I like the way that you can tell from a series of still shots how dragonflies move their wings to hover and to move.

Moving on, as I also said in my last post, I had another long conversation with Brian Johnson, who bands (rings) birds at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. Yesterday’s conversation centered on two subjects, his work, and birds that are actually quite common, but seldom reported because of how secretive those species are, Oh wait, there was a third topic we discussed, how few birds there are during the migration this fall.

First, Brian’s work, it is a labor of love on his part in the quest for knowledge about bird behavior. He used to apply for grants to fund his work, and he used grant money to purchase the nets and other equipment that he uses in his work, but he found the grants were often too restrictive. Not surprisingly, what ever group that funded the grant expected him to follow their rules as far as the grants, and Brian found that he couldn’t always follow the rules of the grants, as in how many hours or days per week that he was able to do the banding.

These days, since he has the equipment, he does everything mostly on his own, although he and others often share both data and expenses. He bands every bird that ends up in his nets, even the hawks and other large birds, even though he has his nets placed in such a way as to avoid netting many large birds. Each bird is weighed, several measurements for size are taken, and he inspects each bird for parasites and overall health. He then records all that data both on paper and in his computer. By the way, if you’re ever in the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, Brian leaves a simplified paper version of his work under the picnic pavilion for all to see.

As I said in my last post, it’s always a pleasure to talk to Brian as he works, I learn so much more from him than I could ever pick up in books. Yesterday, we talked mostly about thrushes, and how each species reacts differently to humans. I learned that grey-cheeked thrushes are far more common than I thought from the number of times that they are reported to eBird. That’s because grey-cheeked thrushes are very secretive, and good at hiding when humans are around. So, I need to pay more attention when I’m in the woods and be on the look out for those thrushes, in areas where there are very few or no other people around. That led to discussions about other species and their habits also.

The third topic of discussion was how few juvenile birds he was banding this fall, almost all the birds have been adults. Well, it’s not only while he’s banding birds, he also does bird counts at several locations, and from those counts, it was a bad year for bird reproduction. According to Brian, that’s usually what happens during an El Nino year such as we had this year, but no one seems to know why. Although, the populations of insects that feed on plants also falls during El Nino years. That doesn’t account for the drop off in numbers of birds that eat mostly berries and/or seeds though, as those food sources are often more abundant during an El Nino year. What’s even harder to figure out is why bird reproduction falls off all across North America, when the effects of an El Nino are different in different parts of the continent. However, according to the records, every El Nino year seems to affect bird reproduction rates all across North America.

Come to think of it, earlier this spring I began to look for whitetail fawns in April, when the fawns are usually born, but I didn’t see any. Not when I was out in the woods, not when I was driving back and forth across the state for work. I was going to write something about that then, but about that time, I did begin to see a few fawns. However, as I think about it now, I see plenty of adult deer, plenty of yearling deer, but there doesn’t seem to be as many of this year’s fawns as there should be. Because of the El Nino, we had a relatively mild winter, although it did linger on longer than average, it should have been a good year for deer, but it doesn’t seem to have been.

On the other hand, it was a very good year for cottontail rabbits, I saw more young rabbits this year…

Young cottontail rabbit

Young cottontail rabbit

…they were everywhere.

Young cottontail rabbit and mother

Young cottontail rabbit and mother

This one was still following its mother around, which was a little unusual.

Young cottontail rabbit and mother

Young cottontail rabbit and mother

Young rabbits usually go off on their own while still very young.

Young cottontail rabbit

Young cottontail rabbit

But, putting what Brian told me about bird populations, and what I witnessed as far as the deer and the rabbits together, I wonder how much of it was due to the weather. Does an El Nino affect the populations of a wide range of species of both animals and birds? If so, how and why? If El Nino was the reason for fewer fawns, then was it also the reason for more young rabbits, and if so, why? So many questions that I’ll never be able to answer.

Moving on again, I realized today that the bird in flight photos that I shot this Sunday weren’t as sharp as those that I shot last Sunday. At first I thought that it was because I shot everything moving that was even close to being in camera range this Sunday, and also that I didn’t worry as much about light.

Then it dawned on me, last Sunday I used the 70-200 mm lens with the 1.4 X tele-converter, this Sunday I used the 300 mm lens with the same tele-converter. That rules out the tele-converter as the cause of the loss of sharpness, and as I pondered two posts ago, it leaves either the 300 mm lens itself as the reason, or the Image Stabilization as the reason.

