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

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!

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19 responses

  1. You have very lovely photos IMO 😊
    My blog centers on what flowers are blooming a particular day. I don’t promote myself as a photographer. As long as I feel my photo represented the subject I’m writing about enough, I’m happy.
    Yes, I have read comments in other’s posts regarding their photos were blurry or light was from wrong angle. A troll even commented on a friend’s blog that she shouldn’t post such bad photos! She took it too hard and stopped blogging 😯
    Thank you for all the pretty pictures, I enjoyed them!

    June 24, 2017 at 8:30 am

    • Thank you very much! Not every one is a photography, nor do they want to be. As long as an image conveys how pretty a flower is, then that’s good enough. I tend to go overboard though.

      June 24, 2017 at 9:20 pm

  2. Jerry, these photos are such a treat to view, and the tidbits of information you share are so appropriate. It’s not easy to pick a favorite, but I like that last picture of the dragonfly which is just perfect in every sense.

    June 24, 2017 at 8:37 am

    • Thank you very much Hien! I’dray “Just another day at the office for me”, but if I were to ever really feel that way, I’d probably give up photography.

      June 24, 2017 at 9:22 pm

  3. SunFreeStar

    Thank you again for another great gift with such beautiful photos. The way you describe them makes us feel as we are there with you!!

    June 24, 2017 at 9:56 am

    • Thank you very much!

      June 24, 2017 at 9:24 pm

  4. You take such wonderful photographs, I scroll through your blog really slowly so as not to miss anything. I liked the white-breasted nuthatch the best.

    June 24, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    • Thank you very much Susan! I was lucky, the nuthatch stayed in one spot for much longer than they typically do, allow me to get several photos of it.

      June 24, 2017 at 9:26 pm

  5. I am with my sister in that I enjoyed the nuthatch most among your usual feast of good things. I enjoyed sharing your thoughts on your photography too.

    June 24, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! Now that I’m able to shoot consistently good photos, I hope that I’m better able to convey my love for all things nature from now on.

      June 24, 2017 at 9:28 pm

  6. I think your dragonfly is a widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa.) The reason I think that is because I just had to identify one in a shot of my own, but yours are better.
    I like the doe and fawn and the ground nesting birds. I’m surprised they don’t get trampled sometimes.
    It could be the lighting but I’m not sure that’s a sulfur cinquefoil. It’s petals are usually a pale butter yellow with a dab of bright yellow near the center. It could be that the bright sunlight has turned two colors into one or it could be my colorblindness, but you can see an example on my latest post to know for sure.
    I love that shot of the motherwort when the sun was behind you. It’s perfect, well worthy of any plant guide I’ve ever read. In fact I’m going to have to try to copy it when I find a motherwort. It sounds easy, but I know better.

    June 24, 2017 at 5:34 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! I’m sure that you’re correct about the dragonfly, I’ve seen them identified in other’s blogs.

      I’m not so sure about the sulphur cinquefoil, you know how bad at IDing plants I am. I’ve been saving your past few posts to refer to hoping that I could ID flowers from them, but I’m not having any luck at all.

      I really like the motherwort flowers in both photos, too bad that the individual flowers don’t stand out in either though.

      June 24, 2017 at 10:59 pm

  7. A beautiful collection of photos, Jerry, and thank you for including the cardinal. The male red-headed duck was a great subject too. He looks like he s smiling and showing off for the camera.

    The eclipse is going right over my area. There will be a lot of tourist traffic though here then.

    June 26, 2017 at 11:21 am

    • Thank you very much Lavinia! I’ve heard that motels and other accommodations are already booked up under most of the path of the eclipse, I hope that you’re not overrun with tourists then.

      June 26, 2017 at 10:00 pm

  8. Such a beautiful post and so full of interesting observations. The photo of the newly opened leaves is a beauty and I also love the one of the Red-winged Blackbird.

    June 27, 2017 at 4:42 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I hate to say this, but my next post won’t be as interesting.

      June 27, 2017 at 10:10 pm

      • Of course it will be interesting, Jerry. All your posts are interesting whether they are observations about the wildlife you photograph, comments about the photographic equipment you use, your methods or updates on your life/work etc. 🙂

        June 28, 2017 at 7:31 pm

  9. So many of your photos in this collection have such a golden hue to them, that it makes me feel like fall is already upon us. Whoa! Not yet, please.

    Your comment about shooting night shots and starry skies really caught my eye. Hope you do that. I’ve seen some amazing shots posted in our camping group forums, from many of the Dark Sky National Parks. It truly blows your mind to see the big western sky and the millions of stars. I think there are probably lots of spots in Michigan where there is a decent night sky, although you’re right about it not being right here in town. You have the patience and photography chops to get great results from natural lights, or whatever artificial night lighting you find. Can’t wait to see what you come up with.

    Hope you do manage to squeeze in a few vacation days somehow.its good for the soul.

    At least you’ll get a day off for the 4th, right. Hope so. Hang in there, Jerry.

    June 28, 2017 at 7:07 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! The golden hue is because I’m shooting many of the photos while I’m walking after work, right around sunset. It’s not called the golden hour for nothing. But, I’m also paying more attention to the white balance of my images, and getting pickier about it. Many times a subject in the shade is too blue when shot at the daylight setting, but too yellow when shot at the cloudy setting. So, I’ve been using Lightroom to correct that, and bring the image to what I saw in person when I shot it.

      I know that if I ever make it out west that I will want to be up 24 hours a day, shooting moonlit landscapes, star trails, and other things at night, landscapes at dawn and dusk, and wildlife during the day. But, there are places in northern Michigan where I think that I could come away with great night sky photos as well, one of these nights I’ll make it.

      I’ve used all my paid vacation for the year when I was in the hospital, so any days I take off will be without pay, but I may be able to swing one or two towards fall I hope. I may have the 4th off, it depends on how many cars Chrysler is selling. My current run is from Ionia to a Chrysler supplier in Highland Park, and if they work on the 4th, I’ll work on the 4th. If they’re down, Ill have the day off.

      June 28, 2017 at 7:44 am