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

Flashes of brilliance

You’ve already seen the photos of the snow buntings that I shot last weekend at the Muskegon wastewater facility. I have a few more from that day to get to in a while, but first, some images that I shot around home. It had been a dreary night Saturday as I made the run from here to the Detroit area and back for work, but the forecast was for a nice day ahead. I stopped on the way home from work to grab a bite to eat, then took a nap while waiting for the sun to come out. I awoke to bright sunlight flooding my apartment, but it was already just after noon, not the best time to find birds.

Although the 100-400 mm lens would have been a better choice to carry because of its versatility, I chose to take the new 400 mm prime lens instead, just to see what it could do in good light for the first time since I purchased it.

American robin

American robin

That was actually one of the last images that I shot, but I think that it represents just how good that 400 mm lens can be. I decided to start with that one because it shows that with a good sharp lens that captures the details of a subject very well it produces an image that begins to take on a three-dimensional look.

I knew that the first photos that I shot yesterday wouldn’t be very good, since the minimum focus distance of the 400 mm lens is so long. I had to crop this first image much more than I would have liked to.

Unidentified mosses

Unidentified mosses

 

Unidentified mosses

Unidentified mosses

Still, it was nice to see something green for a change.

I’m not sure if it’s because I move the camera a bit as the shutter is going, or if the 400 mm lens needs more time to get a solid focus lock, but I see that I need to work on both. Here’s another robin photo that isn’t as sharp as it should be…

American robin

American robin

…and here’s the next photo that I shot. You can see that the second is much better as far as sharpness, but the robin’s pose isn’t as good as in the first of these two.

American robin

American robin

My original plan was to use the 400 mm lens for bird in flight photos, and the 100-400 mm lens for portrait photos, now I’m not as sure about that. The 100-400 mm lens definitely focuses faster than the 400 mm lens, which is better for birds in flight. I had the chance to test the 400 mm lens out again for birds in flight yesterday, for I saw a raptor coming towards me, and I had the time to switch the camera over to the birds in flight settings that I have saved in the camera.

Merlin in flight

Merlin in flight

My first few photos in the burst were okay, as you can see by that one and this one.

Merlin in flight

Merlin in flight

But the images later in the burst I fired were much better as far as sharpness when the auto-focus had a good solid lock on the merlin.

Merlin in flight

Merlin in flight

But by that time, the merlin had changed direction slightly to avoid me, so the light wasn’t quite as good.

You know, I am getting spoiled by what my latest camera equipment is capable of. I would have been very happy with either of the first two images not that long ago, now, I want them all to be as sharp as the last one is. Look at how sharp the eye and the face of the merlin are in that last image, it’s better than I could do on a perched bird a few years ago.

Enough bragging, sort of. The merlin landed towards the top of tree not that far away from me, so I went over to see if I could find an opening through the branches to get a photo of it perched. I shot a few at 400 mm, but then, I slipped the 1.4 X tele-converter behind the lens for this one.

Merlin

Merlin

That confirms what my indoor testing from my last post told me, there’s almost no drop-off in image quality when using the 1.4 extender behind the 400 mm lens in good light. It’s hard to see in these small version of the images, but check out the details in the feathers on the Merlin’s forehead and throat in the next image.

Merlin

Merlin

The merlin was in no hurry to move on, it even decided to check its talons out for me.

Merlin

Merlin

I shot these next two as a test of sorts, to see if there’s any fall-off in performance at greater distances.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

 

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Both of those were cropped a lot more than I usually crop an image, just to see if I’d be able to shoot a rare bird at a longer distance and still be able to identify the bird. I think that the verdict is yes.

I don’t normally photograph English sparrows because they are an introduced and invasive species that are displacing some of our native sparrows, but I wanted to shoot as many photos in good light as I could.

English sparrow

English sparrow

Breaking news!

