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

Archive for March, 2019

I’m back, but for how long

Note:

I had started this post with the title “I’m back and fully recharged” thinking that is how I would feel by now, but that isn’t the case. I still like the idea of sharing some of the photos that I shoot if they’re particularly good, or show some form of animal behavior that I and other may find interesting. However, I’m not sure at this time if I want to reengage in the grind of blogging on any sort of schedule. There are many reasons for this, which I’ll explain in detail in a future post, but for now, this will have to do.

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Okay, I’ve on my blogging break, but I thought that as I went along, I’d jot down a few notes along the way.

My first note is that on January 26th, I noticed that it’s staying light a little later in the afternoon, which cheered me up a little.

However, that was just before the first of what maybe many brutal cold snaps hit the area. As I type this, the temperature is -9 F (-23 C) and we may finally get back above zero tomorrow. It was a miserable week for work, with almost constant lake effect snow creating very slippery roads and close to zero visibility at times. In addition, the trucks and trailers often didn’t handle the cold very well either, I’m really glad that this week is over with.

As bad as it’s been in Michigan, the surrounding states have been even colder, because they don’t have the wind coming over Lake Michigan to warm the air at all, but at least they’ve seen some sunshine in the cold, and haven’t seen the snow that we’ve gotten. I’m not sure if ten to fifteen degrees warmer is worth all the snow that’s fallen here in Michigan this past week though.

We’re forecast to get a shot of warm air above freezing next week, but that will probably mean fog from the melting of the snowpack on the ground, and limited visibility again, I hope not.

Needless to say, I’m not going out in this weather to shoot any photos, which is a shame in a way, as there are some beautiful scenes to be photographed because of the snow and cold. But, I’ve had enough of dealing with driving in the snow and working in the cold, I’m staying home catching up inside where it’s warm.

Well, another week has come and gone. Yes, it has warmed up, and that brought the fog that I was worried about, creating difficult driving conditions for work this past week. We also had an ice storm, with almost an inch of freezing rain falling in the area where I live. Once again, it created some beautiful scenes that would have been worth shooting photos of, but I was working during that time frame. I would have loved to have been able to go around at night, capturing how pretty the trees and other things covered in ice were if I hadn’t been working at the time.

Before I forget, during the cold snap last week, a pipe froze in my apartment again, sending water into my kitchen and dining area again. I was lucky this time, I was home when the water started leaking, so I was able to call maintenance before any real damage, other than to the drywall, was done. It’s one of my days off from work as I type this, and I’m waiting for the drywall repair people to show up to repair the damage. I don’t have to be here while they work, but I may as well stay home, as there’s a miserably cold rain falling outside today.

I do have some good news, my request for the second week of October off for my vacation has been approved, so I hope to return to Michigan’s upper peninsula to shoot the scenery there while the leaves on the trees are in full fall color at the time. I’m really looking forward to that!

Another week, and another foot of snow, we’re over 5 feet of snow for this winter now. This coming week looks cold, but calm for a change, with only a little snow, that will be a welcome change. Truth is, I try to forget what the weather has been like since I began my break from blogging, as driving through heavy snow every night for work has been taking a lot out of me. Along with that, we went another 7 days straight with 0% of possible sunshine, yuck!

Despite a less than ideal weather forecast yesterday, I did venture out to Muskegon just so that I wouldn’t get too rusty when it comes to taking photos. It did warm up yesterday, but the rain and fog that had been predicted held off, and I even saw a few minutes of sunshine. It was a welcome sight to say the least, but my eyes reacted to sunshine like a mole’s eyes would, and I had trouble seeing well in the brightness of the day. Even though it was hard to get around due to deep snow, I did shoot a few photos, nothing special, but it was good to get out with a camera again.

I’m going to put two of the photos that I shot in this post, not that they are very good, but for other reasons. I like this one of mallards taking off because it shows how the male closest to the camera is pushing off from the water as he explodes into flight.

Mallards taking flight

Look at that leg extension, I had no idea that their legs were so long.

I’m also including this one, just because it reminds me of what an almost sunny day looks like, and because it reminds me of everything that I need to do in order to shoot even a so-so landscape photo.

Just an almost sunny day for a few moments

I know that there’s plenty of wintry weather left to deal with, but it was nice to get outside on a warmer day when my fingers didn’t stiffen from the cold as soon as they were exposed to the air outside. And, it was really nice to see a little sunshine, even if it did last for only a few minutes.

