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

Archive for February, 2018

Bah Humbug!

I began writing this after work on February 11th. A long time ago it seems now as I continue to add more thoughts to it.

It’s been the kind of winter so far where I check out the weather to see what the time frame is going to be for the next winter weather advisory or winter storm warning coming to the area, and if it will be affecting me while I’m working. I think that we had either a warning or advisory every day this past week. Throw in a few wind chill advisories and warnings when it hasn’t been snowing at the same time, and you get an idea of what the weather has been like here in West Michigan this winter.

At the point that I ended the last post I did, I said that I had the day off from work. Sure enough, just about the time that I would have left home to go to Muskegon, the next batch of snow made it onshore from Lake Michigan, and it had begun to snow in Muskegon. I say again, Bah Humbug, I’m sick of winter and the cold and snow.

Just how bad has February been as far as the weather?

Grand Rapids has had measurable snowfall now 11 days in a row, in other words, every day for the month so far. Our average February snowfall is 14.8″ (38 cm) for the entire month, and we are already over 20″ (50 cm) for the month.  Average for an entire winter is 74.9″ (190 cm) and we’re up to 65″ (165 cm) already as of now. February is averaging 7 degrees fahrenheit (14 C) below average, I thought that the thermometer in my Subaru was stuck at 18 degrees (-8 C), but last night it went down to 13 degrees (-10 C). The temperature hasn’t made it above freezing yet this month, and the forecast low temperature the next two days is around 5 degrees (-15 C).

Winters didn’t use to bother me as much as they do now, for one thing, I didn’t drive a truck for a living then. Having to fight the snow and traffic each day is no fun at all. I do get to see how lovely freshly fallen snow can be while I am driving though, it’s not like the old days when I was stuck inside all day and never got to see how it looked outside. Those things take away from my need to get out despite really bad weather conditions.

Then, there’s my passion for photography. In the not too distant past, I used to take a point and shoot camera with me all the time and call it good enough. I could keep the point and shoot camera in a pocket to keep it safe from the weather. However, it was doing just that, always carrying a point and shoot, that rekindled my love for photography. Back in the days of film, I used to shoot a good number of wildlife and nature photographs, but film and the expense of getting the film developed, along with how expensive good camera gear was back then, prevented me from progressing any further along than my old trusty Pentax Spotmatic II camera with a used, low quality 300 mm lens.

It seems like every winter, I look at the point and shoot cameras on the market at the time, and consider purchasing one so that at least I’ll get outside and shoot a few photos from time to time, even if the quality of those photos can’t match what I can do with the “real” cameras and lenses that I currently have. But, then I look at the specs of what the point and shoot cameras are capable of, and see that they don’t come cheap these days for a good one which I would deem worthy enough to carry.

Now that I have quality camera gear, I’m loath to risk it getting damaged by the harsh Michigan winters. That’s even though the camera and lenses that I have now are supposed to be weather sealed and capable of handling snow and cold.

I’ve considered not taking any camera gear with me, and scouting for good locations during the winter months to shoot during the rest of the year, but I know that wildlife uses different habitat in the winter than the rest of the year, so even if I found a great winter spot, it may not be any good at all come spring and summer. And it seems that come this time every year, I start thinking and writing about scouting for places to shoot photos from.

That would be foolishness on my part, the lakes, ponds, and even many streams are frozen over around here this time of year, and I know that birds, and all wildlife for that matter, prefer areas with open water if it’s available. So, it would be much better if I did my scouting during the time of year that I’d plan on being there the most.

It would seem easy enough to find a place in Michigan, which has more public land than other states about the same size, but I’m finding that it isn’t the case. For one thing, most public parks are located on the north shore of the bodies of water that they are on for some reason, I can’t explain it. That would mean shooting into the sun, and poor image quality as a result.

Then, there’s the issue of access, even though it may be public land. Many of the public parks and nature preserves are locked or at least posted as no access before a set time, most often 8 AM. By that time in the summer, the light is already becoming harsh as the sun is getting higher in the sky. And, it isn’t as if I could begin shooting the second that the park opened, it would take some time to get into position and set-up before I could snap the first photo of the day.

Another thing to take into consideration is how crowded the place will be. I’ve found a few good places that I’d like to explore more, but there are so many joggers and cyclists zipping through the area that they scare all the wildlife away.

