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

Another winter begins

Well, it’s begun, winter in West Michigan that is. That means no flowers, no insects, and also a lack of many other subjects other than birds and an occasional landscape for several months. I have some photos that I shot from this spring and summer that I saved to put into earlier posts, but didn’t, that I can use to fill in my posts over the winter. I’ll also be restarting my series of posts on one specific species of birds per post in the My Photo Life List project that I’ve been working on as well.

Last Thursday was what’s become all too typical already this year, dark and dreary, so I didn’t shoot many photos at all. The weather was even worse on Friday, when we set a record for the date for snowfall at 4 inches. That’s not a lot compared to the records later in the year, but it was for so early in November. I’m not whining yet, just stating fact, but we’ve had 0% of possible sunshine on 8 of the last 12 days, and we’re at less than 4% of possible sunshine for the month of November so far.

I blew it on Friday, it was the first day that the snow accumulated to any degree, and the scenes of the first real snow were as lovely as any I’ve ever seen, due in part to how early in the year it came. Many trees were still holding their finest fall colors, and with the fresh white snow falling on them, it was really beautiful to see. But, I need new tires for my vehicle, and had chosen Friday as the best day to get them, because of the weather forecast. But it turned out, I couldn’t get the tires installed on that day, so I went home, had lunch, then set out to capture some of the scenes I had seen, but it was too late. The wind had picked up, and most of the snow was melting already, so I headed to Muskegon in hopes that I’d find landscapes to shoot there, I didn’t.

Another reason that I haven’t been shooting as many photos lately is that since the first part of October, I’ve been running into Brian Johnson, who does the bird banding at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and I’ve spent a lot of time talking to him. I enjoy the chats that we have, it isn’t often that I meet a true nature lover as Brian is, and on top of that, he’s extremely knowledgeable, since his real job is to do environmental impact research, he bands birds as a hobby. Since on most days when I’ve run into him have been dark and dreary, I spend an hour or two each time talking to him rather than looking for things to photograph. I learn so much from him that I consider it time well spent for the information that I learn, both as far as where to look for certain species of birds, and so many other things that I can’t possibly list them all here.

Anyway, I’m going to begin the photos in this post with a species that you’re all probably tired of seeing, but it’s the best image that I’ve shot in the last two weeks but haven’t posted yet.

Two male northern shovelers

I was hoping that I was close enough to them so that you’d be able to see the specialized structures that they have on their bills to strain food out of the water, but in this small size image, you can’t. I’ll have to get even closer, and hopefully in the spring, when one is in full breeding plumage.

These next two are from yesterday as I type this, and they show how my days have been going the past few weeks. This one was shot at about 11:30 AM to show that I had missed the sun again, and because there was some color in the sky that really doesn’t show well in this photo.

Missed the sunshine again

Just 40 minutes later, there was a pretty good snow squall taking place, so I shot this one to show that.

And the snow moves in

It’s funny, despite the terrible light that I’ve had the last several weeks, I’ve been shooting a lot of ducks in flight, both for practice, and to push my gear and myself to see what’s possible. I know that in low light that the 5D would be the better camera to use, but my 7D camera is still my choice for flying birds, so I’ve been working with it.

Joining the crowd

What I learn from each camera is often transferable to the other, for example, what I learned about the auto-focus system of the 5D when shooting stationary subjects has helped me get sharper images with the 7D. And, the 7D, with its much higher frame rate, is still the best choice for me to get shots like this.

The take-off ballet

One thing about the low light, there’s no shadows in these photos.

Male mallard in flight

Although, there’s too much noise in them for the photos to be considered good…

Male mallard in flight

…so I’ll have to work on that this winter. That goes with getting better shots of flocks of birds in flight as well.

Mallards in flight

Now then, for a boring bit here. The 7D is rated at ten frames per second, and it can actually shoot that many photos per second, or very, very close to it, which is why I still prefer it over the 5D. The 5D is rated at 7 frames per second, however, how I have that body set-up, my guess is that I’m lucky to get 5 frames per second, and the buffer of the 5D also fills much sooner, than the 7D, so I’m not able to shoot as many photos with the 5D before it stops to write what’s in the buffer to the memory card(s).

Both cameras hold two memory cards, both a CF card and a SD card. The write speed for CF cards is much faster than the write speed for the SD cards, and I believe that’s why the 5D can’t match its rated frames per second for me. I have the 7D body set-up to record to only the faster CF card which is why it will match its rated speed without filling the buffer as quickly as the 5D body. I have the 5D set to record to both cards at once, just in case the CF card were to fail, which does happen on occasion, although not to me, yet. I did have trouble getting the photos off from a CF card once, but I was able to download the photos on the card by using recovery software that came with the card. I’m pretty sure that the slower SD card in the 5D is the bottleneck in the camera that causes it to shoot slightly slower and fill the buffer sooner, along with the camera having to write to both cards simultaneously.

