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

A hungry bird is an easy bird

While I was sitting at the Muskegon County wastewater facility looking over the flocks of various species of birds in view, I noticed this Merlin land quite near to my vehicle, and of course I had to photograph it.


After I had identified the other species of birds nearby, I continued on my way, eventually circling back around to almost the same spot where I had seen the merlin before.


That image was cropped a little, for one thing, the merlin was feeding on what remained of a duck that I’m guessing was killed by a larger predator, and I didn’t want any one to be put off seeing the blood and meat from what remained of the duck. However, here’s the full image, and you’ve been warned, so if you’re squeamish, scroll past this one quickly.

The reason that the merlin didn’t fly away was that it was hungry and didn’t want to give up its meal. I would have also stayed further away to allow it to eat in peace, but that was on the center dike where’s there’s only a single track running the length of it, with little room to turn around. So, I had to make a choice, drive past the merlin to continue on my way, or risk damaging my vehicle on the rocks on the edges of the dike. I assumed that the merlin would fly a short distance away, then return after I had passed, but stayed put instead.

Those images go with some that I had shot the previous day at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, at the bird feeders near the outdoor classroom. One of the volunteers was using a large riding lawn mower to blow the leaves off from the paved trails there intended for cyclists, because wet leaves on pavement are very slippery and could lead to a cyclist wiping out, getting injured, and suing the group that operates the preserve. However, the sounds of the tractor and leaf blower were keeping all the birds at bay along the trails, the only quiet spot in the preserve was near the bird feeding station. I was also lucky that the volunteer clearing the leaves from the trails had also filled the feeders before they had begun the leaf removal.

While the overwhelming majority of the photos of birds I shoot are birds that I find “in the wild”, I have on rare occasions sat near the feeding station at the preserve to photograph birds as they approach the feeders, like this cardinal.

Male northern cardinal

However, he wouldn’t raise his crest to show his full beauty until he was on the feeder.

Male northern cardinal

I shot a series of him cracking open sunflower seeds…

Male northern cardinal

…to get at the meat inside…

Male northern cardinal

…but still photos don’t do justice to how the birds manipulate the seeds with their tongues as they remove the outer husks of the seeds. I suppose that the way birds eat shouldn’t surprise me, humans do the same thing as far as moving food in our mouths as we eat, still, I find watching birds in action fascinates me.

Also, shooting at the feeders provided me with another series of photos as well. In my last post, I noted that blue jays have a specialized pouch in their throats to hold food to be stored for later. Many people don’t know that, which is why many people think of blue jays as gluttons, they’ll land on a feeder and seemingly swallow large numbers of seeds quickly, but they’re not actually eating the seeds then…

Blue jay gathering a seed to eat later

…you can tell that this blue jay was filling its gular pouch with seeds, hulls and all, and later, in a safer setting, it did what other birds do…

Blue jay breaking open a sunflower seed to eat the meat

…break the sunflower seed open to get to the meat inside. While other birds will grab one seed to eat in a safer location…

White-breasted nuthatch

…the gular pouch that the blue jays have is similar to the large cheeks of a chipmunk…

Eastern chipmunk looking for dropped seeds

…which the chipmunks use to carry food to be stored for later.

I missed the nuthatch eating the seed that it carried away, but I did catch it cleaning its beak after eating the seed…

White-Breasted nuthatch cleaning its beak

…by rubbing it on the branch it was perched on. Then, after a quick look around…

White-Breasted nuthatch

…to make sure it was safe, and deciding where it was going to go next, it was off.

White-Breasted nuthatch

By the way, the chipmunk reminds me that once again, I failed to get photos of all three species of squirrels native to Michigan in one day, not that chipmunks are squirrels, but they are closely related. I did get red squirrels…

Red squirrel


Red squirrel

…and both color variations of grey squirrels…

Grey squirrel, black morph


Grey squirrel, grey morph

…but I wasn’t able to find a fox squirrel to get all of our squirrel species in one day. I did shoot this one just to test the dynamic range of my camera…

Grey squirrel, black morph

…because I thought that the black squirrel on the nearly white feeder would be a good test, and it was. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have shot that photo.

