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

Archive for December, 2016

I’m tired of planning

First of all, I hope that every one had a Merry Christmas and that the new year is beginning well for you!

Although I know that I have much more of it to do, for right now, I’m tired of planning for the future and researching camera gear, I want to get out and shoot some good photos!

I have found a few more places to check out when the weather gets better, but there’s something that really irks me that I run into many times when checking out places online. A perfect example of this is the Detroit River International  Wildlife Sanctuary, it sounded like a great place to go to find waterfowl, shorebirds, and wading birds. The website for the sanctuary has descriptions of the trails and the boardwalks that have been built to allow people to see and photograph the abundant wildlife there, but then you get to the kicker. Most of the sanctuary is closed to the public, including many of the trails and boardwalks, due to a lack of staffing in this instance, except for when they have an open house to hit visitors up for donations.

This is something that I run into time and time again, especially with places managed by the Federal Government and certain non-profit organizations, they have a website that tells you how great the place is, and what’s to be found there, but then I find that it’s closed to the public all or most of the time.

I understand that there are places that are too environmentally sensitive to allow unchecked public access, but what irks me is that to the Federal Government and these certain non-profit groups, most of the lands they hold are deemed too environmentally sensitive to allow any public access. At the same time, they are hitting me up for money because according to them, our public lands are under attack and they need money to fend off those attacks. My question is, why bother protecting public land when the public isn’t allowed access to them? And, as they continued to close off more and more areas to the public, then the people who want to get out and connect with nature are forced to use less and less land where public access is allowed, making those places more crowded all the time. Then, the overcrowding becomes an excuse to further limit access to public lands.

Maybe it bothers me so much because I’ve seen that scenario play out in one of what used to be my favorite parts of Michigan, what is now known as the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. That area was once two Michigan State Parks, and a few Michigan State Forest Campgrounds, along with some Michigan State Forest public land. Then, the Federal Government took control of the existing parks, and began adding more land, which I thought was a good thing. However, as time went on, more and more of the area was closed to the public, or you were only allowed to access it in certain places. The last time that I was up there, it was so crowded in the few areas where the public was allowed that I vowed never to return again. Oh well, there are plenty of places to go in Michigan, so if I have to cross a few places off from my list, it’s really not that big of a deal. I’d better quit here, while I’m behind, because I know many readers don’t agree with me on this subject.

I went to the Muskegon Wastewater facility on Christmas day, hoping to get some decent light to test out the new 400 mm lens in, but that didn’t happen. It was another dreary day here in West Michigan, and for most of the time that I was there, I couldn’t get a bird to sit still long enough to get any photo of them. It was not one of my better days, I almost got my Subaru stuck trying to drive on one of the roads that hadn’t been plowed in a while.

Eventually, there was a little bit more light, and a willing gull for me to use as a model when testing the new lens. Here’s the gull with the new 400 mm lens, and the image hasn’t been cropped at all.

Herring gull, 400 mm, not cropped

Herring gull, 400 mm, not cropped

I added the 1.4 X tele-converter to get to 560 mm for this one, which wasn’t cropped at all either.

Herring gull, 560 mm, not cropped

Herring gull, 560 mm, not cropped

The test didn’t go quite like I planned, as soon as I added the extender, I could only use the center focus point, so I couldn’t get the images as close to the same as I would have liked. Auto-focus doesn’t work at all when I swapped the extenders, going to the 2 X extender. But, out of habit, and wanting to keep the composition as close as I could for this photo, I still had the center focus point on the gull’s eye.

Herring gull, 800 mm, not cropped

Herring gull, 800 mm, not cropped

Not bad, it isn’t quite as sharp as without the extender, so the next step happened when I got home, when I cropped some of the photos. Here’s an image at 800 mm and cropped for a head shot.

Herring gull, 800 mm, cropped

Herring gull, 800 mm, cropped

Here’s an image shot at 400 mm and cropped to the exact same image size as the last one.

Herring gull, 400 mm, cropped to the same image size as the last one

Herring gull, 400 mm, cropped to the same image size as the last one

It’s still sharper than the image that I shot at 800 mm, but that changes when I cropped a 400 mm image down to get as close to the gull as I had at 800 mm.

Herring gull, 400 mm, cropped to get the gull the same size

Herring gull, 400 mm, cropped to get the gull the same size

The image shot at 800 mm and cropped slightly is sharper than the last one. For my use here, you wouldn’t know the difference, but if I were to print them out, the 800 mm image cropped would be superior to the 400 mm cropped image, by a wide margin. If there would have been better light, any of these images would have been even better!

I also tested the new 400 mm lens out on flying birds, with the same difficulty, no light, at least for most of the day. So, here’s an image of a mallard landing to show how much of a wake they make as they land.

Male mallard landing

Male mallard landing

As in the case of the portrait shots, eventually I got a little better light for flying birds.

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

I never noticed the radio antenna in the background when I was shooting the series, luckily, the 400 mm lens tracked the mallards well as I continued to shoot.

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

I don’t think that the 400 mm lens focuses as quickly as the 100-400 mm lens, but the 400 mm lens seems to do okay. I had no trouble acquiring the intended subject, and it did track the subjects well.

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

 

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

 

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

 

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

 

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

I love the fact the gull’s eyes in these last few photos are sharper than what I could get of a perched bird’s eye using either the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) or the 300 mm lens, with or without an extender, even at the higher ISO setting that I had to use for these.

