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

Archive for October, 2016

I cheated, and it was fun for a day

The bird sanctuary that I wrote about in my last post is the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, located near Augusta, Michigan, about an hour southeast from where I live. W. K. Kellogg founded the sanctuary when he heard of the drastic decline of Canada geese that was occurring because of the loss of habitat and over hunting. Later, it became the home of a breeding program for trumpeter swans, also due to the drastic declines in the number of birds of that species also. Here’s the short version of the history of the sanctuary from their website.

In June 1927, cereal maker W. K. Kellogg purchased the land surrounding Wintergreen Lake, fencing off 180 acres to create the W. K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary. The goal was to teach an appreciation of the natural beauty of native wildlife, while providing a place to breed game birds.

In 1928, Kellogg deeded this land over to the Michigan State College of Agriculture (now Michigan State University) to ensure that the Sanctuary would serve as a practical training school for animal care and land management. This move opened the doors to further field research work for college students, which enhanced the programs that were put on for the general public.

The W. K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary was created with waterfowl as a high priority. Breeding of waterfowl was crucial to re-establishing populations of game birds. In particular, the Sanctuary was instrumental with assisting in the repopulation of Canada Geese and Trumpeter Swans, though other waterfowl played, and still play, an important role in the ecosystem.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I take a great deal of pride in the fact that all of the birds and wildlife that you’ve seen photos of here are totally wild critters. Some of the places where I’ve photographed them aren’t wild, the wastewater facility near Muskegon for example, but all of the critters are wild, and I haven’t used bait to get them to come close to me.

Now then, with that said, I had some misgivings about going to the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, because from the website, parts of it sounded like it was a zoo of sorts. On the other hand, parts of the website was about all the wild waterfowl that spend time there during migration. Which part is true? They both are, but I had to see for myself.

And, while I think that I’m doing very well with the wild birds that I find in Michigan, once, just once, I’d like to shoot a few images of some of the more exotic birds that are colorful enough to make the average person say “Wow!” and that I see in so many of other people’s photos. So, I gave in to temptation, and gave it a shot or two.

Black swan from Australia

Black swan from Australia

 

Mandarin duck from Asia

Mandarin duck from Asia

 

Mandarin duck from Asia

Mandarin duck from Asia

Our native wood ducks may be just as colorful…

Wood ducks

Wood ducks

…but they don’t have the fancy feathers of the Mandarin duck. By the way, those are wild ducks, as you can tell by the fact that they are moving away from me and about to disappear from my sight behind the lily pad leaves.

The Kellogg Bird Sanctuary also has a raptor rehabilitation operation, and once, just once, I wanted to get close-ups of the raptors that they have there, but the strange thing is that other than this great horned owl…

Great horned owl

Great horned owl

…and this sleeping eastern screech-owl…

Eastern screech owl

Eastern screech-owl

…I couldn’t make myself shoot photos of the birds in the rehab center. They were the most despondent and dejected looking birds that I have ever seen in my life. They looked absolutely miserable, not able to fly, not able to really live, just existing and waiting for their next feeding. I know that none of these birds would be able to survive in the wild due to their injuries, yet seeing them made me very sad, and not because they had been injured, but because of the way that they had to live in small cages with nothing to do but be there for the people walking past their cages to look at. It was worse than any zoo that I’ve ever seen.

I suppose that it doesn’t bother most people who have never seen these birds in the wild, but it put a damper on my entire day there at the sanctuary.

Let me go back to the beginning of the day. I was the first visitor there, arriving just after they had opened the gates at 9 AM. I stopped at the visitor center to pay the entrance fee, and I also chatted with the woman who explained a bit about the sanctuary, and where the best places to take photos may be. I walked down by the lake, and there were trumpeter swans, mallards, and Canada geese all around me. Pretty cool I thought. But then, I heard a strange sound, and I saw that it was one of the trumpeter swans playing with a five gallon bucket that is used as a feeding station for the swans.

Trumpeter swan waiting for breakfast

Trumpeter swan waiting for breakfast

 

Trumpeter swan waiting for breakfast

Trumpeter swan waiting for breakfast

It wasn’t long before a worker came along and filled all the feeding bins that have been placed all around the one end of the lake, which made all the swans very happy.

Most of the swans are wild, but they hang around there at the sanctuary because of the easy access to food which is provided for them.

By the way, I wouldn’t be posting these photos if I hadn’t already gotten photos of truly wild trumpeter swans in the past. I’ve seen them many times in the Pigeon River Country, around the Muskegon area, and even in a few un-named wetlands during my travels around Michigan. They are huge birds, but I never realized how big they were until I saw one standing next to me, and it was almost as tall as I am.

Trumpeter swan

Trumpeter swan

Seeing a bird that stands nearly 6 feet tall is an imposing sight! Their wingspan is pretty impressive also.

Trumpeter swan

Trumpeter swan

I honestly didn’t know how tame the swans had become, or that they were fed regularly by the staff at the sanctuary. I did know that they allowed the public to feed corn purchased there to the waterfowl though, so I should have guessed that the swans geese, and mallards had become very tame. Every time a visitor came along with a bucket of corn, there was a feeding frenzy.

Waterfowl feeding frenzy

Waterfowl feeding frenzy

So, why did I go if I suspected that there would be exotic birds along with native birds that were very tame? I want to be able to judge just how good my images are compared to those shot by other people, and it helps to compare apples to apples, not apples to oranges.

I can go to the places that I normally do, and get what I think are some very good images…

Lesser yellowlegs flight ballet

Lesser yellowlegs flight ballet

…but those can’t compete with a mandarin duck…

Mandarin duck

Mandarin duck

…an un-cropped head shot of a trumpeter swan without resorting to using tele-converters to get closer to them…

Trumpeter swan

Trumpeter swan

…or even a close-up of a greater scaup.

Male greater scaup

Male greater scaup

On a somewhat humorous side note, the male scaup, there were two pair there, were extremely nervous about being so close to humans, and I think, being so close to the huge swans. However, the females…

Female greater scaup

Female greater scaup

…were all for easy food in the form of the corn that people threw to them to eat, so the males hung around their mates, even though they would have preferred to have been elsewhere from the way that they acted. Also, the four scaup were the only wild birds that would come close for the easy food, all the other wild birds stayed out in the middle of the lake, well away from people, who had to use spotting scopes to identify the ducks that were there, just like at the other places that I go.

Wait, I almost forgot, during times when there were no people there other than me, blue jays would come out of the woods to look for any kernels of corn that the ducks had missed, and there weren’t many kernels of corn missed by the ducks.

Blue jay

Blue jay

And, I shot one other wild bird that day, an osprey on the far side of the lake when I took the trail that runs around the lake.

Osprey

Osprey

But, back to why I was willing to sacrifice my principles for one day, to compare my photos to those shot by other people who may not have the same principles that I do. I hate to brag, but my images are getting very close to matching the best that I’ve seen, other than the images shot with the very high-resolution sensor cameras, such as the Nikon D810, the Canon 5DS R, or the top of the line Sony camera. My Canon 7D Mk II is absolutely deadly on flying birds when conditions are right!

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

 

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

 

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

 

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

 

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

 

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

I could have filled a memory card with good to excellent images of the mallards in flight if I had chosen to. As it was, it was difficult to sort through the ones that I did shoot to pick out the best of them based on wing position, the expression on the duck’s face, and the background behind the mallard.

I did make one mistake though, I mentioned that I walked the trail around the lake, so I brought one of the 60D bodies with the 15-85 mm lens on it, hoping to shoot a few landscape photos of the autumn leaves. I didn’t see many scenes worth shooting, and the two or three that I did shoot are rather boring, so I’m not going to post them. What I should have done instead was to bring the 70-200 mm lens for the times when the action was taking place so close to me that 100 mm of the 100-400 mm lens was still too long.

Trumpeter swans fighting

Trumpeter swans fighting

The waterfowl butt bite!

Trumpeter swans fighting

Trumpeter swans fighting

It seems to be the universal mark of victory over your opponent, especially when you have several of your opponent’s feathers to prove that you won.

The victor!

The victor!

 

The victor!

The victor!

 

The victor!

The victor!

 

The victor!

The victor!

I could have used the shorter lens to get both of the combatants in the frame at the same time, then zoomed in on the victor.

This seems to be a game that the swans played. There were several times when I watched one swan sneak up on another, give it a playful nip, which would result in a chase like the one above.

