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

Archive for December, 2018

Bay-breasted Warbler, Setophaga castanea

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Bay-breasted Warbler, Setophaga castanea

The bay-breasted warbler (Setophaga castanea) is a New World warbler. It breeds in northern North America, specifically in Canada, into the Great Lakes region, and into northern New England.

This species is migratory migratory, wintering in northwest South America and southern Central America. It is a very rare vagrant to western Europe.

This species is closely related to blackpoll warbler, but this species has a more southerly breeding range and a more northerly wintering area.

The summer male bay-breasted warbler is unmistakable. It has a grey back, black face, and chestnut crown, flank and throat. It also boasts bright yellow neck patches, and white underparts and two white wing bars.

Breeding females essentially resemble washed out versions of the male. The females are greyish above and white below, with much weaker head patterns. The females also only have chestnut markings on small flank patches, although tiny tints in their grey crowns have been observed.

Non-breeding birds have greenish heads, greenish upperparts and yellowish breasts. The yellow extends to the belly of young birds. The two white wing bars are always present in every stage of life. These birds differ from non-breeding blackpoll warblers in the absence of breast streaks.

Their breeding habitats are coniferous woodlands. Bay-breasted warblers nest 5–20 ft (1.5–6.1 m) up in conifer trees, laying 3–5 eggs in a cup-shaped nest. Incubation is 12 days. More eggs are laid in years when high numbers of spruce budworm are present.

These birds feed on insects, and the numbers of these birds vary with the abundance of the spruce budworm. These birds will also feed on berries and nectar in wintertime.

Their songs are a repetitive high-pitched si si si.

On to my photos:

These images were shot in the spring of 2018.

Bay-breasted Warbler, Setophaga castanea

 

Bay-breasted Warbler, Setophaga castanea

 

Bay-breasted Warbler, Setophaga castanea

 

Bay-breasted Warbler, Setophaga castanea

 

Bay-breasted Warbler, Setophaga castanea

 

Bay-breasted Warbler, Setophaga castanea

 

This is number 209 in my photo life list, only 141 to go!

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

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2018, a look back, and ahead

It’s getting close to the end of the year, so I suppose that it’s time to take a look back at a few of the photos that I shot this year.

It’s been a big year for me as far as how much my skill as a photographer has improved. In selecting the photos to put in this post, I’m including subjects that I rarely photograph just as a change of pace as much as I can, along with photos that I shot this year that taught me a great deal as I shot them.

Even at the beginning of this past year, I was shooting and hoping that I’d get a photo good enough to post here in my blog. Looking back at the photos that I posted from January, I see that there weren’t many, mostly due to the weather, but also because of a lack of subjects to photograph.

Snowy owl

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Those two aren’t bad, but I could do so much better now, especially the one of the eagle in flight, that it’s apparent to me now how much my images have improved this year.

February of 2018 was also cold and snowy as I remember…

Gray squirrel

…but there were a few sunny days…

Female northern cardinal

…and being a bit bored by the lack of subjects to shoot, I began experimenting more, using my 16-35 mm lens to shoot a flock of gulls in flight.

Gulls in flight

March brought the first flowers of the year…

Crocus about to bloom

…along with a couple of subjects that I rarely see…

A mink on the run

…which may not be all that bad.

Skunk

As I remember it, April was also well below average as far as both temperature and sunshine…

The Basilica of Saint Adalbert at night

…so I expanded the range of subjects that I shoot to include these night scenes from downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I live.

Double exposure of the full moon and the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan

I also learned a good deal about macro photography as I shot the following image.

Unidentified bee

I had shot many good macro images before that one, but it was one of the first warm days of the year, and I was laying on the ground to shoot the dandelion flowers when the bee landed near me. Not being in any hurry to move, I played around with the camera and lens settings, and also put an extension tube behind the macro lens.

May of 2018 was our first warm month of the year, in fact, it was as if some one had flipped a switch, and we went from winter to summer in just a week or so. With the quick flip in the weather, the birds migrating north were in a hurry to reach their destination, so it seemed as if they all passed through the area in only a week or two. It was in May as I was shooting migrating warblers that I decided to upgrade from the crop sensor Canon 7D Mk II to the full frame sensor 5D Mk IV, based on the images that I shot one dreary day.

