Welcome 2019, but time for a break
Well, so far January has been a little milder than an average year here in West Michigan, however, sunshine has been as rare as ever so far this winter. I’m also having difficulty in finding birds other than eagles to photograph, and I’m not entirely sure of why that’s the case. Some of the reasons are that I’m no longer shooting photos of birds that are really out of camera range, in dreadful light, or that refuse to pose for me. Also, I’ve made what for me is a huge investment in very good cameras and lenses, so I’ve been extra cautious with that gear to protect it all from the winter weather. I’m thinking of purchasing a good quality point and shoot camera that I can carry in a pocket to take with me while walking through the woods. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to afford one until next winter though, since my purchases of the Canon 5D Mk IV and the 24-70 mm lens have left my bank account drained.
I am, however, shooting plenty of images of eagles in action, which I’ll get to in a while here. First, I’m going to start with an image that I shot at sunset on one of the few sunny days that I can remember so far in the new year.
I started with that one because it fits the header of my blog better than this version of the scene…
…which I much prefer over the first version.
By the way, besides purchasing the full frame 5D Mk IV and the two wide-angle lenses that were upgrades over the crop sensor versions I used to use, I’ve also purchased a new backpack to hold all of my full frame gear, along with another holster bag that’s large enough to accept any of my camera bodies with the battery grips and tripod quick release plates attached to the cameras.
One of my 60D bodies was slightly damaged while I had it in the old backpack, and I didn’t want the same to happen to any of my newer gear. I searched long and hard to find the right bags for me this time, and I found ones that I really love. The backpack holds any of my cameras comfortably and safely, along with my lenses and other accessories needed. It’s also very convenient to access whatever body and lens combination that I choose to carry in the top of the backpack, it stands up on its own, and I only have to partially unzip the bag to get to the second set-up. If I need an item stored lower in the bag, all I have to do is lay the bag on its back and unzip the rest of it. It also has dividers that have padding on both sides of a rigid center so the backpack is much more resistant to being crushed and my gear damaged than the one that I use for my crop sensor gear.
The holster bag is large enough to comfortably and easily hold a second body with an attached lens, and a second lens if needed, or my flash unit and other accessories for the flash if I’m planning on shooting macro images. It is also stronger than the holster bag that I had been using, along with being large enough to hold the camera bodies that I use now with all the accessories attached to the bodies.
Toward the end of last summer, or possibly early fall, I showed a photo of a rig that I came up with to hold my flash unit in place while shooting macros.
At the time that I shot that photo, I had to remove the tripod quick release plate from the camera body that I wanted to use the lighting rig on, then screw the rig to the camera body. That was a pain to do each time, so I purchased a quick release clamp that’s the same as on the head of my tripod, so now, I can quickly clamp the lighting rig to any of my camera bodies I choose to use, then just as quickly, remove the lighting rig from the body to shoot normally.
That has worked so well, that I’m planning on coming up with a similar set-up that will allow me to use any of my camera and lens combinations on both of the tripod heads that I use.
But, rather than bore every one with what I have in mind, I have an announcement to make.
I think that it’s time for me to take a break from blogging for a while again. Over the years, I have taken several such breaks for several months each time, and they do me a world of good as far as content and motivation for continuing to blog.
There are several reasons why I’m choosing now as the time for a break, the weather and the lack of subjects to photograph, along with my computer.
First the weather and lack of subjects to photograph. It’s turned extremely cold here in Michigan, so cold that schools have been closing due to the wind chill on some days. I love the camera gear that I have now, and don’t want to risk damaging any of it by exposing it to cold that is well below Canon’s recommendations as far as temperature. Then, there’s the almost constant lake effect cloud cover that comes with the cold. We have one grey overcast dreary day after another when the weather pattern sets up as it is now, along with copious amounts of lake effect snow that makes driving a difficult task. I have to put up with it for work, I’d rather not have to do the same on my days off from work. And, I’d rather not go back to shooting poor photos just to fill my blog posts with after I’ve worked so hard to improve my skills to the level where I’m at now.
I’m also having trouble finding birds other than eagles to photograph, which I said earlier. I should include gulls and crows along with eagles, but frankly, I have enough photos of gulls already, the same with crows. For over a month, I’ve had trouble finding even the most common of smaller birds such as chickadees and cardinals to try to photograph, and I’m not sure why that is. I’ve gone to my favorite spots for smaller birds and not seen so much as a feather during this time, and I’ve seldom even heard a bird in the distance.
