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

Short stories

I have plenty of photos left over from the last two weeks, I’ll have to decide if I’m going to use them now (probably) or wait until I see what I come up with next week. Hmm, looking at my calendar, I see that I have an appointment with the dermatologist this Thursday, so may not get out to shoot any photos at all on that day. My appointment is for mid-morning, which doesn’t leave me enough time before the appointment to shoot any photos. And, the weather isn’t helping either, it remains very hot and very humid here, which limits where I choose to go, and how long I stay out in the heat. So, I won’t be going out after the appointment either.

Maybe I’ll see if I can go out and shoot the Milky Way Wednesday night, then get some sleep before the appointment. I’m really itching to shoot both the Milky Way and a few star trail photos as test shots for future reference, just as the fireworks photos from my last posts were tests for in the future. I need to learn the correct exposure and other settings for my camera and lenses before I spend the time and money to go to a great location for such images.

So, I guess that I will use up the leftover photos that I have. Oh, and by the way, in preparation for, and in conjunction with the physical that I had a couple of weeks ago with my regular doctor, I had more blood work done this week. That’s both to make sure that the medicine that I’m taking to control my psoriasis isn’t causing any major side effects, and to check my overall health. I’m happy to report that I won’t see any of these guys coming for me soon…

Turkey vulture in flight

…although this one seemed to be checking me out.

Turkey vulture in flight

I saw a Cooper’s hawk in the distance being chased by some eastern kingbirds, when I looked through the long lens on my camera, I could see that the hawk had made a kill.

Cooper’s hawk with its kill being chased by an eastern kingbird

I don’t think that it was a young kingbird that the hawk had, the kingbirds weren’t making very much of a fuss, they seemed to simply want the hawk out of their territory, and soon gave up the chase.

Cooper’s hawk with its kill being chased by an eastern kingbird

I spotted a northern flicker on a dead tree…

Northern flicker and downy woodpecker

…if you look closely, you can see a much smaller downy woodpecker above the flicker. The downy was chattering away at the flicker, so I thought that the downy had a nest close by. I’ve never heard of flickers, or any other species of woodpeckers, going after the eggs or young birds of other species, so I kept an eye on the flicker.

Northern flicker

The flicker was just looking for food, and the downy woodpecker’s nest was nearby, but on the other side of the tree.

Downy woodpecker

She looked around to be sure the coast was clear, then entered the nesting cavity…

Downy woodpecker

…to feed her young…

Downy woodpecker

…I used the time that she was in there to switch to the 7D camera for more reach as she looked around again before leaving the nest.

Downy woodpecker

She was very careful about looking for predators that could have been watching her as she went in and out of the nest, but my presence there didn’t seem to bother her.

That wasn’t the case with the osprey. While I was there at their nest the first time, I could see that the female didn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that I was standing in the area near the nest, but the male did seem to be bothered by my being there. I’ve never watched osprey near their nest before, so I wasn’t sure. I went back to the nest last week, and this time…

Male osprey returning to its nest with food for his young

…I was sure that the male didn’t want there…

Male osprey returning to its nest with food for his young

…so I shot this series of images to test out the new 5D Mk IV…

Male osprey returning to its nest with food for his young

…for both its auto-focusing and dynamic range…

Male osprey returning to its nest with food for his young

…and then left. The male wouldn’t land at the nest as long as I was there the second time. However, unlike the first time that I visited the nest, I couldn’t get farther away from the nest because the power utility that had built the nesting platform for the osprey had taken delivery of a load of new equipment to be used at the dam, and they had a portion of the parking lot there closed off to use for storing the new equipment. So, I doubt if I’ll return to the nest this year, if ever. Well, maybe to check in to see if the nesting platform is still being used in the future, and just to see these magnificent birds up close from time to time. I’ve gotten the photos of them that I wanted, so there’s no reason for me to stress them in hopes of a better image.

