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

Archive for November, 2017

And, they’re everywhere

I had already begun this post before I made it out to shoot any more photos, so I’m slipping this in the first part of this post. My last post contained mostly photos of snowy owls, and I’m afraid that this one will also. That’s because of how many have arrived in this area, Wednesday, the 22nd, was my first day off from work in eight days, and when I went to Muskegon, I found five different snowy owls there.

The bad thing about that is so many people are going there to see and photograph the snowy owls, that it is becoming a zoo, with people chasing the owls around to get photos of them. I’m going to start with the last image that I shot, because it’s my favorite, even though I have what most people would consider to be better photos of the owls.

Snowy owl

That owl landed close to me after it had been chased from where I had been shooting it earlier. I could see that the zoo was coming to where I shot the earlier photos…

Snowy owl

…so I was on my way back to my car when the zoo spooked the owl and it landed near me. It looked up over the rocks at me, I don’t know if it was saying goodbye to me, or asking me to protect it from the zoo, but either way, I love the photo of the owl peeking over the rocks at me.

Now, back to what I had typed earlier.

With so little time to get outside to shoot photos these days, I feel compelled to bring back images that I can post here on my blog. I think that I should be working on refining the techniques that I use, along with learning new ones, such as learning to make good panorama images made by stitching two or more images together. I most certainly should have tested the portable hide that I purchased last spring, but still haven’t used yet. I did think about getting it out when photographing the snowy owls seen in my last post, but I didn’t want to spook the owl that I saw first that was perched in such a good location, nor did I want to look silly while in a group of people when shooting the second owl of the day.

The reality is that I have such a limited amount of time to spend outside with the camera, that I’ve been ending up with posts which are overloaded with one species of birds lately. One post had too many great blue herons, then there was the post with too many images of bald eagles, and the last post had too many images of snowy owls. In my defense, part of the reason for the lack of variety in my posts lately has also been because the majority of species of birds have flown south for the winter. It’s more difficult to shoot a variety of birds when there’s a limited number of species around. And, part of the reason for the lack of variety is my desire to shoot more images that I may be able to sell as prints. I’m much more likely to sell a print of a bald eagle or snowy owl than I am to sell one of a chickadee, but you never know about that. It’s all what catches some one’s eye.

Also, there’s the fact that due to the summer drought, an extended warm spell and the drought continuing into October, this years fall foliage photo opportunities were a bust. Many trees dropped green leaves this fall, and just as many trees turned directly to brown before dropping their leaves.

Then, there’s my new job. I’m not sure if this is going to work out or not. Three days this week, I started work between one and two A. M., today, I’m starting at 4:15 P. M. Then, it’s back to 11:30 P. M. for a start time. So that I can adjust, they gave me the equivalent of an extra half day off from work, but that means that I’m working six days a week to make any money. And, on the one day that I do get off from work, I’ve been stuck doing household chores and trying to adjust my sleep pattern for the coming week.

When I interviewed with this company, I specifically asked if they switched the schedule around on drivers like that, and of course they told me no. That was obviously a lie, because my scheduled start times have been all over the place the after the first week that I was there.

In defense of the person doing the scheduling, I am the rookie, and therefore, I’m being used to fill holes in the schedule, rather than having a set schedule as the drivers who have been there longer have.

As it’s worked out, when I have been able to get out to shoot any photos, it’s been raining, and I haven’t had much time even when I do get out.

On the plus side, my legs are beginning to get into better shape because I load and unload the trailer at most stops that I make. I’m not just sitting in the truck for 10 or 12 hours a day. With the poor circulation that I have in my legs, they need exercise on a regular basis, and my old job left no time for that.

Since I’m on the subject of my job, there’s one more rant that I have to go off on, and that’s dealing with the Post Office and the ridiculous schedules that they have.

The way that the Post Office’s schedule is, I’m supposed to be a specified loading dock at a specified facility at a specified time, all based on the assumption that the branch that I’m at has the outgoing mail cued up near the specified dock, waiting to be loaded. In practice, it doesn’t work, as I’ll show up at the right dock at the right time, only to find that there’s still a truck parked there, so I have to wait until that truck leaves. Usually, the truck at the dock when I arrived is running late for one reason or another.

Then, when I do get parked at the specified dock, I find that the mail hasn’t been cued up yet, and I have to wait until postal employees bring it out from the processing area to the loading dock. My schedule shows a tiny window, often ten minutes or less, for me to load the trailer and secure the load, based on the mail being there waiting for me. All too often, I don’t begin to load the trailer until my scheduled out time is drawing near.

