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

Notable photos

Even though I’m supposed to be taking a break from blogging, I can’t resist starting another post of some of the more notable photos that I shoot. This post will be nearly all photos and few words. I’ll start with a species of goose that I just recently crossed off the list for the My Photo Life List project, a Ross’s goose.

Ross’s goose

Much better than any of the photos I shot the first time I saw that species.

Also, using the 400 mm prime lens, 2 X tele-converter, and live view focusing with the set-up mounted to my new gimbal tripod head, I was able to get my best ever photos of a golden eagle.

Golden eagle

What’s also notable about that photo is that I waited half an hour to 45 minutes for the sun to break through the clouds to give me some good light to shoot that one in.

I have the feeling that using the gimbal head is going to make a great deal more improvement to the quality of images that I shoot than I had thought.

I’ve only used it on flying birds a few times, but it allows me to better track the birds more smoothly than I can by hand. I’ve only used it on the eagle as far as perched birds, but it allowed me to do exactly what I hoped it would. After shooting a few bad photos handheld, I saw that the eagle wasn’t going to fly away soon, so I set the tripod up with the gimbal head and shot a few better images.

However, it was still quite gloomy then, but I could see that holes were opening up in the clouds, so I waited. The way that the gimbal head works, I could keep the camera pointed at the eagle as I waited, and I shot another series of photos every time that I thought that the light had improved a little. Eventually, one of the holes in the clouds opened so that there was sunshine on the eagle, giving me the image that you see here. I was hoping that the eagle would stick around long enough for there to be sunshine on it and blue sky behind, but the eagle flew away before that happened.

I can’t say for sure, but I believe that the eagle flew off to stay in the sunshine. It had been a chilly morning, and I could really feel the difference when the sunshine hit me, it felt very good. The hole in the clouds that had put the sunshine on both myself and the eagle had closed, so I took that opportunity to check the quality of the images that I had just shot. When I looked up, the eagle was flying off, and it stayed in the sun as it did. The last time that I saw the eagle, it was riding an updraft to gain altitude without having to flap its wings at all.

There wouldn’t have been an updraft for the eagle without the sunshine to heat the ground and the air above it, so I wonder if the eagle had stayed perched there waiting for the sunshine to create the updraft. I know that it warmed up quite a bit as soon as the sun came out for good, and that I remember being jealous of the eagle’s ability to follow the sunshine as the size of the holes in the clouds increased the way that they did that day.

Anyway, I have digressed again, back to the gimbal head and the tripod that I have it mounted on. The tripod is a Benro Com37c, which I would classify as a medium heavy-duty tripod. It’s much sturdier than the Manfrotto tripod that I’ve been using for landscapes, and I was able to purchase it for about half price while it was on sale through B&H Photo.  It doesn’t have a center post to use to adjust the height, I have to do that through the angle of the legs and how far I extend them. I believe that not having a center post is one of the things that makes it so steady in use.

One added bonus to the Benro tripod is that it has a hook under where the center post would be if it had one, and I can hang my second long lens/camera set-up from that hook. It makes the tripod even more stable, and then I don’t have to set the second long lens set-up on the ground as I use the one that’s mounted on the gimbal head. If I hadn’t been reviewing my photos when the eagle took off, I would have snatched the second long set-up off from the hook, and used it to shoot a few images of the eagle taking off.

I could have mounted the gimbal head to the Manfrotto tripod that I already had, as it’s a fine tripod, but I don’t think that it would have been as solid as the Benro is. Also, the gimbal head works great with my long lenses for the way that I shoot with them, but I don’t think that the gimbal head would work as well for landscapes. Besides, I can see that there will come a time when I have the Manfrotto tripod set-up shooting landscapes, and the Benro tripod and gimbal head set-up for shooting wildlife at the same time.

An update. I got the excellent price on the Benro tripod that I did because it was being discontinued. That’s also why I was I was able to get the Manfrotto tripod that I’ve been using for a few years now. I really lucked out when it came to shopping for tripods, I now have two high quality carbon fiber tripods and I paid about what I would have paid for either of them if I hadn’t gotten them on sale.

In my never-ending playing with my camera gear, I used my 100 mm macro lens for this image.

Reflection of a flying ring-billed gull

If only there wasn’t the reflection of a second gull in that image, oh well, I learned a lot while shooting both perched and flying gulls with the macro lens.

Another week has gone by, and this past weekend was wet, cold, and windy. What’s notable about these images is that they turned out as well as they did in very poor conditions for photography, even the ducks looked as if they hated the weather at times.

Male northern shoveler

You can see the rain drops beading up on the shoveler’s back.

I think that ducks are some of our most colorful and beautiful birds, but with many species, you have to see their wings to fully appreciate their beauty, which means photographing them in flight. I wasn’t very hopeful when I saw that more species were returning in their full breeding plumage, but despite the low-light, I gave it a shot.