Bay-breasted warbler

The 7D Mk II is a fine camera when there’s enough light for it though, as these images show.

Unidentified (for now) butterfly

And, since it will shoot 10 frames per second, I still prefer it over the 5D when shooting action images, such as this one.

Clear-winged or hummingbird moth in flight

 

American avocet

 

Barn swallow chattering away

And, I was still working on my camera settings and techniques to shoot birds in flight.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

June brought more flowers, and I began to work on improving my images of them.

Iris

Especially when it comes to adding extra light with my flash unit to get good sharp images without any harsh shadows present in the images.

Wild geranium?

I also discovered an osprey nest about an hour drive from where I live, so I visited it a few times to get this image of a male osprey returning to the nest with what’s left of a fish after he had eaten his share of it.

Male osprey carrying a fish

I also increased the number of landscape images that I was shooting to work on my skills in that genre of photography.

Dunes at Muskegon State Park

The time that I spent at the osprey nest and at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve helped me to hone my images of birds in flight to the point where they are nearly as good as my images of perched birds.

Green heron in flight

 

Female belted kingfisher

July of 2018 saw me trying my hand at more night photography, in this case, the fireworks on the 4th.

4th of July fireworks

Even though most of the landscape photos that I shot over the summer weren’t good enough to post in my blog, I continued to plug away at improving my skills.

A summer day on the Muskegon State Park beach

And, with all the time that I’d been putting into improving my bird in flight images, it was time to tackle one of the hardest birds to photograph in flight.

Tree swallow in flight

I also continued to work on my macro photos when time permitted, both insects…

Red milkweed beetle

…and flowers.

Bull thistle up close

August is when I purchased the Canon 5D Mk IV, and I was stunned by the increase in its dynamic range over the crop sensor cameras I had been using.

Hemlock grove

On a scouting trip up north, I put the new 5D to the test, shooting the Milky Way at night (of course).

Manistee River Valley at night

Along with learning to use it for landscapes.

Sunset at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse beach

I spent a day at Lost Lake in Muskegon State Park testing out my newer lenses, my trusty 100 mm macro lens, and a lighting rig that I’m still working on to shoot images of the tiny world around us, both wider shots…

The lone fungi mini-scape

…and close up.

Unidentified purple fungi

With the purchase of the 5D, I could now use one of my 7D bodies for dedicated macro work, rather than one of my older Canon 60D bodies that I had been using.

Goldenrod soldier beetle mating

I think that the results speak for themselves.

All summer long, I noticed that I was slowing down, putting more thought into my photos before I shot them, and that trend has continued.

September was the month when I began putting all the things that I had learned up until then together, and I found that the rate of keepers I was getting each time I went out with the camera was going up, even though I was shooting fewer subjects in any one outing.

Unidentified dragonfly

 

Unidentified orange fungi

 

Male northern cardinal molting

 

Lake Michigan sunset from Duck Lake State Park

 

Purple coneflower

I found that there was almost no learning curve involved when I began using the 5D Mk IV along with the 7D Mk II, they’re both from Canon’s line of professional cameras, and the only real difference is the much higher image quality of the 5D. However, I also found out that what I learned using the 5D was transferable to the 7D most of the time, other than the 5D’s improved low-light performance and higher dynamic range. So, as long as I use the 7D in good light, I see very little loss of image quality when I use it rather than the 5D.

I was hoping for a splendid display of fall colors here in Michigan during the month of October, but it wasn’t to be, due to the weather again. But, I did try my best…

From the high rollway observation deck overlooking the Manistee River

…but finding bright colorful leaves was tough to do this year.

Just to show some color 1

It was on the trip up north where I shot the images above that I learned just how well the new 5D works in low light when I shot this eagle in flight.

Adult bald eagle in flight

I’ve detailed how I got that image and the settings used before, so I won’t repeat myself again. I will say that the 5D has three user saved modes available, and that I have two set for birds in flight under different lighting conditions, one of which I used here. The third one I have set for shooting landscapes, so when a scene such as this one appears, I have to only turn the mode dial to the correct saved mode to shoot such scenes.

Down on the farm at sunrise 1

And, I still use the 7D for action photos.