None of that matters to the postal employees that record a driver’s in and out times, if the last cart full of mail makes it to the dock before my scheduled departure time, then I can be marked as late to depart if I don’t get it on the trailer and secured before the scheduled departure time. The reason is, that the Postal Service can also reprimand the employees at the branch if they are the reason that the mail is late to depart, or arrive at its destination. So, since they risk getting in trouble, they cut the drivers no slack at all as far as following the schedule. If they do hold me up 15 minutes after my scheduled departure time, then I get a “get out of jail card”, known as a late slip, but they are loath to hand them out, because doing so makes them look bad, and open for reprimand. The one exception to that is when the processing department is to blame for a late departure, then the dock workers are all too eager to print out a late slip.

Compounding that problem is the fact that we often have two or three stops at different branches, so we have to get the mail for the last stop loaded on the trailer first, with the mail for the first stop on the rear of the trailer, because we don’t have the time to sort it out at the stops we have to make.

What often happens is that because they are in a hurry to get the mail on the dock in time, it’s a mixed up mess with the various stops all mixed together, which I have to sort out as I load the trailer. I must be getting better at it, since I haven’t heard about being late the last few weeks.

Anyway, back to photography and my photos. Having typed what I had so far, and trying to avoid the zoo, I shot a few landscape photos with the recently purchased 16-35 mm L series lens just to get more used to it, and to test it out more. I didn’t have great light, nor scenes that would wow people, but I’m extremely happy with the results that the lens produces.

A little color on a grey day

And, it felt good to explore landscape photography again rather than just chase birds around.

Looking down the road

Nothing special, but they do serve well as test shots to see how well that the new lens does, and as I said, I’m very happy with it. It’s definitely a step up from the 15-85 mm lens that I was using.

Back to the owls, they really were everywhere, here’s two of them perched on top of power poles to escape the zoo.

Two snowy owls in one shot

Not a very good photo, but how often does one get a chance to include two snowy owls in the frame at once? You can also see how one is much lighter than the other, which is one way to identify individuals.

I did attempt to photograph other species of birds, here’s a pair of male buffleheads, but I really needed more light to bring out the colors of their heads.

Male bufflehead ducks

I also worked very hard to get bad images of the snow buntings that I saw.

Snow bunting

There was a large flock of the snow buntings, there must have been 200 of them in the flock, flying from place to place. They never stay in one place for very long, a few seconds at the most it seems.

Snow bunting

It could be that the snow buntings are always on the move because there’s a peregrine falcon lurking about.

Peregrine falcon

If only I had better light for that one, same as in my last post.

I feel better now, I was able to make it out two days in a row, and even had a little filtered sunlight on the second day. The reason that I was able to get out for the second day in a row is because my schedule at work is flip-flopping again, going from starting in the morning to starting late at night again, but I’ve whined enough about that.

I was able to get another explosive take-off by a mallard, showing how much water that they displace as launch themselves into the air.

Male mallard take-off

It takes a great deal of power to move that much water, and he’s a pretty duck as well.

Male mallard take-off

I was also able to get a few good photos of a male northern shoveler in flight, although he hasn’t molted back into breeding plumage completely yet.

Northern shovelers in flight

I wish that I could post a larger version of that first one, as it really shows the beautiful colors of the shoveler’s wing.

Northern shovelers in flight

I have to say it again, the 400 mm f/5.6 L series lens is so good that my images of birds in flight are sharper than I could get of perched birds with any of my other lenses that I have been using. I absolutely love the 400 mm lens, so much so that some of the snowy owl portraits were shot with it, then cropped, rather than using the 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X extender.

In my indoor testing last winter, the 400 mm prime lens showed itself to be sharper than the 100-400 mm lens, alone, with the 1.4 X extender, and especially with the 2 X extender. In the field, I haven’t tried the 2 X extender on the 400 mm prime lens, as it doesn’t have Image Stabilization. But, I found one of the resident eagles that I shot so many photos of a few posts ago, and I decided that it was time to test the 400 mm lens with the 2 X extender.

Bald eagle, manually focused at 800 mm

The 7D Mk II can’t auto-focus through the viewfinder when using the slow 400 mm f/5.6 lens and 2 X extender to get to 800 mm, so I took a great deal of time getting the focus correct for that image manually. Then, I switched to live view focusing, which the 7D can do with the same set-up, and I shot this one.

Bald eagle, live view focusing at 800 mm

The 400 mm prime lens with the 2 X extender out performs the 100-400 mm lens with the 1.4 X extender, needless to say, I was impressed. The more that I use the 400 mm prime lens, the more that I want to use it for everything because of how sharp it is. If there had been more light, the results would have been even better. The eagle hung around long enough after I shot those to give me time to review them, then remove the extender for this one.

Bald eagle in flight

That one was cropped a lot more, but it’s still sharp, and I was able to get the shot.

I also used the 400 mm lens for this one.

Ripples at sunrise

Now then, back to the snowy owl, the one that peered over the rocks at me as I left. I had walked down to get close to it, and spent some time photographing it long before the zoo arrived. The zoo was busy chasing two other owls up and down the center dike at the wastewater facility, leaving me alone with this owl.

