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

New Years Day 2017

Well, 2017 started on an optimistic note, nary a cloud in the sky at dawn when I arrived at the Muskegon County wastewater facility.

The first sunrise of 2017

The first sunrise of 2017

But as you can see, things are still frozen over around here, although we’ve lost most of the snow that’s fallen so far this winter.

New Years Day 2017

New Years Day 2017

I had high-hopes that I’d be able to test out the new 400 mm lens in good light, and I suppose you could say that I did, but not in the way that I had hoped. Although I tried very hard, I could not get close to a perched bird, not even one of the many starlings there.

Starling

Starling

I couldn’t even get close to a flying gull.

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

It’s a pretty pathetic day when that’s the best that I could do as far as flying gulls.

I titled one of my recent posts “I remember my failures”, but I also remember my successes, and I was getting some very good photos last fall before the clouds, snow, and cold set in for the winter, like this one.

Black-bellied plover, winter plumage

Black-bellied plover, winter plumage

It’s very difficult to match that photo when there are few birds around to begin with, and the few species of birds left for the winter are busy trying to stay alive, and don’t have time to pose for me. I think that I need an attitude adjustment, each photo that I shoot doesn’t have to be better than the one that I shot before. Still, there were several times on Sunday when I considered going somewhere else in hopes of finding birds that I could get closer to.

I was even wondering if it was worth it to go to the wastewater facility as often as I do, because I know that I can get better photos at other locations, even if the photos are of fewer species of birds. But, there is one reason for me to keep going back to the wastewater facility, to get photos of species of birds that I have never photographed before. On Christmas Day, I finally got photos of a northern shrike for example.

Anyway, I was a bit bored despite the good light on Sunday, so I decided to test out the new 400 mm lens on a few of the Canada geese flying in and out of the grassy cells, mostly because I couldn’t find any other birds to shoot.

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

 

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

 

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

 

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

I’m happy to report that the new lens does very well, when I get everything right. The 100-400 mm lens is easier to use, but the 400 mm lens can produce sharper images of birds in flight as you can see. I’m finding that there’s more of a learning curve to the 400 mm lens though.

I shot those photos while I was as close to a huge flock of geese as I could get without causing them to all take off as a flock, and picking and choosing which small flocks to shoot as the smaller flocks came and went.

What I wanted to do was find a way to photograph the entire flock, which numbered in the hundreds, I even shot a few photos as I would a landscape, with a very short lens, but then the geese were nothing but brown lumps in a brown field. I was scanning the flock with the 400 mm lens, trying to find a way to convey just how many geese there were there, when I saw a bit of orange in the flock. At first, I dismissed it as a mallard, but it didn’t look like it was the bill or foot of a mallard, so I kept watching that spot.

One greater white-fronted goose in a flock of Canada geese

One greater white-fronted goose in a flock of Canada geese

That image was cropped, and I don’t know if you can pick out the orange bill of the greater white-fronted goose or not. I still wasn’t sure if I was seeing a mallard or some other species of duck, so I continued to watch that spot, and eventually, two greater white-fronted geese stepped out into the open, here they are at 400 mm and not cropped.

Two greater white-fronted geese in a mixed flock

Two greater white-fronted geese in a mixed flock

I cropped this next one, also shot at 400 mm.

Two greater white-fronted geese in a mixed flock

Two greater white-fronted geese in a mixed flock

While those images may have been good enough for me to use in the My Photo Life List that I’m working on, I wanted better photos, so I put the 2 X tele-converter behind the 400 mm lens for these two photos.

Two greater white-fronted geese in a mixed flock

Two greater white-fronted geese in a mixed flock

 

Two greater white-fronted geese in a mixed flock

Two greater white-fronted geese in a mixed flock

Not great, but there’s no doubt that they are greater white-fronted geese, and not a domesticated species that had escaped into the wild. Another species that I can cross off from my list, not a bad way to start the new year.

I would have preferred that I could have isolated just the greater white-fronted geese with none of the Canada geese in the frame, but I had to take what they gave me. Most of the time they were out of sight within the huge flock of Canada geese.

