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

Finally? Have we turned the corner?

Could it be? I have the day off from work and the weather forecast is for a nice sunny day for a change. Not only will it be sunny, but it will only be about ten degrees below our average high temperature for this time of year, not the more typical twenty degrees below average that’s been the norm around here this year. Best of all, no snow today at least, when we’ve received at least some snow on 9 of the last 11 days. If only I hadn’t overslept, but that’s the way it goes. At least by over sleeping this morning, I’ll avoid having to scrape the frost off from the windows of my Subaru.

I’m off, be back later.

I was wrong, even though I got a late start, I still had to scrape the frost off from the windshield of my car, but at least it warmed up later in the day. And, the day turned out to be pretty good as far as the quality of photos that I shot, along with the variety of birds. I’m going to begin this post with an image which is just okay, but I worked very hard to get it.

Golden-crowned kinglet

I had forgotten just how quick those little buggers are as I tried to find it, or keep it, in the viewfinder long enough to get any photo of it.

Golden-crowned kinglet

I shot more than a few photos of empty branches where the kinglet had been as I began to press the shutter release, they’re that quick. I had to get back in the thick brush with them in order to get close to them, which also made it tougher to shoot photos of them, because not only was I trying to find small openings in the vegetation to shoot through, but the vegetation limited my movements by snagging on my clothing as I tried to move.

By the way, those were shot at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve later in the day after it had warmed up a little. My day began on my way to the Muskegon County wastewater facility, when I pulled over to the shoulder of the road to shoot this photo.

Snowy owl on the roof of a house

The light was all wrong, but I had seen the same snowy owl on the roof of the same house on my way home the last time I was there, and that’s a for the record type photo to record my sighting(s) of the owl. You can see frost on the roof of the house in the shadow of the owl, it had been perched there for quite a while. And as I said, it had been perched on the same house last week when I drove past the house, so there must be something that the owl likes about that house.

Just a short distance away, I found this bald eagle looking for a snack.

Bald eagle

I hadn’t even arrived at the wastewater facility yet, and already the day was looking good.

Bald eagle

It was nice to have good light for a change…

European starling

…even if I shot just a starling in the sun.

I went looking for waterfowl first, and found the same two species of grebes that I had photos of in my last post.

Male horned grebe

While not yet in full breeding plumage, this one shows the “horns” that are the reason they are named horned grebes.

Male horned grebe

The eared grebe…

Eared grebe

…was still hungry, and wouldn’t pose for a photo.

Eared grebe diving

You can see how smoothly they enter the water as they dive in that photo.

A short time later, I found a male horned grebe looking great in his full breeding plumage.

Male horned grebe

Of course I wish that I had been closer to it so that you could see the details in its feathers, but at least you can see its colors.

Closer is usually better, as this image of a female bufflehead shows.

Female bufflehead

She was tired of the males chasing her, and so she waddled up on a rock…

Female bufflehead

…as her mate fended off the advances of the other males in the area.

Male bufflehead

Here’s the female watching her mate in action.

Female bufflehead watching her mate fend off other males

These bufflehead were too close to me to shoot a video, or at least that’s what I thought at the time. A little later, I saw another flock of them coming my way, so I shot a number of videos of them in action.

 

I did most things wrong while shooting that, I should make a cheat sheet to remind me of the correct camera settings to produce better videos.

I didn’t speed up the video, that’s how quickly the bufflehead move, which is what makes shooting still photos of them in action difficult. I think that you can see the posturing that the males do, a lot of head bobbing, short but fast chases, and short flights as the males try to attract the female’s attention. You can also see how hard the male works to keep the other males away from his mate, he must burn a lot of energy swimming in circles, always on the look-out for other males getting close to her.

It would help if I found a place where I could shoot videos without the sounds of heavy construction equipment, or the wind for that matter, from distracting the viewers of my videos from the action that I’m trying to capture.

I sat in one place for a while, as a small flock of northern shovelers fed in front of me.

Male northern shoveler

I was hoping that the shovelers being so close to me would make a flock of lesser scaup coming in my direction feel that it was safe to keep coming…

Male lesser scaup

…but, that was as close as the scaup would come, so I shot a few more of the shovelers.