It occurs to me as I think about comparing my two newest lenses, the two of them together weigh just a few ounces more than the Beast did alone. The 100-400 mm lens is well-balanced as I said before, and I can track birds in flight well with it. The new 400 mm lens is much lighter, lighter than even the 300 mm lens since the 400 mm doesn’t have Image Stabilization. The 400 mm lens points well, by that I mean that as I raise the camera to my eye, I’m on target and ready to shoot as soon as the auto-focus does its thing. That could be because of how long and skinny that lens is compared to the others, but all the weight is in the camera, not the lens, or so it seems as I use it. It will take me a while to get used to the balance of this set-up.

Anyway, I’ve now have two quality long lenses so that once I get a second body, I can have one set for portraits, and one for action. This is an example of why that’s important. In the middle of shooting some of the flying gull photos you’ve seen in this post, I spotted a kestrel. I thought that I had changed the camera settings, but I was wrong.

American kestrel shot with the wrong settings

American kestrel shot with the wrong settings

The camera settings were whacked, and I missed a good photo of the kestrel because I was too busy trying not to spook the bird to check the settings as I was shooting.

I have some more photos from Sunday, but first, there was almost good light for a short time today!

No white in sight!

No white in sight!

I was going to say that the new 400 mm lens wouldn’t be good for small birds, but I could be wrong about that. I started out shooting some goldfinches that were really too far away for a great image, but they turned out better than I thought that they would.

American goldfinch eating teasel seeds

American goldfinch eating teasel seeds

 

American goldfinch eating teasel seeds

American goldfinch eating teasel seeds

 

American goldfinch eating teasel seeds

American goldfinch eating teasel seeds

 

American goldfinch eating teasel seeds

American goldfinch eating teasel seeds

One of the last photos of the day was this one, when I was much closer to one of the goldfinches, but the light wasn’t as good by then.

American goldfinch eating leaf buds

American goldfinch eating leaf buds

I’ve seen squirrels eat the leaf buds from trees before, but never a bird, but that’s what the goldfinch is munching on, a leaf bud.

If only I had more time, I could have done better with the birds today, but I had to wait for the rain to come to an end before venturing out. When I did make it outside, I found a different world than what there was yesterday, a record high temperature for the date, and most of the snow was going fast. That left small lakes everywhere there wasn’t a new creek flowing to get rid of the rain and melting snow. Too bad it won’t last, even all day today, by tomorrow we’re back in the freezer again.

Anyway, I was able to shoot a few images with the ISO set under 2000, unlike most of the day before. And, you probably won’t be able to tell from these photos as they appear here, but the new lens exceeded my expectations when it came to the smaller birds.

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

I had to try this, to see how well the new lens can pick birds out of the brush.

Blue jay hiding

Blue jay hiding

Just for the heck of it, I tried this shot to see how close the new lens would focus down to, way too far away for lichens.

Lichens

Lichens

It was the next two photos which changed my mind about the new lens and smaller birds.

Male House finch

Male House finch

When I can dial the ISO down, the new lens is even sharper than the 100-400 mm lens, and that’s saying a lot!

Male House finch

Male House finch

It’s no wonder that the 400 mm f/5.6 lens from Canon has the reputation of being the lens for birders. Now, I can’t wait to see what it can do in very good light.

I think that the color reproduction is outstanding as well, but it seems to need a little more light when I set the exposure compensation.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Also, I don’t think that I get as much depth of field with the 400 mm lens as I do with the 100-400 mm lens, even though in theory, they should be exactly the same.

Blue jay

Blue jay

Overall, I’d say that the new 400 mm lens will make a great companion to the 100-400 mm lens when I’m out specifically for birds.

Blue jay in flight

Blue jay in flight

 

Juvenile turkey on the run

Juvenile turkey on the run

You can see that not all of the snow is gone, but a healthy chunk of it is gone. It was also the sunniest day so far this month, 17 of the first 25 days of December we had 0% of possible sunshine. It’s not hard to beat 0%.

That takes me back to Sunday, which was one of those 17 days with no sunshine.

Coyote

Coyote

I’ve seen coyotes before, but I believe that the one above is my first photo of one, they normally disappear before I can get a shot. The same is true of foxes.

Red fox on the run

Red fox on the run

You can see that this one was picking them up…

Red fox on the run

Red fox on the run

…and laying them down as it ran for cover.

Red fox on the run

Red fox on the run

There were two foxes, out on the center dyke of all places, completely surrounded by water except for that narrow dyke that separates the two lagoons. The one in the photos ran across the lagoon, the other ran along the base of the dyke so I didn’t have a clear view of it. Maybe they were lying in wait for a gull or a goose? It seemed like an odd place to foxes to hang out, I was on the center dyke looking for snow buntings, which weren’t there. All of the small flocks of snow buntings had joined into one huge flock…

Snow buntings

Snow buntings

…and that’s only a small portion of the flock. I shot one video, but in the middle of the buntings flying past me, I got the great idea to try to focus on those in flight, it did not go well.

So, I shot a second one, letting the buntings flit around while I tried to remain still.

Holding a camera with a 400 mm lens still at arm’s length so I can see the camera’s rear screen isn’t easy. I tried to cut the shaky part at the end off using Canon’s software, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it. Still, I think that you can see what I mean when I say that these birds are in perpetual motion.

