On the lookout
I’m still looking for places where I can either set-up my portable hide, or to use something more permanent to shoot better images of birds and other wildlife. Of course, the number one priority is that there’s sufficient wildlife around to photograph so that I don’t get bored while sitting in a hide for very long. With that in mind, I’m always on the lookout for places, and along with that goes figuring out what characteristics cause wildlife to congregate in a smaller area. That’s proving to be more difficult that I had anticipated.
With my job as a truck driver, I’m always checking out places along the highway where I see wildlife in large numbers to help myself learn what the characteristics are that draw concentrations of wildlife, and so far, I’m as clueless as I was before I began my search.
I see dozens of small ponds, both natural and man-made, lakes, marshes, swamps, small streams, and larger rivers in my travels for work. Some hold large numbers of ducks and other birds almost all of the time, while most of them seldom have any ducks or wading birds around them ever, even though these places appear to the human eye to be nearly identical.
I have to assume that the quantity and quality of food is the driving factor which determines what bodies of water or other places draw wildlife in numbers that would make it worthwhile for me to set-up a hide to shoot photos. However, I’ve not been able to figure out by looking at an area how I can detect places that have the right food for wildlife so that I’ll be able to make wise choices when I sit in one place for very long.
For one thing, I began photographing the birds of the wooded areas, and they tend to be opportunistic feeders that are always on the move, looking for food sources as they flit from one tree or bush to another. Chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and woodpeckers are the species that I’m referring to here, because other than a bird feeder to hold them in one place, they’re always on the move. My preferred way of photographing them was to walk through the woods until I ran into a flock of these birds actively feeding, then getting ahead of the flock after I had determined which direction they were moving. Then, I could wait for individuals within the flock to perch somewhere close enough to me for a good image.
It helps that over the years I’ve learned what types of habitats these woodland species prefer as they search for food, and the behavior patterns of these species.
So, as I drive for work or other reasons, I’m learning which bodies of water have birds in and around them, and which ones don’t, however, the why still escapes me. What really confuses me is that there are several places where the road was built by filling the middle of a small body of water to build the road, effectively dividing the body of water in half. On one side of the road, there’ll be waterfowl and/or wading birds, and on the other side, nothing, even though at one time before the road was built, the now two bodies of water were once one. That’s something that I can’t figure out, since I can’t see anything different between the bodies of water on either side of the road. Obviously, the birds see a difference, when I can’t.
Another thing that I notice is that if even a small body of water attracts birds during migration, then many species seem to be able to find it at various times and make use of it. The example that I have in mind is a small swamp, less than an acre in size, that sits right next to the expressway east of Grand Rapids. I’ve seen wood ducks, other dabbling ducks, various species of herons and egrets, and Canada geese all use that tiny swamp for a day or two, sometimes a week or more, before moving on. In the first place, I was surprised to see that any species of waterfowl was able to find such a small swamp in the woods, but then, the variety of species using it surprised me even more. There are over a dozen other similar small swamps nearby, but only that one attracts birds.
By the way, I’ve considered making that tiny swamp one of the places to set-up my portable hide from time to time, but I find the thought of sitting along side a busy expressway while waiting for the birds quite unappealing. Also, while the north edge of the swamp is within the right-of-way of the expressway, the south side is on private property, so I’d be trespassing if I were to set-up in the best position for photos.
So, I do know of quite a few bodies of water that attract birds, however when it comes to most of them, there’s something other than the birds themselves which precludes myself from setting up the portable hide at any of those locations. Usually it’s due to the fact that where I’d set-up is on private property. Still, even when I’m at the Muskegon County Wastewater facility or any other public place, I’m attempting to learn what causes the birds to concentrate in a small area that would make it a suitable place to set-up a hide.
I am learning that weather plays a role in determining where birds congregate, more so when they’re resting than actively feeding, but even then, weather is still part of the equation. All wildlife, birds included, prefer to be somewhere out of the wind if it’s cold, but where there’s a light breeze if it’s warm for example. I’ve also noticed that some species of ducks seem to prefer to feed in areas where the wind is stronger, maybe the wind and waves make it easier to find their preferred food. Also, I haven’t paid enough attention to specific species in specific types of weather to say anything hard and fast about it, I should be taking notes over time as I study this.
