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

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!

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25 responses

  1. Changing light is a great photo. Thank you for the reminder that daylight will slowly increase.

    December 11, 2016 at 7:39 am

    • Thank you very much Maria!

      December 11, 2016 at 7:49 am

      • Just keep reminding about those lighter days!😊

        December 11, 2016 at 7:52 am

  2. Love the shot of the female Cardinal – so much detail to enjoy. And thanks for the goose portraits.

    I noticed that the mallard in the sequence is banded. With the gazillions of mallards around here, who would band them? Is it because of the Zoo?

    While I’m sure the snow makes your work life miserable, I’m happy to see it (as long as it stays light and fluffy). The minute it changes to the thick wet stuff, it can go away.

    Anxious to see what kind of snow shots you’ll get this weekend. Enjoy.

    December 11, 2016 at 8:13 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! The photos that I shot of the female cardinal, plus a few others, have convinced me that my current camera is as good as Canon makes, and unless I want to begin buying lenses all over again, I can make do with it.

      I saw the band on the mallard and wondered the same thing, who would bother banding them when there are so many, so I can’t answer your question. I did go to the pond at the zoo, knowing that the zoo was closed for the year. I haven’t sunk to shooting caged critters yet. I was hoping to find a wood duck there, some one told me there are often a few around.

      Your on to something when you mention my job and the snow at the same time. One of the reasons that I have come to hate snow so much is because of what I do for a living.

      If I do make it outside on Sunday, I may take my old Canon Powershot point and shoot if I even take a camera. The forecast for tomorrow is looking better than it did, I may venture out then.

      December 11, 2016 at 8:34 am

  3. Who needs the light? You are doing so well with what little nature gives you! Those are superb shots.

    December 11, 2016 at 9:26 am

    • Thank you very much Hien! However, I think that you’re being too kind, the photos from this post can’t hold a candle to those from just a ew weeks ago when there was still some light.

      December 11, 2016 at 9:29 am

  4. Vicki

    those deer look like they are running from something.. thank you for the Cardinal photos.

    December 11, 2016 at 10:31 am

    • Thank you very much Vickie! The running deer were all photographed during hunting season, I’m sure that hunters had spooked them.

      December 11, 2016 at 4:45 pm

      • Vicki

        yes, they looked quite frightened.

        December 11, 2016 at 4:53 pm

  5. I enjoyed the photo show, as always, Jerry! I love those cardinals. I do miss them and wish they came this far west. I don’t mind mallards either. Plentiful yes, but still gorgeous ducks. Mallard Airlines coming in for a landing!

    An outstanding job of capturing the expressions on your subjects faces. That is a rather contemplative herring gull, and I love the fat fox squirrel.

    December 11, 2016 at 4:22 pm

    • Thank you very much Lavinia! I would be sad as well if there weren’t cardinals around here, I’ll try to track down a few more of them this winter. I love them and the mallards, but I’m afraid that other people will get bored with so many of them.

      Just as when I shot human portraits, I do seem to have a knack for catching the subject’s personality.

      December 12, 2016 at 1:08 am

  6. I’ve heard that there’s a lot of lake effect snow in play this weekend over the Great Lakes. I hope you didn’t get buried. I’m not looking forward to winter either. Whenever it snows I have to work outside, so I’m hoping for one like the last but I’ve got a feeling that we’re going to be in for it.

    I don’t mind the shots of common birds like mallards, geese and gulls because you can’t get close to them here and every time you have them in a post I learn something. I didn’t know mallards used their tails when they were landing, for instance. Neither did I know that Canada geese had those sharp looking teeth? barbs? on the inside of their bills. I know I wouldn’t want to be bitten by one!

    I like the shot of the squirrel too. They always seem to look like they’re smiling, and it’s hard not to love an animal that does that.

    The rays coming through the clouds and the golden light on the milkweed pods are reminders that there’s an awful lot of beauty to be seen out there, even in winter!

    December 11, 2016 at 4:33 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! It’s been a rough week as far as snow, a place about 10 miles from me got almost three feet this week, not as much here though. I know how you feel about working outside in winter, it’s the same for me.

      Yes, most waterfowl use their tails when they land like the mallard did, perfect three-point landings. And, the geese have those sharp structures in their mouths, which is one of many reasons that some people use them the same way as others use dogs as watch dogs. Geese are more alert than dogs, and their bite is as bad or worse than a dog’s.

      I’d be smiling if I was as fat as that squirrel was, but my photo didn’t really show that.

      I’m just bummed about the lack of light so far this winter, I’m sure that I’ll get out to shoot a few beautiful photos once the winter settles in.

      December 12, 2016 at 1:18 am

  7. Keep the ducks and geese coming. Just because they are coming doesn’t mean that they aren’t interesting to look at. Your duck landing sequence was a real treat.

    I hope that the snow is kind to you.

    December 11, 2016 at 4:59 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! As deep as the snow is already, it may be that geese and ducks are the only subjects that I’ll be able to get to soon.

      December 12, 2016 at 1:23 am

  8. I wish you could hear the oohs and aahs when I see you photos – they are wonderful and some of them I’m sure are 3D! I especially like the mallard landing sequence, the changing light and the Canada goose photos. Our weather pattern over the last weeks has been so varied- freezing icy cold and windy, milder and wetter and today total fog until late afternoon when the fog lifted and we had a beautiful sunset. Red sky at night shepherds delight, red sky in the morning shepherds warning! So who knows what tomorrow will bring! One thing is certain there’s no snow here! Do hope you have some sunny days to enjoy your snow.

    December 11, 2016 at 5:03 pm

    • Thank you very much Marianne! I’m glad that you liked the photos in this post, I have to remember that most people don’t get the chance to see the things that I do.

      You’re lucky in a way to have varied weather, ours has been the same for two weeks, cloudy with snow.

      December 12, 2016 at 1:55 am

  9. Thanks for fox squirrel, your photograph ‘changing light’ was very good indeed.

    December 14, 2016 at 4:41 am

    • Thank you very much Susan!

      December 14, 2016 at 1:59 pm

  10. I can never see too many mallard photos especially if they are your shots Jerry! I loved the expression on the rough legged hawks face.

    December 17, 2016 at 9:23 am

    • Thank you very much Clare! If this winter is as bad as I think that it’s going to be, the only birds I may find are mallards.

      December 17, 2016 at 5:56 pm

      • I hope the weather isn’t as bad as you think it might be. If I don’t get to post or comment again before next weekend may I wish you a very Happy Christmas and a healthy and successful new year!

        December 17, 2016 at 6:00 pm

      • Thank you for the wonderful wishes for Christmas and beyond, of course I wish you and your family the same wishes also.

        December 18, 2016 at 3:01 am

      • Thank-you Jerry!

        December 18, 2016 at 7:16 pm