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

Archive for April, 2019

Maybe not so far between

Well, how should I begin this post?

I suppose that I could begin by saying that as of the middle of April, I know that my work schedule is going to change before the middle of May, but I’m not sure what my new schedule will be or when it will begin exactly.

As far as the weather, it’s been a rough month, just last weekend as I type this, I had to drive through another major snowstorm that dumped up to 8 inches of snow along the route that I drive for work. My first day off from work this week was a total washout, it rained most of the day. Yesterday turned out nice after a cloudy, cool, wet start to the day, and I managed a few images worth posting.

As I’ve said, it takes time to get a good image most of the time, but luck and being observant also has their place in the mix. As I was driving from the Muskegon County wastewater facility to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, I noticed a loon in a small park that’s built into the median of a major road where the road crosses the Muskegon River. I returned, hoping for a good shot of the loon, but this was the best I could do because of the lighting.

Common loon

 

Although it’s not very good, it’s still one of my better images of a loon. But, I hoped that if I hung around the area for a while, that I’d be able to do better. It was while I was standing behind a tree to stay out of the loon’s sight that I noticed these.

White pelicans in flight during breeding season

I was lucky that they flew into an area where the light was better, and that they turned back towards me slightly as I changed my camera setting from trying to do portraits of the loon to the saved bird in flight settings of the 5D Mk IV.

However, I didn’t do so well with the loon, so there’s no reason to put any more of the images of it that I shot in this post.

After I gave up on the loon, I went to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and near the entrance, I ran into a huge flock of yellow-rumped warblers. Here are my two best images that I got.

Yellow-rumped warbler Myrtle subspecies

One reason that I’m including these is that they show the differences in coloration between the two subspecies that are most common in Michigan.

Yellow-rumped warbler, Audubon subspecies

The other reason that I’m showing these is that something dawned on me as I watched these and the kinglets, which will come later.

With as many of the butter butts as there was in this flock, I kept kicking myself because of the poor quality of most of the photos of them that I shot. However, they never sit still for more than a few seconds, making it tough to get a clear view of them, acquire a focus lock on them, and squeeze the shutter release before they flit away again.

I have no idea how many of the yellow-rumped warblers were in this flock, it had to have been several dozen at least. A few almost struck me as I stood there trying to shoot photos of them. That’s when it dawned on me, evolution drives these small birds to behave the way that they do, only the fastest of them gets the food when they travel in flocks the way that they do.

I watched as two or more of them would dart out of the brush to catch insects that flew past them, and of course, only one of them would successfully catch the insect. Nature rewards the quickest among the flock as they compete for food.

It was the same with the kinglets, which I’ll get to shortly, only the quickest individuals were able to catch insects flying in their area, the slow birds went hungry, or had to work harder to find food in other ways.

It also doesn’t help that in the flocks of both species, the dominant males were also busy chasing other males away when one of the other males got too close.

Since I mentioned the kinglets, specifically, ruby-crowned kinglets this time, I spent over two hours shooting photos of them, while also observing their behavior. This is the best image of the day, technically, it was cropped only slightly.

Ruby-crowned kinglet

I stood in one very small area near a willow tree as dozens of these little guys…

Male ruby-crowned kinglet

…and gals searched of insects. Only the males display the reddish-orange feathers on the top of their heads that give this species their name. Also, the males only show those feathers…

Male ruby-crowned kinglet

…when there’s another male nearby. I saw several of the males give the full display of the red feathers, but the only photos I got of them were as they either were hiding them again, or just starting to display the feathers as they prepared to chase the other male away.

Male ruby-crowned kinglet

Okay, you’re probably tired of these already, but here’s two more photos that show how quick this species can move. I was using the 5D Mk IV set to low-speed continuous shooting, which is five frames per second. I caught one of the kinglets…

Ruby-crowned kinglet

… with the next frame being this, shot as quickly as the 5D recycles to shoot at 5 frames per second.

Ruby-crowned kinglet

In the split second between frames, the kinglet had almost completed its turn. I had plenty of images of empty branches from my time spent trying to photograph them as even more proof of how quickly they move, along with olive-green blurs in other photos as they flew away between shots fired in a series.

