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

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!


28 responses

  1. I love every single one of them. Wonderful photos capturing the beauty of life.

    November 4, 2017 at 1:38 am

    • Thank you very much Cindy! Just another in a long run of similar posts with similar photos.

      November 4, 2017 at 1:43 am

  2. Lovely autumn colours and I enjoyed all those pictures of birds in flight especially the short eared owl. Thanks for the videos too.

    November 4, 2017 at 4:57 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! Maybe one of these days I’ll be able to shoot video of a bird in flight, but until then, still photos will have to do.

      November 4, 2017 at 5:47 am

  3. I love all the photos, Jerry. The bald eagles make a nice set, and you also got in one of my favorite species, the coot. Autumn looks nice and colorful where you are.

    November 4, 2017 at 12:55 pm

    • Thank you very much Lavinia! It’s unusual to catch a pair of eagles on the same limb so close together, so I shot lots of photos when I was given the chance. I love coots too, I need to get a better photo of the weird, but handsome feet.

      November 4, 2017 at 8:44 pm

  4. Great photos everyone one of them – but a few favourites! Love the owl looking back over his wing, Red tailed hawk looking at you, the three northern shovelers, the herring gull and the series of the pair of bald eagles- all amazing. The videos were great too. Hope you can adapt to the night work quickly as more money and less hours working is a positive!

    November 4, 2017 at 1:36 pm

    • Thank you very much Marianne! I shoot more photos of fewer birds so that I can catch the best views possible, such as the ones that you mentioned. I bird flying straight across the frame looking forward is okay, but having them look towards me is always better.

      It isn’t the night work that bothers me as much as having no set start time. I have to change my alarm clock and coffee maker daily because I’m starting at all different times of the night. But, more money for working fewer hours is nice, but not if I sleep my precious little time off away as I’ve been doing.

      November 4, 2017 at 8:49 pm

      • That’s very difficult having different start times – I’d hate that!

        November 5, 2017 at 2:59 pm

  5. First of all, congratulations on your new job. Don’t worry about those legs, they will get better with time.

    Your photos are so very good as usual. I like those bald eagles shots, and thank you for posting more than one shot in some cases. You are right about those facial expressions. I am sure ours change all the time, and theirs too, why not?

    November 4, 2017 at 5:12 pm

    • Thank you very much Hien! You’re right, with more exercise, my legs will improve quickly.

      I shoot more photos of fewer birds these days so that I can catch the bird’s expression, rather than shooting what I thought would be a good photo, then rushing off to find another bird. I does seem to help doing the way that I do now.

      November 4, 2017 at 8:54 pm

  6. Didn’t you give up on the job you had before the last one because of your legs? It seems to me I remember them bothering you. In any event I hope they’ll get used to this job and stop bothering you.
    I’m guessing that the only way to improve on video is practice. Before long it’ll be old hat.
    I think your fall foliage is amazing. Really beautiful!
    Those are great shots of the owl. I hope you’ll see some snow owls again this year too.
    Nice shot of the buck!

    November 4, 2017 at 5:52 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! Yes, I’ve had trouble with my legs before, it’s the curse of sitting in a truck for 10 to 14 hours a day, getting no exercise at all. I have poor circulation in my legs to begin with, sitting for hours doesn’t help. At this new job, I often have to push carts onto and off from the trailer, so I’m getting up and getting some exercise which will be a good thing in the long run.

      Yes, practicing videos will help, but the settings are important also. I tried a high frame rate to smooth out the video, but then the auto-focus doesn’t work. Also, a little thing like which of the buttons on the camera starts the recording makes a difference, I was using the default button, but I’d jostle the camera as I started and ended the videos as I had to stretch my thumb across the camera to reach the default button. I’ve changed that to use the shutter release, and I can hold the camera steady now as I start and end the videos.

      I hope that a few snowy owls show up also, there weren’t many last winter, maybe this year will be better. But, I’d as soon get a few more shots of the other species of owls just as much, it’s rare to see them when there’s enough light for photos.

      With a little better light, the buck would have been a wall hanger, but I think that I could make a few hunters drool with the shot that I did get.

      November 4, 2017 at 9:05 pm

  7. Amazing. It would be a dream come true to catch a picture of an owl!

    November 4, 2017 at 6:08 pm

    • Thank you very much. Getting photos of an owl is mostly a matter of luck, and spending a lot of time outside where and when there are owls around.

      November 4, 2017 at 9:08 pm

  8. If this is what you can do when you are busy and tired, I can’t wait for the moment when you have some leisure and are feeling fresh. A possible comment on the video being choppy is perhaps you are hoping to be able to get too close to a moving object which is moving choppily. A wider shot might miss a little detail but might make for smoother viewing. Good shooting.