Not to brag, but I still have excellent eyesight, several other serious birders had checked out the flock of Canada geese without seeing the two greater white-fronted geese in the flock. I made the mistake of telling one of the other birders of my find, and it wasn’t long before there were several other cars surrounding me. So, I moved down to the next cell, and found one northern pintail duck hanging out with the mallards and Canada geese.

Northern pintail drake, mallards, and Canada geese

Northern pintail drake, mallards, and Canada geese

The pintail is to the left in the frame, I wanted a better photo, but that’s the best I could do.

A little later, I was scanning another portion of the flock of geese, when I spotted another northern pintail, see if you can pick it out of the flock.

Northern pintail duck surrounded by Canada geese

Northern pintail duck surrounded by Canada geese

Here’s the 800 mm and cropped version.

Northern pintail duck surrounded by Canada geese

Northern pintail duck surrounded by Canada geese

So, I guess that you could say that I did test out the new 400 mm lens, using it as a 800 mm manually focused lens to pick out individual birds out of the flock. Manually focusing is a pain, especially when the bird is moving, even if the movement is slow.

Common goldeneye

Common goldeneye

But, I did have good light, which helped, that’s one of my better photos of that species because I got the green of its head and its small crest in that image. I also got one of my better photos of a gadwall duck.

Gadwall duck

Gadwall duck

I’d rather not post photos of bird’s butts as they fly away from me, but there are times when I have little choice.

Gadwall duck in flight

Gadwall duck in flight

Maybe someday, I’ll get a really good photo of that species.

The same holds true of the kestrels…

Male American kestrel

Male American kestrel

…they’re so small and wary, that I find it impossible to sneak up as close to one as is required for a good photo. You can see that he had already spotted me and was watching intently to see if I’d try to get closer. As I was trying to switch to bird in flight settings, he took off before I could.

Here’s the last three photos from New Years Day.

Juvenile ruddy duck

Juvenile ruddy duck

 

Common goldeneye

Common goldeneye

 

Common goldeneye

Common goldeneye

I knew none of those would be great portraits, it was the light on the water in each photo that made me decide to shoot those.

So, that’s all of my photos from New Years Day, unless I were to bore you with a bunch of photos of the Canada geese in flight, and I’ve already put enough of those photos in this post.

Proofreading this post has made me realize just how spoiled I’ve become, both in the subjects that I shoot, and in the quality of the images that I get. While other than the greater white-fronted geese, the birds in this post may be very common for me to see, they aren’t for most people. And as far as image quality, the Canada geese in flight photos from this post show just how far I’ve come as a photographer the last few years. They’re sharp, in focus, and most of all, exposed properly so that you can see the details in their feathers, both under and on the tops of their wings.

Some of that is due to better equipment, using the 7D Mk II rather than the 60D, and better lenses, but most of the improvement has been because I’m learning how to get the photos that I’ve always wanted.

Probably the biggest lesson that I’ve learned is that every piece of photo equipment has certain quirks in the way that it operates and performs. I could easily do an entire post about the quirks that I’ve found with my gear, but I’ll give you a couple of examples. The 100-400 mm lens shows a wider depth of field at similar settings than the other three long lenses that I own, while the new 400 mm prime lens requires 1/3 to 2/3 stop more light in exposure compensation than my other lenses. I have no idea why those things are true, but they are.

In the past, I’d fight those quirks, thinking that I could force the equipment to perform exactly like the textbook says it should perform, but I’ve learned to accept those quirks and set the camera accordingly. If I’m using the 100-400 mm lens, I simply open the aperture one stop to get the depth of field that I want for an image. If I’m using the 400 mm prime lens, I add that 1/3 to 2/3 stop more light in the exposure compensation to get to the same exposure as my other lenses.

That may be the most important photography tip that I can pass along, learn your equipment and how it operates. Just because some one else uses certain settings to get a great image doesn’t mean that you’ll get the same results at those same settings.

Anyway, after the fairly nice day on New Years Day, we’ve been back in the deep freeze with almost constant snowfall. The snow hasn’t added up to very much, since it’s all been the light, fluffy lake effect snow, but with the clouds and the cold, I haven’t been out at all this week. I even volunteered to work Monday, which is normally a day off for me.