Snowy owl

You can see that it wasn’t afraid of me, it even walked closer to me on its own a couple of times. When it did, I’d back away in case it decided to fly, as it would have been too close to me if it did. But, it hung out there with me, allowing me plenty of chances to get good photos. I wasn’t quite ready when it yawned, so I had to throw the camera up to my eye quickly when it did.

Snowy owl yawning

I was trying to shoot and move the camera to get a better composition at the same time, never a good thing, for this next one is a bit soft due to motion blur.

Snowy owl yawning

I was also able to get a better photo showing the owl’s huge feet covered in feathers as it walked.

Snowy owl

They are very slow, deliberate walkers, and are usually looking down at the ground as they walk. Still, I like that one, you can see its very sharp but rather dainty claws very well along with the feathers covering their feet to keep their feet warm in the snow. Those large feet act as snowshoes when there’s snow on the ground, allowing the owls to walk on top of the snow rather than sink into it.

That last one was shot as the zoo approached the owl and myself, so I had already begun to walk back to my car, I looked back, and sure enough, the zoo had gotten so close that the owl couldn’t stand it, and it flew towards me.

Snowy owl in flight

Sorry, not very good, I was rushed to get any photo of the owl, and it dropped down below the top of the dike and out of view just after that. I was thinking that it was going to work out that way, which is why I had begun to walk away in the first place. But, I was still on the west side of the dike to give the owl space, my plan had been to cross over to the east side after I had put more distance between us.

I could go on at length about the zoo chasing the snowy owls, but I’ll give you just one example of what I’m talking about. There was a guy standing on the passenger seat of a SUV with his upper body protruding through the moon roof of the vehicle as he held his camera. There was a woman driving the SUV, with the guy giving her directions as to when to stop and when to move, and what direction to turn. They were the lead vehicle in a train of vehicles following the snowy owls around, I guess to get photos of the owls in flight, for they always approached the owls until they flew.

Well, I lied, I have another example to share. On the second day there at the wastewater since my last post, I avoided the owls and the zoo as much as I could except for one short period of time. As I was looking for other birds to photograph, I saw that some one who I speak to often when I see him there was parked a reasonable distance from a snowy, shooting photos from time to time. I was coming from the opposite direction, so I parked a little bit farther away from the owl than he was, hoping that any one else approaching from my direction would have the good sense to also stop and allow the other guy his chance of getting a good photo. It didn’t work, some jerk in a pickup truck drove around me, and right up to the owl, chasing it down into the rocks along the dike. I’m sure that the other photographer that I speak to often was fuming at that. My only hope is that the owl moved down into the rocks before the jerk in the pickup got any good photos of the owl.

The thing is, that if you take your time and approach the owls correctly, you can get quite close to them, and get photos like this.

Snowy owl

I spent most of the time that I was shooting the owls down on my knees, or even sitting on the ground so that I could get photos without a distracting background, while especially the guy standing in the SUV was shooting down at the owls, so even if he got a little closer, I doubt that his photos were as good because of the angle he was shooting at.

I suppose that mot people don’t have the patience to do what I did, my biggest problem was that the owl I was hanging out with kept walking closer to me, so that I kept moving back away from it in case it decided to fly. The zoo may have gotten photos of the owls in flight, but always of the back of the owls, because they always flew away from the zoo.

I guess that at least a few of the owls have gotten tired of the zoo chasing them all the time. There had been five of them there at the wastewater facility on the two days that I was there last. From the most recent reports that I’ve seen, only one remains, the other four have moved to a different area where they’re left alone, at least I hope so.

Anyway, I’m going to end this post with another leftover from earlier this year.

Remembering spring

That was shot back in May, and I don’t remember what species of flowers they are, sorry.

Anyway, I was notified via voicemail that I have tomorrow off from work. The message came by voicemail because I had already gone to bed in case I did have to work, so needless to say, I wasn’t able to plan anything for tomorrow, or today for that matter. Had I known in advance that I wouldn’t have to be back at work until 2 A. M. Friday morning, I would have been able to get out with the camera for two days, rather than one short one. Oh well, I was looking for a job when I found this one, and I still have recruiters hounding me from some of the other companies that I checked out before taking this job.

Also, for the second straight week, I’ve worked eight days in a row before a day off, but still haven’t gotten close to 40 hours in for the week. That’s because I’ve been doing all short runs of between 5 and 7 hours long. If this continues, I’ll be forced to find another job, because while this employer pays well by the hour, if you don’t work many hours, you don’t make any money.  I like not working 10 to 14 hours a day as I did on my last job, but this is ridiculous.

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

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They’re back

Well, it’s been a while since I had any time to be outside with a camera lately, compounded by the fact that there hasn’t been any light to work with the past few weeks. I’m sure that as the winter progresses, and West Michigan is under nearly constant lake effect clouds, that you’ll all tire of hearing me whine about it. So far though, we’ve been lucky with only trace amounts of snow, it’s been mostly mist or rain coming from the clouds.

