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

Birds

A hungry bird is an easy bird

While I was sitting at the Muskegon County wastewater facility looking over the flocks of various species of birds in view, I noticed this Merlin land quite near to my vehicle, and of course I had to photograph it.

Merlin

After I had identified the other species of birds nearby, I continued on my way, eventually circling back around to almost the same spot where I had seen the merlin before.

Merlin

That image was cropped a little, for one thing, the merlin was feeding on what remained of a duck that I’m guessing was killed by a larger predator, and I didn’t want any one to be put off seeing the blood and meat from what remained of the duck. However, here’s the full image, and you’ve been warned, so if you’re squeamish, scroll past this one quickly.

The reason that the merlin didn’t fly away was that it was hungry and didn’t want to give up its meal. I would have also stayed further away to allow it to eat in peace, but that was on the center dike where’s there’s only a single track running the length of it, with little room to turn around. So, I had to make a choice, drive past the merlin to continue on my way, or risk damaging my vehicle on the rocks on the edges of the dike. I assumed that the merlin would fly a short distance away, then return after I had passed, but stayed put instead.

Those images go with some that I had shot the previous day at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, at the bird feeders near the outdoor classroom. One of the volunteers was using a large riding lawn mower to blow the leaves off from the paved trails there intended for cyclists, because wet leaves on pavement are very slippery and could lead to a cyclist wiping out, getting injured, and suing the group that operates the preserve. However, the sounds of the tractor and leaf blower were keeping all the birds at bay along the trails, the only quiet spot in the preserve was near the bird feeding station. I was also lucky that the volunteer clearing the leaves from the trails had also filled the feeders before they had begun the leaf removal.

While the overwhelming majority of the photos of birds I shoot are birds that I find “in the wild”, I have on rare occasions sat near the feeding station at the preserve to photograph birds as they approach the feeders, like this cardinal.

Male northern cardinal

However, he wouldn’t raise his crest to show his full beauty until he was on the feeder.

Male northern cardinal

I shot a series of him cracking open sunflower seeds…

Male northern cardinal

…to get at the meat inside…

Male northern cardinal

…but still photos don’t do justice to how the birds manipulate the seeds with their tongues as they remove the outer husks of the seeds. I suppose that the way birds eat shouldn’t surprise me, humans do the same thing as far as moving food in our mouths as we eat, still, I find watching birds in action fascinates me.

Also, shooting at the feeders provided me with another series of photos as well. In my last post, I noted that blue jays have a specialized pouch in their throats to hold food to be stored for later. Many people don’t know that, which is why many people think of blue jays as gluttons, they’ll land on a feeder and seemingly swallow large numbers of seeds quickly, but they’re not actually eating the seeds then…

Blue jay gathering a seed to eat later

…you can tell that this blue jay was filling its gular pouch with seeds, hulls and all, and later, in a safer setting, it did what other birds do…

Blue jay breaking open a sunflower seed to eat the meat

…break the sunflower seed open to get to the meat inside. While other birds will grab one seed to eat in a safer location…

White-breasted nuthatch

…the gular pouch that the blue jays have is similar to the large cheeks of a chipmunk…

Eastern chipmunk looking for dropped seeds

…which the chipmunks use to carry food to be stored for later.

I missed the nuthatch eating the seed that it carried away, but I did catch it cleaning its beak after eating the seed…

White-Breasted nuthatch cleaning its beak

…by rubbing it on the branch it was perched on. Then, after a quick look around…

White-Breasted nuthatch

…to make sure it was safe, and deciding where it was going to go next, it was off.

White-Breasted nuthatch

By the way, the chipmunk reminds me that once again, I failed to get photos of all three species of squirrels native to Michigan in one day, not that chipmunks are squirrels, but they are closely related. I did get red squirrels…

Red squirrel

 

Red squirrel

…and both color variations of grey squirrels…

Grey squirrel, black morph

 

Grey squirrel, grey morph

…but I wasn’t able to find a fox squirrel to get all of our squirrel species in one day. I did shoot this one just to test the dynamic range of my camera…

Grey squirrel, black morph

…because I thought that the black squirrel on the nearly white feeder would be a good test, and it was. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have shot that photo.