Since I feel that I’m more likely to get a once in a lifetime image with the 5D, that’s why I have it set to record to both cards, if one fails, the other is the backup.

Anyway, I may as well use my other two photos from yesterday now.

Bald eagle

The eagle’s mate flew to the same tree shortly after I had shot that photo, but I didn’t bother to go back and get them together because I’ve shown plenty of photos of them in the past.

Trumpeter swan family stopping over on their way south

There had been a much larger flock of trumpeter swans, with a few snow geese hanging out with them, a few weeks ago.

Trumpeter swans and snow geese

But, they were all too far away from me for a good photo.

While I’m at it, I may as well fill out this post with the poor photos that I shot during the past two weeks in the snow for the most part.

Hooded mergansers


Color on a grey day


A lonely patch of sunshine


Lesser black-backed gull


Female northern shoveler having fun


Female northern shoveler having fun


Female northern shoveler having fun


Female northern shoveler landing


Male northern shovelers landing


Male northern shovelers landing


Male northern shovelers landing


Northern shovelers in flight


Male northern shoveler landing


Common goldeneye

This series really has too many photos, but at the same time, it’s kind of cute also.

Common goldeneye yoga


Common goldeneye yoga


Common goldeneye yoga


Common goldeneye yoga


Common goldeneye yoga

I have three more photos shot during one of the rare and short sunny periods from the last two weeks to finish this post.

Canada geese landing on a sunny fall day

I’m including these two to show how short and stubby the wings of a ruddy duck are.

Ruddy duck wing stretch


Ruddy duck wing stretch

These two photos also show that ruddy ducks are pudgy little things, almost like basketballs with wings attached.

I’m already up to my self-imposed limit on photos, so it’s time to end this one. I hate to say this, but I think that my next post will be mostly about photography. The reason is that with as rotten as the weather has been, I’ve been shooting fewer photos when I do get the chance to get out with my cameras, and since that’s the case, I’ve been trying new things, or I should say, tweaking my settings from the way that I have been shooting. So, I’ll apologize in advance.

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


20 responses

  1. The first photograph you posted was superb. I also loved all those birds in flight which you do so well.

    November 17, 2018 at 8:33 am

    • Thank you Susan! As always, I wish that I’d been even closer to the shovelers in that first photo, but it was a good one for a change. It shows how happy ducks seem to be most of the time.

      November 17, 2018 at 8:43 am

  2. What a beautiful set of photos—thank you for sharing!

    November 17, 2018 at 2:33 pm

    • Thank you very much! They were the best I could do in such poor light most of the time.

      November 17, 2018 at 3:04 pm

  3. Love the northern shoveler photo showing all their beautiful coloured feathers and one with its mouth open too…they look different from the one flying in with its landing gear down. Wonder why so many different birds have bright orange feet and legs! I enjoy looking at a series of bird photos and the goldeneye yoga series is great! Sorry that the snow has come so soon to W.Michigan…it was actually on our news! I look forward to seeing some of your snow scenes.

    November 17, 2018 at 3:17 pm

    • Thank you Marianne! The males of several species of ducks are some of our most colorful birds here, I hoping for a good spring next year to really show that well. Good point about bright orange legs and feet, but some species have bright red or yellow legs, so it isn’t only orange. Maybe it has to do with attracting mates, that’s my guess anyway. Glad you liked the goldeneye series, I think he was getting ready to begin attracting a mate, because head bobbing and putting their heads all the way back to their backs are part of the breeding displays of many male ducks. We’re supposed to warm up for at least a few days this week, so no scenes soon I’m afraid. But, it won’t be long before the snow is back, and I’ll see what I can do then.

      November 18, 2018 at 6:57 am

  4. We got about 4 inches of snow here too and it fell far too early. Picking up soggy leaves in spring is no picnic so I’m hoping it will melt quickly. At least we’re seeing some sunshine and temps in the 40s.
    I like the 2 shots of the beach. What a difference just a few minutes can make!
    I love the shots of the flying mallards too. They’re very pretty birds and easy to see.
    It looks like the goldeneye was trying to catch snowflakes. Maybe it has never seen snow before!