Then, there’s the situation with my computer, which is an iMac. About two weeks ago I decided that it was time for me to update the operating system to “Mohave”, Apple’s latest and supposedly greatest. When the upgrade was finally installed, it was like starting with a brand new computer, most of my settings had reverted back to the default settings. The upgrade also caused Keychain, the Apple app that stores passwords and the like so that you don’t have to remember them every time you sign on to a web site to have been emptied, so I had to go to every web site that requires a password and sign in as from scratch, then store those passwords in Keychain once again.
Fortunately, I save all my passwords in a text file, so that task wasn’t too bad, but then another problem popped up. I found that my Email was going to all different folders than the way that I had the system set-up to handle incoming Emails, they were going everywhere with no rhyme or reason to which folder they were going to. It took me a while to track them all down, and send them to the correct folders. I guess that’s what I get for trying to be organized.
Then, once I had all the Emails in their proper folders, another problem popped up, this one has to do with WordPress and my ability to comment on or like posts from other bloggers. This seems to be based on the themes that other bloggers use, there are some WordPress sites that I have not been able to successfully log into at all since I did the OS update. For other WordPress sites, I have to log in both to leave a comment and then log in again to like the post, and even then, the system doesn’t always work as it should. I could go on, but I’ll sum it up by saying that it’s been a mess.
Oh, and one other thing, since I did the upgrade, neither Lightroom or Photomatix work quite as they should, and they will not work together at all the way that they used to. This means that processing the few photos that I’ve shot lately has taken much more time than it should have. This is really problematic for me, as I’m using the standalone version of Lightroom which is no longer supported by Adobe. I doubt if Adobe will upgrade the version of Lightroom that I use, they want to push every one into their subscription version that requires a monthly fee to use.
I was planning on switching over the subscription version eventually, probably later this year, but it looks as if I’m going to be forced to do so ahead of my schedule. That version is affordable, but it was an expense that I was trying to put off until I had the entire hospital bill from two years ago paid off before I made the switch. I only have a few more payments to make, so the end is in sight as far as that bill is concerned, and by taking a break from blogging for a while, it will be helpful to my wallet as well.
Anyway, time for a few photos, these were all shot last week, when there was a rare sunny (for the most part) day.
This series shows an adult eagle chasing a juvenile…
…and the gyrations that the eagles can make in flight.
These next two show how cold and windy it’s been lately, cold enough for the ice to get quite thick, and windy enough that waves were able to break the ice up and throw it on shore.
These two show a small part of the flock of gulls that soar over the landfill looking for scraps of food to eat.
At least there was some sun before the lake effect clouds rolled back in. However, not even the 5D Mk IV captured the colors in the sky the way that I hoped that it would.
Going back to the day when I shot the sunset seen earlier, I shot these photos.
I think that I made the most out of what little sun we’ve had around here.
Since this will be my last post for a while, I may as well throw in a few more photos.
Okay, I think that’s enough for now, in fact, enough until I return from this short break in my blogging. Not only has the weather taken a turn for the worse, with bitterly cold temperatures forecast for over a week, but this will also give me time to catch up with other things in my life that I’ve been putting off.
I should be back to blogging on a regular basis again towards the end of March, at least I hope that it warms up by then. In the meantime, I’ll do a few more posts of individual species of birds in the My Photo Life List project, but I won’t publicize them, and they will be posted with no comments or likes allowed. Those posts have never been very popular anyway, so I doubt if any one will miss them or the ability to comment on them.
Oh, one more thing, I doubt if I will be commenting on other people’s post for the time being either, at least until there are software updates that allow me to do so without the hassles that I’m facing when I try now. Sorry!
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
In a comment discussion with Allen, who writes the New Hampshire Garden Solutions blog, he made a remark that really stuck with me, he doesn’t know why, but lichens seem happy in the winter. And since there’s a lack of other subjects to photograph in Michigan this time of year, I’ve been spending time shooting some of the lichens that I’ve found.
I can’t identify any of these, sorry to say, but I can appreciate seeing their beautiful colors when the rest of the area is decidedly lacking in color.
