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

I was a bit rusty, but I loved it!

You’ve already seen one of my images from my last outing, but it will appear here again, along with my thoughts on how I went about shooting it. It was shot on the second to last day of February, the first really nice day that we had around here when I also had the day off from work. And, what a glorious day it was! Not only did it warm up to near 60 degrees (15 C) in the afternoon, but there was great light for most of the time while I was out. That would have been enough for the day to be a memorable one, but on top of those things, the early migrating birds have begun to arrive, and some of them were singing already.

Red-winged blackbird in full “song”

That is, if you call the noises that the red-winged blackbirds make songs. Still, it was a great start to the day, hearing the early sounds of spring after such a long cold winter.

Actually, I was a bit disappointed in that image the way that it came out of the camera. I’m not sure why, but the red patch on the blackbird’s wing was too orange, not red as it looked to me as I shot the image. I used Lightroom to shift the color of the red patch from the orange cast that it had to begin with, more towards red as it appears in the image that you see above.

I’ve had the same thing happen to me before, the red patches on the red-winged blackbird’s wings often look too orange compared to how they look in real life. I’m not sure why, but I think that it has to do with the lack of dynamic range in the sensor of my 7D Mk II, but only time will tell about that. I probably should have worked on the sky in the background as well, since the sky was a deeper blue than the way that it appears in this image.

Anyway, with no clouds to block the sun for a change, most of the critters were out enjoying the sun and the warmth, none more than this muskrat.

Muskrat

I shot photos of another muskrat basking in the sun, but it was partially hidden in the weeds, so I’m not going to post any of them, I have enough photos for the day as it is.

One thing that I noticed soon after I began shooting photos was that I was a bit rusty, and I found it hard to get the subject in the viewfinder. My hand to eye coordination was off a bit because I’ve only shot a few photos this year so far. I missed what could have been good photos of a snowy owl in flight, almost directly overhead and in good light, but I couldn’t track the owl because of my being rusty. So, I did what I always do when I feel the need to practice that aspect of photography, I found some gulls to shoot.

Ring-billed gull in flight

And, I couldn’t resist a portrait shot of a gull as well.

Ring-billed gull

After I had practiced shooting gulls in flight with my 400 mm lens, I had an idea to try, switching to a wide-angle lens to get a large number of flying gulls in the frame at one time. So, I put the 16-35 mm lens set to 35 mm on the camera, and shot away. By the way, that lens at 35 mm on my crop sensor camera is 56 mm of effective focal length, about what our eyes see.

Gulls in flight

Not bad, I thought to my self, so I continued shooting with the wide set-up, notice the gull in this next one, slightly to the left and below the center of the frame, attacking the gull below it.

Gulls in flight

Finally, I got the type of shot that I had in mind when I first thought of trying the wide set-up.

Gulls flying in formation

I probably should have used a polarizing filter on the lens, I did think of it at the time, but I prefer to take one step at a time. Since this was my first attempt at using a wide-angle lens for birds in flight, I wanted to keep things as simple as possible. I also could have zoomed out to get even more gulls in the frame as well, but as I said, one step at a time, I’m pleased with how these images turned out. I will keep these images in mind the next time that I’m close to a flock of birds in flight.

The only other notable things about the time that I spent at the wastewater facility were seeing four snowy owls within sight of one another…

Snowy owl number 1

…all perched on the remaining ice…

Snowy owl numbers 2 and 3

… which I’m sure that they did to keep the zoo which is still following them around at a distance…

Snowy owl number 4

…but, I didn’t shoot a photo of the zoo.

The other notable thing was the lack of birds, there were few waterfowl around other than Canada geese and even very few mallards, no eagles in sight, and very few smaller birds other than a few horned larks.

Horned lark

By the time that I shot that photo, it was warming up nicely, so I decided to move to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve (MLNP) to shoot small songbirds.

That’s when I shot this image from my last post.

