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

Archive for June, 2017

The money shot

Sometimes I get the shot that I’m hoping for, or at least I come very close. It was a rather slow day of birding at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, I ended up shooting far more macro photos of insects and flowers than I did of birds, as you will see later. It was so slow that I stopped off at the office building where they have a few bird feeders out, hoping that I could catch a few of the birds as they came and went from the feeders.

The feeders are on the north side of the building, and very close to it, so the feeders are in deep shade for most of the day. There are some ornamental trees planted around the office building, and the birds use them as a stopping point as they come and go to the wooded area on the other side of the driveway to the office building. My goal was to catch one of the hummingbirds, since I haven’t been able to get a photo of one this year, but the hummers were too quick for me. By the time that I had located where they had landed in one of the trees and begun to work my way to where I could get a good photo of it, the hummer was already gone.

I did find this juvenile downy woodpecker though.

Juvenile male downy woodpecker

As I was photographing it, I saw its mother feeding it.

Juvenile male downy woodpecker being fed by its mother

I was using the 100-400 mm lens with the 1.4 X tele-converter for the close-ups of the juvenile, so I missed getting mom in the frame. I zoomed out for the next time she fed Junior.

Juvenile male downy woodpecker being fed by its mother

The mother was bringing food from the suet feeder in large chunks, then she would jam the suet into a crack in the bark of the tree, where she could break the chunk up into smaller bits for Junior.

With them behind the branches, the photo above isn’t very good, so between my moving around a bit, and Junior moving to a spot where I had a clear view of him, I was getting a few portraits of him until mom returned, but she came back sooner than I expected.

Juvenile male downy woodpecker being fed by its mother

I couldn’t just yank the camera over to get more of her in the frame though, that’s what I get for zooming in all the way.

Juvenile male downy woodpecker being fed by its mother

You can see Junior using his barbed tongue to pull the tiny bit of suet mom is giving him, so I’m happy with that shot, and also this next one.

Juvenile male downy woodpecker being fed by its mother

You can see that I was easing the camera to the left, but mom took off right after that.

After that, Junior went to the crack in the bark where mom had been putting the suet when she first arrived from the feeder. It turned out that mom had left some of the suet there that Junior found and devoured, but not before showing me that he had found it.

Juvenile male downy woodpecker

Okay, I got some good photos of mom feeding Junior, but in analyzing the entire event, I wonder if mom was also teaching him how to find his own food by putting the suet in the crack of the tree bark, and leaving some of it for him to find. I also wonder if Junior learned how woodpeckers store food for the winter, by putting the food in places like the crack in the tree bark by watching what she was doing.

Just a few more words about how I got the photos. Mom never seemed stressed by my presence, she never sounded her alarm call, nor did she hesitate as she was feeding Junior. If she had, I would have left the area immediately, as I usually do when I see an adult bird feeding one of its young. Of all the species of woodland birds in Michigan, the two that don’t seem to mind my being very close to them are chickadees and downy woodpeckers.

Female downy woodpecker

That was shot a few days earlier here where I live, and that image wasn’t cropped either.

Now for some boring talk about camera gear. I had put a spotting scope and the accessories that would allow me to mount my camera on it on my wish list at B&H photo. However, the manufacturer just boosted their prices by more than 25% for each piece that I would need for what is called digiscoping. That price increase makes that look a lot less attractive to me, and in thinking it over some more, I’m not the kind of person to set-up a spotting scope and check out every one of the thousands of gulls in a flock to find the one rare gull.

After all, I’ve been doing quite well without a spotting scope, although there have been times when another birder nearby has allowed me to look through their scope to find the rare bird that I was looking for. I think that I could do without the scope and get a pair of very good binoculars instead, for a lot less money. As in almost $3,000 less now that the prices of the items that I would need increased as much as they did.

I’d be more happy with a full frame camera and only one other lens to carry around with me than I would be with a spotting scope. I’m growing tired of trying to increase the dynamic range of my crop sensor 7D Mk II in Lightroom, along with the noise reduction required at times. I know that a full frame sensor camera won’t eliminate all the editing that I’d have to do to my images, but it would help. I’m almost to the point where I’m going to set Lightroom to bring down the highlights 100% and raise the shadows 25% as I import images, since those settings are where many of my images end up. But, part of that is because I do expose to the right of the histogram, meaning slightly over-exposing my images, to cut down on noise in the shadow areas. And, I do that because in most of my images, the subject is the shadow to Lightroom.

The events of this past weekend helped me make that decision concerning the spotting scope versus a full frame camera. On Saturday, it was a slow day for birding as I’ve already said, so I decided to do some macro photography since the wind wasn’t too bad at the time. That idea came from seeing this butterfly.

Unidentified butterfly

I then decided that it was time to get a good macro photo of one of the milkweed flowers there. At first, I was settling for longer shots that I thought that I could crop down, but then I told myself that I was being lazy again. I went back to my car and grabbed the long extension tube from the set of three that I purchased a while back, and that was enough behind the 100 mm macro lens to give me these, which weren’t cropped at all.

Milkweed flower side view

I think that these show the complex structure of the milkweed flowers very well.

Milkweed flower front view

Then, I got really lucky. As I was shooting those, one of the green bees that I’ve tried to shoot a good photo of for years showed up on the milkweed flowers.

Unidentified green bee on a milkweed flower

Isn’t it pretty?

Unidentified green bee on a milkweed flower

I did cheat a little, I flipped those images because the bee was facing down as I shot the photos, and I thought that the images looked better after I flipped them. But, the big thing is that I happened to be ready with the extension tube behind the macro lens when the bee landed. I probably could have spent the day there, shooting macros of the various insects that came along to feed on the nectar of the milkweed. The scent in the air almost convinced me, as I love the smell of the milkweed too.

I’ll have some other macro photos shot shortly after those shortly, but first, more gear talk from the next day, Sunday. It was another slow day for birding, and the wind was whipping up quite strong very early in the day as a cold front pushed through the area, so macros were pretty much out of consideration, since all the flowers were being blown around by the wind.

However, there was a flock of seven mute swans in the small man-made lake just south of the Muskegon County wastewater facility proper. So, since I haven’t used the new gimbal head on my tripod much, I thought that it would be a good idea to set-up the tripod and gimbal head to practice on a species of birds that I wouldn’t care if I messed the photos up or not. I have plenty of good images of mute swans, so I decided to turn the day into a practice day.

My new tripod and gimbal head set-up

The gimbal head was not locked when I shot that, that’s the beauty of it, the camera stays pointed where I want it pointed, even as windy as the day was. The Benro tripod that I got for half price because they discontinued that model has no center post, but does have a substantial hook under it where I can hang my second long set-up to keep it close by and ready, but off the ground or trying to hold it as I use the camera on the tripod. That also helps to steady the set-up, it’s almost as solid as a rock as I move the camera on the gimbal head around to follow the action. Here’s a closer look at the gimbal head.

My gimbal head on the tripod with camera and lens attached

My plan almost worked well, but the swans stayed on the other side of the lake, since that side was sheltered a little from the wind. But, as I was just getting set-up, one of the swans assumed its aggressive posture…

Mute swan getting aggressive

…getting ready to chase one of the other swans away.

Mute swan getting aggressive

With the gimbal head, I was able to track the swan very well.