I’ve been putting a lot of thought into places that I should scout as a place where I could set-up the portable hide that I have and spend time in photographing wildlife at closer range. Generally, I begin to drift off thinking about the larger tracts of near wilderness areas, such as the Pigeon River Country in northern Michigan. But, the thing is, while there’s a great deal of wildlife there, it’s spread out all through the area, the wildlife doesn’t congregate in many places.

On the other hand, when I think of places near where I live, the parcels of land are mere postage stamp size and often surrounded by human activity. There’s the wetlands that I kayaked once a few years ago that often brings reports of rare birds. That wetland area is surrounded by a shopping center, a few hotels, a few industrial buildings, and an expressway. However, there’s no human activity near the water’s edge proper, which is the reason that it draws so many birds in my opinion. It’s the same with the apartment complex where I used to live, there were hundreds of people living there, yet no one but myself ever ventured to the uncleared portion of the land there. And then, there’s the small parcel of land owned by the Michigan Department of Transportation not far from my home, it’s surrounded by farms and a subdivision of houses, yet hardly any one ventures on that land.

It’s taken me a few years to figure this out, but when wildlife has room to spread out without human interference, it does just that, making it more difficult to find places where the wildlife congregates. On the other hand, in areas where there is little suitable habitat for wildlife, the wildlife is forced to make do with what little habitat that they can find, making the density of wildlife in that area greater, especially during spring and fall migration. That’s the reason that these small tracts of land become tiny birding hotspots and so many rare bird reports come from them, there are few other places for the birds to rest during their migration.That even applies to the small park near where I live now, it is a tiny oasis in a sea of suburbia, although suburbia has been encroaching on the park over the past few years, making it less attractive to wildlife in just the few years that I’ve lived near it.

So, I’ve begun to change my thinking as to finding good places to set-up the portable hide, instead of looking for large tracts of undeveloped land. I think that I’d be better off looking for one of the small parcels of land that may be surrounded by development, but where there’s very little human activity within the small parcel of land itself.

By the way, this post many end up being mostly words, with very few photos. I’ve been out with my camera twice since my last post, and both times it was very foggy with poor light, and with so much snow on the ground that it made getting around difficult to say the least. It’s finally beginning to warm up around here, and I’m going to attempt to get a nice day off from work for a change, hoping that I’ll be able to shoot more than a handful of poor photos like this one.

Red-tailed hawk taking flight

The only reason for my posting this photo is to show the subtle colors of the hawk, and the detail in its feathers, despite the poor light.

I have been making what I think is good use of my time though, even if I haven’t been out with the camera much lately. For one thing, I’ve learned how to edit videos from within Lightroom. While there are far more powerful video editing programs on the market, I really don’t want to take the time to learn how to use them effectively, nor do I want to spend a good deal of time editing the videos that I shoot.

Lightroom has limited capabilities, I can trim the videos for length, and also make exposure and white balance corrections to a video, as I’ve done with this one.


Here’s how it looked before my editing.

I was able to cut out the beginning of the video which was wobbly and out of focus, along with improving the exposure, and shifting the white balance to slightly warmer, since the video was shot on a heavily overcast day.

I also watched a video that explained the Canon 5D Mk IV in-depth, and I learned something that made me want that camera more than ever since I watched the video. With my 7D Mk II, I can auto-focus at f/8 as when I use one of my long lenses with the 1.4 X tele-converter, but I can only use the center point at that aperture. That limits my ability to compose exactly the shot that I’d like, or to use the tele-converter when photographing flying birds.

The newer 5D Mk IV will use most or all of the 61 auto-focusing points down to an aperture of f/8, depending on the lens I use, so it will make it easier to get the composition that I want by putting the auto-focus point on a bird’s eye, when the eye may not be in the center of the frame. A couple of months ago, when I was shooting the snowy owls…

Snowy owl

…being able to move the auto-focus point up in the frame would have made that a much better image. The owl’s back is very sharp, but its eyes and face are slightly soft due to being a little out of focus.

I’ve also done some research to quantify just how much of an improvement that I’d see in low-light performance with the 5D MK IV, and it’s around two stops better as far as noise. I can push the 7D Mk II to around 6400 ISO with significant noise reduction and loss of detail that goes with the noise reduction, and still get a usable image for the web. With the 5D Mk IV, the amount of noise that I’d see in an image with the same exposure settings would be similar to what I see when shooting with the 7D at ISO 1600, that would be good enough to print, not just post here in my blog.