I’ve been using my photos as notes in a way, and to that end, I’ve tried to use the GPS capabilities of my camera for that my last two times out. However, on the first day that I activated the GPS of the camera, it failed to ever make a connection with enough satellites to pinpoint my locations that day. It worked a little better the second day, but it still wasn’t very reliable, I need to use it more often I guess.
I should have tried the GPS sooner, but the battery life of the Canon D Mk II wasn’t great to begin with. Now that I have battery grips that hold two batteries, I finally decided to try the GPS out. I can plot the location of where I shot each photo in the maps section of Lightroom once I get better at using the GPS. That may end up assisting me to find specific locations to return to where I can set-up a hide and wait for wildlife to come to me.
I’ve found three new to me nature preserves all in close proximity to one another, about an hour drive from where I live. I hope to check these out soon when I have a day off from work. That may come this week, but it’s forecast to rain that day, so I haven’t decided if I’ll make the trip there or not yet.
I’m going to interrupt my train of thought at this point for a few photos. I have had my day off from work, and while it was raining in the early morning hours, the rain eventually ended and I was able to shoot a few fair photos of few species of birds either on their way through this area to their breeding grounds further north, or they will stay in the area to breed here.
That’s a species on its way further north, here’s one that will be around all summer, although this individual bird may go farther north for the summer.
You may be able to see the water drops on the coot’s back, it was still drizzling when I arrived at the Muskegon County Wastewater facility.
There wasn’t much light to work with, and only a few species of birds to photograph, so I decided to attempt to learn how to make use of what is known as high-speed flash synchronization. I’m not going to go into the details of how the shutter in a DSLR works, along with how that relates to using a flash, I’ll only say that many cameras limit how fast of a shutter speed that you can use and still use the flash. On my old Pentax film camera, that shutter speed was 1/60 second, or the flash wouldn’t function correctly. On my Canon 7D Mk II, the fastest regular flash synchronization speed is 1/250 second, unless you enable the high-speed flash synchronization.
Since I’m using long telephoto lenses, and shooting subjects that are moving, even if slowly, I need to keep the shutter speed as high as I can get it to freeze the motion of something like the coot in the photo above as it bobbed up and down on the waves. I didn’t use the flash for the photo above though, it took me a while to find all the menu settings required to make the high-speed flash synchronization function. That’s even though I had read the manual for the camera in advance, as I knew that it was a tool that may come in handy at times. Canon does not make it easy to use the high-speed flash synchronization.
I thought that I had it set for this image, but I was wrong, the flash didn’t fire.
This skunk was too far away for me to attempt using the flash, so I don’t know why its eyes look as if the flash fired.
I also tried to use the flash creatively for this photo…
…with limited success, the same is true of this photo…
…I should have used a wider lens and gotten closer for that one though.
This sandhill crane was too far away to try the flash…
…but it was nice to see that they’ve returned to this area for the summer.
Finally, I sat near a gull and worked out everything that was needed to make high-speed flash synchronization function on my camera.
If you look closely at the gull’s eye, you can see a spot of light reflected from the flash, and that image was shot at 1/400 second, so the high-speed flash synchronization does work.
By the way, I have the flash compensation set to -1 2/3 stops so that it looks like I didn’t use the flash in the final image, other than the reflection of the flash in the eye of the gull. I haven’t used my flash unit often enough to be truly proficient with it, but I have used it enough to know that you need to dial down the flash to prevent getting images where it looks like the flash was the only source of light. All I want the flash to do is to add a little fill light at times, and so that I can keep my shutter speeds fast enough without cranking the ISO so high that I get noise in my images.
I did attempt to use the flash a few times as fill light when I was still using the 60 D camera bodies that I have, but with limited success. Since I now have both of the 7D Mk II bodies dialed in for high-speed flash synchronization, I think that I’ll use the flash more often in tough lighting situations.