So, on Monday, the 13th, I was overjoyed to have a few hours of time to run over to the Muskegon County wastewater facility to shoot a few photos when it wasn’t raining for a change. The big news is that the snowy owls have arrived from up north already, I saw at least two, possibly three different ones, here’s the second one.

Snowy owl

There were four of us parked near the owl shooting photos of it from time to time, including an older woman using a Nikon 600 mm lens on a tripod. The owl didn’t seem to mind at all, as it just sat there paying little attention to us. There were even a few breaks in the clouds from time to time, but that wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

Snowy owl

While snowy owls are active during the day, the brighter the sunlight is, the more that they squint, hiding their beautiful yellow eyes as you can see. However, the sunlight does help to bring out the details in their faces, even if they do squint.

By the way, snowy owls spend most of their time above the Arctic Circle, the land of the midnight sun, so they have to be active during the day if they are going to survive in an area where the sun doesn’t set for several months.

Shortly after the second photo was shot, another couple joined the group, and they thought that they’d get a little closer to the owl than the rest of us were. That was more than the owl could take, so it flew off to find a safer place to perch.

Snowy owl in flight

That isn’t very good, but it’s the best that I could do with the flight path that the owl took.

That reminds me, the snowy owls come from an area where there are no trees, so they typically perch on the ground, which isn’t the best as far as backgrounds for photos. So, I felt very lucky when I saw the first snowy of the day, and it was perched on a rock above the vegetation.

Snowy owl

I sat there shooting a good many shots of that owl, my biggest problem was the large number of northern shoveler ducks swimming behind the owl at times. It took me a while to get that image, one without a shoveler behind the owl to distract the eye from the owl itself.

You can see blood stains on the owl’s feathers around its neck, it must have recently made a kill and eaten it, and the owl was content to perch there and digest its meal. That image is almost full frame, I didn’t have to crop it very much at all, unlike the first two photos from this post, which were shot from farther away from that owl, and therefore cropped a good deal more.

The first owl kept one eye closed most of the time, which made getting the shot that I wanted even harder, but I did catch it once as it opened the eye that it had closed most of the time slightly.

Snowy owl

This is what the owl looked like most of the time.

Snowy owl

That’s something to keep in mind if you ever see a snowy owl, many of them have a tendency to use only one eye when resting, leaving the other one closed most of the time. In sunlight, they squint through eyelids that are almost closed. I’ve whistled at them, yelled, and even honked my car horn, but none of those things has worked as far as getting a snowy to open their eyes when they don’t want to. And, I’ve seen several with blood stained feathers after they have eaten, so it’s easy to think that a snowy seen with one eye always closed and bloodstains near its face has suffered an injury, but in most cases, it hasn’t, it has just eaten and is snoozing, and will ignore you until you get too close for their comfort.

Or, if you begin to behave as the late arriving couple did as they tried to approach the snowy, they crouched down and tried to stalk the owl when the owl was fully aware of their presence. You can’t behave like a predator when trying to get close to wildlife that already knows you are there, it will make the wildlife flee even sooner than they would have otherwise. In fact, the couple stalking the snowy didn’t make it as close to the owl as some one else in the group was already parked, they made it as far as in between my vehicle and the one of the person that was shooting the owl when I spotted it.

By the way, I parked 100 yards or so away from where the other person had parked, until I saw them motion me forward. I gave him time to get the best photos that he could, a little common courtesy goes a long way in the birding world especially bird photographers. It helped that I had already shot a snowy from even closer, and with a better background, but there’s no excuse for spooking wildlife that some one else saw first, and are trying to photograph. When the other photographer motioned me to join him, I still parked 20 to 30 feet behind him as to not crowd the owl too much.

The couple in question weren’t equipped properly as far as camera gear, which is why they tried getting closer. The female was using Canon gear, and had what looked to be a 70-200 mm lens on her camera, not a long enough lens for serious bird photography in most cases. The male was using a Lumix DSLR with what appeared to be a similar length lens as the female was using. I’ll cut them some slack, they were young and probably hadn’t learned not to attempt trying to be stealthy when the subject is aware of your presence.

Since there had been four of us there, standing and chatting between the first photographer’s vehicle and mine, it had to be the late arriving couple’s actions that spooked the owl, since they didn’t get more than a few feet closer to the owl than the group was to begin with. Like I said earlier, snowy owls are birds of the Arctic tundra, and both of the owls that I photographed probably hatched this spring and were this year’s young, you can tell by the dark barring that they show. The adult snowy owls are almost entirely white. We may have well been the first humans that these owls had ever seen up close in their short lives so far. They may not have any fear of humans, other than a natural fear of creatures larger than themselves, but all wildlife learns the ways of predators at an early age, like a predator trying to remain hidden as it approaches possible prey.