Eastern bluebird bathing

We had our second gloomiest November on record this year, with more than twice as many days with completely overcast skies than days when we saw any sunshine at all. With the flowers and insects gone for the year, I was left with birds…

Merlin

…and landscapes to photograph.

As the squall approaches

I did make the best of a few hours of sunshine that I had while I was out with my gear.

Two male northern shovelers

In my last regular post I said that I had a growing feeling of contentment as far as my photography is concerned, and that has come from my growing confidence in my gear, and my ability to use it effectively. I think that many of the images in this post show that, especially when I’ve begun shooting subjects that I had never shot in the past. However, that doesn’t mean that I won’t still be trying to improve my images even more as time goes on. And, that means that I’ll still be experimenting, as I did in these next two images from December.

I saw the a stiff wind was blowing freshly fallen snow across the ice at he Muskegon wastewater facility, and tried to get a photo to show that.

Wind blown snow over the ice

I wasn’t happy with the images that I got, so I thought that this would be a good time to add a neutral density filter to the front of the lens so that I could reduce my shutter speed to show more of the snow coming across the ice, and so that it would appear like moving water does in long exposures. I haven’t used the neutral density filters that I have very often, and I still have a lot to learn, as this attempt shows.

Wind blown snow over ice, longer exposure

I think that I had the right idea, but that my execution was bad. In the second photo, the weeds in the foreground aren’t sharp, because they were moving with the wind, just as the snow was. The second one does show more of the snow blowing over the ice, but it took me so long to get set-up, that I missed the best display of what I was trying to capture. I should have stuck around longer, for I’m sure that the amount of snow increased again later, but it was darned cold out there exposed to the wind.

Also, the ND filters that I have are 6 stop reduction of light, which to some one used to trying to get as much light into the camera as possible, seemed like a huge amount of light loss. But, I learned that 6 stops weren’t enough, I could have used a 10 stop ND filter, as 6 stops only got me down to a 1.6 second exposure versus 1/30 of a second without the filter. So, while I consider this experiment a bust, I did learn from it, and that’s what matters.

I’m also learning that I may have to rethink how and when to go about getting the best images of colorful birds in flight images.

Mallards at take off

On a cloudy day, there are no harsh shadows anywhere in that image, and the vivid colors of the mallards show up very well.

More mallards in flight

My mistakes in these images were that I used the 7D, and therefore there’s too much noise in the images, and I had the 400 mm prime lens on the camera because I didn’t expect the mallards to be where they were. If the mallards had been closer, the 400 mm lens would have been okay if I’d been able to get only one of the mallards in the frame, but it’s too long for flock shots.

Of course it takes a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion of the birds and the water drops that are part of the experience of seeing a flock of ducks take off, so the ISO required on a cloudy day would have made the 5D a better camera choice, since it does so much better than the 7D in such circumstances. However, as I’ve noted in the past, the higher frame rate of the 7D helps to get such photos. So, I have made changes in my settings in the 5D in the way that it records the photos to both cards in it, the fast CF card, and the much slower SD card. I have the 5D record RAW images to the CF card, but large JPEG to the SD card, so that the buffer of the camera doesn’t fill as quickly as when I recorded RAW images to both cards.

I haven’t had a chance to put the new settings to the torture test yet, but it should help the 5D’s frame rate enough to make it more suitable for action photography. That’s what it’s all about, learning your gear inside and out to get the best possible images that you can. And, that’s why my confidence in my gear continues to grow as I learn the little tweaks that help me to get the images that I want.

Since I wrote that, I have tested the new settings for how the camera records to both cards, and it does seem to help to speed the 5D up a little.

Also, it has occurred to me that shooting flocks of birds in flight is more similar to landscape photography than shooting a single bird in flight. The focal length of the lens is far more important when shooting flocks of birds. That’s because of how much long focal length lens compress the distances between both the birds and the background, and also because the depth of field increases with shorter lenses versus longer lenses. While I’m tempted to go on at length about that, I won’t, I’ll only add one last image that I recently shot with my 70-200 mm lens.

Canada geese taking off

While I was hoping that more of the thousands of geese present would take flight, this one taught me a good deal more about how to go about getting the shots that I’d like to eventually get.

