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

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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38 responses

  1. Such a lot to admire, the new lens is certainly worth it and you had a good one of the fox loping away. I enjoyed the second bunting video too.

    December 29, 2016 at 3:03 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! One of these days I’ll catch one of the foxes with their guard down and get a good photo. I also need to shoot more videos so that I’m get used to the way that the camera works as I do, which is completely different from how it works when shooting photos.

      December 29, 2016 at 2:51 pm

  2. Great photos…love the muskrat!

    December 29, 2016 at 6:24 am

    • Thank you very much Maria! The muskrat was a very willing model, it ended up going under my vehicle and out the other side.

      December 29, 2016 at 2:52 pm

      • Not while you were driving I hope!😊

        December 29, 2016 at 2:54 pm

      • No, I got out and made sure the muskrat was safe before I moved.

        December 29, 2016 at 3:01 pm

      • Oh good!

        December 29, 2016 at 3:20 pm

  3. Jerry, I’m having 400 mm lens envy! Those shots of the gull are amazing.

    December 29, 2016 at 6:25 am

    • Thank you very much Bob! Both the 100-400 and 400mm prime are so much sharper than my other long lenses that it’s hard to believe that they are so relatively inexpensive.

      December 29, 2016 at 2:54 pm

  4. Today the mammals have won my vote! Wonderful bird photos with your new lens but seeing the coyote, fox and muskrat photos are just amazing. Love the snow bunting video too-there were so many!

    December 29, 2016 at 8:46 am

    • Thank you very much Marianne! It was an unusual day for me to see so many mammals, I also saw a few deer before it was light enough to shoot photos. It’s fun to watch so many snow buntings in oe flock, I wish that I knew how to get them all in one photo.

      December 29, 2016 at 2:57 pm

  5. As usual some great photos. I echo your comments about how some areas are overprotected so that one cannot even begin to see nature. There is a place I go to in Florida where they protect certain sensitive areas for nesting species but there is plenty of land available to get some great wildlife shots.

    December 29, 2016 at 9:39 am

    • Thank you very much! It makes no sense to me to protect land and wildlife “for the public” then ban the public from being able to see and appreciate what’s being protected “for them”.

      December 29, 2016 at 2:59 pm

  6. Even with the cloudy weather, you captured well! Wishing you a Happy Shooting 2017, Jerry!

    December 29, 2016 at 9:40 am

    • Thank you very much Donna! The same to you, Happy Shooting in 2017!

      December 29, 2016 at 3:00 pm

  7. Love the fox photos. And the belted kingfisher.

    Of course, I’m one of your readers who disagrees with your thoughts federal land use. Every time I go to Sleeping Bear, I am thankful that this place has been protected by the Feds. Do you think we would ever be able to get close to this magnificent shore otherwise? Itnwould be in the hands of private developers, the beach lined with condos and marinas. like Miami. Where’s your public access there? It’s unfortunate that some of these areas are closed. But without the funds to adequately monitor, pick up trash, and the like, it’s a sad reality. It wouldn’t take long with unrestricted access to turn your public land into a public dump. In the meantime, we’ve enjoyed camping and hiking in National Forests, and the great National Parks are without equal. We’ve talked with many foreign visitors who are astonished at the protection of these sites.

    Ah, so we live to carry this discussion on another day. Hoping for a bit of sunshine for you, and us too. Even though it’s warmer here (Arkansas, for the moment), the gray is eating into my soul.

    Happy New Year. Hope it’s a good one for you.

    December 29, 2016 at 9:55 am

    • Thank you very much Judy!

      The Sleeping Bear Dunes would never have looked like Miami, this is Michigan where we treasure our public land, and most of what is Sleeping Bear Dunes was already protected by the state. I’ll have more to say in my next post about the subject. I hope that you’re enjoying the warmer temperatures, it’s back to cold and snow here.

      December 29, 2016 at 3:04 pm

  8. Excellent pictures and an enjoyable rant at the start of the post. Conservation and people are a tricky mix. Still, the new lenses seem to be doing a good job in keeping your mind occupied. I hope that 2017 brings you all you want. It certainly won’t bring me all I want because I can’t afford the lenses but I shall potter along happily all the same.

    December 29, 2016 at 4:12 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! Yes, conservation and people are always a tricky mix, I’ll have more about that in my next post. I’m in a position where I can afford to spend my money on camera gear, but I’ve given up a lot when it comes to my personal life to be in this position.