    November 17, 2018 at 5:26 pm

    • Thanks Allen! It’s too early for as much snow as we’re both getting already, but at least you see some sunshine. Here’s what a local meteorologist had to say this morning, “We may see the sunshine today!! 12 of the first 17 days of the month have had not a single minute of sunshine. We’ve also had at least a trace of snow on 9 of the last 11 days in G.R. and we’re now 6 degrees colder than average for the month. ” They are adding up the sunshine we see here in minutes, if you throw out the one sunny day we had here, we’re at around an hour total for the month.

      Since you’re not on the downwind side of the ocean, I don’t know how much of a maritime climate you see there. Here, our weather can change in a heartbeat as the wind shifts from over land or Lake Michigan. I’ve seen it go from bright and sunny to almost zero visibility with fog in less than half an hour when the wind starts coming off the lake, or vice versa if the wind shifts from off the lake.

      I have a feeling that you’ll be seeing plenty of mallards in my blog again soon, I’ve been trying to ignore them this year since I’ve shown so many photos of them in the past.

      I think that the goldeneye was getting ready to attract a mate. The mating displays of many species of ducks includes head bobbing and other such movements of their heads. Hopefully, I’ll shoot some video this spring to illustrate that. It’s quite comical to watch in real life rather than still photos.

      November 18, 2018 at 7:16 am

  5. I liked the flock of flying ducks best of all but considering your opening remarks, this was a post full of visual interest.

    November 17, 2018 at 5:39 pm

    • Thanks Tom! I have decided that I’m not going to let winter and the lack of light keep me from shooting photos this winter, even if the photos aren’t technically great, they’ll still be interesting.

      November 18, 2018 at 7:00 am

      • A very good policy in my view.

        November 18, 2018 at 8:47 am

  6. It is starting out to be a very long winter. Like you, I’m really feeling the lack of sunshine in my bones.

    Your water photos capture the cold lighting perfectly. I was especially drawn to the one with the fence that you titled lonely bit of sunshine. Lonely and brief.

    You always find interesting things to shoot. Thanks for broadening my view.

    Happy Thanksgiving, Jerry.

    November 19, 2018 at 7:16 am

    • Thanks Judy! You sure picked a poor winter to stick around for, no sun, too much snow too soon, and cold already.

      To go with that, this winter I’m going to photograph what I see, like the photo of the beach that you mentioned. I usually try to find beautiful scenes, but the really good landscape photographers say that you should express how you feel through your photos, so this winter it will be the good, the bad, and maybe even the darn right ugly from me. At least it will be a record of the winter, whatever the winter holds for us.

      A Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours as well!

      November 19, 2018 at 7:56 am

  7. A wonderful series of captures!

    November 19, 2018 at 7:58 am

    • Thank you very much Donna!

      November 19, 2018 at 4:28 pm

  8. I am glad you posted these beautiful photos even though there was no bright sun when you took most of them. I especially like the the ones of the Goldeneye, and of the flock of birds flying together. The Mallard ones are great too, don’t stop posting them!

    On the topic of frames per second: I only use one CF card per camera, and for the 5D I am able to reach 5 fps most of the time. The 7D is faster of course, with 10 fps, but I seldom see that happening. It could be because I release the shutter too soon.

    November 19, 2018 at 5:51 pm

    • Thank you Hien! I’m afraid that it’s going to be another long, cold, snowy, and cloudy winter this year judging by the way that it has begun. I am going to continue to shoot both mallards and flocks of birds though, in fact, I have made shooting better flocks of birds in flight photos something that I’m going to work on over the winter so that I’ll be better prepared next spring.

      Most of the time, the frame rate doesn’t matter very much, but I do like having the faster frame rate of the 7D when it is needed. I’ve had it hammered into my head to record to both cards in case one fails, but I only do that with the 5D because of the way that a I use the two cameras now, I’m much more likely to get the shot of a lifetime with it rather than the 7D.

      November 19, 2018 at 6:07 pm

  9. I loved the Goldeneye shots very much and seeing how short the Ruddy duck’s wings are! Another shot I keep returning to is the one of the Canada geese landing on the water. The golden reflections and the speckled blue on the water give me great pleasure.

    November 21, 2018 at 5:21 pm

    • Thank you Clare! This fall, I tried every time that I was out to get good reflections of the fall colors on the bodies of water that I was near, but it seldom worked out for me. So, I’m glad that you liked the one with the geese. Ruddy ducks are shaped like and about the same size as an American football, it’s no wonder that they have to work hard to get airborne to fly.

      November 21, 2018 at 11:21 pm

  10. The birds ballet… I often stare and wonder, its a magical sight for me. The barn swallows have arrived in South Africa and is a delight to us.

    November 28, 2018 at 4:29 pm