It’s now officially winter, as of today. From now on, for the next 6 months, the hours of daylight will be getting longer again. We had a few sunny days lately, but never when I had time off from work to shoot any photos. So, I haven’t shot many photos lately, and the ones that I have shot are mostly of eagles. My next post will be another in the My Photo Life List project, but the next real post that I do will be of the eagles in action.

Also, with Christmas coming up in a few days, I will take this opportunity to wish every one a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, which ever you prefer.

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


Common Nighthawk, Chordeiles minor

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Common Nighthawk, Chordeiles minor

The common nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) is a medium-sized  crepuscular or nocturnal bird within the nightjar family, whose presence and identity are best revealed by its vocalization. Typically dark (grey, black and brown), displaying cryptic colouration and intricate patterns, this bird is difficult to spot with the naked eye during the day. Once aerial, with its buoyant but erratic flight, this bird is most conspicuous. The most remarkable feature of this aerial insectivore is its small beak that belies the massiveness of its mouth. Some claim appearance similarities to owls. With its horizontal stance and short legs, the common nighthawk does not travel frequently on the ground, instead preferring to perch horizontally, parallel to branches, on posts, on the ground or on a roof. The males of this species may roost together but the bird is primarily solitary. The common nighthawk shows variability in territory size.

This caprimulguid has a large, flattened head with large eyes; facially it lacks rictal bristles. The common nighthawk has long slender wings that at rest extend beyond a notched tail. There is noticeable barring on the sides and abdomen, also white wing-patches.

The common nighthawk measures 22 to 25 cm (8.7 to 9.8 in) long, displays a wing span of 51 to 61 cm (20 to 24 in) weighs 55 to 98 g (1.9 to 3.5 oz), and has a life span of 4 to 5 years.

The common nighthawk may be found in forests, desert, savannahs, beach and desert scrub, cities, and prairies, at elevations of sea level or below to 3,000 m (9,800 ft). They are one of a handful of birds that are known to inhabit recently burned forests, and then dwindle in numbers as successional growth occurs over the succeeding years or decades. The common nighthawk is drawn into urban built-up areas by insects.

The common nighthawk is the only nighthawk occurring over the majority of northern North America.

Food availability is likely a key factor in determining which and when areas are suitable for habitation. The common nighthawk is not well adapted to survive in poor conditions, specifically low food availability. Therefore, a constant food supply consistent with warmer temperatures is a driving force for migration and ultimately survival.

During migration, common nighthawks may travel 2,500 to 6,800 kilometres (1,600 to 4,200 mi). They migrate by day or night in loose flocks; frequently numbering in the thousands, no visible leader has been observed. The enormous distance travelled between breeding grounds and wintering range is one of the North America’s longer migrations. The northbound journey commences at the end of February and the birds reach destinations as late as mid-June. The southbound migration commences mid-July and reaches a close in early October.

There are no differences between the calls and song of the common nighthawk. The most conspicuous vocalization is a nasal peent or beernt during even flight. Peak vocalizations are reported 30 to 45 minutes after sunset.

A croaking auk auk auk is vocalized by males while in the presence of a female during courtship. Another courtship sound, thought to be made solely by the males, is the boom, created by air rushing through the primaries after a quick downward flex of the wings during a daytime dive.

In defense of their nests, the females make a rasping sound, and males clap their wings together. Strongly territorial males will perform dives against fledglings, females and intruders such as humans or raccoons.

Frequent flyers, the long-winged common nighthawk hunts on the wing for extended periods at high altitudes or in open areas. Crepuscular, flying insects are its preferred food source. The hunt ends as dusk becomes night, and resumes when night becomes dawn. Nighttime feeding (in complete darkness) is rare, even on evenings with a full moon. The bird displays opportunistic feeding tendencies, although it may be able to fine-tune its meal choice in the moments before capture.

Vision is presumed to be the main detection sense; no evidence exists to support or refute the use of echolocation. The birds have been observed to converge on artificial light sources in an effort to forage for insects enticed by the light. The average flight speed of common nighthawks is 23.4 km/h (14.5 mph).