Black-capped chickadee on a bird feeder

I don’t want to cast dispersion on others who photograph birds at a bird feeder, but I find it too darned easy to shoot really good images like that one when you know where the birds will be, what they’ll do, and how to position one’s self for great lighting. I can see how shooting photos of birds at a feeder could be a pleasant hobby, and it is a way to get great images of the birds. Although, there’s not much difference between shooting the birds actually at the feeder and what I did for most of my time at the MLNP. I did sit on a picnic table near the feeders, catching the birds…

Dark-eyed junco

 

Dark-eyed junco

…and the squirrels…

Red squirrel

 

Red squirrel

…as they came to the feeders to chow down.

I can’t think of many ways to spend an afternoon as enjoyable as the one that I had. The sun was warm, I was out of the nippy wind that was blowing in from over the still very cold waters of Lake Michigan and still frozen Muskegon Lake, and there were birds singing all around me.

Male northern cardinal singing

I sat at the picnic table most of the time, however there were a few times when I’d have to stand up to get the best view of a bird, with the best background that I could have in an image. However, for the most part, I just sat and observed what was going on around me, shooting photos when I had a chance to get a good one. Of course, the feeders being nearby meant that I had plenty of wildlife around me all the time, if that was always the case, I could easily get into the habit of sitting in one spot for as long as there were things to photograph regularly.

One of the things that I observed was a red squirrel lapping up the sap that was flowing down a small tree.

Red squirrel drinking sap from a tree

I think that I’ve posted similar photos in the past, but I don’t remember if I got an image where you could see the squirrel’s tongue before. Anyway, if I’d have thought about it, I should have gone over and tasted the sap myself, to see what it tastes like. My guess is that it’s sweet, something like unprocessed maple syrup, but I could be wrong about that. Since I often see squirrels drinking sap, it must be something that they enjoy.

On the other hand, this gray squirrel was content to scrounge for seeds that birds had dropped on the ground.

Gray squirrel

There were several squirrels around, including a black morph gray squirrel, but I wasn’t able to get a photo of that squirrel. Every time that it approached my position, one or both of the other gray squirrels would chase the black morph squirrel away. I was able to shoot a few good photos of the regular gray squirrels though…

Gray squirrel

…including this one that really shows off the colors and details of the fur of the squirrel’s tail, although I blew out the highlights of the squirrel’s ears.

Gray squirrel

Did I mention that it was a wonderful early spring day?

I already showed a photo of a male cardinal singing, there were several in the area. However, as I was observing the squirrels and other birds in the area, I was somewhat surprised that the male cardinals didn’t seem very interested in visiting the feeders there. If they weren’t singing, they were simply perched in the lower vegetation, looking around.

Male cardinal

It also dawned on me eventually that I wasn’t seeing any female cardinals. It turns out that I wasn’t the only one hanging out near the feeders for birds to show up, the male cardinals were also, but they only had one specific bird that they were waiting for, female cardinals.

Female northern cardinal

Whenever a female cardinal would approach the feeders, the males would all fly over towards her, trying to woo her into being their mate for the year.

Female northern cardinal

I guess that the females weren’t ready to pick their mate for the year yet though, as most often, they flew away from the pressuring males without ever visiting the feeder. I did find it amazing that the males seemed to know that the lure of food would attract the females though, and that they all seemed to be hanging around waiting for a female to show herself. The female in the photos above left shortly after I shot those photos, as the males were all perching close to her at the time that I shot the images. Cardinals are usually very territorial during the nesting season, however the chance of finding a mate caused the males to not fight over territory, but to spend their time actually finding a mate.

By the way, all of the images that I shot at the MLNP were shot using the 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X Tele-converter behind it. Working at close range as I was, the 300 mm f/4 prime lens with the 2 X tele-converter would have been an even better set-up to use. I would have been a few mm closer, and I think that the 300 mm lens and extender is a tad sharper than the 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X extender, but only up close. The 400 mm prime lens doesn’t focus close enough for me to have gotten some of the images that I shot, like this one.