The ones that I shot with the 300 mm lens aren’t bad.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

However, they are lacking the fine detail that I was able to get in the bird’s feathers when I used the 70-200 mm lens.

Juvenile bald eagle taking off

Juvenile bald eagle taking off

You probably can’t see the difference in these lower resolution versions, especially how small they are here, but on my computer, the difference is definitely there.

Maybe these photos will show the difference, first, a hawk from last Sunday…

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

…and now one from this Sunday.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

The 70-200 mm lens and extender outperformed the 300 mm lens and extender by a noticeable margin. That means that I’ll have to do some more testing, turning the IS off for some photos, and leaving it on for others. I should also test the 300 mm lens by itself without the extender as well, although I’m sure that the extender isn’t the problem.

I think that the problem is the performance characteristics of the 300 mm lens. It’s always been extremely sharp when shooting close-ups, as a few more photos of the Phoebe enjoying lunch show.

Eastern Phoebe with lunch

Eastern Phoebe with lunch

 

Eastern Phoebe with lunch

Eastern Phoebe with lunch

 

Eastern Phoebe after lunch

Eastern Phoebe after lunch

But, with the exact same set-up, I struggled to get a good shot of any of the many kestrels that I saw, which kept their distance from me as usual.

American kestrel

American kestrel

I was watching 7 of them at one time, and you’d think that I would have been able to come up with a better photo than that, or this one as one of the kestrels flew to another tree.

American kestrel in flight

American kestrel in flight

Anyway, I’m more convinced than ever that the 300 mm lens loses its sharpness as the distance from the subject increases, and that there’s nothing that I can do to overcome that, other than to get closer to my subjects.

On the other hand, from the odd bird behavior files comes this photo.

Great blue heron out for a stroll

Great blue heron out for a stroll

Not once but twice, I saw what I think was the same heron walking down the road that circles the storage lagoons at the wastewater facility. That’s the second time that I saw the heron, I left a lot of distance between us when I pulled over to shoot that photo. This photo is from the first time that I saw the heron in the road, and I tried to get too close.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Maybe the heron was feeding on grasshoppers along the road, but I would have thought that it would have been closer to the weeds rather than right in the middle of the road.  If the heron was eating grasshoppers, it had plenty to choose from.

Grasshopper

Grasshopper

I also shot a couple of more artistic photos Sunday, here’s a landscape that I shot to showcase the number of ducks that I saw.

Ducks at dawn

Ducks at dawn

It was a cool morning, and you can see wisps of fog in the air. For the same reason, I also shot this one.

Northern shoveler and feathers at dawn

Northern shoveler and feathers at dawn

The ducks are still molting, as you can tell by all the feathers floating on the water.

My primary goal was to shoot flying birds, and when I saw this northern shoveler stretching, I was hoping that it was in preparation of taking off.

Northern shoveler

Northern shoveler

But, it finished stretching and then simply swam off to join the rest of the flock, darn.

Gulls are always present there, so I did get some practice shooting them…

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

…but when I had a chance to capture one of the gulls picking up something to eat…

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

…of course the gull was heading in the wrong direction, because there was no wind at that time of day to force any of the birds in flight that I tried to shoot to account for the wind…

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

…if there had been a breeze, the gull would have been heading into the wind as it performed this maneuver, and I could have been in a better position, so these are the best that I could do.

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

I’m not sure why those didn’t come out better, the lens was wide open, so maybe there wasn’t enough depth of field to get the entire gull in focus. It may have been the lighting, I was shooting toward the sun, or the gull may have been flapping its wing too fast for the shutter speed that I was using at the time to completely freeze the action.

Anyway, I’m hoping that next Thursday that I’ll have enough money saved to order the Canon 100-400 mm lens. What I’m looking for from it is a lens that will focus as closely as the 300 mm lens does…

Dragonflies mating

Dragonflies mating

…does better on birds in flight than either the 300 mm lens or the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens)…

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

…will auto-focus as quickly and accurately as what the Beast does on smaller birds in the brush…

Male Rose-breasted grosbeak

Male Rose-breasted grosbeak

…and has the clarity of a Canon L series lens in low light.

Female Rose-breasted grosbeak

Female Rose-breasted grosbeak

It may sound like I’m asking for a lot, but I don’t think so, I just want a lens that functions as it should in all situations without the weaknesses that my other two long lenses have. The Beast does fine on stationary birds in good light, but has never been very good at birds in flight or in low light. The 300 mm lens does well in low light, if I can get it to focus on smaller birds as they flit around in the brush, and, as long as I’m close to whatever it is that I’m shooting.

