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

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!


19 responses

  1. Your birds in flight are always the best but those ospreys are even better than that, wonderful images!

    June 29, 2018 at 3:42 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! It helps when I know where the birds will be coming from and going to as I did with the osprey, since their nest was right there.

      June 29, 2018 at 5:02 am

  2. Congratulations on getting the 5D! You will love it, but I can see you are already putting it to good use with some of the photos you are posting above. By the way, your Osprey photos are superb and it’s amazing how close you are able to get to them.

    Talking about mosquitoes and insects in general, I find that I have to stop going to the refuge here in the summer. There are sand flies and mosquitoes that literally assault you the moment you step out of the car or roll a window down.

    June 29, 2018 at 6:57 am

    • Thank you very much Hien! You’re right, I am loving the 5D, my second day out with it today, and it’s blowing me away.

      The osprey nest is over land here, so I sat under a tree about 50 feet from the nest and fired away whenever the osprey flew near me. They seemed to circle the nest each time before landing, giving me lots of opportunities.

      We’re lucky in Michigan, sand fly season only lasts for a week or two, and only along Lake Michigan for the most part. However, we have nasty little black flies in northern Michigan that can drive a person crazy, but they only last a month or so. Mosquitos are almost everywhere unless there’s a good stiff wind blowing, or lots of insects and birds eating them.

      June 29, 2018 at 5:28 pm

  3. Hi Jerry. I was happy to see that you finally tumbled for your new Canon body. That means lots of excursions and photo experiments for your readers.

    Glad you went back to visit the ospreys. The detail about males eating the heads off the fish before sharing them with the rest of the family is peculiar. Is this something that only ospreys do?it probably makes sense in the grand scheme of things – with the head detached, there won’t be any wiggling which might cause the male to drop the fish. But, it’s a curious detail.

    Looking forward to all the new tricks you’ll try with your new gear. Hope the weather cooperates. We are in southern Indiana right now, and it’s beastly. In the 90s, with heat index hovering just above 100 degrees. Not what we hoped for when we came down for a week of mountain biking!

    June 29, 2018 at 7:24 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! I wish that I had time for more photo excursions, this new camera is going to prove to be everything that I wanted and more from what I saw from the photos today.

      I think that an osprey’s talons lock just as an eagle’s talons do, so there’s no way for a fish to wiggle free. Since the male does almost all the fishing for the family, I suppose that it’s only fair that he should eat first. πŸ˜‰ But, from other bloggers, it seems to be something that all male osprey do.

      Sorry about the heat where you are, but it’s no better here. I couldn’t find a bird after 10 AM this morning, I think that they were all snoozing in the shade unless they had young to feed. It made it above 90 today, and it looks like the heat wave is going to last a while, drat!

      June 29, 2018 at 5:35 pm

  4. Well, if the quality of your images is going to go up, I can’t really imagine how they will look as your current output is wonderful. I like your landscapes a lot. I feel that your thinking about them is really paying off.

    June 29, 2018 at 5:31 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! You may not see that much of an improvement in my images given the way that they appear on the Web, but believe me, the new camera is a huge step up in quality. Even better, I don’t have to spend as much time with them in Lightroom trying to make up for the limitations of the crop sensor of my old camera. I think that you are right, I may not have the photogenic landscapes as in your area, but by thinking more about the composition of my images than I did before, I do see some improvement in my landscapes.

      June 29, 2018 at 5:43 pm

  5. I rarely see ospreys so it was a pleasure to see them. I’ve noticed before how they always carry the fish with its head to the wind. That must reduce drag.
    Those sound like tough hours but at least you have some time to yourself. I hope the psoriasis stays just the way it is!
    I thought the kingfisher had something wrong with its beak until you said it was a minnow.
    It looks like the new camera is a keeper! I like the landscapes especially.

    June 29, 2018 at 5:39 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! Until I stumbled on that nest, I rarely saw osprey either. You’re right though,, they always carry fish head first.

      Those hours aren’t so bad, and I’m driving at night when the roads aren’t as busy.

      I think that the minnow that the kingfisher had was a creek chub, but I’m not sure, but the kingfisher was holding it tight.

      The new camera is amazing, but I’m not sure how much it will show with the way that photos are presented on the Web.

      June 29, 2018 at 5:55 pm

  6. I am so pleased you have succumbed to the new camera! These images are wonderful, especially the landscapes. I liked the macro shots of the flowers too; they looked like abstract art! The osprey photos are fantastic! It is so interesting to see their behaviours and I love those chicks peering over the top of the nest!

    June 29, 2018 at 8:07 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I had a morning perfect for the macros of the flowers, but I blew it by having the camera set incorrectly since they were the first photos I shot with the new camera. I returned and shot many of the same flowers again today, and they will appear in my next post because they are much better.

      The osprey images did turn out well, after I had worked on them in the editing software that I use. By the time I left the osprey, it was beginning to rain, that’s how poor the light had become. But, the photos do show the behavior of the osprey, so alls well that ends well.

      June 29, 2018 at 8:26 pm

      • I look forward to seeing the new flower macros!

        June 30, 2018 at 6:20 pm

      • It won’t be long.

        July 1, 2018 at 7:05 am

  7. Well done on lots of things: new camera, fantastic photos and clean bill of health! It’s good to see the map of where you take your wonderful photos of the ospreys and the other birds…it’s a fine location with so many interesting things to see. The osprey photos are just amazing and they all tell a story…that little chick peeping over the top of the nest is just waiting for his lunch. Love the landscapes too…those look like quite large boats in the harbour. The egrets in flight photo is just lovely but my favourite is the mute swan photo with your new camera. Look forward to seeing more…you must be very pleased with your new purchase.

    June 30, 2018 at 4:40 pm

    • Thank you very much Marianne! I should shoot a few more photos of the surroundings where I go, like the boats in the harbor. People in Michigan love their boats, and the Great Lakes are large enough for ocean going freighters and cruise ships.

      The osprey are fun to watch and photograph, I hope that the chicks are a bit bigger the next time I go there so that I can get better photos of them.

      The new camera is exceeding my expectations, I thought that I’d see only minor improvement in my photos, but that isn’t the case. The photos are better in every way.

      July 1, 2018 at 7:12 am

  8. Great shots all the way round, Jerry! Of course, I especially love the Osprey captures! πŸ˜‰

    July 1, 2018 at 9:36 am

    • I forgot, congrats on the new camera too!

      July 1, 2018 at 9:37 am

    • Thank you very much Donna! Somehow, I thought that you may like the osprey photos. πŸ˜‰ The new camera is amazing, great image quality and I’m just getting started with it.

      July 1, 2018 at 3:01 pm

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