I have more photos leftover from my last two days off from work than will fit in just one more post, so I’ll have to whittle them down some as I go.
I’m not sure why I chose that photo as the first for this post or why I like it as much as I do. The pose is good, the foreground is clean, but the background is just okay. I wasn’t even very close to the bird, I have some much better close-ups of other species coming up in this post, but I really like that image.
I was much closer to one of the red-eyed vireo’s cousins, a warbling vireo…
…close enough so that you can see the warbler’s intended meal escaping by flying behind the warbler.
Warbling vireos may look rather plain, but they are cheery little birds that make spring a great time to be outside just to hear them singing, and fortunately, they sing often.
What could be better than hearing them sing overhead as one can smell lilacs and photograph bees covered in pollen…
…all at the same time?
I know that I should avoid writing about the camera gear that I have, and that I’d still like to have, and even how I get some of the photos that I do. However, every time that I decide to photograph something, I have to decide which camera/lens combination will produce the image that I have in mind, along with the settings used for both the camera and lens. The bee above is an example of that, I was going for wider shots of the lilac flowers when the bee landed on the flowers I was shooting. The 100 mm macro lens has a switch that limits the focusing range of the lens to speed up its ability to auto-focus, and to make it more accurate as well. Since I had the switch set to shoot wider shots, I couldn’t get as close to the bee as I wanted. By the time I shot a couple of photos, them flipped the range limiting switch, the bee was gone. I’m going to have to live with the fact that things like that are going to happen from time to time, as I did get the image of the lilac flowers that I was after, and it appeared in the last post, even if the shot of the bee in this post isn’t what I would have liked to have gotten.
That’s really true this time of year, there are so many things to photograph in early spring that won’t be seen again until next spring. Even if I were retired and spent every waking moment when there was enough light for photography, I could never shoot every thing that I would like to this time of year. As it was, my days began just before sunrise…
…I became more serious as the sun broke over the horizon…
…although I never got the image of the swan that I wanted…
…and I kept shooting until late afternoon.
Can you tell that I spent a lot of time near the lilac flowers?
I like the way that the flowers seem to jump out of the greenery in that photo.
I have been out with my camera since I began this post, and while it was a slow day as far as photos overall, I did manage to get a few photos of one of my nemesis species of birds, a yellow-billed cuckoo.
I’ve seen this species before, but I was never quick enough to get a photo of one in the past, and barely got this photo before the cuckoo went back to hiding in the thicker vegetation. It may not be a very good image, but there’s no mistaking the species of bird, which is my requirement for the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on. Hopefully as has happened in the past, now that I’ve broken the ice by getting one image of a species, better ones will follow soon.
Actually, I’ve had a pretty good spring this year, adding several new species to my list, although to this point, I haven’t seen any of the species that I targeted in an earlier post. That’s okay, as long as I’m still making progress, I’m not that worried about whether or not I get the species that I targeted.
Now then, back to the leftovers from last week.
This green heron was calling…
…to another green heron on the other side of a marsh…
…I don’t know if the two were a mated pair or rivals for the territory, but both the herons kept calling back and forth quite often. I did eventually track down the other one, but it was too far away for a photo of it.
Now then, in my last post I showed male, female, and first year male Baltimore orioles, in this post, I have a male American redstart…
…a female of the same species…
…and a first year male American redstart…
…to show the variations between them. By the way, this is another species of bird that sings often.
Isn’t spring a wonderful time of the year to be alive and outside where you can hear the birds singing and smell the flowers in bloom at the same time?
The past two weeks I’ve gotten close to a muskrat while it was eating, I wanted to shoot a video of this one as it peeled a cattail apart to get to the starchy center of the base of the cattail.
But, that was shot at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve which is always a noisy place because it’s right next to a main highway, and on this day, it was even noisier because several bus loads of school kids were there to learn about nature. The same applies to this photo from the previous week.
I think that since the peak of the spring migration is over, that it’s time for me to begin scouting other places to go. Places that are quieter, so that I can shoot videos without traffic noise, the noise from machinery as at the wastewater facility, or hoards of screaming school kids at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve.
I’m not sure that I’ll find a place as good as the places that I go to regularly now, but I know that I can find places that are quieter, even if the wildlife isn’t as abundant in these other places. As I speculated before, I think that the places that I’ve been drawn to the most the past several years have so much wildlife in so small of an area precisely because they are a tiny oasis almost hidden within human activities and development. I sort of tested that theory this past week, I hiked part of the Snug Harbor trail within Muskegon State Park. There were birds singing scattered about as I walked along, but most were well out of camera range. The few times that I left the trail in an attempt to find the birds, they simply moved to another location and began singing again.
I found most of the birds that I did shoot photos of…
…at the edges between the large stands of woods in the park where they met with the parts of the park geared towards human activities. Of course, edges are always good places to look for wildlife to begin with, even if the edges are between two different types of habitat. Edges between human development and habitat suitable for wildlife seem to be particularly good places to find wildlife. Something that I need to keep in mind when I do begin scouting.
In the meantime, I have a few close-ups of birds that I shot at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve last week that I need to post.
I love it when I get so close to birds that I don’t have to crop the images at all as I did with these last three images. But, that comes from knowing every nook and cranny of the MLNP and where I’ll be able to sneak up on a bird, or sit and let it come to me. Having visited the MLNP as often as I have, I do know it like the back of my hand, which makes it easier to get good photos there, and that’s one reason that it will be hard for me to begin going to other places, it will take me a while to learn those other places as well as I know the places that I’ve been going to. Oh well, I guess that will be part of the learning experience. That’s also okay, as I still have quite a few photos left from this spring, so if I do have a bad outing or two as I look for other places to go, I still have photos to post, like this one.
I’m only going to have one day off from work this week, I volunteered to work on one of my regular days off to help out my employer, and to earn a little extra money. The weather forecasted called for rain on the day that I’ll be working, so it seemed like a wise choice to work, but the forecast changed, and now it’s for another great day, darn.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
I have begun another post, one in which I debate with myself which camera gear I should purchase, and when I should make the purchases. It was spurred by the recently announced sale price for the Canon 5D Mk IV, and by the poor image quality of my photos of the warblers in my last post. I know that the photos of the warblers from that last post…
…would have been even better if I had the 5D Mk IV, but as part of the debate I was having with myself, I pointed out that many of the photos from that morning would have been impossible for me to shoot even a couple of years ago. Yes, there’s too much noise in that image because of the ISO setting I was forced to use, and many of my images that morning weren’t sharp because of the very slow shutter speeds that I was forced to use to go with the high ISO settings. But, as I pointed out to myself, the 60D body and the Sigma 150-500 mm lens that I used to use wouldn’t have gotten any photos at all, so I have achieved one of the goals that I have set for myself, being able to photograph just about anything at any time.
