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

Archive for September, 2018

Eaten alive, drained of blood

Well, I was going to whine about the swarms of sand flies and mosquitos that drove me off the beach in Muskegon State Park this last Thursday, but I won’t spend too much time doing so. One of the many great things about the beaches along the Great Lakes in Michigan is that there are seldom any insect pests to bother a person spending time on the beach. There have been a few times in the spring when I’ve run into the swarms of sand flies in the past, but never before in the fall, and not with the swarms being as bad as what I ran into this week. It’s also rare to find mosquitos on a Lake Michigan beach, as the wide sand dunes that form the beaches don’t offer skeeters any place to reproduce or hide from predators. I go into more detail, but I won’t.

That’s because I’m going to rave about my new Canon 5D Mk IV and the two wide-angle lenses that I’ve purchased to go with it, the 16-35 mm f/4 and 24-70 mm f/4 “L” series lenses.

Gale warnings on the big lake

Seeing that image here, I’m a bit disappointed, it’s darker here than when I view the image directly on my computer, I’ll have to try another one.

Gale warnings on the big lake number 2

That one’s a bit dark too, if that continues, I’ll have to make a second copy of this type of image and lighten the copy for posting in my blog, something that I’d rather not do.

Editor’s note:

Since I have typed the bit about the images appearing too dark in this post, I’ve viewed them several more times. How good they look all depends on the lighting in my apartment as I view these images. Some of the differences seem to be caused by the new Canon 5D Mk IV, as the images from it seem to be more affected by the ambient light in my apartment than the images from my other camera bodies. I haven’t figured that one out yet though. I think that I’ll put a poll at the end of this post to ask readers how they think that the images look when they view them.

Anyway, I was a bad boy when I shot these, as I didn’t use my tripod. I would have if I had found enough space to set it up, but I was standing right on the edge of the bank. At one point, the sand gave way under one of my feet, and I had to throw myself up the bank to prevent myself from falling down the bank and into the water. Luckily, I was able to prevent any damage to my camera or lens, and even better, keep them out of the sand as I hit the ground.

It’s hard for me to do this, but I’m going to go back to Thursday and show the mundane photos that led up to the point where I shot the images above.

New England asters and a monarch butterfly

It’s too bad that the monarch was in the shade, so here’s the asters without the butterfly.

New England asters

I don’t know what plant this is, but I loved the deep maroon color it had.

Maroon colored plant

While I was shooting this great blue heron…

Great blue heron

…I noticed these three garden spiders in the grass I was looking over the top of to see the heron…

Three garden spiders at once

…it’s been a good year for spiders from what I’m seeing this fall.

I guess that this was the image from this weekend that set me on the path to the landscape images that I started this post with.

Another failed attempt on my part

I was shooting into the sun, and getting lens flare in the frame as I tried to shoot this scene. So for that one, I held one hand so as to shade the front of the lens to prevent the flare. Trying to hold up the 100-400 mm lens on the 5D with the heavy battery grip on it with just one hand was more than I could do, so I missed the composition that I wanted, despite many attempts. I should have faced the swarms of mosquitos and set-up the tripod to get the exact composition that I wanted, but I wasn’t sure that it would be worth it. I think that it would have been…

Sparkles in the late afternoon sun

…as I don’t know what these plants are either, but I loved the way that they sparkled in the sun.

I thought that there was the possibility of there being a good sunset to photograph, so that’s when I headed to the Muskegon State Park beach, and was chased away by the sand flies and mosquitos there.

Sunset over a dune at Muskegon State Park

The sunset was just okay, nothing special, but I could have done better than this…

A ho-hum sunset

…if I would have had an interesting foreground and put more thought into the image, rather than being pre-occupied by fending off hoards of biting insects attacking me.

So, that brings me to Friday. I began at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, hoping to find a few birds, but other than huge flocks of starlings, and the ever-present mute swans…

Mute swans in flight

…there weren’t many birds to be found. I’d say that the wind that day may be to blame for that, but I learned later, it wasn’t.

I amused myself by shooting these photos to pass the time while looking for birds.

Damselfly

 

Viceroy butterfly

 

Ex-buttonbush flower

 

Goldenrod

 

Dragonflies mating

Part of my plan for the day was to check out two other parks near the Muskegon Lake Nature preserve, which I did. One holds some promise, but the only photo that I shot there was this one.

Heavy equipment on top of the stack at the Cobb power plant

The Cobb power plant is shut down, and they are beginning to dismantle it. Here’s a photo of the entire plant that I shot earlier this summer to show how tall the smokestack is.

The Cobb power plant near Muskegon, Michigan

I have no idea how they got the heavy equipment on top of that smokestack, it’s beyond me.

After checking out the two parks, I stopped at the Snug Harbor day use area of the Muskegon State Park. I began by shooting a few fungi…

Unidentified fungi

I think that this next one…

Unidentified fungus

…opens up to look like this one, but I could be wrong.

Unidentified fungus

I also shot these flowers as I was wandering around…

Aster?

…along with this guy.

Black morph, eastern gray squirrel

I spotted a mixed flock of birds that included both bluebirds and flickers, but as I was trying to get close enough to the birds to shoot any photos, I saw a buttonbush growing in the water of Muskegon Lake. However, all that I had with me was the 100-400 mm lens on the 5D. I returned to my car and grabbed my tripod and the 24-70 mm lens, and returned to where the buttonbush was. However, but that time, the light had changed, and the scene wasn’t what I wanted any longer. So, I sat down on the shore, and waited, eventually getting this image when the light got better again.

The Snug Harbor marsh in Muskegon State Park

I would have liked to have gotten a little lower, but that wasn’t possible, still, I’m happy with what I got by waiting for good light to return, rather than shooting the scene with dull light.

As luck would have it, I had put the 100-400 mm lens back on the camera, stood up, when a bluebird flew past me and landed nearby.

Eastern bluebird

And, it even turned around to give me a cleaner background behind its head.

Eastern bluebird

I also shot these two photos of a flicker, this one to show the shape of the red patch on the back of its head…

Northern flicker

…and this one to show how they close their eyes to protect them as they dig for ants, their preferred food.