For those that don’t know what lichen are, here’s a snippet from Wikipedia…A lichen is a composite organism that arises from algae or cyanobacteria living among filaments of multiple fungi in a mutualistic relationship. The combined lichen has properties different from those of its component organisms. Lichens come in many colors, sizes, and forms. The properties are sometimes plant-like, but lichens are not plants. Lichens may have tiny, leafless branches (fruticose), flat leaf-like structures (foliose), flakes that lie on the surface like peeling paint (crustose), a powder-like appearance (leprose), or other growth forms. Or to put it another way…”Lichens are fungi that have discovered agriculture” —Trevor Goward.
The curious somewhat scientific side of me finds lichens interesting to say the least, but the more often that I get really close to them…
…I often wonder if I’m seeing two versions of the same lichen…
…or many different species growing together…
…and I wonder just how many species there are…
….and how to identify them without a science lab with me…
…or watching the same specimen over time to be able to tell what is going on…
…but I also enjoy seeing the other things that grow with lichens, such as mosses…
…and the closer that I look…
…the more species I find. Looking at this white spot on the bark of a maple tree, what I thought was discolored bark was actually very tiny lichens which gave the tree bark a brown appearance from a distance…
….yet is more of a burnt orange color up close…
…and then I wondered if these are two species competing for the same spot…
…or just what is going on in that last photo.
A pleasant thing about getting set-up for the macro photos so far is that I found other subjects than just lichens to shoot…
But still I wonder, just what it is that I’m seeing in photos such as this one?
The same applies to this one as well, just what is going on here?
I assume that the base “structure” is a fungus, but what about the transition areas that show up as green?
Is this an algae growing on top of an existing fungus?
Even as close as I could get with my macro lens, I can’t tell what it is that I’m seeing.
If it is an algae growing on a fungus, is this the way that lichens first develop?
To make things even harder, is this a mold growing on a lichen?
Or another species of lichen competing for space, or has the photosynthesis stopped in the white parts of the fungi, causing it to lose its green color?
No matter what I was seeing as far as the different forms of life, it was nice to see a color other than brown this time of year as I shot these macro photos.
Still more things to ponder, has something such as a mouse or squirrel eaten the ends of this lichen, or is this something else, possibly related to reproduction?
I’m more familiar with this type of lichen fruiting body, called apothecia.
I got distracted by the brighter colors in this shot…
…I was going for a closer photo of the apothecia…
…and tying to get as close to them as my macro lens is capable of…
…I cropped this one a little to get as close as I could.
One last look at a lichen.
So that this entire post isn’t only lichen, I have a few landscape images to use up.
These next two show how snow and sand blow around equally this time of year.
We get some snow, the wind blows sand over the snow, then it snows again, and the process repeats for most of the winter.
Crepuscular rays are a sight often seen in association with our lake effect clouds during the winter, so I’m trying to learn how to get them to stand out more in my photos.
I suppose that I should throw in one photo of a bird as well. After all the gloomy skies, I thought that this one would be a good choice.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
Blackpoll Warbler, Setophaga striata
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.
Blackpoll Warbler, Setophaga striata
The blackpoll warbler (Setophaga striata) is a New World warbler. Breeding males are mostly black and white. They have a prominent black cap, white cheeks and white wing bars. The blackpoll breeds in forests of northern North America, from Alaska, through most of Canada, the Great Lakes region and New England. They are a common migrant through much of North America. Come fall, they fly South to the Greater Antilles and the Northeastern coasts of South America in a non-stop long-distance migration over open water, averaging 2500 km, one of the longest distance non-stop overwater flights ever recorded for a migratory songbird. Rare vagrants to western Europe, they are one of the more frequent transatlantic passerine wanderers.
The blackpoll warbler is a fairly small bird which attains the weight of a ball point pen. However, it is one of the larger of the diverse genus Setophaga (formerly Dendroica). In the species, body length can vary from 12.5 to 15 cm (4.9 to 5.9 in) and wingspan can range from 20 to 25 cm (7.9 to 9.8 in). Body mass can vary from 9.7 to 21 g (0.34 to 0.74 oz), with an average bird anywhere between 12 and 15 g (0.42 and 0.53 oz). Among standard measurements, the wing chord is 6.6 to 8 cm (2.6 to 3.1 in), the tail is 4.5 to 5.4 cm (1.8 to 2.1 in), the bill is 0.8 to 1.2 cm (0.31 to 0.47 in) and the tarsus is 1.8 to 2 cm (0.71 to 0.79 in). The summer male blackpoll warblers have dark-streaked brown backs, white faces and black crowns. Their underparts are white with black streaks, and they display two white wing bars. The adult females essentially resemble washed-out versions of the summer males, and in particular, the females lack the strong head patterns, and their crowns and faces are shades of gray. Another outstanding physical characteristic of the species are the bright orange, pink legs.
