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

I ‘ve got it out of my system now

My final thoughts about the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary as I left were “Okay, I’ve been there, I shot some exotic birds, I’ve gotten my close-ups, I’ll probably never return. Cheating was fun for a day, but now it’s back to shooting wild birds again.”.

However, after giving it a little more thought since then, I may return once a year or so, just so that I can continue to track the improvement to my photos. It was good for a change not to have to attempt to eek out every bit of low-light performance of my camera gear, or to try to stretch the focal length of my lenses in order to get closer to the subjects of my photos. It was also nice that I could pick and choose which flying birds to try to photograph, and not have to try to keep up with two extremely fast flying birds like the falcon being chased by the gull. 😉

The happy truth is that I can go to any number of places in southwest Michigan and see everything that I saw at the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, other than the Mandarin duck…

Mandarin duck from Asia

Mandarin duck from Asia

…and the black swan…

Black swan from Australia

Black swan from Australia

…which aren’t natives here. I’ve gotten good photos of the trumpeter swans before…

Trumpeter swans

Trumpeter swans

…maybe not quite this close though.

Trumpeter swan portrait 1

Trumpeter swan portrait 1

 

Trumpeter swan portrait 2

Trumpeter swan portrait 2

And, the reason that I was able to get so many good shots of the mallards in flight…

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

…along with the fact that I ended up having great light the day that I visited…

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

…is because there weren’t any other subjects around at the time to distract me from the mallards. I was just standing there watching mallards, geese, and the swans. I didn’t have to worry about peregrine falcons…

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

…bald eagles harassing gulls…

Bald eagle harassing a flock of gulls

Bald eagle harassing a flock of gulls

..or looking for a duck that wasn’t paying attention to the eagle’s presence.

Juvenile bald eagle duck hunting

Juvenile bald eagle duck hunting

As it was, the ducks were well aware of the eagle, and every time the eagle started into a dive, all the ducks near it would all dive out of sight. However, I was not able to track the eagle when it made a dive towards the ducks, the auto-focus would focus on the water, rather than the eagle when it got lower. So, I had to settle for that photo.

Before I forget, one sharp-eyed reader asked what the swans with the yellow on their bill were.

Whooper X Trumpeter swan hybrid

Whooper X Trumpeter swan hybrid

They are the result of cross breeding Whooper swans (pronounced “Hooper”) from Eurasia with the native trumpeter swans from North America. No one at the sanctuary could explain why they brought in a non-native species to breed with some of the few remaining native swans, but they did, and there’s still a few of the offspring from those breeding attempts left there at the sanctuary.

Whooper X Trumpeter swan hybrid

Whooper X Trumpeter swan hybrid

As you can see, I was shooting at a slight angle downward when I shot those, that was one of the disappointing things about the sanctuary. Because they have built a seawall topped with a chain link fence, as this photo from my last post shows…

Trumpeter swan waiting for breakfast

Trumpeter swan waiting for breakfast

…I could get to within a few feet of my intended subjects, but then I’d be shooting almost straight down at them. That isn’t the best angle for really good photos. It makes for much better images if you can get down to the same level as your subject. Of course, I had the opposite problem with the peregrine falcon earlier in this post, it was perched on top of a utility pole, too high to get a great image, even though I didn’t have to crop the one in this post at all.

Also, just like any place else that I go, I couldn’t make the birds pose where I had great light on the water to make a good image…

American black duck in harsh sunlight

American black duck in harsh sunlight

…but, once in a while, I would get good light for a shot.

Female greater scaup

Female greater scaup

 

Male mallard

Male mallard

So, getting close doesn’t always lead to the best images, it’s a combination of things. These two images of a male scaup would have been much better if it had posed a few feet farther to the left where I wouldn’t have gotten the harsh reflections off from the water.

Male greater scaup preening

Male greater scaup preening

 

Male greater scaup drying its wings

Male greater scaup drying its wings

There was one other thing that interfered with my attempts to get better images as well. Whenever visitors came along and threw corn to the waterfowl, the swans and geese jostling for position…

Trumpeter swans warning off a Canada goose

Trumpeter swans warning off a Canada goose

…with those big feet of theirs…

The foot of a Canada goose

The foot of a Canada goose

…would get the water roiled up and muddy, so it wasn’t as appealing as a background as what I had hoped it would be.