Some one saw a snowy owl at the wastewater facility earlier in the week, but I couldn’t find it. That isn’t because my eyes are going bad, for I was able to spot this bird flying across a field more than 100 yards away from me, see where it landed, and then get close enough for a few poor images of it.

Northern shrike

Northern shrike

That’s a species that I needed for the My Photo Life List project, even though I have seen northern shrikes in the past, I’ve never photographed one. They are smaller than a blue jay, so to spot one at the distance that I was from it tells me my eyesight is still good. I watched it fly back across the field, but the photos that I took when I got to that spot weren’t as good because it was even farther away from me. I watched it hunt for a while, but I didn’t want to get greedy. I’ve found that once I’ve gotten poor photos of a species, better ones usually follow soon after.

Northern shrike

Northern shrike

Now that I know where the shrike hangs out, I hope to get better photos of it soon.

That doesn’t always work though, I still struggle when it comes to kingfishers.

Male belted kingfisher

Male belted kingfisher

I know where he hangs out, but that doesn’t help me get any closer to him, he’s far too wary for that to happen.

I have two more photos from Sunday (Christmas Day) left, and here they are.

Rock dove (feral pigeon)

Rock dove (feral pigeon)

 

Muskrat

Muskrat

All in all, not a bad weekend of using the new lens despite the lack of light most of the time. I can tell that there are a few things that I’ll have to get used as I use it more, but I rate it as a winner for sure. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to test the new 400 mm lens out in some good light this coming weekend, New Years Day is forecast to be sunny, but I’m not sure that I believe it.

Anyway, as I finish this one up, I’d like to wish every one a Happy New Years, and may 2017 bring you everything that you’re wishing for!

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

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I remember my failures

After publishing my last regular post on Sunday, I went out for a walk in the snowstorm, without a camera. I remember that I’ve done that in the past when it was snowing heavily, but it seemed so weird this time.

I will say this, I stayed much warmer, and the cold and snow didn’t bother me as much, because I was moving faster, and I concentrated on keeping myself warm and dry, not my camera and lens. Winter isn’t so bad after all. 😉

It may be that by the time I get around to publishing this post, my newest bit of camera gear will have arrived. I absolutely love the images that I’ve been shooting with the 100-400 mm lens that I purchased a few months ago, it’s been a great reminder that the lens used on a camera is more important than the camera itself in may ways. But before I ramble on about lenses, first I have to pat myself on the back a little.

One thing that I’m proud of is that I don’t go overboard when editing my images, even the HDR images that I create. I generally add a little clarity and vibrance to the images, very little when compared to what the experts recommend. I very seldom touch the color saturation, although I’ve found that the 7D Mk II needs a little help in that department when I’m shooting almost directly into the sun, which I shouldn’t be doing anyway.

I crop the photos when needed, and fix the lack of dynamic range that digital cameras have. That is, I usually bring down the highlights and raise the shadows a little. If I shot the photo at a high ISO setting, then I’ll reduce the noise, and that’s it.

As I’ve said a few times, I joined the North American Nature Photographers Association on Facebook so that I can compare my images to those that other people shoot. While the majority of the images that I see there are quite well done, there are some that are so heavily edited that they look nothing like what one would ever see in nature.  It’s difficult to pick out what I think are the worst “sins” that some photographers make, but pushing the color saturation well past the point of what I think is correct is one of them. Then there are the HDR images that are way overdone in the first place, then the photographer compounds the mistake by pushing the color saturation even further. Another one of the things that I see which I don’t care for is vignetting the image to the point where the edges of the photo are very dark, and the corners are almost black.

I should take a few of my images, edit them in ways that I think are wrong, and show every one what I’m talking about, but every one’s taste varies. Me, I go for the most realistic look that I can get in an image. I think that I’m doing very well in that regard.

I do hate to brag, but I’ve come a long way over the past couple of years in both getting the photo as good as it can be in the camera, and in editing the images afterward. Some of that is due to equipment, good glass is everything is one thing that I’ve learned.

Oh, by the way, that reminds me, a while back I did a post on something that I heard a lot from people when I showed them my photos. They’d say “You must have a really good camera” and that would tick me off a little. As my images have improved, I don’t hear that any longer, instead, I hear “You’re really good”.

Okay then, I’ve been putting a lot of thought, as always, into how I can improve on the images that I get now. Most of that involves improving the things that I do already, but there’s one thing I could accomplish with more camera gear to improve my images, and that is to have a second long set-up ready to go at all times. It’s great when a bird stays in one place and let’s me shoot away…

Great egret preening

Great egret preening

…but many times, I approach a bird hoping to get a good portrait shot, but the bird takes flight…

Great egret at take off

Great egret at take off

…before I can. So there I am with the camera and lens set incorrectly for an action shot because I was hoping to shoot a portrait first. It’s even worse when I’m using a tele-converter behind the lens to get a longer focal length, as the extender slows or disables the auto-focus system.

I do tend to remember my failures. I remember this spring, hoping to get a good portrait of a male bufflehead duck, so I put the 2 X extender behind the 300 mm lens. Just as I was getting ready to shoot a portrait, the male buffleheads went into their courting display to impress the female nearby. I did manage a few fair photos of their display, but I could have done much better if I had been prepared for it. I could recount dozens of other examples of when I guessed incorrectly as to what the wildlife I was preparing to photograph was about to do as I got ready to photograph them.