The common nighthawk breeds during the period of mid-March to early October. It most commonly has only one brood per season, however sometimes a second brood is produced. The bird is assumed to breed every year. Reuse of nests by females in subsequent years has been reported. A monogamous pattern has also recently been confirmed.

Courting and mate selection occur partially in flight. The male dives and booms in an effort to garner female attention; the female may be in flight herself or stationary on the ground.

Copulation occurs when the pair settles on the ground together; the male with his rocking body, widespread tail wagging and bulging throat expresses guttural croaking sounds. This display by the male is performed repeatedly until copulation.

The preferred breeding/nesting habitat is in forested regions with expansive rocky outcrops, in clearings, in burned areas or in small patches of sandy gravel. The eggs are not laid in a nest, but on bare rock, gravel, or sometimes a living substrate such as lichen. Least popular are breeding sites in agricultural settings. As displayed in the latter portion of the 20th century, urban breeding is in decline. If urban breeding sites do occur, they are observed on flat gravel rooftops.

It is a solitary nester, putting great distances between itself and other pairs of the same species, but a nest would more commonly occur in closer proximity to other species of birds.

Females choose the nest site and are the primary incubators of the eggs; males will incubate occasionally. Incubation time varies but is approximately 18 days. The female will leave the nest unattended during the evening in order to feed. The male will roost in a neighbouring tree (the spot he chooses changes daily); he guards the nest by diving, hissing, wing-beating or booming at the sites. In the face of predation, common nighthawks do not abandon the nest easily; instead they likely rely on their cryptic colouration to camouflage themselves. If a departure does occur, the females have been noted to fly away, hissing at the intruder or performing a disturbance display.

The eggs are elliptical, strong, and variably coloured with heavy speckling. The common nighthawk lays two 6–7 g (0.21–0.25 oz) eggs per clutch; the eggs are laid over a period of 1 to 2 days. The female alone displays a brood patch.

The chicks may be heard peeping in the hours before they hatch. Once the chicks have broken out of the shells, the removal of the debris is necessary in order to avoid predators. The mother may carry the eggshells to another location or consume a portion of them. Once hatched, the nestlings are active and have their eyes fully or half open; additionally they display a sparing cover of soft down feathers. The chicks are semiprecocial. By day 2, the hatchlings’ bodily mass will double and they will be able to self-propel towards their mother’s call. The young will hiss at an intruder.

The young are fed by regurgitation before sunrise and after sunset. The male parent assists in feeding fledglings and will also feed the female during nesting. No records exist to support a parent’s ability to physically carry a chick.

On their 18th day, the young will make their first flight; by days 25–30, they are flying proficiently. The young are last seen with their parents on day 30. Complete development is shown between their 45–50th day. At day 52, the juvenile will join the flock, potentially migrating. Juvenile birds, in both sexes, are lighter in colour and have a smaller white wing-patch than adult common nighthawks.

Like other members of the caprimulgid clan, the nighthawk’s ground nesting habits endanger eggs and nestlings to predation by ground carnivores, such as skunks, raccoons and opossums. Confirmed predation on adults is restricted to domestic cats, golden eagles and great horned owls. Peregrine falcons have also been confirmed to attack nighthawks as prey, although the one recorded predation attempt was unsuccessful. Other suspected predators are likely to attack them, such as dogs, coyotes, foxes, hawks, American kestrels, owls, crows and ravens and snakes.

 

On to my photos:

These images were shot way back in the spring of 2013, in northeastern Michigan while I was on vacation. I had hoped to get better images, or to catch one perched, but I haven’t been lucky enough to do so.

Common nighthawk

 

Common nighthawk

 

Common nighthawk

 

Common nighthawk

 

Common nighthawk

 

This is number 208 in my photo life list, only 142 to go!

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

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A few hours of sunshine

I’m going to start this post with three slightly different versions of the same scene for two reasons. The first is that I amazed myself by seeing a hint of what was to come, and I waited for it to happen as the sun rose higher in the sky.

A rare sunny morning 1

That image is made from three bracketed images blended together using Photomatix to create the HDR image above. That’s the second reason for posting three versions of the same scene, to show how much dynamic range the 5D Mk IV has, and how different software produces different results.

Here’s another version, which is a single image that I used only Lightroom to produce.