    November 4, 2017 at 8:17 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to the day when I can retire and be outside with my camera when and for as long as I would like.

      Very good tips on shooting video, I’m already doing some of that, but camera settings play a large part in them as well. I’m getting things dialed in now, so the videos should continue to improve.

      November 4, 2017 at 9:13 pm

      • I look forward to seeing your improved results. Retirement is excellent but make sure you retain your health or it can be wasted.

        November 5, 2017 at 5:21 pm

  9. I’m sorry the hours you work are making it hard for you to get out and about with your cameras. Your weather does look dreary! Over 10 inches of rain in two weeks – my goodness!
    I love the short-eared owl shots! I really like this bird which we get here now and again, depending how many voles there are. Not too many voles at present so no short-eared owls! I like the shoveler shots especially the videos and the ones that show off the lovely colours on the wings.

    November 4, 2017 at 8:25 pm

  10. I have just tried to post a comment here which seems to have disappeared! I’ll try again! I am sorry your working hours are limiting the time you are able to get out with your cameras – I hope things settle down soon. Over 10 inches of rain in two weeks is a lot of water! Your weather does look very dreary!
    I love the shots of the short-eared owl! It is a favourite bird of mine that I see now and again when there are plenty of voles to be caught. I also liked the shoveler shots and videos – what lovely coloured feathers!

    November 4, 2017 at 8:35 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I’m sorry that WordPress gave you so much trouble, so you deserve an extra thank you for trying so hard to leave a comment.

      It’s been raining almost every day for three weeks, it is forecast to let up for a while this week, I sure hope so. To go from drought to endless rain has been tough, mostly because of the heavy cloud cover always blocking the sun.

      I’ve been looking for the short-eared owls for three winters, they spend most of the year farther north than where I live. Others see them, but I was never in the right place at the right time before. They’re so buoyant in flight, almost as if they’re floating through the air.

      Not only are the northern shovelers beautifully colored, they behave a little differently than any other species of duck, hence the videos. I hope to do better in the spring, when all the waterfowl are in their most colorful plumage, and my skills have improved with practice over the winter.

      November 4, 2017 at 9:37 pm

      • Thanks Jerry! I like to see the owls ‘faces’ – the short-eared owl looks fiercer than the other owls here with their wide eyes. Many people say they look like cats. They *are* bouyant and they flap their wings more deeply than other owls seem to.

        November 4, 2017 at 9:47 pm

  11. Typical!!

    November 4, 2017 at 8:36 pm

  12. Love the shots of the two eagles and the fall colors. When it comes to fall color Michigan beats Ohio every time! Hope the new job works out!

    November 6, 2017 at 7:02 am

    • Thank you very much Bob! I’ve seen two eagles in the same tree many times, but never together on the same branch before. This fall was a dud in most places as far as the fall colors, even most of the maples turned pale yellow rather than red or orange as many of them usually do.

      November 6, 2017 at 10:25 am

  13. I love your owl shots. What is your best advice about capturing birds in flight?

    November 8, 2017 at 11:44 am

    • Thank you very much! My advice about capturing birds in flight, that’s a toughie. I shoot only with Canon equipment, and other brands may be different. It also took me over two years of refining the settings on the camera, and learning what works when it comes to lenses. First, the lens, I use one without Image Stabilization whenever I can. I find that the images of anything in motion are sharper with a non-IS lens. I use the 400 mm f/5.6 L series and the 70-200 mm f/4 L series without IS. Baring that, turn the IS off whenever shooting flying birds. At the shutter speeds you shoot flying birds at, you don’t need IS anyway. My saved settings are 1/2000 second, aperture wide open for the lens I’m using, and I let the camera set the ISO using evaluative metering. But that’s me, other will swear that you have to shoot in manual, but that only works for me when I’m shooting in the same direction all the time, which is seldom. I shoot targets of opportunity, in any direction, at any time, so my settings are based on that. I’m also using the Canon 7D Mk II at ten frames per second, and I can’t tell you how many thousands of bad photos I got as I dialed in the auto-focusing settings for that body. There are books written about the auto-focusing system of the 7D Mk II, and I could easily write one myself. It’s complicated but the results were worth it to me.

      November 8, 2017 at 12:43 pm

      • I so appreciate your precise and thoughtful answer. Just as there are books on the subject I am sure that plenty of practice and trial-and-error are also involved to get to your level of beauty. However, I am looking forward to trying it out for the first time thanks to your advice.

        November 8, 2017 at 10:02 pm