Later in the day, I went searching a nearby swamp in hopes of seeing and shooting rusty blackbirds, but I couldn’t find any. I did see a pair of wood ducks, and a few other birds, and that same spot is where I had seen pileated woodpeckers in the past, so I sat there for a while in hopes that the wood ducks would come out of hiding, or that I’d get a chance to photograph other species of birds there. I had no luck as far as birds, but as I was sitting there, I decided to shoot this photo just to show how the trees in the swamp were mostly covered by lichens.
I shot that with the newer 16-35 mm f/4 L series lens, which is the last lens that I’ve purchased. The more that I use that lens, the more that I love it! The sharpness, clarity, and color rendition of that lens are all excellent, a huge step up from the EF S 15-85 mm lens I was using for most of my wide-angle photos, and the 15-85 mm lens is a good lens. It’s just that the 16-35 mm lens is one of the very best that Canon makes. I really need to use that lens more often.
However, using a wide-angle lens is like using the flash unit, I haven’t used either often enough to become proficient in using them. There never seems to be enough time, but if I don’t begin seeing more birds soon, that may change.
I have two more images from this day off from work to share…
…not great, but it does give you a little idea as to how far they have to run across the surface of the water to build up enough speed for them to get airborne, and it shows their lobed feet fairly well, although you can’t see how green their feet are.
By the time that I shot this last one, the light had improved to where I didn’t need the flash unit to get a good image.
The weather forecast is looking grim, it may not make it above freezing one or two days next week, even though it will be the first week of April. In fact, they are forecasting well below average temperatures for the first two to three weeks of April, yuck! However, that’s all the whining about the weather that I’m going to do at this point, for just as I learned how to make use of the high-speed flash synchronization on this last day out, there are other things that I can work on until the weather improves, such as learning how to put my wide-angle lens, and other lenses for that matter, to better use.
Also, getting back on track as far as finding other places to go, I have a few more thoughts on that subject.
The Grand Rapids, Michigan area where I live is only about 75 miles north of the state border with Indiana, yet there are several species of birds that are rare this far north in Michigan. I’ve been putting some of the time that I’ve been stuck inside because of the weather to good use, finding the areas where the birds that I’m looking for in the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on can be found in larger numbers than they are here where I live. I’ve identified a few places to the south of Grand Rapids where I’ll stand a better chance of seeing these species of birds. I think that once these species begin arriving for the breeding season, I’ll be taking trips to search for them, and I may find places to sit in a hide as I search for the individual species that I’m looking for. That may allow me to kill two birds with one stone (sorry) by adding new species of birds to my project, and finding good places to set-up a hide. Even if I don’t find places to set-up the hide, at least I’ll have a chance of getting good images the way that I have been up till now.
I knew that the time would come when I had to travel farther from home to find the remaining species that I need to complete the My Photo Life List project of all the species of birds found in Michigan. I think that the time has come, but the places to the south of me that I need to visit are no farther from where I live than Muskegon is, only the direction is different. I have photos of every species of duck except one, the harlequin duck, which is only seen in very limited numbers during migration periods. I’ve made a large dent in the geese seen in Michigan, the rest are also migrants on their way through the area. Between the ones that I’ve found around home and also during my spring vacations around Alpena, Michigan, I’m doing well with warblers also. However, it’s three species of warblers that I’ll be looking for specifically when I travel south, the cerulean and prothonotary warblers, and the Louisiana waterthrush, which is a member of the warbler family.
Just as I spent the past two summers tracking down and getting specific species of birds such as the Virginia rail, marsh and sedge wrens, and a least bittern, I think that this will be the summer that I work on the three species of warblers that I’ve already mentioned. I’ve been researching the exact habitat that each of these species prefers, so that when the time comes for their arrival for the season, I’ll be ready to go looking for them. Of course I won’t limit myself to just these three species, but tracking them down is my goal for the year.
That, and learning other aspects of photography, as I’ve said many times, I don’t use a wide-angle lens often enough to become proficient with them. To that end, yesterday I put the 16-35 mm lens on my camera, grabbed a couple of accessories, and went for a walk around home for the first time this year. The light was crappy, the temperature cool, but at least there wasn’t much wind, yet. It had rained in the morning as I went to bed, but by the afternoon, it was only dark and dreary.