The forecast for this coming weekend is the same, cold, cloudy, and more light snow. So, I guess that I’ll have to fill this post out with photos from last summer and fall. That leads me to one last (for this post) comment on photo gear. Recently I said that purchasing the 300 mm lens was probably a mistake, after giving it more thought, I’ve changed my mind. While it may not be as good for birds…

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

 

American robin

American robin

…as either of my newest lenses, it’s an excellent lens for shooting subjects very close to me, such as flowers.

Bindweed

Bindweed

 

I forgot again

I forgot again

 

Sweet pea

Sweet pea

 

Dandelion seeds

Dandelion seeds

That lens is also excellent for insects as well.

Damselfly

Damselfly

 

Skipper

Skipper

Up close, the 300 mm lens is as good as any lens I own, it’s only at distances more than 25 feet that its performance begins to drop off. So, when I go somewhere such as Aman Park or Loda Lake to photograph flowers, and of course the insects on the flowers, I can take the 300 mm lens since it’s like a long-range macro lens. The extra distance that I can shoot insects from with the 300 mm lens versus the 100 mm macro lens means that I can get the shot without spooking the insects as I would if I used the macro lens. And, while the 300 mm lens may not be my best lens for birds, it does an acceptable job on birds.

That leads me another one of those quirks I was writing about earlier. According to the specifications, the 100-400 mm lens is supposed to be at least as good as the 300 mm lens at close distances, but in the limited number of times I’ve tried the 100-400 mm lens out on very close subjects, it hasn’t been able to match what I can do with the 300 mm lens.

However, flowers and insects are still several moths away, and thinking about photographing them only makes the current weather outside more miserable, so I’d better end this post now before I whine about the weather even more than I already do.

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

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26 responses

  1. Even if you didn’t quite get the photos you wanted, it must have been nice to see a bit of blue sky for a day. We are stuck in a gray weather pattern here as well, and it really eats away at your soul after awhile (not enough to work on a day off though, fer chrissakes). Hopefully this crapola weather will pass by all of us soon.

    Such a treat to see the bright colors of spring and summer in your closing photos. A good reminder that brighter days will come around again.

    Keep smiling.

    January 9, 2017 at 9:12 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! The only reason that I didn’t give up on the birds sooner was because of how sunny it was that day. I figured that I may as well work, as there was nothing else to do but sit in my apartment and look at the snow blowing past my window. Besides, it will help pay for more photo gear. 😉

      I’ll bet that you see sunshine sooner than we will, along with warmer temps.

      January 9, 2017 at 10:58 am

  2. I think all the photos of the Canada geese are wonderful and great that you spotted the different species hidden in the flock. Many thanks for the last photos on your post they have really brightened up a damp and dismal day here.

    January 9, 2017 at 9:37 am

    • Thank you very much Marianne! I think that over the coming year I’ll save more photos from spring, summer and fall, because they do brighten up this time of the year.

      January 9, 2017 at 10:54 am

  3. You have quite the variety of birds at Muskegon. A beautiful set of photos, as always, but my favorite today is the Goldeneye, I’ve never seen one before. They are striking birds!

    That Greater White-fronted goose amid the Canada geese was a good catch. Your eyes are good!

    January 9, 2017 at 10:44 am

    • Thank you very much Lavinia! The goldeneye are striking birds, but the light has to be almost perfect to fully photograph them well. I was lucky to have seen the flash of orange which led me to the white-fronted geese, even luckier that I didn’t dismiss it as from having been a mallard.

      January 9, 2017 at 11:08 am

  4. Wonderful sunrise and I loved the bars trees.

    January 9, 2017 at 11:00 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! The trees will remain bare here for almost 5 full months. 😦

      January 9, 2017 at 11:06 am

      • That is a long time, though they do make beautiful patterns.

        January 9, 2017 at 12:02 pm

      • That’s why we complain about the winters here.