Since the nest is on top of a pole and a good distance off from the ground, I can’t see into the nest, although I did get a few poor images of the female osprey feeding one of the youngsters when I was there before.

I suppose that I could have set-up the portable hide that I still haven’t gotten around to testing, but it seemed rather foolish to use a hide in the middle of a parking lot, and I’m sure that the osprey would have still known that I was there even if I were in the hide. And, since it was another very hot, humid day, the thought of sitting in the hide and sweating to death wasn’t that appealing to me.

If I had more time to devote to shooting a single subject in a single location, things would be different. Just as with the juvenile barn swallows from my last post, I don’t want to stress the birds that I photograph any more than necessary for one or two good photos. So, I suppose that for the time being, I’m limited to telling just short stories.

I do look forward to the days when I can set-up the hide and spend time watching a bird’s nest or something else that would bring wildlife within range of my camera, there’s only a few more years for me to work before I can retire and have the time to do that.

In the meantime, I have to shoot what I can while I can. While at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, I noticed this rose-breasted grosbeak acting strange.

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

That was after he stood up and turned towards me. When I first saw him, he was wiggling himself down into the leaves on the ground, at first I thought that it was to stay cool.

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

As it was, I had to manually focus on him due to all the vegetation between us as you can see in that image. But, you can also see that he has his feathers fluffed out a bit as he pressed himself into the leaves. I’m not sure what he was doing, if it was to stay cool, or if he was anting. For those of you not familiar with the term “anting”, here’s an explanation from Wikipedia…

“Anting is a self-anointing behavior during which birds rub insects, usually ants, on their feathers and skin. The bird may pick up the insects in their bill and rub them on the body (active anting), or the bird may lie in an area of high density of the insects and perform dust bathing-like movements (passive anting). The insects secrete liquids containing chemicals such as formic acid, which can act as an insecticide, miticide, fungicide, or bactericide. Alternatively, anting could make the insects edible by removing the distasteful acid, or, possibly supplement the bird’s own preen oil.”

Scientists still haven’t figured out why birds do what they do when it comes to anting, so whenever I get a chance to photograph a bird that my be doing that, I shoot photos, even if the photos are as poor as those are.

And, I’m still trying to get a good image of a male rose-breasted grosbeak this year. This isn’t it…

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

…I’m afraid that my chances are getting slim, as they will soon be molting out of their breeding plumage. It’s funny, I have several good images of the females of that species this year, with them posing for me in good light. Typically, the females are harder to photograph, because they tend to stay in the shadows or out of sight completely. This year, it’s been the males skulking in the shadows, and the females out in the open.

Here’s another short series of images that show a red-bellied woodpecker finding and eating something that I can’t identify…

Male red-bellied woodpecker

…even though what it found to eat was quite large…

Male red-bellied woodpecker

…and whatever it was must have tasted good judging by the woodpecker’s reaction.

Male red-bellied woodpecker

By the way, my plans to attempt to photograph the Milky Way and/or star trails was thwarted by clouds moving into the area, so I’ll have to wait for another chance to try that genre of photography.

Okay, it’s now Saturday morning, with three more days of very hot, humid days left before more seasonable and comfortable weather arrives here in West Michigan.

After the appointment with the dermatologist on Thursday, I returned home for a while to catch up on chores indoors and out of the heat. Later that day, when I checked the weather forecast and radar to see what Friday was going to be like, I saw dying thunder-storms to the north of where I live, along the route that I drive each night for work. There are several good places along that route for either sunset, storm, or more traditional landscape images, so I thought that I would risk driving that far for photography. It was a chance that I took that didn’t turn out very well. I missed the back of the cloud line as the storms collapsed at around sunset by being about 30 miles too far to the west judging from some of the sunset photos that I saw others had shot that evening. I never did see a bolt of lightning, or hear thunder, but at least there was a little rain. All that I ended up with were three poor landscapes that I’ll put in at the end of this post.