I know that I shouldn’t, but I can’t help bragging about the 5D Mk IV camera body and its dynamic range compared to the crop sensor 7D that I’ve been using. It doesn’t matter if it’s the black squirrel on the light feeder, a landscape…

From the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

…or birds in flight in a snowstorm…

Northern shoveler in flight in a snowstorm

…the 5D is so much better than what I’m used to, and while I’m not looking forward to winter, I know that my photos will be much better this winter than in past years because of how much better the 5D is.

Anyway, changing gears, in my last post I promised a few photos from the north campground at Muskegon State Park, and here they are.

Autumn in Muskegon State Park 1

 

Autumn in Muskegon State Park 2

 

Autumn in Muskegon State Park 3

I like the way that I got the color in this one…

Autumn in Muskegon State Park 4

…however, I like the overall composition in this version of the same scene…

Autumn in Muskegon State Park 5

…so I included both versions.

Speaking of different versions, that brings up something else. Later in the evening, after shooting the photos above, I caught the sunset at Duck Lake State park.

But as I was waiting for the sun to set, I shot this image as a rain squall approached from the north.

As the squall approaches

There wasn’t much of a gap in the clouds to let the sun shine through at the horizon, but it looked like it would be a good sunset to photograph.

Sunset at Duck Lake State Park wide 1

But, even at 70 mm with the 24-70 mm lens, my field of view was too wide, so I switched to my 70-200 mm lens for this one.

Sunset at Duck Lake State Park telephoto 1

That’s an older lens in Canon’s line up, and it shows in that photo because I got lens flare in it. Going back to the much newer 24-70 mm lens, which has much better coatings on the lens elements to prevent such flares, I was able to shoot this one with no lens flare.

Sunset at Duck Lake State Park wide 2

However, while that one is okay, I really wanted to zoom in tighter on the sunset, so I went back to the 70-200 mm lens for the final shot of the evening.

Sunset at Duck Lake State Park telephoto 2

You can see that the lens flare was even worse, and ruined what could have been an excellent image of the sunset. I love the effect that light from the setting sun has on the dune grass, how it takes on the appearance of a spider web, something that I’ve captured in the past when the opportunity has presented itself.

I thought that I was done purchasing big-ticket photography gear such as lenses and cameras, but it looks as if that is a never-ending fact of life. This almost had to happen, as Canon has just announced their third version of their 70-200 mm f/2.8 IS lens that has much better coatings on the lens elements that virtually eliminate lens flare, along with improving color and contrast when shooting subjects with the sun behind the subject.

I’m not sure why Canon, or any other lens manufacturers for that matter, can’t simply change the coatings in older lenses, but I hear that it has to do with the way that each lens element bends the light, that the coatings do effect that. I hope that it’s the true reason that they can’t upgrade the lens coatings in older models of lenses, and that it isn’t just greed, forcing those of us with older lenses to upgrade if we want the best possible images.

That sort of goes along with the new full frame mirrorless cameras that are hitting the market at this time. As I wrote in an earlier post, due to the fact that the rear elements of the lenses for a mirrorless camera can be closer to the camera’s sensor, lens manufacturers can build better lenses for mirrorless cameras than they can for a DSLR with the mirror box between the lens and the camera sensor. From the early reviews, that seems to be true. Canon has released two professional grade lenses for their new EOS R mirrorless cameras that are far better than any of their existing DSLR lenses. And, the consumer grade 24-105 mm lens for the mirrorless camera tests out to being nearly as good as Canon’s best DSLR lenses, and cost nearly two-thirds less than the DSLR lenses.

Still, it’s a pretty hefty chunk of change at $1,100 for the new 24-105 mm lens, but that’s better than the nearly $3,000 for Canon’s best DSLR lenses in the same focal length range.