It takes me several seconds to change camera and lens settings, dealing with tele-converters only lengthens that to well over a minute, and the action is over before I can make the required changes. And, unless I want to work as many hours per day as I can for the rest of my life, it looks like I’m stuck using tele-converters to get close-ups of my subjects. If I had two long set-ups ready to go, one for portraits, one for action, I could swap cameras quicker than I can change all the settings required.

So with that in mind, I once again researched the possible long lenses, and I’ve settled on the Canon 400 mm f/5.6 lens. I’ve put that lens on my want list, then taken it off again numerous times. I’d love a lens with a wider maximum aperture, but to go to a 400mm f/4 lens would cost well over $5,000 more, and I’m not going to spend that much for one more stop of light. I could go with a Sigma 500 mm f/4 lens, but that’s also $4,000 more than the Canon 400 mm, and it doesn’t function with the Canon tele-converters that I have. They may be cheap, but it would put the total cost close to $5,000, and I’d rather not carry two more tele-converters with me all the time.

I also explored spotting scopes and the adaptors that can be used to mount a camera to them, and once again, the total cost of one of those set-ups would be about $5,000, funny how that works.

As for the camera body for the second long set-up, I’ll go with another 7D Mk II, as it’s the best option that Canon makes for wildlife photographers. The 5D Mk IV offers better low-light performance and dynamic range, but with lower resolution, which in a way, equates to sharpness. The 5DS R has slightly higher resolution than my 7D, but with worse low-light performance. And, both of the 5D models are over $2,000 more than the 7D costs.

The 7D Mk II does everything that I want a camera to do, other than high-resolution landscapes, and I’ve been producing some great photos with it this past summer.

I went to the Muskegon County wastewater facility on Monday, just as the most recent snowstorm was ending. I’ll show you a few snowy scenes later, but the first photos that I shot play into what I was talking about as far as having a second long set-up for birds. As I turned off from the main road and into the entrance of the wastewater facility, I was met by this eagle.

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

I only had the time to get the camera turned on, I didn’t have time to change any settings or to add the 1.4 X tele-converter, which I should have done for a better image. So, I ended up with yet another so-so photo of an eagle.

Anyway, here are three landscape photos that I shot, these are all HDR images to overcome the lack of dynamic range of my camera.

Winter wonderland 1

Winter wonderland 1

 

Winter wonderland 2

Winter wonderland 2

 

Winter wonderland 3

Winter wonderland 3

Most of the roads, if you want to call them that, at the wastewater facility hadn’t been plowed, and the foot of fresh snow was testing the all wheel drive capability of my Subaru. So, I wasn’t able to get in the correct position to shoot some of the snow scenes that may have been better.

I found a large flock of American tree sparrows…

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

…but that’s the only photo that I’ll share right now.

I also found several large flocks of snow buntings, at first, I tried to shoot a good close-up…

Snow buntings

Snow buntings

…but that wasn’t working because they seldom sit still. Instead, I tried for a few flock shots.

Snow buntings

Snow buntings

These little birds are in perpetual motion as they look for seeds, you can see that three of the four in the foreground are running to where one had found seeds.

Snow buntings

Snow buntings

You can also see that they grab the vegetation sticking out of the snow to pull it up which may expose more seeds for them to eat. They’re fun birds to watch, but difficult to photograph, because on a whim, the entire flock will take flight, and move on to the next spot to feed.

I also saw a small flock of tundra swans in the distance.

Tundra swans in flight

Tundra swans in flight

As quickly as the open water is freezing over, I’ll wager that they were that they’re getting ready to head farther south.

There were two eagles sitting out on the edge of the ice, but too far away for a good photo. When a third eagle flew over to harass one of the first two…

Bald eagles in flight

Bald eagles in flight

…I couldn’t resist shooting a short burst off the action.

My only other photo of the day is this one of a rough-legged hawk in flight, looking the wrong way.

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

I’m getting a bad feeling about this coming winter, even worse than I had before. In some ways, it makes little sense to purchase any more camera gear when the weather is going to be too bad to get out and use that gear very often. On the other hand, the 400 mm lens is on sale, plus I have a rewards card from B&H Photo that has to be used before it expires, which will reduce the cost, plus any time that I get to use it will help me get used to it for when better weather does arrive.

More about the weather, up until yesterday, the 16th, we had 55 minutes of sunshine for the entire month of December, which averaged out to a little more than 4 minutes per day. But the majority of that came on the one Monday when I went out and shot a few of the photos from my last post. There’s already enough snow on the ground that the only places that I’ll be able to get to are those where the roads have been plowed. The forecast for the next ten days is the same, cold and snow, with the only difference between days is how cold, and how much snow will fall.

And since I wrote that last segment, it’s been more of the same. We were under a winter weather advisory for most of the past weekend as yet another Arctic front passed through the area bringing more snow, more cold, and more clouds. The good news is that the cold air may retreat later this week, and we may see temperatures slightly above freezing for a few days this next week. Although the temperature may get above freezing, we’ll still have a white Christmas here as the temperature won’t be warm enough to melt the snow already on the ground, and we’ll have more fall this week anyway.

Wednesday marks the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year as far as sunlight, from then on, the amount of sunlight each day will begin increasing again. At least that’s something to look forward to.

I’m also looking forward to the new 400 mm lens being delivered today, I’d be home staying out of the cold even if I didn’t have to wait for the lens to be delivered. With the wind chill around zero (-17 C) and a foot of fresh snow on the ground, I’ve been doing research into places to go when the weather does warm up. I’ve found quite a few, however most of them are farther north than I can go for a weekend, unless I want to spend most of my time off driving to and from the places I’ve found. But, I have found a few much closer to home where I’m likely to find species of birds that I need to add to the My Photo Life List project.