Anyway, taking that trip on Thursday evening more or less ruined my Friday as well. I slept in too late to get anywhere by dawn, and it was another very hot day. Birds don’t like heat any more than we do, and they tend to stay in shady areas and not do very much other than try to stay cool. By the time that I arrived at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, it was already hot, and the birds were few and far between. So, I decided to make it a test day of sorts, trying all of my long lenses and tele-converters in various combinations to see how well that they work on the new Canon 5D Mk IV camera that I recently purchased.

One combination that I wanted to test was the 300 mm f/4 Series lens with the 2 X teleconverter. That’s because it’s an f/4 lens, one stop faster than either my 400 mm prime lens, or the 100-400 mm zoom lens.  With the 2 X extender behind the 300 mm lens, I thought that I’d be able to get 600 mm of focal length and use all 61 of the focus points of the 5D. Nope, I can use all the focus points at f/8 with either of the other two lenses and a 1.4 extender with an effective aperture of f/8, but with the 300 mm lens and the 2 X extender for the same effective aperture of f/8, I’m limited to just one row of focus points across the center of the frame. Another Canon quirk.

Before I purchased the 5D Mk IV, I downloaded the manual for it that includes a lens compatibility chart which lists Canon’s various lenses and how many focus points can be used with either the 1.4 X or 2 X tele-converters. Of course I checked the chart for the 400 mm prime and 100-400 mm zoom lenses, because they are the lenses that I use most often, and I was never that happy with the performance of the 300 mm prime lens when I used it with the 60D or 7D Mk II cameras. I saw that both of the longer lenses worked fine at f/8 effective aperture, so after thinking about trying the 300 mm lens on the 5D, I assumed that it would as well.

You would think that f/8 was f/8 no matter which lens was on the camera as far as the focus system inside of the camera body, but it doesn’t work that way I found out, the hard way.

I know, I’m getting far too technical for most people, but these things matter to me as I’m going after the photos that I shoot, and I hope that the information that I pass on will help others who shoot with Canon equipment. Because, I discovered yet another Canon quirk. As I said, I was never very happy with the performance of the 300 mm prime lens on either of my crop sensor camera bodies when the subject that I was shooting was more than about 20 feet from me. The 300 mm lens wasn’t as sharp as I wanted, with or without an extender behind it. It has done an excellent job on subjects very close to me though.

So, here’s the surprise…

Male dickcissel preening

…the 300 mm lens and 2 X tele-converter work very well on the new 5D Mk IV at all ranges from what I could tell from my testing on Friday.

Grasshopper sparrow on a sunflower

I wrote in an earlier post that some Canon lenses perform much better on either full frame or crop sensor bodies than they do on the other type of bodies, and that seems to be the case with the 300 mm lens. I don’t think that it’s quite as sharp as either of my other two long Canon lenses, but it produced acceptable results for me in my limited testing so far. Much better than it did on either of my crop sensor bodies.

It just hit me, now I’m going to have to try the Sigma 150-500 mm lens out on the 5D to see how well it performs on the new camera, sigh.

I shouldn’t do what I’m about to do, but I will anyway, for it shows the results that I got using the various lens/extender combinations while shooting gulls. I know that gulls are boring to most people to begin with, but they do pose nicely for me, a great subject for testing lens and camera performance.

Ring-billed gull

And, having a lot of white feathers, they help me to evaluate the exposure system of my gear.

Herring gull

Also, because they are very sleek in their appearance, most of the time, I can judge the resolution of the various lens/extender combinations better.

Ring-billed gull

To tell you the truth, I don’t see much difference in these images no matter which lens and extender was used to shoot them. I do remember that this next one was shot with the 400 mm prime lens and 2 X extender because I had to manually focus with that combination and I was still able to get a good, sharp image of the gull.

Ring-billed gull

And, I remember that this next one was shot with just the 400 mm lens, because I wasn’t able to get close enough to any of the gulls to get a head shot with just that lens and no extender.