Frankly, the debate that I was having with myself made my head hurt, as Mr. Tootlepedal would say, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever finish or post the other draft that I have begun. I’m sure that the debate that I’m having with myself will continue for as long as I try to improve my images, but I do very well with what I have now even on a very cloudy day…
…and therefore, I should always keep in mind how far that I’ve come so far before thinking that I just have to make the next leap in image quality right now.
Added to the mix was watching yet another video on landscape photography. I didn’t learn much from that video, but in the very beginning of it, the presenter said that he knew many photographers who had bought expensive cameras and lenses, but never went anywhere but local parks because they couldn’t afford to go anywhere else. “Gee, that sounds like me!” is what I thought when I heard that.
I’m tired of living like a pauper for the time being, I want to get out and enjoy using the camera gear that I have now much more than I’ve been able to the past few years. Noting that I have achieved one of the major goals that I set for myself helps to put everything into perspective for me.
Yes, I still plan on purchasing the 5D Mk IV, when I can truly afford it, and not before. That’s part of my overall plan, and that camera and the right lens for it to complete my selection of wider angle lenses is a big part of the overall plan.
One of the reasons that I haven’t been traveling to shoot landscape photos is that I know that the gear that I have now, while very good, isn’t the best for landscapes. But, just as I think of the photos that I shot in the past with the 60D body and even poorer lenses then as scouting photos of sorts, planning on returning to those locations in the future, maybe the future is now, and it’s time to do more “scouting trips” which may not yield the ultimate in image quality, but would help me to improve my landscape skills for when I do have better equipment.
I think that it’s time that I allowed myself to live a little and to enjoy what I have now.
After all, if I have a good weekend off from work with good light…
…I do okay with birds…
and even insects.
I didn’t shoot any true landscapes this past weekend, as the lure of finding migrating birds that could be added to my life list…
…even if I had seen the species of bird before but had never gotten any usable photos of a male in breeding plumage…
…before this past weekend. So, that’s two more species I can cross of the list of species needed.
By the way, do you know how quick those little birds are? Here’s the same warbler as it approaches warp speed, and on take-off no less. 😉
Anyway, some of what I put into the other post is still applicable because the lens on a camera is still responsible for final image quality most of the time. This image…
…wouldn’t be as good as it is if the lens I had used wasn’t sharp from edge to edge as this image is.
However, equipment isn’t everything, as I should know by now. I began my Saturday, which is really Thursday, at Harbor Island in Grand Haven, Michigan again. I was trying too hard for half the day, both in attempting to find new species of birds, and in trying to shoot really great images. That doesn’t work for me, I should have slowed down much sooner than I did, and let the images that presented themselves come to me.
I was using the 100-400 mm lens without the 1.4 X tele-converter, to speed up the auto-focusing of the lens and camera while I was photographing the smaller birds that morning…
…so, when I found myself as close to the grebe as I was…
…I was shooting at 400 mm. I couldn’t believe that the grebe stuck around long enough for me to install the extender behind the lens to get to 560 mm of focal length, as in this next photo.
But, the grebe had moved away from me a little, so the extender didn’t help me that much.
But, that brings up something that I need to remind myself of more often, that I should stop watching those how to become a better photographer videos that are available online. Each person presenting those videos has their own opinion on gear and techniques, and what I hear from one person is often exactly the opposite that I hear from another. An example is exposure, some experts tell you to over-expose your images slightly so that you don’t introduce noise when trying to lighten the shadow areas in an image. The next expert will tell you to under-expose your images slightly so that you don’t blow out the highlights in an image. Tele-converters are another area where there’s no consensus among the experts, some swear by them, other swear at them, saying that image quality with an extender is so poor that you should never use one. It took me a while to learn how to use tele-converters, but I see almost no drop-off in image quality between the first two images of the grebe, and the last one, or this one for that matter.
I’ve also stopped exposing to the right to prevent noise, or exposing to the left to preserve highlight details, now I’m back to trying to get the exposure as close to correct as I can in the camera, and that seems to work best for me.
I suppose that it’s all part of the learning process to try what the various experts recommend, and to find out what works the best for yourself, as I’m doing now.
Before I continue with the photos, I should list the places that I went on my two days off. On the first day, I started at Harbor Island in Grand Haven as I mentioned before.
My next stop was East Grand River Park, the spot that I wrote about in my last post because I couldn’t believe the number of birds in that small park. This week, I didn’t see a single warbler or vireo, just a few of the typical summer resident species of birds such as robins, Canada geese, red-winged blackbirds, and so on. What a difference a week made, but that’s the way this spring seems to be going, everything is moving quickly this year.
From there, I went to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, which is where I found the blackpoll warbler and was able to cross that species off from the list of species of birds that I need photos of for the My Photo Life List project I began a few years ago. I also found a few other migrating birds lingering there, as well as the female rose-breasted grosbeak, which landed right next to me as I sat on a bench to take a break.
The next stop was the headquarters area of the Muskegon State Game Area, where I mostly dawdled about enjoying the flowers blooming…
…as the birds were all taking their afternoon siesta, and I was filling my lungs with the scent of the flowers there.
I made a quick stop at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, most of the waterfowl have moved on to the north, but I did find a juvenile common loon…
…and wouldn’t you know, I find an adult there on a dark and dreary day as I did a few weeks ago, and the juvenile on a sunny day with great light that would have brought out the colors of the adult had I seen it in good light.
I may as throw this one in also, as I said, it was a quick stop at the wastewater facility, and I shot very few photos.
On my second day off from work, the list of places I went is much the same. I began at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, moved to the part of the Muskegon State Game Area known as Lane’s Landing where I found the blue-winged warbler, and then wrapped up the day at the headquarters area, where once again, I enjoyed the flowers…
…more than chased birds.
This next part may be boring to some, it isn’t really about photography as it is about me and my efforts to shoot better images all the time.