That’s not the only time that I could have used a shorter lens, a flock of geese took off heading straight towards me, from behind me. I turned, got zoomed in to around 200 mm, and began shooting, tracking one goose as it came towards me. I zoomed out as it approached, this one was shot at 114 mm, just before the viewfinder was filled with nothing but the brown of the goose.

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

I turned as the goose passed me, then got it centered in the viewfinder again.

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

Who would have thought that I could have used a wide-angle lens for birds in flight?

Normally, I’m trying to stretch the focal length of the lens that I’m using by adding a tele-converter to get closer to the subject.

Speaking of subject, I’m going to change it completely, and switch over to some photos that I shot on Sunday, the day before I went to the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary.

Okay, you may remember that I said that I had some photos of a peregrine falcon interacting with gulls that I wanted to post, and here’s the first. The gull on the left isn’t screaming at the falcon as they often do, the gull was yawning, as if to tell the falcon that it wasn’t scared at all by having the falcon so close.

Herring gull yawning

Herring gull yawning

The gull moved even closer to the falcon.

Herring gull and peregrine falcon

Herring gull and peregrine falcon

Then, another gull flew past, and from the way the falcon is looking at the gull, I can’t help but think that the falcon was sizing up the drumsticks of the gull, and thinking that maybe it was time for a snack.

Herring gull and peregrine falcon

Herring gull and peregrine falcon

The gull perched next to the falcon must have thought the same thing, for it left soon after.

Herring gull and peregrine falcon

Herring gull and peregrine falcon

Those were shot at 800 mm, the 100-400 mm lens and 2 X tele-converter.

I left to chase an eagle, but it took off long before I got close to it. At the same time, all the gulls began to go crazy, I thought that the eagle flying over them set them off, but it may have been the falcon. I say that because when I got to the other side of the same cell that the falcon and gulls had been in, the falcon was eating something that it had stolen from one of the gulls.

Peregrine falcon enjoying leftovers

Peregrine falcon enjoying leftovers

Most people think of gulls as scavengers, and they are, but they are also very good hunters, and they kill many small birds, especially during migration. So, I don’t know which bird made the kill in the first place, it could have been the eagle, one of the gulls, or the falcon. All I know is what I saw, and that was the falcon picking the scraps of meat left on the carcass of what looked to have been a pigeon.

That photo was also shot at 800 mm, and it was only cropped a little, if at all. I shot quite a few photos of the falcon eating, then I removed the tele-converter, and it was a good thing that I did. I hadn’t completely finished getting the camera ready to go again when a gull began to attack the falcon. They were out of camera range by the time I was ready to go. However, the falcon turned around and came towards the rear of my car with the gull right on its tail. I couldn’t get myself turned around in the seat fast enough to catch them coming at me, and I had a devil of a time getting them in the viewfinder as they passed me heading away from me.

Herring gull attacking a peregrine falcon

Herring gull attacking a peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcons may be the fastest creature on Earth in a dive, but in level flight, the gull was staying right on the falcon’s tail.

Herring gull attacking a peregrine falcon

Herring gull attacking a peregrine falcon

The falcon was juking and jiving…

Herring gull attacking a peregrine falcon

Herring gull attacking a peregrine falcon

…trying to lose the gull.

Herring gull attacking a peregrine falcon

Herring gull attacking a peregrine falcon

It was at this point that I could no longer keep them in the frame together, the gull pulled up, and where the falcon went, I couldn’t see. All I know is that I saw it land a short time later, without the carcass of whatever it had been eating.

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

So, what does that final series have to do with my day at the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary? I’ll get to that, and more, in my next post.

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


A great weekend results in too many photos

Well, the weekend is still a few days away, and I’m watching the weather forecasts like a hawk, trying to decide where I’m going to go. I’d like to get out somewhere that I can shoot a few landscapes that include the fabulous show that the trees are putting on right now, but at the same time, it’s still the fall migration season for birds, with a few unexpected visitors showing up in the various birding reports that I monitor. I haven’t crossed many species off from the list of birds that I need to get photos of for the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on this year, but on the other hand, trying too hard to seek out species of birds that I haven’t seen before means that I’ve been giving less time to photographing our more common species.

Then, there’s the question of which images that I may be able to sell if I were to put more effort into marketing my photos. I printed out a number of my images in 11 X 14 inch size, and I sold one of those prints to a guy that I work with. It was one of my snowy owl in flight images, and he purchased it as a Christmas gift for his daughter, who loves owls.

While one never knows what print will sell, there are some subjects much more likely to see than others. Raptors are one, along with owls, and anything cute. There’s very little chance of my selling a photo of one of the more obscure species of birds, no matter how good the image is. I should also be looking for trophy game birds and animals, such as whitetail deer bucks with large antlers, certain ducks, and large Tom turkeys with long beards as well, because hunters may purchase an image of a trophy game animal.

To make my decision even tougher to make, I learned of a bird sanctuary that’s located about the same distance from where I live as Muskegon is, but in the opposite direction, more or less. It was set-up to be a sanctuary for migrating waterfowl, and according to the birding reports, there’s about the same number of species of waterfowl, but in slightly lower numbers, than there are at the wastewater facility where I usually go. The thing that attracts me to the idea of checking out this other sanctuary is the fact that there may be more chances to get closer to waterfowl, and with more photogenic backgrounds than at the wastewater facility. There are two downsides to the sanctuary however, one, it’s five dollars a pop to visit it, and it doesn’t open to the public until 9 AM. That means no sunrise photos when the light is at its best, darn.

I’ll have to check the sanctuary out, to see if I can get closer to the waterfowl, and shoot images with better backgrounds, and shoot at better angles. If this place works out well, I could purchase a yearly membership, which would save money versus paying the 5 dollars each time that I visit. I suppose that there are advantages to having become an old geezer, I can save ten dollars a year on membership to the sanctuary as well as qualifying for the geezer pass at National Parks here in the US.

Well, from the latest weather reports, I think that my best plan for this weekend will be to go to Duck Lake in hopes of getting a good image or two of the sunrise over the lake with the fall foliage at close to its peak in the background. Once the sun is up, I’ll head to the waste water facility in hopes of catching some trumpeter swans and snow buntings, both of which have been seen there the past few days. On Monday, I’ll check out that other bird sanctuary, if that goes well, I’ll have a full report to do on it. Wish me luck!

Well, the first half of my plan worked out very well indeed! On Sunday, I began the day before sunrise at Duck Lake, and I did get a few good images of the sunrise as it took place.

Sunrise over Duck Lake State Park

Sunrise over Duck Lake State Park

I’ll get back to the sunrise shortly, but first, I was also able to get my best ever images of a peregrine falcon.

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

I hung around with the falcon for what seemed like most of the day, shooting well over 200 photos of it alone. I also caught it interacting with a couple of the gulls at times, but I missed what could have been sensational shots, which I will also explain later.

I shot a few eagles…

Bald eagle preening

Bald eagle preening

…a few of the smaller species of birds…

American pipit eating a spider

American pipit eating a spider

…and even crossed another species of bird of from my list that I’m working on.

Cackling geese and Canada geese

Cackling geese and Canada geese

Cackling geese and Canada geese look almost the same, you have to take a close look to see the differences. The cackling geese are smaller, not much larger than a mallard, to begin with. However, you can easily be fooled by a late brood of Canada goose goslings. The cackling geese have a much smaller bill, it looks short and stubby as you can see especially well on the leader of the cackling goose flock in that photo. Looking at the same bird, you can also see the other major difference, the cackling geese have a much steeper slope to their faces, it’s nearly vertical, while a Canada goose’s face slopes down to the bill at less of an angle, and with more of a curve to it. I would have attempted to get better photos of the cackling geese, but I wasn’t sure that’s what they really were as I shot that photo. I’ve been fooled before. However, a couple of expert birders that I talked to a few minutes later and that checked the geese out through their spotting scopes agreed with my identification.

Anyway, my day began at first light at Duck Lake State Park well before sunrise. There wasn’t a cloud in sight to produce a great sunrise image, however there was mist rising from the warm waters of both Duck Lake and Lake Michigan as it began to get light enough to shoot photos.

Blue morning

Blue morning

I could have easily used three or more cameras mounted on tripods to shoot everything that I would have liked to have shot, as this was the view in the opposite direction over Lake Michigan.