To go with that, the 5D also delivers two full stops better dynamic range, which means better shadow details with less noise in my images as well. That would mean that an image like this one…

American crow on blown out snow

…would actually turn out much better. As you can see, the details in the snow have been lost since they were blown out by the 7D’s lower dynamic range due to it being a crop sensor camera. With two full stops better dynamic range combined with two full stops better low-light/less noise capabilities, the 5D Mk IV is looking better to me all the time.

I will lose the 1.6 crop factor, on my 7D, the 400 mm lens I use actually performs as a 640 mm lens, while on the 5D, it will be a true 400 mm lens. However, with the 5D’s better sensor, I think that it will mostly make up for that difference. Plus, since the 5D can use more auto-focus points at f/8, I can put my tele-converters to better use as well to make up for the loss of the crop factor. And, I’ll still have the 7D to use at the times when it’s a better choice than the 5D is. The two of them together will be an awesome pairing, one that I’m really looking forward to using in the future.

Oh, and by the way, it isn’t just for wildlife photography that I’ll be able to use the 5D to better effect. It will also be for macros, where both better low-light performance and extended dynamic range will improve my images a good deal. While the low-light performance isn’t a factor in landscape photography, the two stops of additional dynamic range will be a huge improvement. And, if I do any night photography, as I hope to, then the low-light performance of the 5D will make a huge difference as well, whether it’s star trails, stills of the milky way, or city lights at night.

I know that all of my babbling about photography and my gear is boring to many, but it means a lot to me. On that subject, one of the things that I wanted to try on my last two outings was shooting a few images to stitch together into panoramas, but the fog was so dense both days that I didn’t bother. If I had seen something worth shooting on a foggy day, I would have, but I never saw such a scene. However, that is something that I’d like to work on for the future, even if my practice images never get posted here or anywhere else. The last sunrise that I photographed would have been a great time for a panorama, since the entire sky was colorful, but I didn’t think of it at the time. I’ve found that I need to practice techniques in advance, so that they do pop into my head at the right time, and I’m ready to shoot what I see at the time when I see it, not think about after the opportunity has passed.

I could go on at length about the advantages and disadvantages of producing panoramic images, but I’ll leave it at this. It’s another tool that I need to learn so that it becomes second nature to me to shoot images to be stitched into panoramas that turn out well enough to be proud of.

It’s been warming up over the last week, and as it looks right now, I should have an excellent day off from work for my next photographic outing.

It’s now the last day of February as I’m working on this post, and I did have an excellent day off from work yesterday, with warm temperatures, and great light for a change. It was chilly as I left home, so I started the day at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, but there wasn’t much going on there as far as birds. Once it had really begun to warm up, I moved to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and spent the rest of my day there. I think that because this post is already too long on words, and short of photos, that I’ll end this one with just one photo from the day, then, begin my next post with the rest of the photos that I’ve saved for blogging. I shot over 600 photos for the day, don’t worry, only a handful will appear in the next post. But, here’s a photo from yesterday.

Black-capped chickadee on a bird feeder

I’ll save my thoughts on this image, and the rest of the images that I shot for the next post.

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


Northern Pintail, Anas acuta

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Northern Pintail, Anas acuta

The pintail or northern pintail (Anas acuta) is a duck with wide geographic distribution that breeds in the northern areas of Europe, Asia and North America. It is migratory and winters south of its breeding range to the equator. Unusually for a bird with such a large range, it has no geographical subspecies if the possibly conspecific duck Eaton’s pintail is considered to be a separate species.

This is a large duck, and the male’s long central tail feathers give rise to the species’ English and scientific names. Both sexes have blue-grey bills and grey legs and feet. The drake is more striking, having a thin white stripe running from the back of its chocolate-coloured head down its neck to its mostly white undercarriage. The drake also has attractive grey, brown, and black patterning on its back and sides. The hen’s plumage is more subtle and subdued, with drab brown feathers similar to those of other female dabbling ducks. Hens make a coarse quack and the drakes a flute-like whistle.

The northern pintail is a bird of open wetlands which nests on the ground, often some distance from water. It feeds by dabbling for plant food and adds small invertebrates to its diet during the nesting season. It is highly gregarious when not breeding, forming large mixed flocks with other species of duck. This duck’s population is affected by predators, parasites and avian diseases. Human activities, such as agriculture, hunting and fishing, have also had a significant impact on numbers. Nevertheless, owed to the huge range and large population of this species, it is not threatened globally.