As I said, I began the first of my two days off feeling under pressure to redeem myself for the poor quality of images in my last post, although they were about as good as I could expect given the poor weather when I shot them. I suppose that it’s because I’ve struggled in the past to shoot good quality images that I do feel the need to make up for the days when the images that I shoot aren’t very good. I knew that I was going to have two full days of good weather this week, and I should have known that the images I’d shoot would reflect that.
Also, I guess that I can’t blame myself for wanting to complete my kit of photography gear as soon as possible, I think that being in a hurry is something hardwired into our brains. Brian Johnson, the ornithologist that bands birds at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, once told me that all birds are in a hurry most of the time. They’re in a hurry to get to their breeding range if they migrate, in a hurry to breed and raise their young, then they hurry back to their winter range.
I don’t think that it was that much different for our distant ancestors, they’d have been in a hurry to consume as much of every type of nut, berry, or grain when it became ripe, before it spoiled or was eaten by other animals, as they could.
And, this spring seems to be going by extremely quickly. During the time when I was driving from one spot to the next I heard the day’s date on the radio, May 17th. I thought back to the date of the last snowstorm that we had around here, and it had been exactly 20 days previous since we had that nasty snow, ice, and sleet storm which made driving for work so difficult for me.
I knew that things were happening in a hurry from the various birding reports I had seen, and from what I have seen with my own eyes. It’s as if this spring had been on hold due to the cold, snowy April, that once the weather began to improve even a little, everything related to spring happened all at once. I noted that I went to a couple of places on both of my days off this week, and I swear, some trees leafed out overnight between my visits.
It’s no wonder that I’ve felt rushed this year, even more than usual because of the weather this spring. Three weeks ago, the ski resorts were still open for business, and now, most of the spring migration of birds is over with. I’ve missed most of the early spring flowers, as they bloomed and died between the days that I had off from work.
I shouldn’t let the type of weather that we had around here and the effect that it has on the photos that I shoot bother me as much as I do though.
I should know by now that if I have good light…
…that I’ll get good images…
…but, I still want the best equipment now, and I would prefer not to wait for it if it wasn’t the wise choice to do so.
However, I am going to have to wait for the best equipment, at least for some types of photography. But as I’ve said before, equipment isn’t everything, or its it?
I saw some dogwood flowers and found one that I thought would make for a good image, it did…
…which I was able to shoot by stretching myself as tall as I could and standing on my tiptoes, not a good way to get a sharp image when handholding a heavy 100-400 mm lens. I thought that I could do better with the 100 mm macro lens, so I returned to my vehicle and grabbed that lens, then tried to recreate the image above. I thought that I’d be able to hold the branch in a position that would let me get an even better image, but that didn’t work at all. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t get the same lighting or background in any of the images that I shot with the macro lens, mostly due to the wider field of view of the 100 mm lens versus the 100-400 mm lens at 400 mm. Maybe if I had worked a bit harder I could have come up with an even better image, but I seldom have any luck when I attempt to alter nature in any way, even by moving a flower a few inches in hopes of getting better lighting.
It works better for me to shoot what I see, when I see it…
…so, when I saw the heron flying towards me…
…I set the camera to the saved bird in flight settings…
…and fired off a few short bursts of photos until the heron was past me. I’m not sure, but I think that the heron had a gullet full of food that it was taking to its young in a nest somewhere nearby, and that’s why it had its tongue out as it flew.
It does take a sharp lens and a camera with a great auto-focusing system to get images such as those, but it also takes luck, being in the right place at the right time. I got the heron flying into the early morning sun, great light to begin with, and the heron’s pupils were dilated because it had been hunting in very low light before it took off. The flight path that the heron took, flying that close to me when conditions were great, was also a matter of luck.
I had two epic fails this past week, I saw a great horned owl in a tree just before it took off flying away from me…
…but the owl was too quick for me to get a good photo of it. I also spotted a raccoon just as it emerged from the tall grass at the edge of the marsh at Lane’s Landing, not more than 20 feet from me, but it spotted me at the same time I spotted it, and I had to settle for this photo …
…of the raccoon swimming away from me.
One of the reasons that I’m including such poor photos is that both of the critters in the photos are mostly nocturnal, yet I saw them around noon on a bright, beautiful, late spring day. I assume that both the owl and raccoon had young to feed, and that’s the reason that they were both out hunting during the day.
The last time that I walked the Lost Lake trail at Muskegon State Park I heard two barred owls calling back and forth to each other, also in the middle of the day. That’s one thing that makes spring so special to me, the chance to see wildlife that is nocturnal during the day because they are forced to hunt during the daylight hours to keep their young fully fed and growing. If only I had more time to be outside to increase my chances of seeing and photographing the things that I know are happening at this time of year.
That applies to about everything in the spring, the Baltimore orioles have returned, the males are singing…
…the females are gathering materials to weave into the nests that they are building…
…and the first year males are trying to behave as if they were fully mature.
I saw where the female flew to with the strip of bark that she had in her beak, and from a distance, I watched as she wove it into her nest. If I had more time and could find a spot to watch her from without disturbing her, I’d love to sit there for a few hours photographing her and shooting videos of her as she worked on the nest together. I’d return on my next day off from work, but I’m sure that she’ll have finished the nest by then, and be incubating the eggs that she’s laid in the completed nest. That would be a good use for the portable hide that I still haven’t tried out yet if time weren’t a limiting factor for me.
I did do one thing right this last weekend. While I was admiring, photographing, and bathing in the scent of the lilacs on the first day, I noticed both a real hummingbird and the hummingbird moth seen earlier in this post sipping nectar from the lilacs. At the time, I had just the 100 mm macro lens with me, which made shooting a photo of the hummingbird impossible, and I had the lens set to limit the range it could focus in down to the low-end of the lens’ range. By the time I slide the switch to try for a photo of the moth, it was gone.
I went back and grabbed the 100-400 mm lens and set the camera and lens for action photos, but neither the hummingbird or moth returned to the lilacs while I stood watching.
So, on my second day, I made a point of being there with the right camera, lens, and camera settings, waiting for the opportunity to shoot photos of them. The hummingbird never returned during the time I was there, but the hummingbird moth did. Even with the wind blowing the flowers around, and the moth staying with the flowers as they swayed in the wind, I fired off burst…
…of the moth as it visited the flowers, even getting this one as pollen dislodged by the moth fell from the lilac flower.
