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

Archive for June, 2018

Return to osprey land

A few posts back, I had a few photos of an osprey nest and the osprey that built it. On Friday, it was cloudy with occasional sprinkles of rain around home, but the weather was much nicer not that far to the north of where I live, so I thought that it would be a good day to return to the osprey nest and see if I could shoot a few good images of them.

Osprey in flight

Since very few of the images of the osprey that appear in this post were cropped at all…

Osprey in flight

…I think that these qualify, even if the light wasn’t always the best.

Osprey in flight

It was almost like shooting fish in a barrel, and almost too easy to get photos of the osprey in flight.

Osprey in flight

You can see that the osprey is carrying what’s left of a fish that it had caught. From watching the osprey for as long as I did, I was able to tell that the one seen above was the male returning to its nest…

Male osprey bringing a fish to the waiting female and two youngsters in the nest

…as female osprey are larger than the males, and that the males do most of the fishing for the family. The males also typically eat the heads from their catch before bringing the remainder back to the nest.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s go back to the beginning, here’s a map of the area to start with.

Dam sign

And since the osprey nest is right next to the dam, here’s a shot looking up the Muskegon River, which is known as Rogers Pond behind the dam.

The Muskegon River (Rogers Pond)

And, here’s the view of the Muskegon River looking downstream from the top of the dam.

The Muskegon River slow Rogers Dam

Sorry about the power lines, since it’s a hydroelectric dam, they sort of go with the territory.

As you can see, it was sunny when I arrived, but the clouds soon moved in from the south, and I had to shoot in less than ideal conditions for most of my time there. Although, the clouds meant that I could shoot in any direction, I had planned this trip to have the sun at a low angle and behind me as I looked at the nest, shown here with the two chicks’ heads showing.

Osprey nest with two chicks in it

The chicks are aware of their surroundings, the chick on the left stared straight at me when it saw me.

Osprey nest with two chicks in it

Basically, my time there consisted of standing around watching the nest and the skies around it looking for the male to return with fish.

There were a few gulls around, and I was surprised that neither of the osprey chased the gulls away, as gulls will eat anything that don’t eat them, but maybe the osprey chicks are too large for the gulls. Also, the gulls hung around the spillway at the dam, picking up the fish that had been injured by being sucked through the turbines that generate power. I wondered why the osprey didn’t do the same thing.

At one point, I saw the male osprey come up the river towards the nest, then spiral down to the river below at the spillway. I wanted to run over watch what happened, but I didn’t. A few minutes later, the male appeared over the top of the dam again, with a fish, which is what I thought would happen, and I wanted to be close to the nest if he flew directly to it.

Male osprey carrying a fish

You can just make out that it’s the entire fish that it is carrying…

Male osprey carrying a fish

…a while later, he returned to the nest with the portion he hadn’t eaten himself.

Male osprey carrying part of a fish

I shot over 350 photos that day, and almost all of them are of osprey in flight. I could easily fill this post with good ones that I shot…

Osprey in flight

…but I’m not sure how many of them I’ll use in this post. Many of them look like the same image as before unless you examine them closely. I’d like to return to the nest again when the skies are clear and I have better light, and for other reasons.

One is my work schedule. I start my workweek on Saturdays, at 4:45 PM. I typically finish my workday 12 hours later, meaning I get home around 5 AM. Sundays, I start at 7:15 PM, and finish at about the same time the next morning. On Mondays and Tuesdays, I start at almost 8 PM, and again, I get home around 5 AM. On Wednesdays, I start at 4 PM and work just four hours, which means I get home just after 8 PM. That schedule is working well for me, on Wednesdays, I come home, eat supper, then go to bed, even though it’s much earlier than during the rest of the workweek. That gets me to the places that I typically go to at dawn, or shortly after, which means I’ve had very good light on most of my days off from work.

However, it means that I have to flip my sleep time 180 degrees twice a week, once at the end of my workweek, once at the beginning.

However, where the osprey nest is located, the best time of the day for photographing the osprey is late afternoon, because of the angle of the sun at that time. It worked well for me this week, other than the clouds rolling in after I arrived. I was able to go right back to my normal sleep pattern sooner, so I was able to sleep normally on the day that I returned to work.

This new schedule for work is going well on many levels, I don’t want to bore you with all of them, but it will also make capturing sunsets or doing night photography easier in the future.

There’s another reason for me to return to the osprey nest again, no mosquitos. That’s one of the reasons I return to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and the Muskegon County wastewater facility as often as I do, I don’t need to use insect repellent.

I have psoriasis, a hereditary auto immune skin condition. I had a really bad flare-up of my psoriasis last spring that sent me to the hospital for almost a full week, which I’m still paying for, by the way. Since that flare-up, and with the drugs that I’m taking, my psoriasis has been under control very well, better than at any time during my adult life. However, the few times that I have applied insect repellent this spring, I’ve noticed that it aggravates my psoriasis, something that I suspected in the past. So, I’d like to avoid using insect repellent as much as I can, since it’s been great to have the psoriasis under control as it has been.

I sure don’t want to wind up in the hospital again, not that I think that a few applications of insect repellent is going to cause that, but the quality of my everyday life has been improved much more than I thought that it would by having the psoriasis under control. I had set my mind to the fact that I was going to have to live with it the way that it was for the rest of my life, and having it under control is something that I no longer care to risk.

By the way, I just went in for my yearly physical in the morning before going to shoot the osprey, and I’m still as healthy as a horse, which I’d like to maintain.

Trying to avoid mosquitos and repellent is problematic for a nature photographer in Michigan, along with ticks, which I hadn’t mentioned yet, are just about everywhere in Michigan. So, when I find a place where I can shoot good photos without having to apply insect repellent, I have to think about returning at least several times, until I get the best possible images that I can. The images that I shot of the osprey on this trip are good, but with better light, I can do better.

Because of how thick the clouds became as I waited there, and the resulting loss of light, there’s more noise in the images that I shot on this day than there would be if I had better light. That noise was compounded by how much I had to raise the level of the shadow areas in Lightroom, due to the bright white of the clouds in the background. As it was, I blew out the sky in almost every one of the images that I shot to get the darker parts of the osprey as bright as they should be when seen with the human eye. I hate to bring it up again, but I was dealing with the 7D Mk II’s lack of dynamic range and its poor high ISO capabilities when compared to a full frame sensor camera. I didn’t really need the extra reach of the crop sensor 7D, as I walked away from the nest to be sure that I’d be able to get the osprey’s entire wingspan in the frame as they approached the nest.

Osprey coming in for a landing

That’s the female by the way, she left the nest twice, I assume just to get some exercise, as she flew around in circles near the nest, never letting it get out of sight, and returned quickly after both of her short flights.

Anyway, I can’t say that I’m disappointed in the images of the osprey that I shot, I was able to more than completely fill the frame with their wings several times without cropping the images…

Osprey in flight

…and I shot enough of them in the last of the good light that I should be, and I am, very happy with these. Still, knowing that I could do even better is a tempting thought, both as far as camera gear, and the weather is concerned.

I’ve been doing what may be a dumb thing lately, I know what camera gear I want to end up with, so I’ve been carrying the gear that I do have which is the closest that I can come to where I want to end up. I thought that it would be a good way to confirm that the plans I was making were solid and would work. They have, probably too well, for even though I’m getting the best images of my life with what I have now, knowing what the future will be like only makes me want to get to that point sooner.

I’m more positive than ever that having the 7D with its crop sensor for reach in good light, and having a full frame sensor camera to use in lower light will be a great combination for me. Seeing the images that I’ve been shooting with the 16-35 mm lens only makes me want to use it on a full frame camera even more. The 24-70 mm lens with its near macro capabilities, along with the 100-400 mm lens and its close focusing capabilities will also be a great combination of lenses for me to mix and match from between the two camera bodies I’ll carry in the future. The thought of carrying just two cameras and two lenses to cover 90% of what I typically photograph is very appealing to me.

The only fly in the ointment so far has been using the 60D body for macro photography. I love being able to use its swiveling screen at times when shooting macros, but its low light performance is even worse than the 7D body, so flowers and insects have to be in full sun or I need to use fill light from another source for good macro photos. I can work around that though.

There’s one more reason that I’m chomping at the bit about a full frame camera again, the recent Supreme Court ruling on the states being able to collect sales tax on purchases made outside of the state means that I’ll soon see the price of the camera and lens I want jump another 6% if I wait.

So, the time seemed right to make the move, and I did, I’ve ordered just the Canon 5D Mk IV, unfortunately, I can’t afford the 24-70 mm lens at this time, but I should be able to swing that by this fall if things go well. Getting the camera at $400 off, along with a free $300 battery grip, and a few needed accessories to go with it were just too much for me to resist. I should receive the camera in time for my next outing, so I should start thinking about where I’ll go to test it out.

