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

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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