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

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…


…but sometimes I fail miserably when I use it…


…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!

19 responses

  1. Great shots of the birds in flight!


    December 10, 2018 at 6:15 am

  2. I loved the photograph of the ice patterns, well spotted.


    December 9, 2018 at 7:02 am

    • Thanks Susan! Sorry to hear of your injury, I wish you a full and speedy recovery!


      December 9, 2018 at 5:51 pm

  3. Marvelous captures, I love the tight group of Northern Shovelers, the colors and their eyes make for a beautiful shot!


    December 8, 2018 at 7:05 pm

    • Thank you Donna! It took a view tries to get the correct focus point so that as many of the shovelers appeared to be in focus even with the lens stopped down, but it was worth the effort.

      Liked by 1 person

      December 9, 2018 at 7:44 am

  4. I like the first sunrise, mostly because the sky is just a little bit darker.
    I love the shots of the ducks but especially when they were grouped together. What strange eyes!
    The fungi are split gills. You might have been surprised if you had looked at their undersides, but that’s not an easy shot unless you pick one.
    Unfortunately simply cutting bittersweet doesn’t kill it. In fact it makes it even bushier, with more seeds for the birds to plant. Digging it up by the roots or spraying with weedkiller are the only ways I know of.
    I’m glad you got to see at least a little sunshine!


    December 8, 2018 at 5:46 pm

    • Thanks Allen! If it hadn’t been so dark that day, or if I had brought my flash, the fungi were high enough that I could have gotten a shot of their bottom.

      I didn’t go into detail, but what ever Brian is doing to the oriental bittersweet is working, the north half of the preserve is free of it, and what’s left on the south half is getting to be less each year. I don’t think that he digs it up though, I never see him with digging tools of any kind. I do remember that he told me that if you don’t let it grow leaves, the roots will die eventually from lack of food produced normally in the leaves.

      The sunshine, what little of it there was, was very welcome, as it allowed me to get the best images of the last month.

      Liked by 1 person

      December 9, 2018 at 8:23 am

  5. I agree with Iletty that we readers have been very happy with your photos for a long time. It is good that you are feeling happier too but don’t get too happy as we selfishly want you to be driven to ever greater heights of achievement.

    I loved the two mass duck shots for the vibrant colours.


    December 8, 2018 at 4:50 pm

    • Thanks Tom! I’ll still try to improve the images that I shoot, but I’m content in the fact that getting good photos is no longer hit or miss, I usually get at least a good shot now when I press the shutter button.


      December 9, 2018 at 7:23 am

  6. How lovely that you are feeling happier with your photos..all your followers have been thrilled with them forever! Even though the weather for you has been horrid you have taken some stunning photos. I love all the photos of the shovelers as you can see all their details very clearly and the photo of the group with their yellow eyes staring is indeed spooky! The series of photos showing the eagles swooping down to capture the duck were very interesting. Is getting frozen in the ice a regular occurrence? Good to end on a ‘courtship’ photo shows that spring isn’t too many months away…ever the optimist!


    December 8, 2018 at 3:20 pm

    • Thanks Marianne!I should have explained how I’m feeling now better. I’ll still work to improve my images even more, but I’m content in my ability to capture what I see well enough for me to consider it to be good enough, for now. That includes the photos that you picked out for special mention in your comment, I would have gotten them as good as they are a year or two ago.

      The duck that the eagles were after didn’t die from being frozen in the ice, it died, then the ice built up around it. There were an estimated 7,000 shovelers there at the height of the migration, and at least that many of other species if you combined them together. There’s always a few that die, of old age, wounds from hunters, disease, and other reasons. So a dead one now and then can be expected.

      It won’t seem like it at times, but spring is closer than we think. Female eagles are often incubating eggs in the nest while there’s still snow falling, some as early as February, so the first signs of courtship now is to be expected as well.


      December 9, 2018 at 7:20 am

  7. Wonderful photos–thanks for sharing!


    December 7, 2018 at 8:13 pm

  8. i like the first sunrise shot the most of the three. and the first 3 duck shots too. well done over all


    December 7, 2018 at 7:36 pm

  9. Bravo for these wonderful photos, especially those of the Northern Shovelers, and the Bald Eagles. With your new gear, it is amazing what a little bit of sun can for you. I think you will enjoy photography even more, and we your readers look forward to benefiting from that.


    December 7, 2018 at 7:34 pm

    • Thank you Hien! I won’t see very much sunlight until next spring, but it no longer matters that much to me. I’m not shooting as many photos lately, but I’m having much more fun, because I’m no longer struggling with my equipment, I size up a scene, set the camera, and shoot, and I normally get the shot that I wanted these days.


      December 7, 2018 at 9:26 pm