American tree sparrow

That does bring up something that will require more thought if a spend any time at all just sitting to shoot small birds, what set-up will work best. The 100-400 mm lens is the best lens I have to use while moving around, it will focus up close, and for a few of the squirrel photos, I actually zoomed out a little to less than the 560 mm that I get while using the extender.

The 400 mm lens is the sharpest long lens overall that I have, but its minimum focusing distance is 11 1/2 feet, which isn’t close enough for they type of shooting that I did on this day at the MLNP. I’ve found that I can add an extension tube behind that lens to get down to around 8 feet, but then I can’t shoot at longer distances if needed, as when I shot this photo.

Common grackle

The 300 mm lens works very well up close, but it gets softer as the distance to the subject increases, with or without an extender behind it. I’ve used that lens with the 2 X extender in the past, and up close, it’s still as sharp as a tack. This image is from the summer of 2016, but it shows how sharp the 300 mm lens and 2 X extender are when used for subjects close to me, and in good light.

Virginia Rail, Rallus limicola

I can see myself sitting in one place with all three set-ups ready to go depending on the situation. That seems more than a little silly, but each set-up has its own strengths and weaknesses that I have to take into account. Maybe some day, a lens manufacturer will produce the ideal lens, but I doubt if I could afford it if it was ever on the market.

Anyway, a few more photos from the time I spent at MLNP.

Rock dove or pigeon

 

American tree sparrow

 

American tree sparrow

 

Female downy woodpecker

 

Mourning dove tightrope walking

 

Mourning dove

Have I mentioned that I thoroughly enjoyed sitting in the sun, listening to the birds singing, shooting a few hundred photos of the more common species of birds and squirrels around here?

One other thing that I should mention, I have finally bitten the bullet and begun to add a small amount of color saturation to my images. Ever since I began shooting in RAW, I’ve had my cameras set to record with nothing added to the images as the camera records them. So, I get the true RAW images in Lightroom, and over time, I’ve noticed that even with a little added vibrance in Lightroom, the colors in my images seem to be a bit drab compared what I see in real life, and in the images shot by others. That’s especially true on a magnificent day such as this one was, the light was as close to perfect as it can get, and yet the colors in the images that I shot seemed to be washed out a little. I didn’t have to add much saturation to the colors to bring these images closer to what I saw through the viewfinder as I pressed the shutter. And, I’m not about to push the saturation slider over to the point where it’s obvious what I’ve done, with unnatural colors and artifacts in the image caused by pushing the color saturation too far. Subtle is still my way of processing my images in Lightroom. That also applies to sharpening, and for that matter, all of the adjustments in Lightroom. I want my images to appear as natural as I can get them, and I’ve found over time, that includes boosting the color saturation just a tad.

As close as the day was to being perfect, my images should reflect that, and not look as though people were seeing an old, faded photo of the things that I shot.

I tried to pay attention to the background while I was shooting, but you can’t always get a clean background when shooting smaller birds.

American robin

And, you can’t always get a clean foreground either, as these images show.

Male house finch

However, since this day was all about enjoying the day and shooting some fair photos of common species, I think that the day was a success.

Male house finch

If only this chickadee didn’t have a twig growing out of its head. 🙂

Black-capped chickadee

If not for the twig in the background, that image would be every bit as good as the one of the chickadee on the feeder. I suppose that I could edit the twig out of the photo in Lightroom, but I’m too lazy to spend that much time on this image.

This week, I took delivery of a tripod collar and quick release plate so that I can mount my 70-200 mm lens on the gimbal head that I have to shoot videos when that lens is the correct one to use. While that set-up doesn’t balance as well on the gimbal head as I had hoped due to the battery grips that I have on the 7D, it will still be better than handholding the camera and lens when shooting video.

With the return of nicer weather, better light, and all that goes with those things, I’m really looking forward to this coming year. While I should know better than to make many plans, I do hope to experiment more this year, as I did when using the wide-angle lens to shoot the gulls in flight.

Despite the negative tone of my last post, things are going well for me this year, other than the weather, and that is already changing for the better. The new job is going well, and I’m much better off financially than I was just a few short months ago before I made the change. Once I get used to dealing with the erratic nature of the scheduling there, I’ll have more time to get outside to play with my camera gear.