American black duck

American black duck

It’s also hard to shoot portrait shots when all the waterfowl were chasing the kernels of corn being thrown in their direction.

So, I really see no reason to return to the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, it was fun for the day, but I can do just as well in many of the other places that I go. I’d be much better off focusing my attention on improving all my skills, including those needed for shooting video. I shot a video of the peregrine falcon eating last week, but it’s quite shaky since I shot it at 800 mm.

This week, I shot a video to show the number of Canada geese in just one of the grassy cells, it’s not too bad, but I should have done better. By the way, see if you can spot the four snow geese in this video. For a hint, I’ll tell you that there are two white morphs…

Snow geese, white morph

Snow geese, white morph

…and two of the snow goose blue goose morphs in this video.

Snow geese, blue morph

Snow geese, blue morph

This video is a perfect example of what I have to deal with when I’m looking for some of the less common species of waterfowl, they hide out among the much more common species. Now then, on to the video.

I shot the video at 100 mm, I had added the 2 X tele-converter behind the lens when zoomed to 400 mm to get to 800 mm for the photos of the snow geese somewhat isolated from the flock of Canada geese. I’ll get back to boring talk of photo gear in a minute, but first, a few observations about what photography is teaching me about bird behavior.

One of those things is how some species of waterfowl hide out among the larger species, and no species does that more often than the mallards. I’m almost certain that the mallards do that to stay safer from predators, as very few predators will take on a full-grown Canada goose unless the predator is extremely hungry. The mallards will put up with the belligerent geese occasionally chasing them around while other small duck species tend to shy away from being in with the geese, they prefer to keep a little distance between themselves and the geese. I’m not sure if that’s a conscious decision by the mallards, or just something that they do because it works well for them.

Another thing that I’m learning while I’m observing birds through my camera lens is the way that individuals in a flock interact with others of the same species within the flock. With most species of birds, when there’s food available, the entire flock will go after the food all at once, with individuals within the flock fighting over the food. Not with crows.

American crows finding a bonanza

American crows finding a bonanza

They’ve been harvesting the corn crop grown in the farm fields around the wastewater facility, and as you may be able to see, some of the harvested corn spilled out onto the road as it was being transported. The crows found this, and there were hundreds of crows in the trees nearby. However, the entire flock didn’t go after the corn all at once, smaller groups would land…

American crows finding a bonanza

American crows finding a bonanza

…eat their fill, then leave. Then, another small group would land to take the departing group’s place. There was very little fighting between the individuals on the ground eating the corn, they seemed to know that there was enough to go around, and that cooperation was the best way for each of them to get their share. You can see plenty of corn spilled out on the road, yet the flock feeding on the corn stayed about the same size, with the rest of the crows patiently waiting their turn to get the corn. Is that another sign of the intelligence of crows?

That’s another time when I should have shot a video, but I was so busy observing the behavior of the crows that I forgot that I could have shot a video of them. I kept the camera pointed at the flock on the ground because I expected to see a feeding frenzy of the type that I’ve seen other species of birds engage in, with a lot of bickering as the birds fought over the food. Quite frankly, I was amazed that the entire flock of crows didn’t fall on the corn and dispose of it as quickly as they could have if all of them present had decided to go after the corn all at once. Instead, it was a very orderly succession as the crows went after the corn.

Another thing that I may never understand about bird behavior is why one day, a specific individual will allow me to approach it quite close, and then the next day, fly off as soon as I start shooting photos.

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

I’m sure that this is one of the same individuals that I’ve shot hundreds of photos of in the past, perched in its favorite look-out tree near one of the lagoons at the wastewater facility.

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

I know that I’ve sat there the same distance from it for over a half an hour at a time in the past, and I’ve seen another photographer sit there even longer shooting photos of that eagle. But yesterday for some reason, as soon as I stopped, it was off.

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

I wasn’t expecting the eagle to take flight so quickly, so I had the camera set to shoot portraits of it first, and the eagle didn’t give me the time to switch the camera settings to those better suited to catch it in flight, darn.

That was the story of the day yesterday, I couldn’t get close to any of the raptors other than this male kestrel…

Male American kestrel

Male American kestrel

…and these were shot at 800 mm with me focusing manually because that’s all the closer that I could get to the kestrel.