The northern pintail is a fairly large duck with a wing chord of 23.6–28.2 cm (9.3–11.1 in) and wingspan of 80–95 cm (31–37 in). The male is 59–76 cm (23–30 in) in length and weighs 450–1,360 g (0.99–3.00 lb), and therefore is considerably larger than the female, which is 51–64 cm (20–25 in) long and weighs 454–1,135 g (1.001–2.502 lb). The northern pintail broadly overlaps in size with the similarly-widespread mallard, but is more slender, elongated and gracile, with a relatively longer neck and (in males) a longer tail. The unmistakable breeding plumaged male has a chocolate-brown head and white breast with a white stripe extending up the side of the neck. Its upperparts and sides are grey, but elongated grey feathers with black central stripes are draped across the back from the shoulder area. The vent area is yellow, contrasting with the black underside of the tail, which has the central feathers elongated to as much as 10 cm (3.9 in). The bill is bluish and the legs are blue-grey.

The adult female is mainly scalloped and mottled in light brown with a more uniformly grey-brown head, and its pointed tail is shorter than the male’s; it is still easily identified by its shape, long neck, and long grey bill. In non-breeding (eclipse) plumage, the drake pintail looks similar to the female, but retains the male upperwing pattern and long grey shoulder feathers. Juvenile birds resemble the female, but are less neatly scalloped and have a duller brown speculum with a narrower trailing edge.

The pintail walks well on land, and swims well. It has a very fast flight, with its wings slightly swept-back, rather than straight out from the body like other ducks. In flight, the male shows a black speculum bordered white at the rear and pale rufous at the front, whereas the female’s speculum is dark brown bordered with white, narrowly at the front edge but very prominently at the rear, being visible at a distance of 1,600 m (0.99 mi).

The male’s call is a soft proop-proop whistle, similar to that of the common teal, whereas the female has a mallard-like descending quack, and a low croak when flushed.

This dabbling duck breeds across northern areas of Eurasia south to about Poland and Mongolia, and in Canada, Alaska and the Midwestern United States. Mainly in winters south of its breeding range, reaches almost to the equator in Panama, northern sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South Asia. Small numbers migrate to Pacific islands, particularly Hawaii, where a few hundred birds winter on the main islands in shallow wetlands and flooded agricultural habitats. Transoceanic journeys also occur: a bird that was caught and ringed in Labrador, Canada, was shot by a hunter in England nine days later, and Japanese-ringed birds have been recovered from six US states east to Utah and Mississippi. In parts of the range, such as Great Britain and the northwestern United States, the pintail may be present all year.

The northern pintail’s breeding habitat is open unwooded wetlands, such as wet grassland, lakesides or tundra. In winter, it will utilise a wider range of open habitats, such as sheltered estuaries, brackish marshes and coastal lagoons. It is highly gregarious outside the breeding season and forms very large mixed flocks with other ducks.

Both sexes reach sexual maturity at one year of age. The male mates with the female by swimming close to her with his head lowered and tail raised, continually whistling. If there is a group of males, they will chase the female in flight until only one drake is left. The female prepares for copulation, which takes place in the water, by lowering her body; the male then bobs his head up and down and mounts the female, taking the feathers on the back of her head in his mouth. After mating, he raises his head and back and whistles.

Breeding takes place between April and June, with the nest being constructed on the ground and hidden amongst vegetation in a dry location, often some distance from water. It is a shallow scrape on the ground lined with plant material and down. The female lays seven to nine cream-coloured eggs at the rate of one per day; the eggs are 55 mm × 38 mm (2.2 in × 1.5 in) in size and weigh 45 g (1.6 oz), of which 7% is shell. If predators destroy the first clutch, the female can produce a replacement clutch as late as the end of July. The hen alone incubates the eggs for 22 to 24 days before they hatch. The precocial downy chicks are then led by the female to the nearest body of water, where they feed on dead insects on the water surface. The chicks fledge in 46 to 47 days after hatching, but stay with the female until she has completed molting.

Around three-quarters of chicks live long enough to fledge, but not more than half of those survive long enough to reproduce. The maximum recorded age is 27 years and 5 months for a Dutch bird.