Pastel morning

Pastel morning

As it was, I had the 60D mounted on the tripod with the 15-85 mm lens on it to shoot the wider shots of the actual sunrise over Duck Lake.

Sunrise over Duck Lake 1

Sunrise over Duck Lake 1

 

Sunrise over Duck Lake 2

Sunrise over Duck Lake 2

While there wasn’t as much color in the leaves on the trees on the far side of the lake as I had hoped, it was still a beautiful sunrise.

As the sunrise was unfolding, I was running around with the 7D and 100-400 mm lens, shooting other things, like this gull.

Gull at ISO 12800

Gull at ISO 12800

Not great, but now I know that in a pinch, I can shoot at that high of an ISO setting and come up with a usable photo.

I used the same set-up to shoot tighter shots of the sunrise as well.

Pastel sunrise over Duck Lake

Pastel sunrise over Duck Lake

 

Brilliant sunrise over Duck Lake

Brilliant sunrise over Duck Lake

So, the morning started off on a good foot. Once the sun was fully up, I packed up, and zipped over to the Muskegon County wastewater facility, where the first bird that I photographed was one of the eagles there.

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

You may have noticed that with good light, and a blue sky for a background, that I chose the sky instead of the tree for the background for a change. Of course, the eagle flew off as I was swapping tele-converters.

A short time and distance later, I spotted a juvenile eagle in another tree.

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

With the light as it was, I wasn’t sure if it was a juvenile bald eagle or a golden eagle at first, so I hung around for a short time, watching the eagle. When it did this…

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

…I could tell that it was a juvenile bald eagle, and that there had to be another large raptor near by, especially when the juvenile stared in the same direction as intently as it did.

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

I looked around, and sure enough, an adult had landed in the same tree, but was partially hidden from my view.

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

The juvenile was in no mood to put up with an adult in its tree, so it took off, but in the wrong direction, darn.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

I got a slightly better view of the adult.

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

I looked for the trumpeter swans that had been seen there a few days before, but they had left already. I did manage to find a flock of snow buntings amongst all the pipits there, and got one good image of one of them.

Snow bunting

Snow bunting

I also found either an adult red-winged blackbird molting, or a juvenile growing his adult feathers, I’m not sure which.

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

Not long after that, I saw a junco getting ready to take a bath.

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

While they are plain-looking birds, I still think that they are cute, so I shot too many photos of it taking its bath.

Dark-eyed junco bathing

Dark-eyed junco bathing

 

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Dark-eyed junco bathing

 

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Dark-eyed junco bathing

 

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Dark-eyed junco bathing

 

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Dark-eyed junco bathing

 

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Dark-eyed junco bathing

 

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Dark-eyed junco bathing

 

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Dark-eyed junco bathing

As you can see, I had good light for this series, and I was able to switch the camera settings around to get good images of the junco for a change.

It was that type of day for the most part, warm and sunny, and many of the birds allowed me to get quite close to them at times, like these two black-bellied plovers.

Black-bellied plover, non-breeding

Black-bellied plover, non-breeding

Both of these were shot with the 2 X tele-converter behind the 100-400 mm lens, and manually focused.

Black-bellied plover, non-breeding

Black-bellied plover, non-breeding

I’m getting better at the manual focus thing with that set-up as you can see. Later, I tried it out on a macro photo, with somewhat limited success.

Red clover

Red clover

There’s very little depth of field  when shooting that close at 800 mm, and shooting handheld, the slightest breeze causes me to have trouble keeping the subject in focus. I do much better on larger flowers.

Sunflower

Sunflower

The new 100-400 mm lens will auto-focus using the center focus point only when I use the 1.4 X tele-converter, which gives me a focal length of 560 mm when I zoom the lens all the way in, as I did for these two.

Gulls squabbling

Gulls squabbling

 

Gulls squabbling

Gulls squabbling

It’s the same for this one as well.

Killdeer

Killdeer

Wouldn’t you know, give me a day with good light, and I shoot so many photos that I’ve almost filled this post already, and I haven’t gotten to the falcon and its interactions with the gulls yet. To make matters worse, I went to the bird sanctuary that I wrote about earlier in this post on Monday, and came home with over 600 images to sort through, which I’m still working on.

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

Shooting good photos at the bird sanctuary was almost like shooting fish in a barrel, too easy in a way, which is why I came home with so many photos to sort through. But then, I do okay when shooting completely wild birds as well at times.

Herring gull portrait

Herring gull portrait

So, I think that I’ll end this post here, and save my thoughts, and the rest of the images, for my next post. I think that they will go well with the photos that I shot at the bird sanctuary, and my thoughts on wildlife photography in general.

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


Fall is just beginning, but don’t blink

It’s the middle of October, when the fall colors are about at their peak for the season most years, but the majority of the trees are just beginning to turn color this year. They say that the delay is due to the warmer temperatures and copious amounts of rain that we’ve had. I know that on the day that I shot the falcons in the last post, the Muskegon area had received 1.6 inches of rain that morning. One of these days I’ll catch action like in those photos when I have some good light.

The day before, which was a Saturday, I went out around home to do some more playing with the new lens, and came home with this shot.

Pastel autumn

Pastel dreamy autumn

That may be an image that both a few of the experts and the general public may agree on as being a pretty good one.

Can’t say often enough how great it is to be using a camera and lens that perform almost flawlessly!

Maybe the combination of the 7D Mk II and the new 100-400 mm lens work so well for me because they see things the way that I see things, I don’t know for sure though.

Here’s the rest from Saturday around home as I played.

Fall begins

Fall begins

I liked the juxtaposition between the red and green leaves here.

Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition

I found a Hickory tussock caterpillar and shot a little wide because I liked the red leaves it was on…

Hickory tussock caterpillar

Hickory tussock caterpillar

…then I moved closer for this one.

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Hickory tussock caterpillar

There’s still a few chicory flowers around, this one wasn’t looking the best, other than the dew covering it made it special.

Dew covered chickory

Dew covered chicory

I liked the color combination in this next one.

Sumac and grape leaves

Sumac and grape leaves

I shoot this shot every year, hoping to get some depth in the image, this year, I succeeded, at least to some degree.

River of color

River of color

There were still a few insects to be found.

Bumblebee on a late thistle

Bumblebee on a late thistle

 

Unidentified fly

Unidentified fly

And, a few birds let me get close for a change.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

 

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

There were dabs of color here and there.

More fall colors

More fall colors

I was a little surprised to find a dragonfly on such a cool and cloudy day.

Unidentified dragonfly

Unidentified dragonfly

But not surprised at all by the cheerful chickadees flitting about as quickly as ever.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Here’s another of the more artistic images that I tried for.

Dogwood berries

Dogwood berries

It’s the same for this one.

Sumac

Sumac

Sometimes, one leaf is all that it takes to tell you that fall is approaching.

Spotted leaf

Spotted leaf

On Sunday, when I shot the falcons, I finally gave up shooting birds due to the fog and lack of light, and went off in search of a few landscapes to shoot. I found one good spot, the high banks over the Muskegon River just outside of Newaygo, Michigan. These next ones were shot with the 60D camera and 15-85 mm lens, and are three bracketed photos merged into a HDR image.

Foggy day at the Muskegon River high banks angle 1

Foggy day at the Muskegon River high banks angle 1

I like the view of the distant hills in the background better in that image, but I prefer the foreground in this one.

Foggy day at the Muskegon River high banks angle 2

Foggy day at the Muskegon River high banks angle 2

I also stopped to shoot across an un-named marsh, but a high-tension tower ruined the best view there, you can see the power lines going to the tower in this image, sorry.

Un-named marsh

Un-named marsh

As you can see, the color is just getting started here. I hope to do much better next weekend.

It’s funny, I would prefer rainy, foggy weather for shooting landscapes, and next weekend is forecast to be sunny. I wish that I would have had sunny weather this past weekend while shooting the falcons, and “bad” weather next weekend for landscapes when the colors are better.

I just read a hint online that you should shoot fall foliage photos in the middle of the day under bright sun.  To be fair, that tip was on a tourist website, not one dealing with photography. Since I’ve learned the software, my equipment, and how to use it, I find that I get far more color saturation when the leaves are wet.

I’m just hoping that there are still leaves on the trees next weekend, for I have the feeling that once the leaves begin turning color that they won’t last long this year. That’s only my opinion based on what I’ve been seeing so far though.