Northern flicker

I could have stayed there at Snug Harbor and gotten more photos of birds, but there were swarms of mosquitos following me around the entire time despite the wind. It’s called Snug Harbor for a reason, towering sand dunes between Muskegon Lake and Lake Michigan block the winds from the west, the direction that the wind was from on this day. I knew that the mosquitos wouldn’t be able to fight the wind on the beach that day, and I didn’t think that the sand flies would either, so that’s where I went next.

I was right, no flying insect could withstand the wind gusts on the beach, as the gusts were well in excess of 30 MPH (50 KPH) at the time. The waves on Lake Michigan were large, but because it was a gusty wind, not as large as they would have been if the sustained wind would have been higher.

I put the 16-35 mm lens on the 5D, and began wandering around on the beach, shooting this one just to make sure that I had the settings correct.

On the point

Seeing that on the back of the camera told me that I was on the right track, but that I needed to wait until the sun broke through the clouds…

Almost magic light

…and that I would have close to magic light when the sun hit the water in narrow beams.

Almost magic light 2

It was during this timeframe that I shot the two images at the top of this post.

I may have gotten even better images if I had stayed on the beach and fought the wind longer, but I also wanted to get some shots that showed how large the waves were, which you really can’t see from the photos so far. I went to the main beach at Muskegon State Park, where I put the 100-400 mm lens to use to shoot this one.

A windy day at Muskegon

I shot a good number of photos similar to that one, some with the waves breaking over the top of the red structure on the breakwater that you see here. But, I liked that one the best because of the color of the water, the waves crashing into the breakwater, and the gulls flying in formation on such a windy day.

Say what you will about gulls, but they are amazing fliers to be out in the winds this day. And, they make it look easy, when I saw other birds fighting the wind for all that they were worth earlier in the day. I had watched a great blue heron battling the wind, getting blown back in wind gusts, then struggling forward when the wind slacked off a little, only to be blown back again, until it gave up and landed on the nearest solid ground. When I photographed the swans in flight earlier, they were being blown about in the wind also.

Anyway, I took a short break, then decided to go north to Duck Lake State Park to catch the sunset there. I shot these next two in order to warm up and check the camera settings again.

Getting ready for sunset

 

Seeing some color begin to appear

Seeing that, which I shot from my car, I decided that it was time to fight the wind, set-up my tripod, and do things the correct way.

Sunset at Duck Lake State Park

This turned out to be another “if only” time, for if only the clouds hadn’t been where they were at sunset, my images would have been even better. As it was, this is the best I came up with as far as color in the sky.

Sunset at Duck Lake State Park 2

The wind had increased to the point where it was gusting to close to 50 MPH (80 KPH) by then. I didn’t level the tripod and camera the way that I normally would have, I pushed the legs down into the sand far enough to hold it steady and to level it at the same time.

Also, I made use of one of the free camera bags that I’ve received from B&H Photo recently to carry the 24-70 mm and 70-200 mm lenses with me if I had felt the need to switch to one of them rather than use the 16-35 mm lens. I had to tie the camera bag to the fallen limb that you see in the foreground of the two images above, the camera bag with the two lenses in it was being blown across the sand if it wasn’t tied down. I had thought to take a lens cleaning cloth with me, which I needed to dry the front of the lens off between shots due to the spray from the waves being blown by the wind.

So, even though I knew what was going to happen next, I returned to my car to get out of the wind. Oh, and that reminds me, the temperature was dropping rapidly as the wind was blowing colder air with it. The temperature today is 30 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than this time yesterday, and that drop in temperature started just before sunset, as I was shooting these images. Fortunately, I had taken a heavy, long sleeve T-shirt with me to put over the light T-shirt I had on all day before this, but I should have brought a sweatshirt or jacket to go with the T-shirt. And, it didn’t help matters any that I was getting wet from the windblown spray from the waves to go with the colder air.

Of course what happened next was that the colors from the setting sun below the horizon lit up the underside of the clouds…

After sunset 1

…I considered going back out into the wind and cold and burying my tripod in the sand again to hold it steady…

After sunset 2

…but I did the best that I could shooting handheld from the inside of my vehicle with the window down.

After sunset 3

These aren’t bad, but the ISO was too high for them to be as good as they could have been had I used the tripod to hold the camera. And, because of the lay out of the area, I couldn’t get a good composition either.

By then, the sand from the beach was being blown around so much by the wind that it looked like snow drifting in the winter. The sting on exposed skin from the windblown sand didn’t feel very nice to begin with, and I didn’t want to expose my camera gear to it any more than I had already. So yes, I settled for less than I could have gotten as far as image quality.

Thinking about that last paragraph since I typed it has me in a bit of a corundum. Maybe I should have used one of my older camera bodies and lenses in the extreme weather as it was on that evening to prevent any damage to my newer and better gear. The images that I would have gotten would be very close to what I did get. And, this goes along with the moment that I described earlier when the sand slid out from under my foot and I fell to the ground to prevent myself from going the other way and into the water.

Stuff happens as we all know, which is why I won’t sell my older gear even though it isn’t as good as what I’m currently using. I could have easily knocked either the camera or lens, or both, out of commission when I fell, and the same could have happened from the wind-blown sand and spray later in the evening. Having my older gear as back-ups is a wise decision I believe. If I were on a trip somewhere, it would be hard for me to replace something that got broken, damaged by the weather, or just quit working, due to both the financial costs and the availability of a replacement lens or camera body in a timely manner.

However, all of my newer photo gear is weather sealed and better suited to such conditions than my older gear, which makes the decision as to what stuff I should risk to get an image more difficult to make. And, knowing that I wouldn’t be getting the very best image that was possible if I used my best gear would make it less likely for me to put the effort into shooting the photos as I should. If I had thought of using my old gear, I probably would have still stayed in my car and shot the same photos rather than face the wind, sand, and spray. I suppose what I use will depend on the exact situation at the time, but it is something for me to keep in mind in the future.