Now, back to my observations of these two large flocks of small birds. As I said, the fastest of the flock were the individuals most likely to catch flying insects, so you’d think that traveling in smaller flocks would be better for the survival of the species. However, that many eyes looking for predators is an advantage to the flock, meaning more of the flock survives. Also, I can’t prove it, but it appeared to me that the frenetic behavior of as many of these small birds as were in the flocks actually caused some insects to take flight, making the insects easier for members of the flock to detect. I think that at least twice, when a dominant male chased another male, another member of the flock flew up to catch an insect that had been spooked from hiding by the males chasing each other.

It makes sense, now that I’ve thought about it, that many birds hoping up and down branches and flitting about must scare some of the prey insects into taking flight, revealing themselves to the birds that may have otherwise not seen the insects where they were hiding. It’s as if the birds are beating the brush to drive their prey out into the open.

I lucked out with the warblers and kinglets, I didn’t have to move around much because the flocks of each stayed in one small area much longer than I’ve seen before. That allowed my desire to get the best possible photo to work in conjunction with my desire to spend more time observing nature. While I wasn’t able to get the images that I wanted, I was able to spend more time observing the members of the flock that were out of camera range, so I consider the day a success.  I’m hoping that the way things went that day sets the tone for how I do things from now on. Slow down, work to get the best image possible that day, and learn from watching as I’m doing so.

Now then, my last series of images, maybe.

Male sandhill crane strutting his stuff

Good light, with just enough shadows under each layer of feathers to highlight the separation between the feathers, helps make this one a keeper. I wish that I had been a little closer, but because there’s nothing close to the crane directly behind it, the crane really stands out from the water behind it.

I got even lower for this next one, but that may have been a mistake.

Pairs of both sandhill cranes and Canada geese

I included this one because both cranes were calling at the same time, and to show how large they are when compared to the Canada geese in the foreground. However, because I got down even lower than in the first image, now the houses more than a mile away across Muskegon Lake become a distraction in the image.

This last in the series is to show how the cranes use their long beaks to probe for food.

Sandhill cranes

I have decided to add a few more photos to this post after all. Here’s a hermit thrush eating sumac drupes…

Hermit thrush

…so I can add this species to the list of species that I’ve seen eating them…

Hermit thrush

…and I added these to pass on a tip that I’ve learned, mostly on my own.

One thing that I’ve heard over and over again is to protect the highlights when shooting photos. In most cases, and in other genres of photography, that’s good advice. But in wildlife photography, when the subject is against an extremely bright background, forget the highlights, get the subject exposed correctly. As soon as I saw the thrush where it was, I went up plus 2 on my exposure compensation because of how bright the cloudy sky with the sun almost directly behind the thrush was. Yes, the highlights, the sky, are blown out, even after trying to recover them in Lightroom the best that I could, but otherwise, the hermit thrush would have been a black silhouette and you wouldn’t have been able to tell what species of bird it was, or make out the fact that it was eating the sumac drupes.

These next two images are of species common to me and appear often in my blog, but a good image is a good image.

Female mute swan

I know that this next bird is a female, because I saw her working on her nest. She’s built her nest under the boardwalk at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve for at least three years that I can recall, so she’s at least that old, and it was like seeing an old friend again. She’s appeared in my blog more than a few times over those three years.

Female eastern phoebe

When I shot these next three photos, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever use them or not, but I’ve decided that the subject may be interesting to some people. In other parts of the country, and the world for that matter, you see photos of how they clear the roads of massive amounts of snow. In some areas along Lake Michigan, blowing sand becomes more of a problem than snow.

Clearing sand from the parking lot of Muskegon State Park

The sand is then trucked back to the beach…

Clearing sand from the parking lot of Muskegon State Park

…where a bulldozer spreads the sand out to rebuild the beach.

Rebuilding the beach at Muskegon State Park

It’s a sure sign of spring when they clear the roads and parking lots at several of Michigan’s state parks of the sand that has covered them over the winter.

Since I’ve already gone overboard in this post, I may as well add this experimental photo as well.