I would like to find a spot close to home for those days when I have the time to get out for shorter periods of time than it takes me to go to Muskegon, or one of the other places that I know of now. That’s one of my goals for the year.

Since I plan on doing some experimentation, some scouting, and a few other things that I have in mind, I’m not sure how often I’ll be posting, but I know that it will be more often than it has been the past three months. I can fill a post with images that I shoot in a single day if the day is as nice as this one was.

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

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20 responses

  1. Wonderful!

    March 3, 2018 at 4:45 pm

    • Thank you very much Cindy!

      March 3, 2018 at 9:20 pm

  2. You have such a good eye for a bird portrait that your images are full of life and meaning even when the birds are at rest. I really enjoyed this post and not just for the glimpse of that rare commodity, sunshine.

    March 3, 2018 at 5:09 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! I’m really a frustrated people portrait photographer that has turned his camera towards birds instead of people. It helps that I’ve shot enough bird portraits to know when to allow the shutter to keep going, and when to let off from the button. I shoot too many photos, but that’s better than not enough, missing the best one that I can get.

      March 3, 2018 at 9:23 pm

  3. I just saw a robin on another post and here is a red winged blackbird and I haven’t seen either yet even though we’ve had plenty of warmth. No spring peepers yet either, but I have to keep reminding myself that it’s only March third.
    I love the wide angle shot of the gulls!
    I’ve heard that squirrels bite the bark of trees to get the sap flowing so they can lick it up. I’ve also heard that they could spend their entire life in the trees, never touching the ground, if they had to. Great shots of them!
    Obviously I don’t know anything about your neighborhood but maybe you should try just walking around it with a camera. I do that here and often have a post full of photos in just a half hour.
    I’m glad you’re finally seeing some nice weather and happy to hear that things are going well on the job. 4 more years!

    March 3, 2018 at 5:52 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! I was surprised by how quickly both the robins and red-winged blackbirds arrived here as they followed the warmer weather north. I’m sure that you’ll be seeing and hearing them soon. No spring peepers here either, most small bodies of water are still ice covered here.

      As I shot the photo of the squirrel lapping up the sap, I wondered if that’s the reason that they’re seen stripping the bark from tree branches at times. Could be, from what you’ve heard. I’m sure that they could stay in trees for their entire life.

      What little undeveloped land in my neighborhood is currently in the process of being developed, more apartments, and yet another self-storage establishment. The only place that I could walk would be the path next to the expressway, listening to traffic roaring past me the entire time. No thanks. Because of all the development, the park near me isn’t that great for birds any longer, and I’m tired of being harassed by the police after some one complains about a guy with a big camera in the park when there are kids nearby. I need to find someplace more out of the way, and away from people.

      Yes, I’m settling in at the new job, the wages and benefits are darned good for how few hours that I have to work to earn them compared to any other truck driver job that I’ve had. I made more money over the road, but that was 70 hours a week, every week. I make almost as much now for 40 to 45 hours a week, much better.

      March 3, 2018 at 9:42 pm

  4. You are an ace photographer, all those beautiful birds were such a delight to look at. I loved the squirrels too, so cute.

    March 3, 2018 at 8:47 pm

    • Thank you very much Susan! Good light makes any photographer look good, and I had great light that day. I knew that you’d love the squirrels, and that my posts have been devoid of them of late.

      March 3, 2018 at 9:43 pm

  5. I’m so happy that you finally had a great day to get outside with your camera. Hope decent weather sticks around for you.

    It looked as though the sparrow in your first photo was banded. Does anyone actually band sparrows? I was amazed.

    Also, I never knew that grackles had a bright blue throat. Wow.

    Those snowy owls probably won’t hang out much longer, but I have enjoyed your superb photos. Thanks for fighting off the mad hoards to capture them.

    Keep up the good work!