Non-breeding birds of this species have greenish heads, dark-streaked greenish upperparts and yellowish breasts, with the yellow extending to the belly in young birds. Their wing bars are always present.
In the southern portion of their breeding range, blackpoll warblers can be found on the higher elevations of mountains in woodland or brushy areas. They also spend their summers on the wooded coastal islands of Maine and the Maritime Provinces. Farther north they have been reported throughout the boreal coniferous forest. Blackpolls breed nearer to the tundra than any other warbler.
Although fairly large for a warbler, blackpoll warblers are fairly easy to miss because of their relatively inactive foraging style and tendency to perch in dense foliage near the canopy of the trees. They are more often heard than seen, though their song is one of the highest pitched known. Their songs are simple repetitions of high tsi notes.
The blackpoll has a deliberate feeding style with occasional flitting, hovering and hawking around branches. They are primarily insectivorous. The species appears to be quite a generalist, preying on a great diversity of adult and larval insects and spiders. Documented insect prey for the species includes lice, locusts, cankerworms, mosquitoes, webworms, ants, termites, gnats, aphids and sawflies. It has been suggested that this species may be a spruce budworm specialist, but there is no obvious connection between population trends of the two species. The blackpoll will opt for berries in migration and during winter. They often forage high in trees, and sometimes catch insects while in flight.
Their breeding habitats are coniferous woodlands, especially those in which spruce trees grow. The bird’s breeding ranges extend to the taiga. Blackpoll warblers commonly nest in a relatively low site of a conifer. They lay 3–5 eggs in a cup-shaped nest, rarely up to 9. The eggs are incubated for around 12 days and the young leave the nest when they are only 10 days old, before they can fly well. Their parents feed them for a total of around two weeks. Mated females usually begin second nests right away and leave post-fledging parental duties to their mates. The high incidence of double brooding, coupled with and partly a function of low nest predation and parasitism rates, results in high annual productivity for this species.
The blackpoll warbler’s transoceanic flight has been the subject of over twenty-five scientific studies. Sources of data include radar observations, bird banding and weights taken, dead birds recovered from field sites and fatal obstacles. It is unknown if they feed on insects while in flight. Blackpoll warblers have the longest migration of any species of New World warbler. This is likely the reason that they are one of the later warblers to appear in spring migration, after one or more short overwater flights and a relatively prolonged movement overland after through North America anytime from early May to mid-June. The peak of their migration is in late May, when most warblers are on their breeding grounds.
In the fall the birds migrate from their breeding grounds across the northern latitudes. They converge on the Northeastern United States south to Virginia starting in mid-August. Most blackpolls fly directly from northeastern North America over the Atlantic Ocean to their winter range. Data from nocturnal accidents, banding stations and sightings have shown that blackpolls are rare autumn migrants south of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, whereas north of Cape Hatteras they are common. Part of the fall migratory route of the blackpoll warbler is over the Atlantic Ocean from the northeastern United States to Puerto Rico, the Lesser Antilles, or northern South America. Island stopovers at Bermuda and other places are evidence of migratory pathways. To accomplish this flight, the blackpoll warbler nearly doubles its body mass in staging areas and takes advantage of a shift in prevailing wind direction to direct it to its destination. When they fly southward over the Atlantic they burn, 0.08 g of fat every hour. This route averages 3,000 km (1,900 mi) over water, requiring a potentially nonstop flight of around 72 to 88 hours. They travel at a speed of about 27 mph (43 km/h). Blackpolls can weigh more than 20 g (0.71 oz) when they leave the United States and lose 4 or more grams by the time they reach South America. Some of the blackpolls land in Bermuda before going on. Some birds, often with lower body weights, do not make it.