Ring-billed gull

Once again, I’m sorry for posting so many photos of the gulls, but the things that I learn while shooting these tests will help me in the future. Earlier this summer, I was doing dedicated outings where I was focusing mostly on one genre of photography, such as macros, landscapes, or just wide-angle photography. I plan to do more of those in the future, especially after I retire in a few years. Knowing how my various lenses and extenders function on each camera body will become more important when I do make the transition to more dedicated outings.

Besides, since it was another very hot day on Friday, other photos that I shot look like this one…

Sandhill crane

…with the crane panting in the heat, and you can also see the heat waves coming off the ground behind the crane.

So, that brings me to the three landscape photos that I shot Thursday evening. None of them are great, but they do give you a better idea of what Michigan looks like.

A “pothole” wetland, of which there are many in Michigan

At one time, after the great forests that covered most of Michigan were cut down for timber, much of the state was farmed. However, the land here isn’t that fertile, so many farms have been abandoned or have become dairy or cattle farms rather than crop farms.

More of Michigan

This next one is one of the views that I see every evening while driving for work, and prompted me to make this trip. I like this scene because you can see the gently rolling hills and forests of the state I live in. By the way, it was nice of the white cow that you can barely make out in this photo to stand still for the 3 second exposure required for this image.

Another Michigan farm

Bad weather, or times when the weather is changing, often produces the most dramatic images. However, as I said earlier, I missed the change from heavy overcast skies to broken clouds colored by the setting sun by a few miles, darn. But in my defense, I had to guess where the clearing line would be when I arrived in the area that I wanted to shoot over an hour before my arrival there. Or, if I had been able to capture lightning bolts in any of the photos above from the dying storm, these would have been much better.

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


17 responses

  1. A very enjoyable post, Jerry. I also have to have regular bloodtests to make sure my medication isn’t causing something much worse! So far, I have been very fortunate.
    I love to see your gull photographs as I quite like gulls despite them being loud, messy bullies! I liked seeing your Michigan landscapes and the hot Sandhill Crane. I recently saw a Eurasian Crane and it was good to see the difference in markings between the two birds. I loved all your stories and the commentary accompanying them especially the series of shots os the red-bellied woodpecker. My favourite shot is of the Grasshopper Sparrow.


    July 24, 2018 at 11:48 am

    • Thank you very much Clare!

      You’re right about the gulls, they are messy, loud, and bullies, but they do make good test subjects for me to photograph. I’m hoping to include more landscapes over time as I go, but they will be sporadic for the time being. On the day when I photographed the crane, there was another flock a short distance away, and many of them were dancing. I’d love to have been able to photograph that, but they were too far away, and on the other side of a small hill so I could only see part of their dances.

      Liked by 1 person

      July 24, 2018 at 2:49 pm

  2. Great photos as usual, Jerry! I like when the smaller birds chase away the predators.


    July 16, 2018 at 6:24 pm

    • Thank you very much Cynthia! I like it also, but I was hoping for better photos this summer.


      July 17, 2018 at 7:34 am

  3. Only very dull people think that gulls are boring. Your shots are getting so good that making improvements is going to get very difficult for you! I read in my newspaper that truck drivers are in very short supply in the US at the moment. I hope that you are going to get a rise.


    July 14, 2018 at 6:31 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! There were several times in the past that I thought that I had reached the limit as far as the quality of my photos, but they still show improvement, I hope that it continues.

      Not every one appreciates gulls, but they make such willing subjects that I had to test all my lens and extender combinations on the new camera for future reference.

      Truck drivers are in short supply here, that’s why I became a driver when the economy crashed here, they were the only jobs available. I’ve heard talk of a raise, but it’s more complicated where I work now, the company that I work for is a contractor to the US Postal Service, and I believe that driver pay and benefits are negotiated at the time the contracts are signed and remain the same for the life of the contract, and I don’t know how long they are for. I’ve heard two years, but that could be wrong.