Male blue-winged teal in flight


Male redhead duck in flight


Male northern shoveler in flight


Male northern shoveler in flight


Male bufflehead taking off

With the 7D Mk II and the lenses that I have now, getting birds in flight is much easier, not only ducks, but raptors like this northern harrier as well.

Male northern harrier

I was able to shoot a few much better photos of another recent addition to My Photo Life List, the northern shrike.

Northern shrike

That brings me to a species of bird which has just returned for the summer, but isn’t colorful at all. They are fun to watch however, and I missed them while they were gone.

American coot

They use their oversized lobed feet as ducks use their webbed feet for swimming, but the coots are also able to wade in soft mud as well. They don’t fly unless forced to, so it’s a little unusual to see them with their wings spread.

American coot

That one was using its wings for balance as it climbed up on the rocks.

Give them a little food, and they look so happy.

American coot


American coot

A few weeks ago, I shot this photo of a horned lark showing its horns.

Male horned lark

And this past weekend, I got the quintessential image of a male red-winged blackbird staking out his territory.

Male red-winged blackbird

The time has come for me to put a hold on purchasing any more camera gear for a while, and instead, to get some type of portable blind to hide in and also some camouflaged clothes so that I can get closer to my subjects.

As if by magic, I found a portable hide designed for photographers and have ordered one. I don’t know if I’ll have the chance to try it this coming weekend or not, the forecast for the weekend is looking very good right now. If it turns out to be as nice as predicted, I’m planning on doing some doing some longer walks at some of the better birding locations in the Muskegon State Game area.

I suppose that I’ll have to give the new hide a try, since the one that I ordered is made for photographers that move around quite a bit. It’s not much more than a tarp with an opening for the lens to stick through, and a mesh opening to look through to spot the subject. It folds into a carrying pouch that you can wear on your belt if so inclined and weighs less than three pounds. The one that I ordered is the right colors for spring or fall, and if it works out well, I may eventually order a second one in white for our snowy winters here in Michigan.

Most of all, I’m looking forward to getting out in nice weather for a change, and the forecast is looking good for that right now. For the last month or more, if it was warm on a weekend, it was cloudy and gloomy, if there was good light, it’s been cold. The forecast for the upcoming weekend is for slightly above average temperatures and sunny skies, something I’ve not had since last fall.

Also if by magic, since my last post where I complained about not having enough time to blog, I’ve been getting home an average of an hour earlier than I was when I wrote that post. That still doesn’t leave me a lot of time to work on my blog, it’s still more time than I used to have. And, I still don’t have time to make it outside during the week. So, I’m really excited about having two good days to be out and about for a change.

I shouldn’t have typed that last paragraph, since I did, work has gone back to the way that it was before, leaving me just enough time to eat, sleep, and do the other things required just to survive. Still, I’m looking forward to a full weekend of being outside starting tomorrow.

Well, it’s Sunday morning as I type this, and Saturday was every bit as nice as they had predicted. Although, the day did begin well below freezing, so I began with some drive by birding at the Muskegon County wastewater facility as I have been doing. The light was so good that I installed a polarizing filter to the 400 mm lens to shoot ducks in flight. The polarizing filter helps to cut the glare coming off from the water, but it seemed to shift the colors of the  ducks that I shot. Look at the colors on this northern shoveler’s wings…

Northern shoveler blasting off

…compared to the photos earlier in this post.

Also, nice weather brought out a lot of birders, keeping most of the birds well out of range of my camera. Still, I was having fun trying to get good shots of ducks in flight.

Bufflehead duck in flight

I hate to brag, but I’m getting better all the time. However, there are still times when the birds won’t cooperate. I saw this pair of hooded mergansers, and tried to get a photo with both of them looking back at me at the same time, this was the best that I could do.

Hooded mergansers

Then, there are the wood ducks. Getting close to one out in the open is tough enough to begin with, then, they have so many colors in so many places, that it’s hard to get an image showing all those colors in one shot.

Male wood duck

That one shows the purple on the back of the duck’s head, but then you can’t see how colorful its face is.

Male wood duck and mallard

That one does a better job of showing the duck’s face, but then you can’t see the purple on the back of his head. It’s going to take perfect lighting at the perfect angle to fully capture all the colors of a male wood duck, so I’ll keep trying.

Once it had warmed up, I went to the headquarters of the Muskegon State Game Area, but there were some people target shooting there. they were set-up so that they were shooting right at the best birding trail, so I left. My next stop was Lane’s Landing, but by that time, most of the birds were taking their afternoon siesta, and I saw very few birds, and none close enough for a photo. I hope to do better today.

Sunday turned out to be a pretty good day, I could fill a post with the photos that I shot today, but I’ll stick to the notable ones, starting with another lifer for me, a rusty blackbird.