Today, we’re back to clouds, occasional light snow, and a biting wind, so I’m back to hibernation again.

Well, another week has gone by, and we’re getting closer to spring. You wouldn’t know that if you looked outside here where I live though, but at least we didn’t receive much snow and we even had a bit of sunshine this past week.

Both to get ready for spring, and to use up a gift card from B&H Photo before it expired, I purchased several small items that will make my life easier as far as carrying and using my camera gear.

One of the items was a quick release strap system so that I can quickly and easily remove the strap from the camera during times when the strap isn’t needed. This will come in handy user a couple of different circumstances. One is when I’m birding from inside my car, such as most of the time at the Muskegon County wastewater facility. I keep two camera/lens set-ups on the passenger seat as I look for birds, one set to shoot portraits, the other to shoot action scenes. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve grabbed one of the cameras, only to have the camera strap get tangled around the shift lever, the parking park handle, or something else in the vehicle, causing me to miss shots. Now, I can remove the strap while I’m moving, and when I exit my car, I can quickly re-attach the strap for carrying the camera.

Another circumstance when the removable strap will come in handy is when shooting landscapes on windy days when I have the camera mounted on my tripod. Having the strap blowing around in the wind has caused camera shake in the past, so I usually end up trying the strap to the tripod once I’m getting ready to take a shot. Now, as I’m moving around looking for the best place to set-up the tripod, I’ll have the strap attached to hold the camera as I set the tripod up, and once the camera is mounted on the tripod, rather than tie the strap up, I can simply remove it.

In my last real post, I explained that I had added a quick release system to the macro lighting rig I came up with, and that it works quite well. Similarly, I’ve purchased an Acra-Swiss compatible clamp and attached it to a Manfrotto quick release plate so that I can use my long lenses which have the Acra-Swiss plates attached for use on my gimbal head equipped tripod on my Manfrotto tripod that I use for landscapes. I could explain why different tripod heads work better for some subjects than others, and how the adaptor that I came up with works, but that would be boring.

What all of this week’s update is all about is that I’m content with the gear that I have now, and that I’m refining how it all works together.

Well, another week, another miserable week as far as work is concerned. It included snow almost every night, the worst night was that of the big blizzard of 2019, the worst conditions that I’ve run into as a truck driver. I’m not even going to describe how bad conditions were, because I just want to forget that night and move on.

The forecast for this coming week isn’t much better, with near record cold predicted, but hopefully it will begin to warm up after that.

The good news is that last Friday was the nicest day of the year so far, and I took advantage of that to get out and enjoy it while shooting a few photos. The day started out frosty, but few of the images that I shot during that timeframe are worth posting, so this is the only one that I’m including.

Frosty start

Later, I noticed a few large snow drifts, and shot photos from various angles and distances, and I settled on this one as the best of the lot.

Snow wave breaking

I was astonished by how much slight changes in the composition of the scenes dramatically changed how good the images appeared to me, changing by only a few feet made far more difference that I thought that it would. That’s something that I’m constantly reminded of when shooting landscapes, a genre of photography that needs more work on my part. But at least I did try different angles and compositions for a change, to get at least one good image.

I saw only one or two eagles at most, I guess that the time has come for the flock that had spent the winter there at the Muskegon County wastewater facility to break up, and move to their respective home territories, despite the fact that there’s still plenty of winter left. The breeding adults I can understand moving already, as it’s the time of the year for them to rebuild their nests, and begin laying eggs soon. I’m not sure why all the juveniles also left, maybe it’s so that they have time to stake out territories of their own.

I did find a few snow buntings, and once again, I tried to get an excellent image of one, but I failed.

Snow bunting

It’s frustrating in some ways, funny in others, how much time and effort that I put into getting exactly the shot that I want when it comes to certain species of birds, or other subjects, but those images never come to fruition.

On the other hand I guess that I’m lucky when it comes to other subjects.

Snowy owl

That was shot with the 400 mm lens on the 7D Mk II body, because I thought that the owl was about to take off. I spent well over an hour with that owl, working my way a little closer from time to time, and I did get this image.

Snowy owl yawning

And of course, I shot plenty of other images of the snowy as well, here’s two more.

Snowy owl

By the way, these were shot with the 100-400 mm lens, 2X tele-converter, on the 5D Mk IV and cropped only a little.