I know that I shouldn’t, but I can’t help bragging about the 5D Mk IV camera body and its dynamic range compared to the crop sensor 7D that I’ve been using. It doesn’t matter if it’s the black squirrel on the light feeder, a landscape…

From the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

…or birds in flight in a snowstorm…

Northern shoveler in flight in a snowstorm

…the 5D is so much better than what I’m used to, and while I’m not looking forward to winter, I know that my photos will be much better this winter than in past years because of how much better the 5D is.

Anyway, changing gears, in my last post I promised a few photos from the north campground at Muskegon State Park, and here they are.

Autumn in Muskegon State Park 1


Autumn in Muskegon State Park 2


Autumn in Muskegon State Park 3

I like the way that I got the color in this one…

Autumn in Muskegon State Park 4

…however, I like the overall composition in this version of the same scene…

Autumn in Muskegon State Park 5

…so I included both versions.

Speaking of different versions, that brings up something else. Later in the evening, after shooting the photos above, I caught the sunset at Duck Lake State park.

But as I was waiting for the sun to set, I shot this image as a rain squall approached from the north.

As the squall approaches

There wasn’t much of a gap in the clouds to let the sun shine through at the horizon, but it looked like it would be a good sunset to photograph.

Sunset at Duck Lake State Park wide 1

But, even at 70 mm with the 24-70 mm lens, my field of view was too wide, so I switched to my 70-200 mm lens for this one.

Sunset at Duck Lake State Park telephoto 1

That’s an older lens in Canon’s line up, and it shows in that photo because I got lens flare in it. Going back to the much newer 24-70 mm lens, which has much better coatings on the lens elements to prevent such flares, I was able to shoot this one with no lens flare.

Sunset at Duck Lake State Park wide 2

However, while that one is okay, I really wanted to zoom in tighter on the sunset, so I went back to the 70-200 mm lens for the final shot of the evening.

Sunset at Duck Lake State Park telephoto 2

You can see that the lens flare was even worse, and ruined what could have been an excellent image of the sunset. I love the effect that light from the setting sun has on the dune grass, how it takes on the appearance of a spider web, something that I’ve captured in the past when the opportunity has presented itself.

I thought that I was done purchasing big-ticket photography gear such as lenses and cameras, but it looks as if that is a never-ending fact of life. This almost had to happen, as Canon has just announced their third version of their 70-200 mm f/2.8 IS lens that has much better coatings on the lens elements that virtually eliminate lens flare, along with improving color and contrast when shooting subjects with the sun behind the subject.

I’m not sure why Canon, or any other lens manufacturers for that matter, can’t simply change the coatings in older lenses, but I hear that it has to do with the way that each lens element bends the light, that the coatings do effect that. I hope that it’s the true reason that they can’t upgrade the lens coatings in older models of lenses, and that it isn’t just greed, forcing those of us with older lenses to upgrade if we want the best possible images.

That sort of goes along with the new full frame mirrorless cameras that are hitting the market at this time. As I wrote in an earlier post, due to the fact that the rear elements of the lenses for a mirrorless camera can be closer to the camera’s sensor, lens manufacturers can build better lenses for mirrorless cameras than they can for a DSLR with the mirror box between the lens and the camera sensor. From the early reviews, that seems to be true. Canon has released two professional grade lenses for their new EOS R mirrorless cameras that are far better than any of their existing DSLR lenses. And, the consumer grade 24-105 mm lens for the mirrorless camera tests out to being nearly as good as Canon’s best DSLR lenses, and cost nearly two-thirds less than the DSLR lenses.

Still, it’s a pretty hefty chunk of change at $1,100 for the new 24-105 mm lens, but that’s better than the nearly $3,000 for Canon’s best DSLR lenses in the same focal length range.