The pintail feeds by dabbling and upending in shallow water for plant food mainly in the evening or at night, and therefore spends much of the day resting. Its long neck enables it to take food items from the bottom of water bodies up to 30 cm (12 in) deep, which are beyond the reach of other dabbling ducks like the Mallard.

The winter diet is mainly plant material including seeds and rhizomes of aquatic plants, but the pintail sometimes feeds on roots, grain and other seeds in fields, though less frequently than other Anas ducks. During the nesting season, this bird eats mainly invertebrate animals, including aquatic insects, molluscs and crustaceans.

Pintail nests and chicks are vulnerable to predation by mammals, such as foxes and badgers, and birds like gulls, crows and magpies. The adults can take flight to escape terrestrial predators, but nesting females in particular may be surprised by large carnivores such as bobcats. Large birds of prey, such as northern goshawks, will take ducks from the ground, and some falcons, including the gyrfalcon, have the speed and power to catch flying birds.

It is susceptible to a range of parasites including Cryptosporidium, Giardia, tapeworms, blood parasites and external feather lice, and is also affected by other avian diseases. It is often the dominant species in major mortality events from avian botulism and avian cholera, and can also contract avian influenza, the H5N1 strain of which is highly pathogenic and occasionally infects humans.

Pintails in North America at least have been badly affected by avian diseases, with the breeding population falling from more than 10 million in 1957 to 3.5 million by 1964. Although the species has recovered from that low point, the breeding population in 1999 was 30% below the long-term average, despite years of major efforts focused on restoring the species. In 1997, an estimated 1.5 million water birds, the majority being northern pintails, died from avian botulism during two outbreaks in Canada and Utah.

The northern pintail is a popular species for game shooting because of its speed, agility, and excellent eating qualities, and is hunted across its range. Although one of the world’s most numerous ducks, the combination of hunting with other factors has led to population declines, and local restrictions on hunting have been introduced at times to help conserve numbers.

This species’ preferred habitat of shallow water is naturally susceptible to problems such as drought or the encroachment of vegetation, but this duck’s habitat might be increasingly threatened by climate change. Populations are also affected by the conversion of wetlands and grassland to arable crops, depriving the duck of feeding and nesting areas. Spring planting means that many nests of this early breeding duck are destroyed by farming activities, and a Canadian study showed that more than half of the surveyed nests were destroyed by agricultural work such as ploughing and harrowing.

Hunting with lead shot, along with the use of lead sinkers in angling, has been identified as a major cause of lead poisoning in waterfowl, which often feed off the bottom of lakes and wetlands where the shot collects. A Spanish study showed that northern pintail and common pochard were the species with the highest levels of lead shot ingestion, higher than in northern countries of the western Palearctic flyway, where lead shot has been banned. In the United States, Canada, and many western European countries, all shot used for waterfowl must now be non-toxic, and therefore may not contain any lead.

On to my photos:

Although pintails are not rare in Michigan, getting close to one is a rarity because they are very wary of humans due to the hunting pressure that they endure during migration. In fact, pintails were one of the first species that I photographed for this project, but it has taken me almost 5 years to get a reasonably good photo of a male in full breeding plumage. These photos were shot in January of 2018 at the Muskegon County wastewater facility.

Northern pintail ducks


Northern pintail ducks in flight


Northern pintail ducks in flight


Male Northern pintail ducks in flight


Northern pintail ducks in flight


Northern pintail ducks


Northern pintail ducks


Northern pintail ducks


Northern pintail ducks


This is number 206 in my photo life list, only 144 to go!

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


First real post of 2018

My last post was done in the middle of January, which is when I’m starting this post as well. I still haven’t been outside with a camera yet this year, and I may not make it this week either. I have a doctor’s appointment on my day off from work to make sure that the medicine that I’m taking for my psoriasis isn’t damaging my liver or other vital organs.

I’m more than a bit disappointed about not getting out this week, as it’s forecast to be the nicest day so far this year, with a temperature around freezing, and some sunshine for a change. Oh well, they’re be plenty of nice days this year when I can make it outside to shoot photos.

I think that this new job that I started last fall will actually give me more time for photography once I get used to the schedule. There have been days when even though I worked, I could have easily had the time to get out and shoot some photos from around home, or even have gone to Muskegon and back. But, it’s been so cold that I had no desire to freeze my fingers off for a few photos shot on grey, dreary days when there’s little hope of getting a good photo.