Fortunately, I don’t have to be in a hurry to upgrade any of my gear as it stands now. The new Canon mirrorless camera may be able to accept better lenses, but it lacks many of the features that I depend on in the 5D Mk IV or 7D MK II bodies I use now. The old 70-200 mm lens may be prone to lens flare and lack Image Stabilization, but it’s my least used lens. Although, part of the reason for that is because of its age and lack of the features of my newer lenses. I do find myself using it much more on the 5D than I did on my crop sensor bodies, because it’s the right lens as far as field of view in more instances with the full frame body than it was with the crop sensor bodies. That’s the reason that I’m thinking of upgrading, not because I got lens flare in the situation above, but because I’m using the 70-200 mm lens more all the time, although there are also times when I should use it but don’t, because of its shortcomings.

So, a few years from now, I could see myself upgrading to the new 70-200 mm lens once it’s been on the market for a while, the price drops a little, and Canon offers rebates on it. A bonus of the new lens would be that it could be an effective birding lens with a tele-converter behind it, but I won’t know until I try it. The new 70-200 mm lens with even a 2 X extender is as sharp as the 100-400 mm lens I’m using now is, but I’m not sure if that combination will focus quickly enough.

The same applies to a mirrorless body. Canon’s current model can’t cut it for most of the subjects that I shoot. But, once future models are designed, and more lenses added to the offerings beyond the three available now, I can see myself purchasing a mirrorless body and a wide-angle zoom lens for it, primarily for landscapes.

I’m going to add two more photos to this post to illustrate why all of this is important to me. Fist, my best eagle image shot with the Canon 60D and Sigma 150-500 mm lens…

Bald eagle shot at ISO 250 with 60D camera

…and the recent photo of an eagle in flight shot in about the worst conditions possible at ISO 25600.

Adult bald eagle in flight

Even though the eagle in the second photo is moving, its eye is sharper than the eye of the eagle in the first photo. There’s also more detail in the white feathers on the eagle’s head in the second photo. I’d say that the details in the eagle’s darker feathers are better in the first image, it was shot in great light, while the second image was shot shortly after dawn on a dreary day with very little light. The yellow colors of the eagle’s beak and feet are truer to real life in the second image as well. And, I can remember trying to adjust the yellows in the first image to get them as good as they are, while I didn’t have to do anything with the color in the second photo.

So, when I use equipment in poor light that can compare well to what I used to be able to get in very good light with my older gear, then it tells me that the upgrades were well worth it. Now, I have to catch an eagle willing to pose so nicely as the one in the first photo did to really show what the newer gear is capable of.

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

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I’d better get used to it

It’s Autumn here in West Michigan, and the temperatures have been running below average for the second half of October, which means that I’ve been dealing with lake effect clouds for most of the time while I’ve been out with a camera lately. I’d better get used to it, as lake effect clouds will be the norm around here until next spring. Oh well, I’m sure that I’ll whine about the clouds, although not to the extent that I have in past years because with the 5D Mk IV, I now have a camera better suited to shooting in low light.

That said, I’m going to begin the photos in this post with images shot with the 7D Mk II because it’s a great camera to use for action photos in fair to good light. I shot this series as I was looking for the Little gull that I had in my last post. I had the 5D set-up to shoot portraits, and the 7D set-up for birds in flight. So, while I was sitting around hoping to get better images of the Little gull, I would occasionally shoot photos of the other gulls in flight to ease the boredom…

Bonaparte’s gulls and a dunlin in flight

…although I caught a dunlin in that photo as it was flying with the gulls.

Say what you want about gulls, they look very graceful in flight…

Bonaparte’s gull in flight

…and I loved the reflections of this gull as it landed…

Bonaparte’s gull landing

…and I wondered if this gull was watching its own reflection as it landed…

Bonaparte’s gull landing

…although it’s more likely that the gull found something to eat on the surface of the water…

Bonaparte’s gull landing

…which is why it chose to land where it did.

Bonaparte’s gull landing

In my last post, I had a photo of a junco with a colorful background created by the fall leaves, here’s another version of the same junco.