        January 9, 2017 at 2:15 pm

  5. There may be escalated expectations of the photos we take as we acquire and accumulate more equipment. I am quite familiar with what you have experienced, and perhaps until we win lottery and can buy one of those second-mortgage lenses, we should be satisfied with what we have achieved up to now. But photographers, more so than other humans, will never stop to seek perfection. By the way, the photos you chose to post here are excellent. I wish I could have taken some of them myself.

    January 9, 2017 at 11:48 am

  6. Well spotted! It took me a while to see the Greater White-fronted geese and the Northern Pintail duck. Your shots of the Canada geese are so clear and in focus! I do love to see all the feather details on birds. I really liked the sunrise shots at the top of your post and the final shots made me yearn for warm weather. The forgot again shot is some kind of campanula or bell flower. I’m sure Allen will know it!

    January 9, 2017 at 12:31 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I don’t normally scan large flocks of any species of birds the way that I did the geese, I was that bored I guess. I know that I’ve been writing too much about photography, but I want to show the world what I’m able to see, and the feather details of birds are one, not only for their beauty, but how birds use their feathers in flight. Thanks for trying to ID the flowers, I could go back through my Lightroom catalog from the summer to see what they are, but you’re right, Allen will know.

      January 9, 2017 at 2:20 pm

  7. So many beautiful photos if geese!!!

    January 9, 2017 at 1:21 pm

    • Thank you very much Cornell!

      January 9, 2017 at 2:15 pm

  8. These photos made a magical year

    January 9, 2017 at 5:38 pm

    • Thank you very much!

      January 10, 2017 at 12:07 am

  9. I love the sunrise shots. I saw the same colors tonight on my way home but of course I didn’t have the right camera.
    I like the shots of the flying geese too, and I surprised myself by being able to find the greater white fronted geese and the northern pintail among all those Canada geese.
    The blue flowers are creeping bellflowers and that’s a great shot of them. I’d love to be able to go out and see some but they won’t be blooming again until mid July.
    At least you aren’t being buried under feet of snow this year. We’ve had more nuisance storms than anything and most of it has melted between storms, so we don’t really have a lot on the ground. They say we might see 50 degrees by Friday so that’ll help. Spring will be here before you know it, so hang in there!

    January 9, 2017 at 5:44 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! There are times when I think that I rely too heavily on sunrise photos, but that is my favorite time of day.

      With so many predators around, including humans, it’s no wonder that the smaller geese and ducks hang out with in the flocks of Canada geese for at least some protection, but it does make it for me to photograph them.

      One of the beauties of Lightroom is being able to add keywords to help me remember the names of flowers, but I was too lazy to look up what the creeping bellflowers were, so thanks for the ID, again.

      We’re closing in on 4 feet of snow for the season, but because it’s been mostly lake effect snow, it compacts down to very little. We’ve only had a few days above freezing, most of this week it was in the teens for highs, no melting then. At least it’s the middle of January, by the end of the month, I’ll be seeing and hearing the first signs of spring coming.

      January 10, 2017 at 12:24 am

  10. I like the way that you are never happy with photos that I would be ecstatic with. It makes me happy to realise that even if I got better at taking pictures, I wouldn’t actually get any happier! Actually, I don’t believe that.

    January 9, 2017 at 5:52 pm

    • Thanks Tom! Actually, I’m ecstatic over some of the photos that I shoot, but that only drives me to try to make all my images as good.

      January 10, 2017 at 12:11 am

      • I am glad that you can be happy as well as wanting to get better. My trick is to try to stay happy when I know that I can’t improve.

        January 10, 2017 at 3:36 pm

  11. An awesome New Year’s Day of gorgeous captures, Jerry! It’s always fun to spot a ‘loner’ mixed in a flock, I get excited at those sightings! Makes me wonder why the lone one is there…… 🙂

    January 10, 2017 at 9:45 pm

    • Thank you very much Donna! There are probably many reasons for the “loners” to hang out with in a mixed flock, one has to be protection from predators.

      January 11, 2017 at 12:03 am

  12. LeafyPineFlowers

    Great photos!

    January 12, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    • Thanks!

      January 12, 2017 at 11:42 pm