Fortunately, I don’t have to be in a hurry to upgrade any of my gear as it stands now. The new Canon mirrorless camera may be able to accept better lenses, but it lacks many of the features that I depend on in the 5D Mk IV or 7D MK II bodies I use now. The old 70-200 mm lens may be prone to lens flare and lack Image Stabilization, but it’s my least used lens. Although, part of the reason for that is because of its age and lack of the features of my newer lenses. I do find myself using it much more on the 5D than I did on my crop sensor bodies, because it’s the right lens as far as field of view in more instances with the full frame body than it was with the crop sensor bodies. That’s the reason that I’m thinking of upgrading, not because I got lens flare in the situation above, but because I’m using the 70-200 mm lens more all the time, although there are also times when I should use it but don’t, because of its shortcomings.

So, a few years from now, I could see myself upgrading to the new 70-200 mm lens once it’s been on the market for a while, the price drops a little, and Canon offers rebates on it. A bonus of the new lens would be that it could be an effective birding lens with a tele-converter behind it, but I won’t know until I try it. The new 70-200 mm lens with even a 2 X extender is as sharp as the 100-400 mm lens I’m using now is, but I’m not sure if that combination will focus quickly enough.

The same applies to a mirrorless body. Canon’s current model can’t cut it for most of the subjects that I shoot. But, once future models are designed, and more lenses added to the offerings beyond the three available now, I can see myself purchasing a mirrorless body and a wide-angle zoom lens for it, primarily for landscapes.

I’m going to add two more photos to this post to illustrate why all of this is important to me. Fist, my best eagle image shot with the Canon 60D and Sigma 150-500 mm lens…

Bald eagle shot at ISO 250 with 60D camera

…and the recent photo of an eagle in flight shot in about the worst conditions possible at ISO 25600.

Adult bald eagle in flight

Even though the eagle in the second photo is moving, its eye is sharper than the eye of the eagle in the first photo. There’s also more detail in the white feathers on the eagle’s head in the second photo. I’d say that the details in the eagle’s darker feathers are better in the first image, it was shot in great light, while the second image was shot shortly after dawn on a dreary day with very little light. The yellow colors of the eagle’s beak and feet are truer to real life in the second image as well. And, I can remember trying to adjust the yellows in the first image to get them as good as they are, while I didn’t have to do anything with the color in the second photo.

So, when I use equipment in poor light that can compare well to what I used to be able to get in very good light with my older gear, then it tells me that the upgrades were well worth it. Now, I have to catch an eagle willing to pose so nicely as the one in the first photo did to really show what the newer gear is capable of.

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


26 responses

  1. Jerry, I love all of these superb photos, especially those of the red Cardinal and of the Eagle taken an incredible ISO! 25600! I will have to try that one of these days, if I dare.

    November 11, 2018 at 5:49 pm

    • Thank you Hien! There’s noise in that image of the eagle, but it’s not so bad that I couldn’t remove most of it in Lightroom if I worked on it for a while. Since you use a 5D Mk IV also, you may be interested in something I read this last week. While the Nikon D850 and top of the line Sony cameras have more dynamic range at low ISO that the 5D, the 5D is actually better with both dynamic range and color depth at very high ISO than the Nikon, and is about the same as the Sony. That’s what I see in that eagle photo, the 5D is well up to shooting at an ISO setting that high.

      November 12, 2018 at 7:09 am

  2. The ISO on the last shot is indeed incredible. I will just have to win the lottery. This was another very interesting post with a lot of excellent shots in it. The black squirrel on the white bowl was very impressive.

    November 11, 2018 at 6:14 pm

    • Thanks Tom! The low light performance of a full frame sensor camera is pretty amazing to me, and with the new mirrorless ones from Nikon, I do hope that you win the lottery and are able to purchase one.

      November 12, 2018 at 7:14 am

  3. awesome

    November 11, 2018 at 7:31 pm

    • Thanks!

      November 12, 2018 at 7:14 am

  4. Amazing photos! Thanks for sharing!

    November 11, 2018 at 7:36 pm

    • Thank you very much! It was my pleasure.

      November 12, 2018 at 7:16 am

  5. Another marvelous series of captures, Jerry! I especially love the male Cardinal photos, they are a top favorite bird of mine; and the sunsets were breath-taking.

    November 11, 2018 at 8:17 pm

    • Thank you Donna! Cardinals are one of my favorite species of birds, and many other people’s as well. I don’t photograph them as often as I should, because so many other people do, and I want my blog to be different than many others.