Male American kestrel

Male American kestrel

My new buddy, one of the juvenile great blue herons, also let me get close to it, this was shot at 400 mm and not cropped at all.

Juvenile great blue heron

Juvenile great blue heron

I added the 2 X extender for this shot.

Juvenile great blue heron, 800 mm and not cropped

Juvenile great blue heron, 800 mm and not cropped

I guess that I can get head shots of wild birds.

Juvenile great blue heron, 800 mm and cropped slightly

Juvenile great blue heron, 800 mm and cropped slightly

That is, as long as they hold still long enough for me to fool around adding an extender to the 100-400 mm lens. That, and for me to focus manually because not even the 7D Mk II will auto-focus with the 100-400 mm lens and 2 X extender due to the loss of light because of the extender.

I was hoping that I’d be able to use the 300 mm lens with the 2 X extender for portrait photos of birds, then switch to the 100-400 mm lens for action shots. However, the new 100-400 mm lens is so much better than what the 300 mm lens is that I end up swapping tele-converters on the zoom lens all the time. As a result, I find myself missing shots that I may have otherwise gotten.

I’m glad that I didn’t miss these!

Monday's sunrise 1

Monday’s sunrise 1

 

Monday's sunrise 2

Monday’s sunrise 2

Those were shot with the 60D and 15-85 mm lens mounted on my tripod of course. I also dug out the 70-200 mm lens and with it on the 7D, I shot these handheld.

Ducks at dawn 1

Ducks at dawn 1

 

Ducks at dawn 2

Ducks at dawn 2

Seeing the ripples in the water when the ducks would dive, I shot this sequence.

Ruddy duck at dawn

Ruddy duck at dawn

 

Ripples of color 1

Ripples of color 1

 

Ripples of color 2

Ripples of color 2

 

Ripples of color 3

Ripples of color 3

 

Ripples of color 4

Ripples of color 4

One of the goals that I have set for myself is to return from every outing with at least one memorable image from the day, no matter what the weather is, or where I go. I think that I succeed most of the time, I certainly have the past few outings.

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

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28 responses

  1. These are stupendous photographs which speak for themselves. To say you cheated takes away from the photos, the creatures, and their impact. You didn’t cheat. You are a photographer. These are gorgeous creatures. You captured them. Period.

    November 1, 2016 at 1:42 am

    • Thank you very much Cindy! I’m a wannabe wildlife photographer, so walking up to an enclosure and photographing a bird that can’t escape does seem like cheating to me. I didn’t have to stalk the duck or do anything but wait until it posed for me. I’m much more proud of the close-ups of the other birds in this post, I worked for them.

      November 1, 2016 at 1:40 pm

  2. Well, the colour was magnificent today, that mandarin duck and the sunrise pictures took my breath away.

    November 1, 2016 at 4:50 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! They were from just a few days at the “office”. 😉

      November 1, 2016 at 1:35 pm

      • Those were my favorites in this set as well, although they are all outstanding. That Mandarin duck would be a great one to enter in a competition.

        November 1, 2016 at 11:11 pm

      • Thank you very much Lavinia! The photos of the Mandarin duck are good, but I doubt that they would even place in a photo competition. A little too much noise because of the lack of light.

        November 2, 2016 at 12:21 am

  3. Breathtaking sunrise! Thank you for bringing that to us.

    November 1, 2016 at 10:10 am

    • Thank you very much Maria! Since I got to see the sunrise in person, I was the one who should be saying thanks.

      November 1, 2016 at 1:34 pm

      • Nice! 😊

        November 1, 2016 at 2:46 pm

      • Thank you for following my blog Jerry.

        November 1, 2016 at 4:28 pm

      • You’re welcome!

        November 1, 2016 at 11:41 pm

  4. Vicki

    especially love the sunset and the dawn photos, but all your photos are beautiful.

    November 1, 2016 at 10:37 am

    • Thank you very much Vicki!

      November 1, 2016 at 1:33 pm

  5. The sunrise shots, the ripples of colour and the kestrel photos are my favourites today – really beautiful! Corvids are so intelligent; I love watching and listening to them. I am sure they had already worked out their pecking order and the corn eating was carried out like a military exercise! 😉

    November 1, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! You’re so right about the crows, other than them making a lot of noise, the entire process of them eating the corn was very orderly. I’ve never seen animals with manners that good before, and few humans for that matter.