Switching gears somewhat, I did learn a lot from this weekend. For one thing, not all landscape photos have to be shot early in the morning or in the late in the evening, I needed the full sun to bring out the true colors of the waters of Lake Michigan as I saw them at the time, and to bring out the patterns that the wind made on the surface of the water between the waves. So, I’m going back to what I used to do more often, if I love the view, I’m going to shoot it when I see it, then decide later if I could do better at a different time of day.

Also, and here’s where I brag on my newest camera gear, the Canon 5D Mk IV and both of the newest L series wide-angle lenses that I’ve purchased make a huge difference in the quality of the landscape images that I’m shooting. I absolutely love the 16-35 mm f/4 lens as I’ve said before. It’s sharp from corner to corner, and the colors in the images that I shoot with it really pop, as in the days when I shot with Kodachrome slide film. I think that the 24-70 mm lens is as good as the 16-35 mm lens, but I haven’t shot any images that would let me do a side by side comparison between the two lenses. The scenes that I’ve shot with the 24-70 mm lens haven’t been as compelling as the ones that I’ve shot with the 16-35 mm lens. Maybe I’ll have to do this next week. I’ll try to find a scene what I can shoot somewhere between 24 mm and 35 mm, and shoot the scene with both lenses to test them out to see how they compare.

I didn’t know that wide-angle zoom lenses could be that good. In my film days, I used a 24 mm prime lens, which apparently wasn’t very good quality. Both of my new lenses are far superior to it.

And, the 5D Mk IV continues to amaze me even when I’m shooting some of the more mundane photos that I shoot. Purchasing it has left me broke, but it’s worth it, as I love seeing the detail that I get in all the images that I shoot. It has really raised the quality of my images, and not only that, it makes me want to put more effort into shooting the photos in the first place, because I know what the camera is capable of producing when I do things the right way, and put some thought into the images I’m shooting.

I’ve seen incremental increases in image quality as I’ve purchased better equipment in the past, but nothing has made as big of an impact as moving up to the full-frame sensor of the 5D.

The downside to that is that I have a harder time motivating myself to shoot more mundane images. This is something that I have to work on. I’m not always going to have great, or even good lighting. The subject matter may not always be great, but it may be something that many people may find interesting.  And in many cases, since I’m not interested in shooting mundane photos, I don’t even track a subject with the camera to shoot any images so if the subject does do something that would be worth recording, even if in a poor image, I’m not prepared to record it.

Anyway, as I said earlier in this post, I’m including a poll that I hope people take the time to click. There’s not much point to me continuing to blog and rave about how good some of my images are if the people seeing the photos and reading my blog don’t have the best view of the images in my post as they could have. So if you could please take the time to answer this short question, I’d appreciate it.

To help people make the decision, I’ve brightened this version of the very first image in this post by 1/3 of a stop…

Gale warnings on the big lake lightened

…and here’s the original version again.

Gale warnings on the big lake

I have to say that the original version looks better full size and at full resolution on my computer. However, within this post, the lightened version looks better. I don’t know why it is, but now that I’ve reviewed all the images in this post, and others from previous posts, all of the images shot with the 5D appear darker in my blog than when I view them in Lightroom. Maybe it’s because of the site of the original files from the 5D? It produces image files almost twice as large as I get from the 7D, while the number of mega pixels is only half again as large as the 7D. Anyway, it’s something that I need to keep in mind and work on in the future.

 

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


Plans changed, again

Well, I was thinking of going up north this Thursday on a scouting trip to check out places to photograph the fall colors in a few weeks, but it looks like it’s going to rain heavily most of the day in the area that I’m planning on going to. I may not even make it out to shoot any photos today from the looks of the radar this morning, we’ll see.

So, this post will be mostly photos that I shot last week, when my plans were also changed, in part, due to the weather. The forecast for last Thursday was for a thin layer of high clouds, which created nice, diffused light which would have been great for macro photography of flowers. To go with that, very light winds, so I wouldn’t have to chase flowers being blown around in the wind. I went to Huff Park, and quickly ran into two problems, a lack of flowers still in bloom, and hoards of hungry mosquitos. As cool as it was, there were no dragonflies or damselflies moving at the time, and with no wind, there was nothing to keep the mosquitos in check.

Here’s a few of the photos I did shoot as I was slapping at the skeeters.

Dew covered flower

Unfortunately, even though there were large numbers of spiders around…

Orb weaver spider

…they had no effect on the mosquito population at all. I did shoot a few photos of this one to show how it was repairing its web.

Orb weaver spider

I also shot a couple of short videos of the spider weaving its web, but they’re too shaky to post.

Here’s the rest of the images from my short time at Huff Park last week.

Turtlehead flowers

 

Joe Pye weed

So, I returned to my car and thought about where I could go to shoot some photos, and I recalled seeing many bird sighting over the past few years from a park called Covell Park in Whitehall, Michigan.

Whitehall is the next city north of Muskegon, where the White River flows into Lake Michigan. It isn’t very far north of Muskegon, less than a half an hour if you take the expressway, a little longer if you take the back roads as I did.

Covell Park is for the most part a parking lot that provides access to what is a rails to trails pathway that runs north out of Whitehall. There’s a bridge over the White River, which is where I think that most of the bird sightings occur, as the area surrounding the river is marshland, which is great habitat for wading birds and shorebirds, which make up the majority of the bird sightings that I’ve been interested in from there. The bridge over the White River would be a great place to set-up a spotting scope and spend time scanning the edges of the marshes for such birds. But, for photography, there’s really no way to get close enough to the birds in the marshes by foot. It would be a great place to put a boat or kayak in the river, and slowly paddle around the marshes there though.

I did walk the section of the rail trail that passes through the marsh, but there were few openings in the vegetation where I could look into the marsh though. Here are the few images I shot there.

Purple sweet pea

 

Unidentified fungi

 

American goldfinch

 

Purple coneflower

 

Some species of lobelia

 

Yellow toadflax

 

Unknown flowering object

 

Fall still life

I should have shot a few wider photos to show the marshes and how the single path across them was the narrow, raised old railroad grade, but I didn’t. I doubt if I will return to that park unless I get really brave, and begin taking my expensive camera gear in my kayak in the future.

Since I was in the same general area, I stopped to shoot a photo of the lighthouse built where the White River meets Lake Michigan.