I may well return to the osprey nest one afternoon to see how the new camera handles birds in flight, and I think that going somewhere to shoot landscapes would be a good test as well. Landscapes will be a good way to test the dynamic range of the 5D, and I’ll also be able to see what the 16-35 mm lens is capable of on the full frame body. I may not have the 24-70 mm lens yet, but I do have my 70-200 mm lens for longer landscapes. Plus, if needed, I can shoot more panoramas if I need a lens between 35 mm and 70 mm.

Although with some further thought, I shouldn’t go somewhere that’s very special for landscapes, it will be my first time out with the new camera. If you look at the 7D and the 5D, the controls are almost exactly the same with only minor differences that will be easy for me to get used to. It’s the things in the menu system that I have to think about. While I can copy the settings that I use in the 7D, there are so many things in the menu that I need to change that I’m sure that I’ll miss a few items.

Also, the 5D Mk IV has a touchscreen, something that I’ve never used yet. The touchscreen works for both navigating the menu system, and for auto-focusing in live view, so I’ll have to learn to use it to full advantage, but that’s not something that I need to learn right away.

Okay, I suspended working on this post until I had the chance to get out with the new Canon 5D Mk IV. I had a few missteps early on, I tried a setting that it has that isn’t available in the 7D, and so I messed up a good morning to shoot some terrific macros of flowers.

Butterfly weed

 

Milkweed flower

 

Butterfly weed

Actually, it was a combination of a menu setting and my not remembering to change other settings from after I had shot this image of the sunrise.

June sunrise

That isn’t a HDR image, I was able to the highlights and shadows adjustments in Lightroom to get that photo the way that I wanted it to look. That’s a huge improvement in dynamic range over the 7D Mk II!

Also, and this surprised me, there’s a large increase in image quality even when I had good light to work with. I spotted a pair of mute swans and shot several photos with the 5D, then switched to the 7D with the same lens and tele-converter. Here’s the 7D image…

Mute swan shot with the 7D Mk II

…and here’s the same swan shot with the 5D.

Mute swan shot with the 5D Mk IV

Some of the perceived increase in image quality is due to the overall exposure, however, some of that difference is due to the lower dynamic range of the 7D, which requires more adjustments to bring the final image to where it needs to be.

By the way, the image from the 7D didn’t need to be cropped at all, I did crop the image from the 5D slightly.

Later in the day, I had the chance to test the low-light capabilities of the 5D, this image was shot at ISO 25600…

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

…and there’s very little noise in it compared to what I get with the 7D at ISO 12800. I used Lightroom to clean up a little of the noise, and came up with this.

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

If the subject was something special, I could tweak that a good deal more in Lightroom, because the base image is so much better than what I would have gotten with the 7D, and not just the noise, but because of the better dynamic range and resolution with the 5D.

The 5D Mk IV also has a better auto-focusing system, which I was able to test. With the 100-400 mm lens and the 1.4 X tele-converter, I can only use the center focusing point with the 7D. With the 5D Mk IV, I can use all 61 focus points, and I put that to use when shooting this young bunny.

Young cottontail rabbit

I was able to move to a focus point that landed on the bunny’s eye, so that the eye looks sharp in the image.

Also, because I can use all the focus points when shooting with the tele-converter, I can use more than one when shooting birds in flight.

Great egrets in flight

 

Great egret in flight

I will say this though, the 7D will shoot ten frames per second, the 5D Mk IV can “only” shoot seven frames per second.

Green heron in flight

I’m not sure if I’ll miss those three frames per second, but I sure notice the difference in sound between the two bodies, the 5D sounds much slower.

Green heron in flight

But, that could also be because the shutter of the 5D is much quieter to begin with.

Green heron in flight

The quite shutter is a good thing, because I’ve seen wildlife respond to the sound of the shutter of the 7D, and so far, I haven’t noticed that happening in the few shots that I have taken with the 5D so far.

Green heron in flight

Also, this was my first day out with the 5D, my images will only get better as I live with the camera longer.

Green heron in flight

 

Great blue heron in flight

All in all, it was an impressive first time out with the new 5D, better than I had hoped for. One thing that I have learned is that I have to really get to know a camera before I can get my best images from it. I’m still tweaking the 7D even though I’ve been using it for a couple of years now.

I think that the 5D is going to prove that it is also lucky, not that I’m superstitious or anything. But, I did get the best view of a belted kingfisher that I have ever had today…

Male belted kingfisher

…and I was almost going to put the lens on the 7D for the added reach of its crop factor, when his mate landed even closer to me…

Belted kingfishers

…and, she was carrying a minnow she had just caught.

Female belted kingfisher

I have two more landscapes for this post…

The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

…because I absolutely love having the expanded dynamic range of the 5D…

Muskegon State Park at Snug Harbor

…and because I love the 16-35 mm lens and the images it produces.

I love having my images turn out looking like what I saw when I pressed the shutter release!

That brings up the final thing that I have to say about the new Canon 5D Mk IV, you may not see any huge leap in the final image quality between it and what I have been posting shot with the 7D Mk II, but, it takes me far less time in Lightroom prepping the photos for posting here. The RAW images from new the camera only need a few tweaks, I don’t have to expand the dynamic range of every image as I’ve had to with the 7D. Less time sitting in front of the computer is always a good thing.

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

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From the boardwalk

I’m going to attempt to stick with one topic for this post, the photos that I’ve shot recently at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. I’m sure that I did a post on this nature preserve in the past, but I think that it’s time for me to do an updated post on it, since it’s one of the places that I visit regularly.

To begin with, here’s a map that I swiped off from the internet.

Map of the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

 

And then, a photo to get things started.

Swamp sparrow

I have better images, but the swamp sparrow is a fitting subject to start with. As you can see from the map, the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve is a peninsula jutting out into the Muskegon River delta where the river meets Muskegon Lake. Actually, with the water levels of Lake Michigan, and therefore all the connected bodies of water like Muskegon Lake, much higher than they were a few years ago, the preserve is more of an island than a peninsula until the water levels drop again. There’s water flowing under both of the two bridges that you can use to get from the parking lot to the preserve itself.

Most of the preserve is marshy or under water completely, and the dry land portions are thick tangles of vegetation that has taken hold since the area was cleaned up after being used as a dump for years. It’s a perfect example of nature reclaiming land that had been abused by man in the past. I don’t know how large the overall size of the preserve is, I would estimate that the parts of it that are dry land are between 5 and 10 acres total, not very large at all. Most of the preserve is marsh, as this photo shot from the bridge to enter the preserve shows.

The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

You can see on the map, as well as in my photos to follow, that it’s far from a wilderness area. To the east is one of the few north/south roads that has a bridge to cross the Muskegon river, and it’s a state highway that carries a good deal of traffic. To the west is a condominium development and a mariana. To the south is the main part of the north branch of the Muskegon River where it enters Muskegon Lake, and across the river is the old Cobb coal-fired power plant that is being decommissioned now.

The Cobb power plant near Muskegon, Michigan

I titled this post “From the boardwalk” because at least half of the paths look like this…

The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve boardwalk

…or this view along the river…

The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve boardwalk

…or this section of boardwalk across the marsh.

The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve boardwalk

I’d guess that the total length of the paths I usually walk is less than a mile, but I normally spend several hours there because I move very slowly. That’s because the vegetation is so thick there that I take a few steps, try to look through any openings in the vegetation, then move a few more steps. This is the way the path typically looks in the summer.

The path at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

The bad news is that it’s had to see the birds as they hide in the vegetation, the good news is that if you do see one, it’s almost always very close.

Grey catbird bringing home the bacon

 

Where the bacon ended up going (juvenile grey catbird)

The preserve is at the north end of a much longer system of paths meant for walkers, joggers, and cyclists in the greater Muskegon area, and therefore is a very popular place. Most people never see the birds or other wildlife there, but the wildlife sees them, and has become accustomed to having people nearby up to a point. It isn’t as if the wildlife is tame, but human activity and noise doesn’t bother the wildlife as much as in more natural settings. That also helps me get close to what I’m trying to photograph. Here’s a view of the main bike/walking path through the preserve.

The bike path through the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

That was shot from one of the two raised observation decks that have been built there at the preserve. The first raised observation deck is on dry land…

observation deck at the MLNP

…and I thought that it would be a great place to photograph birds that live in the leaf canopy from, however, I seldom see any birds in the trees next to the deck. The second observation deck is built out over the marsh, and once in a while, I hang out there to photograph birds flying past that deck.

Green heron in flight

Because of the height of the observation deck…

Green heron in flight

…I’m not shooting at such a high angle upwards, so it looks like I’m at about the same elevation as the birds flying past me. That’s unlike this image…

Great blue heron in flight

…which I shot with the heron directly over me as I shot it.