Rusty blackbird

I came across a small flock of them in a swamp near the Muskegon River as I was scouting for places to use the new portable hide when it arrives, and I managed to get that one good image, plus another not so good image of one of the flock.

The rusty blackbird looks a lot like a common grackle, but the common crackle has a much longer tail as you can see here.

Common grackle

I also got my first photos ever of a bird that I used to see quite often when I hunted, an American Woodcock.

American woodcock

They’re an odd-looking bird, their eyes are so far back on their head that they can see behind themselves.

American woodcock

They also have a flexible bill that they use to probe the soil for worms, and they constantly bob up and down as they walk. They are considered a shorebird even though they are seldom found near a shore, other than a small inland lake from time to time.

With the photos of those two species, I am now two-thirds of the way through the list from the Audubon Society that I’m working from as I try to photograph every species of bird seen regularly in Michigan. Not bad, it’s only taken me a few years to make it this far, now I need some time to be able to catch up in posting to the series of posts that I’m doing as I continue to cross new species off from the list. But, that would probably take away time that I could use in search of more species to cross off from the list.

I know that my ramblings about working on the My Photo Life List bore some people, but it’s one of the best things that I have ever undertaken. It helps to keep my eyes and my mind sharp as search for new species, and how to identify birds quickly. It’s improved my skills as a photographer as I often have to shoot under less than ideal conditions when I first see a new species. I’m learning to be more patient as a scan a flock of birds to see if there are any different species “hiding” within a flock of birds. Mostly, I’m learning how diverse birds are, how beautifully marked many of what are considered plain birds are, such as the woodcock, and I’m also learning much more about the state that I live in, Michigan, as I search out the correct habitats for the birds that I need to find yet.

Moving on, some of the insect-eating birds have returned from down south, including the eastern phoebe…

Eastern Phoebe

…tree swallows…

Tree swallow

…and eastern bluebirds.

Eastern bluebird

At one point, the swallow was discouraging the bluebird from using one of the nesting boxes people have installed in the area, but they were too far away from me to get any photos of that.

I did get photos of two buffleheads fighting over a female.

Bufflehead ducks fighting

I shot close to 100 photos of them going at it, but I’ll just post that one.

I added to my collection of good photos of ducks in flight, or I suppose that I should say, ducks landing.

Northern shoveler landing


Northern shoveler landing

This will be too many photos for this post, but I have to use them all. Male Bufflehead are quite comical in the way that they land as they are trying to impress females.

Male bufflehead landing

After they hit the water, they ride on top of the water as tall as they can make themselves look.

Male bufflehead landing


Male bufflehead landing


Male bufflehead landing


Male bufflehead landing

Until they run out of steam, and slip straight down into the water.

Male bufflehead landing


Male bufflehead landing

It’s fun to watch them as they run across the water to build up speed so that they can skate on top of the water until they sink, then surface, bobbing their heads up and down, all to impress a female nearby. One of these days, I’m going to be in the right position and in the right circumstances to shoot a good video of them going at it.

Well, that’s about it for this post, but I’m going to throw in one last photo that shows that spring has finally arrived here in Michigan.

Song sparrow singing

It’s so good to step outside and here all the birds that have returned singing away in the mornings, and it gets better each day as more birds arrive.

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


28 responses

  1. Oh my, what a fantastic selection of bird photos to enjoy this afternoon! Love them all but favourites are the male wood duck , with its amazing plumage, the reflection of the ring- billed gull, the blue winged teal and the red winged blackbird. I could list them all but that would be silly! Hope you get your hide.

    April 4, 2017 at 11:27 am

    • Thank you very much Marianne! I have gotten my hide, so I should get a chance to try it this weekend.

      April 4, 2017 at 10:46 pm

  2. sunfreestar

    Great work! All pictures are truly beautiful but for me the Golden Eagle has really struck me, it was really worth waiting for that sun, he is shining like gold!

    April 4, 2017 at 12:03 pm

    • Thank you very much!

      April 4, 2017 at 10:47 pm

  3. Wow, that’s really interesting about the woodcock’s prehensile bill!

    April 4, 2017 at 2:35 pm

    • Thank you very much! It is an amazingly wonderful world that we live in if we take the time to learn about it.

      April 4, 2017 at 10:48 pm

  4. You shoot photographs of such a high standard it’s impossible to pick one out though birds flying over water are perhaps my favourite.

    April 4, 2017 at 3:52 pm

    • Thank you very much Susan! I love ducks, I hope that it showed in these photos.

      April 4, 2017 at 10:48 pm

      • It certainly did!

        April 4, 2017 at 11:23 pm

  5. If this is what you do when you are not posting, what can we expect when you start again? A lovely selection today. I am looking forward to a ‘selfie’ of you in your new portable hide.

    April 4, 2017 at 5:11 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! I will do a selfie of me in the hide, the only way that any one will see me, hidden.