The White River Lighthouse

I should have, but couldn’t resist shooting a passing gull.

Ring-billed gull in flight

I also found a song sparrow scouring the rocks along the river channel for food.

Song sparrow looking surreal

It’s fall, and not only are birds migrating south, but so are the monarch butterflies. I may have a distorted view as far as how rare they are becoming, for I see them in large numbers near the shores of Lake Michigan every fall. I assume that they are headed southwest from across the entire state of Michigan, they get to Lake Michigan, and follow the coast south around the lake until they can fly across land in the direction that they really want to go. I saw a large number of them as I walked the short distance along the channel, and I just had to try to capture one in flight.

Monarch butterfly in flight

These photos were test shots to see if I could catch one, I may have to try this again when the skies are clear so that I get a better background than the grey skies when I shot these.

Monarch butterfly in flight

I’ve been checking the radar all morning, and moderate rain continues to fall to the north where I had planned on going today. The weather isn’t much better here, the rain did let up for a short time, but another line of thunder showers is passing overhead as I’ve been working on this post. So now, I’ll move on to  the photos from last Friday.

This is why I no longer shoot many photos of waterfowl in the fall…

Male northern shoveler in its fall plumage

…when they’re such colorful birds in the spring.

Male northern shoveler in flight

On the other hand, American kestrel are pretty birds at any time of the year.

American kestrel in flight

If only they’d allow me to get closer to them.

American kestrel in flight

Those were shot in the late morning, as dawn was quite foggy.

Foggy fall morning

Seeing a small flock of sandhill cranes in the fog…

Sandhill cranes on a foggy morning

…I decided that it would be a good test of the new 5D Mk IV to see how it would perform on a foggy day.

Sandhill cranes on a foggy morning

A little more work in Lightroom, and I came up with this one.

Sandhill cranes on a foggy morning

By the way, you can see that the cranes were eating corn that had been dropped in the road.

Grass seeds in the fog

Some one asked about dew covered spider webs, and while I’ve shot many of them this fall, I haven’t posted them. I feel that they are a bit clichéd, and I lose track of what I have and have not posted photos of recently. And, while I’ve shot many that were better than this next one, I haven’t shot what I considered to be one that stood out among the rest. I’ve done better in the past.

Spider web

And, unlike past years when I seldom saw the spiders that spun the webs, this year, I’m seeing them everywhere.

Garden spider and web

Dew does change the appearance of the things covered in it…

Grass seeds close up take 1

…so I tried two completely different takes on this example.

Grass seeds close up take 2

I wish that I could have gone slightly wider with this next one…

Fall colors

…but then I would have had some distractions in the frame to go with the bright leaves and berries.

I think that I post too many photos of dragonflies…

Dragonfly

…but that was a test of depth of field and composition when it comes to close-ups of insects.

Finally, two photos of a belted kingfisher in flight.

Belted kingfisher in flight

I used to post many photos of this species that were similar, but I haven’t posted any lately.

Belted kingfisher in flight

Well, it’s now Friday morning. I did manage to make it to the Muskegon area yesterday afternoon after the morning storms had passed through the area. I shot a pitifully low number of photos though, so I’ll just end this one here, and tell the story of what happened yesterday, and what happens today, in my next post.

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


Having trouble getting started

I’m having trouble getting started with this post at the present time, I could do a post about GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), which I thought that I had conquered. But, both Canon and Nikon have recently introduced full frame mirrorless cameras which will probably be the future of digital photography. I could explain why that is, and why I’m interested, but I don’t think that I will, at least not now.

I could do a post on why it’s hard for me to post average photos of common subjects…

Red-eyed vireo

…since I shot the image of the dragonfly from my last post, and I’ve been expanding my horizons this summer in shooting night photos, the Milky Way, and the other subjects that I’ve been shooting. But, I won’t, as that leads me back to photo gear and techniques, such as how my images of birds in flight…

Juvenile tree swallow in flight

 

Great blue heron in flight

…have improved to the point that I’m now proud of the images of them that I shoot far more often than not.

Or, I could brag about how much my macro images have improved lately…

Grasshopper

 

Water strider

…but I don’t want to go down that road either.

I could do a post on the ethics of baiting wildlife, and whether it’s a violation of my own ethics if I see that birds…

Male northern cardinal molting

 

Male northern cardinal molting

 

White-breasted nuthatch

 

White-breasted nuthatch

…or other wildlife comes to eat what others have left for them…

Red squirrel

…when I could just post this photo…

White-breasted nuthatch

…and not mention that I got that photo by standing near food that some one else had left to attract the bird in the photo.

In some ways, what I did in standing near the pile of peanuts, sunflower seeds, and other seeds on the ground isn’t much different from when I stand near a bush covered with berries that I see birds eating and photograph the birds as they come to eat the berries. The only difference is that the berries are a natural source of food that I take advantage of, rather than putting the food out myself.

I could do a detailed description of Huff Park, the park that I’ve gone to the past two weeks…

Sign for Huff Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan

…but I think that the signs says everything that I would have to say about the park.

Wait, that’s not true, I do have something to say about this park. It’s another of the postage stamp sized parks that attracts a wide variety of migrating birds that use the park during their journeys, both north in the spring, and south in the fall. This park, like many of the other smaller parks I’ve been visiting lately, provide the birds with food and cover, places for them to rest and refuel within the limits of Michigan’s second largest city.

I used to go to the largest parks and other public areas that there were in the area where I live, thinking that getting away from other people was the key to finding birds to photograph, and while I do see a few birds in large parks, they are spread out more, and harder to find. These small parks, such as Huff Park, The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and the East Grand River Park in Grand Haven, concentrate the birds in small areas, making them easier to find and photograph. Not only that, I would think that these small oasis parks are very important to the survival of many of the migrating birds that depend on these parks during migration.

That leads me to another observation that I’ve made recently, when I go to a large park, the birds are spread out over wide areas, and I see only one or two at a time. However, in the smaller parks, the birds form large mixed flocks that stay together as they move though the park as they search for food. I wonder why that is? Not that I have an answer, but it’s something that I hope to remember to ask Brian Johnson the next time that I bump into him.