Male northern shoveler

I love photographing waterfowl, especially in the spring when the males display their breeding plumage and you can see how colorful they are. But, capturing all their glory in one image is close to impossible from what my efforts so far tell me. Take wood ducks…

Wood ducks

…that first image is a good one as far as the male looking towards the camera, but when he turned his head away from me, it shows more of the colors of his feathers on his head and neck.

Wood ducks

Even then, the second photo only shows the colors on the top of his head, not the colors in his cheeks when the light hits him right.

Male wood duck

Those were shot later in the day at the headquarters area of the Muskegon State Game Area.

Still later in the day, I found another pair of wood ducks at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and shot this image that shows the purple feathers under the tail of the male wood duck.

Male wood duck

However, in that image, the wood duck’s face looks black because the light was wrong for its face.

I was thinking of doing a post about the difficulties of photographing ducks well, since I saved more photos from this day than what I have room for in a single post. But what the heck, here’s another example of how the feathers on a duck’s head seem to change colors as the way that light reflects from the feathers changes.

Male bufflehead

Neither of these photos show the bufflehead in a good pose though, as he’s looking away from the camera.

Male bufflehead

Yes, I shot quite a few photos of the bufflehead that morning…

Male bufflehead landing

 

Male bufflehead landing

 

Male bufflehead taking off

 

Male bufflehead taking off

 

Male bufflehead after landing

…as they’re even more fun to watch than mallards are.

It looks like we haven’t fully turned the corner towards spring yet, there’s another winter storm bearing down on Michigan as I type this on Friday morning. This one is forecast to be the worst of the string of winter storms that have hit us since spring officially arrived. While the weather may not have turned the corner yet, my photos have.

I may not have gotten a perfect image of any of the species of ducks that I shot on this day, it has struck me that even in the actions shots of the bufflehead, I have been able to show at least some of the colors of their heads in most of the images. That applies to the wood ducks also, I’m now getting images that seemed impossible to me just a few years ago. Some of that is due to my improved skills in Lightroom, but most of it is because I’m still improving as a photographer. Still, I can’t explain all of it though, such as why the sharpness of the images that I shoot continues to improve.

I wasn’t going to post any more images of gulls for a while, but I have a couple of images that are just too good not to share.

Herring gull

I was going to avoid the gulls during this outing, but some one told me that there was a laughing gull in with the ring-billed and herring gulls, so I had to check it out so that I could add that species to my photo life list. It turned out that the person who told me they had seen a laughing gull was mistaken, it was a Bonaparte’s gull, not a laughing gull. However, I couldn’t resist shooting this herring gull as I was looking for the other gull.

Herring gull

The images of the herring gull that I shot are beyond tack sharp, they’re razor-sharp, and I can’t explain why the sharpness of my images continues to improve.

Even in the low-light conditions that I had on the last few outings, my images are getting better all the time, which is my goal. I continue to wonder just how more improvement there can be, other than through purchasing better equipment. Then, I have to ask myself, is there better equipment than what I have already? Other than upgrading to a full frame sensor body with better dynamic range and lower noise at higher ISO settings, I don’t think that there is equipment that I can purchase that would improve my images enough to be worth the cost. Those two images of the gull are as good as any image that I’ve seen, not that I’m bragging of anything. 😉

By the way, the gull was shot with the 1.4 X tele-converter behind the 100-400 mm lens, so don’t believe it when some one says that using a tele-converter results in images that are not sharp. And, that gives me an idea to try on my next outing when I have light that’s equally as good as it was on this day.

As I typed this and proof read it, it occurred to me that it could be that my images continue to improve because I’m always trying new things out as far as getting the best from the equipment that I have, and trying new techniques as well. It’s also because I’m always looking at the flaws in my images and finding ways to eliminate them, or work around them. It would be easy to look at some of the photos in this post so far and be content with them as being the best that I can do, but I don’t do that. No, I still see flaws in even my best images, and unless some one is willing to do that, they will never improve. That doesn’t apply to only photography, but every aspect of a person’s life.

Part of what drives me to improve my photos is to show others the wonders of nature. The behavior of the bufflehead is one example, another is the way that the feathers of birds differ depending on the species of bird. Look at how sleek the gull looks in the images above, and how fine the individual fibers of its feather are. Then, look at this chickadee…

Black-capped chickadee

…and you can see that the fibers of its feathers are coarser than those of the gull. It’s the same for this tufted titmouse.

