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

The lost weekend

My two days off from work this week were a complete bust for the most part. It all began on Thursday, just before sunrise. I arrived at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, hoping to find a few uncommon birds that were migrating, that didn’t happen. The weather is what you could say was variable, broken clouds with small rain showers in the mix. It was the type of morning that if the sun had broken through the clouds at the right time and place, there could have been really special light to capture. I wanted to be ready for it if it happened, so I had the wide-angle lens on the 5D. But, there wasn’t much light to work with if I saw any wildlife worth photographing in the same time frame, so I knew that I was running the risk of having to shoot wildlife in low-light with the 7D if I saw any. Of course I saw wildlife…

Coyote pup, almost fully grown

…and there was never even a moment of magic light.

Almost magic

As I was shooting the coyote pup that you saw above, a second one came out of the vegetation even closer to me, but I couldn’t get the 7D to focus on it in the very low light at the time. I spooked three whitetail bucks, with their growing antlers covered in velvet, but I couldn’t get a photo of them before they disappeared into the brush. I spooked a few birds that I would have liked to have gotten photos of because I was watching the sky in hopes of getting a great landscape image and I wasn’t paying enough attention to possible wildlife photos.

So, my day started off badly. I should have had one of the 7D bodies set-up for landscapes even if that would have entailed bracketing exposures and using software to get the dynamic range needed. It’s not as if I hadn’t thought the situation over, I had stopped twice when I got close to where my starting point for the day would be to consider which camera and lens combinations I should have all set-up and ready to go as I sized up the situation. I chose wrong. You can see a hint of color in the clouds in the landscape photo above, if the sun and clouds had moved just a little differently, there could have been a spectacular sunrise. If I had used the 5D to shoot the coyote, there wouldn’t be the noise in the photo that there is, and the image would have been much better all the way around. That also applies to this photo, which I’m including to show the difference in size between a great blue heron and sandhill cranes.

Great blue heron and sandhill cranes

Almost every one is familiar with great blue herons, but many people have never seen a sandhill crane and may not realize how large they are. That makes it easy to get shots of them in flight.

Sandhill cranes in flight

I did shoot a few good photos on Thursday…

Bull thistle

I thought about shooting a series of images of the bull thistle to try out the focus stacking software that I’m thinking about purchasing, but the wind was too strong and even the thistle was swaying in the wind. I did manage this image though.

Bull thistle up close

I should always have an extension tube with me when I’m photographing flowers in case an insect shows up. The trouble is that the extension tube changes how close the lens will focus so much that I wouldn’t have been able to get the entire flower in either of the images above. But, the extension tube would have been just what I needed for this next shot.

Unidentified bee on a Bull thistle

However, insects don’t typically stick around long enough to add the extension tube when it’s needed. About the same thing happened on Friday, I paused to photograph a few evening primrose that I saw…

Evening primrose

…trying to get the best shot that I could…

Evening primrose

…when I noticed this crown vetch nearby…

Crown vetch

…and as I was photographing the flower, this robber fly landed on the flower, at least I think that it’s a robber fly.

Robber fly

If it matters, the thistle was shot with the 100 mm macro lens on the 7D, the evening primrose, crown vetch, and robber fly with the same lens on the 5D.

Speaking of the 100 mm lens, it isn’t just for macros. The weather on Friday was similar to Thursday, with widely scattered showers.

A passing shower

No, that wasn’t shot with the macro lens, that photo is to set the stage for what’s to come. I wasn’t seeing any wildlife to shoot, so I was fighting a stiff breeze to photograph flowers…

Tansy flowers

…when I saw this…


…so, I shot that with the 100 mm lens.

At another point while I was photographing flowers, I looked up to see the clouds almost touching the ground in the distance…


…that one was with the 16-35 mm lens to give a wider view of this, which was shot with the 100 mm lens, so these two photos are out of order as the light changed…


…and, this next one was simply a test shot which I probably shouldn’t bother to put in here.


I thought about shooting several series of photos to test the focus stacking software out, but the vegetation in the foreground was swaying in the wind so much that the results of any tests that I would have tried would have been useless. That’s the reason the flowers in the image that I captioned as ” A passing shower” aren’t as sharp as they should be, the flowers moved during the exposure due to the long shutter speed needed for that photo.

Anyway, I did see a few birds.

Northern flicker


Bobolink during its molt


This swan gave me the time to go to full manual with the 5D and dial in the exact exposure that I wanted…

Mute swan drying its wings

Even if I was too far away from the swan for a good photo.