Well, the new 400 mm lens arrived very late in the afternoon, after I had gone to bed in fact. Fortunately, I heard the buzzer when the delivery driver arrived, and I was able to leap out of bed and let him in before he gave up. My first impressions are that the lens is relatively small and light compared to the 100-400 mm lens, it’s even lighter than the 300 mm lens because it doesn’t have Image Stabilization. In fact, it’s so light that I wonder how well I’ll be able to track large birds in flight with it, only time will tell.

One of the reasons that I didn’t purchase this lens earlier is because of its long minimum focusing distance, around 12 feet. That’s not close enough for small birds in thick vegetation, but it will be fine for my trips to the Muskegon wastewater facility or the channel to Lake Michigan, where the birds are typically larger, and I shoot them at longer distances. I’ve shot one photo with it so far, a photo of my computer screen. The long minimum focusing distance was apparent even then, at first I thought that the auto-focusing wasn’t working because I was too close to the computer. I took a step back, and shot this at 1/60 second and ISO 12800 handheld.

Test shot

Test shot

Not bad for no IS, I can’t wait to try it out in good light.

I did get to tryout out in good light today, but I couldn’t find anything to photograph. All the water in the ponds and creek is frozen, so no mallards or geese, and with a sustained wind of nearly 30 MPH, with higher gusts, I knew that most birds would be hunkered down to stay warm. So, I found an icicle to photograph.

Icicle on a rare day with blue skies

Icicle on a rare day with blue skies

It’s only the first full day of winter, and I’m already suffering from cabin fever. Since the weather hasn’t been very good, I’ve been working more to fill the void. I’ve also been planning, for this next year and beyond. I’ve submitted my vacation request at work, for the third week of May again this year. That’s a long way off, and I’ll have to see what the weather will be like as that week approaches, but I plan to go up north for a week of camping and birding as I have the past several years.

Because I slowed down and took better care of myself last year, it was one of the best vacations that I’ve ever had. I plan to do the same thing this year, in the same area if the weather allows. I’ve even found a few more places in the Alpena, Michigan area that should be good for both birding and scenery photos.

Next year, I’ll be eligible for two weeks of vacation if I can gut it out where I work, then I’ll take one week off in the spring, and save the second week, probably for early fall for another trip to the upper peninsula as I did a few years ago. I could prattle on and on about my plans, and all that they mean, but it’s time to finish this post up with some photos from last fall.

Bee, fly, and asters

Bee, fly, and asters

 

Bee on an aster

Bee on an aster

 

Bee between asters

Bee between asters

 

Unidentified fly object

Unidentified fly object

 

Unidentified fly object

Unidentified fly object

 

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

 

Blue jay

Blue jay

 

Fall colors in the sun

Fall colors in the sun

 

Fall colors in the rain

Fall colors in the rain

 

Fall colors in the rain 2

Fall colors in the rain 2

 

Grapes in the fall

Grapes in the fall

Here’s a few more photos.

Petunias

Petunias

 

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

 

More fall colors

More fall colors

 

Crown vetch

Crown vetch

 

Still more fall colors

Still more fall colors

 

Cooper's hawk in flight

Cooper’s hawk in flight

 

Falling leaf

Falling leaf

 

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

 

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

It looks as if the weather is going to improve this weekend, I hope to get outside at least on Sunday.

I almost forgot, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone!

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


Black Tern, Chlidonias niger

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Black Tern, Chlidonias niger

 

The black tern (Chlidonias niger or Chlidonias nigra) is a small tern generally found in or near inland water in Europe and North America. As its name suggests, it has predominantly dark plumage. In some lights it can appear blue in the breeding season, hence the old English name “blue darr”.

Adults are 25 cm (9.8 in) long, with a wingspan 61 cm (24 in), and weigh 62 g (2.2 oz). They have short dark legs and a short, weak-looking black bill, measuring 27 mm (1.1 in), nearly as long as the head. The bill is long, slender, and looks slightly decurved. They have a dark grey back, with a white forewing, black head, neck (occasionally suffused with grey in the adult) and belly, black or blackish-brown cap (which unites in color with the ear coverts, forming an almost complete hood), and a light brownish-grey, ‘square’ tail. The face is white. There is a big dark triangular patch in front of the eye, and a broadish white collar in juveniles. There are greyish-brown smudges on the ides of the white breast, a downwards extension of the plumage of the upperparts. These marks vary in size and are not conspicuous. In non-breeding plumage, most of the black, apart from the cap, is replaced by grey. The plumage of the upperparts is drab, with pale feather-edgings. The rump is brownish-grey.

The North American race, C. n. surinamensis, is distinguishable from the European form in all plumages, and is considered by some to be a separate species.

In flight, the build appears slim. The wing-beats are full and dynamic, and flight is often erratic as it dives to the surface for food; similar to other tern species.

Its call has been described as a high-pitched “kik”; the sound of a large flock has been called “deafening”.

Their breeding habitat is freshwater marshes across most of Canada, the northern United States and much of Europe and western Asia. They usually nest either on floating material in a marsh or on the ground very close to water, laying 2–4 eggs.