Mute swan getting aggressive

In the old days, I’d post dozens of images of the swans chasing each other around, but I’ll be able to get much better images at another time, when the swans are closer to me. But, as a test of the tripod and gimbal head, it was a complete success. Well, maybe not a complete success, I did do one thing wrong, I didn’t use the portable hide that I also recently purchased. I didn’t need the hide to get closer to the swans, but to block the light from hitting the LCD display on the back of the camera when I tried live view focusing with the 400 mm lens and 2 X tele-converter.

Mute swans in action at 800 mm and live view focusing

The camera, lens, and extender seemed to do well enough, but I couldn’t see the white swans in the LCD display well enough to keep them in the frame as they moved. The 7D Mk II will not auto-focus while looking through the viewfinder with the 400 mm f/5.6 lens and 2 X tele-converter due to the loss of 2 stops of light because to the tele-converter. However, I can use live view auto-focusing as I did earlier this spring with the golden eagle, or these swans here. It does work, and I think that the results are more consistent than when I try to manually focus while looking through the viewfinder. It is very slow though, better suited to perched birds than action shots.

I did consider shooting some video of the swans, but I would have gotten too much wind noise if I had shot video. Oh well, some other day when I’m closer to the swans and there’s less wind.

So, what does any of this have to do with whether I purchase a spotting scope or not, it’s this. I’d rather be shooting photos than scoping out a flock of birds for one that’s different, or one hiding somewhere that it takes a spotting scope to find it. And, there’s always something to photograph no matter what the weather or other conditions are at the time. The more time that I put into photography, the better my photos are. If I had spent the day scoping out the gulls, I would have missed Junior being fed by its mother, or the green bee on the milkweed. The time that I spend practicing with the gear that I have will pay dividends down the road as well. While the 800 mm of reach that I get with the 400 mm lens and 2 X extender are less than I’d get with a spotting scope, I do pretty well with it, well enough to get birds for the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on.

I had a lot of fun playing with the new gimbal head, learning what it can and can’t do. As far as what it can’t do, there isn’t much, I’m learning that there’s a reason most serious wildlife photographers use a gimbal head. The one that I purchased is a cheaper off-brand than what most professionals use, but I don’t have the super heavy telephoto lenses that they have either. For my mid-weight lenses, the one that I bought works just fine, better than I had hoped. I am glad that I set-up my camera and lens in the store before I purchased it, even a cheap off-brand isn’t that cheap compared to the other types of tripod heads.

Here’s another example of why I’d rather be shooting photos than scoping out birds, I was following a male yellow warbler around as it flitted from branch to branch looking for insects.

Almost a male yellow warbler in flight

While I didn’t get a clear shot of him in flight, I did catch him as he looked for the insect that was trying to hide from him.

Male yellow warbler searching for food

 

Male yellow warbler searching for food

Sometimes the story is more important than image quality, and I think that these three images show you exactly how many warblers go about foraging for food. The insect saw the warbler coming, and was doing its best to hide, but the warbler tracked it down.

By the way, I’ve received an inquiry from some one on the staff of the American Bird Conservancy asking if they can use one of my images of a female dickcissel. Of course I said yes, even though I won’t get paid for it. To have one of my photos posted online by such an organization, which is similar to the Audubon Society, is payment enough.

It’s funny in a way though, the image they asked to use is one of my older ones shot with the 60D and the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) and I have better quality images shot since then, but in the image they asked to use, the dickcissel is holding a grasshopper in her mouth. Here’s the image that they asked to use.

Female dickcissel

Once again, the story trumped image quality.

Still, I prefer to get the best images that I can.

Juvenile tree swallow, classic pose

 

Juvenile tree swallow, fun pose

I love the way that it’s staring into the lens so intently in that second image. I’ve had chickadees fly into the lens hood of my lenses a couple of times. I don’t know if the birds see their reflection in the front element of the lens, or if they think that there may be insects hiding in there. But no matter the reason, some birds seem to take a great interest in the front of my camera lens, which is lucky for me.

Anyway, I promised more macro photos, so I’d better get back to them.

Butterfly weed

 

Bumblebee on butterfly weed

 

Unknown flowering object

I just read something online about how many bees look like flies, and vice versa, so I’m not sure what the insect on top of the flower is. You may have to take a close look, but there’s a beetle with a long snout to the lower left of the image, it looked as if it was using its long snout to feed on nectar. The bee or fly seemed to be gathering pollen, but I could be wrong.

Bee? and beetle on a Black-eyed Susan

 

Bee? on a Black-eyed Susan

Then, a honeybee came along, and the smaller insect and the honeybee took turns chasing one another away.

Honeybee on a Black-eyed Susan

Finally, they struck an uneasy peace and decided to share.

Honeybee and friend on a Black-eyed Susan

I had to find one of the flower buds just beginning to open to find one without an insect on it.

Black-eyed Susan flower bud opening

For being shot outside on a somewhat windy day, those aren’t bad. I just watched another how-to video on macro photography, and once again, most of the images were shot inside using several light sources for each image. I’ve done that before, and it is the best way to get the eye-popping macro images that you see, but I prefer to wonder around outside and shoot what I see when I see it. My images may not be as good, but it’s more fun to me.

One last image for this post before I publish it.

Male Green-winged teal

I thought that both days of the weekend were slow for birding, yet I’ve got more than enough photos left over for another post. I’m spoiled.

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

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How the time does fly

It’s now officially summer already, and I’m seeing evidence that the waterfowl are beginning to molt. That means that I won’t be shooting many photos of them for the next few months, until they return to their breeding plumage or something spectacular happens that’s too good not to photograph. So, I’ll begin the photos in this post with a portrait of a male redhead duck while he’s still looking so dapper.

Male redhead duck

Once again, I blew it, I was using the bird portrait set-up to shoot that, when the duck turned towards me to stretch its wings.

Male redhead duck

 

Male redhead duck

 

Male redhead duck

He gave me ample warning of what he was about to do, but I suffered a momentary brain freeze, forgetting that all I had to do was make a quick turn of the mode dial to switch to settings that would have frozen the movement of his wings. The thought went through my head at the time to switch to the second body that was already set for action shots, but I didn’t have time for that. I would have had time to turn the dial if I had remembered that it was all that it would have taken to get the correct settings. My one excuse is that I had no idea that there was still a pair of redheads around, and that I’d be so close to them.

In fact, my first instinct had been to grab the action set-up first, expecting them to take flight, until I saw that the pair of them were going to pose nicely for me. It was then that I grabbed the portrait set-up.

Redhead ducks

I try to anticipate what’s going to happen in every situation, but most of the time, I guess wrong. The darned birds and other critters seldom cooperate with me. They seem to get some enjoyment out of doing the unexpected. I was lucky in some ways, I had good soft light for the portraits, so I’m very pleased with them. If I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t have the polarizing filter on the lens to cut down on the glare from the water, but as low as the light was, I wasn’t expecting the glare to be so harsh.

Anyway, I have a couple of photos from a few weeks ago that I haven’t posted yet, as they’re not very good.

Whitetail doe, fawn, and a meadowlark and male bobolink

The deer running across the field must have gotten close to the nests of the meadowlark and bobolink, causing them to take flight. They didn’t attack the deer as red-winged blackbirds would have, but waited for the deer to pass, then settled back down into the grass and out of sight. I thought that it was interesting to get them all in the frame at one time though. Here’s a slightly better photo of the doe and her fawn.