Dark-eyed junco

I said that there was a story behind that photo, so here it is. I had stopped at the Snug Harbor day use part of Muskegon State Park in hopes of finding some really good fall colors to photograph, but the colors there were quite dull for the most part.

Snug Harbor, Muskegon State Park

Besides the picnic area and fishing pier at Snug Harbor, there’s also a public boat ramp there. I almost always go to the boat ramp so that I can look out over Muskegon Lake to see if there are any waterfowl nearby to photograph. As I was driving around the circular drive to and from the boat ramp, I noticed a few brighter colored leaves…

Just a small wooded area in Muskegon State Park

…but I couldn’t get a good image of the small wooded area within the circular drive. I did park nearby and wander around the rest of the are, but I doubt that I’ll post any of the poor photos that I shot while I did.

When I returned to my vehicle and started to drive away, I saw a thrush come out of that small wooded area to grab something off from the ground, then fly back into the woods. I stopped to look more closely, and I saw that the wooded area was filled with birds of many different species. So, I parked there again, and tried walking both within that wooded area, and around the edge of it.

It was very frustrating, I could see many birds, but they all stayed well out of range for a photo, no matter how slowly or quietly I tried to move through that wooded area. I’d take a few steps, then stop where I was somewhat hidden by brush and wait for a bird to land nearby, but none did, except for a juvenile cedar waxwing that landed above me. I’m not going to include that photo, as the waxwing was too far away and against the grey sky, I have so many better images of that species that I don’t feel like posting a poor one.

But, as I tried and failed to get any bird photos, here are two things that caught my eye as I was watching the birds.

Old and new sapsucker holes in a tree

I forgot to take note of what species of tree that was, it’s obvious that the sapsuckers find the sap from that species quite tasty, as the entire main trunk of the tree and several large branches all showed that generations of sapsuckers had been feeding on the sap from it.

Here’s the other subject that I shot.

Unidentified fungal object

By the way, portions of that small wooded area were very wet, too wet to walk through, but I covered as much of it as I could. After walking all the way around it, I returned to my vehicle to see several birds feeding on the ground and the edge of the woods around my vehicle. I had already been thinking that I wished that I had taken the portable hide with me and set it up in that small section of woods somewhere to sit and hope that a bird would land near to me if I were hidden. I really wish that I hadn’t taken the portable hide out of my vehicle, because I think that using it there would have worked on this day.

I did the next best thing though, I parked where I could use my vehicle for a hide, and sat there in comfort. Here are the birds, beside the junco that I already posted, that I was able to photograph from my vehicle.

Downy woodpecker

My luck got better…

Hermit thrush

…it’s been a while since I’ve posted a photo of a hermit thrush…

Hermit thrush

…so I’m posting these three, even if they’re not very good.

Hermit thrush

With as many bluebirds in the woods as there were, I was hoping for a better photo than this.

Eastern bluebird

Blue jays often store food for later, they have a pouch in their throats that can hold an acorn or two much like the cheek pouches of chipmunks. Here’s a blue jay gathering acorns to store…

Blue jay picking up an acorn

…down the hatch.

Blue jay swallowing an acorn

The blue jay would have used its beak to open the acorn to eat the meat inside if it was going to eat it at that time, which is how I know that it was going to store the acorn for later.

While most of the birds that I wanted photos of the most refused to come as close as I would have liked, of course a chickadee was the exception to that.

Black-capped chickadee

Eventually, the birds all moved on and I wasn’t seeing them anymore, so I did the same. And by the way, I missed many more species than the ones that I got photos of, I couldn’t believe how many birds were flocked together in such a small area.

I’m not sure if I’d have been able to do any better with the portable hide, migrating birds tend to be more wary because they’re not familiar with the area and because they’re not tied to a location by their nests or young. But, I would have liked to have tried the hide, so it’s going back into my vehicle just in case. And, I’m not sure about using it for small birds to begin with, just as most of the birds were out of camera range as I used my vehicle as a hide, I’m afraid the same thing will happen if I’m sitting in the hide.