In England the black tern was abundant in the eastern fens, especially in Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, until the early nineteenth century. The English naturalist Thomas Pennant in 1769 referred to “vast flocks” of black terns “whose calls are almost deafening”. Extensive drainage of its breeding grounds wiped out the English population by about 1840. Intermittent attempts by the species to recolonise England have proved unsuccessful, with only a handful of English breeding records, and one in Ireland, in the second half of the twentieth century.

North American black terns migrate to the coasts of northern South America, some to the open ocean. Old World birds winter in Africa.

Unlike the “white” Sterna terns, these birds do not dive for fish, but forage on the wing picking up items at or near the water’s surface or catching insects in flight. They mainly eat insects and fish as well as amphibians.

On to my photos:

These photos were shot at the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary over the past few years during my vacations to the area in May of each year. Unfortunately, due to a number of circumstances, all my photos of this species are when they are in flight and the light was not that good.

Black tern in flight

Black tern in flight

 

Black tern in flight

Black tern in flight

 

Black tern in flight

Black tern in flight

 

Black tern in flight

Black tern in flight

 

Black terns in flight

Black terns in flight

 

Black tern in flight

Black tern in flight

 

Black tern in flight

Black tern in flight

This is number 199 in my photo life list, only 151 to go!

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

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Until I see the light

Well, even though there’s not much snow on the ground yet, it’s winter here in West Michigan. I’m sure that you’ll be tired of hearing about the almost constant cloud cover that we have here during the winter months, but that’s what we get here. Since the weather pattern changed, we’ve had two six-day stretches with 0% of possible sunshine already, and there’ll be far too many more similar stretches over the course of the winter.

It’s very difficult to shoot good photos when there’s hardly any light at all, but the good news is that it’s only a few weeks until the days start getting longer again. Having lived in West Michigan my entire life, I know that come the end of January, we’ll have a rare sunny day, and that it’s then that I’ll hear the male cardinals…

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

…begin to sing in hopes of attracting a female…

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

…to be its mate.

We’ll still have to deal with February, which is often our coldest month of the year, but at least the days will be getting longer, and there’ll be more light for photography.

Despite the could cover Sunday, I went to the Muskegon County wastewater facility in hopes of finding something to photograph. I did find the peregrine falcon…

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

…and it’s been moving around more than it did for the first month after it first showed up there. It used to always be found hanging out by the cells where the gulls congregated, but I’m finding it in different parts of the 11,000 acres that make up the wastewater facility recently.

The only reason that I’m posting that photo is because when I shot it, I couldn’t tell that it was the falcon because the light was so bad. That photo won’t win any awards, but I think that being able to shoot in such low light and come up with any photo is a good thing.

One thing that I’m constantly working on is being quicker with the camera. A few weeks ago, as I was driving home, four deer ran across the road ahead of me. I had to brake to miss them, I was able to get pulled off the road, grab my camera, and get this photo of the last of the deer crossing the road.

Whitetail doe on the run

Whitetail doe on the run

I didn’t have time to change any of the camera settings, so it isn’t as good as it could have been. The same thing happened yesterday, I saw a small buck crossing the road ahead of me, and managed to get stopped to shoot this one.

Whitetail buck on the run

Whitetail buck on the run

In fact, I’m not sure that I had come to a complete stop when I shot that. I was trying to zoom in on the buck, make sure that an oncoming car wasn’t going to hit me, and fire off a burst, all at the same time. Once I got everything as good as I could in the limited time that I had, I got this one.

Whitetail buck on the run

Whitetail buck on the run

I wish that the first one, with the buck completely airborne, would have come out as well.

I do try to anticipate when I’m going to need to change the camera settings, but it doesn’t always work out the way that I expect. I shot this photo to remind me of that.

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

I had seen the mallards ahead of time, and I was able to get the camera settings change to the bird in flight settings that I have saved in advance of when the mallards took off. However, as I moved forward towards the mallards, I spotted a kingfisher, which of course spotted me at the same instant. As I was beginning to point the camera at the kingfisher, a great blue heron saw me and took flight also. So, there I was, with birds taking off all around me at the same time. The kingfisher dove below the vegetation, so I wasn’t able to photograph it. The heron flew directly away from me, so all I saw in the viewfinder was its tail, and I was left to shoot a bad photo of the mallards as a reminder to pay more attention in the future.

It’s been quite slow at the wastewater facility the past few weeks, there may be thousands of geese and ducks, along with a few raptors, but it’s getting harder to get close to them. Some of that is due to the fact that the waterfowl have been hunted and shot at since it’s hunting season here. And, some of the reason that the birds won’t allow me to approach them is because with the onset of colder weather, they are busy feeding for their flight south.

On my way home on Sunday, I stopped at a park within the City of Grand Rapids, just to shoot a few mallards up close.

Male mallard

Male mallard

I also shot this series of one of them coming in for a landing.

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

Touchdown!

Male mallard landing

Male mallard landing

They displace a lot of water as they slow down…

Male mallard landing

Male mallard landing

…and for once, I was able to catch that…

Male mallard landing

Male mallard landing

…as I panned with the mallard.

Male mallard landing

Male mallard landing

I shot those with the Image Stabilization in the lens turned off. As you know, I’ve been doing some testing lately, and I’ve found that turning the IS off for birds in flight results in sharper images. The problem is that I sometimes forget to turn it back on…

Male mallard portrait

Male mallard portrait

…and my portrait shots aren’t as sharp as they could have been. That’s because I shoot at slower shutter speeds to keep the ISO lower, but without IS, camera shake becomes a problem at those shutter speeds.