The first reviews of the new Canon 5D Mk IV are beginning to appear, but it’s hard to sort them out of the tidal wave of “reviews” where the “reviewer” only reviews the camera’s specifications. Specifications are all well and good, but I want to know what the final image quality is, not the numbers that I can see on Canon’s website. I can read the numbers myself, I don’t need some idiot to read them for me.

I have to take the reviews of the camera with a grain of salt right now anyway, Adobe hasn’t had time to upgrade either Lightroom or Photoshop to handle the RAW files produced by the 5D Mk IV yet, so the few images that I’ve seen from that camera were edited in Canon’s software, which isn’t very good.

From the few people who have actually used the new 5D, it looks as if it produces better images than what was expected, especially given the number of people absolutely bashing the camera before they had even laid a hand on it. From the one scientific review of the 5D Mk IV that I’ve seen, it looks like Canon has made a leap in the quality of the sensor in the new 5D.  While it doesn’t quite match the sensor that Nikon has in the D810, or the ones Sony has in its top of the line cameras, both the dynamic range and low light capabilities of the new 5D are much improved, and come close to the competition’s sensors. It is telling though that Canon’s latest and greatest only comes close to matching its competitor’s sensors, which have been on the market for a while now.

Since increased dynamic range and improved low light performance are what I’m looking for, it sounds good to me.

I don’t want to bore every one more than I have already, but there’s one more thing that I have to say about cameras, at least the way that I see things evolving. I said some time ago that it looked like Canon was moving towards producing niche cameras, that is, cameras that are designed to be used for specific types of photography. If you shoot sports and wildlife, you should have the 7D Mk II. If you shoot landscapes, then you should be using the 5DS R. If you shoot weddings and/or portraits, then you need the new 5D Mk IV. If you shoot video, then you should purchase one of Canon’s video cameras.

Personally, I can’t afford to purchase such specific purpose cameras, nor do I want to lug them and all the gear associated with each one around to shoot the variety of subjects that I do. I would like a camera that does reasonably well on all subjects.

Anyway, I’m going to empty out another folder of photos that I have from earlier this summer that I shot around home.

Honey bee and crown vetch

Honey bee and crown vetch

I shot this next one for the color contrast more than anything else, as I couldn’t get closer to the cardinal, and the light was very poor.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

I saw a few indigo buntings this summer, but I never was able to get close to any of them for reasons that remain a mystery to me.

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

 

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

When I did get close to the kingbirds around here, there was usually brush in the way.

Eastern kingbird

Eastern kingbird

I did find a “tunnel” through the vegetation to shoot this next series though.

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

 

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

 

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

On a grey day, a grey catbird.

Grey catbird

Grey catbird

Before the robins left, I managed this shot of one of the young ones.

Juvenile American robin

Juvenile American robin

This next photo is the way that I shot it, I think that I should have rotated it 90 degrees, as it looks odd to me.

Unidentified fly

Unidentified fly

And finally, a bull thistle that I shot while waiting for a butterfly to return that never did.

Bull thistle

Bull thistle

Well, that puts me up to my self-imposed limit for photos in a post. I’ve also babbled on more than long enough already, so this is where I’m going to end this one.

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

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17 responses

  1. You photograph such a variety of wildlife, it is an education in itself to read your posts. I can see why the dragonfly drew so many comments.

    September 16, 2016 at 10:57 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! I’d be trying to be modest if I said that the dragonfly photos were luck. If you remember, I managed a similar photo earlier this year, and I was able to build on what I learned then to get the photos for this post.

      September 16, 2016 at 10:48 pm

  2. Amazing photos of the dragonflies no wonder everyone loved them. The ring billed gull in flight and the Northern shoveler are also favourites of mine. Interesting to read about the work of Brian and how you have seen the effects of El Nino on birds/animals. Your photos look wonderful on our new computer’s screen- it was worth all the money just to enjoy seeing your posts in large vision!

    September 16, 2016 at 3:25 pm

    • Thank you very much Marianne! You didn’t go out and purchase a new computer just to view my photos I hope. 🙂 According to Brian, the historical records of bird counts, not only his, but the counts by others, show declines in juvenile birds in every El Nino year. It’s one of those amazing facts that may never be fully understood.

      September 16, 2016 at 10:53 pm

  3. I was interested in your El Nino speculations. There are so many things where it would be really good if I could understand causes and results that my head often hurts just thinking about how little I know. Meanwhile your musings on different cameras are beginning to make me feel a bit short of equipment. As I am also short of money, I will get my kicks out of following your results. Keep on keeping us informed.

