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

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!

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20 responses

  1. Loved your Muskegon River 2 image. All that still water and serenity is very calming, isn’t it?

    The cedar waxwing/aphids series is intriguing. Love waxwings – there’s something about their sleek coloration that I find very appealing. I used to live in a house that had a large locust tree in the front yard. For about two days in the fall, we’d be inundated with waxwings coming in for the berries, but then they wouldn’t come around again until the next year. Seems like I hardly ever see any around anymore.

    Hope that extreme hot, muggy weather is gone for the summer. It must especially make your work life miserable, and it’s not fun for playtime, either!

    Keep shooting, Jerry. Love the results.

    June 8, 2018 at 8:20 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! Yes, the river there in the morning is very soothing, but I love being near small bodies of water like rivers and small lakes.

      Cedar waxwings are beautiful birds that seem to come and go like wisps of fog. I’ll see plenty of them for a few weeks, then they disappear for a month or more, only to show up everywhere for a couple of weeks again.

      I also hope that the hot, humid weather is done for the year, but I’m afraid that we won’t be that lucky. I have a hunch that we’ll be seeing too many hot days this summer.

      June 8, 2018 at 6:16 pm

  2. I enjoyed the cedar waxwing series too and loved your landscapes, so peaceful.

    June 8, 2018 at 9:20 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! I do my best, which isn’t always that good, but sometimes I get lucky.

      June 8, 2018 at 6:22 pm

  3. You started the journey of wildlife photographer because you were interested in the subjects and wanted to learn more. Now through your amazing photos you have inspired a whole mass of people to follow suit and look at nature and the world around in more detail and joy. I learn so much from your photos and they open my eyes to look more closely at all things that I can see where I live.
    I love all the photos in this post they are wonderful . The upside down cedar waxwing eating his supper is brilliant…the colours on his underside and all his little feathers and the way he is holding on his branch…can you tell how much I like it? All the photos are special…thank you.

    June 8, 2018 at 3:09 pm

    • Thank you very much Marianne! You said in your comment what I tried to say in my post, I love being able to learn from my photos, and I love being able to share what I’ve learned, like watching the cedar waxwings in action.

      June 8, 2018 at 6:24 pm

  4. I’m glad Alberto didn’t do any real damage. I wondered when I heard it was headed your way if it would.
    Those are fine shots of the cedar waxwing. I didn’t know they ate aphids either, I thought they were strictly fruit eaters. That gives me a whole new list of places to look for them because I know where there are plenty of aphids.
    I love the river scenes. That looks like it would be a great river to kayak on.
    The trees with the unidentified white flowers are locust trees. I’d guess black locust, especially if they had thorns and the flowers were fragrant.
    I like the shots of the irises too. I don’t think the background is distracting at all. It looks natural to me.
    I think the yellow flowers with bees are coreopsis, possibly tick seed coreopsis.
    It’s not even summer yet so keep after it. There’s a lot of beauty left to see out there!

    June 8, 2018 at 5:55 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! Alberto was nothing, we have regular thunder storms that are worse.

      Cedar waxwings eat just about anything, whatever is available at the time. On top of that, many seed eating birds catch and feed insects to their young, as young birds need the fat and protein from insects.

      The Muskegon is a good river to kayak if you want a relaxing paddle, I prefer faster and smaller rivers that make you work a little more.

      I thought that the flowers were locust, but I’m never sure about any flowers any more.

      I thought that tick seed coreopsis were small flowers, these were three inches across.

      It sure seems like summer already, I saw leaves that were already changing colors today.

      June 8, 2018 at 8:48 pm

      • There is a large flowered tick seed coreopsis (Coreopsis grandiflora,) but it’s hard to know if your plant is that one.
        It’s far too early for leaves to be changing!

        June 8, 2018 at 9:02 pm

      • Thanks, I had looked up tickseed coreopsis after your comment, and it sure does look like the plant and flower. I think that it was a shadbush tree that had the leaves turning already, I think that they’re known as service berry trees here.

        June 8, 2018 at 9:40 pm

  5. Wow, I had no idea you have there black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia). Its fragrance it is amazing. We have many such trees in our garden and it is a joy to see them in bloom.

    June 8, 2018 at 6:21 pm

    • Thank you very much Cornell! Yes, we have black locust trees here, and they are beautiful and aromatic flowers.

      June 8, 2018 at 7:37 pm

  6. Your thoughts are as useful to your readers as ever. With a large number of excellent pictures to choose from, I had to take some time to select my favourite but in the end I settled for the skipper butterfly.

    June 8, 2018 at 6:57 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! I cheat by only posting once a week so I don’t have to come up with photos daily as you do.

      June 8, 2018 at 8:15 pm

  7. There are so many outstanding images here, Jerry, I would not be able to pick a #1 favorite. I don’t think I could have picked my top five! You put a lot of time and thought into your work and your images show it!!!

    June 8, 2018 at 10:35 pm

    • Thank you very much Donna! I’m glad that you found so many of the photos to your liking.

      June 9, 2018 at 3:24 am

  8. Jerry, your photos keep getting better with each post, even though when I see them I usually think they are already top notch. No better example than the series on the Cedar Waxwing. The first one looked fine to me, but then next one surpassed it, and the next one did that again, and so on. You are an amazing photographer!

    June 9, 2018 at 4:52 pm

    • Thank you very much Hien! It’s taken me too long to master the technical aspects of photography, and learning how to quickly come up with the image that I’d like to shoot when the brief opportunity to shoot it presents itself, but I think that I can safely say that the best is yet to come.

      June 10, 2018 at 4:14 pm

  9. I love the sunrise landscapes very much, Jerry! The rising mist and the reflections in the water are wonderful! As usual, when you shoot a series of photos of a bird, you have shown quite a lot of the character of the Cedar Waxwing. It was fascinating seeing the shots of it picking the aphids off the tree bark. The other photos of the flowers, birds and the butterfly are all excellent!

    June 12, 2018 at 8:40 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I have several more series of birds coming up, not as good as the waxwing eating aphids though.

      June 13, 2018 at 6:59 am