      December 30, 2016 at 2:26 am

      • Money very well spent in your case may I say.

        December 31, 2016 at 4:54 pm

  9. I’d say the lens is certainly a keeper from what I’ve seen!
    What an array of critters, I think you saw one of just about everything. The coyote was a good catch and so was the fox. And it looks like you were close enough to pet that muskrat.
    My favorite shot of course is the lichen. I don’t know its name but it’s a beauty, and it was fruiting heavily too. Imagine what you could do with a macro lens!
    Winter can’t last forever and neither can the clouds, so good weather is bound to come your way soon, and then we’ll get the leftovers. Our “huge storm” of today turned out to be a dud, and that’s okay!
    Have a happy new year!

    December 29, 2016 at 5:29 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! I hope that the new lens does turn out well for me, it’s too early to tell yet.

      I tried to get closer to the coyote for a better photo, that’s when I almost buried my Subaru, so I gave up. The foxes totally shocked me because of where they were.

      I know that I should always carry my macro lens, but as changeable as the weather was the day I shot the lichen, I didn’t want to risk getting that lens wet.

      I’m happy for you that the storm turned out to be a dud, what was supposed to be light snow here has turned out to be a bit of a nasty dump of snow.

      Happy New Year to you as well!

      December 30, 2016 at 2:32 am

  10. Happy New Year Jerry!

    December 30, 2016 at 3:05 am

  11. I am glad the new 400 lens is working out for you, as the images on this post are very impressive, even with the lack of sunshine. Two weeks ago I got the 100-400 lens on sale, but by the time I come home from work it is too dark to do any shooting. Then the wildlife refuge I normally go to, even though it is 2 hours away, has been closed for several months for road repair, with no definite reopening in sight. So I can relate with your frustration about those parks being less accessible these days.

    Anyway, may 2017 bring you all that you wish for. Stay healthy, keep shooting, and keep posting your wonderful photos on this blog.

    December 30, 2016 at 5:28 am

    • Thank you very much Hien! I’m sure that once you get the chance to use it that you’ll love the 100-400 mm lens.

      There’s a wildlife refuge that I’d like to visit about two hours away from me as well. I follow them on Facebook, and they’re always announcing closings to all or part of it so often that I don’t dare make the drive for fear that I’d get there to find it closed.

      I hope that 2017 is a good year for you in every way, especially your photography!

      December 31, 2016 at 1:10 am

  12. A wonderful set of photos, as always, Jerry! I love the muskrat. Your muskrat subject sounds as bold as one of our local nutria would be, going under your car and out the other side! I love the fox and that beautiful bushy tail. I used to see them a lot back east. We had a little grey fox that hung around the farm for a while, but I haven’t seen him in a couple of years now.

    Yes, an enjoyable rant on public lands! You might like to check out High Country News. Stellar reporting on environmental issues, and much written over the years on the debate over public lands.
    https://www.hcn.org/topics/public-lands

    December 30, 2016 at 1:05 pm

    • Thank you very much Lavinia! I hope to get a good photo of a fox someday, one where you can see its face.

      Thanks for the link also, some very interesting reading on a number of subjects there!

      December 31, 2016 at 1:15 am

  13. Happy New Year!

    January 1, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    • Happy New Year!

      January 1, 2017 at 3:46 pm

  14. Some great shots there – and a pretty nice selection of wildlife! Even the lichen picture was great!

    January 2, 2017 at 10:31 am

    • Thank you very much!

      January 2, 2017 at 4:04 pm

  15. You are getting some excellent shots with the new lens even in poor light Jerry! I always enjoy the variety of subjects you shoot – keep up the good work! Sorry to get here so late – I’m slowly trying to catch up on all the posts I missed last month. Happy New Year!

    January 2, 2017 at 1:58 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! If something has fins, fur, or feathers, I’ll photograph it if I can. I read about your internet problems, I hope that they’re all sorted out now.

      January 2, 2017 at 4:06 pm

      • Yes thank-you Jerry, all is back to normal now!

        January 2, 2017 at 8:05 pm

  16. Your pictures are stunning! It’s like you recreate nature in its liveliness, I even don’t find the right words… Thanks!

    January 4, 2017 at 6:19 pm

    • Thank you very much Cecilia!

      January 5, 2017 at 12:53 am

  17. Happy New Year- your photos get better and better!

    January 8, 2017 at 3:02 am

    • Thank you very much! It’s been a struggle, but I’m making progress.

      January 8, 2017 at 5:23 am