I’m sorry for the jumbled up mess that this post became as I’ve work on it off and on over the course of nearly a week. I couldn’t find a way to pull all my thoughts together in a unified way. There’s too much going on all at the same time in the spring for one person to capture it all in photos if that person also works a full-time job as I do. Also, I know that most of you don’t care what camera, lens, or technique that I’ve used to shoot any of the photos in my posts, but it matters a great deal to me as I try to present the things that I see as well as I can possibly present them, whether it’s a bird, flower, insect, or anything else that I see and would like to photograph.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
I’m starting this post on Monday, May 7th. It’s been almost a full week since I’ve had enough time off from work to go out with my camera, part of that is because of the change in my work schedule. I should mention that it’s going very well so far, one of the many things that I like about this new schedule is that my start times each day are closer to being the same, rather than having me bounce all over the place as my last schedule had me doing. Once I’ve adapted to this new schedule, I would be able to make it out on a day like today, when there’s good light and very little wind, to shoot macro images.
I will have Thursday and Friday off from work this week, however, the weather is looking iffy for both days. That’s subject to change at the current time though.
I may be crazy, since it’s the best time of year to catch migrating birds, but I’m thinking of taking at least a one day road trip to shoot mainly landscapes. This will be my first two-day weekend in almost seven months, since I began working for my present employer. I’d like to celebrate in a way, by doing something that I really haven’t had time for in those months. We’ll see, it will depend on the weather forecast as the time approaches.
Well, the first of my two days in a row off from work has come and is almost gone, but I’m going to begin this post with an image from an earlier outing.
I would write that my day began at dawn at Harbor Island in Grand Haven, Michigan, but there was no dawn. We had storms roll through the area the night before, and we were still socked in under clouds that were too stubborn to leave, along with mist and fog, absolutely horrible conditions for bird photography. Maybe I should have gone on a landscape expedition instead, but then I would have missed seeing and photographing another lifer for me, which I will get to shortly.
The weather forecast was for improving conditions, but they didn’t improve as quickly as the forecast led me to believe that they would. I fooled around at Harbor Island, struggling to get enough light for any photos at all.
There were birds everywhere, but no light to photograph them in, I even tried using the flash, trying to get the ISO settings low enough to get at least a poor photo…
…but even then, I couldn’t get a shutter speed fast enough so that the birds weren’t blurred a bit in most of the photos that I shot.
And, the dull overcast sky was a very poor background whenever a bird was perched overhead…
…the only reason that I’m posting these photos is that I love listening to the brown thrashers singing…
…along with their cousins, the grey catbirds as well.
Both of those species are related to mockingbirds, and all of them use snippets of other birds’ songs as part of the symphonies that they create as they sing their own songs.
I saw more signs of spring, both young mallards…
…and an occasional flower.
Almost two hours after the supposed sunrise, I was still struggling when photographing most of the few birds that I could even get a photo of.
Not only did the poor light mean that I had to shoot at ISO settings much higher than I wanted, the light was so poor that my camera and lens had trouble auto-focusing on these small birds.
This chickadee was kind enough to pose long enough for me to dial in the flash settings for a fair shot of it.
It was very frustrating to have so many returning birds so close to me, and not be able to get photos of them. It was also quite chilly, so rather than walk the entire Harbor Island area at one time as I normally do, I walked part of it, returned to my vehicle, parked in another part of the park, and then would take another short walk. The time spent moving my vehicle gave me time to warm back up between the very short walks.
It finally warmed up enough so that I didn’t need to return to my vehicle, at least not as often, so I decided to move to another park very close to Harbor Island, the East Grand River Park, which is also in Grand Haven, Michigan.
I’ve seen bird reports from this park before, but when I looked at the park on a map, it looked too small to hold very many birds. Boy, was I wrong about that! The park is small, less than 5 acres total, and that includes a playground area and a fenced in dog park, along with a boat launch. I’d estimate that the best birding portion of the park is less than two acres in size, but it’s a birding cornucopia! By the way, the Eat Grand River Park is also right next to the Grand Haven Municipal wastewater facility, wouldn’t you know?
I was still struggling against not enough light to work with…
…but the variety of species of birds there…
…including this hard to find northern parula…
…was something that I had to see with my own eyes to believe.
I missed more species than I was able to capture…
…but as small as the park is…
…and as thick as the brush is…
…meant that I could get close to the birds, even if I had to shoot at a bad angle.
In fact, I zoomed out a little for this image, to show more of the environment that this kinglet was in at the time.
Also, because the park is so small, I had several opportunities to photograph this lifer for me…
…which was a good thing, because the first series of photos that I shot of it were so poor that I couldn’t use them.
He must have needed a break, because he sat there long enough for me to get a little closer, and to find a better hole in the brush to shoot through.
He also did some preening, but as slow as my shutter speeds were, most of the photos I shot while he was preening are junk, but here’s a wing stretch.
With so many small birds around…
…if there had been better light, I would have gotten better shots of them taking off…
…but the very poor light was against me. That, and the park is as bad as the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve as far as trying to find holes through the vegetation to shoot through.
As I looked for birds to shoot, I also tried to figure out why such a small park would attract so many birds, and other than it’s where the Grand River narrows which shortens the birds’ flight across open water, I couldn’t see that much different about East River Park than many other areas of the region. But then, I’m not a bird, so maybe there’s more to it than that.
By then, I needed a break, as I was getting arm weary from moving the camera and 100-400 mm lens around as I tried to get photos of the birds so far that morning. So, I headed north to Muskegon, with the intention of stopping at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. However, the parking lot there was full, including several school busses, and I didn’t want to deal with any crowds as I attempted to shoot photos.
Instead, I went to Muskegon State Park, where I did something dumb. As I said, my arms were tired from horsing the 100-400 mm lens around all morning as I tried to keep up with the small birds that I’d been chasing, so I took the 400 mm prime lens with me as I walked the Lost Lake trail and Snug Harbor portions of Muskegon State Park.
While the 400 mm lens is lighter, and I believe that it’s also slightly sharper than the 100-400 mm lens, it won’t focus any closer than 11 feet from me. I missed a few small birds because I was too close to them for that lens to focus on the birds. The shots that I missed were no big deal, but it was still something that I needed to try for future reference. The 100-400 mm lens has to be my walking around lens. Fortunately, I had also taken a 60D body and 100 mm macro lens with me.