Snowy owl

I still haven’t gotten “perfect” images of a snowy yet, but I do pretty darned good, if I do say so myself. It helps that this one wasn’t squinting in the sunshine all the time like most of them do.

Well, it’s now the month of March, and not much has changed, it’s still cold and snowy here. In fact, we came close to setting records for how cold it was this past week. However, I can’t stand being cooped up inside, so I ventured out on a horrible day for photography last week.

I think that a few birds are beginning to return north for the summer despite the cold, and they were a sight for sore eyes even if the light was horrible.

Redhead duck

I like these next two despite the poor light, I wish that I could get the ducks to space themselves out like in these when the light is better.

Redhead ducks taking flight

Maybe someday.

Redhead ducks taking flight

Also, from the bad photos of interesting bird behavior files, I have these.

Bluebird hacking up undigested seeds from berries

When I saw the bluebird open its mouth, I kept my finger down on the shutter release.

Bluebird hacking up undigested seeds from berries

I thought that it may be going to sing, but I was wrong.

Bluebird hacking up undigested seeds from berries

Many species of predator birds swallow their prey whole, then hack up the indigestible parts of the prey in the form of pellets, I didn’t know that songbirds did the same thing when it comes to the seeds inside berries that the swallow whole.

Bluebird hacking up undigested seeds from berries

But this series of photos show that they do, and the bluebird acted as if it wanted me to know that by depositing the seeds on the branch in front of it.

Bluebird hacking up undigested seeds from berries

It’s kind of gross in reality.

Bluebird hacking up undigested seeds from berries

But there you have it.

Bluebird hacking up undigested seeds from berries

It was one of those days when all color seemed to be sucked out of everything, and I tried to capture that in this image.

Bright red fishing shanty on a grey day

Yes, it’s still so cold around here that ice fishermen are still out on a lake as large as Muskegon Lake is. I wish that I had found a composition that showed the bright red of the fishing shanty better, but that was the best of all the attempts I tried.

A quick stop at the Muskegon State Park beach produced this image.

The light at the Muskegon Lake channel covered in ice

From there, I went to Duck Lake State Park to shoot these.

Ice volcano

That’s a “dormant” ice volcano, when the wind is strong enough, it blows the lake water up under the ice, which rises to accommodate the added water. Eventually, the weight of the ice is enough, it falls again, pushing the water up through these ice volcanos. One of the days I’ll have to shoot a video of it as it happens, it was too calm on this day.

These next two are simply the best that I could come up with as far a landscape images this day. Nothing special, just practice.

Duck Creek entering Lake Michigan

 

Just a tree

I’m hoping that it gets above freezing tomorrow, with some sun, which would be very welcome!

Woo hoo! It looks as if spring is finally arriving here in west Michigan! It may not look that way though from the photos that I shot last week, but it was the nicest day of the year so far up until then, and we’ve had several even nicer days since. I shot more snow and ice photos than birds…

American tree sparrow

…and even this “bird” photo was more about the sun on the ice than the gulls.

Gulls on ice

Scenes like this next one won’t be seen around here until next winter…

Snow drift

…I hope, but that applies to most of the photos from last week.

Ice build up near Muskegon

 

Ice on the Muskegon channel light

I went from Muskegon State Park north to Duck Lake State Park to shoot the rest of the images from the day.

This ice formation looked to me like a giant sea turtle trying to pull itself out of the icy water of Lake Michigan.

Ice on Lake Michigan at Duck Lake State Park

So, as I looked around for other interesting ice formations, I shot the “turtle” from many angles.

Ice on Lake Michigan at Duck Lake State Park

I also tried a few black and white images.

Ice on Lake Michigan at Duck Lake State Park

 

Ice on a piece of driftwood

But mostly, I shot the ice turtle on such a great day.

Ice on Lake Michigan at Duck Lake State Park

 

Ice on Lake Michigan at Duck Lake State Park

 

Ice on Lake Michigan at Duck Lake State Park

 

Ice on Lake Michigan at Duck Lake State Park

 

Ice bauble

 

Ice on Lake Michigan at Duck Lake State Park

With the bright sunshine, no wind to speak of, and warmer temperatures, it was the first day this year when it felt pleasant to be outside.

By the way, we’ve had almost as many minutes of sunshine the past week as we had all winter long going back to the first of November of last year, it was most welcome, believe me.