Mute swan drying its wings

Here’s another image I probably shouldn’t include…

Great blue heron riding a thermal

…but, the heron was circling in a thermal updraft as a raptor would to gain altitude, and I don’t recall seeing a heron do that before, as they seldom fly at that altitude. Maybe the heron thought that it could get high enough that it could glide all the way to its destination after riding the thermal up.

I said the swan allowed me enough time to go to full manual to dial in the camera settings, I wish that wildlife always telegraphed what they were about to do. Just as I was able to get the swallows in flight that I had in my last post by learning the flight patterns of the swallows in different weather conditions and what insects they were feeding on at the time, I’ve learned when swans and other waterfowl are going to do what they do by watching them often enough. But then, things like this happen.

Bald eagle in flight, carrying a fish

I had seen the eagle circling, but it was too far away, and it had the sun almost directly behind it, so I hadn’t shot any photos. However, when a gull began harassing the eagle, trying to get the eagle to drop the fish that it had caught, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to record the action.

Herring gull trying to force a bald eagle to drop its catch

These aren’t great, as the birds were coming at me out of the sun…

Herring gull trying to force a bald eagle to drop its catch

…and I was shooting almost straight up at the time…

Herring gull trying to force a bald eagle to drop its catch

…but these show what bullies the gulls are…

Herring gull trying to force a bald eagle to drop its catch

…and that the eagle held on to its lunch…

Herring gull trying to force a bald eagle to drop its catch

…and these also show the relative sizes of the herring gull and eagle..

Herring gull trying to force a bald eagle to drop its catch

I guess what really bugs me about the photos so far is how close I was to great images, but have only fair to poor photos to show for it. Being in a weather pattern that could have produced a very memorable moment if things had been slightly different several times over the course of both days for one thing. Having chosen the wrong camera body to put the long lens on for wildlife was another. At least I was able to record the gull harassing the eagle, even if the photos aren’t that good, and to shoot some good images of insects.

Unidentified dragonfly


Unidentified dragonfly


Red-spotted purple butterfly


Unidentified skipper butterfly

All of these were shot with the 5D, 100-400 mm lens, and 1.4 X tele-converter, and I liked the way that the set-up was able to catch the metallic look of the fibers on the skipper so much that I’m including a second photo of it.

Unidentified skipper butterfly

On Friday, I spent a good deal of time in Muskegon State Park playing with the new Canon 5D Mk IV and both the 16-35 mm and 70-200 mm lenses, both to learn the new camera, and how various subjects appear at varying focal lengths when photographed with a full frame sensor camera. I shot a good many photos, but I won’t bore you with them, other than these two. You may not want to hear this, but fall is approaching sooner than we may think, since it isn’t even August yet.

First signs of fall

On the other hand, we have a good deal of summer left…

A summer day on the Muskegon State Park beach

…I hope.

A few words about the last photo. For one thing, I couldn’t believe the exposure setting required for that one, 1/50 second, f/16, and ISO 100, how did I, or any one else, ever shoot with Kodachrome 25? A bright summer day in full sun and the shutter was still as slow as it was.

I’m not sure why it is, but I take full advantage of the zoom range of the 16-35 mm lens more so than with any of my other wide zoom lenses. That was shot at 27 mm focal length. Maybe it’s because I’m becoming a better landscape photographer, but I know that I zoom in and out with that lens more as I’m setting up to shoot a photo than I’ve ever done with the other zoom lenses I have. It’s become automatic for me to grab the zoom ring of that lens as soon as I start looking through the viewfinder. I hope that I continue that trend when I acquire the 24-70 mm lens that I need to complete my kit.

I should have gotten even lower and closer to the driftwood in the foreground to have gotten exactly the image that I was going for. It seemed as if I was right on top of the driftwood, I think that I could have reached out and touched it, as I sat down in the wet sand to shoot that photo. I should have gotten down on my belly and inched closer and closer until I got what I was after. Even though I try to scan the entire viewfinder when I’m shooting a photo like that one, I still make the same mistake of not getting close enough to my foreground, just like the flowers in the “A passing storm” photo in the beginning of this post. I do better if I use the live view function to compose the scene when I shoot landscapes.

I am seeing that if I get the composition correct, that focus stacking software will be required to get everything in the frame sharp, even with wide-angle lenses. If I had been closer to the driftwood, then I wouldn’t have gotten it and the clouds in the background as sharp as they are in this photo. It took me several shots to get the correct focus point in the scene to get the entire scene as sharp as it is as it was.