Whitetail doe and her fawn

It’s already so late in the season that the fawns are following their mothers around now instead of staying hidden most of the time and waiting for the mother to return so that the fawns can nurse.

I’ve been chasing sparrows around a lot the past few weeks, hoping to find a species of them that I’ve never photographed before. I haven’t had any luck with new species, but here are two species that I haven’t posted photos of lately.

Chipping sparrow

 

Chipping sparrow

 

Vesper sparrow

 

Vesper sparrow

The male chipping sparrows will perch up off the ground to “sing” although their song doesn’t amount to very much. The vesper sparrows never seem to leave the ground, I see them running through the fields at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, but I seldom get this clear of a view of them. It was only because this one was keeping an eye on me that I got those photos. Most of the time it was hugging the ground staying below the level of the top of the vegetation.

Changing gears, how do male squirrels find females that are in heat and ready to mate?

Male Fox squirrel tracking down a female

They follow the scent trail that the females leave behind, just as a dog follows a scent trail. I don’t know if he caught up with the female, I didn’t watch him that long, but his nose never left the trail he was on.

This chipmunk was climbing a tree to reach the berries in the tree.

Eastern chipmunk

I have two versions of motherwort flowers to share, one taken with the sun behind me…

Motherwort

…and one where the sun was on the other side of the flowers, backlighting them.

Motherwort

Those were shot while I was walking more for exercise than for photos, so I didn’t have my macro lens with me for a close-up of an individual flower.

I found a dragonfly that was willing to pose for me while I explored different lighting options, this first one is with the sun behind me.

Dragonfly, traditional lighting

I moved to the side for this one.

Dragonfly, side lighting

And, I went to where the sun was shining through the dragonfly for this last one.

Dragonfly, back lighting

I should have used a little, very little, fill lighting for that last one, but I’m still quite pleased with the results. I love the way that the dragonfly’s body glows from the light passing through it, and it also shows the wings the best of any of these shots. If only I could have brightened up its face a little more.

As long as I can press the shutter button on my camera, I’ll continue to experiment in different ways.

That’s what Michael Melford, the Nat Geo photographer whose videos I’ve watched many times, would call working the scene, just like the motherwort earlier. B&H Camera has many good how-to videos from presenters like Michael Melford, although I don’t always agree with how the other presenters go about getting their photos. For example, one well-known wildlife photographer who has many videos on Youtube through B&H, baits almost all of the subjects to bring them up close, from hummingbirds to large raptors, to the big cats of Africa. That’s cheating as far as I’m concerned.

Recently, I’ve watched a couple of videos through B&H with a new to me presenter, Ron Magill. He’s a zoologist by training, and a bigwig at the Miami, Florida zoo, and as such, many of his photos are of captive animals. But, he tells you straight up which of his images are of captive critters, and which are not. What I love about his presentations are his passion, enthusiasm, and love of nature, which really come through as he gives his talks. Even though he’s sponsored by Nikon, there’s no talk of camera gear to speak of, it’s all about getting the shot, the thrill that comes with it, and the reasons why those of us who love nature photography continue to shoot away.

Great blue heron in flight

He also talks about saving the memories with the photos we shoot, telling the stories of nature, and also photography as a learning tool.

For example, the beaks of most birds are solid and inflexible, however, some shorebirds have flexible beaks.

Semi-palmated sandpiper

You can see in that image that the sandpiper’s bill is curved one way as it preens…

Semi-palmated sandpiper

…and in that image, the bill is back to its normal curve, which is down. Having flexible bills makes it easier for them to probe for food in the mud. I’ve read that before, but I never saw it with my own eyes until I shot the series of photos of the sandpiper that I did.

When I began blogging, my goal was to share the places that I went and the things that I saw that few people get the chance to see in person.

However, even though I was able to photograph some aspects of animal behavior that I wanted to share, my photos weren’t very good, and they did a poor job of conveying that behavior. So, I got caught up in working to improve the quality of my photos so that people can see in them what I see in person. But, I lost track of what my original intent was when I started my blog.

In the beginning, I hoped that people would be able to tell that the subject I was shooting was a bird. As my photos improved, I hoped that people would be able to identify the species from the photo. But, in reading and watching videos about good wildlife photography, I went too far, and tried to make the judges of photo contests happy, even though I had given up on entering any of my images in contests in the first place. That meant that you had to be able to see the critter’s eye(s), and that they were in sharp focus. I went on to always wanting to get the catch light in a critter’s eye, and now, I’m to the point where I don’t think that an image of a bird is a good one unless you can see the bird’s iris in its eye.

Male northern cardinal

That’s fair, but it’s still a little soft because I was quick on the shutter release. This next one is sharper, but by then, the cardinal had turned slightly so that part of its bill is hidden behind the branch.

Male northern cardinal

I suppose that learning that a bird’s eye is much like ours, with an iris, that there’s a color to a bird’s eye, and that their eyes aren’t just a black bulge on their face is something new to most people, it was to me. And, while I’d love every image to be perfect, that’s never going to happen.

If I were willing to take the time to learn Photoshop, I could probably remove the branch from the images above completely, and “construct” the cardinal’s bill by cutting and pasting the tip of the bill from other images. But, I don’t want to sit in front of my computer that long, I’d rather be out shooting more photos instead. Now that I have the equipment and proficiency to get images like those on a regular basis, I was a little lost as to where to go next. It’s not as if my quest for quality had been reached completely, but I can’t foresee any huge leaps in the quality of my images in the future. When you can see the iris in a bird’s eye, and see the individual fibers of its feathers, then that’s doing pretty good.

So, that’s why watching those videos of Ron Magill happened at the right time. As I said, his passion, enthusiasm, and love of nature really comes through in his presentations. He gets so excited that I wondered at times how he ever managed to hold the camera still enough to get the great images that he does. Not only that, but there’s a great deal of humor in his talks as he describes his journey as a nature photographer, and how he gets his images. He’ll keep you laughing, that’s for sure.

Part of the answer is going back to what I was trying to do when I started my blog, telling the stories that I saw in nature. The other direction that I’m going to take is to use the skills that I’ve acquired to create more artistic images.

Newly opened leaves

 

Sulphur cinquefoil

A couple of years ago, I read on another person’s blog that the hardest thing about reading other blogs as a photographer is the urge to critique every one else’s images. That’s not the case with me, as my photos continue to improve, I find it harder all the time to comment on other people’s photos. Part of that is because photography is subjective, like all art forms. Just because some one else has a different style of photography than I do does not mean that they are wrong and that I’m right, or vice versa. That’s what makes photography so great in my opinion, we all see the world differently, and I like seeing how other people view the world around them.

Another reason that I find it harder to comment on the photos shot by others is that not every one wants to spend their last dime on camera gear, or lug it all around with them. That’s okay with me, I understand that some people are content with their images the way that they are, and that I can still appreciate the beauty of the subjects that they shoot, and learn from their photos at the same time.

I still have a lot to learn, both in the way of photography, but especially about the things that I photograph. On the evening that I shot the sulphur cinquefoil image, my plan had been to shoot St. John’s wort flowers, as I had great light, and not a hint of any breeze at all. However, the flowers of St. John’s wort must close in the evening, for I couldn’t find a single open flower on the plants. Yes, it’s that time of year already, when mid-summer flowers are blooming. At least it seems like mid-summer already, as short as our summers are here in Michigan.