There’s been a lot for me to learn so far on this new job, mostly learning which postal employees know what they are talking about if I have a question. I could easily go on at length about all there is to learn, but I’m beginning to get the hang of it, and despite a few slip ups on my part, it’s going much better than during my first few weeks there. The pay is good, so good that I no longer have to work 10 to 12 hours a day to make ends meet, unlike at the last place that I worked.

I typically only work for 5 to 6 hours a couple of days each week, then a couple of longer days, in the 8 to 10 hour range, depending on the runs that I do. Since I earn $4 an hour more than at my last employer, I still make more money at the new job. Oh, and that $4 an hour is what I see in my paycheck. They also pay another $5 per hour that I use to pay my benefits and never see in my paycheck. My health insurance, dental insurance, and all other benefits come out of that $5 an hour that doesn’t show up in my paycheck, and some of that goes into a retirement savings account after my various insurances are paid for. That goes along with an IRA, and my employer has a profit-sharing program that also goes into my IRA as well. So, financially, I’m much better off at this job than my last.

Still, money is going to be tight until I get the hospital bill that I ran up last spring paid off. I have a rebate card from B&H Camera that I have to use before the end of April, or it will expire, and I’ll lose that rebate. I plan on purchasing a tripod collar and another quick release plate for the gimbal head so that I can mount my 70-200 mm lens on the gimbal head to use it to shoot videos if that’s the focal length required at the time that I shoot the video.

One thing that I’m learning about shooting video is that I don’t have to be zoomed in as tight on a subject for the subject to show up well in the video. Another thing that I’m learning is that I can’t hold the camera steady enough to produce a quality video no matter how short the lens that I use is. I know that most people use a dedicated head for videos, but I don’t want to spring for yet another tripod and head just to shoot videos. In my limited testing, the gimbal head does what I need it to do, steady the camera and lens, yet let me follow the action that I’m trying to shoot.

So far for the year, I have three photos saved that I shot testing ways to make the 400 mm lens focus closer than 11 feet by adding an extension tube behind it. I can get down to eight feet, which will work well for times when I can use it. I also have three short video clips saved as well, as I was trying to get my camera set-up correctly to shoot videos.

I know that I’m going to have to change one of the settings that I changed back to where it was, or it will mess me up as I’m trying to shoot photos while using live view focusing. In a round about way, that takes me to my next point.

I needed another ink refill for my printer, so I stopped at the local camera store to pick one up. While there, I couldn’t resist the chance to check out a Canon 5D Mk IV in person, rather than just reading about it online. While the 5D is laid out almost exactly as the 7D that I use is, I have reprogrammed the 7D to the point where things that I do automatically with the 7D took me a while to do on the 5D because of how I have customized the 7D. That’s okay, as I can customize the 5D to match the way that I have my 7D bodies set-up, still, that reminded me how much I have changed the 7D to shoot the subjects that I do the way that I do. That may not directly affect image quality, however, it does allow me to make the changes to the camera settings as quickly as I need to in order to shoot the photos that I do. And, that does result in better images because I can use the right settings most of the time, since it takes me so little time to make the changes.

On another related note, I finally have made it out to shoot a few photos, including a sunrise for a change.

Muskegon sunrise 1

One thing that has given me fits while trying to shoot a series of images to produce a HDR image as these are is that the 7D that I’ve begun using for landscapes canceled the auto-bracketing for exposure whenever I’d change anything, including refocusing the scene. There have been times when I almost switched back to the 60D body just for that reason, as once I set the 60D for exposure bracketing, it stayed set until I changed it. I went into the menu system of the 7D for another reason, and found a setting labeled AEB auto cancel, and it was enabled. I disabled it, and that put an end to me having to reset the bracketing all the time as I had been doing.

Muskegon sunrise 2

Most of the time I love how customizable the 7D is, but then there are times when some obscure menu setting drives me crazy trying to figure out why the camera doesn’t do what I want it to do.

It was a great sunrise, I could have used a fish-eye lens because the entire sky was colored by the rising sun. I used the 16-35 mm lens at 16 mm for the first one, the 100-400 mm lens set at 100 mm for the second.

Now then, Photomatix recently released a new version of their software to create HDR images, and I’m still learning to make the best use of it. I think that the first image is a little over the top, so I went back and tried it a second time with different Photomatix settings, and this is the result.