Male tufted titmouse

Its feathers are also made from fibers that are coarser than those of the gull. By the way, I know that the titmouse is a male…

Male tufted titmouse singing

…because he was singing to attract a mate.

Male tufted titmouse singing

After a quick look around to see if he was having any success…

Male tufted titmouse

…off he went.

Male tufted titmouse

That also shows you how much I had cropped the previous images of him.

You know, I could be wrong about the size of the fibers that make up the feathers of various species of birds, it could be that the fibers of the smaller species of birds only look larger because of the relative size of the birds, but I don’t think so. But to prove that, I’ll have to get even closer to one of the sleek-looking species of birds, such as the gulls or a cedar waxwing to be 100% sure of it.

I had a theory that the smaller birds had coarser fibers in their feathers as a way to trap more insulating air in their feathers to help them stay warm during the winter, but that’s just a theory of mine.

So much for signs of spring coming soon, it’s a miserable weekend around here with copious amounts of rain, sleet, freezing rain, and of course, more snow on the way for later in the weekend. To make things even worse, if that’s possible, all the precipitation is being accompanied by a very cold, very strong, northeast wind. I’m afraid that I have a couple of very long nights ahead of me at work, as it will be very slow going as slick as the roads are forecast to be. I may not have recovered enough to go out with the camera next week, even if the weather does improve slightly. That’s okay, I have a few photos left from the day that I shot the ones in this post.

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

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16 responses

  1. Stunning pictures, you take my breath away. Loved the video, they do move quickly.

    April 15, 2018 at 3:03 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! The bufflehead are about half the size of a mallard, which makes it easier for them to scoot around the way that they do.

      April 15, 2018 at 9:53 am

  2. Finally! A day where you actually feel good being outside. What a long wait for one nice day. I have heard that your weather took a nosedive while I’m writing this, so I’ll shut up about the weather.

    Wood ducks certainly have remarkable coloring. If this is a result of evolving to meet habitat, it sure makes me wonder what the evolutionary goal is. Someday I hope to actually see one, but I’ll have your great photos in the meantime.

    You are right about the super sharpness of your gull portraits. They’re gorgeous.

    Hope Michigan continues to tiptoe into spring. You all need to be able to put this brutal winter behind you.

    On Sat, Apr 14, 2018, 7:03 PM Quiet Solo Pursuits wrote:

    > quietsolopursuits posted: “Could it be? I have the day off from work and > the weather forecast is for a nice sunny day for a change. Not only will it > be sunny, but it will only be about ten degrees below our average high > temperature for this time of year, not the more typical twenty” >

    April 15, 2018 at 8:23 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! Yes, it was nice to have one or two nice days before the misery of this weekend hit. Rain, freezing rain, and so much sleet that it looks like snow on the ground, all driven by winds that gusted to 50 MPH. There have been numerous power outages as a result, and driving for work has been a royal pain.

      I think that the evolutionary goal of the male wood ducks is to attract mates, not blending in with the habitat. Also, before you began following my blog, I speculated that the brightly colored males of all species of birds also attract predators, and the duller colored females of all species were then safer as a result. The female ducks are all very similar to hen mallards, mottled brown, and they are difficult to see. With a brightly colored male nearby, a possible predator is more likely to spot the male, and that means the female and her eggs or young go unnoticed, as the male does what it takes to escape the predator.

      While I take a good deal of satisfaction from producing a sharp image, I sometimes forget to add that the reason I want sharp images is to show the beauty of nature, and so that others can see the details of things like the structure of a bird’s feathers and other details. Like the fact that even herring gulls have their own breeding plumage, and look differently in the spring than other times of the year.

      It may actually warm up around here starting next week, but I’m not holding my breath, not the way that this winter is hanging on.

      April 15, 2018 at 5:37 pm

  3. What an amazing post! Your photos are brilliant…the colours, the details and the subjects…all quite fantastic! The birds obviously feel that spring is nearly there and are beginning to show off their glorious bright feathers and that bit of sunshine definitely makes a difference when you can see the iridescence and intense colouring. My, those bufflehead are busy birds and it’s great to watch their antics in the video. Can’t really have a favourite photo when all of them are excellent but I do love the gull photos and that little titmouse…he’s so 3D. You’re very talented!