I’ve never been able to figure the Lost Lake Trail out, it looks good for birding, yet I seldom see any birds when I walk it. I hear birds in the distance, but I seldom see any. But, I wanted to walk that trail because I read that it had been improved, which it hasn’t been that I could see. Also, I often find subjects for macro and close-up photography along that trail, and it’s just a pleasant walk on top of that.
So, without any birds to photograph, the only photos from the Lost Lake Trail portion of the day are these photos shot with the macro set-up.
It was nice to see green again after the long, cold winter. I used the swiveling screen of the 60D body to shoot this image…
…as well as these ferns emerging from the ground…
…I got a little too close to that one, I did better with this one…
…and I didn’t have to lay in the mud to get the close-ups as I would have if I’d been looking through the viewfinder when I shot those.
My only photos from the Snug Harbor portion of Muskegon State Park are these…
…I had seen the goose bathing, and I tried to get into the perfect position for this series…
…but I was still so close that I cut the goose’s wings off…
…still, I’m impressed with what my 7D camera with the 400 mm prime lens can do when it comes to shooting action photos.
I could do a little bragging at this point, but I won’t. The light had improved, as you can see in the images of the goose, but it still wasn’t that great. I took a drive the last few miles from Snug Harbor to Lake Michigan, so I could look out over the lake to see if the promised clear skies were on their way. There were a few breaks in the clouds, and wanting to feed my hunger to shoot more landscape photos, I shot this with the newer 16-35 mm lens.
I wanted something more interesting than the dead tree in the foreground, but that was the best thing that I could come up with that also allowed me to show the curves and lines of the dunes the way that I wanted in the image that I had in mind. I did try to work the scene a little, I set-up in several spots, and even took other photos, but that’s the best I could come up with.
By now, it was mid-afternoon, and Lake Michigan was still completely clouded over, so I started for home. But, as I was driving past the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, I saw that the parking lot had emptied, and the skies had cleared up, it had finally become the nice day that the weather forecast had promised.
I missed a rose-breasted grosbeak which I saw in the parking lot, and was my reason for walking the MLNP, but I found a few other birds to photograph.
And, to wrap up the photos for this post…
…and ask why I couldn’t have light like that for the entire day?
You may be asking why I’m blogging on the second of my two days off instead of being out with my camera, and the reason is the weather. As bad as it was for most of the day yesterday, it’s even worse today. It’s raining, the temperature has dropped 20 degrees Fahrenheit from yesterday, and there’s a stiff wind out of the east making it feel even colder than what it actually is according to the thermometer. It’s the middle of May, but it feels as raw as an early March day. That’s something that I’d rather not deal with, so I ran some errands that I’ve been putting off, and I’ve done a few things around home.
So, to sum this post up, most of the photos are very poor, but it may well be another year before I see some of the species of birds in this post again. It is the middle of May, and many species are already behind their normal schedule on their migration to the north. The number of migrating birds that I saw on this one day was astounding, which means that most of the birds are in a hurry to make up for the time that they’ve lost waiting for warmer weather. I hope to run into a few stragglers next week, but I can’t count on that, or that the weather will be that much better. So. I’ve had to make do with the photos that I was able to get, no matter how poor they are.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
If I were to dwell on the negative, I’d say that this day, May 1st, could have been much better. Nice weather, good light, and plenty of birds around. I had the new backpack to try out, and it does what I hoped it would do, allow me to carry everything needed if I ever get around to setting up the portable hide that I have.
No, I didn’t get around to that again this week, despite my plans to do just that. The hide will work best for medium to large size subjects, not the little warblers that I was shooting this week.
That’s because the small birds are always moving, looking for food most of the time…
…sometimes pausing to sing to attract a mate.
Time and time again, I thought of setting up the tripod to use, and is the first step to using the portable hide, but to get the images of the birds that I was seeing, I had to be on the move all the time to get at least a somewhat clear view of them with good lighting, and a background that wasn’t too distracting.
I know how other photographers work around that, they create scenes where they can set-up and wait for the birds to come to them. I have neither the time or inclination to do that, especially since I have such limited time to be outside with my camera. However, when conditions are right, and I’m photographing larger subjects, I will use the hide and my tripod.
Anyway, my day began before sunrise at the Muskegon County wastewater facility…
…and even though I knew that I should have stayed there until the sun actually rose above the horizon, I moved on in hopes of finding a place to test the hide. That was a mistake, for the best part of the sunrise came later, and I was faced with nothing in the foreground to photograph, so I made do with what was at hand at the time.
I shot two different takes of the scene, and I can’t decide which I like better.
With great light, I was hoping to shoot a few male ducks in their breeding plumage before they continue to migrate north, but none of the ducks would cooperate. I made do with two photos of waterfowl in flight, as all of them were even more skittish than usual.
I decided not to waste my time on the ducks, so I moved to the Lane’s Landing portion of the Muskegon State Game Area. I was hoping to see either waterfowl or wading birds there, where I could set-up the hide and take advantage of the great light at the time. I shot this sandhill crane as it flew past me while I was checking out the area for stationary subjects.
I couldn’t see anything in any of the ponds along the way as far as ducks or wading birds, but the willows surrounding the ponds were full of migrating warblers.
I heard the song of a bird that I’ve never heard before, and I was able to spot the bird, but I never did get a photo of it as it moved around in the swamp there at Lane’s Landing, darn.
Also, I was using the 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X tele-converter, which means that I missed far more birds that I was able to photograph because of how slowly that set-up auto-focuses. Still, to be out there on such a fine day in nothing but a T-shirt was absolutely wonderful! Hearing the birds singing only added to my enjoyment of the day.
I hung out in that spot watching wave after wave of warblers moving through the trees, and I have a lot of bad photos of various species of warblers that I could put in this post at this time, but I won’t.
Instead, I’ll put a bad photo of what I think is a hermit thrush that I tried to get a good photo of, after I had moved to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve.
That bird used about every trick in the book, other than taking flight, to avoid having it’s picture taken, that’s the best I could do.
I sat down at the picnic pavilion there at the MLNP, and removed the 1.4 X extender from my lens, to speed up the auto-focus and to shoot what I saw there.