It was a warm cloudy day today, I’d better get used to the clouds, for it won’t be long and sunny days will be as rare as hen’s teeth around here once the lake effect cloud machine kicks in gear for the winter.

I had to go and take a physical for work, holders of a CDL (Commercial Drivers License) are required to have a physical every other year, and I was due for mine. I thought that I’d be in and out in no time, since there were only a couple of people in the waiting room, but I was there for almost three hours.

Oh, I should update you on the water leak in my apartment. When I went in to renew my lease, I spoke to the manager. The next day, maintenance was here to cut a hole in the drywall, and they found the leak, a crack in the foundation wall. The next day, a crew was here to fix the leak, I thought that it wouldn’t be long before I had the use of the room back, wrong. It took another week for the drywall contractor to show up and repair the drywall, and that was over a week ago. The carpet is still torn up, but it has mostly dried again, because I’ve kept the window open whenever I could. I may have to give them another nudge.

Anyway, because of the lack of time, I did some more practicing around home here. As many photos as I’ve shot over the past few years, I shouldn’t need any practice, but the new 100-400 mm lens on the 7D is like an entirely new ball game.

The inner fire

The inner fire

When I get it right, the leaves seem to glow from within!

I think that this is a dandelion, but I didn’t check the leaves to be sure of that.

Dandelion

Dandelion

Whatever it is, I love the way that the petals are unfurling.

This is the weakest image from the day, and not just because I had to include the corner of the restroom building in the frame to get the rest of the scene as I wanted it.

Sumac and Virginia creeper putting on a display

Sumac and Virginia creeper putting on a display

It looks good here though, maybe I judged that one too harshly. I shot it because I liked the colors, and also to practice getting more depth to my images, I didn’t intend to post it when I shot it. Because the intensity of the various colors affect how our eyes see depth in a two-dimensional photograph, versus what we see in person in three dimensions, it helps me to shoot such photos in order to see how it all plays out in my images.

There’s still a few sparrows migrating through, they are about the last family of birds to migrate south for the winter, and it won’t be long and they’ll be gone too.

Juvenile white-crowned sparrow

Juvenile white-crowned sparrow

I hadn’t taken my tripod with me, so I did a test of sorts. I rested the camera and lens on a post, dialed down the ISO for good resolution, and shot this tree.

The glowing tree

The glowing tree

I may have to begin carrying my tripod all the time if this image is any indication of what I could be getting. Shoot fall foliage in bright sun, hah! There’s no way that the tree would have looked as good in bright sun with harsh shadows under the leaves.

As I walked along, thinking about how poorly the falcon photos from Sunday had turned out, it dawned on me that I had set the global exposure limits of the 7D Mk II after just a few weeks of using it. So, I went into the menu, boosted the high ISO noise reduction setting a little more, and then boosted the maximum ISO that the camera can use unless I over-ride it, up from 6400 to 12800, just to give it a try. I couldn’t get any of the robins that I saw in the woods to pose, but I did manage one shot of this nuthatch before it spotted me.

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

Of course that image can’t compare to one that was shot at a much lower ISO setting, and I have lost a little detail, but that looks just as good as my images shot at 6400 did before, and it was shot at ISO 8000. I think that I’m on to something. 😉

Every stop of light that I can get is very important when shooting in low light, so being able to shoot at ISO 12800 means another stop of faster shutter speed to freeze motion, or one more stop of aperture for more depth of field when needed.

The alternative would be to always use a tripod and shoot at lower ISO settings, but there’s no way that I could have set-up the tripod and gotten the photo of the nuthatch, it was gone when the shutter tripped the second time.

Maybe I could have shot the falcons with better results if I had used a gimbal head on a tripod to be able to follow them in flight, but that will take a great deal of practice. It was tough enough keeping a focus point on one of the falcons as fast as they are, and as little light as there was when I shot them.

If you think that I’m obsessed with the falcons, you may be correct, but trying to figure out solutions to get better images the next time something similar happens is how I improve my images overall.

I was going to write a little more about that, but it led my train of thought to something that I’ve been meaning to say for some time now, how each expert in the videos that I’ve watched makes  recommendations that are exactly the opposite of what some of the other experts say. For example, Michael Melford says to never shoot with the sun at your back, except when you do, but he typically shoots landscapes and still life photos. Arthur Morris, who shoots mostly birds, says to always shoot with the sun at your back, except when you don’t. Each genre of photography has its own rules, and as always, those rules were meant to be broken.

Anyway, I’m having some more large prints made, this time I’m going with 11 X 14 inches, and I’m printing a few images that have a fair chance of selling. One reason that I needed to do this is that all the prints of eagles that I’ve had printed in the past have sold, and I no longer have prints to show any one if they ask about eagles. I’m sure that these prints will turn out well, since I bit the bullet and had some blown up to 16 X 20 inches not too long ago. I’ll pick up the prints tomorrow on my way home from work.

I picked up the prints, and they did turn out well, as I expected. I can see one thing though, the eagle in flight that I shot with the 70-200 mm lens is sharper…

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

…than any of the photos that I’ve shot with the new 100-400 mm lens. It has to be the Image Stabilization that’ softening my bird in flight images, since the 70-200 mm lens doesn’t have it. I thought that the IS on the new lens was good enough, I suppose that in reality it is, but for the sharpest images, I think that I’ll have to turn the IS off.

Great, something else that I need to do to get the best images. I’ve already gotten to the point where I could use a few extra digits on my right hand to run all the dials, buttons, and switches on my camera already, now I need an extra digit or two on my left hand to set the lens correctly for the type of photo that I’m shooting. 😉

I did have time for a walk after work today, and I shot a few photos.

More fall colors

More fall colors

 

Even more fall colors

Even more fall colors

 

The fall colors keep coming at you

The fall colors keep coming at you

I saw a cardinal with a background of bright yellow leaves, and thought that it may make an interesting photo. However, the cardinal wouldn’t cooperate and pose for me, so this was the best I could do.

Male northern cardinal eating grapes

Male northern cardinal eating grapes

And, I did some more playing to learn the depth of field of the new lens, today I learned that f/7.1 wasn’t stopped down enough for this photo.

Chicory

Chicory

I also learned that I can’t always trust what the depth of field preview button shows me when I press it, I thought that I’d get the entire flower in focus and sharp. The depth of field preview button works much better when the lens is stopped down than it does when the lens is almost wide open. Another lesson learned.

Well, that wraps up another week so to speak.

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


The hard work is just beginning

With the 7D Mk II and the new 100-400 mm lens, I now have great gear for shooting birds and other wildlife, the best that I’ve ever had. I’ve also learned a lot, both how to use my gear, and also what makes a great photo. However, I broke one of the rules for making a great image when I’ve been shooting the bald eagles recently.

Bald eagle hacking up a pellet

Bald eagle hacking up a pellet

Sorry for so many eagle photos lately, I had forgotten that I had shot a few photos as the eagle from my last post was regurgitating a pellet of indigestible remnants of a previous meal, just as owls do.

I purposely lined the eagle up with the tree that you can see behind it, because I’m not a fan of the high-key look that you get when shooting a bird against a cloudy sky.

American kestrel

American kestrel

I could have positioned myself so that I had only the sky in the background for the eagle photos, but my personal preference is not to do that, even when I should. The kestrel photo isn’t bad, since they have some color to them. But, while the experts may say that the kestrel photo is better due to no distracting background, I prefer the eagle in front of the tree.

I’ve been attempting to pay more attention to the backgrounds in my images so that there are no distractions in my images to take away from the birds, but that’s close to impossible when shooting small songbirds.

White-crowned sparrow

White-crowned sparrow

 

Starling eating a grape

Starling eating a grape

Those species of birds live on the ground or vegetation so thick that it’s a once in a lifetime thing if you catch one out in the open completely.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been missing shots of the smaller birds lately because I’ve been moving around too much while attempting to get the best shot possible.

According to the experts, for an image to be a great one, the only thing in focus in the frame is the subject, and nothing else, with a pleasing background in one of the neutral colors. You’d think that with so many birds around to shoot…

Assorted waterfowl on the move

Assorted waterfowl on the move

 

Starlings in flight

Starlings in flight

…that I’d have little trouble making an image that would make the experts happy. That isn’t the case though, not for me anyway. When it does happen, it’s mostly luck.

I was working the edges of the farm fields near the Muskegon County wastewater facility, looking for sparrows, and hoping to find a lifer that was migrating through. I didn’t find any lifers, but I did find a vesper sparrow willing to pose.