I’m falling back into the habit of not using my tripod all the time when shooting landscapes. Since I don’t have to bracket images with the 5D, and I’ve been doing more playing and learning rather than shooting seriously, I’ve been shooting handheld too often since I started using the 5D. That hasn’t been all bad, I’ve taken a lot of photos that you’ll never see, and I’ve been learning from them as I go. If I was using the tripod as I should, I wouldn’t have shot many of the rejects, and I would have missed the chance to learn what I have by shooting them. I do hope to put what I’ve been learning to better use soon though.

Finally, I have to stop beating myself up and whining about having shot a few bad photos from time to time. Overall, the quality of the images that I’m shooting now is so much better than my best images from just a few years ago. I have to keep plugging away and learn from my mistakes, it’s as simple as that.

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


21 responses

  1. I love photo days out in the middle of nowhere. You never know what you’ll see, what you’ll have the opportunity to shoot. This post reminds me so of days in North Alabama chasing eagles, white pelicans and all manner of migratory birds along the Tennessee River. Just plain fun. I love your photography and enjoy reading your thoughts about various shots. I hate tripods, but I have one and sneer at it from time to time. That gull and eagle show – wow! I’ve seen herring gulls here (I now live on the NC coast) and those guys ARE big….but it’s cool to see one next to a bald eagle. Anyway, thanks for the enjoyable read!


    July 31, 2018 at 3:47 pm

    • Thank you very much Debi! Sadly, those photos weren’t shot out in the middle of nowhere, but that’s another story entirely. However, chasing eagles, pelicans, and other migratory birds sounds like a lot of fun to me also. White pelicans are rare here, but there are a few more seen each year, so there’s hope for the future.

      I used to hate tripods as much as any one, until I was able to purchase a really good Manfrotto carbon fiber one that was being discontinued and on sale for half off. The more that I used it, the easier it came to use it, and until recently, I’ve been using it 95% of the time when shooting landscapes. I’ll get back into the habit of using it again soon, as the photos that I shoot when I do use it are far better than I can do handheld.

      Liked by 1 person

      July 31, 2018 at 4:41 pm

      • Maybe I just need to bite the bullet and get out more with it, like you did. It’s just so bulky, and you can’t move as quickly. Or I just don’t know what I’m doing! Yeah, I think that’s what it is.


        August 1, 2018 at 3:35 pm

      • I don’t use a tripod for birds or wildlife very often, occasionally for macros, but almost always for landscapes. I can dial the ISO down to 100 no matter what for image quality, even with the lens stopped down for depth of field.

        Liked by 1 person

        August 1, 2018 at 10:26 pm

      • I will try. You’ve encouraged me. First, I need a day out like you did – get away and get lost, then find things. That’s always such a joy. Better in the Autumn, though.


        August 2, 2018 at 3:37 pm

  2. As usual I am amazed at your photos that bring wildlife to life! Love the swan stretching, the dragonflies and the butterflies sunning themselves and the coyote just ambling up the road isn’t something I’m likely to see around here. The photos of the bald eagle and the herring gull show how life is a fight for all creatures on earth. The flower closeups are great with such 3D effects and the cloudscapes over the landscape are brilliant. Although I want the summer to last as long as possible I do love your first ‘autumn’ photo.


    July 31, 2018 at 11:35 am

    • Thank you very much Marianne! I do get to see an amazing variety of subjects to photograph, many of which most people reading my blog never see. I have to remember to keep that in mind as I photograph what to me are very common subjects, like the mute swan. While others may have seen them, they are special, even if they are an introduced and invasive species here in Michigan. Or, the eagle and the gull, they may have been flying right out of the sun making it difficult for me to even see them through the viewfinder at first, at least I’ve learned enough about photography to have gotten usable images of the action a few seconds later when they were further from the direct sun.

      Liked by 1 person

      July 31, 2018 at 4:25 pm

  3. I had a hard time equating “complete bust” with the terrific photos you posted here, Jerry. Your dramatic cloud photos are terrific, especially the one with the long view down a dirt road. It’s so much more fun than a bland sky, although I can see how it would make bird photography difficult.

    I also really liked the composition of your swan photos. All the pieces and parts here really came together well.

    Dragonflies? Bring ’em, anytime. They’re always intriguing to see close up.

    Complete bust? Hardly!