Well, I’m getting way behind in posting right now, along with reading other people’s posts, and about everything else as October has been a very busy month for me. I had a number of personal business items to take care of, along with doctor and dental appointments, it was as if everything had been dumped on me at once. So, I’m going to throw in a bunch of photos that are from the same timeframe as those already in this post without making many comments on them.

Manmade lake and fall reflections

 

Northern shovelers and dunlin enjoying their mid-day snooze

 

American pipit

 

Male northern shoveler stretching

 

Male northern shovelers

 

Fall colors in Muskegon State Park 1

 

Fall colors in Muskegon State Park 2

 

Fall colors in Muskegon State Park 3

 

Near the Muskegon State Park campground entrance

 

Near the Muskegon State Park campground entrance

 

The Muskegon State Park campground entrance

Actually, there are two campgrounds in Muskegon State Park, these photos are from the north campground which is on Lake Michigan. There’s also the south campground, which is on Muskegon Lake where it empties into the channel that leads to Lake Michigan. I’ll have more photos from within the north campground in my next post, as there were very few campers there this past weekend.

I had a couple of photos from Duck Lake State Park that I was going to share, but the colors there were rather drab this fall, so I changed my mind about using them. It doesn’t help that it has been cloudy most of the time for the better part of October, or this photo would have been a winner I think.

Fall colors on another cloudy day

I better get used to shooting when the skies are cloudy again, as that will be the case on most days this fall and winter until next March. I’m not looking forward to it, or the cold, or snow, but there’s not much that I can do about the weather.

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


Off to a good start

My day off from work last Friday started off on a good foot…

Down on the farm at sunrise 1

…that’s the second of two HDR images that I shot at sunrise, here’s the other.

Down on the farm at sunrise 2

Actually, I took them in the opposite order, shooting the zoomed in view first, then wanting to get more of the glorious colors of the sky in the image, I zoomed out for the other one.

Forgive me for this, but I want to explain something that I learned while making those images.

While I was using the Canon 7D Mk II or even the 60D cameras, I used software called Photomatix to create HDR images, in part, because Adobe Lightroom wasn’t capable of merging several images together to create the HDR image back then. And, even when Lightroom did include the ability to merge images into HDR images, I felt that Photomatix still did a better job, so I continued to use it, and not the photo merge feature in Lightroom.

However, since I purchased the Canon 5D Mk IV, I’ve never been happy with the HDR images that Photomatix produced when I merged images in that software. That was okay, because the 5D has so much more dynamic range than either of the crop sensor cameras I had been using that for most landscape images that I shot with the 5D, I didn’t need to create a HDR image most of the time. After all, HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, and in a way, the 5D has that capability built-in.

But, for sunrises and sunsets, not even the 5D can capture the entire dynamic range between light and dark. I’ve tried loading three images shot bracketing the exposure by two stops into Photomatix just as I used to do with images from my crop sensor cameras, but I haven’t been pleased with the results. I was already thinking of ways to get more realistic looking HDR images from images shot with the 5D, so on the morning of this sunrise, I tried something new. Because the 5D has so much more dynamic range than my other cameras, I reasoned that maybe the problem was that Photomatix couldn’t calculate the true lighting of the scenes that I’ve shot up until now, so instead of bracketing the exposure by two stops, I went with just one stop in each direction to take advantage of the higher dynamic range of the 5D to begin with.

Then when I got home, more or less on a lark, I used the photo merge HDR feature in Lightroom for these images, rather than use Photomatix. As you’ve seen, the photo merge feature in Lightroom produced very good HDR images that look realistic. So, I then tried loading the same three images into Photomatix to create a HDR image, this is the result.

Bad HDR image of the same scene

I much prefer the HDR images from Lightroom to the one produced by Photomatix software, but then, I’m going for realistic, and I don’t want to create those wild, over the top HDR images that some people prefer. I don’t want halos around the roof of the barn, the silo, or around the trees in the background as the Photomatix software produced in this image. The halos are faint, but they are there, and they make the image less sharp than the images produced by Lightroom. I also prefer the more realistic colors in the clouds as well.