Muskegon sunrise 3

That version is much closer to what I was seeing as I shot the photos. I wanted to shoot more photos of the sunrise, but it came to an end rather quickly, almost as if some one had switched off the color all at once. I also wanted to move to another location for a better photo, and switch to my 10-18 mm lens to capture more of the sky, but the sunrise was over by then.

It turned out to be a very nice day, with plenty of sunshine and the temperature getting above freezing for a change. Not only was the weather nice, but I got my best photos to date of northern pintail ducks.

Northern pintail ducks in flight

I almost blew my chance at improving over photos like this one, shot on a bitterly cold, grey day in March of 2014.

Male northern pintail

I’ve been waiting to do a post on this species in the My Photo Life List project that I’ve been working on until I was able to shoot better photos of them than the one above.

Anyway, I was shooting photos of mallards in flight for practice more than any other reason…

Mallards in flight


Male mallard in flight

…because of the way that the light is reflected off from the snow left on the ground to light the underside of their wings.

While I was shooting the mallards, I spotted the pair of pintails much closer to me than I’ve ever gotten to that species before, but I had the bird in flight set-up in my hand. I even got the pintails in focus as they were resting, but like the idiot that I am, I never pressed the shutter button. Instead, I set the bird in flight set-up down, and grabbed the portrait set-up to get what I hoped would be excellent images of the pintails. You know what happened, they took off as I was making the switch, so I had to go back to the bird in flight set-up.

Northern pintail ducks in flight

They may not be brightly colored, but they are very elegant looking ducks, so I was happy that I got the photos that I did. Also, just as with the mallards, the light reflecting off from the snow lit the underside of their wings very well.

Knowing that the pintails would probably return to the same pond as where I found them, I went off in search of other subjects for a while, then I did go back to where I had first seen them. Just as I got there, a pair of male pintails were coming in for a landing.

Male Northern pintail ducks in flight

The pintails knew I was there, so they stayed in the far side of the pond, over twice as far away from me as they had been when I first spooked them. Still, I was able to shoot a few reasonably good photos of them, much better than any of the earlier ones that I had saved over the years.

Northern pintail ducks

You can see in that last image that the females are smaller than the males, and while the females may look like a female mallard, the dark bill of the pintail is one way of telling a female pintail from a female mallard, which have orange bills.

The other photos that I shot this day are only so-so, but at this time of the year, I have to take what I can get.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight


American crow in flight


American crow in flight


American crow in flight


Great blue heron resting

I’ve since made it out again, on a day when the light was horrible, despite the sun trying to burn through the clouds. It was so hazy that it interfered with the auto-focusing system of my usually reliable camera. Not only that, but I wasn’t able to get close to any wildlife at all, other than a snowy owl well before sunrise. Still, it was fun to watch the owl trying to pick off a duck now and then. I never saw it succeed in any of its attacks though, the ducks were too quick to spot the owl as it approached. I eventually lost sight of the owl as dark as it was at the time.

Right after sunrise, this Cooper’s hawk came flying past me though.

Cooper’s hawk in flight

It’s been a while since I’ve shot a photo of a Cooper’s hawk, otherwise I wouldn’t have included that one because of the noise in the image.

Here’s a photo to show how low and close to the snow that snowy owls fly when they’re moving to another perch to hunt from.

Snowy owl in flight

Maybe I’ll catch one coming at me one of these days, rather than flying past me as it glides just above the snow. But, because they fly so low, they’re hard to spot in the distance against a white background.

On the other hand, I spotted these two bald eagles, one adult and one juvenile, soaring towards me as I looked for things to photograph. As they approached me, they took turns flying at one another.

Bald eagles in flight

Since neither of them was carrying food, I don’t know why they would make passes at each other. I don’t know if it’s part of the bonding process between an adult and its young, a game that eagles play, or exactly what the reason is, but it’s something that I see often.

Bald eagles in flight

The adult broke off and headed straight towards me, but I couldn’t get a good photo of it as it passed over my head due to the haze in the air at the time.

The juvenile hung back a little, and when it flew over me, it took a path that put blue sky behind it, so I was able to shoot this one before it got directly over me.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Birds in flight have always fascinated me, as they have many people, but the more that I attempt to photograph them, the more fascinated I have become. I should expand that, it isn’t just because I’m trying to photograph birds in flight, but it’s that I’m learning to identify the species of bird flying by just the way that it flies, long before I can see the colors of the bird that I’m seeing at the time.