That, and seeing what the 70-200 mm lens without IS can achieve as far as sharpness in good light…

Herring gull

Herring gull

…whether the gulls are stationary, or in flight…

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

…when I can get close enough to a subject to use that short of lens, has me thinking again. However, I’ll save those thoughts for a later time.

In the meantime, here’s a few photos that I shot last week Saturday, while I was walking around home.

A bit of color left 1

A bit of color left 1

 

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

 

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

 

A bit of color left 2

A bit of color left 2

We’re under a winter storm advisory here for the next few days, there will probably be another advisory or warning for the upcoming weekend as well. This doesn’t bode well for photography in the foreseeable future. I’m not looking forward to this winter at all. I have a few photos left over from this past summer, and I should get busy and do a few of the My Photo Life List posts, but I’m in a bit of a funk after seeing the forecast for the next ten days, and even beyond.

I’d rather not have my blog be nothing but mallards…

Female mallard

Female mallard

 

Female mallard

Female mallard

….fox squirrels, no matter how cute and pudgy they are right now…

Fat fall fox squirrel

Fat fall fox squirrel

…with a few geese thrown in for good measure…

Canada goose

Canada goose

 

Canada goose

Canada goose

 

Canada goose

Canada goose

…along with the gulls that I practice on.

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Ring-billed gull in flight

 

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Ring-billed gull in flight

 

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Ring-billed gull in flight

 

Ring-billed gull

Ring-billed gull

I remember that those are about the only species of birds that I was photographing towards the end of last winter, even though it was a mild one. I should keep an open mind, maybe this winter will bring more of the other species of waterfowl into Muskegon, especially the channel to Lake Michigan, and I’ll find more subjects this winter than last.

Even though I already feel like hibernating, I shouldn’t. The more that I avoid the cold and snow, the more that I want to avoid it. If I were to force myself to spend more time outside, I know that I’d end up enjoying it.

I stopped off at the channel to Lake Michigan twice this pat weekend, and all that I have to show for my visits is this photo of a double-crested cormorant.

Double-crested cormorant

Double-crested cormorant

That was from Monday, when we actually had some sunshine for a change. I thought that I’d get quite a few photos since the light was good, but I found very few things to shoot. One was this rough-legged hawk…

Rough-legged hawk

Rough-legged hawk

…which I shot facing the sun with the 100-400 mm lens and 2 X tele-converter. I tried circling the hawk, but it didn’t like me coming up behind it…

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

…so it took off before I could get close to it. Fortunately, I had removed the extender so that the auto-focus would function just in case.

With good light, I made another stop at the same city park as I had the day before, but not even the mallards would cooperate for photos. I did shoot this photo of a gull perched on a statue within the park at 100 mm…

Ring-billed gull on a statue

Ring-billed gull on a statue

…and then again at 400 mm to show how much of a difference it makes.

Ring-billed gull on a statue

Ring-billed gull on a statue

If I’d have been thinking, I would have taken two more photos, one with the 1.4 X tele-converter, and another with the 2 X. Maybe the next time that I find a bird perched when I don’t really care if I get the shot or not, I’ll do just that, shoot a series of photos at the various focal lengths and not crop the photos at all so that you’ll have a better idea of how I get the photos that I do.

My other photo from my stop at the park is another mallard of course.

Female mallard

Female mallard

I shot that one because of how the water looked as the light changed. It was a day when the light changed often.

Changing light

Changing light

The snowstorm that was predicted for this weekend arrived right on schedule, it’s snowing at a moderate rate as I type this. If I do make it outside for a walk, I probably won’t even carry my camera gear with me. I know that I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating, I spent a lot of money on a camera and lens that are weather sealed, yet because their quality is so good, I prefer not to subject them to the same conditions that I used to carry my less expensive gear in.

So, I may as well use up a couple of more photos from a few weeks ago to end this post.

Peaceful morning with a great blue heron

Peaceful morning with a great blue heron

 

Milkweed seed pods at sunrise

Milkweed seed pods at sunrise

I’m afraid that it’s going to be a long, cold, snowy winter, and that I’ll be shooting very few photos for the next few months.

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


Little did I know

Little did I know that when I made the change from film photography to digital photography that I’d have to expand my knowledge of computers, and make considerable purchases of computing accessories. I have my 27 inch iMac back! I was getting lost for the first few minutes of using it again, the screen is huge compared to the Macbook pro I’ve been using the past week.

The technician thinks that a bad memory module corrupted the operating system. All that they had to do was to re-install the operating system. Then, restore everything using the latest back-up to my computer that Time Machine had made. It was after that they discovered that one of the memory modules that I had installed some time ago had a number of bad blocks in it.

Thanks to my zealous program of backing everything up, and Apple’s Time Machine, it’s truly as if nothing had happened. Everything is exactly as I had it set-up before, and best of all, I have my full Lightroom catalog intact! Whew, what a relief!

In a worst case scenario, I could have plugged the external drive where I store my photos into the Macbook pro to access the original RAW captures with no editing or keywords to help me find the photos that I was looking for. What also would have been gone are the collections that I made to sort my best photos of certain subjects from all of the not so good photos of the same subjects. It would have been worse than starting over from scratch, something that I wasn’t looking forward to if it came down to that.

Besides my Lightroom catalog, I would have lost some of the other files on my computer, including the spreadsheet that I use as my list of species for the My Photo Life List project, as well as the progress that I’ve made so far.