Most of the time that I’m there, I’m either in the thick vegetation on the dry land portion of the preserve photographing songbirds…

Blue jay

…or standing in one place on the boardwalk waiting to see what appears in the marsh for me to photograph.

Muskrat eating a cattail

In that photo, you can see that the muskrat tears the cattail stalks apart to eat the center portion of the cattail, leaving the outer sheath of the leaves. Here’s a photo of another muskrat bring cattails back to its den.

Muskrat bringing cattails back to its den

Also from the boardwalk, I shot this series of images showing a first year male red-winged blackbird bathing.

First year male red-winged blackbird bathing

Because of the height of the boardwalk I have to shoot down to photograph subjects such as the muskrat or this red-winged blackbird…

First year male red-winged blackbird bathing

…however, I have all the time in the world to get the camera settings right to produce the images that I want…

First year male red-winged blackbird bathing

…getting the shutter speed high enough to freeze the blackbird’s head, but showing the motion blur of the bird’s body and the water drops.

First year male red-winged blackbird bathing

As small as the preserve is, and with so many people using it, I’m always surprised when I see deer there.

Whitetail doe

For this series, I was standing in the dense vegetation waiting for birds to land close to me, when the deer came into view. She knew I was there, but that didn’t stop her from sampling the food there.

Whitetail doe

 

Whitetail doe

After she finished her snack, I was able to shoot a better photo of her.

Whitetail doe

Here are a few of the other subjects that I’ve photographed there recently.

Cottontail rabbit

 

Female snapping turtle laying eggs

 

Honeysuckle flowers

 

Damselfly

 

Damselfly

There aren’t that many mosquitos at the preserve, not when you look at all the still water and vegetation around, and I think that the lack of them is due to the large number of damsel and dragonflies, along with insect-eating birds, such as this barn swallow.

Barn swallow

It must have been full and also very happy, for it landed on the railing of the boardwalk next to me and began singing away.

Barn swallow

It was singing a toe tapping song as you can see from that last image. ūüėČ

Barn swallow

I mentioned the height of the boardwalk earlier in this post, that’s good in a way, because you can see down through the reeds and other aquatic vegetation whereas, if the boardwalk was lower to the water, you’d only be able to see a wall of reeds as you walked along the boardwalk. Because of that fact, I’ve been able to photograph a number of species of birds that are difficult to photograph because of their preferred habitat. The list of species I’ve shot there includes the Virginia Rail, marsh wren, and least bittern.

Least bittern

 

Least bittern

It may not look like it from my photos here, but I had to use manual focus to get those shots, as the auto-focusing system of camera and lens couldn’t pick the bird out from the thick vegetation that it was in. The least bittern may be the most difficult species of bird to photograph that I’ve run into so far, but the Virginia rail…

Virginia rail

…was a very close runner-up.

I take that back, the Virginia rail is a more difficult species to photograph, because it stays in the reeds all the time, while the least bitterns do fly above the reeds…

Least bittern in flight

 

Least bittern in flight

…but one has to be quick to catch them during one of their short flights.

Gee, I’ve reached my self-imposed quota of photos for a post, and I still have quite a few left. So, I’m going to add this one…

Panorama from the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

…because it’s one of my first attempts at shooting a panorama and was made with three images shot with the 16-35 mm lens and stitched together in Lightroom. As easy as Lightroom makes it to create a panorama, it’s something that I need to do more of in the future so that I become better at setting up to shoot them. I really should have zoomed in more, and added another image if I had then needed it. But, that’s getting off topic.

Anyway, I do have enough photos for another post shot at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and I’m sure to return there, but I think that my next post will be from yesterday, when I returned to the osprey nest in hopes of getting good images of them.

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


I shouldn’t have, but I did

On my last two days off from work, I did the same old thing at the same old places as I usually do, I went to the Muskegon County wastewater facility and the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. I did so because I was trying to find a species of bird that I need for the My Photo Life list project that I’m working on, a northern mockingbird. A mockingbird has been seen and heard several times this spring at the wastewater facility, but I hadn’t been able to locate it, until Friday.

Northern Mockingbird

That photo would have been good enough for me to cross that species off from my list of species that I need to complete the list, but I was able to use some natural cover to get slightly closer and with a clear view of the mockingbird.

Northern Mockingbird

I thought that as long as he continued to sing…

Northern Mockingbird

…that he didn’t think that I represented a threat to him. I made sure that I had shot plenty of images of him, enjoying his song as I watched him through the viewfinder, and then I moved on, listening to him as I walked back to my car. Now I know why people say that the song of a mockingbird is one of the most beautiful bird songs that one can hear.

Earlier this spring, I listed three species of warblers as my goals for this spring, but I have yet to make a serious search for any of the three. Although, I did keep my eyes open when I visited Lane’s Landing in the Muskegon State Game Area, as all three of the species have been seen passing through that area in the past. The way things have been going this spring, I may not get a chance to search for the three species that I had as my goal for the year, as I’ve been quite lucky to cross several other species off from the list this spring. That’s okay, there’s always next year, as long as I’m adding species to my completed list, it doesn’t make any difference which species they are, or where I find them.

One other thing that I have been trying to do this spring is to show a wider variety of birds, and not fill my posts with only a few species of birds. However, since I’m getting so close to having photographed most of the species of birds seen in my part of Michigan, finding new series becomes harder all the time. I have posted more than one image of one species at times, when the series told a story, as with the cedar waxwing eating aphids. I never shoot only one photo of any bird when I have the chance to shoot more than one, so I have a lot of leftover photos from my earlier trips this spring, of species that seldom appear here, such as this American avocet.

American avocet

 

American avocet

 

American avocet

And, this eared grebe.

Eared grebe

Also, this female rose-breasted grosbeak, even though they are a common species here.

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

 

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

I’m not sure why I felt the need to use those photos from earlier this spring in this post, when I shot plenty of equally good or better images this past weekend.

Male northern shoveler in flight

Early morning light reflecting off from the water makes getting an image like that easy, it’s the same with this one.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

If only the eagle had turned to look at me. ūüė¶

Grasshopper sparrow

 

Killdeer

My new work schedule is working well for me to get to where I’m going for the day when the light is great, right at sunrise, even though most of the sunrises have been rather boring as far as the sunrise itself. I’ve been very fortunate for the past month, I’ve had excellent light with mostly clear skies at sunrise, and as the days have progressed, only high, thin clouds have formed by the afternoon, meaning that I’ve had very good light almost the entire time that I’ve been out for this month. It also helps when a bird perches in great light to shoot an image such as the last one of the killdeer.

The killdeer was standing on the rock in a place where the light from the sunrise struck only the bird and the top of the rocks, the base of the rocks and the water were still in the shade, so I had to shoot that image even though killdeer are very common, and I’ve posted many photos of them in the past.

I could go on at length about how diffuse light is easier to shoot photos in…

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

…but that I’m learning how to use the shadows to help define the shape of my subject to get a more three-dimensional look to the subject, but I won’t. I’ll only repeat something that I’m learning, light illuminates, shadows define. That’s one of the reasons that I shoot more photos of any one bird when I have the chance, along with getting the best possible pose from the subject that I can.

No wildlife, especially birds, are ever completely motionless, so I watch the subject through the viewfinder, and when I get a good pose from the subject, with the light as good as it can be, then I’ll fire off a series of shots in low-speed continuous until I see that the bird has moved again. I think that most of the images in this post so far are good examples of that. However, there are still times when a subject doesn’t move, and I have to settle for an image with shadows that are too harsh.

Ruddy duck

I shouldn’t have posted that image due to the harsh shadow on the left side of the bird, but it isn’t often that I get that close to a ruddy duck. They’re usually more skittish than this one was, and even he took off a few seconds after I shot that image.

Ruddy duck in flight

Enough of that, I think that the time has come to show a map of my home state of Michigan again.

Map of Michigan

That’s because there are several new readers to my blog, and not all of them are familiar with where I live. You can see that Michigan, shaded in yellow on the map, consists of two peninsulas surrounded by four of the five Great Lakes. I live in the metropolitan Grand Rapids area, which is labeled on the map, as is Muskegon, which is on the shore of Lake Michigan. It’s only about a 50 mile drive for me from home to Muskegon. Also, I drive to Traverse City four nights a week for work, which is about 135 miles north of grand Rapids. The area where I located the osprey nest and the three nature preserves that I featured in a recent post are about 50 miles due north of Grand Rapids.

I also posted this map because I was considering shooting completely different subjects during my time off from work this week. It just so happened that my two days off coincided with the new moon for a change, and I was thinking of trying for a shot of the Milky Way and/or a star trails image. The Milky Way appears in the southern sky, and unfortunately, most of Michigan’s light pollution is in the southern third of the lower peninsula, and I’d also have to deal with the light coming from Chicago Illinois, which isn’t shown on the map, but is only 150 miles southwest of my location. That means that I’d have to go quite a distance to the north to get away from the manmade lights

I didn’t trust the weather forecasts either, as on both of my days off, it clouded over during the afternoon, and while the forecast called for clear skies again overnight, I didn’t want to drive as far from home as would be required only to find that there were clouds blocking my view of the sky. Maybe I’ll try the night photography this fall if the timing of the new moon and the weather cooperates.