A rare sunny morning 2, not a HDR

Finally, another HDR image that I made using the HDR function in Lightroom.

A rare sunny morning 3

I like all three versions for different reasons, but I think that the last version is the one that comes closest to matching what I saw. The biggest take-away from these three versions is that I can get by with a single image from the 5D if I have to, and also that I need to only bracket my exposure one stop with the 5D rather than the two stops that I used to do when using one of my crop sensor cameras.

It’s probably a lot more important that I saw the first hints of the sun hitting the goldenrod seed heads as I was turning around at the end of a dead-end road and waited until the sun rose high enough to cast its golden light on just a portion of the foreground. I did wait a little longer for the sun to light up more of the foreground, but by then, it had lost the golden glow that you can see in these images.

Before I get to any more photos, I’m going to whine about the weather. We just had our tenth coldest November (temp: -5.4 degrees) ever, and with gloomy skies most of the time. We had just 8.9% of possible sunshine, and 21 of 30 totally overcast days. In addition, snowfall was 7.6″ above average.

To go with the foul weather this past month, Christmas is approaching, and since I work for a company contracted to carry the mail for the US postal service, I’ve been working a few more hours per week because of the heavier volume of mail this time of year. The Christmas rush hasn’t affected my days off, at least not yet, but my days at work have become longer, mostly because the postal service can’t meet its own schedule, and the weather hasn’t helped either.

I have a good number of images that I shot on that one sunny morning before the clouds rolled back in shortly after noon that day, but they are mostly of northern shovelers.

Female northern shoveler

With such good light and the pretty background, I couldn’t resist just shooting away…

Female northern shoveler

…although I couldn’t get a male that was showing his finest plumage in the same light.

Male northern shoveler

When I did find the male that I wanted to shoot, the light wasn’t quite as good, and the background isn’t as good, because the other shovelers are a distraction.

Male northern shoveler

But, that image does show the beautiful markings of the shoveler’s feathers, especially on his flank, along with how his feathers grow on his back, and the hints of color here and there as well.

I also have two images of a small group of shovelers whose nap I interrupted.

Northern shovelers

All those yellow eyes staring at me was kind of creepy.

Northern shovelers

I did get a few poor photos of common redpolls while the sun was out…

Common redpoll

 

Common redpoll

 

Common redpoll

I have other photos left from that sunny day, but this past Friday, I had the chance to watch and photograph over a dozen bald eagles in action, even though weather conditions were poor, and much of the action was really out of the range of my camera gear.

Three bald eagles in flight

Not only was it cloudy that day, with a few sprinkles of rain now and then, it was a bit foggy as well, so you’ll have to forgive the poor quality of these photos.

Bald eagle missing a dead northern shoveler frozen to the ice

I don’t know what killed the shoveler, but it was stuck in the ice, and this eagle wasn’t strong enough to pull the body out of the ice.

Bald eagle missing a dead northern shoveler frozen to the ice

I had been watching the eagles going after what turned out to be the dead shoveler, including a juvenile eagle trying to land on the ice, but breaking through, and giving up on the not so easy meal. Not wanting to fill the buffer of the 7D, I made a mistake right after that last photo. I knew that there were other eagles waiting for their chance to try to pluck the duck from the ice, so I let off not only the shutter release, but the button that activates the auto-focus as well. When the next eagle swooped in…

Bald eagle swooping down to pluck a dead duck from the ice

…the eagle was so low and close to the ice, while being too far away from me for the auto-focus to lock in on it…

Bald eagle swooping down to pluck a dead duck from the ice

…that it took a few frames for the camera to find the eagle.

Bald eagle swooping down to pluck a dead duck from the ice

But, I was able to capture the moment that the eagle grabbed the duck…

Bald eagle plucking a dead duck from the ice

…and a few more frames before I did fill the buffer…

Bald eagle plucking a dead duck from the ice

…and the auto-focus did eventually lock onto the eagle, even if a little late.

Bald eagle plucking a dead duck from the ice

Of course I wish that the eagle had been closer, the weather better, and that the eagle had been coming towards me rather than going away from me, but at least I achieved one goal in this series, capturing an eagle in flight grabbing its next meal, even if that meal was a dead duck rather than a fish or other prey.