Now, more than ever, I wish that I had been able to photograph more of the birds that I saw in Huff Park than I was able to.

Female northern cardinal

I missed more birds than I was able to get photos of.

Eastern wood-pewee

And for this next one, I threw the camera to my eye, hit the auto-focus button and shutter release at almost the same time, hoping that the camera would get a focus on the bird before it moved on me yet again.

Magnolia warbler

Just as on the trail to Lost Lake in Muskegon last week, I found flickers in flocks as they migrate south.

Northern Flicker

While the year round resident downy woodpeckers were nearby, but they were also there in small flocks mixed in the overall larger mixed flocks of birds.

Male downy woodpecker

Some of it makes sense to me, when I think about it. I can see why flycatchers such as the pewee and a few eastern Phoebe that I wasn’t able to get photos of, would hang around near the warblers, vireos, and other smaller birds, to pick off the flying insects stirred up by the smaller birds as they worked through the vegetation looking for their own preferred insects to eat.

I’m guessing that the flickers were in small family flocks, maybe several families of them migrating together, and they are vocal birds, often calling to one another as they search for food, or in the case last week while on the Lost Lake trail, alerting the others to the Cooper’s hawk that was hunting the flickers and other small birds.

Maybe I’m on to something here. In large parks, the birds are able to spread out more, making it harder for potential predators…

Domestic cat

…to locate them. In a small park, where they are already concentrated in a small area to begin with, and therefore easier for predators to find them, maybe it’s safer for the birds to all stick together in even tighter flocks so that they can warn the others in the flock of predators, or receive the warnings from the others.

Of course, that theory may be all wrong, but it’s something for me to continue to observe this fall as the birds migrate south.

That reminds me, I have another “mystery” that I’d love to be able to solve. It concerns this juvenile bald eagle…

Juvenile bald eagle carrying a fish

…where it catches fish, and where it goes to eat them. This is the third time that I’ve seen this juvenile eagle carrying fish while flying over the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve from south to north. I have to wonder why it travels so far to eat the fish that it catches, since it’s a juvenile, and given the time of year that it is, it can’t be carrying the fish back to  its nest to feed its young. I’d love to find out where it does its fishing, it can’t be very far from the preserve from the lay of the land and water in that area. There are also trees and manmade objects that the eagle could use as a perch to land and eat the fish that it catches off to the south of the preserve, so I don’t understand why it travels so far and burns so much energy carrying the fish as far as it does. It’s not as if eagles share food, quite the contrary, they often steal food from other eagles and other predators when they can. Maybe that’s why this eagle travels as far as it does, it has a spot where it feels safe to perch and eat its meal in peace, and not have to fight off other eagles trying to steal the meal it worked so hard for.

It could also be that the eagle doesn’t want to alert any other passing eagles to the fishing spot that it’s found if it were to perch nearer to where it had caught the fish it was carrying. If another eagle flying past saw this one eating its meal nearby, the other eagle may encroach on this one’s favorite fishing hole. So, maybe as I typed this out, I’ve explained the mystery, but I’d still love to learn where this eagle does its fishing in hopes that I’d be able to photograph it in action.

I suppose that the poor photo of the eagle carrying its meal should be my motivation to continue to shoot photos such as that, as they prompt me to think about the behavior of the subjects of such photographs, and I try to figure out why the subject is doing what it’s doing.

Sometimes, that’s easy.

Jumping spider with its meal

I did try to shoot a better photo from close to the same angle, but the vegetation made that impossible.

Jumping spider with its meal

So, I had to settle for this.

Jumping spider with its meal

I also wish that I’d been able to switch to my macro lens and get closer to the spider, but it was already trying to move away from me, dragging the grasshopper with it since it didn’t want to lose its meal. On the other hand, this garden spider was too busy wrapping its latest victim in its web as I shot this photo.

Garden spider and its meal

That’s one of the many times that I should have switched to shoot a video of the spider as it used its hind legs to wrap the grasshopper in its web. But, handholding the camera, the 100-400 mm lens, and the 1.4 X tele-converter would have resulted in such a poor video because of how shaky it would have been that I didn’t even try to shoot a video.

Come to think of it, I have another mystery to solve, and I don’t think that I’ll be able to do that on my own.

The mystery of the blue leaves

I took that wide shot after I had removed some of the other foliage from around these leaves…

The mystery of the blue leaves

…to get the best possible view, and best possible photo of them.

It looked to me as if these leaves had turned blue naturally, and weren’t a result of human interference, such as paint. I suppose that the minerals in the soil could be the reason that these leaves turned blue, but I’m not an expert on plants. I can’t even identify the species of plant that this is, which is the reason that I included the wider shot, in hopes that some one would be able to tell me what this plant is, and possibly, why its leaves would turn that shade of blue.

Anyway, here are a few more of the photos that I shot this last week.

Tickseed sunflower?

 

Bumblebee on the same species of flower

Sometimes, I prefer a wider shot that I shoot…

Joe Pye weed

…over images that I shoot with the macro lens.

Joe Pye weed

I wonder why all spiders seem to hang upside down on their webs, and also, why I seldom see them in a position where I can shoot the top of them.

Orb weaver spider

I really meant to pay more attention to the leaves of this next flower so that I’d have a chance of identifying it, but I was distracted by the spider shown above and forgot to shoot a photo of the leaves.

One of the smartweed? Possibly lady’s thumb?

My skill level when it comes to identifying flowers is close to zero, I believe that this next flower is in the aster family, and not the daisy family, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn otherwise.

White aster?

This next one is just a wider photo showing some of the colors and textures that I saw and enjoyed, even if the photo doesn’t do justice to the scene.

Fall colors and textures

And finally, one of my favorite wildflowers which is coming to the end of its blooming period as fall approaches.

Chicory

Well, I have a good many thoughts running through my head right now, things that I have to sort out as I go. I’ve already had another two days off from work since I began this post, and I just barely managed to shoot enough photos for another post, maybe. They were somewhat disappointing days, made worse by the swarms of mosquitoes everywhere I went during those two days. We received over a foot of rain over a two-week period not long ago, which as I explained in a previous post, has made finding trails dry enough to walk harder to do. And with all the standing water left from the rain, it’s going to be a bad fall as far as the skeeters, at least until it dries out here.