      November 2, 2016 at 10:11 am

      • Funny but true! 😀

        November 2, 2016 at 5:24 pm

  6. I would have been more than happy with any day that gave me such a great shot of a kestrel. You are setting your standards very high. As far as the videos go, have you considered using a tripod for video shoots?

    November 1, 2016 at 4:38 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! Yes, I’m setting very high standards for my images, and I’m beginning to wonder just how good is good enough.

      And yes, I have considered using my tripod when shooting videos, but the head that I have is one that doesn’t work well for anything but stationary subjects. Also, I never know how long a subject will stay in one place, I already fool around with tele-converters and camera settings long enough to miss shots, taking the time to set-up a tripod would only make that worse. But, I’m working on solutions to those problems, as you will read about shortly.

      November 2, 2016 at 12:15 am

  7. What a wonderful selection. The dusk photos are spectacular.

    November 1, 2016 at 4:52 pm

    • Thank you very much!

      November 2, 2016 at 12:15 am

  8. That Mandarin duck is really something but I still think I’d rather see our wood ducks.
    Nice close up of the swan’s foot. I’ve never seen a swan so I assumed they were yellow or orange.
    I also like the shot of the water rolling off the ducks back. I’ve known a few people like that.
    My favorite shots have to be the sunrise ones. I don’t know how a sky could ever be more beautiful that that. There’s another one to sell!

    November 1, 2016 at 5:42 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! I’d rather get photos of the wood ducks also, but the darn things are too wary for me to get that close to them. But, I keep trying. 😉

      The foot is actually that of a goose, but a swan’s foot is about the same, only larger.

      As the sunrise was unfolding, I was thinking that I should have gone somewhere other than the wastewater facility, but looking at the clouds, I could tell that there wouldn’t be the same sunrise at Duck Lake for example. I’m learning that just a few clouds make the best sunrise and sunset photos, and that just a few miles away, the scene can be completely different. So, using my new, borrowed motto, when you get magic light, shoot what you see at the time, I did just that.

      November 2, 2016 at 12:29 am

  9. Too many wonderful photos to choose just one favourite today! I still love the Mandarin duck but the American Kestrel is up there as well and then there are the sunsets which are stunning. Those geese are very noisy!

    November 1, 2016 at 6:47 pm

    • Thank you very much Marianne! The geese were louder in person than they were in the video, I loved listening to them, although some people would find them annoying.

      November 2, 2016 at 12:18 am

  10. That crazy Mandarin duck is a stunner, isn’t it? It would be breathtaking to just stumble across one in the wild.

    Have to agree with everyone else about the sunrise shots – your timing was perfect because there is so much detail in the foreground. I’ll admit that I see waaaay more sunsets than sunrises. But everytime I see one of your posts, I get a little twinge of guilt for not wandering around early in the morning to explore. Maybe some day. 🙂

    You crack me up with your ‘cheating’ mantra. It’s not cheating. Nobody said you have to be in China to shoot a Mandarin duck! ;-))

    November 2, 2016 at 9:38 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! Yes, there are few birds that can match a Mandarin duck for beauty. Our wood ducks come close, as do the Harlequin ducks, which I haven’t been able to track down yet. They’re extremely rare in Michigan, usually one or two are seen during migration each year.

      I love sunrise, it’s always been my favorite time of the day, even when I was a kid. Maybe that’s why I’m able to photograph them so well, my love for them shows in the photos. I love a good sunset also, but with the schedule that I’m working, it throws off my body clock if I stay up to shoot them.

      I think that it is cheating if you think of yourself as a wildlife photographer, and you shoot a captive bird. That’s why I’m much more proud of the wild birds that I get photos of, especially the raptors and waterfowl, but all the birds for that matter. The photos of the Mandarin duck show my skills as a photographer, which turned out to be better than I thought that I was, all the other birds show my skills at getting close to wildlife.

      November 2, 2016 at 10:40 am

  11. Fantastic pictures, Jerry! Love the Mandarin duck!

    November 2, 2016 at 5:43 pm

    • Thank you very much Sue!

      November 3, 2016 at 12:19 am