Because of the hours that I’ve been working, I haven’t had much time outside, but I have had time to think about things and equipment that will improve my photographs in the future. The 100-400 mm lens with a 1.4 X tele-converter behind it gives me a good deal of reach, as the photos of the snowy owls show. However, the auto-focusing of that set-up is very slow, often too slow to catch smaller birds as they flit about. So, I thought back to when I was using the Sigma 150-500 mm lens, otherwise known as the Beast, as I remember quite well how quickly it can auto-focus on small birds trying to hide.

I was thinking of purchasing the newer Sigma 150-600 mm lens for times when I was chasing smaller birds such as warblers and sparrows. Using Lightroom, I went back through all the photos that I shot while using the Beast on the 7D Mk II camera that I have now, and took a good hard look at the quality of the images. Those simply can not compare to the image quality that I’m getting now with my current Canon L series lenses. I can’t see the same level of detail in even the best images shot with the Beast that I see in my current photos, even when those older photos were shot in very good light. As the level of light falls off, the Canon L series lenses out perform the Beast by even a wider margin. As bad as these are, if I had been using the Beast, I probably wouldn’t have been able to salvage them in Lightroom.

Peregrine falcon at sunrise

Not great, so I moved in even closer.

Peregrine falcon at sunrise

The second one was shot at ISO 5000, which is higher than I can get a very good image at using the crop sensor 7D Mk II. Still, it’s far better than I could have ever hoped for if I’d been using the Beast to get the same image. Because of the high ISO setting, there isn’t the resolution in those images that I’d love to get, or that I do get when shooting in better light with the equipment that I have now. In the past when I was using the Beast, I had the camera set to limit the ISO to 3200 or less, it’s only been since I’ve been using the Canon L series lenses that I’ve set the camera to use higher ISO settings. You simply can’t beat good glass, no matter what camera you’re using.

So, I have given up the idea of purchasing a replacement for the Beast, no matter how slow the auto-focusing of what I’m using now is. I’ll just have to work harder when I’m shooting smaller birds, and live with the slow auto-focus. There may be times in the future when I dig the Beast out again when I’m on a trip dedicated to photographing smaller birds, and live with the lower quality of images that it produces. That’s what I did two years ago when I was on my last real vacation, I carried the Beast when I was chasing small birds, and used the Canon lens while I was in areas where larger birds were the likely subjects of my photos.

I knew this was going to happen. We had a summer and early fall with above average amounts of sunshine here in West Michigan this year, and as a result, I was able to shoot my best images ever of many species of birds. Now that the clouds have set in for the winter, I feel the need for a full frame camera body again. The reason being is that you get less noise and better resolution at the same ISO setting with a full frame camera as you do with a crop sensor camera at the same settings. Lenses aren’t going to change that, although better lenses do result in better images.

And, there’s been another factor to consider as well, weight. I had convinced myself that I could get by with the 7D and then add another lens or two to my arsenal, and manage to carry them all. However, between the low-light situations I’ve had for the past month or more, and the thought of carrying more lenses with me all the time, I’ve decided that the best course of action is to splurge for a good full frame camera and just one more wide-angle lens for it to complete my kit once and for all.

With a full frame body, I can get by with the 16-35 mm lens that I recently purchased, the 24-105 mm lens to go with it, along with the 100-400 mm lens that I have now. If I stick with the 7D body, I’d need to carry two or three more lenses to cover everything as far as focal lengths because of the crop factor of the 7D. I like the idea of getting by with just two camera bodies and two lenses 70% of the time while hiking.

That’s because with the crop sensor 7D, the 16-35 mm lens is about the same as the 24-105 mm lens on a full frame camera at the short end of the focal lengths of those lenses as far as their angle of view, which translates into how much of the landscape they will allow you to see while using them.

At 16 mm on the 7D, the 16-35 mm lens is the equivalent of a 24 mm lens on a full frame body. I can get most landscape images that I’d like to get, but there would be times that I’d want to go even wider, meaning adding another lens to my kit. Going the other way, there’s too much of a gap between 35 mm and 100 mm to get by with most of the time when shooting landscapes and even some other subjects, so I still need a lens to fill that gap. Enough of that, back to the weather and the birds.

And like I said, for the past month or more, it’s been raining most of the times that I’ve had a chance to get outside, meaning I’ve been shooting in low-light situations for the past month. This photo is from my previous trip to Muskegon, in the rain, when I only shot two species of birds due to the weather.

Herring gull portrait

That image hasn’t been cropped at all, I got that close to the gull. For the second image of the peregrine falcon from earlier in this post, I had to turn the camera to the portrait orientation to keep the entire falcon in the frame. For some reason, wildlife allows you to approach closer in low-light situations than they normally do on nice days. It was the same with this northern shoveler, the second species from the earlier trip to Muskegon.