    On Mon, Jul 30, 2018, 4:53 PM Quiet Solo Pursuits wrote:

    > quietsolopursuits posted: “My two days off from work this week were a > complete bust for the most part. It all began on Thursday, just before > sunrise. I arrived at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, hoping to > find a few uncommon birds that were migrating, that didn’t happen. T” >


    July 31, 2018 at 7:12 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! If I had been able to get all the shots that I missed in the first half hour of the first day, my attitude would have been very different about the rest of the weekend. If the sun and clouds had moved just a little differently, I may have gotten some spectacular shots that are only possible when there’s magic light, called that for a reason, as it seldom occurs.

      So, my weekend started badly, and I let it effect me too much for the rest of the weekend, so I discount the more common subjects that I shoot often, even if the images of the dragonflies and swans were much better than average.

      On the positive side, I’m getting better with both the new camera and the older ones, along with the lenses that I have. Maybe this weekend I’ll be set-up correctly for what I see when I see it.


      July 31, 2018 at 4:18 pm

  4. Some fabulous captures here, seeing the Sandhill Cranes in flight was a treat! I enjoyed the Eagle vs Herring Gull series, I was surprised the Eagle didn’t try to attack the gull because it was so large. I guess our Eagles don’t care to waste their energy on nuisances.


    July 30, 2018 at 9:17 pm

    • Thank you very much Donna! The eagles take gulls now and then, but in this case, the eagle already had a fish dinner so there was no need to go after the gull.

      Liked by 1 person

      July 31, 2018 at 6:50 am

  5. Love them all, especially the coyote!


    July 30, 2018 at 7:45 pm

  6. That’s a nice shot of the coyote, even if it is a little grainy. Most of us never see these animals, in fact I’ve never seen one.
    That’s amazing how much bigger the cranes are compared to the heron. I was nose to beak with a heron yesterday so I have a good idea how big they are.
    Nice shots of all the insects and butterflies! My favorites are the dragonflies.
    Did you know that there were two turtles on the log in the lower left of the mute swan photo? One of them was real interested in the bird.
    The gull and eagle photos tell a fascinating story. We don’t see many gulls here but we do have eagles once again.
    I like that shot of the beach. It’s nice and deserted, just the way I like them!


    July 30, 2018 at 6:16 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! Just as with the photo showing the relative sizes of the heron and cranes, I forget that many people ever see some of the wildlife that I take for granted. I must change my attitude.

      I’ll never stop photographing insects, they often very colorful, and their anatomy is always interesting to me.

      I saw the turtles, and I noticed that the one ducked when the swan began flapping its wings, I was going to mention that, but I didn’t.

      Someday, I’m going to be in exactly the right place at the right time to catch something like the eagle and gull much better, but that’s the best that I could do this time.

      The beaches aren’t usually that deserted in the summer, but upwelling in Lake Michigan had the water temperatures in the upper 40’s, too cold for swimming. Too cold for me to stand in the water to get a better composition as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      July 30, 2018 at 6:29 pm

  7. As I scroll down to read your post, the photos keep getting better and better, especially the landscape ones, and the dragonfly and butterfly shots are just awesome!

    A few years ago, I saw a Sandhill Crane on a street in Florida. It’s only until now, with your photo of the Great Blue Heron among Sandhill Cranes, that I know what big birds they are. Unfortunately, for some reason, they don’t come to South Jersey.


    July 30, 2018 at 5:56 pm

    • Thank you very much Hien! Thinking of a response to your very kind comment has given me a few ideas, so I have to thank you for that as well. It was a better weekend than than I thought as far as photos go, but when I missed several good opportunities in the first half hour, I let myself get into a bad mood for the entire weekend.

      I tend to forget that many people have never seen many of the birds that are common where I live, I must remember to shoot more photos such as the heron and cranes together in the future.


      July 30, 2018 at 6:04 pm

  8. So many stunning pictures, I loved the cloudscapes, the dragonfly and that picture that shows signs of autumn with its glorious colours best. It was a treat to scroll through your post.


    July 30, 2018 at 5:43 pm

    • Thank you very much Susan! Your kind comment helps me to see that what I thought was a bad weekend was actually quite a good one, other than my attitude.


      July 30, 2018 at 5:50 pm

  9. I enjoyed the photos, as always, Jerry. I especially loved the series of the gull and eagle. Good catch!


    July 30, 2018 at 5:41 pm

    • Thank you very much Lavinia! I’m usually too far away when something like the gull chasing the eagle happens, at least this time I was closer, even if the light was wrong.


      July 30, 2018 at 5:49 pm