Most of these photos don’t belong in my blog, but they were shot as I tried various ways of composing scenes…
…playing with the aperture to change the depth of field…
…and in general, learning how much that shooting a scene with a wide-angle lens expands a scene.
When shooting the images above, I was surprised by how far I could open up the aperture, which results in less depth of field, and still get what I wanted in focus to be in focus. However, when shooting a very close range, depth of field remains an issue, just as it does when I use a longer lens, such as my 100 mm macro lens.
I think that I was also dealing with camera shake, as I was shooting at very slow shutter speeds due to the lack of light. I suppose that I could have used a flash if I had thought that any of these images would be any good. However, my main goal was learning how to see through a wide-angle lens. The 16-35 mm lens does have image stabilization, however the IS isn’t as good in that lens as the IS in the 100 mm macro lens that I have, at least not for close-up work.
I worked hard on the composition of most of these images, I was very surprised at how much small changes in my position made huge differences in how the final images looked…
…even when I knew that I’d never get the composition that I really wanted as I surveyed a scene. The only way that I could have shot that last photo exactly the way that I had in mind was to have gotten into the stream and kept the camera just a few inches above the water. However, it tells me that I’m on the right track.
I should have used a polarizing filter for that image to reduce the glare off from the water, but my shutter speed was already so low that you can see motion blur in the water.
I also could have used my tripod for these photos, in fact, I should have. However, I don’t have the patience to set-up the tripod, view the scene as it appears at that precise spot, then move the tripod a matter of a few inches, to recheck how the scene looks from that vantage point. Not for these images anyway, but I did learn that’s what will be required if I’m going to get serious about wide-angle photography. For example, as I was shooting the wooden fence in the photo above, I found that just an inch or two change in my position made a large difference in how much I liked the resulting image.
If I were a really patient person, I’d also use focus stacking software to get everything in a scene such as this…
…in focus and sharp, but that was one of the first images that I shot yesterday. It was a learn as I went kind of day. And, I don’t have the patience to shoot dozens of images, moving the focus ring of the lens a minute amount between images, that’s required to use focus stacking software effectively, maybe someday. As bad as that image is, I still like the colors and the three-dimensional effect that I was able to get. I could have gotten straight on to the lichens…
…but then I would have ended up with a flat looking image like that last one.
I find that when I like a scene that I’m shooting…
…that I’m willing to put the extra effort required to get a good image of the scene.
I did see some flowers, and they were a welcome sight…
…but I wish that they had been fully open.
Overall, the few hours that I spent with the 16-35 mm lens were wonderful, getting back to shooting subjects other than birds…
…and seeing the smaller things in nature, such as the purple color of the inside of this cone again.
The 16-35 mm lens is definitely a winner…
…even though it is like a 25-56 mm lens on my 7D Mk II with its crop sensor. That’s okay, as it gives me some idea what it will be like to use the 24-105 mm lens that I plan on purchasing on the 5D Mk IV camera body that I’m also going to purchase. I now have a better idea of how wide the 24-105 mm lens will be on the full frame 5D, and what I can expect from using them together.
I need to get out and do what I did yesterday more often, both for the different subjects that I shot, and learning to use my camera gear more effectively. Once I have purchased the 5D Mk IV, I’ll definitely have to repeat this type of outing a few times, as the 16-35 mm lens will produce very different images on a full frame camera than it does on the crop sensor 7D that I’m using.
By the way, one of the accessories that I took with me and used was the set of extension tubes, which is the poor man’s way of doing macro photography. I did use an extension tube behind the 16-35 mm lens a few times, and it does allow me to get closer to a subject. That method of macro photography isn’t as good as using the 100 mm macro lens, but it helps me decide which gear is essential if I do a longer hike, and what gear I can leave behind.
It’s funny how a few lenses that weigh two or three pounds each, along with all the rest of the gear in my photo backpack add up to over twenty pounds if I carry everything that I own with me. That’s too much, so I’m looking for ways to minimize what I bring on hikes and still shoot the photos that I’d like to be able to shoot. So, even though I didn’t shoot any great images, the images that I did return with taught me a great deal, so I consider the day a successful one.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!