Male northern shoveler

I can’t recall a time when I’ve ever been closer to a northern shoveler, and it was on a rainy day with no light to work with. That was a let down, as you can almost see the details in the shoveler’s bill. Their bill has about 110 fine projections (called lamellae) along the edges, for straining food from water. So, along with the muted colors, I also missed getting a shot of a part of a duck’s anatomy that I’d like to be able to show people who aren’t familiar with that species.

But, getting back on track, I have to face the reality that wildlife photography means working in low-light situations often enough to warrant the expense of a full frame camera. There’s no getting around that fact in any way that I know of, and it’s about the only way that I’ll be able to improve the technical aspects of my images. I’ve reached the financial limits of my ability to purchase a longer lens, which wouldn’t help as far as working in low-light anyway.

I’m not saying that the images that I shoot in good light are perfect yet, but they are still improving, which is a good thing. As much as I complain about the low-light performance of the 7D Mk II, it’s the images that I shoot at high ISO settings that are showing the most improvement. Those, and birds in flight, this was the year that I got the 7D dialed in and learned to use the 400 mm L series lens to good effect to get my sharpest and best images of birds in flight.

That takes me back to the first snowy owl that I saw, the one perched nicely on a rock above the vegetation. It didn’t take off because I got too close to it, it took off because a pair of crows began to harass it. I missed the first part of the action because I wasn’t expecting it, but the owl only flew a short distance away, then landed again. I shot a short burst as the snowy landed, but it was really too far away for me to post any of the photos. But, even though these aren’t great, I post these of the crows following the owl to land near it to continue their harassment of the owl.

American crow harassing a snowy owl

 

American crows harassing a snowy owl

Not wanting to scare either the owl or the crows away, I moved a little closer to watch what was happening and let them calm down a little. As I sat in my new location, I spent some time shooting northern shovelers that were getting nervous because of the owls presence.

Male northern shoveler in flight

Every once in a while, one of the crows would attempt to drive the owl away. This series was shot from too far away also, but they do show what was going on.

American crows harassing a snowy owl

 

American crows harassing a snowy owl

From time to time, the owl would bark at the crow as it approached…

American crows harassing a snowy owl

…and the owl tried to keep both crows in sight all the time…

American crows harassing a snowy owl

…but when that wasn’t possible, it would turn its head back and forth quickly to make sure that the second crow wasn’t planning a sneak attack while the owl was distracted by the flying crow.

American crows harassing a snowy owl

 

American crows harassing a snowy owl

 

American crows harassing a snowy owl

With the three of them preoccupied with each other, I finally moved closer for these.

American crows harassing a snowy owl

 

American crow harassing a snowy owl

 

American crow harassing a snowy owl

Funny thing, when I tried to get even closer for a good shot, it was the crows that I spooked first, and they took off, followed by the owl. Of course I fired off a burst of the three of them flying away from me, but the images of three birds flying away from me aren’t that interesting.

I also shot poor images of two other species of ducks, this gadwall,

Gadwall

and this hooded merganser.

Male Hooded merganser

I’ve posted very few images of either of those species recently, as they are both much more skittish than other species of waterfowl.

Anyway, I’m going to finish this post with an image from last summer, when there was good light.

Cabbage white butterfly

One last word about the weather here. Since the drought broke back in the middle of October, we’ve been getting almost two inches of rain per week on average, and are closing in on having gotten a foot of rain since then. It’s hard to shoot good photos when it’s raining all the time.

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


Chalk up another one

Because of my new job, I haven’t been able to make it out to shoot many photos over the past two weeks. I don’t want to bore every one by going into detail, but it’s been mostly because I’ve been trying to take it easy on my legs. At many of the stops for my new job, I have to unload and/or load the trailer myself, and I’ve found out just how out of shape my legs were for such work.

Also, there’s been the weather. We’ve had a rare drought this summer and fall, but as often happens, when the drought broke, it did so by swinging to the other extreme. The first half of October was as dry as it’s been all summer, with hardly a drop of rain, and plenty of sunshine. Once the rains came, they’ve stuck around and refuse to leave. We’ve now set the record for the most rain ever in the month of October, with almost all of it coming during the past two weeks. In fact, we’ve gotten more rain in the last two weeks than the months of June, July, August, and September combined, over ten inches.

Despite the rain, I did run over to the Muskegon County wastewater facility on Sunday, just to get out of my apartment for a while, to see what I could find, and to stay in practice. It was a lucky day for me, for as I was about to leave, I noticed what I thought was a northern harrier flying right along the side of the road. I fired off a couple of bursts of photos, as I did, I noticed that while the bird I was shooting was about the same size as a harrier, and that it hunted much as harriers do, it had a different shape than a harrier. It was a short-eared owl out hunting in the rain.

