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

It’s finally spring 2018

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.

Common loon

It didn’t help that I was shooting directly into what light sunlight there was at the time.

Common loon

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.

Spring beauty flowers

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.

Willow catkins opening

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.

Willow catkins opening

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…

Chipping sparrow

…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.

Trout lily photographed poorly

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…

Unidentified bee

…even with an extension tube behind the macro lens to get even closer to a subject…

Unidentified bee

…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.

Tiny unidentified insect on a dandelion

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…

Unidentified bee

…as I slithered closer to the bee between shots…

Unidentified bee

…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.

Dandelion seeds

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.

Mixed hen bit and dead nettle flowers

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.

The 6th Street dam in Grand Rapids, Michigan

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.

The changing skyline of Grand Rapids, Michigan

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…

The 6th Street dam and bridge in Grand Rapids, Michigan 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.

More signs of spring and an old building

I returned to the Basilica of Saint Adalbert…

The Basilica of Saint Adalbert at night

…to shoot a few close-ups of parts of the building. Here are the main entry doors reflecting the setting sun.

The Basilica of Saint Adalbert

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.

The Basilica of Saint Adalbert

And, here’s one of the angels that adorn the roof of the basilica.

Angel on the roof of the Basilica of Saint Adalbert

And of course, I shot the stained glass windows after it was almost dark.

Stained glass window of the Basilica of Saint Adalbert

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.

Stained glass window of the Basilica of Saint Adalbert

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.

Double exposure of the full moon and the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan

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…

Canada goose landing

…as even common subjects that I seldom post photos of any longer can yield some good images…

Canada goose “greeting” its mate

…and watching the geese is always good for a chuckle or two, no matter how many times I see the scene above repeated.

News flash:

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…

American robin gathering material for its nest

…that showed more signs that spring has finally arrived in West Michigan…

Maple flowers (?) blooming

…and talk about how even plain-looking species of birds…

Common grackle

…look their best in the spring…

Common grackle

…unless some one with a camera ticks them off chasing them around for a photo.

Common grackle

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.

Male wood ducks


Upland sandpiper


Upland sandpiper

And, here is one of the ultimate signs of spring!

Canada goose gosling

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!


14 responses

  1. What a fantastic post. I love the variety of subjects that you have captured. The willow flowers were very good but I liked the idea fo you creeping up to the bee while lying on the ground best of all. What sacrifices you make for your art and our pleasure.

    May 1, 2018 at 4:55 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! Sure enough, I was down on the ground when I shot the bee, I’m surprised that it didn’t mistake me for a snake as I kept working my way closer.

      May 1, 2018 at 5:02 pm

  2. What a wonderful post full of excellent images of birds, Spring growth and that awe inspiring Basiica, loved scrolling through it all.

    May 1, 2018 at 5:08 pm

    • Thank you very much Susan! I need to remember to mix things up more this summer as I have in the last two posts. My blog won’t be all birds any longer so they should be more interesting.

      May 1, 2018 at 6:16 pm

  3. I’m glad you’re finally seeing some spring! We are too, but I haven’t seen any goslings yet.
    Nice shots of the bee. What strange eyes it has.
    The shots of the basilica are amazing. It’s a beautiful building.
    Those are maple flowers. Red maple I think, but they could be silver maple too.
    Nice shots of the henbit blossoms! I haven’t seen any of them yet either.
    I hope you had good weather today and saw a lot of great things!

    May 1, 2018 at 5:13 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! Yes, spring is finally here, I hope that it stays this time, for both of us.

      I’m just happy that the images came out well enough for you to notice the strange eyes of the bee.

      The basilica is a beautiful building, and from the photos that I’ve seen, the inside is even more spectacular than the outside. Maybe next winter when it’s cold outside again, I’ll see if I can get inside of the basilica to photograph it.

      I should have switched to the macro lens for a close-up of the hen bit, but I just liked seeing color for a change that I quit after that wide shot.

      I had a great day today, but with not that many photos to show how good it was. I spent most of my time chasing warblers, I had forgotten how quick the little buggers are. It took me forever to get a so-so photo of just some of the species that I saw today.

      May 1, 2018 at 6:24 pm

  4. I loved all the images in this post, Jerry. The basilica is a fantastic building with so many interesting architectural features. The first Upland Sandpiper shot is a beauty! I loved the gosling and the two Canada Geese greeting one-another!

    May 1, 2018 at 8:23 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I’m happy that you enjoyed the photos, I hope that my love of spring is showing in them.

      May 2, 2018 at 2:01 am

  5. Hooray that the spring has arrived for you…at last! Another amazing post full of wonderful and interesting photos. It’s great to be able to see so many subjects close up especially the bee, dandelion and willow. The dandelion ‘clock’ is brilliant. Michigan looks a vibrant city with all those new buildings and having an historic beautiful building like the Basilica means there’s old and new side by side…which is just perfect. I presume that the stained glass window shows the 12 disciples…it’s a lovely photo. Those wood ducks are very colourful! I was talking to a photographer at the weekend who has solved his problem of carrying all his equipment- he uses a golf trolley with a shooting stick so he can sit down too!

    May 2, 2018 at 4:08 pm

    • Thank you very much Marianne!Grand Rapids, and all of Michigan for that matter, is a mix of old and new. However, our old here isn’t very old when compared to the history of your country.

      I thought about a golf trolly, and several other options with wheels also, once I get everything that I like to have, then I’ll explore those options, including the golf caddy.

      May 3, 2018 at 6:51 am

  6. Jerry, it’s such a treat reading your posts, especially this one with such amazing shots. A very beautiful collection, even if you don’t have the equipment that you want yet. By the way that deal on the 5D IV, with the battery grip, etc., was very good. I wish I had waited. 😦

    May 4, 2018 at 5:33 pm

    • Thank you very much Hien! I doubt that I’ll see any huge increase in image quality with a 5D Mk IV than the 7D, other than a reduction in noise. I’d like the wider dynamic range of the 5D as well, but I can come close to replicating that by using Lightroom. Because I shoot so many photos, I have a better idea all the time exactly what the image will look like when I press the shutter, and that’s more important I am learning than the camera used.

      Canon is losing customers to Nikon, Sony, and even Pentax, so they have to offer deep discounts, especially geared to professionals, hence the free $300 battery grip that they’re offering. They ran that offer around Christmas, they’ll run it again this fall I’ll bet.

      May 5, 2018 at 6:02 am

  7. Stunning captures, Jerry! So glad Spring has finally sprung up your way!!

    May 6, 2018 at 4:25 pm

    • Thank you very much Donna! Yes, spring is here and I’m loving it!

      May 6, 2018 at 5:48 pm