Vesper sparrow

Vesper sparrow

However, I should have used a wider aperture to blur the background more. More on that in a second. As I was looking for sparrows on the ground, I looked up to see a great blue heron flying in my direction. Fortunately, I had the time to switch camera settings and I was able to shoot a series of photos of the heron as it passed by me.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Not the best lighting in the world, but not bad either.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

There’s no distracting background in those, and the blue sky made a pleasing background for those two.

I said two things about the new 100-400 mm lens that I need to explain a little more. The first thing is that I said that there wasn’t any learning curve that came with it, that isn’t true. There is something that I need to work out, and that’s the second thing that I said about it, that it seems to produce a wider depth of field at the same distance and aperture as my other lenses.

So, on my walks around home, I have been working on that, and for reasons that I still don’t understand, the new lens does seem to have a wider depth of field than my other lenses. I shot this one the way that I would have in order to get all the yellow leaves in focus with one of my other long lenses, with the aperture stopped down quite a bit.

The changing take 1

The changing take 1

Then, I opened the aperture up all the way for this one, and lo and behold, all the leaves were still in focus, but the fence behind them was beginning to disappear.

The changing take 2

The changing take 2

To be a true test, I should have also shot the same scene with one of the other long lenses, however, I’ve shot thousands of photos with those lenses, and know where I have to set the aperture to get what I want in focus in focus. In this next photo, there’s no way that either the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) or the 300 mm lens would have gotten both the yellow and green leaf below it in focus at f/8, I’d have to have gone to f/11 or even f/16 to duplicate this one shot with the new lens.

The fall fight for color

The fall fight for color

So, I put what I’ve been learning with the new lens to use in this image.

Soft fall

Soft fall

I have no idea why the new lens has a wider depth of field than my other lenses, but it does, which is something that I need to work with more.

Before I continue on this line, I have to say that my goal isn’t to shoot only images that the experts would like, I also want to continue shooting the images that the general public will like, and those two things aren’t always the same. However, there’s no reason that I can’t use a few of the tips from the pros to make all my images better.

That means working even harder to get better angles, better backgrounds, and better results overall, no matter which type of photo that I’m shooting.

Male northern cardinal

You may remember seeing the same cardinal in my last post also. That was a wider shot, because I liked the colors of the leaves near the cardinal. In this tighter shot, I could and should have opened the aperture wider, since I was no longer trying to get the leaves in focus. 😉

Leave it to me to buy a lens that somehow magically produces a wider depth of field just when I’m trying to go for the short depth of field look.

I continued to play a little more on Sunday, when there was no light to work with at all. I couldn’t come close to freezing the wings of this palm warbler as it dried itself off.

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

Luckily, it stuck around until I got a good shot.

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

The background is out of focus, but there’s lots of noise left too. It’s the same with these images of a peregrine falcon.

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

Here’s the slightly cropped version.

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

There was a second falcon at the wastewater facility today…

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

…and that must have put the one that’s been there for a while into a bad mood, because it repeatedly attacked the newcomer.

Peregrine falcon attacking another

Peregrine falcon attacking another

If only there had been some light…

Peregrine falcon attacking another

Peregrine falcon attacking another

…I had to shoot with the lens wide open, the ISO maxed out, and shutter speeds that were really too slow to freeze all the action, whether one of the falcons was perched, or if they were both airborne.

Peregrine falcon attacking another

Peregrine falcon attacking another

But, that didn’t stop me from trying to luck out…

Peregrine falcon attacking another

Peregrine falcon attacking another

…I kept on shooting, trying to keep a focus lock on the less aggressive falcon…

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

 

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

…until the less aggressive falcon landed again…

Peregrine falcon ready to fend off an attack from another falcon

Peregrine falcon ready to fend off an attack from another falcon

…and I was able to shoot this one.

Peregrine falcon attacking another

Peregrine falcon attacking another

Those photos aren’t very good, but let me tell you, keeping one of them in focus all the time as fast as they are and as little light as there was is not easy. And, as bad as those images are, I can tell that the newcomer isn’t banded, which means it must have come from a nest not watched by any of the Federal or State Agencies in charge of such things, in other words, a wild nest so to speak. All the nesting boxes set-up for the falcons to use, or known nests are watched, and all the chicks that hatch are banded, the attacker wears a blue band with the number “40” on it. If I knew where to submit that information to, I may hear back about where that falcon was hatched and raised. But, the really cool thing is seeing an unbanned bird, which means that there’s more falcon reproduction than just in the controlled nests.

Besides, how many people get to see one peregrine falcon, let alone two of them going at it? Of course with my luck, it was when there was no light to work with, the story of my life. 😉

Anyway, with it being a rainy, foggy day, none of my images came out well at all. Here’s a pair of juvenile dunlin that I found.

Juvenile dunlin

Juvenile dunlin

 

Juvenile dunlin

Juvenile dunlin

A non-breeding horned grebe.

Horned grebe, non-breeding

Horned grebe, non-breeding

And, when I saw a shorebird with a huge bill, I had to shoot a few photos of it.

Short-billed dowitcher, green teal, and female mallard

Long-billed dowitcher, green-winged teal, and female mallard

I did finally get the dowitcher alone, but all the way across the pond, so these photos aren’t very good either.

jvis8214

Long-billed dowitcher

How would you like that bill hanging from your face?

jvis8220

Long-billed dowitcher

The only other birds that I shot were this American pipit…

American pipit

American pipit

…and this great blue heron, which I shot at f/5.6, which is wide open with the new 100-400 mm lens set to 400 mm.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

That image wasn’t cropped, that’s my buddy, the young great blue heron that poses for me so I can test things out. I can see that the days of having to shoot with the aperture stopped down to at least f/7.1, or better yet, f/8, to get a sharp image are gone with the new lens.

I’m already over my limit for photos, so I’ll save the foggy landscapes for the next post.

But, before I sign off, I have to apologize to all the regular readers of my blog. Some how, and I haven’t figured it out yet, WordPress turned off all the notifications that I get  when people post their blogs, or comment to mine. I could see the comments to mine, so I didn’t need the notifications, but after a week, I thought that it was strange that every one else had decided to take a break from blogging, all at the same time. So, I’ve missed a lot of people’s posts, I’ll try to get caught up this week.

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


I’m still learning

Although I feared that there would be a learning curve when it came to using the new 100-400 mm lens, that didn’t happen. By the end of the first day that I used it, I had figured out how to set the various switches on the lens to produce the results that I desired. A lot of that probably has to do with what I had already learned using the Beast ( Sigma 150-500 mm lens) and the 300 mm L series lens. The only real difference in the new lens is that it has a third mode of Image Stabilization which I had never used before.

I had read that this new mode was better for birds in flight, and that has proven to be the case as the hawk in flight photos from the last post show. Other than that, it’s just like all my other Canon lenses only better, the new lens has been everything that I had hoped for and more, right out of the box.

Mounted to the 7D Mk II, it’s an awesome combination that makes getting good photos almost automatic.

Well, not really automatic, it’s up to me to position myself in the right place at the right time, make sure that the camera and lens settings are correct for the type of photo that I’ll be shooting, along with all the other little things that go into making a good image.

Take the recent photo of the red-winged blackbirds in flight.

Red-winged blackbirds in flight

Red-winged blackbirds in flight

That was almost all luck, a grab shot if you will. I heard the blackbirds, turned, saw them, and shot as quickly as I could because there were obstructions  on both sides of that view. After that shot, I thought that I’d be smart and get into a better position where the obstructions wouldn’t be a problem. That didn’t work well, I was too close to the blackbirds so I could only get a couple of them in the frame at one time, I was shooting their undersides, with no color from their wing patches, and the cornfield that they were flying over was tall enough to block my best view. That’s just one example, I still have a lot left to learn.

One thing that I’m learning is to wait until the flock of birds turn, so that they are banking for the turn as many of the blackbirds are in the photo above. Otherwise, I end up with boring photos of the birds all in profile, like this.

Assorted waterfowl in flight

Assorted waterfowl in flight

The only reason that I posted that one is because the little ruddy ducks that have to run to build up enough speed to take flight seem to be saying to the larger birds “Hey, wait for us”.

I’m also learning what works best as a background for flocks of birds in flight, and what the distance between the flock and the background works the best. All of this goes back to learning where to position myself to get the best images that I can.