Short-eared owl in flight

I was also very lucky in that it thought that there was something in the bushes that you can see behind the owl, and so it circled the bushes several times, giving me many opportunities to photograph it.

Short-eared owl in flight

That was good, because even my Canon 7D was having trouble focusing on the owl as dark as the day was, and in the rain. I have a few shots were the camera focused on raindrops that were closer to me than the owl.

Short-eared owl in flight

But, I was able to get enough fair shots of the owl to include in a post in the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on.

Short-eared owl in flight

Since I’m two-thirds of the way through the list of species of birds seen in Michigan, the rate at which I’m finding new species has dropped off to almost none of late. So, it was great to be able to cross another species off from the list of species that I still need photos of.

I have to say it, the Canon 7D Mk II with the 400 mm f/5.6 L series lens made those photos possible. Great equipment may not guarantee great images, but, equipment such as I have now, makes photographing in tough conditions possible. Shooting on a dark, dreary day, in the rain, and I was able to get photos good enough that there’s no mistaking the short-eared owl for any other species of bird. I was even able to catch the color of the owl’s eyes.

However, because it was so dark that day, sensor noise was an issue in most of the photos that I shot at the high ISO settings required.

Bald eagle

I was able to remove most of the noise by using Lightroom, but then the sharpness of the images suffered too much, so I left most of the noise there.

Bald eagle

A few people have commented on the expressions on the birds’ faces in the images that I post here, so I thought I’d show how I’m able to get those expressions. It’s by shooting many photos of the same bird when I can, then selecting the one image that I like the best.

Bald eagle

In this case, I posted three photos of the same bird, since it was a slow day, and also so that you can see how the position of a bird’s head makes a great deal of difference in an image. It’s always best if the bird has its head turned toward you as you photograph it rather than looking away from the photographer, so I included both a left and a right profile, along with a photo of the eagle staring straight at me. You may not believe it, but you can feel the stare of a raptor when it’s looking straight at you, even through the camera. I didn’t include any of the photos that I shot while the eagle was looking away from me, I should have, just to illustrate how much of a difference the position of the bird’s head makes.

One of my next goals is to learn how to shoot better videos. I am getting better as I learn what settings to use, but my videos still look “choppy”, and I’m not sure why that is. Here’s a female northern shoveler that I filmed a few weeks ago.

At one point, you can see her stop for a drink, a little later, it looked to me as if she nabbed an insect flying past her out of the air. While this video is much better than some of my earlier attempts, I need to refine the camera settings along with my techniques to give the videos that I shoot a more polished look to them. On the positive side of the ledger, I’m getting better with Canon’s dual pixel AF auto-focus tracking of the subjects that I shoot. I shot several videos of the shovelers in action, and I was able to keep the subject in focus for the duration of the video in all of them. That is a step forward. On one of the cold, snowy days that’s coming all too soon, I need to sit down with the camera manual to learn how to adjust all the settings for video.

There are times when still photos are the best way to show people the things that I want, as when this male northern shoveler decided that it was bath time.

Male northern shoveler

That was shot in the rain, better lighting would have turned that into a good photo. I don’t think that a video would show how the shoveler had a water helmet covering its head as it came up for air. Still photos are also better for showing the duck’s beautiful colors on its wings.

Male northern shoveler

Along with the colors, still photos also show the intricate layers of feathers on the underside of a bird’s wing.

Male northern shoveler

That photo shows that the shoveler has at least 4 bands of feathers on the inside of its wing, from the row of small feathers on the leading edge of its wing, to two layers of flight feathers, with a band of intermediate length feathers in between. You can also see different layers of feathers on the top of his wings, how they all work together in flight is one of the natural world’s true wonders.

You can see the bands of feathers on the underside of the wings of this juvenile herring gull in flight as well, but here the bands show up due to the coloration of the feathers.

Juvenile herring gull in flight

These next few images are nothing special, other than they show birds doing what comes naturally to them, flying.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

 

Red-tailed hawk in flight

 

Northern shovelers in flight

 

Northern shovelers in flight

With ducks, I think that they look their best while flying, it’s then that you can see how beautifully colored their wings are. These would be even better if the males had regrown the green feathers on their heads.

Northern shovelers in flight

 

Herring gull in flight

Switching gears slightly, here’s another example of how birds differ, look at the size of the feet of this American coot.

American coot

Although they are distantly related to ducks, you can see that coots don’t have webbed feet as ducks do, but the feet of coots are very large, which they use to their advantage as they propel themselves through the water. The very large feet also allow them to walk in very soft mud without sinking in.

American coot

My other saved images from the past few weeks were my feeble attempts to find some bright fall colors around here.

One bright spot in an otherwise colorless fall

All three of these are of the same small stand of trees, but shot at different angles and focal lengths.