    March 3, 2018 at 11:21 pm

    • Thank you very much Judy! It was one of the best days that I’ve had outside with or without a camera in a long time, and glad that it showed in my photos.

      Yes, the American tree sparrow was banded, Brian Johnson bands every bird that ends up in his net as far as I know. Sparrows get a bum rap due to the obnoxious behavior of the introduced English sparrows. Our native sparrows, like the ones in my photos, are completely different, and many have pretty songs, including these tree sparrows. What Brian learns through banding the birds would astound you, I learn more talking to him for an hour than from all the books that I’ve read.

      Wait until I catch a grackle up close in good light, then you’ll see the blue, but also purple and green parts of them.

      Yes, I’m sad that the snowy owls will be leaving soon, but there will be more here next winter. And, once they leave, they won’t have idiots chasing them around any longer.

      March 4, 2018 at 9:37 am

  6. Wow what an amazing post- definitely one to brighten anyone’s day. Brilliant photos of some beautiful birds and mammals. Their shapes and colours of feathers, beaks, their attitudes, flying techniques are all fascinating and you’ve captured the lot! I love the gulls in formation, the snowy owls, the dark eyed junco…look I could list them all, especially that red squirrel with his little tongue poking out enjoying the sap. Best of all it’s a positive and happy post reflecting the promise of a good year ahead with more fantastic photos to look forward to.

    March 4, 2018 at 6:46 am

    • Thank you very much Marianne! It was a magnificent day with great lighting and willing subjects that are looking their best as the mating season approaches. After I moved to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, I saw only one other person, so there weren’t crowds driving the birds and squirrels away all the time. With the warm temperatures, it was about as close to a perfect day as one could hope for. Of course it’s turning colder here again, with more snow on the way, but the corner has been turned, we’re on our way to spring, and I’m loving it!

      March 4, 2018 at 9:02 am

  7. Your pleasure in the day you spent photographing the birds and other wildlife was so apparent! I am so glad you are feeling positive and that you are looking forward to experimenting with your photography this year. The shots of all those birds you saw are wonderful; I enjoyed looking at all of them.

    March 5, 2018 at 8:44 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! That was one of the very best days that I’ve ever spent outdoors, about as close to perfect as it comes. I think that my photos were enhanced by the fact that the birds and squirrels were enjoying the fine day as much or more than I was.

      March 5, 2018 at 11:59 pm

  8. I like all of the above photos, especially those of the Horned Lark and the Snowy Owls I know what you meant by the zoo that followed them)!

    On color saturation, I suggest you try out DxO PhotoLab for processing your RAW images. The software has its own color settings for each specific type of camera and lens (for example a Canon 7D II and a Canon 100-400mm II lens). Even after you use those setting for the RAW image, you can still change things like vibrancy or saturation, until you get what you want in your final JPG image.

    March 7, 2018 at 8:20 am

    • Thank you very much Hien! I should have known that snowy owls attract large crowds everywhere that they are seen.

      I may try the DXO mark software one of these days, but I’m still learning to use Lightroom well. And, Lightroom has settings for each camera/lens combination as well. I do use the Adobe lens correction, it seems to work fine. But, under camera calibration, Adobe Lightroom defaults to Adobe’s vision of what images shot with a particular camera body should be. That worked fine with my 60D bodies, but if I over-ride that setting and use the RAW images as they come out of the 7D bodies, the images look much better. However, in checking this, I found that I hadn’t set the correct calibration for the newer 7D body, and it was showing the images with the Lightroom calibration. That’s the body that I use for bird portraits most of the time, which is why I had to add a little saturation to most of the images in this post. I’ll have to go back to my import images defaults and change Lightroom so that it uses the correct calibration for the second 7D body.

      March 7, 2018 at 11:09 am

  9. Love the blackbird in full song.

    March 7, 2018 at 7:43 pm

    • Thank you, all I did was press the shutter button.

      March 8, 2018 at 5:58 am

  10. Wonderful captures, Jerry!

    March 8, 2018 at 8:01 pm

    • Thank you very much Donna!

      March 8, 2018 at 8:50 pm