Enough of that, time for me to work on my plans for going up north in a few weeks to photograph the fall colors there, and to begin another post.

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


What all the talk leads to

At  the end of my last post, I said that I had shot one of the best images that I’ve ever taken, so here it is.

Unidentified dragonfly

Although, some people may prefer this slightly brighter version a little more.

Unidentified dragonfly

Those aren’t the same image with the second one brightened a bit, you can tell that by the background as the cattails in the shade moved in the wind between the images.

Either version is what I’ve been trying to accomplish as far as improving my photography skills to get the best possible images that I can. In truth, all it takes is luck, and shooting 750 photos of dragonflies to this point since I’ve been adding keywords to my photos in Lightroom. I had followed several of this species of dragonfly around on that day, shooting many photos that were okay…

Unidentified dragonfly

…but didn’t have the dramatic lighting of the first two. I knew that I was getting something special as I viewed the dragonfly through the viewfinder, and for once, I didn’t blow my chance. The dragonfly was in a good position, well away from the background vegetation. The late afternoon sun low in the sky raked the dragonfly from the side, but was diffused enough not to cast harsh shadows. The only thing that I would have changed if I could have, is that I wish that it had been facing towards me a little more than it was.

Sorry, this will be the camera talk part of this post.

While using the 7D Mk II, I’ve been exposing to the right, that is, setting the exposure to as bright as I could get it without blowing out the highlights. I’ve had to do that to prevent getting too much noise in the images that I’ve shot with that camera. But, the 5D Mk IV is completely different, even though the first two images were shot at ISO 8000, there wasn’t much noise in them to remove in Lightroom, although I have gone back and cleaned those images up a bit since the versions that you see here.

Using the 7D is like shooting with color print film, I’ve gotten the best results over-exposing slightly, from 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop. Soon after I began using the 5D, I’ve been setting the exposure as I would for color slide film, going 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop lower in exposure to get the color saturation and fine details in the images I shoot with the 5D. Since my favorite film back in the old days was Kodachrome slide film, using the 5D is a natural to me.

I’ve since gone a little lower with the exposure when shooting with the 7D, and that helps a little as far as color saturation and capturing fine details, but that camera still requires a brighter exposure setting than the 5D to prevent excess noise in my images.

The 5D Mk IV is spoiling me, in so many ways. I can use all the focus points while using the 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X tele-converter, while I’m limited to just the single center focus point with the same lens set-up on the 7D. I’ll try to move the focus point when using the 7D, or wonder why all the focus points don’t become active when I try to set the camera that way, and it takes me a few seconds to remember the differences between the two cameras.

Then there’s the better low-light performance of the 5D…

Whitetail family, sort of

…these were shot at ISO 25600…

Whitetail doe

…with no noise reduction other than what the camera itself does.

I wanted to get all three deer in the frame at once, but I wasn’t able to, as I also wanted to show that the closest fawn to me still has its spots. It was already turning to run off when I shot the first photo, with the other fawn following right behind it. Their mother stuck around for that last photo though, before she took off also. The 7D Mk II won’t even go that high for the ISO setting unless I enable the extended range for the ISO settings, and the amount of noise I’d get would be terrible. These aren’t bad at all considering how low the light was when I shot them.

Anyway, getting the image of the dragonfly that I did came at a good time for me. Since I’ve been expanding the range of subjects that I photograph, such as night photography in town, the Milky Way, and working on better macro images…

Unidentified orange mushroom

 

Violet webcap, Cortinarius violaceus?

…I haven’t been paying as much attention to birds…

Male northern cardinal molting

…or mammals…

Mosquito going after a squirrel that had stolen some one’s cookie

…as I should be.

I’ve been chasing great light…

Monarch butterfly

…or trying to be more artistic…

Damselfly and cattails

…although I think that the way that I framed that last shot to get the colors of the cattails and the composition the way that I did actually works to hide the damselfly. That’s why I continue to plug away with my photography, learning with each photo I shoot.

I was sitting on a bench taking a break, trying to cool down on a hot day, when I saw the damselfly. Rather than jump into action immediately, putting the focus point on the damselfly’s eye and firing away as I’ve done in the past, I sat there for a few minutes looking over the entire scene. I liked the colors of the cattails and the positions of the individual leaves, and the light, so I thought about ways I could incorporate them in my image when I shot it. I may have done too good of a job though, as the cattails distract the eye from the damselfly.

I did too much of the opposite on the previous day while at Lost Lake working on macro photos, as I walked to the observation deck to drop my un-needed photo gear, and after a quick stroll around the area, I found many of the subjects that I wanted to photograph. Then, I returned to the observation deck, got the macro set-up ready, and practically raced from subject to subject, checking them off from the mental list that I had made. That’s why many of the photos aren’t what I wanted…

Jelly fungus?

 

Unidentified fungal object

…I was in too much of a hurry to “complete a task”, rather than take the time to think about each image…

Puffball

…and get the best possible image of each subject.

I didn’t have to hurry, these things weren’t going anywhere, but I did. I only slowed down when I saw something that interested me that I hadn’t noticed before when I did my walk around the area.

Unidentified orange fungi

When I saw these, I noticed that the tips of them seemed to be different…

Unidentified orange fungi

…so I shot many photos of them.

Unidentified orange fungi

I thought that these were a species of coral fungi just beginning to grow, but now I don’t think so. In researching one of the subjects in another of my photos, I came across a website that may have provided me with the proper species name for these, but as I was researching something else at the time, I didn’t note the species or website that I found these on, silly me, again.

There are times when I see something that interest me, and after I’ve photographed it, I almost wish that I hadn’t. This has to be one of the ugliest, most menacing insects I’ve ever seen…

Ugly, menacing insect

…no matter what angle I shot it at.

Ugly, menacing insect

I’d hate to be bitten by that thing, whatever it was!

Anyway, even as I was rushing around shooting the macros and close-ups during my time at Lost Lake…

Partridge berry and plant?