I still plan to put the photos from last weekend in this post, but first, I got another species for the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on. It wasn’t easy, and the photos are poor, but by using what I earned about using the 400 mm lens and 2 X teleconverter, I was able to get these photos of a Ross’s goose. I even used my tripod for these, although I couldn’t use live view focusing because the geese were moving as they looked for food.

Ross's goose in front of snow geese

Ross’s goose in front of snow geese

The Ross’s goose is the smaller one with the shorter neck standing in front of the three snow geese lined up behind it.

Ross's goose in front of snow geese

Ross’s goose in front of snow geese

I’m now just 4 species short of being two-thirds of the way through the list from the Audubon Society that I’m working from.

I think that I may be becoming a serious birder. As you can see, the Ross’s goose was in a flock of snow geese, just as the greater white-fronted geese were in a huge flock of Canada geese.

Mostly snow geese

Mostly snow geese

Seeing just the orange bill or foot of one of the greater white-fronted geese was enough to make me stay put and continue to scan the flock until I was able to pick the greater white-fronted geese out of the flock.

It was very much the same with the Ross’s geese, I saw two white geese within the flock that appeared to be much smaller than all the others. My first thought was that they may have been juveniles, but I also knew from researching the birds that I still need to complete my list that a Ross’s goose looks like a miniature snow goose, so I continued to keep an eye on the smaller geese in this flock.

I was also very lucky in this instance, there were two other serious birders there watching the same flock through binoculars. After a few minutes, one of them walked back to where I was parked and asked me if I noticed the differences in size, and if I had been able to make a positive identification of the smaller geese. I told him that I had noticed the size difference, but that I hadn’t made a positive ID. We then all got out of our vehicles and setup our tripods, them for their spotting scopes, me for my camera.

As far away from us as the geese were, I couldn’t tell for sure which of the smaller geese were the ones that we thought were Ross’s geese through the viewfinder, so I’d follow one of them, shooting photos hoping to be able to zoom in and tell for sure. I didn’t lock the tripod head solidly, I left it slightly loose so that I could follow the goose that I wanted to photograph as it moved around. This worked very well, keeping the shutter speed fast enough as I would have if I had been shooting handheld.

It helped that the serious birders had a field guide with them, and we could compare the photos that we shot with the field guide. I say the photos that we shot because one of the serious birders had an adaptor that let him mount his iPhone to his spotting scope to shoot photos through the scope. That’s known as digiscoping, and his photos were almost on par with the ones that I shot.

There have been other times in the past when I lucked out and received assistance from a serious birder with a good spotting scope in picking out the species of bird that I was looking for at the time. I may need to consider getting a good spotting scope for myself in the future.

The last three species of birds that I’ve added to my photo life list have been species of geese and all of the species have been in flocks of other species of geese. The cackling geese and greater white-fronted geese were in large flocks of Canada geese, and the Ross’s geese were in with the snow geese. For that matter, most of my photos of snow geese…

Snow goose, blue morph

Snow goose, blue morph

 

Blue morph snow geese, adult and juvenile

Blue morph snow geese, adult and juvenile

…up until this day also had Canada geese in the frame along with the snow geese.

I’ve said in the past that I don’t have the patience to sit there scanning a flock of birds through a spotting scope hoping to find another species within the flock, but that seems to be changing. It helps that in the case of all three species of geese that I’ve found lately, I first noticed the difference with the naked eye, or by scanning the flock through the viewfinder of the camera. I can see that a spotting scope would come in very handy for that.

And, if I’m going to purchase a good spotting scope, then I may as well purchase an adaptor to allow me to mount my camera to it to shoot photos through it as well. At the very least, having a good scope would allow me to ID birds at a distance, then I could decide if the species was worth getting closer to for better photos than I could shoot through the scope.

One thing is certain, I need to pick-up a good field guide to carry with me so that I don’t have to rely on my memory, or the kind gestures of other birders.