I should also note that this series was better suited to my last post about pushing the limits of my photography gear, as these photos would have been impossible for me to capture just a few years ago. And, I hope now that I have “broken the ice” in getting this series, that I’ll get chances for better images in the future. I did learn from this experience, and that’s what matters.

Now then, back to the photos that I shot on the sunny morning, even though most of them are of northern shovelers.

Male northern shoveler in flight

I used to have the silly notion that there was such a thing as the perfect image of a single species of bird, I have given up on that idea.

Male northern shoveler

Instead, I’ve learned that there are opportunities for great images no matter what angle they’re shot from, especially if there’s any action taking place in the image.

Male northern shoveler

I like the frozen water drops in that image, along with the details in the feathers on the shoveler’s back…

Male northern shoveler

…while this one was showing off more of his colors.

This female swam so close to me that I had to photograph her…

Female northern shoveler

…and attempt to show the comb like projections (called lamellae) along the edge of her bill. You can almost see them in this cropped in image.

Female northern shoveler

Here are the rest of the photos I shot that day.

Ring-billed gull grabbing lunch

Shooting gulls in action has been great practice that I put to use to catch the eagle in action earlier in this post.

An early morning bald eagle

 

The ice continues to grow

 

Ice patterns

I haven’t been doing any long hikes this fall, but even on my short hikes, I’ve been testing the idea of carrying only one camera, the 100-400 mm lens, and the 24-70 mm lens to attempt to cover all my needs while lugging less gear with me all the time. The 24-70 mm lens has a near macro function…

Lichen

…but sometimes I fail miserably when I use it…

Fungi

…while other times, it seems to perform well. Other than that, I’ve found that carrying just that limited amount of gear works out well enough for my needs unless I’m after specific types of images, such as landscapes. Then, I carry more of my lenses, and if I know that I’ll be shooting mostly macros, then I bring the 100 mm macro lens along with the 24-70 mm lens.

Oriental bittersweet on a sunny day

A bit of color is always nice this time of year, even if it is the terribly invasive oriental bittersweet. Actually, Brian Johnson has eliminated most of it at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, but he has done so slowly over time, as he is doing with other invasive species of plants. We talked about that recently, and he could go around and cut the vines of the oriental bittersweet where ever it appears, but he doesn’t want to remove all of it at once, since the birds there have come to depend on it for food. He keeps whittling it back, and letting other food sources grow to take its place before he kills off more of it.

Another view of the oriental bittersweet berries

So in a few more years, there won’t be any of it left there at the MLNP.

Well, that’s it as far as photos shot in the sun for a while, I still have several day’s worth of photos shot in poor conditions, most of which I’ll probably not bother to post here. That’s because they’re not very good, and also because they are of the same species of birds that I’ve been featuring lately.

I should note that a few snowy owls have been showing up around the area, I saw two recently, but didn’t bother to shoot any photos of them. They were way out on the ice too far away for a good photo, and the zoo that follows them around has already formed as soon as they were first reported in the area. It’s kind of funny in a way, on the day when I was watching the eagles, several people stopped to ask if I was watching a snowy owl, or if I had seen any. One of those times, I replied that I was watching the flock of eagles out on the ice, the people who stopped to ask about the owls hadn’t even noticed a dozen bald eagles in the flock. I probably should have shot a photo of all twelve of them together, but I was actually after snow buntings at the time, and not in position to shoot the eagles together at the time. It was at that point when all twelve eagles took flight for some reason, breaking up the flock into smaller ones. I never did get the shot of a snow bunting that I was after either.

Anyway, since many of the photos that I have saved, and those that I’ll shoot this weekend will all be very similar due to the weather, my next post will likely be one of the ones that I have saved for the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on.

Also, I think that my next regular post will be one looking back over this past year, since it’s getting to be about that time of year. I need to point out one last thing in this post, as I began thinking about a year in review post and I looked back at a few of my recent images, a new feeling came over me, one of contentment, I’m very happy with the gear that I have now, and how much my skill level has increased of late. I no longer worry whether or not I’ll be able to capture things that I see, but now I know that I will get the shots I want eventually. For example, I shot this today…

Bald eagles courting

…still too far away, but you can see the lovebirds doing a little bonding in preparation for the coming year.

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