Speaking of getting the best images that I can, the new 100-400 mm lens has changed my thinking somewhat. That, and seeing the photos that are posted to the North American Nature Photographers Association’s Facebook page. My very best images compare favorably to almost all of the photos that I see there, unless the photographer was using one of the very high-resolution cameras such as a Nikon D810, the Canon 5DS R, or the top of the line Sony camera bodies. That is, at least on the technical side of the equation, as I say, I still have a lot to learn as far as technique.

Since I had the large 16 X 20 inch prints made, I know that either the 7D Mk II or my older 60D bodies will produce great prints that size.  I can only imagine how much better that those prints would be if I had the same quality of lens as the new lens is.

Also, I’ve made it no secret that I’d like to have a full frame camera body for better low light performance.

Unfortunately, everything in photography is a trade-off in one way or another. As much as the manufacturers have improved digital cameras, there’s still no perfect camera for all situations made at this point in time. Something else that needs to be added to the equation is the fact that wildlife is most active in low-light situations most of the time, which is why I was looking for better low-light performance from a camera, and considering a full frame camera.

So, I took stock of what I had, and how well it performs. With the 7D Mk II and the new 100-400 mm lens, I have about the best set-up out there for birds in flight and other action photography. The 60D camera also works well, but with one exception, it won’t auto-focus with my longer lenses when I add either of the tele-converters. Otherwise, I think that I could do exactly what I would like to do already, have one set-up ready at all times for action shots, and the other set-up for the very best portrait shots.

There have been too many times when I missed a shot because I was either changing camera settings, or swapping lenses or tele-converters to switch between action and portrait photos, because I have to use the 7D to have auto-focus available. Also, as good as the 60D is, it can’t come close to matching how fast or accurate the auto-focusing of the 7D is. And, the 60D can’t auto-focus at all when I use a tele-converter behind a long lens.

One more thing to add to the equation, the cost of the high-quality, extremely wide lenses required to shoot landscape photos on a crop sensor body as my 7D and 60D are. That’s another point in favor of a full frame sensor camera.

Maybe my math skills are a bit rusty, but I’ll tell you, solving an equation with so many variables is difficult, it makes my head hurt as Mr. Tootlepedal would say. It’s even more difficult when how much weight I put on to each section of the equation changes based on the photos that I have shot recently. What I do remember from back in the dark ages when I went to school, when confronted with a complex equation, you begin by simplifying it.

When looking at what I’d like to do in its simplest terms, what this all boils down to is do I want to shoot the very best images possible in good light…

American coot

American coot

…and live with the level of image that I currently can produce in bad light.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Or, do I want to live with what I get in good light…

Male ruddy duck

Male ruddy duck

…at the expense of shooting slightly better images in poor light.

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Since I shoot Canon gear, there are really only two options for me as far as full frame cameras, the new 5D Mk IV and the 5DS R, that will make any improvements in my images. The 5D Mk IV offers slightly better low-light/high ISO performance, but no improvement over the 7D in resolution or in the details or resolution of a subject that it can record.

The 5DS R has the about the same low-light/ high ISO performance as my 7D does, but with the low pass filter disabled, it is stunning in the amount of resolution and details that it records with its 50 MP sensor.

So, at least for right now, I’m planning on purchasing a 5DS R in a year or two. If Canon were to announce an upgraded 7D with the low pass filter effect turned off, all bets would be off. 😉

That’s because I don’t shoot only birds, I do landscapes…

Sunrise near Muskegon 1

Sunrise near Muskegon 1

 

Sunrise near Muskegon 2

Sunrise near Muskegon 2

…and macro photography as well.

Robber fly

Robber fly

 

Black-eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan

The 5DS R will auto-focus to an aperture of f/8, the same as my 7D does. So I can use my long lens with a tele-converter for bird and wildlife portrait shots. With its amazing resolution, it will really improve my landscapes and macro photos as well, more bang for my buck.

I’ll tell you, as good as my photos are becoming, those shot with the 5DS R just blow mine away from what I’ve seen. There are a few people posting photos to the North American Nature Photography Association’s Facebook page using the same 100-400 mm lens that I have, along with the 1.4 X tele-converter, and their images have to be seen to be believed. I should also add that as good as the new 100-400 mm lens is, I want to shoot every species of bird and everything else that I’ve already photographed all over again. It’s that much better than what I’ve been using, as you can see from the photos of the coot and ruddy duck in this post.

I have a series of photos that show why I’d like to have two birding set-ups, one for portraits, one for action. I found one of the bald eagles perched in its usual spot at the wastewater facility, and I started out using just the 100-400 mm lens set at 400 mm.

Bald eagle at 400 mm

Bald eagle at 400 mm

I didn’t crop that at all, although I could have, to let you think that I was closer than I really was. When I saw that the eagle was in no hurry to move, I added the 1.4 X tele-converter to the 100-400 mm lens for this one.

Bald eagle at 560 mm

Bald eagle at 560 mm

Then, I went one step farther, swapping out that extender for the 2 X tele-converter, to get to 800 mm.

Bald eagle at 800 mm

Bald eagle at 800 mm

 

Bald eagle at 800 mm

Bald eagle at 800 mm

You can see how much larger the eagle became as I went up in focal length, as none of those images were cropped at all.

Actually, the story is longer than that, when I first started shooting the eagle, the light wasn’t that good. As the light improved, I kept swapping tele-converters back and forth to get better images. If the eagle looked as if it would take off, I’d remove the tele-converter so that I’d be able to track the eagle if it did fly away. Every time that I swap out extenders, there’s the chance that I’ll get dust on the camera’s sensor, which I’ve already had to clean twice, and is due for another cleaning from the spots that I have to remove from my images.

Bald eagle taking off

Bald eagle taking off

 

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

The last two are actually from two weeks ago, and you can see that the light wasn’t as good then, which is why I held off posting them. This week, I sat there watching the eagle for better than half an hour, and it never did move on, so I did instead.

I tried the same thing with a peregrine falcon…

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

…but it flew off as I was swapping out extenders every time I got close to it…

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

 

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

…so I never did capture it taking off or in flight.

Before I forget, it isn’t just a matter of swapping tele-converters, it also involves changing the camera settings as well. I can shoot at slower shutter speeds and a lower ISO setting when the bird is perched than I can while it’s in flight. It takes a minute or two to make the swap of extenders and camera settings, and while the eagle gave me plenty of time to do that, the falcon didn’t, and neither did this pie-billed grebe. However, the grebe didn’t fly away, they have a much stealthier way of disappearing.

Pie-billed grebe

Pie-billed grebe

The grebes can make themselves sink into the water by controlling how much water their feathers hold, to put it in simple terms. Here, the grebe is going…

Pie-billed grebe sinking out of sight

Pie-billed grebe sinking out of sight

…going…

Pie-billed grebe sinking out of sight

Pie-billed grebe sinking out of sight

…gone.

Pie-billed grebe gone

Pie-billed grebe gone

It only takes them a second or two to complete disappear from sight, and I’m happy to have finally captured that entire sequence. I just checked the metadata for those images, and it took the grebe just over a second to disappear.

Anyway, for the time being, I’m shooting most of my landscapes with the 60D and the EF S 15-85 mm lens, which does quite well.

Sunday sunrise

Sunday sunrise

However, to get the best out of that set-up, I have to shoot three bracketed shots and blend them in Photomatix software to get the results that I do. I can take the 7D and new lens and get images just about as good without using extra software.

Monday sunrise

Monday sunrise

With no clouds, I doubted if the sunrise would produce a good image, I was wrong, very wrong!

The Monday surprise

The Monday surprise

With the golden glow of the sunrise, and a little bit of fog, the sunrise produced two good images.

The Monday abstract

The Monday abstract

I suppose you could say that it produced three good images, if you like this one of geese and mallards in flight against the early morning glow.

Canada geese and mallards in flight at sunrise

Canada geese and mallards in flight at sunrise

Getting back to the photo gear, after seeing how much better the 100-400 mm lens is than my other long lenses are, I have decided that I should upgrade my wide lenses before I purchase a better camera, as that will improve my photos the most. I can use the better lenses on my current cameras for the time being. Since I know that I’ll eventually purchase a full frame camera, I’ve chosen lenses that will work best on it, but will also be an improvement over the lenses that I currently own. The good thing is that what I have now performs pretty good, so I’m in no hurry to rush out and make the purchases soon, I’ll upgrade as my bank account allows.