It doesn’t really matter what order I post photos in, so I may as well use up the ones from this week before going back to the week before, especially since the first bird that I saw when I arrived at the wastewater facility was this snowy owl.

Snowy owl in the fog

Snowy owl in the fog

The fog made photography difficult just after sunrise, but at least the owl had its eyes open then. I tracked it down later in the day when there was slightly better light for this photo.

Snowy owl in the fog

Snowy owl in the fog

That was another test of sorts, I used the 400 mm lens on one of the 60D bodies to see how well it would work for bird portraits. There’s not much difference in image quality between the 60D and the 7D Mk II when using just the 400 mm lens, but the auto-focusing of the 60D can’t hold a candle to what the 7D can do. I can’t even auto-focus with just the 1.4 X tele-converter and the 400 mm lens on the 60D.

I returned later when the light had improved a little more to shoot these with the 400 mm lens and 2 X extender on the 7D.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

The better the light is, the more they close their eyes and squint as they look around.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

I said that the snowy owl was the first bird that I saw that day, here’s the second.

American crow in the fog

American crow in the fog

Dense fog, and I shoot photos of a white bird, and a black bird, but that’s me, always pushing to get photos no matter how poor conditions are at the time.

The same applies to this juvenile red-tailed hawk.

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Actually, I’m impressed by how sharp that one is despite the fog. The same can’t be said for this photo as the hawk took off though.

Juvenile red-tailed hawk taking off

Juvenile red-tailed hawk taking off

If only there had been some light and fewer branches for that one. I have to be careful what I wish for, because I found another red-tailed hawk later…

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

…but that was shot near the landfill, and you can see the trash in the background. By the way, the hawks don’t seem to go for the scraps of food in the landfill as the gulls, crows, and eagles do, I never see them on the ground as they would be if they did. They appear to be hunting rodents that just happen to live near the landfill, that applies to the rough-legged hawks as well.

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

This is the artsy attempt of the day.

Emerging from the fog

Emerging from the fog

I suppose that I could use up the previous week’s photos, but I think that I’d rather go further back in time to last summer to use these photos up instead. That’s just to remind me that this winter won’t last forever, and that it won’t be long until I can photograph these subjects again, but better.

Unidentified moth

Unidentified plume moth

 

jvis5848

White campion?

 

Eastern meadowlark

Eastern meadowlark

 

Eastern meadowlark in flight

Eastern meadowlark in flight

 

Green

Green

 

Grey catbird

Grey catbird

 

Grey catbird hopping

Grey catbird hopping

 

More green

More green

 

Bee

Bee

 

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

After a week of warmer temperatures, but with almost constant fog, mist, drizzle or rain, this week has been very depressing. I needed to see a few images from when the weather was nicer.

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

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23 responses

  1. You made excellent use of your 400 mm lens, and the photos here prove that. I used to think that it had a fast auto focus, but now that I have the 100-400 mm lens, the older lens must take second place. It is a solid work horse though.

    Thank you for sharing images of the Ross’ Goose. I would never have known, not that I have ever seen one yet.

    January 28, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    • Thank you very much Hien! I think that the two lenses will compliment one another very well in the way that I intend to use them. It’s not surprising that the newer lens focuses faster, though.

      The Ross’s geese are rare as far east as Michigan, they are probably extremely rare where you are.

      January 28, 2017 at 6:53 pm

  2. What a beauty, that American robin and what a good photograph.

    January 28, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    • Thank you very much Susan! Sorry that there were no squirrels this time, I looked for them too.

      January 28, 2017 at 6:44 pm

  3. All are beautiful photos, Jerry! My favorites are the ones of the snowy owl and the red squirrel in the mulberry tree.

    The robin looks cold, keeping one foot warm. We have a had a couple of ice storms here this winter, and it is still fairly cold. I did get some reasonable photos of the ice in the trees and shrubs.