…I was telling myself to slow down to get the best photo I could…

Unidentified fungal object

…but at the same time…

Unidentified fungal objects

….I had noted so many things that I wanted to shoot…

Unidentified fungal object

….that I wanted to make sure that I got to them…

Unidentified fungal object

…before I’d forgotten where they were.

Unidentified fungal object

Now it occurs to me that I should make use of a notebook that I purchased, but seldom use. I should have drawn a rough sketch of the area, and marked on the sketch where the things were that I wanted to shoot. That way, I wouldn’t have had to rely on my sometimes faulty memory to locate those things once I’m ready to begin shooting them. And, I know better than to carry the camera with me as I look for small subjects to photograph, as I would have missed most of these things if I had done that.

Most of the macros from my excursion to Lost Lake were shot in a very small area, perhaps 50 feet in diameter around the observation deck at the lake. In a way, I was overwhelmed by the possibilities, as some of the things I saw I did shoot photos of, but I’m not going to post them. I have a feeling that when it comes to macro photography, that this won’t be the only time that there are more subjects to photograph than I can remember if I scout first, and shoot later.

In my defense, I was also experimenting with the macro lighting set-up that I showed in my last post, some of the time that I should have been thinking about the best way to shoot some of these subjects was taken up by my thinking of how I could improve the lighting rig for in the future.

After the macro excursion on Thursday, I didn’t take my macro lens with me as I walked the local park on Friday, but I should have. I meant the Friday trip as a day of birding, staying in practice chasing small birds in the brush.

Red-bellied woodpecker

 

Great crested flycatcher

 

Eastern bluebird

 

Black-capped chickadee calling

 

Nashville warbler

I missed more birds than I was able to get, because it has been a while since I’ve chased them around to any degree. What I actually mean by chasing the birds around is usually standing in one spot waiting until I see a bird, then moving as little as possible to get a clear view of them. Most of the time on Friday, the birds had moved before I could get them in the viewfinder and in focus to shoot a photo of them. It didn’t help that my movements were limited because I was on the newly rebuilt boardwalk over the marsh at the park I was at.

For the record, I went to Huff Park in northeast Grand Rapids, very close to where I grew up as a kid. I’ve been there a couple of times in the past, but I quit going there because the boardwalk was falling apart, and if I remember right, part of it was closed during my last visit. The entire boardwalk has been replaced now, so I think that I’ll be going there one or two days a month this fall. It’s much closer to home than Muskegon, and it does attract a wide variety of migrating birds.

I wasn’t going to post this, it was a test of the new 24-70 mm lens, but it does show the marsh there at Huff Park.

The marsh at Huff Park, Grand Rapids, MI.

The birds are generally found around the edges of the marsh, and there’s a trail all the way around the marsh. Much of the trail is the raised boardwalk which does limit my ability to move around to get the best view of the birds, but I think that it will be worth it, time will tell.

 

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


Needs refinement

Before I get to this week’s photos, I have a few leftover from last week to use up.

Caspian tern yawning

I’m not going to add my commentary to these…

Pickerel weed flowers

…other than to say…

Arrowhead flowers

…that I dissect every photo that I shoot…

Ceiling of the blockhouse at Muskegon State Park

…and think of ways that I could improve it…

Bumblebee on purple loosestrife

…if I were given the chance…

Caspian terns

…to shoot the same subject…

Caspian terns

…under the same conditions…

Caspian tern

…which seldom happens.

Anyway, this week, I returned to Lost Lake when the light was better, and I had concocted a rather ugly and cheesy way to hold my flash unit when using my macro lens.

It works well for insects…

Wasp-like insect on goldenrod flowers

…and reasonably well on flowers…

Purple gerardia

 

Purple gerardia

…but not so well with some fungi…

Unidentified purple fungi

…because I can’t always position the flash at the correct angle for the subject.

Here’s a photo of the rig that I cobbled together.

Macro lighting rig

You can see that the flash fires down and towards the subject slightly when I use it, not shown is the piece of tissue paper I use to diffuse the light from the flash unit.

One downside to using that rig is that it is heavy, I definitely have to use both hands to hold the camera with the flash attached. That means that I don’t have a hand free to hold the subject in the perfect position when it’s needed.

Unidentified orchids

And, after 10 inches of rain in three days, everything was still very wet, and I didn’t enjoy crawling around on the ground getting wetter with every move that I made. So, some of my images aren’t quite what I had in mind when I thought about them in advance.

Unidentified orchids

Parts of the trail to Lost Lake were under water left from the storms earlier this week, and I had to do some bushwhacking to get back to the lake, but it was worth it.

Another unidentified flower

I need to work on the macro lighting rig and refine it. The cheap plate that attached the rig to the camera is too flexible, and I can’t tighten it enough so that everything stays in place all the time. The black flexible stand works well enough, although it doesn’t offer as much range of motion as I had hoped, and it’s very heavy. It does hold the flash unit in place though, and that’s what counts.

It takes even more light that I anticipated to shoot very good macro photos, in the deep shade where I found a few examples of fungi growing after the recent rain…

Oyster mushrooms

…I had to boost the ISO all the way to 6400 even when I used the flash unit. And even then, the way that the flash is pointed on my homemade rig…

Yet another unidentified fungi

…the stems of some subjects were in the deep shade caused by the angle of the flash unit.

I had planned on bringing the LED light that I have with me, but it wouldn’t fit in the backpack that I used to carry my gear in back to Lost Lake. The LED light would have helped to kill the shadows caused by the flash enough to make these better images, but since I wasn’t able to test it, I’m not sure.

If I had used a tripod, things would have been better, although the tripod that I have wouldn’t have worked as close to the subject that I have to be for macro photos, or as close to the ground as fungi are. And, I’d rather not purchase (and carry) yet another specialty tripod, one best suited for macro photography.

The lone fungi mini-scape

That was shot with the 24-70 mm lens as a test of sorts, I like the lone brightly colored fungi against the bright green moss, if I could have gotten lower, it would have been even better. But to do that, I’d have to have dug a hole to lower the camera down into. 😉

I don’t want this to be all talk of camera gear, but it’s hard not to, because this trip was another test of sorts.