At the same time that I shot the two male pintails returning to the pond, there were hundreds of mallards also returning to land there at the same time. Yet I had no trouble at all picking the pintails out of the flock of mallards because of the shape and motion of their wings. It’s hard to describe the differences, even though it was easy enough to see as I scanned the incoming flock of ducks as they returned to the pond. For one thing, the pintails flap their wings even faster than the mallards do, and the arc that their wings move in is different as well.

It seems that each species of bird flies slightly different from other similar sized birds, even if they are in the same family of birds, such as ducks. It’s easy enough to tell the difference between a long-winged duck such as a mallard, and a species of duck with much shorter, broader wings, such as a common goldeneye for example.

Male common goldeneye in flight

However, mallards and pintails are very close in size, yet their flight is different enough to allow me to identify which species a duck in flight is, just by the motion of its wings.

I think that I’m paying more attention to the different ways that birds fly because I’m spending much more time near open bodies of water, and at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, where there are vast tracts of open land devoid of trees. For most of my life, I spent most of my time hiking in wooded areas, where I’d see small songbirds flitting from one tree branch to another. Even then I could tell that there were differences in the way that the various species of birds that I saw flew, but most of the time, I couldn’t see birds in the distance because of the trees.

When I’m along the shore of Lake Michigan, or at the wastewater facility, it’s easy to spot a larger bird flying over a quarter of a mile away, and then I’d like to be able to identify it in order to decide if it’s a species of bird worth trying to get closer to or not. That’s where being able to identify the species just by the way that it flaps its wings comes into play. Is the bird I’m seeing a gull, or something else, an eagle, or a turkey vulture, a crow or a falcon? It can be hard to tell by size alone, as across the distances that I can see birds in open areas, it’s more difficult to judge the size of a bird and how far away from me it really is when the bird is in the open sky with nothing nearby to help me judge the bird’s size and distance from me.

As an example, I spotted a hawk a good distance away from me on my lasting outing, but I wasn’t sure of which species of hawk that it was until I had watched it in flight. It was a rough-legged hawk…

Rough-legged hawk in flight

…which I could tell by the way that it hovered over an area pausing to look the area over when it thought that there may be food below.

Rough-legged hawk in flight

However, as much as I could attempt to explain the differences in how similarly sized birds fly, and how you can use that to identify the bird in question, is beyond my writing ability. Even in my still photos, it’s impossible to see the differences, even if I shoot two different birds at one time in the frame together.

American crow harassing a red-tailed hawk in flight


American crow harassing a red-tailed hawk in flight


American crow harassing a red-tailed hawk in flight

To truly show the differences in how those two birds move their wings in flight I’d have to shoot videos, and I’m not good enough at shooting video yet, and I probably will never become good enough in the future. I’m afraid that ability to show what I’m trying to explain would only come if I invested in quality video recording gear rather than relying on the video capabilities of my DSLRs.

I have neither the money to afford expensive video gear, nor the time to learn how to make the best use of it, and I never will bless I were to hit the lottery. So, I encourage you to watch various species of birds in flight so that you may learn of what I’m talking about.

Anyway, I’ve had trouble finding many birds to photograph the last three times that I’ve been out with the camera this year so far. So, I shot a few photos of lichens to pass the time, and to keep my skill at macro photography ready for the spring when the flowers begin to bloom.

Unidentified lichen


Unidentified lichen

The flowers of spring can’t get here soon enough for me, it’s been a long, cold, snowy winter so far, with no hint of that changing in the weather forecasts I’ve seen. I have the day off from work, but I’m not going to bother to go out to shoot any photos, as there’s still more snow about to begin falling here before daylight. The past two weeks have been miserable as far as the cold and snow, although we may get a day or two of around average winter days this coming week. Just getting back to average will seem like a heat wave. And, a day or two without any new snow falling will be a nice change as well.

After I arrived home from work yesterday, I watched the noon forecast, hoping for nicer weather, and that’s what the forecaster said at the time, that there may even be a little sunshine for today. But, when I woke up and checked the forecast at 11 PM, it had changed to include yet more snow for the day. A check of the radar confirmed that there is indeed another band of snow headed towards the area and it will arrive just before dawn, bah humbug!

So, I’m going to finish this post with a pair of flower photos from last fall…



Unidentified sunflower

I have no idea when I’ll be able to do another of my regular posts like this one, so I’ll be filling in the gaps with more posts on the My Photo Life List project until we get some better weather around here, sorry.

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