I did attempt to shoot the sunset, but the 100-400 mm lens isn’t very good for landscapes…

Sunset in Creekside Park

…and trying to find a pleasing view of the sunset was problematic. You can see a short stretch of the expressway in that photo, at least there were no cars going past at that instant. In the twilight after sunset, I shot these three bunnies enjoying the perfect summer evening.

Cottontail rabbits at sunset

I must be getting lazy, I didn’t even bother to reduce the noise in those images, even though they were shot at ISO 12,800 and could stand some noise reduction. These were shot mostly as a test, since it’s only been a short time since I’ve been shooting at an ISO setting that high when required.

Cottontail rabbits at sunset

No award winners there, but the memories of that evening will stay with me whenever I view those images. It was getting dark, the people had left the park so it was quiet, the temperature was perfect for me, it was just me and the three bunnies sharing a most pleasant evening.

Changing gears, there’s going to be a total eclipse of the sun this August, but to view the total eclipse, I’d have to travel a few hundred miles south of where I live. It will be very close to a total eclipse here, so I’m thinking about purchasing the neutral density filter that’s required to photograph the event. In the grand scheme of what I’ve spent on photography equipment, the ND filter is peanuts, but the question is, do I want to spend that for a one time use when it may even be cloudy here that day? That, and to do it right, I’d have to take the day off from work. It would be nice to catch a once in a lifetime event like that though. I’ll think about it some more.

I’m also thinking of trying more night-time photography, shooting few star trails and the Milky Way. I wouldn’t be able to do those from home because of the amount of light from the City of Grand Rapids, but they’re something that I’m keeping in mind for the future.

Having the psoriasis flare-up and having to spend time in the hospital this spring sure screwed up my plans for this summer. I was hoping to spend less money on camera gear, which has happened, but more on weekend trips to northern Michigan where I could probably end up shooting photos 24 hours a day if I didn’t need sleep. Oh, well, there’ll be other years for that, I hope.

I have 4 long years to work before I can retire and devote myself completely to photography. The more that I shoot, the more that I believe that I could keep myself occupied 24 hours a day. I shot this image of a red-winged blackbird well after the sun had dropped below the horizon and for this one, I did some noise reduction.

Red-winged blackbird

That image would have been impossible for me to get just a couple of years ago, and while it isn’t great, it’s pretty good. It’s the same for these.

White-breasted nuthatch

I don’t know if it was just about sunset when I shot those, but the nuthatch actually stayed in one place looking around long enough for me to get several good photos of it.

White-breasted nuthatch

I have two more images from last night, shot before the sun began to set.

Day lily

 

Male American goldfinch

It’s now Saturday morning, and I’m going to eat breakfast and then go out and see what I can find to photograph today.

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


Telling the story well

My last post was another of my boring ones on camera gear and my efforts to improve my ability to use what I already have to get better images. In this post, I hope to better explain why it’s so important to me to improve my images.

Nature is full of stories, whether it’s a simple, but beautiful one, of a small bird singing its heart out trying to attract a mate…

Male dickcissel singing

…or a more complicated one of how birds fly.

Green heron in flight

I want to improve my skills as a photographer to better tell the stories that nature presents us if we take the time to observe those stories.

Added to that is my curiosity of how animals learn how to live. By that, I mean such things as how do birds learn where and how to build their nests. Most species of birds build their own distinctive style and size of nest, and how do the young know how to do that when they’ve never seen an adult build a nest? Do they learn by growing up in a nest, seeing how it is built? Or, is building a nest “hardwired” in their brain at birth so that they know what to do when the time comes?

That story is a little problematic for me to tell, as I seldom sit near a nest as it’s being built, nor do I sit and watch the adult birds feeding their young.

In the past, when I’ve seen a bird building a nest out in the open where I can see it easily, I’ve shot a few photos, then moved on to prevent disturbing the bird building the nest. It’s usually the same when I happen upon a nest that has young birds in it, I may shoot a photo or two, then move on so that I don’t disturb the adults.

Adult blue jay feeding its young

As you can see, the blue jay had built its nest in a thick tangle of branches and was well hidden from view. The dense branches surrounding the nest also makes it harder for a larger raptor to find and raid the nest.

The way that I found the nest was by watching the adult, hoping for a clear photo of it. The adult took a circuitous route to the nest, pausing often to look around in a way that made me think that it was foraging for food, not on its way to a nest. After watching the entire event play out, I now know that the blue jay was being careful not to let any potential predators know where its nest and young were hidden.

Blue jays are members of the corvid family of birds, the most intelligent birds that there is. Apparently, their intelligence extends to where they build their nests, and how they come and go as they feed their young.

On the other hand, there are the American robins. I’ve posted photos of them building their nests right out in the open, shown photos of them feeding their young in those nests, and even posted a series of photos last year that showed a hawk taking one of the young robins from such a nest.

It’s easy to find a robin’s nest, find an adult collecting food…

American robin collecting food for its young

….follow it as it moves around…

American robin collecting food for its young

…and eventually, the robin will go straight to its nest.

Unfortunately, many predators have figured that out, and find that young robins are a good meal for themselves or their young.

Red-tailed hawk taking a young robin back to its nest

Corvids, being as intelligent as they are, have also learned to watch adult birds bring food to their young also.

American crow carrying off a baby bird

In some ways, crows are even better predators of young birds, although they may not take as many as raptors do in total. On the day that I shot the last photo, a pair of crows were acting as a team. One crow was distracting the other species of birds in the area by circling low to draw the attention of the other birds…

American crow in flight

 

American crow being attacked by a Baltimore oriole

…while the crow in the first photo in this series raided one of the other bird’s nest.

Even blown up on my computer, I can’t identify the species of young bird that the crow is carrying away, but I don’t think that it was a Baltimore oriole. There were several other species of birds attacking the crow, including a red-winged blackbird and an eastern kingbird. I chose to use the image of the adult Baltimore oriole chasing the crow as I’ve never captured that in the past, and as a way of showing that many species will defend their young against much larger predators. And, not all the species of birds present at this spot attempted to chase off the crow,  although they probably would have if it had gotten very close to its young.

That’s one of the darker stories that nature has for us if we take the time to observe what’s happening around us. Here’s a much more pleasing story, although I missed the best part.

I was shooting a few portraits of a cedar waxwing…

Cedar waxwing

…because it’s been a while since I’ve posted any photos of them.

Cedar waxwing

A second waxwing landed in the same bush, and it looked to me as if it had food in its bill. Cedar waxwings are social birds that often share food with others in the flock, especially males that are wooing a female. The waxwing that I was photographing moved right next to the one that had just arrived that had the food, but there was a branch full of leaves blowing right in front of the pair as they sat there perched.

If the second waxwing did share its food with the first one, I missed it while moving to a spot where I had a clear view of them.

Cedar waxwings

I hope that I have better luck the next time.

In a way, the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on is a story as well. It’s the story of the diversity of birds that can be seen in Michigan, or most parts of the world for that matter. With that is the behaviors of each species, although I could do a better job at that.

When I first began trying to identify shorebirds, the easiest one for me to ID was the spotted sandpiper, so for a while, I posted quite a few images of them. I’ve since gotten better at identifying the other shorebirds, but I still remember how many photos of the spotted sandpipers that I posted, so I haven’t included any photos of them for a while.

Spotted sandpiper

It’s easy to see how they came by their name, the spots on their bellies. By the way, I had inserted a different photo of a spotted sandpiper here, but then I went out and shot this one, which is much better.