This excursion was all about macro photography, although I did carry the 100-400 mm lens in case I saw birds, which I did.

Olive sided flycatcher

And, that set-up works well for close-ups as well…

Unidentified coral fungi

…on this day, it worked better than my macro lens on the 5D.

Unidentified coral fungi

I also carried the 100 mm macro lens, of course, and the new 24-70 mm lens, flash unit, and a few other accessories, like the set of extension tubes to go behind the macro lens.. I packed them all but the birding set-up in the free backpack that I received a few months ago, the bad part was that the free backpack didn’t hold all that I wanted to bring, and it’s very inconvenient to use. The 5D with the 100 mm macro lens filled the top compartment, everything else went into the lower compartment. That meant overtime that I wanted to shoot a macro, I’d have to take the backpack off, remove the camera from the top compartment, then move the backpack around to access the lower compartment for the required accessories. I had to reverse all of that to move to the next location. By the way, the lower compartment has not only a separate zippered cover, but extra material and straps that have to be packed into the compartment to close it again, a royal pain.

The good news was that with just about everything that I needed but the LED light, the backpack was light enough that I could have easily gone much farther than the mile that it is to Lost Lake, plus the mile for the return trip, even with having to detour around the flooded sections of the trail. In fact, I could have easily carried the 16-35 mm lens with me as well, and possibly the 70-200 mm lens also. In comparison to the backpack that I have filled with my crop sensor camera gear, the full frame sensor lenses seem to be much lighter.

I mentioned that I had brought the extension tubes with me, I should have used them for these tiny white fungi that I saw.

Tiny white fungi or slime mold

The green line across the photo is a pine needle, that’s how small the fungi were, and why I should have used an extension tube to get closer to them. But, I was having trouble getting enough light as it was, I couldn’t afford to lose another stop or more of light by adding the extension tube behind the lens. Again, the LED light would have helped to put more light into the scene. Here’s something else that I wished I had used an extension tube on.

Possibly mold on a fungi? Or slime mold?

It doesn’t look like much in that photo, but the network of intertwined filaments (for the lack of knowledge of what they really are) was quite beautiful when I looked through he viewfinder. I think that if I’d been able to get closer, I could have gotten more depth in that image, along with showing how it was structured much better than I did.

Overall, the day was a good one, even though after I’ve reviewed the images that I shot, I should have tried different angles and/or techniques for many of the things that I saw.

Heal all?

My biggest disappointment of the day was this image.

Puddle abstract

The leaf in the upper right of the frame was floating on top of the water in a puddle. The brown maple leaf left of center as on the bottom of the puddle, and the green blobs were the reflections of leaves from trees overhead. I could get the camera to focus on the reflections of the leaves, but then the puddle itself was out of focus. Just as in the water-lily image from my last post where I got the refracted light from the sky as bright blue rings…

Water lily and bee

…I like the bright green and blue lines around the bottom edge of the puddle, caused by the refraction of the light from the green of the leaves and blue sky overhead, along with the overall color combinations in the puddle scene.

It’s a funny thing about photographing reflections, the camera doesn’t “see” the reflections on the surface of the water on the same plane as the surface of the water, to get the reflections in focus, the camera goes by the distance from where the items being reflected are in reality, in this case twenty to thirty feet above the surface of the water. So, while the puddle was about five feet from me as I shot the image, I would have had to focus much farther away then that to get the reflections in focus.

I should have spent much more time at the puddle, trying different things. I could have zoomed in on just the bright green and blue lines along the edge of the puddle for a striking image. Or, I could have possibly gone to the wide-angle lens while moving closer to the puddle to retain the same composition, but gain depth of field to get both the puddle and its contents in focus along with the reflections of the leaves at the same time, the way my eyes saw the scene. I blew it again by being in too much of a hurry when presented with the opportunity to shoot something special.

Thinking more about the puddle image, maybe focus stacking software would have been a way to get the final image I was after with both the reflected leaves and the puddle all in focus at once. However, I was too dumb to shoot a shot of the leaf reflections in focus to try later.

It’s much easier to photograph the beauty in nature when it comes in the form of things such as a large flower, an iconic landscape, or a particularly beautiful species of wildlife. It’s harder to find ways to shoot images that require special equipment or techniques to be able to share the beauty that’s in nature all around us, but that most people miss because it’s so small or subtle.

Anyway, I have to do better as far as working a scene and getting the best that I can as far as images, I tell myself that all the time, but I usually fail.

My other big failure for the day was this one.

Smartweed?

I thought that I had enough depth of field and the correct focus point to get both the flowers and leaves with the water drops in focus, so sure that I didn’t bother to check when I should have. I loved the light that I had for that image, and I forgot everything else.

On the other hand, I was quite pleased with this photo.

Leaf cascade

On my way back to Lost Lake, there were more birds along the trail than I’ve seen in a long time. Most of them were woodpeckers of various species, including a pileated woodpecker. I worked my way along the trail very slowly, not wanting to scare the pileated away, while at the same time, I shot these.

Northern flicker

The flicker was looking for breakfast…

Northern flicker

…chipping away at the dead wood…

Northern flicker

…and spitting larger pieces of wood out as the flicker removed them.

Northern flicker

Hairy woodpeckers look exactly the same as their smaller cousins, downy woodpeckers, other than their size, and longer beak. But they are becoming rare around here, and no one knows why, when other species of woodpeckers are doing well.

Hairy woodpecker

I never did get a shot of the pileated woodpecker, as it stayed hidden behind some leaves, and just as I was about to get to an opening through the leaves, a Cooper’s hawk flew overhead, fighting all the birds away. I stood there for a while, and a short time later a flicker flew overhead with the Cooper’s hawk behind it. They did a semi-circle around me, but I wasn’t able to get the hawk in focus long enough for a photo, darn. I was looking almost straight up with the backpack on, which made it hard to follow the action as fast as it was.

I have quite a few macro photos from the day left over, but you’ll have to wait to see them. Also, I shot one of my very best images of a dragonfly, one of my best images of anything to tell the truth, yesterday while I was walking around in a local park. But, since I’m already over my self-imposed quota of photos for this post, the dragonfly will be in the next post also.

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