    September 16, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! It was Brian who brought up El Nino at the time he was telling me about not seeing many juvenile birds this fall. I may have speculated a bit too much when I brought up the lack of fawns and the abundance of bunnies this year, and wondered if they were related to El Nino as well. I know full well what it’s like to be short of money, if I don’t stop adding to my camera gear soon, I may never get away from that feeling. 😉

      September 16, 2016 at 11:09 pm

  4. I’m seeing more cottontails than ever too. They seem to be having a good year.
    Funny how some herons like walking on roads. I used to know one that walked on paved roads pretty regularly. I never could figure out why.
    Now I know why I’m seeing so many feathers. Molting ducks!
    Great dragonfly shots. No wonder everyone liked them!
    I wish I had a plant Brian. You can learn a lot from a person like him and you’re lucky to know him.
    I like all the colors in this one. The cardinal, indigo bunting, goldfinch, and of course the flowers. it should show those who seldom get outside what they’re missing.

    September 16, 2016 at 6:15 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! It seems odd that the number of rabies would be up but the number of deer down, but that’s what I’ve seen so far this year. Of course that’s not scientific in any way, just me personal observations.

      I don’t recall ever seeing a heron walking down the road before, maybe because the streets are normally too busy around here. You never know about herons, they seem to be hungry all the time, and will eat just about anything.

      It isn’t just the ducks, it’s also the geese, coots, shorebirds, just about all birds are molting now. I see feathers everywhere.

      I took what I learned while getting the one photo of a dragonfly in flight earlier this year while on vacation, and with some time on my hands, really worked at getting several series of images as they hovered near me. I think that it was time well spent.

      I thought that you were the plant Brian, you are to me. Birds are relatively easy compared to plants. I do enjoy the conversations that I’m able to have with Brian, I learn more from him in ten minutes than I have reading entire books.

      I also hope that it gets more people outdoors, for things other than chasing Pokeman characters around with their cell phones. 😉

      September 16, 2016 at 11:21 pm

  5. Thanks for reporting your conversation with Brian – he must be a very interesting guy. Hard to imagine that he can carry on a banding program on his own.

    I can’t believe all the feathers floating on the water. It looked more like sunlight glinting on the pond, which makes the photo all the more interesting.

    That indigo bunting sure is a startling flash of blue didn’t it? Think I have only ever seen one of them, and I remember being stopped in my tracks by the brilliance of the color.

    Thanks for another great post.

    September 17, 2016 at 8:52 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! You have to appreciate birds to appreciate Brian, he’s very quiet, but once you get him talking, you find out that he’s a walking encyclopedia.

      With thousands of ducks and thousands of geese, and all of them molting, there’s no shortage of feathers around there. 😉

      I love the blue of the indigo buntings, they are one of my favorite birds. I wish that I had gotten closer to a few more of them this year.

      September 17, 2016 at 5:54 pm

  6. I love the feather detail on the photos of the Eastern Phoebe and the way the sunlight is shining through the cottontail’s ears! Such a wonderful selection of shots of birds and the colours (as Allan says) are lovely!

    September 17, 2016 at 5:27 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I’d love to have the same level of detail in all my images as there is in the ones of the Phoebe. The same goes for colors as well, but I do pretty well in that respect.

      September 17, 2016 at 5:51 pm

      • I know you do!

        September 17, 2016 at 6:17 pm

  7. Laura

    So glad I found your interesting blog. I love birds, I don’t really have the lenses to get great bird photos, I really love the Eastern Phoebe with lunch photo, thanks for the inspiration.

    September 18, 2016 at 1:08 pm

    • Thank you very much Laura! All I can say is that my bird photography is a labor of love.

      September 18, 2016 at 9:26 pm

  8. The El Nino effect on birds was an interesting point. It seemed as if we had fewer birds here this year, especially the larger birds that go after our fruit crops. We did have an unusually warm late winter followed by a cool to cold start to summer.

    A beautiful collection of photos as always, and thank you for posting that cardinal shot. I miss them, as they don’t come this far west.

    September 19, 2016 at 8:48 pm

    • Thank you very much Lavinia! That’s what’s odd about an El Nino affecting bird, or any other animal’s reproduction rates, the effects of an El Nino are different in different parts of the country. We had a cold late winter, and a very warm early summer, about the opposite of what you had.

      September 20, 2016 at 12:27 am