Also, on Friday, the clouds thickened to the point where thunder showers developed, and I sat along the road between Muskegon State Park and Duck Lake State Park, hoping for a chance to photograph lightning. However, the lightning bolts were few and far between, and I hadn’t thought of a way to keep my camera and lens dry as the rain fell. Maybe one of these days I’ll catch a storm where the lightning is visible before the rain starts falling, or I’ll invest in a good umbrella to keep myself and my camera gear dry. Although, I did have the idea of opening the lift gate of my Subaru, setting the tripod up under the lift gate, and sitting in the back of the car to shoot photos and stay dry. It wouldn’t have worked where I was on Friday though, but it’s something for me to keep in mind for future reference.

The point to all this, if there is one, is that there are so many things that I’d like to photograph, but as always, time limits what I can do. There are plenty of scenic areas in Michigan, but I’ve been chasing birds, because spring is the best time of the year for bird photography. The males are in their breeding plumage, and there are the birds that only migrate through Michigan, but don’t nest here.

It just dawned on me, I go through the same cycle every year. All through the winter, I’m complaining about the lack of light and the fact that the birds, what few there are, are all in their eclipse plumage. Then, when spring arrives, I complain that I don’t have enough time to photograph everything that I’d like to.

I don’t know how to break that cycle though, it’s something that I know is going to happen, so I shouldn’t complain about it as much as I do. I should just shoot the images that I can, and let nature go through its cycles with no complaints from me.

Moth mullein

 

White campion

 

Bee on an unidentified flowering object

 

Bee on an unidentified flowering object

 

Motherwort

 

Dragonfly

 

Turkey poult

 

Eastern kingbird

 

Unidentified damselfly

And, I probably shouldn’t think about visiting new places in hopes of finding a photographic nirvana as much as I do, as long as I’m shooting good images and I’m not bored sitting around waiting for wildlife to appear, what difference should it make where I shoot the images.

I say that because I did do the exact same thing two days in a row last week while searching for the mockingbird, and now I may have to repeat that this week, as a rare to Michigan Henslow’s sparrow is being seen and heard regularly at the wastewater facility lately. That’s another species of bird that I need to track down for the My Photo Life list project that I’m working on, and I’ll probably find the temptation of adding another species to my list too great to pass up.

In addition, I’m getting good photos of birds and other subjects at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, including a few series of photos of bird behaviors, such as the cedar waxwing eating aphids. I have quite a few photos from MLNP left over to post, and I think that one day on my upcoming “weekend”, that I’ll take a few wider photos and devote a future post to just photos from there. I say that because I’m planning on where to go for my next two days off from work as I type this.

In the meantime, here’s a few more photos from my last outings.

Wood duck at dawn

 

Upland sandpiper

 

Upland sandpiper chick

 

Sandhill crane

 

Female downy woodpecker

 

Female downy woodpecker

I know that my posts have been jumbled up messes lately, I’m sorry, but I can’t help it. I get started on a subject, then it’s time for work or for me to go out and shoot more photos, and I lose my train of thought, or I worry that people will find the track I was on boring, so I switch to another subject. I’ll try to make my post more readable in the future though.

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


I was afraid of that

Well, I went back to the Muskegon River area where I had gone and shot the landscape photos from my last post. But, I got a late start, and missed the chance to photograph a glorious sunrise, although it was wonderful to view as I drove north towards the river. I also managed to find the three nature preserves that I hadn’t been able to locate on my last trip up there, but more on them later.

Even though I was too late to catch the color that had been in the sky earlier, I still wanted to return to the same spot to explore other compositions for future reference. That didn’t happen, as the river was several feet higher than the previous week, and I would have needed to wear my waders or hack through brush to get to the same place. It wouldn’t have mattered if I had found the exact location that I had shot the last images from, with the river being so much higher, the scene would have been completely different anyway.

So, I settled for this shot of an ox-eye daisy…

Ox-eye daisy?

…and this photo looking downstream after the sun was above the horizon.

Morning on the Muskegon River

I mentioned in my last post that this spot on the river is between two dams used to generate electricity, so the water level of the river fluctuates depending on the demands for electricity, and the amount of water being released by the dams.

After I shot the two photos above, I stopped at the dam farthest upstream, as there’s a very small park there, and that led to my surprise of the day, which I’ll get to in a second or two. First, here’s a photo of a sign at the little park by the dam that has a map of the area on it to help give you a better idea of what this area is like.

Dam sign

The access site from where I shot the landscape photos in this post and my last post is a few miles downstream of the place on the map labeled “You are here”. I was checking out the park, and spotted these flowers there…

Unidentified white flowers

…when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a large bird carrying a stick fly behind some trees. I had just read the sign and had noticed that there was an osprey nest platform in the area, little did I know that it was right there in the park.

Osprey at its nest

I returned to my car to install the 1.4 X tele-converter to get better photos of the osprey.

Osprey at its nest

But, I was on the ground looking up at the nest, not the best angle for photography.

I’m not sure if the osprey on the nest was the bird that I had seen carrying a stick to the nest, or if it was that bird’s mate which was perched in a nearby tree screeching away at something.

Osprey

I thought about setting up my tripod with the gimbal head on it to shoot more photos of the osprey…

Osprey

…but due to the layout of the park and where the nest was located, I think that late afternoon would be the best time to photograph them.

Osprey

And as it was, I shot almost 100 images of them as I dealt with the shadows caused by the light coming from the wrong direction.

Osprey

Since they have nested there, I can return at my leisure to shoot more images of them whenever I have the time to do so.

Osprey

To tell you the truth, it felt to me as I was cheating by hanging out there by the osprey nest, but they didn’t seem to be a bit bothered by my presence at all. They’re probably quite used to people being there in the park. Even shooting with the light the way it was at the time, I got what are easily my best images to date of the osprey, and I didn’t have to work to get them.

On the other hand, my instincts for finding places to photograph birds are still as good as ever, as the area around the Muskegon River has the habitat required for many species of birds. In fact, an extremely rare to Michigan sighting of a Mississippi kite happened last week just a few miles downstream from this area that I’m beginning to explore.

Speaking of exploring, as much as I wanted to shoot more photos of the osprey, I had other places I wanted to check on to see if they would be suitable as a place to go where I could set-up my portable hide and spend a day shooting wildlife.

My first stop turned out to be a bust, it looked like public land on the maps, but it turned out that it was private and well-marked as such. My second stop was one of the nature preserves that I hadn’t been able to locate on my last outing to the area, the Coolbough Natural Area.

Sign for the Coolbough Natural Area

I walked the loop around the wetlands area that you can see on the map above, because I thought that it would be the most likely area to find a place to set-up the portable hide.

As a place to go for a pleasant walk in the woods, I couldn’t think of a much better place to go than this is. I saw only one other person during my walk around the most well used trails from what I could tell from how worn the trails were. Or I should say, from how little wear there was to most of the side trails, as the wetlands loop was easily the most used trail in this natural area. It was quiet, except for occasional singing birds, and there are many types of habitat in this natural area to see as you walk through it.

But, I didn’t find a spot that would make it worthwhile to sit in a hide, as there’s nothing there to concentrate the wildlife in any one small area. Not even the ponds, which I thought would be the most likely spot to set-up the hide.

The wetland area of the Coolbough Natural Area

I sat where I shot that photo from for some time to see if anything would show up there at the pond, but other than a good number of red-winged blackbirds, I saw only a few other species of songbirds, and no waterfowl or wading birds at all. I was a little surprised that there weren’t even any mallards or Canada geese there, although I’m sure that the pond does have a few visitors from time to time.

Given the weather that day, it would have been a good day to have taken my macro photography gear and spent my time looking for and photographing wildflowers, but I didn’t know what I would find since it was my first time there.

Lady’s slipper

That was shot with the 16-35 mm lens, but I should have brought my macro lens. The 16-35 mm lens worked fine for that image, but other things that I saw really needed the macro lens.

Slime mold?

I made do with the 100-400 mm lens along with the 16-35 mm lens while I walked the trail.

Unidentified fluttering object

 

Wild geranium?

 

Eastern box turtle

Finally, my one photo of a bird from during my walk.

Eastern wood pewee

If I were a birder that was only interested in counting the number of species of birds that I saw through my binoculars, the Coolbough Natural Area would be a great place to go, but as a photographer, it was tough to get close to any of the birds that I saw and heard during my walk there. The birds are free to spread out and so they do, and there’s no single place where one is likely to get close to the birds there.