The sparrow paused from looking for seeds to watch two male red-winged blackbirds fighting above it.
The fight was a violent one, but over with too quickly for me to shoot a photo. One of the blackbirds had pulled a large number of feathers out of its opponent, I almost tried for get a shot of the feathers blowing in the wind, but there wasn’t time to switch camera settings for that. Instead, I settled for this red squirrel in action.
I had rested enough by then to continue on, I shot this willow flower…
…and this robin…
…as more signs that spring is finally here.
Without the extender behind the 100-400 mm lens, I was able to shoot fairly good images of larger birds that flew past me as I slowly worked through the brush there at the MLNP.
I was worried about getting close enough to the birds, but I shouldn’t have been.
I didn’t crop that image at all, although I should have cropped slightly for composition.
By then, it was early afternoon, and the light, while good, was casting harsh shadows on the subjects that I tried to shoot, but I did the best that I could.
By then, the light was getting funky from the sun being so high, a lot of dust in the air due to the wind being as strong as it was, and rising humidity levels as well.
That’s not cropped at all, and you can see that it isn’t as sharp as most of the rest of the images in this post are, it’s all because of the junk in the air that disperses the light coming into the camera. But, if I could get even closer to a subject…
…then the light was still good.
That image is a great example of why I’m not always able to identify the things in my blog. I saw the color combination of the flowers and the water, and just shot that image without looking at what species of tree produced the flower.
On the other hand, I went through 70 web pages of photos of butterflies hoping to be able to identify this one that I saw.
The reasons that I stopped after viewing 70 web pages of photos of butterflies are that it was late by then and I was tired, and all of the butterflies in the photos were beginning to look-alike.
I thought that these flowers were from a box elder tree when I first saw them…
…but I know what a box elder tree looks like, and the tree that produced those flowers wasn’t a box elder, so I assume that is another species in the same family as maples and box elders.
By the way, that last photo was shot with the 60 D camera and 100 mm macro lens if it makes a difference to any one.
Now then, the big news this week is that I’ll be starting a new schedule for work this weekend, one that gives me two full days off each week, rather than one full day off and two long breaks between runs during the actual work week as I have been doing the past few months. You may find it funny, but I don’t remember the exact details of the new schedule, other than that I do get two full days off, and that the timing of the runs means that I won’t have to put up with rush hour traffic either. It will be nice to have two full days off again, even though I was just starting to get used to taking advantage of the schedule that I have been on. Which days that I have off doesn’t matter to me, other than it’s two days in a row so if I want to go up north, I can. In fact, not having days off on the weekends appeals to me, because there are fewer people out and about during the week.
So, things are looking very good to me right now, the weather has finally gotten nice on a regular basis, and spring is well and truly in full swing here now. I’m liking doing dedicated outings much more than I thought that I would, although it still bothers me a little to pass by subjects that I’d like to photograph because I don’t have all my camera gear with me all the time. On the other hand, not trying to photograph flowers blowing around in the wind and getting frustrated with the poor images that are a result of trying more than makes up for passing a flower that I’d like to photograph. I could have included more photos of more species of birds in this post, but the photos wouldn’t be very good.
With nice weather and good light on most days, I’m not jonesing for the 5D Mk IV like I was when I was shooting in low light most of the time this past winter. Yes, I’d like the expanded dynamic range of the 5D for most of my images, but I can do quite well with what I have, if I do say so myself. Again, doing dedicated outing helps in that respect as well, as I can work around the short comings of the 7D and 60D cameras that I’m using now, and the overall quality of the photos that I’m shooting continues to improve.
And maybe it’s a sign of getting older, but I’m enjoying the slower pace of the dedicated outings that I’ve been doing. It was nice to sit in a field of dandelions waiting for the bee from the last post to show up. I didn’t mind fiddling with the tripod and camera settings to shoot the buildings in downtown Grand Rapids nor the night images that I shot. On the day I shot the photos in this post, I spent quite a bit of time watching the waves of warblers moving through the trees at the swamp at Lane’s Landing. I no longer feel the need to rush ahead to see what’s over the next hill or around the next bend the way that I’ve always felt before.
In a way, it’s almost like fly fishing for trout. One of the first things that I learned when I began fly fishing was that I had to slow down and take my time, not rush from spot to spot in hopes of catching a fish. Also, just as in fly fishing, good gear makes a huge difference in how enjoyable the experience is. There’s nothing worse than trying to cast with a cheap, poorly made fly rod, other than to try to shoot good photos with a camera that doesn’t function as it should.
The level of equipment that I have now may not be the very best, but I’m still extracting more details in my images all the time. In many of my images, you can see the textures of a bird’s feathers, or in the petals of a flower. That helps to make the images look more three-dimensional as in most of the images in this post, especially the sandhill crane, in that image, you can get an idea about the muscle structure of the crane’s breast muscles as it flies.
There I go bragging again, I’m sorry, but I’m really enjoying photography more than ever as the quality of the images that I shoot improves.
Changing the subject, tonight I’m starting a new schedule at work. I’ll have Thursdays and Fridays off from work from now on, woo hoo, two full days off rather than just one! Another item on the positive side is that my Wednesdays will be the shortest workday of the week, which will give me even more time for my “weekends”. The only downside is that my first day back at work each week is my longest scheduled day, around 13 hours long.
That’s my long-winded way of saying that it may take me a day or two to catch up with any comments readers may leave to this post, as I’ll be pressed for sleep the next 36 hours. But, I will get caught up again once I have finished the long day, and I’m into the regular part of my schedule, which is three 9 hour long days in a row.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
I’m starting this post on April 25th, and it’s been a week since there has been any new snow falling! It’s warming up nicely, not too fast so that average temperatures feel like a heat wave, but enough so that it’s pleasant outside with a light jacket most of the time.
As luck would have it, my one day off from work was one of the coolest days since the last snowstorm, and there were a few rain showers scattered about that came and went during the day. When I set off from home, I wasn’t sure how scattered the rain would be, and it was still chilly, so my first stop was the Muskegon County wastewater facility. I’ll have photos from my time there in a bit, but the most memorable part of my time there was talking to an ornithologist based in Grand Rapids who studies the Great Lakes gulls and the effects of pollution on them. He also does work banding loons on the side.
It just so happened that I had seen a loon there at the wastewater facility, they are rare visitors there, as there isn’t much food available to them.