I got a chance to play with the new lens as a macro lens a little more on Monday, I shot this dragonfly at 400 mm and as close as I could get the lens to focus, then cropped the image a little.

Unidentified dragonfly

Unidentified dragonfly

Then it dawned on me, I had the 1.4 X extender with me, so I went back and tried that set-up. By then, the dragonfly had turned around though, so I didn’t get the best angle for this one.

Unidentified dragonfly

Unidentified dragonfly

But, I did learn that the set-up performed well, and that the auto-focus doesn’t slow down as much as when I use the extender with the 300 mm lens.

Unidentified dragonflies mating

Unidentified dragonflies mating

The fact that it auto-focuses faster is a good thing, because I swear that the birds know that the new lens is faster than what I used to use. The 100-400 mm lens typically snaps into a focus lock very quickly, but it wasn’t quick enough for many of the small birds that I chased this weekend. I have several empty branch photos to prove that. I couldn’t believe how quickly the birds were reacting, I could get the focus, but before the shutter fired, the birds were already gone. I did mange to find a few slower birds though.

Northern cardinal admiring the beauty of the changing leaves

Northern cardinal admiring the beauty of the changing leaves

 

Juvenile cedar waxwing

Juvenile cedar waxwing

Actually, war’s going on with the birds is that I’m trying to get better images, therefore I’m taking more time to get an unobstructed view of them in the best light possible. It’s only then that I raise the camera to my eye, and by that time, the birds are ready to move on anyway, my having a clear view of them prompts them to move even sooner. That means that I’ll have to work a little harder, and a lot smarter to catch them.

It probably doesn’t help that I’m trying to photograph most of the smaller birds at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve where Brian Johnson bands birds. Most of the birds that I see there have one of his bands on its leg, which means that Brian has handled them at least once. While he’s very gentle with them, it’s no fun for them to be caught in a net, then have a human carry them to his workspace where he pokes and prods the birds to check their condition. Then to top it off, he clamps a metal band around your leg. that would make me leery of humans too.

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


The new 100-400 mm lens post 3

I’m loving the new 100-400 mm lens, maybe too much. I’ve already used it to capture the peregrine falcon hopping on the ground, trying to pounce on something that I couldn’t see. Now, I’ve used it to capture a series of photos showing a red-tailed hawk eating a snake.

Red-tailed hawk eating a garter snake

Red-tailed hawk eating a garter snake

 

Red-tailed hawk eating a garter snake

Red-tailed hawk eating a garter snake

But before I go on, I see that one of my photos has been published by the statewide that consortium that includes the local Grand Rapids press and other newspapers around the State of Michigan.

http://www.mlive.com/travel/index.ssf/2016/10/spectacular_autumn_overlooks_w.html#2

I have to say that it’s a great ego boost to see one of my photos used in such a way!

I’ve also told you that I’ve been following the North American Nature Photography Association Facebook page as a way to judge my photos against the photos of others, and with all modesty, I have to say that I’ve been improving the quality of my images, but that I still have a way to go to match the very best that I see.

Anyway, I spotted the hawk perched on the fence as you can see in the photos above, and I assumed that the hawk would fly away as soon as it spotted me, so I was setting the camera to shoot birds in flight when the hawk jumped off from the fence and to the ground. Since I was busy setting the camera, I missed that. The hawk soon emerged back out of the tall grass with the poor snake.

Red-tailed hawk eating a garter snake

Red-tailed hawk eating a garter snake

I should have remembered what this look meant, “Are you ready there Mr. Photographer?”.

Red-tailed hawk eating a garter snake

Red-tailed hawk eating a garter snake

But, it’s been a while since I’ve seen that look, so I was a bit slow on the shutter.

Red-tailed hawk eating a garter snake

Red-tailed hawk eating a garter snake

 

Red-tailed hawk eating a garter snake

Red-tailed hawk eating a garter snake

 

Red-tailed hawk eating a garter snake

Red-tailed hawk eating a garter snake

 

Red-tailed hawk eating a garter snake

Red-tailed hawk eating a garter snake

 

Red-tailed hawk eating a garter snake

Red-tailed hawk eating a garter snake

 

Red-tailed hawk eating a garter snake

Red-tailed hawk eating a garter snake

Once the hawk had finished off the snake, I moved closer to shoot a few portrait shots.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

 

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

 

Red-tailed hawk zombie

Red-tailed hawk zombie

 

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

I thought that the hawk would have to come towards me if it took flight, due to the wind direction, but the hawk performed one of the niftiest moves that I’ve ever seen a large bird make to avoid the camera. It did leap up in my direction, but it was already turning in midair as it did so, then it dropped down below and behind the fence to build up speed as it flew away from me. So, my attempts to catch the take off were thwarted. However, the hawk must have felt bad about that, so it flew back towards me for these.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

 

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Okay, you may be wondering why I posted so many photos of the hawk, that’s a fair question. The reason is, that just as when I was photographing the falcon hopping around on the ground, the new 100-400 mm lens on the 7D Mk II didn’t miss a shot! I could have filled several posts with all of the good images that I shot of the hawk, both perched, and in flight. That’s the difference between my new set-up, and any of the others that I have used in the past, almost every image that I shoot is usable.

I’ve had the new lens for two weeks, and already I have supreme confidence in it, it will get me the shots that I want, whether they’re of a hawk, or a small bird like a chickadee.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

 

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

While I would love it if I could shoot only photos when there was great light and the birds cooperated…

Savannah sparrow

Savannah sparrow

…that doesn’t always happen.

Many of the birds stay hidden in the brush as much as they can.

White-throated sparrow

White-throated sparrow

 

White-throated sparrow

White-throated sparrow

I’ve said repeatedly that I want to be able to shoot anything, any time, any place, and the 7D and new lens make that very close to possible, even action shots before dawn.

Wood duck rising before the sun did

Wood duck rising before the sun did

I was on my way to shoot sunrise photos when the wood duck took off. I had trouble seeing the wood duck through the viewfinder, yet I was able to get several shots that I could use if I wanted to. Just after sunrise, this mallard was a piece of cake…

Female mallard taking off

Female mallard taking off

…even though there still wasn’t much light.

There will come a time when I either see a rare species of bird, or I witness the behavior of a critter that I want to record and pass along, when the ability to get those types of shots will be important.

I’ve also tested the new lens out on a few landscape photos…

The yellow of autumn

The yellow of autumn

 

The clay pit 1

The clay pit 1

 

The clay pit 2

The clay pit 2

 

The beginning of the end

The beginning of the end

…as well as a few still life photos.

Dew on the grasses

Dew on the grasses

I don’t want to go into all the details, but the performance of the new lens has me rethinking many of the future purchases that I was planning on making, because I wish all of my lenses were this good. I think that I have come up with a plan B that will work out just fine.

Instead of boring you with what that plan is, I’ll leave you with a few more photos.

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

 

Downy woodpecker

Downy woodpecker

 

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

 

Juvenile male red-winged blackbird

Juvenile male red-winged blackbird

The forecast for the coming weekend is for much cooler temperatures, lower humidity, and lots of sunshine! I sure hope so, I’d like to see what this new lens can do with conditions better for photography than what I’ve had so far since I got it.

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


The new 100-400 mm lens post 2

I promised small birds in this post, and I’ll get to them shortly, I’m going to start with a few furry critters first.

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

 

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

 

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

 

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

 

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

 

Female Fox squirrel chill-laxin'

Female Fox squirrel chill-laxin’

The chipmunk was shot on Monday at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, the squirrels were shot on Saturday at the park near where I live.

It’s hard to say what I love the most about the new 100-400 mm lens, but right there at the top of the list has to be that it’s sharp no matter how far away from the subject that I am. I shot this wood chuck about 50 feet away from me, and cropped the image down quite a bit.

Wood chuck

Wood chuck

As you can see, the wood chuck is still sharp, you can even see its teeth.

Close-up, it’s every bit as sharp as the 300 mm lens is.

Bumblebee on an aster

Bumblebee on an aster

I knew that I’d be chasing smaller birds over the rest of the weekend, so to get warmed up for them, I tried the new lens out on a chickadee that I saw.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

I could tell that I was out of practice when shooting small, quick birds, so the practice came in handy for what was to come.