I suppose that I could change the way I go about getting photos of birds, I did see a bluebird gathering food for its young, and I saw where the bluebird carried the food it had collected back to its nest. I could set-up the hide near the bluebird’s nest and photograph it as it came and went, but that idea doesn’t appeal to me. I’d rather not sit in a hide all day for a few images of one species of bird, even if the images turned out to be excellent. I’ll have more thoughts on this subject later.

My next stop was the Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary…

Sign for the Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary

…where I shot two poor landscape photos…

The Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary

…to show that it was mostly open meadow…

The Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary

…which is rare in Michigan.

Maybe I’m missing something, the powers that be claim that this open oak/pine savanna was common in this part of Michigan before the Europeans arrived here. But, they have to do prescribed burns every few years to maintain these open areas, or the forest would take over. You can see by these photos that there are a good number of trees that have sprouted since the last time this area was burned, and it won’t be long before they have to do another controlled burn there to keep the area as it is. That’s all I’m going to say on the subject, or I’ll get in trouble if I state my opinion on the subject.

As an area for birding, this was a complete bust, I should have taken my macro lens and shot the tiny meadow wildflowers there.

My next stop was similar…

Sign for the Karner Blue Nature Sanctuary

…in that it was mostly open meadows with only small wooded areas. However, as a place for birding, it would be a better choice than the Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary as there are more wooded areas and it is a much larger preserve as well.

Neither of the sanctuaries controlled by the Michigan Nature Association have parking areas or trails of any type, you have to pull off the side of the road to park, and you’re free to roam around both of the sanctuaries. I doubt if any one other than dyed in the wool wildflower lovers ever visit either of these sanctuaries. That’s not all bad, and for my purposes, either of them would be perfect, if there was any wildlife to photograph there. You know, that sounds misleading, as there’s plenty of insects to go with the wildflowers that I could have photographed, but I was looking for places to go to photograph birds and other types of wildlife.

Whitetail deer fawn

The fawn was shot at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, which was my final stop for the day. Since I saw that the male ducks were just beginning to molt into their eclipse plumage, I was hoping to get a few good images of the ducks in flight that showed all the colors of the breeding plumage.

Male mallard in flight

The light made for pleasing images…

Male blue-winged teal in flight

…but I couldn’t catch a duck where the colors on its wings really popped…

Male northern shoveler yoga

…with the exception of this male northern shoveler…

Male northern shoveler in flight

…and even then, I’m not happy with that image.

I still find it hard to believe that 1/2000 second isn’t a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the motion of a duck’s wings, unless they are so far from me that I have to crop the images considerably to make the bird appear as large in the frame as I’d like. Those were cropped a little, but not much, because the ducks had been resting on shore, and I was able to get close to them before they took flight. The motion blur at that fast of a shutter speed does tell you how fast the ducks flap their wings at take off though.

Okay then, of course I’ll return to the small park near the dam where the osprey nest…

Osprey

…is located to shoot better images of the adults, along with the young osprey as the grow.

I think that I’ll return to the Coolbough Natural Area from time to time when there’s good light and light winds so that I can shoot images of the wildflowers there, with maybe an occasional bird if I’m lucky.

However, I didn’t find a spot at any of the three nature preserves that would make it worthwhile to take the portable hide, set it up, and spend hours in it, as the wildlife is abundant at all three preserves, but it’s also spread out too much to make using the hide a viable plan of action for getting good images of the wildlife.

I was afraid of that. As I have speculated in the past, the small preserves on the edges of human development force the wildlife to concentrate in those small preserves, making them much better choices for photography. For example, on the day after the one that produced the images that you’ve seen so far, I spent a few hours at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve again, and there was never a time when there weren’t several birds in sight at all times.

Cedar waxwing

This waxwing was eating the few ripe berries on the bush it was perched in.

Cedar waxwing

There was never a time at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve when I couldn’t see close to 20 species of birds if I looked around. Of course, most of the birds were out of camera range, but you never know when one will fly past.

Great blue heron in flight

That’s not even my best flying bird of the day, but it goes well with the cedar waxwing images above it. There’s an advantage to having shot plenty of good images of a species, I don’t feel the need to shoot a perfect image every time that I get a chance to photograph that species again. So, I can get more creative and artistic as with the waxwing. I didn’t zoom in all the way for the first image of it, and I also stopped down the lens for more depth of field to achieve a photo that looks similar to an Audubon watercolor in my opinion, I love that image even if I was able to zoom in more for the second image of the waxwing. I also like the look of the heron image, it looks like a painting rather than a photograph.

I’m beginning to think that the place that I go doesn’t matter as much as my approach to photographing wildlife. As I said, I could take the portable hide to where the bluebird nest is and finally get good images of a bluebird, but I’ve never done anything like that before. Sure, when an opportunity too good to pass up, like the osprey nest in the small park, comes along, I take advantage of it. But, I’ve never purposely tracked down a bird’s nest just to shoot images of the birds that built the nest.

It would be easy enough for me to do this time of year…

Female red-winged blackbird gathering damselflies to feed to her young

…all I have to do is watch where an adult took the food that it was gathering for its young, and keep watching until I spotted the nest. Then, I could set-up the portable hide and wait for the adults to return time and time again as they feed their young.

Or, I could do something that I noticed that some one else has done, put up a bird feeder out in the woods somewhere and wait for the birds to come to the feeder.

That still seems like cheating to me, it isn’t as if I have a feeder outside my house where I’d be sitting and watching the birds as we used to do at my parents home. And, I’ve always taken pride in the fact that 99.9% of the wildlife that I’ve shot photos of were completely wild birds shot in natural settings. The photo of the red-winged blackbird may not be the perfect image of that species…

Female red-winged blackbird gathering damselflies to feed to her young

…but there’s something to be said for less than perfect images that are good, and show the behavior of the subject, as with these last two photos. It looks to me as the blackbird was plucking newly “hatched” damselflies from the water as the damselflies emerged from the water to dry their wings after they had transformed from nymphs to their adult stage. So, in one photo, you can tell several things at one time. The damselflies have no color yet, which is what leads me to believe that they had just emerged from the nymphal stage of their life cycle. They are easy pickings for the blackbird until their wings dry and they are ready to take flight for the first time. Because the damselflies are easy pickings, I’m sure that young red-winged blackbirds are fed a steady diet of damselflies.

Anyway, I find an osprey nest, and it’s located in a tiny park between a busy road and a working hydro-electric dam in an area that’s quite noisy, and not a good place to shoot videos. I have no need for the portable hide there, as the osprey don’t seem to mind humans being close to them.

I find a natural area that’s very quiet and would be a great location to shoot videos at, but I couldn’t find a spot within the natural area that would make it worthwhile for me to set-up the hide and spend time sitting in it.

Isn’t that the way it goes, I really was afraid of that.

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


After Alberto

Well, I don’t know what type of storm Alberto was, some people referred to it as a tropical storm, others as a sub-tropical storm, but no matter what, the remnants of it came into west Michigan, passing right over my hometown of Grand Rapids. The storm pumped very warm temperatures into the area as it approached, we set several records for high temperatures this past week, and came close to setting an all-time high temperature for the month of May. Now that Alberto has come and gone, we’re beginning to cool off and return to more normal temperatures as the month of June arrives.

As for the storm itself, it was a rather ho-hum affair with a few hours of rain and a few minor wind gusts.

It’s hard to believe that it’s June already, it was just a month ago that we had our last significant snowstorm of the season. Everything in nature seems to be in a hurry to make up for lost time, and I’ve missed a lot of the parts of spring that I enjoy the most. The early spring flowers have come and gone, and the early summer flowers are blooming already.

Iris

And, I’m seeing signs that the ducks are beginning to molt out of their breeding plumage already.

Male mallard beginning to molt

Luckily, I caught this handsome chap…

Male mallard

…as I was set-up for him to take off, but he refused to move until I set the bird in flight set-up down, and picked up the set-up for a better portrait of him. That’s when he chose to fly away.

I also caught a male ruddy duck looking his best, even if he refused to pose for me.

Male ruddy duck

Okay, that brings me to something that I probably shouldn’t write about, but I will anyway. This won’t be about photo gear, but about how I go about getting the photos that I do, and why.

That bad day of shooting warblers that I had a few weeks ago may have been one of the best things that’s happened to me lately. Since then, I have redoubled my efforts to get better images of all types. I think that most people would be happy with this photo, other than some default adjustments that I have Lightroom do to every image that I import into it to make the images look like what I saw through the viewfinder when I shot them, nothing was done to this image.

Cedar waxwing

I didn’t crop that, nor did I adjust the exposure, but that’s not good enough for me any longer. I moved closer to the waxwing, and by a stroke of luck, he moved a few branches lower for this photo.