    January 28, 2017 at 1:52 pm

    • Thank you very much Lavinia! I’ve heard that this winter has been very hard in Oregon with much more snow and colder than average temps. I hope that everything is making it through the winter okay where you are.

      January 28, 2017 at 6:55 pm

      • Quite a few broken branches in the hazelnut grove, but not too bad so far. We still have time between now and April for heavy wet snow. I’m keeping a close eye on our one remaining Emperor purple plum tree. We lost two others to snows in past years, as well as one unidentified golden plum. The golden plum has come back from roots, and just started producing last year. It’s been cold enough this winter that the fruit trees should do well.

        February 5, 2017 at 11:30 am

  4. Well done for adding to your list and getting reasonable shots to prove it. I like your artsy shot.

    January 28, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! It’s getting harder to add species to the list all the time now.

      January 28, 2017 at 6:43 pm

  5. Some great shots, I liked some that you thought were not so great. Always enjoy your posts.

    January 28, 2017 at 5:22 pm

    • Thank you very much! I try to make every photo as good as it can be, but it’s tough when there’s no light.

      January 28, 2017 at 6:42 pm

  6. That robin looks to be as sick of winter as I am and it isn’t even February yet.
    Congrats on getting the goose. I doubt I would have seen the difference. I wonder why one goose of a certain species would flock with others of a different species. It almost seems as if they got confused somehow.
    I love the shots of the snowy owl. Someday I hope to see one in person.
    That does look like white campion. I’d like to see one of them in person right now too!

    January 28, 2017 at 5:30 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! I’m sick of winter, and I’ll bet that many of the birds are too.

      Geese are social birds other than when nesting, so it’s not surprising that multiple species would flock together. The Ross’s geese must have been really confused, they are rare this far east, they’re a western species.

      There haven’t been as many snowy owls around this year, but look for them in fields or perched close to the ground.

      I’m missing seeing flowers also, but it won’t be long now, I hope.

      January 28, 2017 at 6:42 pm

  7. Congratulations on spotting the Ross’s goose! It looks more like a farm duck than a goose but I’m sure I’d never have seen it among the snow geese! The Robin shot at the top of the post is perfect and I see what you mean about 3-D! I really liked the snowy owl in the fog.

    January 28, 2017 at 6:40 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I didn’t know how small some geese were until I began my photo life list project. Turns out that there are far more then I knew about before. I’m just getting started with the lens that shot both the robin and snowy owl, I hope to improve my skills with it more over the coming weeks.

      January 28, 2017 at 9:58 pm

      • I look forward to seeing the results!

        January 29, 2017 at 3:47 pm

  8. Love the way your post shows the difference between summer and winter light. It is not just the cold that makes winter unpleasant.

    January 28, 2017 at 6:52 pm

    • Thank you very much! You’re very observant, with the sun so low in the sky, light isn’t able to penetrate the atmosphere as well during the winter. Fog doesn’t help either.

      January 28, 2017 at 7:07 pm

  9. Absolutely love the foggy scene, the few stalks of grain and the snowy owl photo…it’s beautiful. Amazing that you spotted that Ross’s goose amongst all the others- you are a real twitcher and it must be really pleasing to tick another lovely bird off your list. Really happy to see the bright photos you’ve included especially the green leaves and the bee- they lift the spirits! Thank you.

    January 29, 2017 at 11:22 am

    • Thank you very much Marianne! Snowy owls are great no matter what the weather is like. I’m getting better at picking out the oddballs in a flock, but I’m not up to taking on flocks of gulls yet. 😉 As if we needed to hear it, the city where I live made the top of the list for the world’s cloudiest places for the last week, I need to see some green and other signs of spring.

      January 29, 2017 at 3:50 pm

  10. Every cloud has a silver lining! Keep looking!

    January 30, 2017 at 10:11 am

  11. Loved your Merlin captures, Jerry! 🙂

    February 5, 2017 at 4:47 pm

    • Thank you very much Donna!

      February 5, 2017 at 7:31 pm