On the other end of the spectrum as far as the number of images of a species of bird that I’ve posted is this one, the red-necked phalarope.

Red-necked phalarope, probably female

These are long distance migrants that only stop in Michigan on their way to their breeding grounds in the Arctic. The females are typically more colorful than the males, which is unusual in the bird world, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever posted photos of this species in its breeding plumage before.

Red-necked phalarope, probably female

Those two species remind me to say a few words about their preferred habitat, and by extension, how to make identifying all birds, but especially shorebirds, a little easier.

You can see that the spotted sandpiper was walking along the rocks along the shore, that’s their preferred habitat, rocky areas from what I’ve seen. They seldom venture out into the water, but instead, they walk around the rocks looking for insects there.

On the other hand, the phalaropes prefer shallow ponds with smooth bottoms, i.e. gravel or sand, and they are typically the shorebirds out in the deepest water when compared to the other species of shorebirds. They will even feed while swimming, although they seem to prefer to wade if they can.

So, when I went looking for the red-necked phalarope after others had reported seeing it, finding it was relatively easy for me now, even though there were hundreds of other shorebirds very close by at the time. The phalarope was the one in the deepest water, while all the others were wading closer to shore. A quick look through the viewfinder of my camera confirmed that it was indeed the phalarope, so I began shooting.

It’s also because of each species of bird’s preferred habitat that makes it easier to photograph some species well, such as the spotted sandpiper, while others, like the phalarope are more difficult to get good images of. The spotted sandpipers stick to land, meaning that I can get closer to them, while the phalaropes are the farthest from shore, so I can’t get as close to them.

Here’s another species of bird that it’s rare to get such a good look at.

Eastern towhee

Towhees are a species of large sparrow. As such, they spend most of their time on the ground in thick brush where they are difficult to see. This spring, I’ve been lucky enough to catch two of the males out in the open singing to attract a mate. When they’re down on the ground foraging through the leaf litter in search of food, they are almost impossible to see.

Here’s another story for you, small birds can often find cover from the rain, but most larger birds can’t. Here’s a miserable looking turkey vulture doing what it can to stay dry during a downpour.

Turkey vulture in the rain

I don’t know why they held their wings out as the rain fell on them, but many of them, although not all, did hold their wings open.

Turkey vultures in the rain

But it didn’t matter if they held their wings open or closed, they were some of the saddest looking birds that I’ve ever seen. After the rain let up, all the vultures opened their wings to dry off.

Turkey vulture drying its wings

On the other end of the emotional scale, tell me that this guy doesn’t look happy and even a bit proud of his catch.

Belted kingfisher with its catch

 

Belted kingfisher with its catch

At first, I couldn’t think of a reason for this kingfisher to be where it was, since there was no water nearby. Then it dawned on me, it was on its way back to the burrow where its nest was, and the kingfisher was pausing to look around to see that no predators were watching it before it flew into the burrow to feed its young.

I’ve gone on at length about how I’m working to improve my photos, working towards having great images to tell the story of what I saw happen. In a way, that’s a two-edged sword. I’ve not posted some photos of interesting happenings that I’ve seen because the image quality was so poor. I’ve forgotten that there are times when the story is more important than the quality of the images that I post here, especially since I’ve already surpassed the quality threshold of how my images will appear in my blog. Let me show you what I mean with these two sets of images.

I came upon a family of sandhill cranes at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, and of course, the red-winged blackbirds were making the crane’s lives miserable.

Female red-winged blackbird attacking sandhill cranes

You can see that the crane in front has ducked to avoid the blackbird, which is something that I wanted to capture. That image was shot with the 100-400 mm lens with a 1.4 X tele-converter behind it, and cropped slightly, because of how far away the cranes were. I was also using my bird portrait settings, so my shutter speed was relatively low, and the camera is set to tick off 4 frames per second maximum, which is as fast as I can get for the best quality images. In reality, it seldom manages the 4 frames per second due to the slow shutter speeds.

Anyway, the second crane didn’t duck, and the blackbird slapped it in the face with its wing as it flew past. I missed that shooting at the slow frame rate I was using, but I did capture this as the next frame.

Female red-winged blackbird attacking sandhill cranes

You can see that the blackbird is already landing in the weeds, but the best part of that image is the look on the second crane’s face. Unfortunately, you can’t really see the look on the crane’s face the way that the image is presented here. So, I thought about that overnight, and I decided the absolute image quality wasn’t as important as the story and the look on the crane’s face. I went back into Lightroom and created a virtual copy of both images, then cropped the copies severely, even though I knew that the images would suffer as far as sharpness.

Female red-winged blackbird attacking sandhill cranes

Of course I couldn’t create the missed image of the blackbird slapping the crane in the face, but you can now see the look of innocent terror on the crane’s face, as if it were asking what just happened, and why me?

Female red-winged blackbird attacking sandhill cranes

Yes, action happens fast in the wild, too fast for me to always be able to capture the precise moment that it happens.

Anyway, that little exercise has taught me a great deal, that for my blog, cropping an image that much works fine, even though I’d never print the cropped images. I wouldn’t have to, blown up on my computer or if I printed the images to a large size, I don’t need to crop the images for people to see what I want them to see, but in the small size that images appear in my blog, then I should make virtual copies and crop the copies much more than the originals. In the future, I’ll skip the normal size images, and only post the severely cropped images in an instance such as this one. I should have thought about this before.

But, it’s only because the quality of the images that I copied and cropped so severely was so good to begin with that I was able get away with cropping as much as I did. The severely cropped images look as good or better than my best older images from a few years ago. So, all the work that I’ve put into learning photography is paying dividends now.

Anyway, if you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I use gulls as practice subjects for birds in flight because they’re so common, and easy to photograph well. I still practice on gulls to stay sharp, the problem is that there are times when I get an image so good that I just have to share it, despite how my images of gulls in flight that I’ve posted here.

Ring-billed gull in flight

If only I could get lighting like that when I’m trying to shoot these guys.

Cliff swallow in flight

There’s too much noise in these images for them to be considered good ones, but as quick as the swallows are, almost any image of them in flight is a keeper.

Cliff swallow in flight

I was surprised that the 7D Mk II with the 400 mm prime lens could keep up with one flying directly at me in the low-light at the time.

Cliff swallow in flight

 

Cliff swallow in flight

It seems like whenever all the other conditions are good for me to try photographing the swallows in flight, the light is poor. On this morning, there was an insect hatch taking place close to shore, which brought in a large number of the swallows. Believe me, trying to photograph one or even a few swallows close to me is a tough proposition, I need many of them in the area to get one or two good shots of them. For the few images that I did get, I shot quite a few more with the swallow out of focus, or even out of the frame as they darted about picking off the insects.

There were 20 to 25 swallows there at the time, flying in a circular pattern of sorts, and for once, the wind was right for me to try to shoot the swallows. They would fly at full speed very close to shore for a ways picking off the bugs as they hatched. Then, they would turn out over the water farther as they turned around to get back to where they had started. I would try to get a focus lock on them as they came back to where they started down the shoreline, and attempt to keep them in the viewfinder as they came towards me, then turned to go along the shore. I only sat there for about half an hour, but my arms were growing weary from trying to track the swallows as quick as they are. But, I learned that my equipment is up to the task, now all I need is better light and stronger arms. 🙂

I have one more short story consisting of four images to share before I end this post. Another thing that I’ve been doing lately is shooting a lot of images of any subject that will pose nicely for me. I used to stop when I thought that I had a good image, to try to find another subject to shoot. Now, I’ll keep shooting until I grow tired of it, or the subject takes off. The first image is of this whitetail doe.