      April 4, 2017 at 10:49 pm

      • I await this with baited breath.

        April 5, 2017 at 4:23 pm

  6. I think the shot of the gull with its reflection is one of the best you’ve taken, in my opinion, and I think that’s the only shot of a woodcock that I’ve ever seen on any blog. That was a great find!
    I can tell by the red winged blackbird that spring is farther along there than it is here, That’s a great shot too! I haven’t heard a single peeper or RW blackbird yet this spring.
    I like the shots of the wood ducks too. I see them here quite often now but they always swim or fly away quickly, so I can never get near them.
    All of these shots say spring to me and that’s a fine thing because spring there has to turn into spring here eventually. So far we had a week of spring in February and it’s been winter ever since.
    I hope you’ll get to spend more time outdoors soon!

    April 4, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! The gull and its reflection is one of my better shots, now that I know how to do it, I’ll try to improve on it.

      It’s sort of been spring here, but instead of snow, we get dumped on with rain. 2 inches over the past two days, again. Many of the farm fields are under water, and the ground is a soggy mess everywhere I go. But, I have read that you’ve had it much worse there, I hope that spring does return for good there soon.

      April 4, 2017 at 10:57 pm

  7. Comments are closed if I click on a photo…

    Northern shoveler landing – amazing!!!
    Male bufflehead landing – pure dance!
    Male northern shoveler – well, I don’t have enough words to describe these photos. For me are so, so beautiful. You are so lucky to be able to take so beautiful photos.

    As usually, a great post.

    April 4, 2017 at 5:20 pm

    • Thank you very much Cornell! I’ve put a lot of time and effort into getting photos this good.

      April 4, 2017 at 10:50 pm

  8. Jerry, all of these photos are exquisite! If I had to take a favorite, I would take the one of the seagull and its reflection, but I would be very proud of any of the others, if I had taken them. I am still amazed that you can use the 2X extender with such good results. I’ll have to try mine again one of these sunny days. 🙂

    April 4, 2017 at 7:16 pm

    • Thank you very much Hien! I wished that I had use the 70-200 mm lens for the gull and reflection so I could have gotten a bit closer, but it’s still a good one. By all means, I would work with the 2 X extender, especially since you have a gimbal head to hold the lens and camera steady.

      April 4, 2017 at 10:53 pm

  9. Beautiful photos, Jerry! I love the Golden Eagle and the seagull reflection shot. I also love the red-winged blackbird and the amusing series of the bufflehead landing. I’m so pleased you had time to post this! Congratulations on getting more shots of birds for your Photo Life List.

    April 4, 2017 at 9:36 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! Every one seems to like the gull and its reflection, that’s what I get for playing around, a good photo now and then. 😉

      April 4, 2017 at 10:58 pm

  10. Welcome back Jerry, if only for a day. I can’t think of another post where you featured as many different species as this one. What a treasure.

    I laughed at the photo of the northern shoveler ‘launching’, as I think you described it. It actually looks like he’s being shot out of a cannon! He has the most startled look on his face. The American woodcock was a treat as well. It must be useful defensively to be able to see behind you, but it seems like it would make foraging difficult.

    There was lots to like here. Think I’ll keep this post handy, and check back with it later. It took me a few days to read it, since we haven’t be in a spot with enough to load the photos, and what would be the point not to see them?

    Cheers. Hope your springlike weather sticks around.

    April 5, 2017 at 11:35 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! The northern shovelers almost always look surprised for some reason. They do launch quickly when they want to, much like mallards.

      The woodcock forage by feel with their bill in the ground, so seeing predators overhead is a huge advantage for them.

      I hope that you get a chance to see all the photos, some of the best I’ve ever shot.

      April 5, 2017 at 10:09 pm

  11. Stunning work as usual, Jerry! I enjoyed every one of them!!

    April 6, 2017 at 3:29 pm

    • Thank you very much Donna!

      April 6, 2017 at 11:03 pm

  12. The photos just keep getting better and better, Jerry! Among my favorites are the reflecting gulls and the American woodcock. Coots are always a welcome sight. 🙂 Great work!

    April 8, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    • Thank you very much Lavinia!

      April 8, 2017 at 7:32 pm

  13. Had a bit more time to look and read here, Jerry. I’m in awe of what you have captured here. When you say that you shot 100 images of a landing sequence, it hit me as to how very seriously you take your craft, and the incredible amount of time you must put into each post.

    Amazing. You are a treasure.

    April 12, 2017 at 11:47 pm

    • Thanks for taking the time for a second look Judy! I love watching the courtship displays of the bufflehead and the way that the males try to make themselves look tall when they’re such a small duck is funny, to me at least. I really need to shoot videos at times though, as a series of stills doesn’t truly convey how funny they are in action no matter what angle or how close to them I am.

      April 13, 2017 at 7:23 am