It won’t be as nice today when I go out to shoot photos, as there’ll be intermittent rain showers and possibly a thunderstorm or two moving through the area. In fact, it will be a wet, sloppy mess today, but the temperature will be warm enough to go without a parka or even a jacket if it gets as warm as the forecast says it will be. Plus, many species of birds have begun to arrive as they’re anticipating spring as well, and it will be great to see and hear them again after such a long, drawn out winter as this one has been.

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve added anything to this post, for the reason in the note at the start of this post. This one is too long already, so as I said earlier, I’ll explain my current feelings on blogging in my next post.

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

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Greater White-fronted Goose, Anser albifrons

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.

  

Greater White-fronted Goose, Anser albifrons

The greater white-fronted goose (Anser albifrons) is a species of goose related to the smaller lesser white-fronted goose (A. erythropus). It is named for the patch of white feathers bordering the base of its bill, in fact albifrons comes from the Latin albus “white” and frons “forehead “. In Europe it has been known as the “white-fronted goose”; in North America it is known as the greater white-fronted goose (or “greater whitefront”), and this name is also increasingly adopted internationally. Even more distinctive are the salt-and-pepper markings on the breast of adult birds, which is why the goose is colloquially called the “specklebelly” in North America.

Greater white-fronted geese are 64–81 cm (25–32 in) in length, have a 130–165 cm (51–65 in) wingspan and weigh 1.93–3.31 kg (4.3–7.3 lb). They have bright orange legs and mouse-coloured upper wing-coverts. They are smaller than greylag geese. As well as being larger than the lesser white-fronted goose, the greater white-fronted goose lacks the yellow eye-ring of that species, and the white facial blaze does not extend upwards so far as in lesser.

The male is typical larger in size, both sexes are similar in appearance—greyish brown birds with light grey breasts dappled with dark brown to black blotches and bars. Both males and females also have a pinkish bill and orange legs and feet.

Greater white-fronted geese make a variation of sounds, but notably the most recognizable is the high pitched cackle that can be imitated by the sounds “he-he.” There is a distinct breaking of the note from the first cackle to the second.

The North American midcontinent birds of the subspecies A. a. gambeli – which in 2010 had a fall population of about 710,000 birds – breeds from the Alaska North Slope across the western and central Canadian Arctic. The Pacific white-fronted goose of the American Pacific coast, which in 2010 numbered approximately 650,000 birds, and the tule geese, which are estimated to number 10,000 birds, nest in western Alaska. The midcontinent geese gather in early fall on the prairies of western Saskatchewan and eastern Alberta, spending several weeks feeding before heading to wintering areas near the Gulf of Mexico, into northern Mexico. The Pacific birds migrate south down the Pacific coast, staging primarily in the Klamath Basin of southern Oregon and northern California and wintering, eventually, in California’s Central Valley. The tule goose is somewhat rare and has been since the latter half of the 19th century, presumably it was affected by destruction of its wintering habitat due to human settlement.

In the British Isles, two races overwinter: Greenland birds in Scotland and Ireland, and Russian birds in England and Wales. They gather on farmland at favoured traditional sites, with a famous flock gathering at WWT Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, England. Greenland birds also overwinter in Ireland and from late September and through the winter months, Ireland is home to almost 50% of the Greenland population of white-fronted geese.

Weather conditions are a key factor in the annual breeding success of white-fronted geese. In the Arctic, the window of opportunity for nesting, incubating eggs, and raising a brood to flight state is open briefly, for about three months. Arriving in late May or early June, white-fronted geese begin departing for fall staging areas in early September. This means that a delayed snowmelt or late spring storm can significantly reduce the birds’ reproductive success.

 

On to my photos:

These photos were shot a few years ago at the Muskegon County wastewater facility.

 

Greater White-fronted Goose, Anser albifrons with Canada geese

 

Greater White-fronted Goose, Anser albifrons with Canada geese and mallards

 

Greater White-fronted Goose, Anser albifrons with Canada geese

 

Greater White-fronted Goose, Anser albifrons with Canada geese

 

 

This is number 215 in my photo life list, only 135 to go!

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

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Northern Shrike, Lanius excubitor

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.

  

Northern Shrike, Lanius excubitor

The northern shrike (Lanius borealis) is a large songbird species in the shrike family (Laniidae) native to North America and Siberia.