There was also a snowy owl in sight of us as we chatted, but I felt no need to shoot any photos of the owl, because I was learning so much talking to the gull expert and also listening to him tell tales about wrestling loons at night to band them. Loons are much larger than most people realize, and are quite a handful to net and band from what the person I was talking to related to me. Speaking of loons and their size, it was how large this loon was compared to the ducks around it that helped me to identify it, even if it was too far away for a good photo of it.
It didn’t help that I was shooting directly into what light sunlight there was at the time.
What the loon was doing at the wastewater facility is a question that can’t be answered, as there aren’t any fish in the storage lagoons as far as I know. Maybe it was just tired and needed to rest for a while.
Anyway, I also visited several other locations in the Muskegon area, including the headquarters area of the Muskegon State Game Area, where I shot this photo.
My other stops were the Lane’s Landing area in the MSGA, the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, where I found a few willow catkins beginning to open.
I like this next one because it shows all the stages that the willow catkins go through, although I cut off part of the gray fuzzy stage a little.
In addition to the four stops that I made on the 25th, I also ventured out in the afternoon around home hoping to find a few flowers in bloom a few days later. Since my plan is to eventually limit myself to specific subjects during my trips, I packed just the items of camera gear that I would need for macro and close-up photography for the most part. I did take the 300 mm lens in case I saw any birds…
…and because with the 2 X extender behind that lens, it works well for insect close-ups. It isn’t my best lens for birding, but it will do in a pinch as the image above shows.
The 100-400 mm lens would also be a good choice, but it’s much heavier than the 300 mm lens, and I found that the total weight of my macro gear was much heavier than I had expected. In fact, I struggled to get back on my feet whenever I knelt or laid down on the ground to get the shot that I wanted with the heavy backpack holding me down. I think that a camera shoulder bag will be a much better choice to hold my gear for this type of outing. Something that I can set down on the ground easily while I’m actually shooting photos. The wise way would be to take the backpack off while I’m shooting photos, but the backpack that I have doesn’t fit me very well, and it’s a pain to take off, and an even bigger pain to put back on again. A thought just occurred to me, I could use whatever bag or backpack that I end up with to hold my macro gear as a background behind a subject when I’m photographing something. You’ll see that in the next image in this post, I shot a trout lily and ended up with a poor background of very bright dried leaves on the ground. I should have set the backpack on the ground behind the trout lily to make it stand out from the background. I hope that I remember this trick the next time that I’m out.
The other “mistake” that I made was to take only one of the 7D Mk II bodies with me, as I seldom get a chance to use that body with a f/2.8 lens as my 100 mm macro lens is. The 7D does of course allow live view shooting, but the screen is built into the back of the camera. Time and time again when I was contemplating how I could best photograph a subject, I wished that I had brought a 60D body with me as well. The screen on the 60D flips out, and can be swiveled around so that you can see the screen even when you have the back of the camera touching the ground, and the lens pointed up slightly to shoot a flower that grows close to the ground for example.
I got wet and dirty as I laid on the ground in several instances for photos that aren’t even worth posting here. So, from now on when I do a macro/close-up outing, I’ll take both a 7D and a 60D body with me to cover all the bases. The 7D, with its superior auto-focusing, especially with a f/2.8 lens…
…even with an extension tube behind the macro lens to get even closer to a subject…
…makes the 7D the best choice of camera bodies at times.
Most of all, those images are a great example of why I need to do subject specific outings from now on. I never would have had the time to get set-up and ready to shoot that bee if I hadn’t already stopped to shoot a dandelion flower…
..and saw the tiny insect on the flower. So, I grabbed the longest extension tube from the set that I have, and tried to get a better image of the insect. This was the best I could do before it flew away.
Since I was near several dandelion flowers, I kept the macro set-up ready and searched for other insects, which is when I spotted the bee seen above, and below…
…as I slithered closer to the bee between shots…
…until I was close to the limit of how close that set-up will focus down to. The bee was about half an inch long, but it nearly fills the frame in these images, I’m very happy with these.
I don’t know why I never thought of sitting in the middle of a few flowers waiting for insects to come to the flowers before. It’s going to happen, since the flowers are food to so many species of insects. In turn, spiders and other predators of insects can also be found around flowers for that same reason.
Since I was already laying on the ground, I shot this one for the heck of it.
I also attempted a few close-ups using a wide-angle lens, I need to work on those types of images a bit more, as this is my best from the day.
Later in the day, I returned to downtown Grand Rapids for another urban outing around sunset and beyond. I had hoped to catch a good sunset over the city skyline, but that didn’t happen. I think that the way that Grand Rapids is situated in the Grand River valley that it would be better to try for a good sunrise over the city instead of a sunset, but maybe I haven’t found the right location to shoot from yet.
Actually, these urban outings so far are for the purposes of scouting locations and learning how to use my wide-angle lenses better. What I learn shooting urban landscapes will help me when I shoot more scenic “wild” locations when I get the chance. These outings are also a way for me to prepare for the day when I have a full frame body and wide-angle lenses to go with it.
If it makes a difference, I brought my 10-18 mm, 15-85 mm, the newer 16-35 mm, and 70-200 mm lenses with me, packed in a backpack that I received for free from B&H Photo as a premium gift when I purchased the second Canon 7D body from them. The backpack is a Lowepro photo hatchback model that isn’t worth much more than I paid for it, which is nothing. It does hold what I need for these urban outings, even if it is inconvenient to get to the lenses and it isn’t padded well enough in my opinion. I would never purchase that backpack for my own use, but since it was free, I thought that I may as well put it to use.
I began the evening at the 6th Street dam, the low head dam that was built to allow boats to navigate the Grand River and which also caused the rapids which gave Grand Rapids its name to be hidden under the raised level of the river behind the dam.
You can also see several construction cranes in that photo, Grand Rapids is undergoing a building and rebuilding boom at the current time. That’s due in part to the fact that the city is transforming itself from a furniture and auto parts manufacturing city to a high-tech and medical research city. The skyline of the city sure has changed over the last 30 years.
Some one who hadn’t seen the city in a few years would have a hard time recognizing it today.
Anyway, even though I don’t really want to, I should throw in this photo of the dam and the bridge upstream of it…
..as people worked long and hard to save that bridge when it was slated for replacement due to its narrow construction and needed a lot of work to be restored. As far as I’m concerned, they should have allowed the bridge to be replaced with a newer one better suited to today’s traffic.