      November 12, 2018 at 7:18 am

      • Ok. But I for one would love to see more in your blog. 😊

        November 12, 2018 at 6:25 pm

      • With winter coming, I may be shooting quite a few more of them soon.

        November 12, 2018 at 6:40 pm

      • 👍

        November 12, 2018 at 7:06 pm

  6. A post packed with interest and wonderful photographs. I loved the chipmunks and squirrels and that beautiful landscape.

    November 12, 2018 at 3:32 am

    • Thank you Susan. Chipmunks are so cute that I photograph them whenever one is close to me, same with the squirrels. My landscape images are improving, I’m glad that you noticed that in a way.

      November 12, 2018 at 7:20 am

  7. Lovely shots one and all but especially the Merlin!

    November 12, 2018 at 5:47 am

    • Thank you Bob! I lucked out with the merlin, it was hungry, and I couldn’t leave it as much room as I otherwise would have, which got me much closer to it than I expected.

      November 12, 2018 at 7:22 am

  8. Fantastic shots, Jerry! I love the merlin photos very much; they are such attractive little raptors. Amazing to see the difference in quality of the two eagle shots!

    November 12, 2018 at 5:15 pm

    • Thank you Clare! Yes, merlin are cute to us because they’re small, but they are really ferocious predators that have their place in the grand scheme of things to control the population of smaller prey species.

      November 12, 2018 at 6:16 pm

      • Yes, definitely ferocious! I watched one hunting a few years ago and was glad I wasn’t a mouse. I also watched a kestrel today, hovering in a strong wind and keeping watch on one small area of grass for five minutes. Amazing strength!

        November 13, 2018 at 5:56 pm

      • Yes, the smaller a predator is, the stronger and tougher it has to be to kill its prey. I love watching all the raptors and falcons in action, but it’s usually out of camera range when I do get to see them.

        November 14, 2018 at 7:26 am

  9. Cute overload with those lovely photos of the chipmunk and squirrels. Very interesting facts about the eating habits of those birds….you are very observant. Love, love the autumn woods those colours and the trunks all wonderful. The last photo of the flying eagle is superb …..the camera you use is obviously great but you are the one who presses the button!

    November 12, 2018 at 5:20 pm

    • Thank you Marianne! Your comment reminds me that I should continue to shoot some of the common species of birds and small mammals that I see just for the cuteness factor instead of spending most of my time searching for more exotic species. That goes with the observations that I make as well, but I should begin to shoot more video to do that as well as I would like. And, I know that I talk too much about photography and gear, but when I can shoot a photo as good as the eagle in flight is, which is way beyond what my older gear was capable of, it’s a big deal to me.

      November 12, 2018 at 6:22 pm

      • Keep taking those photos…videos would be great too!

        November 13, 2018 at 2:03 pm

  10. Nice shots of the merlin and bluejay, and of course that last shot of the eagle!
    I’m always interested in seeing the black squirrels. I don’t see many here but I did see a blonde squirrel last summer. Before that I didn’t know that squirrels could be blonde.It was very blonde, too!
    I like that first landscape, it reminds me of here. The colors in the park were gorgeous too.
    I hope that duck wasn’t getting snowed on recently.
    Nice shots of the sunset!

    November 12, 2018 at 5:47 pm

    • Thanks Allen! I was lucky with the merlin, not only was I close to it, but it happened during the few minutes of sunshine that we’ve had this month. That goes with the duck in the snow, it’s been snowing here on and off for over a week. It melts the same or next day, but we also set a daily record last week for 4 inches of snow on that date.

      I’ve seen one blond squirrel in my life, and wasn’t able to get a photo of it. The black grey squirrels are very common in Michigan, in some areas, they out number the regular grey squirrels.

      I’m still learning when it comes to what will make a good landscape image. But, I’m doing better all the time at finding places that will look good in just two dimensions. I still shoot then reject too many landscapes because although I liked the view with my eyes, the images were flat and not very good. I still think that it’s because I have well above average depth perception, but I could be wrong.

      The sunset was pretty good, but I wish that I could have eliminated the lens flare in some way.

      November 12, 2018 at 6:39 pm