Cedar waxwing

That wasn’t cropped either, but I could see that the waxwing was eating something it was finding on the branches of the tree, and I was curious to see what it was eating. So, between my trying to get better images all the time and my curiosity to learn what the waxwing was eating, I shot close to 100 photos to get this image showing it plucking an aphid off from the tree, and, these next two images have been cropped slightly to show that.

Cedar waxwing eating an aphid

I didn’t know before this series of images that waxwings ate aphids, but because of my photos, I learned something this day.

Cedar waxwing

Of course I went for a regular portrait image as well.

Cedar waxwing

That’s not my best portrait of a cedar waxwing, but I’ll take it for now until the next opportunity comes along.

Anyway, it was my curiosity of wildlife behavior which at first fueled my desire to get better images. I wanted to see what birds were eating and how they ate for example. Somewhere along the line, that morphed into trying for the best image possible, which isn’t all bad. I think that I’m almost to the point where I can do both parts of the equation well, capture the behavior of wildlife and produce good images at the same time.

After all, I was standing there watching one of the most beautiful species of bird native to Michigan, I was able to observe its behavior and feeding habits up close through the viewfinder of my camera, and capture what I was seeing to share with others who may also be interested in such things, there’s nothing to top that as far as my way of thinking goes.

I do need to work on my landscape images more though, and while I’m driving for work each evening, I pass a spot that I thought would be a good place to shoot a sunset or sunrise, depending on the time of day it was when I was there. Since the spring migration of birds is all but over with, I thought that last Friday after Alberto had passed through the area would be a good day to shoot a few landscapes, given the weather report.

The place that I had in mind is about 50 miles (80 Km) northwest of the city of Muskegon, which is the center of the hub of places that I’ve been going to most of the time lately. It’s also about the same distance from my home. It’s a spot on the Muskegon River between two dams used to generate electricity, not that it matters, the attraction to me is the river valley and how it looks to me as I pass this spot each evening for work.

Arriving at sunrise, I started by shooting an image facing downstream, which is to the west, as the sky towards the sunrise wasn’t that interesting yet.

Muskegon River sunrise

That’s not anything special, but I like it because it says northern Michigan at sunrise to me. It was quiet except for the birds singing in the trees along the river, no wind, and a little mist rising off from the water. A very pleasant morning on a great day to be alive. This photo also shows me that this would be a good place to shoot a sunset from.

I decided that it was time to walk around a bend in the river and shoot towards the rising sun in the east. Along the way, I noticed these flowers…

Daisy?

…and with no wind, my tripod in hand, and my camera with the 16-35 mm lens on it, I decided to give the flowers a go and see what I could do. I guess that I would call that a test shot, but I like it enough to include here.

After getting around the bend in the river, I checked out a number of possibilities and settled on this one.

Muskegon River sunrise 2

I’m not that happy with the vegetation in the right side of the frame, but other than that, I love this image. In retrospect, I probably should have backed up a few feet to get all of the still water reflecting the clouds at the bottom of the frame in the frame, and possibly some of the rocks that formed that pool of still water also. Of course, some color to the sky would have been nice as well, but that’s beyond my control. Overall though, I’m quite pleased with the composition and I think that I did about the best that I could at the time.

I do need to shoot more landscapes, so that I’m more comfortable doing so, and also so that I can get set-up more quickly to take advantage of ever-changing light. There’s so much more to good landscape photography than there is to wildlife photography that I need to keep in mind as I’m setting up. Not only are all the camera settings different, but it requires a different mindset as well.

You’d think that because landscape photography tends to be slow and methodical compared to capturing the action of wildlife photography that it would be easier. It may be to some people, but not to me. I could go into more detail, but I won’t, I’ll sum this up by saying that I do see my landscape photography skills improving, and that I’ll continue to improve as I shoot more landscapes.

I have to say that I’ve come to the point where the slow, methodical actions required for landscape photography no longer bother me the way that they used to, I quite enjoyed wandering around with the camera handheld, looking for the best composition through the viewfinder. Then, setting up the tripod, double checking where I positioned it, leveling the camera on the tripod, and all the other things that are required for that type of photography. I could have gone back and shot the daisy flowers later when the exposure required was less than the nearly 2 seconds that it was when I shot the flowers using the tripod at sunrise, but it’s no longer a hassle to me to use the tripod.

Oh by the way, I should add that both of the landscape images here are HDR images where I shoot three exposure bracketed images and blend them together in software to overcome the limits of the dynamic range of my camera’s sensor. I do try to keep my images as realistic as possible though, getting the final image as close to what I saw through the viewfinder as I can. My goal is that no one would be able to tell that they are HDR images if I didn’t tell them.

On my way out of the parking lot, I stopped to shoot these flowers.

Unidentified flowers

There were hundreds of these trees loaded with the flowers, and I looked for a place where I could shoot a photo to show that, but I never did find a place that would have resulted in a good image of the masses of flowers in bloom.

My plan had been to go from the place where I shot the landscapes to three nature preserves nearby, but like the complete idiot that I am, I forgot to bring the directions to the preserves with me. I drove around looking for the preserves, but never found them. Retracing my route on Google maps, I was close to them, but I never saw a single sign of any of them. I think that it’s time for me to become more methodical about many things, like keeping a notebook with my camera gear all the time to keep things such as directions and notes on places that I go to, or would like to go to. Keeping that information on my computer is all well and good until I need the information while I’m away from home. Maybe I should begin using my Macbook for that purpose, other than as a backup for my iMac or while I’m on vacation. Silly me, I have the way to solve a problem at hand but don’t use it.

So, I’ve fired up the Macbook that I have, and put the directions to some of the many nature preserves that I’d like to check out this summer in the computer. I have them somewhat organized, and even went to so far as to set-up a folder that I can put notes about places and the times that I’ve been to them.

I will be going back to the same area again, as I would like to refine the landscape photos that I shot from along the river, and because I saw and heard many birds back in the woods as I was looking for the nature preserves.

Anyway, since I couldn’t find the nature preserves that I wanted to check out, I went all the way to the Muskegon area¬†while on the look out for other places that may yield good landscape photos or were possible places to look for wildlife. I did see a couple of scenes that I would have liked to have photographed, but there was always traffic behind me when that happened, and I didn’t want to pull off to the side then.

That means that I spent most of my two days off from work at the same old places again, but in some ways, what difference does it make, other than I’d like to find a quieter area where I could shoot more videos, especially of birds as they sing.

Brown thrasher singing

If only he would have turned to face me, darn.

Brown thrasher singing

I had originally stopped because I saw two kestrels in the tree that the thrasher is perched in, and quite low to the ground. Of course they flew up to branches much higher in the tree before I could get a photo of them, and the only reason I’m including this photo here is because one of the kestrels had a small rodent that I can’t identify in its talons.

American kestrel with its lunch

It was while I was watching the kestrels to see what they were doing that the thrasher landed as close to me as it did, when they are normally just as shy as the kestrels are. I was lucky to get the images of the thrasher, but the kestrels remained true to form and left the area soon after I shot the photo above.

I do need to work on my photos of flower along with landscape photos, I’m happy with the iris themselves in these two photos…

Iris

…but I’m not at all happy with the background…

Iris

…as the washed out green of the grass in the background distracts from the beauty of the flowers. If it wasn’t for the background, I’d say that those are my two best images of an iris ever, as I nailed the focus point for a sharp image that shows the translucent beauty of the petals of the flowers.

It wasn’t the background that was the main problem when I shot a few columbine flowers…

Columbine flower

…it was getting the entire flower in focus in low light…

Columbine flower

…without all the noise in that last photo. I did use my LED light to try to light the flower, but it wasn’t enough.

Also, I used the 60D body and my macro lens for both the iris and columbine, the swiveling screen of the 60D came in especially handy when shooting up at the columbine. I didn’t have to lay on my back in the mud to shoot that last photo. I swiveled the screen to where I could use live view to see what the camera was seeing as I knelt down next to the flower with the camera pointed up at the flower.

I did try the on-camera flash to get more light, that didn’t work at all. I also thought about using my flash unit off camera, but I couldn’t think of a way to make it fire the way the flower and camera were positioned for that photo. I really need several more hands or an assistant for that type of photo.

The wild lupine is in bloom, and I thought that I had great lighting for this photo.

Wild lupine

However, I was a little disappointed in that image. The next day, I tried again on another lupine that I saw…

Wild lupine

…these flowers had better colors, but the light wasn’t as good, neither is the background. Also, I should stop comparing wild flowers to specimens grown in a garden, but that’s another story for another day.

I have a few more images from that day to share.

Unknown flowering object with bee

I didn’t have time to retrieve and put an extension tube behind the macro lens so that I could get closer to the bee, this is the best that I could do.