It isn’t that I don’t want to see worthwhile historic structures saved, I do, but to me, there was no reason to save that bridge in my opinion.
I don’t know the history of this building, but I liked it and the flowering tree beside it.
I returned to the Basilica of Saint Adalbert…
…to shoot a few close-ups of parts of the building. Here are the main entry doors reflecting the setting sun.
I should have shot that a few minutes earlier as the light was already fading by the time I decided to set-up to get that shot.
I shot this one to show the details in the construction of the towers.
And, here’s one of the angels that adorn the roof of the basilica.
And of course, I shot the stained glass windows after it was almost dark.
I think that I had better light when I was there the first time, as these images don’t do justice to what I saw but didn’t photograph when I was there before.
Still, these will remind me to think outside the box and to shoot what moves me when I see it instead of hoping for a repeat performance later.
You may remember the fake photo that I had in my last post that showed the full moon rising over Grand Rapids. I did shoot an image which showed the full moon over one of the buildings in this next image, but it isn’t worth posting here other to show all of you that you can see the full moon and the building in this image.
That’s very close to what I saw that inspired me to make these faked images. Instead of a full moon, it was a sliver of the moon, and it was higher in the sky when I saw that scene the first time. Both the moon and the city skyline were shot at about the same focal length in this faked image, and I shot this one from the bridge that I was driving across when the idea for this image came to me, so it is very close to what I saw in reality. All that I did was to swap a full moon for a sliver of a moon, and drop it a little lower in the scene.
I see that these last few images appear a bit darker in this post than they do when I view the images in Lightroom, I should go back and bump the exposure up, but I’m too lazy to do that.
Anyway, the more of these dedicated outings that I do, the more that I like doing them, and I can see how much better my images can be when I do limit myself as far as subject matter. For one thing, it’s great to not have to try carrying all my camera gear around with me all the time.
Now then, back to my trip to the Muskegon area on Tuesday. The light was poor with rain on and off, but I did a couple of short hikes over the course of my time there. I was thinking about getting the portable hide out and finally giving it a try, but I haven’t come up with a way to carry what I need with me to make effective use of the hide. The hide itself folds down to a neat package, but it still has to be carried, along with my heavier tripod with the gimbal head on it, and the cameras and the lenses that I plan on using. I also picked up a 5 gallon bucket from the side of the road to sit on while I’m in the hide, as I’d rather not stand for hours if I don’t have to. I had thought about carrying my stuff in the bucket, but that isn’t a viable option unless I’m willing to suffer some cosmetic damage to some of my gear as it clanks together as I walk. I’m not willing to do that, so I have nixed the bucket idea, other than as a seat in the hide.
So, I have ordered yet another backpack, as if three weren’t enough already. The thing is, none of the ones that I already have is suited to carry a long lens (or lenses) and a full size tripod. The one that I ordered should fit the bill as it’s made specifically for carrying a very long lens and full size tripod, along with all the accessories needed.
Of the places that I go to regularly in the Muskegon area, Lane’s Landing would be the best place to test out the hide to start with. With the weather improving, I hope to try the hide out this coming Tuesday, which is my next scheduled day off from work. I should receive the new backpack before then, so I may finally get around to putting it to use. And, it looks like I’m going to have good weather and lighting for a change that day.
The one nagging doubt that I have about spending time in the hide is what happens if I spend several hours just sitting there, and nothing appears within range of the camera. Right now, I only have one day per week off from work, and within that single day, just two or three hours of really good light for photography. However, the more that I think about it, the less concerned I am about coming back empty-handed.
We’ve only had two weeks of nice weather this spring, and already I have a backlog of photos that I saved to post here, but haven’t used yet. Part of that is that I’ve done things such as posting 4 images of the unidentified bee above, but if you look closely at those images, you can see that it was feeding on either the pollen or nectar of the dandelion. It was fascinating to watch its mouth working as I shot those images, if I had any idea of how to go about it, I’d give macro video a try, but I think it’s beyond my limited ability to shoot video at the current time.
I shot quite a few more photos downtown than I’m going to post, as most of them were shot as a test using the 10-18 mm lens on the 7D body to see what it will be like to use the 16-35 mm lens on a full frame body when I purchase the 5D Mk IV. I was also learning to shoot architectural subjects and wasn’t that worried about the bad lighting that I had for most of them. I wanted to see how much of the subject would fit into the frame at short distances, and how badly the buildings would be distorted. As far as testing, the evening was a success, and for that matter, my macro outing was also a success.
Coming up with enough photos to fill a post this time of year should never be a concern for me…
…as even common subjects that I seldom post photos of any longer can yield some good images…
…and watching the geese is always good for a chuckle or two, no matter how many times I see the scene above repeated.
Canon and B&H Photo have just ruined my train of thought. I was going to post a few more images that I’ve shot over the course of the past two weeks…
…that showed more signs that spring has finally arrived in West Michigan…
…and talk about how even plain-looking species of birds…
…look their best in the spring…
…unless some one with a camera ticks them off chasing them around for a photo.
I’ve just learned that Canon is offering the 5D Mk IV for several hundred dollars off from the list price, and also throwing in a free $300 battery grip to go with it. With the accessories that B&H Photo is adding to the package, I can save almost $1,000 off the price of the 5D and the lens that I would like to go with it.
Seeing that, I’m obsessed with the question of whether I should go into debt to take advantage of that offer now, or wait until this fall, when I’m sure that the same promotions will be offered again, or at least I hope that they will be.
Well, my bout of temporary insanity caused by the announcement of the promotional pricing for the 5D is over, I’ve decided to wait until I can afford it without maxing out a credit card. Canon will run the same promotion again this fall, or possibly even a better one. So, I’ll stick with what I have for now, as I’m doing okay with it.
And, here is one of the ultimate signs of spring!
It’s hard to believe that there are eggs hatching already this spring, since we had a nasty snow and ice storm that lasted several days just a little over a week ago. I think that the adorable fuzzball above was only a day or so old when I saw it.
It’s Monday afternoon now, and I have to go and pickup the new backpack so that I can get it ready for tomorrow. It promises to be a great day for my day off from work this week, I hope that I can take advantage of it.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!