One bright spot in an otherwise colorless fall 2

I wanted to take a trip up north for a weekend to search for more color, but the new job didn’t allow for that.

One bright spot in an otherwise colorless fall 3

For the first two weeks at the new job, I had only one day off from work which I spent on household chores for the most part. For my third week there, I did get two full days off, but I had to go from working days to working nights, so I had to change my sleep pattern as much as I could during that weekend. I also did overnight runs, so I lost some time because of that.

Well, another wet, chilly weekend has passed. Once again, I had to change my sleep pattern around for work, as I’ll be starting this morning at about the same time that I finished on Sunday morning. Luckily, it isn’t as hard to change in the direction required this time, so I was able to make it to the wastewater facility for a day. Not that it mattered much, for the weather pattern refuses to change, and it continues to be chilly and wet.

Also, there aren’t many different species of birds around, even though I saw literally thousands of ducks and geese during my time at the wastewater facility. You’d think that with so many birds around that I’d find it easy to get good photos, but that wasn’t the case. For one thing, the storage lagoons have been drawn down due to the drought earlier this year, along with the fact that they always lower the water level in the fall to make room for water coming in over the winter months when it’s below freezing. With the water level so low, it puts many of the ducks out of range for a good photo in the first place. On top of that, most of the ducks are in their fall plumage yet, like this ruddy duck.

Ruddy duck

The same applies to this female red-breasted merganser.

Female red-breasted merganser

I spent a little time working on shooting videos, hoping to produce better ones than my past efforts. I think that they are improving.

The rocks and weeds in the foreground are no-nos, but I think that the video of the northern shovelers in one of the feeding frenzies is the best that I’ve done yet. It helps that there was very little wind at the time, I also used my auxiliary microphone which I should do more often, as it produces much better sound than the one built into the camera. I also learned to use a lens with image stabilization when shooting video, and which of the three settings for the IS works best for videos, as this one is the smoothest that I’ve shot so far.

Here’s a close-up still photo of one of the feeding frenzies.

Northern shoveler feeding frenzy

My last post had too many great blue herons in it, this one is going to end up with too many bald eagles. I didn’t even bother to photograph the first eagle that I saw, because it was the same eagle in the same tree as the eagle in the first part of this post. A little later, I spotted this eagle, and decided to shoot it just to get some type of photo for the day.

Bald eagle

I missed him when he flew off, but he flew across the lagoon to join his mate.

Bald eagles

Since the two of them sat there and posed for me, most of my photos from the day were of the two of them together.

Bald eagles

I believe that the female is on the left, and the male is on the right, as with most species of raptors, the females are larger than the males. You can also see that the shape of their heads are slightly different, I don’t know if that has to do with the sex of the bird, or if it’s an individual difference. Either way, it is a way to tell individual eagles apart at times.

Bald eagles

It was nice of the two of them to stick around and let me photograph them for as long as I did. On the other hand, this whitetail buck wanted only to get away when I spooked it.

Whitetail buck

I’ve seen very few deer this year at the wastewater facility, and this was one of the few bucks that I’ve seen.

I have one more image of the fall colors to post.

Fall colors

I also have three photos of a northern harrier in flight. This first one was shot with the right set-up…

Northern harrier in flight

…but it wouldn’t turn towards me a for a really good photo.

Later, I saw the same, or possibly another, harrier land very close to me, so I grabbed the set-up for bird portraits, and just as I did, the harrier took off again.

Northern harrier in flight

So, I was shooting with the wrong settings for a bird in flight, but these turned out reasonably well in spite of that.

Northern harrier in flight

But, because of the slower shutter speeds, the last two aren’t as sharp as the first, and the exposure was off a little as well. What you can’t see in the photos is how much harder that I had to work to get the photos that I did with the wrong set-up. That’s the reason that I keep one camera and lens combination set for flying birds at all times, but this harrier didn’t give me the time that I needed to make the switch when it took off unexpectedly.

That’s about it. It’s a Saturday morning, barely, as I finish this one. I’m not sure if I’ll even make it out to try to shoot any photos this weekend, as I think that once again, my work schedule and household chores will preclude it. I’ve been starting work around midnight for the past few weeks, and I will be again next week, which starts tonight. Since I sleep all day, I have to try to stay on this schedule for work. So, I’m not sure how things are going to work out in the longer run. I’ll get back to posting new species to the My Photo Life List project if I’m not able to get any other photos soon.

I almost titled this post into the frying pan because I’m not sure how this new job is going to work out. I don’t want to bore every one with the details, but I hate being a truck driver, but that’s what I’m looking forward to for the next 4 years until I can retire. One good thing about the new job is the money, nearly $100 a week more than my last job, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. I’m only working around 40 hours a week to make that much, which is a lot less than the hours that I had to put in at the old job. But, the hours that I do work are almost all during the night, but that’s subject to change. Anyway, I guess that’s it for now.

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