Unknown flowering object with bee

 

Eastern kingbird

 

Skipper butterfly

I’m not 100% sure that this is an Acadian flycatcher, so I’m not counting it as a new species to be added to my life list. Flycatchers are notoriously hard to ID, and this one never made a sound that would help me to identify it. The buffy eye-ring suggests an Acadian flycatcher, but better images would have helped to confirm or exclude my identification of this bird.

Acadian flycatcher?

 

Horned lark

Well, the weather forecast for my next two days off from work is looking iffy at this time. I’m afraid that I’ll have to make last-minute decisions as to where to go to avoid possible rain and thunder showers that are in the forecast. I would like to check out the three nature preserves that I didn’t find on my last weekend if the weather cooperates. However there’s something that I need to keep in mind, the possibilities for photography are endless, and I should quit trying to stick with a plan even when the weather doesn’t cooperate, and go with the flow instead.

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


Help, I’ve fallen in love!

Warning, there’s a lot of technical details about photography in this post, those of you who are bored with my prattling on about those details may skip reading what I’ve typed, and only look at the photos.

Barn swallow chattering away

I’m sure that by now, most of you have seen the image of the bald eagle and fox fighting over a rabbit that the fox had killed and was carrying when the eagle decided to steal the rabbit from the fox, that image is all over the internet right now. If you haven’t seen the image, a bald eagle swooped down on a fox carrying a rabbit to steal the rabbit from the fox, but the fox refused to let go. The eagle was strong enough to carry both the rabbit and fox until the fox decided that discretion was the better part of valor and let go of the rabbit, dropping unharmed to the ground as the eagle made off with the rabbit.

Along with that image, which I can only wish that I had taken, a couple of people commented on the photography aspect of what I wrote in one of my recent posts, and one person, Cornell Apostol, even wrote a post in his own blog as a result of things that I said.

So, I feel the urge to let my mind wander around in my thoughts on photography and photo gear yet again.

Yes, the equipment used by photographers is the means to the end, not the end itself, I understand that. However, it does require good camera gear to capture an image such as the eagle and fox as well as the photographer, Kevin Ebi, was able to shoot when he saw what was happening.

Although, no one who views that image is going to notice at first how sharp it is, or how well exposed it is, that image wouldn’t have the impact that it does if the image hadn’t been good to begin with.

Also, I complained about the noise in my images taken on a recent dark, dreary day, but then I remembered what I would have gotten as far as images if I were still using the Canon 60D body and Sigma 150-500 mm lens. The old combination wouldn’t have gotten the photos of the bay-breasted warbler, they were shot with the 7D Mk II and ISO settings higher than the 60D was capable of to begin with. Add to that the fact that the Sigma is almost a full stop slower than the Canon 100-400 mm lens that I used for the warbler, and I would have been almost two full stops “short” of enough light to get any image at all from the equipment that I used to use. So, while my photos weren’t great, they were far better than nothing, which is what my old camera and lens would have gotten.

While equipment may not be everything, it’s still important to have equipment that will be able to get an image when the opportunity is presented. If I ever have the chance to shoot something as dramatic as the eagle trying to steal the fox’s rabbit, I want to be able to get the shot. If I see a rare bird, I want to be able to document it.

However, there’s more to consider when it comes to camera gear than getting a shot in the first place, or even image quality, cost is one thing, weight¬†is another. I may be in fairly good shape for some one who is 63 years old, but I don’t want to strap a 20 pound backpack on myself and attempt to hike 10 miles a day any longer.

So, when Canon announced the recent sale price and free battery grip for the 5D Mk IV, with or without a lens, with two lenses to choose from. That set me to thinking of which of the two lenses offered would be the best for my use once again. The two “kit” lenses are the 24-105 mm f/4 IS L series, and the 24-70 mm f/4 L series. I thought that I had settled on the 24-105 mm lens, but that decision has always bothered me, as that lens is far from Canon’s sharpest.

That focal range on a full frame camera is a very versatile lens, and would be the only lens that I’d need to carry with me for the occasional landscape or other subjects, other than wildlife, while I was hiking. I thought that I could get by using an extension tube or two behind that lens for macro photography, rather than carrying the 100 mm macro lens that I have.

Still, how soft that lens is bothered me.

I had considered the 24-70 mm lens in the past, but had been swayed by thinking that the 24-105 mm lens would be a better fit for me. After all, many of the professional photographers whose channels I have subscribed to on Youtube and who shoot Canon gear own and use the 24-105 mm lens. Then it dawned on me, most of the videos that those professionals posted were about learning to use Lightroom, and I was never that impressed by the photos that they shot. The one exception to that was Michael Melford, a Nat Geo photographer, who has switched to Nikon gear for better image quality. But, I thought that if the 24-105 mm lens had been good enough for Nat Geo in the past, then it would be good enough for my use. On the other hand, why should I settle for second best? Also, even a two page spread in Nat Geo isn’t the same as when you print out an image to 13 X 19 or 16 X 20 as I do with many of my best images. The small format of a magazine is better suited to the use of a lens that isn’t the sharpest available.

Another factor that has caused me to rethink things yet again are the recent trips that I made where I dedicated myself to shooting only certain subjects, and not trying to photograph everything that I saw that interested me. I learned that I can easily carry all the camera gear that I would need for landscapes, as an example, if I did limit myself to carrying only the gear needed for landscapes.

That takes me back to some of the recent photos that I’ve shot, and seeing how sharp that they were from edge to edge. Here’s an example from the 16-35 mm¬†lens…

Sunrise over a marsh

…and you can see how sharp the lens is by looking at the dead reeds in the lower right hand corner of that image.

Then, there’s this image shot with the 70-200 mm lens…

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

…and you can see how sharp that lens is in the lower left corner of the image by looking at the trees and power poles in the lighted position of that image.

Well, maybe you can’t really see how sharp they are in this small format, but when I view those images on my 27″ iMac, I can see just how sharp those lenses are in the corners, and I’m loving what I see. Here’s two more recent images shot with the 16-35 mm lens…

My ode to the beauty of the green of spring

 

Early summer marsh

I absolutely love the 16-35 mm lens, and I’m having loads of fun learning how to use it! Part of me wants to put that lens on a camera body and take it with me everywhere I go, shooting everything I see that comes close to being a landscape. I know that the last image is nothing special, other than it captured the scene as I saw it, which has been a problem at times with the other lenses I’ve used.

Okay, changing gears a bit, fortunately, there’s an independent ¬†lab that has a website,¬†https://www.dxomark.com¬†which tests camera sensors and lenses. That’s where I learned just how superior the sensor of the 5D Mk IV was to the sensor of the 7D Mk II cameras that I current use are, in real numbers. Most reviews of camera gear are done by talking heads affiliated with one camera company, or are only talking heads, and in most of their reviews, image quality is all but ignored. That’s something that I’ve complained about in the past when I was researching gear to purchase.

Instead of a talking head telling me that I’d see “improved low-light capabilities”, the tests done at¬†https://www.dxomark.com tell me that I’ll see almost 3 full stops of improvement in low-light as far as noise in my images, and two full stops more of dynamic range when I upgrade to a 5D Mk IV. Real numbers based on lab tests, not some one trying to sell me the latest and greatest because they’re getting paid by the company that just released the latest and greatest.

Seeing real numbers is what convinced me to not to purchase the new 6D Mk II, since the dynamic range of that camera is no better than the 7D Mk II, even though I’d see some low-light improvement, and could afford the 6D right now. It makes no sense to make what amounts to a lateral move in my opinion. I’d have to give up auto-focusing capabilities and high frame rates for improved low-light images.

It’s the same with lens testing, real numbers, not some one’s impressions of how good a lens is. When it comes to zoom lenses,¬†https://www.dxomark.com tests the lenses at various focal lengths and aperture settings so that you get a clearer image of how well the lens may perform, the way that you use it on the camera that you use.

When I first began looking at the lens testing done by¬†https://www.dxomark.com, one thing stood out right away. That’s because they also test the lenses on several different camera bodies.

Some of Canon’s high-end lenses do not perform very well on their consumer grade bodies, but are great on their pro grade bodies. Hmmm, that may explain why I was never that impressed with the 70-200 mm f/4 L series lens on the 60D body I was using it on. On the other hand, mounted to the 7D Mk II, I think that the same lens is one of the best that I own. Too bad that the lens in question is so old that¬†https://www.dxomark.com has never tested it, I’d like to see the comparisons between camera bodies with that lens. I think that what I see in other lenses as far as the differences in the bodies playing a part in the performance of the lens applies to what I’ve seen in my own trials and tribulations.

To go with that, some of the Canon EF S lenses built for crop sensor cameras perform better on their consumer grade bodies better than the higher priced L series lenses intended for professional use. I don’t know if that holds true for other companies that make cameras and lenses or not, I have a hunch that it does. Canon seems to tweak their lenses towards the bodies they will most likely be used on, and vice versa.