So, during the time when I didn’t have access to the iMac, I’ve been think about different ways to do even a better job of backing everything that I absolutely need backed up and ready to go if the need ever arrises again.

I still haven’t been able to get Lightroom to make a back-up copy of my catalog to either of the external hard drives that I use for storing my photos. However, I have been able to back the catalog up to a thumb drive that I have, and even better, to my iCloud account. The iCloud account is 5 Gb of online space that Apple allows purchasers of their products to use. So, that takes care of that problem for now. As long as I can access the Internet, I’ll always have a back-up copy of my Lightroom catalog, and the other important files that I have on my computer.

Before I forget, they charged me $75 to check everything out, re-install the operating system, and do the restore. In some ways that seems rather expensive for what they did, but on the other hand, having the entire system checked out on the proper test equipment as well as cleaned makes it worth it to me.

Another bonus is that I learned a great deal more about both of my computers, and I grew quite fond of the Macbook pro after using it for a week. In addition, I learned some new to me features in Lightroom that I’ll be trying out soon.

I suppose that I should get around to the photos for this post, and I’ll start with one from last summer.

Daisy

Daisy

That’s because the weather here continues to be quite dreary whenever I have the time to make it outside with my camera. I’ll go back in time for this one as well.

Damselfly

Damselfly

Now then, back to reality.

Snowy sunrise

Snowy sunrise

The weather forecast for that day was for the holes in the clouds to open up, but instead, they closed, making the rest of the day as dreary as it could be. I did shoot a deer on the run though.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

And, I found a pair of eagles arguing over who was going to lay claim on the landfill for the day.

Bald eagles fighting for territory as gulls look on

Bald eagles fighting for territory as gulls look on

It was hard to keep the auto-focus system locked on the eagles with so many gulls all around the eagles.

Bald eagles fighting for territory as gulls look on

Bald eagles fighting for territory as gulls look on

I did the best that I could though.

Bald eagles fighting for territory as gulls look on

Bald eagles fighting for territory as gulls look on

 

Bald eagles fighting for territory as gulls look on

Bald eagles fighting for territory as gulls look on

 

Bald eagles fighting for territory as gulls look on

Bald eagles fighting for territory as gulls look on

It’s a lot easier to get a single eagle in flight.

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

Despite the lack of light, I got the best images of a rough-legged hawk in flight that I’ve ever gotten

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

I didn’t have to crop these very much at all.

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

If only there had been a little more light.

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Or blue skies instead of the grey clouds.

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

So, let’s see what else I have saved from just before my computer crashed.

Glowing leaf

Glowing leaf

That’s right, I did catch a few rays of sunshine around home after work one day.

Rose leaves in the sun

Rose leaves in the sun

This is far from my best photo of a fox squirrel, but I haven’t posted one lately, so here goes.

Fox squirrel with lunch

Fox squirrel with lunch

Here’s a bird that I don’t post enough photos of…

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

…because it’s hard to catch one in the open and in a good position for a photo. This one doesn’t really qualify as a good photo, but it will have to do for now.

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

Now that I have my home computer back up and running, I’ll get back to posting to the My Photo Life List project soon, but in the meantime, let’s go back to Halloween, when I shot these. Some will appear familiar because they’re similar to photos I posted earlier, but they’re not duplicates.

Halloween sunrise

Halloween sunrise

These are the second best versions of photos that I posted earlier.

Halloween sunrise 2

Halloween sunrise 2

Or, things that didn’t make the cut when I did my earlier posts.

Whitetail deer on the run

Whitetail deer on the run

 

Whitetail deer on the run

Whitetail deer on the run

 

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird

 

Green-winged teal

Green-winged teal

 

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

These were shot at the time when I was working out the final settings that I use now for birds in flight.

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

You can see that these aren’t quite as sharp as some of my photos since then.

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

 

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

I don’t know why it is, but it’s very hard for me to get a sharp photo of a snow bunting.

Snow bunting

Snow bunting

Maybe it’s their color, or maybe it’s because it’s rare for them to ever stop moving. Mallards are much easier to get a sharp photo of, even when they’re moving.

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

But, you can see that the exposure settings that I used then resulted in the highlights under their wings to be blown out in some images.

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

I had the same problem with gulls.

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

The highlights in the gull’s “armpit” were blown out. I have the opposite problem with dark birds in flight.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Which is why I’ve come up with several sets of bird in flight settings that I have now stored in the custom settings of the 7D.

While not birds in flight, I have a few more older photos to use up in this post.

Eastern kingbird

Eastern kingbird

It’s nice when a bird poses so well for me.

Eastern kingbird

Eastern kingbird

 

Male common yellowthroat

Male common yellowthroat

It’s now Saturday afternoon, and I did make it out for a walk after work. None of the few photos that I shot were very good, it was another dark, dreary day, with a few snow pellets falling from time to time. However, I mentioned earlier that I had found some features in Lightroom that I had looked for in the past but not found until I was using my Macbook computer. One of those is the ability to stitch photos together to make a panorama, and here’s my first attempt at it.

Panorama test

Panorama test

Lightroom did all the hard work of aligning the two images up, and it was quite easy to do. I hope to shoot a few other photos this weekend to try it out more, but that may not happen. The forecast for tomorrow is for our first snow storm of the season, even though it won’t be much of a storm, just a few inches of snow. Next weekend is when the real cold and snow is forecast to hit here in Michigan.

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