It must be because that new lens is so sharp that it seems to extend the depth of field that I get in the photos that I shoot with it. Normally, when I would shoot a bird at that angle as close as I was, one end of the bird or the other would be soft because of the narrow depth of field at 400 mm and as close as I was to the bird. Because of how accurate the auto-focus is, and how sharp the lens is, the entire chickadee is reasonably sharp, although it is getting just a tad soft at both ends in that image. I’ll have to keep that in mind.

Unfortunately, the weather this weekend wasn’t the best for testing out any type of photo gear. We’ve had rain 7 of the last 8 days, and the humidity was very high the entire weekend. High humidity isn’t good for photography because the water in the atmosphere tends to diffuse the light. That can be a good thing when shooting landscapes…

Early morning rainbow

Early morning rainbow

…or this closer view shot with the new lens…

Early morning rainbow number 2

Early morning rainbow number 2

…and I suppose that the foggy weather helps set the mood at times…

Red-winged blackbirds in flight

Red-winged blackbirds in flight

…but for the very sharpest photos, less humidity and more light would have been nice.

There were thousands of the red-winged blackbirds eating corn in one of the farm fields there at the Muskegon Wastewater facility, I wonder what they did for food during the fall before the Europeans began planting corn?

Also, corn was supposedly developed by selective breeding of maize, a native plant which the Native Americans cultivated for food. If maize is a native plant, why is it that I’ve never found it growing anywhere that I’ve been?

It’s time to get to some of the smaller birds.

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

 

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

 

Eastern Phoebe?

Eastern Phoebe

The Phoebe was in no hurry to leave, so that’s one of the first images that I shot using the 2 X tele-converter behind the new lens. You’ve already seen some of the others in the previous post. That combination works just fine as you can see. You may wonder if I tried the 1.4 X tele-converter, yes I have, but I was more interested to see how well the 2 X extender did, especially since I have to manually focus that set-up, and I wanted to see if I could get the focus correct. I didn’t use either extender on any of the other small birds, as I was loving how quickly the new lens focused.

Of all the small birds that I shot, I can only remember the new lens hunting for a focus three times, that’s even better than the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) can do! There was only one of the three times when I couldn’t figure out why the lens hunted for focus, the other two times I moved the position of the focus point as the lens was getting close to a focus lock, and I realized that I was missing the bird. Moving the focus point must have confused the lens and camera, and both times, it was in very low light, which is tough enough for a lens and camera to focus anyway.

Savanah sparrow

Savannah sparrow

 

Savanah sparrow

Savannah sparrow

Not bad for no light, the same applies to this one, even more because there are twigs in front of the bird. But, it’s been months since I’ve seen a junco, they’ve been up north all summer, and spend winters in this area.

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

I got a few warblers also.

Blackpoll warbler

Blackpoll warbler

 

Yellow-Romped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

 

Yellow-Romped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

 

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

 

Brown thrasher

Brown thrasher

 

American pipit

American pipit

 

jvis6765

American pipit

Those were all from Sunday, now here’s a few from Monday.

Lincoln's sparrow

Lincoln’s sparrow

 

Lincoln's sparrow

Lincoln’s sparrow

 

Juvenile white-crowned sparrow

Juvenile white-crowned sparrow

 

Juvenile white-crowned sparrow

Juvenile white-crowned sparrow

 

Adult white-crowned sparrow

Adult white-crowned sparrow

Finally, some good light!

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird

There was a good-sized flock of bluebirds, but do you think that any of them would ever land in a way that I could get a photo showing how blue they are? Of course not, unless the bird was partially hidden.

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird

I didn’t have that problem with the palm warblers, which often hunt for insects on the ground.

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

Since I’m already over my limit for photos, I guess this is as good of time as any to end this post. I have plenty of photos left over, plus I shot a series of photos of a red-tailed hawk eating a snake yesterday. I save those, and my thoughts, for the next post.

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


There’s nothing better than good glass…

…except for even better glass!

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

I was able to dodge the rain at times over this past weekend to use the new 100-400 mm lens more, and all I can say is that I wish that every lens that I own worked as good as it does!

I’m sorry for posting so many photos of great blue herons again, but I found a rare heron that seems to like posing for photos.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

 

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

 

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

 

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

 

Great blue heron landing

Great blue heron landing

 

Great blue heron landing

Great blue heron landing

 

Great blue heron landing

Great blue heron landing

 

Great blue heron landing

Great blue heron landing

It may only be a juvenile great blue heron, but at least it will let me approach it and shoot many photos of it as it goes about its business. As skittish as that species normally is, I’ll take any chance that I can get to test out the new lens. The same goes for this great egret. I saw it on Sunday when the light wasn’t very good…

Great egret yoga

Great egret yoga

…standing about 50 feet from the road, and it just stood there preening and stretching as I shot away. Of course it wouldn’t stretch the wing towards me out for a great photo. On Monday, when the light was a little better, I found it in the exact same spot later in the day, and it allowed me to test the new lens with the 2 X tele-converter behind it.

Great egret, 800 mm

Great egret, 800 mm

 

Great egret, 800 mm. cropped slightly

Great egret, 800 mm. cropped slightly

 

Great egret, 800 mm

Great egret, 800 mm

 

Great egret, 800 mm, cropped slightly

Great egret, 800 mm, cropped slightly

The new lens is so sharp that even though the images shot with the 2 X extender are a little softer, they’re still very good, even when I crop the images a little!

I fought poor conditions for photography most of the weekend, I wish that I had better light and a better background for these.

Bald eagles

Bald eagles

 

Bald eagle number 2

Bald eagle number 2

 

Bald eagle number 2

Bald eagle number 2

 

Bald eagle number 1

Bald eagle number 1

Staying with raptors a bit longer…

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

…I shot that one on Sunday. Then, on Monday, I found what I think was the same falcon engaged in what I think is peculiar behavior for a falcon…

Peregrine falcon pouncing

Peregrine falcon pouncing

 

Peregrine falcon pouncing

Peregrine falcon pouncing

…the falcon was walking around on the floor of one of the aeration cells that’s shut down for repairs at the Muskegon wastewater facility. Every once in a while, it would pounce as if it were trying to catch something in the slime, but it missed whatever it was after every time.

Peregrine falcon pouncing

Peregrine falcon pouncing

 

Peregrine falcon pouncing

Peregrine falcon pouncing

Finally, the falcon flew off to go back to harassing the gulls.

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

 

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

That new 100-400 mm lens also works very well for birds in flight. I shot this one on Saturday at home.

Cooper's hawk in flight

Cooper’s hawk in flight

Just a short time later, a red-tailed hawk, one of a pair, circled over my head, and when it got as close to me as I thought was my best chance to get close-ups, I simply pressed the shutter release, and let the 7 D shoot in high-speed mode until the buffer was filled.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

 

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

 

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Those there are culled from the 30 or so that I shot before the 7 D began to slow to a crawl as far as how quickly that it could write to the memory card. I’m happy to report that all the images were in sharp focus.

This one was also shot on Saturday around home.

Red clover

Red clover

This one is from Saturday also.

Bumblebee on an aster

Bumblebee on an aster

Except for the last two, I’ve chosen the images for this post based on the wow factor of the larger birds, and how well that I’m able to catch them in action with the new lens. It does as well or better on smaller birds too!

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

I’m weird, I have many better images of small birds that I shot over the weekend while I had better light, but I think that the photo of the nuthatch shows how well the new lens works when conditions are terrible for good images. Low light, a quick little bird that wouldn’t sit still for any length of time, and yet I was able to get a decent photo of the nuthatch.

I even shot a short movie of the northern shovelers feeding.

Despite the trying conditions at times, I had a great weekend! I spent too much time outside, I’m still trying to add keywords and ratings to the photos that I shot. I’m also suffering from a lack of sleep. Hopefully, the people here to repair the crack in the foundation wall of my apartment will finish before it’s my bedtime.

It was odd that I came across both a great blue heron and a great egret that were willing to stand and pose for me the way that they did, it made trying out the new lens much easier than if I had taken a shot here, and a shot there. It’s not as rare for eagles to pose, but it is odd for the falcon to stick around as close to me as it did before it finally flew off. There’s no award winners in those photos but they do show how well that the new lens does, including good images of the falcon hopping around on the ground. At the angle that I was shooting at, they wouldn’t have shown the falcon as well if I had been using either of my other birding set-ups.

Where you’ll really be able to see how sharp the new lens is, and how much detail that it captures, is in the images of the smaller birds that will be in my next post.

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