So, anyway, getting back to the 24-70 mm and 24-105 mm lenses, and for that matter, other alternatives that I looked into, this is what I’ve discovered. For the subjects that I shoot, the 24-70 mm lens is a better choice than most of the alternatives. While other lenses may be sharper with the aperture wide open, the 24-70 mm lens is sharpest stopped down to apertures more suited for landscapes and other subjects that I’ll be using it for. That lens is sharp edge to edge at the aperture settings I’ll most likely be using, and that’s what matters. It’s not how sharp a lens is at the center when the aperture is wide open, unless that’s the type of photography you do, and I don’t.

I’d say that this is the clincher, but it isn’t, the 24-70 mm lens also has a macro function. It isn’t a true 1 to 1 macro lens, but you can get to .7 life-size by using the macro function. So, if I’m on a hike and carrying the 7D with the 100-400 mm lens for birds, wildlife, and larger insects that don’t allow me to approach them very close, I can get by with the 24-70 mm lens on the 5D Mk IV for landscapes and near macro photography. I could also put the lens on the 7D to get a little closer to the subject if needed, due to the crop sensor of the 7D. I can use an extension tube to get to life-size if needed, also.

Okay, the real clincher was playing with the 24-70 mm lens at the local camera store. Yes, image quality is the most important aspect of a lens, but being user-friendly is also important. Plus, I thought that the macro function was somewhat of a gimmick, but in trying it out in the store, I found that it is a viable alternative to the 100 mm macro lens that I already have. I tried the 24-105 mm lens before, and it’s okay, but I fell in love with the 24-70 mm lens as soon as I touched it, or I should say, as soon as I looked through the viewfinder of the camera, and began making adjustments to both the lens and camera.

An added bonus is that the 24-70 mm lens is half a pound lighter than the 24-105 mm lens. That just happens to be one-third of the weight of the 70-200 mm lens. That means when I go out to shoot mainly landscapes, I can easily carry the three lenses that I’ll most likely need, and they won’t break my back carrying them.

More added bonuses, the 24-70 mm lens is $200 cheaper than the 24-105 mm lens, and it has the same hybrid Image Stabilization as the 100 mm macro lens that I have. For landscapes, the IS is no big deal, since I use a tripod most of the time, and turn the IS off. However, when shooting macros handheld, the hybrid IS that Canon developed for macro photography is amazing, and it works when using an extension tube behind the lens.

What this all boils down to is this, there’s no lens on the market that’s extremely sharp, at the center or edge to edge, at all apertures and all focal lengths, if it’s a zoom lens. And as I learned in looking at the camera and lens tested together, what model camera that one has plays a part in how sharp a lens appears to be, when you wouldn’t think that it made a difference. There’s so many things that one has to take into account when trying to decide on camera gear that it can be overwhelming at times.

While using the 24-70 mm lens in the store, it was hard for me not to purchase it right then and there, as my saving towards the 5D Mk IV is well along the way and I can easily afford the lens now. However, that would delay my purchase of the camera even longer, and the lens wouldn’t be that useful to me until I purchase the camera. On the other hand, the 16-35 mm lens on my crop sensor 7D is about the same effective focal length range as the 24-70 mm lens will be on a full frame 5D Mk IV when I purchase it, so in a way, I’ve been playing with a set-up that’s very close to what I’ll end up with down the road. Knowing what the future will look like is fueling my desire to complete my photo kit as quickly as I can.

What would improve the quality of the images that I shoot right now is the camera, not the lens. I really could have used the 5D Mk IV to its full advantage during my recent outing when photographing the warblers on a misty, foggy, dreary day when I had to push the 7D to its limits to get any photo at all because of the lack of light.

And, I’m very much looking forward to using the 16-35 mm lens on the full frame 5D body to see just how wide that lens is compared to what I see when using it on the crop sensor 7D.

Although, as much as I love the 16-35 mm lens, the more I’d like to own its big brother, the 24-70 mm lens, right now, so that I can begin the learning curve with that lens, and to see if it will prove to be as versatile as I think it will be. That includes testing out the near macro function of that lens. If it’s as sharp, can capture fine details as well as the 16-35 mm lens, and produces such true to life colors as the 16-35 mm lens, along with functioning as a macro lens, don’t be surprised if I end up purchasing that lens if Canon offers rebates on it before I purchase the 5D Mk IV body.

One more thing (At least) for me to get off my chest while I’m on the subject of photo gear. When I was using the Sigma 150-500 mm lens, I had to stop it down to f/8 to get good sharp photos from that lens. But then, the birds that I shot tended to blend into the background to a larger degree than what birds do now in my images…

Grey catbird

…because I can shoot with either the Canon 100-400 mm or 400 mm prime lenses wide open for a shallower depth of field than I could when I used the Sigma lens. The shallower depth of field makes the birds pop out at you more, since the birds don’t blend into the background as much…

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

 

Blue jay

…and both of the Canon lenses are sharp enough wide-open that I don’t have to stop them down to get the subject sharp. That also makes for a more three-dimensional look that what I was able to get with the Sigma lens. Because of that, you can read the body language of the blue jay in the image above.

When I want to include some of the vegetation in a scene that contains a bird, I can do so…

Song sparrow, new leaves, and flower buds

..but that’s now my choice when I look through the viewfinder, not something forced on me by a lens that doesn’t perform as well unless it’s stopped down.

Male northern cardinal

Part of me wants to complete my camera kit as soon as possible so that it’s over and done with, and I won’t be thinking about it any longer. There are other considerations as well. I know that it will take me the better part of a day to go through the menu system of the 5D Mk IV after I receive it to set that camera up to what I shoot and how I shoot it. When I tried the 5D out in the store, it hit home to me just how much I have customized the 7D as far as saved settings and having changed the functions of some of the buttons used to change or access camera settings. I’ve had a 7D for a couple of years now, but I’m still tweaking the settings of it as I go along.

I’m still not to where I’d like to be, as often when I’m shooting a perched bird…

Pileated woodpecker

…I’m using a slower shutter speed to keep the ISO down for image quality, but then…

Pileated woodpecker

…the bird takes flight, and I end up with a blurry photo of it because of the slow shutter speed.

I’ve tried using the register recall function that the 7D has in those situations, however the camera won’t switch between aperture and shutter priority when I’ve tried it. I may have to approach the problem from a different angle to make the camera work as I want it.

Also, some people may call me crazy, but as I’ve speculated in the past, I think that cameras and particularly lenses need to be used for a while before they work as well as they end up working. My images continue to get sharper, and the auto-focusing of my lenses continues to improve as well, even though I can’t say why that is for sure. I think that when a lens is assembled, the moving parts for the zoom and focusing mechanisms are tight, and they loosen up over time as the lens is used. That may also explain the longer battery life that I’ve been seeing with my cameras as well.

I first purchased the battery grips for the 7D because I was coming close to draining a battery in a single day of shooting. And, even using two batteries in the grips, I would recharge the batteries after a single day of shooting because they had lost so much of their charge. Now I find that I can go for two, three, possibly four days of shooting without recharging the batteries, and there has to be a reason for it.

I think that it’s because the focusing mechanisms of the lenses have loosened up a bit, and the motor that dives them doesn’t have to work as hard to make them move. It would seem that since battery life gets shorter over the life of a battery that I’d be seeing the opposite, that the batteries would be draining faster now that they are a couple of years old, and have been recharged so many times.

Those reasons, and many others, are what are pushing me towards purchasing the new equipment that I would like to have as soon as possible. On the other hand, I’d really rather not go deep into debt to make those purchases right now.

I’ve already decided that I probably won’t upgrade the 7D body when Canon introduces the Mk III version of it, unless it does something spectacular like reach out and hold a subject in the perfect position in good light and has so much dynamic range that I don’t blow out the highlights as in this image…

Black-capped chickadee bring home the bacon

…when I can usually get the same subject better if I try hard enough.

Black-capped chickadee bring home the bacon

I have images of the back-end of the chickadee as it delivered the food to its young in the cavity of the tree in that image. I was hoping that the young could reach up to greet mom, but not yet from what I could see.

Except for its low-light performance…

Song sparrow at dawn

…and lack of dynamic range, I can’t see how Canon can improve the 7D to the point where I’d want to upgrade when I have a 5D to go with what I have now.

It’s not that my images are perfect, but many of them taken in good light are better than I hoped to achieve just a few short years ago.

American avocet

 

Female eared grebe

If only the male would have moved in front of his mate as he raised his crest…

Eared grebes

…I would have been an extremely happy camper. But, I was happy to get the shots that I did, the same applies to this great crested flycatcher.

Great crested flycatcher with lunch

 

Great crested flycatcher with lunch

OOo, that tickled as it went down!

Great crested flycatcher after lunch

And, if I could train the birds to perch in more photogenic locations…

Cliff swallow

…I’d be even happier with my images.

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