Willow flowers

In the past, I would have tried to get all three of the flower clusters in focus, and I would have failed. This time, I tried to use the limited depth of field at close range to add some depth to the image so that it looks more three-dimensional. You can see the progression of the flower clusters, even though the two clusters in the background are out of focus, while the most advanced of the clusters is in focus. And, because of the angle that I shot this image at, along with the shape of the prominent cluster, I do think that the experiment worked, that this image doesn’t look flat. My composition could have been better, but in my defense, I was chasing the flowers around while there were wind gusts above 30 MPH that day.

I’ve never tried to use depth of field and what’s in focus versus what’s out of focus to create depth in an image before, that’s something that I’ve learned from watching videos where the experts critique photos sent in by viewers. I suppose that selective focus is the reason that I like the photo of the male kinglet perched on the chain link fence that’s above this, the out of focus fencing closer and farther away from the kinglet help to give that photo some depth.

I didn’t mean for this post to be this long, but that’s how it goes sometimes. I also hope that I’ve gotten my settings correct to allow comments to my blog once again.

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

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Fewer and farther between

First of all, I hope that I have gotten the settings correct in WordPress for this post, I thought that I had for my last one, but it didn’t allow any comments, sorry.

While I was taking a break from blogging, it occurred to me that my blog had become very boring, and hardly worth the effort it took to continue putting out new posts that were essentially the same posts over and over again. I’ve been going to the same few places, shooting the same few species of birds for the past couple of years. The only thing that changed from post to post were my thoughts on photography and photo gear, which most people find boring.

One of the reasons that I kept returning to the same locations every week is that those locations give me the best chance of shooting enough photos to fill a blog post during my two days off from work each week, rather taking a chance that I would miss doing a post now and then as I learned a new location.

In addition, trying to shoot enough photos to fill a post quickly often put me at odds with one of my goals, getting the best possible photos that I can. That became very clear to me a few times during my break from posting, as I would be sitting somewhere in hopes of getting a great photo instead of rushing from place to place, shooting a wider variety of fair photos as I typically do. That became very clear to me a few weeks ago as I sat waiting for a pileated woodpecker to move to a place where I had a clear view of him in excellent light, instead of settling for a shot through the branches that were between myself and the woodpecker. If he had moved just a few feet higher on the tree he was investigating, I would have gotten my very best image of that species to this date. But as I sat there, the thought that I was wasting such good light by waiting kept repeating itself in my head the entire time, so I gave up waiting and moved on, which was probably a mistake.

Also, trying to shoot enough photos in one or two days to fill a post has been taking the enjoyment out of simply sitting and observing the nature around me. Since I’ve been on my blogging break, I have spent more time sitting and observing instead of rushing around trying to shoot more photos. This photo came about because I was just sitting and waiting.

Bufflehead ducks coming in for a landing

If you’re feeling a bit down and need something to cheer you up, there’s few things better than watching bufflehead in action. They look to be completely out of control as they land as they use their wings and feet to steer, and once on the water, the show often continues.

Two male bufflehead fighting

I wasn’t able to photograph any of the antics of the males’ courtship displays, but I have in the past, and that is quite humorous also, but video would be a much better way to show that than still photos. However, still photos work fine when capturing a bufflehead on take off.

Bufflehead taking off

 

Bufflehead taking off

 

Bufflehead taking off

 

This seems like the place to switch over to some of the boring photography talk, as just as when I upgraded from the Canon 60D to the 7D Mk II and found that what I learned using the 7D improved the images that I shot with the 60D, what I learn using the 5D Mk IV is helping the images that I shoot with the 7D.

A pair of bufflehead

I was using the 7D because I thought that the bufflehead would take flight, and the 7D is still better for action photos than the slower 5D Mk IV. But, they didn’t take off, instead, I got my best photo to date that shows the beautiful colors of the male bufflehead’s head. However, I can still do better if I can get closer, use the 5D Mk IV, and get the light exactly right.

When it comes to photography, I’m still watching an occasional review of the newest gear coming on the market, not that I’m interesting in upgrading any of my gear now, but to stay current and to have an idea of what’s coming in the next few years.