    April 15, 2018 at 1:15 pm

    • Thank you very much Marianne! Your comment is a perfect example of what I’m trying to show in my photos, the brightly colored birds that few people get a chance to see, and their behavior. I’ve got to learn how to shoot better videos though, as the bufflehead trying to attract a mate are hilarious to watch in person. The poor video that I shot just doesn’t do the scene justice. The world is 3D, and though it’s difficult to do, I try to make my images look 3D to give people a more realistic look at the world that I see.

      April 15, 2018 at 5:49 pm

  4. Glad you had at least one good day. We’ve had a cold wet weekend here too, but no snow yet.
    Maybe there’s a lot of food in the yard of that house that the snowy owl landed on. It could be overrun by mice.
    I was watching a pair of mallards yesterday, thinking of how small they were. The buffleheads must be tiny. No wonder I never see them.
    The shots of the wood ducks are excellent. They’re such a pretty bird. I wish they’d let me get closer to them.
    I hope we all see spring before summer gets here!

    April 15, 2018 at 5:13 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! I don’t know why the snowy owl chose that house as its favorite place to rest, other than it may not have to put up with crowds of people trying to photograph it there. The surrounding countryside is all farm land, open and perfect hunting conditions for the owl.

      Spring is the time to spot the species of ducks and other birds that you seldom or never otherwise see, they’re busy with their mating rituals, and pay less attention to humans at this time of year. That applies to both bufflehead and wood ducks, and that’s the reason that I was able to get fair photos of the wood ducks. Once the females are on their nests, they become so wary that it’s hard to get close to them most of the time. It helped that I hid in the brush while shooting the wood ducks, and let them come to me.

      There may be a light at the end of the tunnel finally, in the long range forecast here, there’s only two or three days more where there’s snow in the forecast, then, it finally begins to look like spring for real.

      April 15, 2018 at 6:01 pm

  5. I am glad that you got one good day in before the weather closed back in. The gull pictures were superb. I have also noticed the coarse looking feathers on small birds so I shall be interested in your further researches. Stay safe while you are driving.

    April 15, 2018 at 5:23 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! I hope to run into Brian Johnson soon, the local ornithologist that has taught me much of what I know about birds and birding, and discuss my theory about the coarseness of the feathers of smaller birds with him. It strikes me as a good theory, with exceptions of course. Cedar waxwings are also able to tolerate very cold temperatures, but they have some of the finest feather fibers of any birds, most people use the word “sleek” to describe them. Still, I’m going to attempt to get images sharp enough to reveal such details in the images.

      April 15, 2018 at 6:07 pm

  6. You had such a beautiful sunny day, Jerry! The sky was so blue. I had a laugh at the snowy owl with all the frost in its shadow. How still it must have been sitting! Your other images are wonderful land I like the way you point out the little details, like the coarser feathers on the small birds. I would never have noticed that if you hadn’t pointed it out.

    April 15, 2018 at 8:23 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! It was a beautiful day, there are times when I think that the snowy owls enjoy such days even more than humans do. They love to bask in the sun from what I’ve seen.

      I spent a lot of time in the woods when I was growing up, and often found the feathers of birds. I learned to identify which species the feathers came from not only by their colors, but by their structure as well. I’m glad that the images that I shoot these days have enough detail in them so that others can see the differences between species of birds also.

      April 16, 2018 at 11:54 am

  7. Thanks for sharing some very nice shots. Love the kinglets!

    April 16, 2018 at 2:51 pm

    • Thank you very much Bob! They never hold still, but they’re pretty birds that are worth the effort to photograph.

      April 16, 2018 at 7:33 pm

  8. Jerry, all of these photos are superb, even those that you say are just okay! I especially like those of the Wood Ducks and the Buffleheads. Were you able to get real close to them? I am envious!

    As for Spring this year: I never thought I would still be wearing my winter jackets this late in April!

    April 17, 2018 at 8:07 am

    • Thank you very much Hien! I was able to get a little closer to the ducks than normal because they were distracted by it being breeding season, and they were more worried about a female getting away from them than being so close to a human. If it had been warmer, I would have sat in my hide and gotten even better images, but it was only just above freezing that day.

      There’s several inches of new snow on the ground this morning, and it’s still coming down as I type this. One hundred miles north of where I live, I’d be thinking about digging out my snowshoes because of all the snow up there this weekend.

      April 17, 2018 at 8:33 am