Using a tiny light level geolocator biologists have proven that the black poll flies an average of 2540 km (2270 to 2770 km) non-stop over an average of 62 h, up to 3 days, corresponding to about 41 km/h. In 2013, 37 blackpolls from Vermont and Nova Scotia carried a miniaturized geolocator weighing 0.5 g with harness on their back. The device recorded light-levels, from which longitudes and latitudes could be estimated, and in 2014 the scientists recovered five of the original 37. Four of the five birds departed from western Nova Scotia between September 25 and October 21, and traveled at speeds between 10.7 and 13.4 meters per second. The study revealed that the spring migration overland and the autumn routes overwater were “dramatically different”. When the flight distance per body mass was compared to other birds, only the ruby-throated hummingbird might travel more kilometres per gram (estimated around 210–280 km/g vs. 233 km/g for blackpolls).
On to my photos:
These images were shot in the spring of 2018.
This is number 210 in my photo life list, only 140 to go!
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
Eagles in action
It’s winter here in West Michigan, and it’s been a blah type of winter so far. It’s been cold and cloudy most of the time, but we haven’t had very much snow so far this year. It’s been cold enough that many of the smaller bodies of water have frozen over, so most of the waterfowl have flown south for the winter. It’s been getting tougher to find subjects to photograph with every passing week, mostly due to the weather.
One constant for over a month has been the large number of bald eagles hanging out in the vicinity of the Muskegon County wastewater facility and the adjacent county landfill. At one point, I counted 13 bald eagles in view at one time, although they were scattered across the frozen surface of the storage lagoon at the wastewater facility. Bald eagles aren’t fussy about what they eat or where they find their food, they’ll scavenge the landfill just as the gulls and crows do. They also are able to pick off an occasional gull or one of the few remaining waterfowl, along with small mammals and other sources of food.
The photos in this post will all be of eagles that I’ve shot the past two months, and many of them aren’t very good, but they do show eagle behavior that many people never get the chance to see. I’m going to start with one of the better images that I’ve shot lately.
Of course it was a juvenile eagle, although this image of an adult is pretty good also.
And, it’s been relatively easy to get two eagles in the frame at once, as in this adult gliding past a juvenile perched on the ice.
When the eagles first showed up, I was shooting them no matter how far away from me they were, and no matter how poor the weather was at the time. I’m going to include this series because it shows a juvenile eagle challenging an adult, even though they were too far away from me, and there was a huge flock of Canada geese between myself and the eagles. But, this shows both the eagles in action, and the large number of geese that remain around here.
I should have known that a week or two later I’d be able to shoot two other eagles going at it a little closer to me.
I can’t say for sure that it was intentional, but it looked as if the eagle that had been perched filled its talons with ice and snow…
…and dropped it on the other eagle’s tail.
These “battles” seem to be all posturing, with no actual physical contact between the two combatants.
By the way, if it matters, all of these were shot with the Canon 7D Mk II and the 400 mm f/5.6 prime lens because of the 7D’s higher frame rate so that I could capture the action takin place.
Now then, on the other end of the behavior scale, I caught the two resident eagles doing a little early season courting. I can tell that they are the resident pair, because the male’s head looks flat and small compared to most eagles, I’ve seen them often enough to recognize the male. And, I can tell that they were courting by their behavior. That includes “billing”, that is they touch their bills together, and them calling to one another as you’ll see here.
I was hoping that when first one of them flew off…
…followed closely by the second one…
…that I’d be able to witness and photograph them mating which is done while they are airborne with their talons locked together in a downward spiral, but that wasn’t to be the case. By the way, eagles mate for life, so this pair was renewing their vows for the upcoming year.
Again if it matters, that last series was shot with the 5D Mk IV, the 100-400 mm lens, and 1.4 X tele-converter because of how dreary it was that day, and because the eagle’s courting action was much slower than when they are fighting or flying. I also used that same set-up for these.
I switched to the 2X tele-converter for added reach for these two, which shows an adult bald eagle with its kill, an unlucky fox squirrel that wasn’t paying enough attention to the dangers lurking above it.
In deciding which photos to include, along with how many of each action sequence, I also asked myself if I should wait until I shoot better ones in better light and when the eagles are closer to me. I’m reasonably certain that I’ll get better images in the future, but I also have to remember that many people who look at my blog have never seen a bald eagle in person, let alone the behaviors that I managed to capture, even if the photos are poor.
I suppose that it’s one of the good things about blogging, if or when I do get better images of the same types of behavior, I can simply do another post using them. I only hope that I don’t bore the readers of my blog too much as I practice for the big day when I get the chance to shoot the images that I’d really like to post.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!