Whitetail doe

I shot about twenty images of her before I got that one with both of her ears turned towards me as she listened to the shutter clicking away and no shadows in her ears or on her face. This may be my best ever portrait of a doe, as you can really see her beautiful long eyelashes, although if she would have turned her head slightly, the eyelashes would have shown up even more.

The other example of shooting a lot of images of the same subject is this grasshopper sparrow. This first image shows it shaking itself like a dog.

Grasshopper sparrow

I think that it shook itself so much that it became a little dizzy from its expression and body language in this image.

Grasshopper sparrow

After a few moments, it went back to singing again, and I was able to get this shot.

Grasshopper sparrow

It may be just a grasshopper sparrow, but I think that they are pretty birds in their own way, and I hope that it shows in the images of it that I’ve posted here.

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


In search of perfection

Of course one can not attain perfection, one can only come close. Still, that doesn’t stop me from trying, because when I do, I get the best images that I can under the circumstances at the time.

But, I’m learning that it isn’t just the photographer that can’t reach perfection, neither can the manufacturers of cameras and lenses. As good as the camera gear that I have now is, each item is lacking in one way or another.

Take the Canon 100-400 mm L series lens that I recently purchased. Its auto-focus is much faster than any of the other long Canon lenses that I own. However, when I’m chasing small birds in low light as they are when they’re in their normal habitat…

Male yellow warbler

…I believe that the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) is even better as far as auto-focus. However, that lens can’t match the image quality of the Canon lens in those situations. I love the soft light in that image, along with the pose that the warbler struck.  But, something that I can’t control is the fact that this individual doesn’t have the pronounced red streaks on its chest as most males of this species have. So my pursuit of perfection is dependent on the individual birds that I find to photograph as well as my skills as a photographer.

I can’t use the Canon 400 mm L lens in those situations, its minimum focus distance is just over 11 feet, meaning that I wouldn’t be able to get as close to small birds as I do at times, like this one. Since I know that, I have’t tried using that lens to chase small birds where they live.

The Canon 300 mm L lens was great for close-ups, but its performance tailed off as the distance to the subject that I was shooting increased.  I could go back in my archives and find numerous images shot with the 300 mm lens that are close to macro shots because that lens was at its best the closer I was to the subject. However, I could also go back in my archives and find even more images where the 300 mm lens was softer than it should be when the subjects were farther away from me.

Theoretically, the 100-400 mm lens is supposed to be just as good up close, its minimum focusing distance is just a hair closer than the 300 mm lens is. However, in practice so far, I’m having trouble getting super sharp images from that lens down near its minimum focusing distance. There have been exceptions to that though.

Iris and pollinators

 

Eastern swallowtail butterfly

 

Eastern swallowtail butterfly

Still, I believe that the 300 mm lens was even sharper up close than those images shot with the 100-400 mm lens are. I’ve spent very little time with the 100-400 mm lens shooting at very short distances, so maybe it’s me and not the lens that’s responsible for the poor performance so far. Every bit of camera gear comes with a learning curve, since the 100-400 mm lens can produce images as good as the butterfly, I may have to practice with that lens more at very close range to get the best out of it.

Those images bring up a weakness in the Canon 7D Mk II camera that I use most of the time as well. Being a crop sensor camera, its low light performance and dynamic range aren’t as good as a full-frame camera’s would be. I pushed the adjustments in Lightroom quite a bit to bring those images of the butterfly into something worth posting.

It’s the same with this one.

Male mallard

You should see the detail in the image above viewed full screen in its full resolution, you can see each individual feather on the mallard’s neck!

That brings up something else that I have to say, and I hope that it doesn’t sound as if I’m bragging, not too much anyway. When I get things right with one of my best lenses, the image has to be viewed as large as I can blow it up on my computer, or print it out very large if I have it printed, to truly see the level of detail that there is in my best images these days. When viewed as the images are presented here, you can not see the fine detail like the individual fibers that make up the mallard’s feathers, or individual scales in the butterfly’s wings as you can when I blow them up on my computer, or have them printed at 11 X 14 or 14 X 20. So, I am making progress, even if I have already reached the limits of the quality that you can see in the images in my blog.

Anyway, what good is dramatic lighting if camera that I’m using can’t capture it as well as it should? Both the butterfly and the mallard images could still use some dodging and burning, but I’d rather not spend all my time editing images on the computer. I’d like some time to be outside shooting more photos. I could post an unedited photo of both the butterfly and mallard to show you how much I had to work on them in Lightroom to make them as good as they are, but I won’t. I’ll only say that I’d still like a full-frame camera one of these days for its better low-light performance, and higher dynamic range. You may not notice it, but I’ve lost some of the detail in the feathers of the white ring around the mallard’s neck because it was blown out too much for Lightroom to recover. I still had to push the shadows more than I would have liked to get the greens and blues of the mallard’s head right the way that I saw it when shooting that image. Because the ISO setting was low to begin with when I shot those, I didn’t get much noise by boosting the shadow detail as much as I did.

Maybe I’m getting too picky as I try for the best images possible. I didn’t use to worry as much about noise in the shadow areas of an image or if a few highlight areas were blown out as long as the overall image looked good. I suppose that it’s because the overall quality of the images I shoot continues to improve, that I’m bothered by those things now when it wasn’t that way before.

I have learned to get good images of birds in flight with the 100-400 mm lens.

Red-winged blackbird chasing a red-tailed hawk carrying a young robin

 

Red-winged blackbird chasing a red-tailed hawk carrying a young robin

However, the 400 mm prime lens is still easier and a better choice to use for flying birds, especially in poor lighting.

Male wood duck in flight

Now, if I can get a wood duck to repeat the same flight path someday when the light is better, I’ll really have a great shot that shows all of the duck’s colors!

Anyway, if it were a perfect world, camera manufacturers would develop a sensor that recorded light exactly as our eyes see it. That’s not likely to happen, as it isn’t only our eyes that see light. Our brains adjust what we see, much like we can adjust images with the various types of software on the market these days.

And if it were a perfect world, lens manufacturers would produce lenses that produced exceptional results through the lens’ entire range of focus and aperture. Maybe some one does, but not in the price range that I can afford.

If it were a nearly perfect world, I’d be able to carry all of my camera gear with me, and the correct lens would magically be mounted to the camera for the next opportunity that I have to shoot a photo. But, that isn’t possible either, the weight is prohibitive.

Shooting photos at the Muskegon County wastewater facility tends to spoil me. Most of the time I’m in my vehicle, with the two 7D bodies, one with the 400 mm prime lens on it, the other with the 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X tele-converter on it. When I see a stationary bird…

Male ruddy duck

…I grab the second set-up for a portrait like that one.

For birds in flight…

Green-winged teal landing

 

Green-winged teal landing

 

Green-winged teal landing

…I grab the camera with the 400 mm prime lens on it. Those aren’t great, but at least you can see why green-winged teal are named what they are. These next two are better examples of what that set-up can do.

Male mallard landing

 

Male mallard landing

I’d love to be able to carry both of those set-ups with me all the time, but they’re too heavy and cumbersome for longer walks, so I normally bring just the 100-400 mm lens with me.