      July 15, 2018 at 6:47 am

  4. I’m glad you found out you were still healthy Jerry, keep it up!
    I like the shots of the woodpecker and flicker but that tree looks like it isn’t long for this world. We had one fall where I work and woodpeckers were nesting in it.
    I’ve seen a lot of female redwinged blackbirds digging fat, juicy grubs out of last year’s cattail stalks lately and I wonder if you’ve ever seen them doing that. I thought they were nesting where I’ve seen them but nope, they were eating grubs.
    I wonder if that was a grub that woodpecker had. It would have been a tasty snack.
    Those are great shots of the gulls. I love their eyes.
    My favorite shot of this post is that first landscape photo. It really looks a lot like what I see here. I’ve got to bite the bullet and start doing more landscapes I think, even though I don’t really have the right equipment for it.
    I wonder if that’s goldenrod blooming in those landscapes. I hope not. It’s too early for that!
    Stay cool. Sorry to hear that it’s still so darn hot there.


    July 14, 2018 at 6:28 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! Hopefully, my health will remain as good as it has been, I’m not going to change anything in my diet or how I get my exercise.

      Most of the other dead trees in the row of trees where the flicker and downy woodpecker were have already fallen over, so you’re probably correct about how long it will remain standing. But, any young woodpeckers should be leaving the nests shortly so they should be okay this year.

      Actually, I try to ignore the red-winged blackbirds as much as I can, there are tons of them everywhere I go, and they distract me from the other species of birds that I’d rather photograph. I think that you are correct though about the woodpecker eating a grub that it had found though, I wish that I’d been closer, but I was watching the osprey nest at the time.

      Your Lumix should handle landscapes fairly well, the compact digital cameras like that have much more depth of field than a DSLR. For your blog, I’d give it a try.

      Yes, it’s goldenrod in bloom already I’m sorry to say. It’s getting to be that time of year already. The good news is just two more hot, humid days here, then it’s forecast to be average or below for at least a few weeks. I’m looking forward to it.

      Liked by 1 person

      July 15, 2018 at 7:00 am

  5. Glad your health isn’t gang you too many problems. I am always astonished at how good you are at catching birds in flight, so impressive.


    July 14, 2018 at 3:30 pm

    • Thank you very much Susan! All the chasing of birds that I do keeps me in shape and in good health. 😉

      It took me many years of practice to get good shots of flying birds, but I still think that your brother Tom is better. I shoot large birds that are relatively easy, he shoots the small, tough to capture in flight birds.


      July 15, 2018 at 6:38 am

  6. A perfect title for your post. They say every picture tells a story well you’ve written a book here…and such an interesting one too. Full of wonderful photos , as always, and lots of interesting facts. Best photo, for me, the osprey taking young to the nest. You can never take too many gull photos either.


    July 14, 2018 at 2:20 pm

    • Thank you very much Marianne! In some ways, I wish that I were able to follow one bird, or family of birds as they build a nest, lay eggs, and raise the young, but the way that I go about getting my photos has changed over the years. And, I like the variety that I typically have in my posts as well. I should have included flowers and insects in this post, but I have saved the images for future use.

      Liked by 1 person

      July 14, 2018 at 3:05 pm

      • I like the variety too…including your maps!

        Liked by 1 person

        July 15, 2018 at 4:33 pm

  7. Such an informative post, Jerry! Following your example, I may try using extenders to come closer to wildlife and see whether IQ would be decent. Your images with the 300 f/4 are very impressive in every way including sharpness and colors.


    July 14, 2018 at 11:40 am

    • Thank you very much Hien! I wish that I could tell you the secret to using extenders, other than to keep your shutter speed one or two stops faster. All I know is that the more I use the extenders, the better my images shot with them become. I see almost no drop off in IQ with the 1.4 extender, and with the 2 X behind a good lens the drop off is less than cropping the same amount. Even though I had good results with the 300 mm on the 5D, I’m still not convinced that it is a good lens. The 100-400 mm and 400 mm lenses are much better.


      July 14, 2018 at 11:54 am