I have taken to watching videos where the “experts” critique the images sent in by viewers, and I’m finding them helpful in my being able to improve my images. I put experts in quotes because not every one who does such videos is a true expert on the types of photography that I do most. A great example of that is Jared Polin (Fro Knows Photos) because he doesn’t shoot wildlife or landscapes. He does occasionally review those types of images, and he states up front that they are outside of his expertise, but I still find his comments and suggestions helpful. A good image from any genre is a good image, and learning how to better tweak my images in Lightroom is helpful, no matter which genre of image is being tweaked.

I find it very helpful to see so many more images shot by others than I would otherwise see, unless I was able to join and attend the meetings of the local camera club to get feedback on my images. I’m thinking that later this year, after I have my leftover medical bill paid, of taking a one on one session offered by the local camera store that includes feedback on my images along with pointers on how to improve my images.

I know that it’s mostly that I need to put more time into each image, although not always. I spent close to an hour to get these next two images, using my macro lens, an extension tube, and my homemade macro lighting rig.

Alder catkin blooming

 

Alder catkin blooming

It didn’t take me as long to get this…

Pussy willow

…but it did take me a few tries before I got that one. I wish that I could have found a better background, but I did the best that I could.

So, it’s been another week since I worked on this post as I’ve been working out how to say what I want to say in fewer words than I typically use.

Not only do I want to change the way that I blog, I want to change the way that I approach shooting photos for my blog, and for that matter, the subject matter to some degree.

My posts were getting to be all the same, and I’m tired of posting crappy photos just so that I can say that I saw a certain species of bird while I was out.

Common loon

Even if I get a technically good photo of a species…

Golden-crowned kinglet

…doesn’t mean that it was a good image of that species…

Golden-crowned kinglet

…when one shot under poor conditions showed the bird’s markings better.

Getting better images is going to require more time along with shooting more photos to sort through until I finally get the images that I desire.

I also want to take the time to photograph different aspects of nature photography, such as this image.

Moving water abstract

I suppose that you could add these to that list as well.

White pine at night in the rain

 

White pine at night in the rain

What it all boils down to is that I’d like to get more creative by shooting differently than I do now.

Mute swans

If only I had been a few seconds quicker as the swans swam under the bridge I was standing on.

I could continue to shoot and post images like this…

Common grackle

…but I’d rather shoot images like this if I could get into a better position so that I wasn’t shooting through a small opening in the brush between myself and the grackle.

Common grackle taking a bath

I’d like to have the time to document changes as well, even if these aren’t nature photos.

The Cobb power plant near Muskegon, Michigan, from June 2018

You can see the progress that’s been made in tearing down this old coal-fired power plant in the past year.

The Cobb power plant near Muskegon, Michigan from April 2019

But never fear, when I get good images of a bird, even a species that’s common and that I’ve posted many photos of, when I catch one singing its spring song…

Black-capped chickadee singing

…I’ll still post a photo…

Black-capped chickadee singing

…or more…

Eastern meadowlark singing

 

American robin singing

…because hearing the birds sing brings me a great deal of joy.

And, when I get better images of a species…

Brown creeper

…I’ll post them as well.

Brown creeper

Two last thoughts before I end this.

My work schedule will be changing in the next month, I have no idea what my schedule will be yet. I won’t know my hours or day(s) off until it’s my turn to bid on the runs left after the higher seniority drivers have bid on the runs the company that I work for has.

My other thought is that I’d like to add a fish eye lens to my kit someday. The earlier photos of the white pine at night weren’t quite what I wanted because my 16-35 mm lens isn’t wide enough to get the effect that I was going for in the way that the branches spread out from the trunk of the tree. I think that the addition of a true fish eye lens will work well for nature photography for close-ups of flowers and other similar subjects.

The lens I have in mind will focus down to 6 inches from the sensor plane. meaning that the front element of the lens can almost touch the subject and still get it in focus. A fish eye lens does distort reality, but it would also allow me to get more creative in my shots of flowers, fungi, and lichens, due to the extreme depth of field that comes with such a lens. I tested the lens that I have in mind out in the local camera store, and I can control how much it distorts reality by using Lightroom to control the distortion. Who knows, ultra-wide nature images may end up being the niche that I’m looking for.

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