As I’m walking more for health reasons than for photography these days, I’m faced with the question of what do I bring, and what do I leave behind. It almost always works out the same, what I leave behind is what I need for what I see on any given day. If I bring my macro lens expecting to shoot insects or flowers, then I don’t see any insects, or the wind kicks up so much that trying to photograph flowers is more frustrating that I have patience for.

If I bring my wide-angle lens expecting to shoot a few landscapes, then good opportunities never present themselves, but then there are insects all around me, and no breeze at all, so flower photography would have been easier.

I think that the plan that I came up with a while back is the right choice for me to make.

As I use the newer 100-400 mm lens more, I’m getting much better results with it, both as a near macro lens…

Ox-eye daisy?

 

Bird’s foot trefoil

 

Six spotted tiger beetle

..and for birds in flight, as the red-winged blackbird and hawk photos from earlier show.

Of course it’s great on birds that are perched.

Grey catbird singing

Even in low-light situations.

Grey catbird singing

Eventually, I’ll purchase a full-frame sensor camera and Canon’s 24-105 mm lenses. Along with the 7D and the 100-400 mm lens, that will cover everything from most landscapes, near macros, birds in flight, as well as bird portraits. I can easily carry that, along with just two accessories, the 1.4 X tele-converter, and the set of extension tubes that I have. The tele-converter extends the 100-400 mm lens to 560 mm for longer shots, and the extension tubes will convert the 24-105 mm lens to a macro lens of sorts. Along with the close focusing ability of the 100-400 mm lens, I should be set for almost anything, and all of that will weigh much less than half of what I tried to carry with me in the past.

That will mean that I’ll have to do some swapping of lenses and accessories, but the weight reduction for longer walks will be worth it.

Now then, I’ve received the bill for my stay in the hospital, and the bad news is that the health insurance that I have through work covered very little of it. The good news is the hospital doesn’t seem to be in any hurry for me to pay the entire bill as quickly as possible. I’ve talked to one of their financial representatives, and I have two years to pay the bill interest free. If I went longer than two years, they would charge interest, but paying it off in two years is something that I can do fairly easily. I’ve already made a lump sum payment of almost 1/5 of the total bill, and my monthly payments for the next two years will be easy for me to make, it will be less than what I was spending on camera gear.

Finally knowing how much the hospital bill is and what terms they offer has been a huge load off from my mind. I knew that the insurance I have through work isn’t very good, so that my portion of the bill would be large. The insurance company paid about $250 dollars of my hospital stay, with me picking up all the rest. That makes me wonder why I “contribute” towards the insurance at all, but enough of that for now.

That will put an end to any purchases of camera gear, except for a few relatively inexpensive things that I have on my want list. That’s okay for now, I can work on improving my skills with what I already own as I pay off the hospital bill. Once that bill is paid, I can begin saving for a full-frame camera and the 24-105 mm lens.

Another weekend has come and is almost gone, and I should begin another post with the images that I’ve shot the past two days in an effort to keep my posts shorter. However, that’s not going to be the case.

I still need to improve my action photography, but I feel as if I’m making progress in the right direction.

Red-winged blackbird and common grackle exchanging words in flight

Those two were on the wrong side of me as far as the position of the sun, but at least you can identify the species of both birds. The grackle by its pale eye, and the red-winged blackbird by its red shoulder patches.

I was lucky in one way, the two of them hovered there squawking at one another long enough for me to switch to the saved settings for birds in flight, and get a good focus lock on them with the 100-400 mm lens.

Red-winged blackbird and common grackle fighting in mid-air

Grackles are not shy, retiring birds at all, and they are a bit larger than the red-winged blackbirds, so it surprised me that the red-winged blackbird…

Red-winged blackbird chasing off a common grackle

…was able to drive the grackle away.

Red-winged blackbird chasing off a common grackle

Maybe it’s because the red-winged blackbirds are fearless, and will take on birds much larger than themselves.

Red-winged blackbirds attacking a sandhill crane

 

Red-winged blackbirds attacking a sandhill crane

Those were shot early in the morning at Muskegon, and I was going for portraits of the cranes, so I had the 1.4 X tele-converter behind the 100-400 mm lens. But, the red-winged blackbirds chasing the cranes put an end to any thoughts of a good portrait shot. In the low-light at the time, my shutter speed was too low to freeze all the movement going on…

Red-winged blackbirds attacking a sandhill crane

 

Red-winged blackbirds attacking a sandhill crane

 

Red-winged blackbirds attacking a sandhill crane

Finally, I got the shots that I was hoping for…

Red-winged blackbird attacking a sandhill crane

…with the one crane asking the other, “Does this bird make my butt look big.”…

Red-winged blackbird attacking a sandhill crane

…and the second crane replying, “Only when it spreads its wings out.”…

Red-winged blackbird attacking a sandhill crane

…until the cranes moved into taller vegetation and the blackbirds gave up the chase.

I think that this is a good place to end this post. I have some other action shots to share, but I can use them in another post which explains why I’m working so hard to improve my photography skills. I’ll end this post with one more close-up shot this weekend with the 100-400 mm lens.

Skipper butterfly

I shot quite a few photos at close range this past weekend, and I am getting better results with that lens in those situations. I think that I may have to calibrate the focus of that lens to the 7D body though, as part of the problem I was having seems to be that the lens focuses slightly behind the subject at close range. But, I’ll work with it a bit longer before I do that, as I’d hate to spoil how well it works at longer distances.

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


I don’t get it

Okay, I’ve had my very first full physical examination by a doctor, and he said that I was in good shape for some one my age. The results of the lab tests came back, and they said the same thing. For example, while my “good” cholesterol was a little low, and my “bad” cholesterol is towards the high-end of what’s considered healthy, my overall cholesterol was 40 points below the upper limit. None of this is helping me understand what caused the severe psoriasis flare-up I experienced this spring, or the less severe one that I had last spring. All the other lab results from the blood work say the same thing, overall, I’m in good shape.

While I’m very thankful for my overall good health, in a way, it would be nice if something were slightly out of whack that could be a reason for these flare-ups. Other than being a bit overweight, and not getting enough exercise over the winter months, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for the flare-ups. I suppose that it will remain a mystery.

There’s another thing about my having psoriasis that affects where and when I go out into the woods, insect repellent has a negative effect on my psoriasis. So, I have several choices, go out and be sucked dry of blood by the skeeters, apply insect repellent and deal with it making my psoriasis worse, or find places to go where I don’t need to apply the insect repellent. I have also purchased a mosquito net to go over my head, which will help, but it won’t keep the little bloodsuckers off from the rest of me.

Luckily, the park near home where I used to walk each day is relatively free of mosquitoes. I’ve seen a few there, but most days I can walk the entire three miles and never have to swat any skeeters. The same is true of the Muskegon County wastewater facility for the most part. The skeeters there are limited to the early morning hour around sunrise, and then only near the artificial marshes nearest to the wooded areas of the facility. The skeeters can be quite bad around the woodlot areas, but I can shoot the same species of birds that I would find there at home or in other places. For the most part though, the wastewater facility is mosquito free.

That could be because of the huge numbers of insect-eating birds that make the wastewater facility their home.