In North America, this and the related loggerhead shrike are commonly known as butcherbirds for their habit of impaling prey on thorns or spikes. A folk name from Michigan is winter butcherbird.

The northern shrike can be distinguished from the loggerhead shrike by its larger size, lighter grey plumage and shorter black face mask that doesn’t cover the eyes completely. It also has a longer bill with more prominent hook. Their calls are similar.

Northern shrikes often sit on tall poles and branches surveying for food. They prey on arthropods such as spiders, beetles, bugs, and grasshoppers, and small vertebrates. Prey identified include passerine birds such as horned lark, black-capped chickadee, common starling, brewer’s sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, dark-eyed junco, pine siskin, house sparrow, small mammals such as the vagrant shrew, western harvest mouse, deer mouse, long-tailed vole, meadow vole and house mouse, and reptiles such as spiny lizards. They have been observed hunting finches and house sparrows at bird feeders.

Northern shrike breed in taiga and at the border of taiga and tundra, in open country with medium or tall trees or shrubs. Winters in open country with tall perches, including shrubby fields, wetlands, and forest edges.

Their nests are large, bulky cup of twigs and roots, woven through with feathers and hair. Compact inner lining made of grasses, small feathers, and hair. Placed in trees and shrubs.

 

 

On to my photos:

These photos were shot over the course of the past few winters, as winter is the only time of year this species is found in my part of Michigan.

 

Northern Shrike, Lanius excubitor

 

Northern Shrike, Lanius excubitor

 

Northern Shrike, Lanius excubitor

 

Northern Shrike, Lanius excubitor

 

Northern Shrike, Lanius excubitor

 

Northern Shrike, Lanius excubitor

 

This is number 214 in my photo life list, only 136 to go!

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

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Hairy Woodpecker, Picoides villosus

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.

  

Hairy Woodpecker, Picoides villosus

The hairy woodpecker (Leuconotopicus villosus) is a medium-sized woodpecker, averaging approximately 250 mm (9.8 in) in length with a 380 mm (15 in) wingspan. With an estimated population in 2003 of over nine million individuals, the hairy woodpecker is listed by the IUCN as a species of least concern in North America.

The hairy woodpecker inhabits mature deciduous forests in the Bahamas, Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Puerto Rico, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Turks and Caicos Islands, and the United States. Mating pairs will excavate a hole in a tree, where they will lay, on average, four white eggs.

Adults are mainly black on the upper parts and wings, with a white or pale back and white spotting on the wings; the throat and belly vary from white to sooty brown, depending on subspecies. There is a white bar above and one below the eye. They have a black tail with white outer feathers. Adult males have a red patch or two side-by-side patches on the back of the head; juvenile males have red or rarely orange-red on the crown.

The hairy woodpecker measures from 18–26 cm (7.1–10.2 in) in length, 33–43 cm (13–17 in) in wingspan and 40–95 g (1.4–3.4 oz) in weight. It is virtually identical in plumage to the smaller downy woodpecker. The downy has a shorter bill relative to the size of its head, which is, other than size and voice, the best way to distinguish them in the field. These two species are not closely related, however, and are likely to be separated in different genera. Another way to tell the two species apart is the lack of spots on its white tail feathers (present in the downy). Their outward similarity is a spectacular example of convergent evolution. As to the reason for this convergence, only tentative hypotheses have been advanced; in any case, because of the considerable size difference, ecological competition between the two species is slight.

These birds are mostly permanent residents. Birds in the extreme north may migrate further south; birds in mountainous areas may move to lower elevations.

These birds forage on trees, often turning over bark or excavating to uncover insects. They mainly eat insects, but also fruits, berries and nuts, as well as sometimes tree sap. They are a natural predator of the European corn borer, a moth that costs the US agriculture industry more than $1 billion annually in crop losses and population control. They are also known to peck at wooden window frames and wood-sided homes that may house prey.

 

 

On to my photos:

These photos were shot over a number of years in various locations. I chose these because they show the length of the bird’s bill quite well, which is the easiest way to differentiate this species from the much smaller downy woodpeckers.

Hairy woodpecker

 

Hairy woodpecker

 

Hairy woodpecker

 

Hairy woodpecker

 

Hairy woodpecker

 

Hairy woodpecker

 

Hairy woodpecker

 

 

This is number 213 in my photo life list, only 137 to go!

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

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