Eastern kingbird in flight

In the past, I’ve shown photos here of the huge flocks of swallows that form at the wastewater facility in the fall, but swallows are present in great numbers from early spring until they migrate south in the fall. One of the swallows would have been a better example of one of the insect-eating species of birds to use here, but I wasn’t able to get a good photo of any of them this past weekend. I did catch the eastern kingbird in the photo above looking for its next meal though.

Eastern kingbird in flight

 

Eastern kingbird in flight

I don’t think that it found what it was after, as I didn’t see anything in its beak as it flew off.

Eastern kingbird in flight

However, later in the day, I did catch one right after it had found something to eat.

Eastern kingbird with lunch

I have a number of images of a pair of kingbirds landing after they had made short flights in search of meals. Each time, they  return to the same general area of the fence that you can see in the image above. I spent some time watching and photographing the pair of them, more cooperative subjects than they were are hard to find. However, I’ll save those images for later, maybe.

There are other things around the wastewater facility that eat insects as well…

Jumping spider

 

Jumping spider

If it matters to any one, those were shot with the 100 mm macro lens on one of the 60D bodies that I have. I was going to test that lens on the 7D Mk II, but by the time I swapped lenses, the spider was gone, so it was a good thing that I “settled” for the 60D at first.

I say that I “settled” for using the 60D because it may be a fine camera, it can’t do what I can do with the 7D Mk II when it comes to birds in flight. This next series is a great example of what the 7D Mk II, the correct camera settings, and right lens can do.

Ring-billed gull diving for food

It may be only a gull, and not a tern or kingfisher…

Ring-billed gull diving for food

But being able to capture this series…

Ring-billed gull diving for food

…made me a happy camper at the time.

Ring-billed gull diving for food

 

Ring-billed gull diving for food

I’ll admit that it took me a few attempts to capture that entire sequence of one gull from when it was hovering over the pond to splashdown. I had to learn to judge from the gull’s body language when it was going to begin its dive, and learn how fast they were while in the dive so I could keep them centered in the frame as they plunged into the water.

I’m still a very happy camper for being able to get the middle shot of the gull just before its beak hit the water. However, even at 10 frames per second, the gull is nearly totally submerged in the next shot, that’s how fast they dove after whatever they were feeding on. Like a dummy, I never did hold the shutter release down to continue shooting as the gulls emerged from the water so that I may have been able to see what they were eating. I was too worried about keeping the buffer in the camera ready for the next dive.

Anyway, I can see that I’m going to have even more trouble in the future keeping my posts shorter as far as images. Being able to capture a series of photos as events such as the gull diving or the kingbird searching the weeds for food means more photos worth considering for inclusion here. Then there are the older reasons my posts tend to be long still in play. For example, I was trying for a good shot of this song sparrow so that I could make a positive ID as to what species it was.

Song sparrow

It isn’t a very good photo, but I’m including it because it’s part of the story. As I was trying for the sparrow, I saw something else lurking in the weeds just off to the left of the sparrow, I thought that it was a rabbit. It wasn’t, it was a fox, and very close to me. However, I didn’t know that until the fox lost its nerve and took off running.

Red fox bounding away

Because I was using the camera set-up for a portrait of the sparrow, the shutter speed was too low for a good photo of the fox. I did manage one more poor image of the fox as it ran away from me. I should have paid more attention when I saw what turned out to be the fox hiding in the weeds in the first place, but I was focused on the sparrow at the time.

Red fox bounding away

Having one camera set-up for action shots, and the other set-up for portrait shots works very well most of the time. I’m getting better at grabbing the correct set-up when an opportunity presents itself as you may be able to tell from most of my recent photos.

Sometimes though, I grab the wrong set-up on purpose, here’s an example of that.

Green heron

That was shot with the bird in flight set-up, even though the heron was perched. The reason for that is because I was shooting towards the sun with the background being white clouds. I have the set-up for birds in flight ready for that when it happens, with +2 stops of exposure compensation included so that whatever I’m shooting isn’t just a silhouette against the clouds.

Since the heron stuck around longer than I expected, I was able to switch over to the other set-up, which includes the 1.4 X tele-converter behind the 100-400 mm lens, and adjust the exposure compensation, so I was able to get a little closer to the heron.

Green heron

However, the heron wouldn’t raise its crown again, so I prefer the first image. Having the right set-up dialed into the camera ahead of time makes life so much easier. I’m to the point where I have the newer 7D body set-up almost exactly how I want it, but it’s such a sophisticated camera that it may be a while before I’m completely finished. Some of the things that you can set on the 7D aren’t in the manual, I learned those setting by watching the many online videos there are about getting it set-up. However, I don’t remember which videos held which tips, and I don’t have time to search for and watch all of those videos again. The one setting that bugs me the most is the one having to do with being able to move or select groups of focus points without pushing any extra buttons. On the first 7D body I purchased, I was able to set-up the focus point selection so all I have to do is move the joystick to move the focus point(s) or to select how many I use. I still have to push a separate button first on the second body to do the same thing. It wouldn’t be that big of deal, but I have to remember that quickly as I’m trying to get a shot where changing the focus point(s) is a consideration.

Still, having two camera bodies each with a long lens on it comes in extremely handy, to me it was worth the cost. During the same time frame as I shot the green heron, a pair of sandhill cranes came flying past me.

Sandhill cranes in flight

I continued shooting as they came closer, here’s the best of the images that I shot at their closest approach to me.

Sandhill crane in flight

I use the 400 mm f/5.6 lens as my bird in flight lens, because it doesn’t have image stabilization, and with the high shutter speeds needed for birds in flight…

Red-winged blackbird in flight

 

Northern shoveler in flight

 

Semi-palmated sandpiper in flight

…image stabilization isn’t needed.

When I’m shooting bird portraits, I use the 100-400 mm lens with the 1.4 X tele-converter behind it to get to 560 mm and closer to the birds.

Great blue heron

 

Eastern towhee

 

Eastern towhee

 

Semi-palmated sandpiper

 

Male northern cardinal

That set-up works well enough, although like any one else that does wildlife photography, I’d love to have an even longer lens for times like this.

Juvenile bald eagle

The eagle was out in a field with a kill that it had made, and I had to crop that image too much for it to be a good one. I think that the eagle had gotten a rabbit…

Juvenile bald eagle with a kill

…but I couldn’t tell for sure as far away from me as the eagle was. There was also a turkey vulture nearby, waiting for the eagle to finish eating before it started cleaning up the leftovers that the eagle didn’t finish, but it was too far from the eagle for a photo that showed them together.

I was in the process of setting up my tripod with the gimbal head on it so that I could switch to the 2 X tele-converter to get closer to the eagle, but that was more than the eagle could stand. It took its lunch somewhere else to finish. However, while I was getting set-up, a pair of male bobolinks got into a territorial tussle, and I was able to shoot this photo of one of them.

Male bobolink

Well, this post is getting too long already, but I have to share these two photos.

Male eastern box turtle

I know that the turtle is a male because of its red eyes.

Male eastern box turtle

And, one last photo to remind myself to better anticipate what’s going to happen next.

Whitetail doe

I saw her standing, and shot a few photos of her then. However, then I sat there watching her with the camera settings the same, even though I should have known what was going to happen. She hoisted her tail and pranced off in the dainty way that deer have when they’re not frightened too badly, so my shutter speed was too low to freeze her motion as well I as should have gotten. I did catch her with all four feet off from the ground, but that photo would have been much better if I had done what I should have.

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