However, after having said all of that, I’ll be willing to bet that if I use the 7D body for a HDR image in the future, I’ll find that Photomatix performs better as it has in the past. All of this is part of the learning curve in using the new 5D Mk IV, since so much of photography these days is driven by software as much as the camera and lens used. The main thing is that I’ve learned how to make better use of the dynamic range of the 5D in the way that I process the RAW images that it produces.

Just one more quick thought on the subject, it could also be that the Photomatix software as trouble handling the much larger file size produced by the 5D camera as compared to the 7D. Because of its higher resolution and much larger sensor, the 5D produces RAW files that are twice the size of the RAW files produced by the 7D.

Anyway, I shot the sunrise on my way to the Muskegon County wastewater facility, where I hoped to find a few birds that I don’t regularly see around here as they migrate south. I did find three species, these dunlin…

Dunlin

…too bad that they were in the shadows most of the time…

Dunlin

…I also found this Red Phalarope showing a little of its breeding plumage yet…

Red phalarope

…but I hope to catch one next spring when its showing it full spring colors…

Red phalarope

A quick note here, I originally identified this as a red-necked phalarope, which I have already photographed in the past for the My Photo Life list project that I’m working on. However, it turns out that this is a red phalarope instead, and is a lifer for me. Now I’m doubly glad that I was able to get such good images of it. The differences between the two species are subtle, especially this time of year. I changed my original ID based on the reports and photos from more experienced birders, and by comparing the bills between the two species. The Red Phalarope has a shorter, stouter bill than the red-necked phalarope.

…and the same holds true for this black-bellied plover…

Juvenile black-bellied plover

…as it also looks rather plain in the fall.

Juvenile black-bellied plover

By then, the clouds were thickening, so I lost direct sunlight for these two.

Female lesser scaup

There were a few bufflehead that retained their breeding plumage, I caught this one.

Male bufflehead

I’m not sure what this gull was carrying…

Ring-billed gull carrying something

…but it dropped what ever it was…

Ring-billed gull dropping what it was carrying

…and while it looks like a stone that it dropped, I’m not sure of that.

Ring-billed gull

By the way, I shot those with the 7D and the 400 mm prime lens, and I’m glad that I did. With its higher frame rate, I was able to catch the action as the gull dropped whatever it was carrying. I didn’t have enough sense to watch the gull any longer to see what it was up to though. As much as I love the new 5D, there will still be times in good light when the 7D will be the best choice to use, especially when there’s action taking place that I want to capture.

With rain in the forecast for later, I wanted to get a walk in before the rain, so I went to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve next, where I shot this.

Just a scene that I like, nothing special

I did see a few birds, but the only one that I managed to get a photo of was a chickadee, and not a very good photo at that, so when the rain started, I went to the Snug Harbor part of Muskegon State Park to see how much the leaves had turned there.

One of the picnic pavilions at the Snug Harbor portion of Muskegon State Park

I also saw birds there, including two red-bellied woodpeckers chasing each other around in circles for a very long time, but I wasn’t able to get a photo of them, or the other birds there. The on and off rain during my time there didn’t help.

So, when the steady rain that had been forecast did arrive, I called it a day even though I hadn’t shot very many images. That gives me a week until I make it out with a camera again, and I hope to be able to resist the urge to talk about photography and the associated gear that goes with it.

Well, I managed to resist going off on a rant about the people who review cameras online, and how image quality is completely ignored or only rates a passing mention in most reviews. The only reason that I’m mentioning that now is because my day on Thursday began with me photographing one of the nearly tame Canada geese outside of my apartment.

Canada goose about to stretch

Canada geese may be common, but with their white “chin strap” on their otherwise black heads, they’re difficult to photograph well, at least they have been for me. So, ever since I purchased the 5D Mk IV, I’ve been wanting to test it out on several hard to photograph well birds, including the geese. That one is straight out the camera as far as exposure and cropping. The higher dynamic range of the 5D shows up well in that image, also in this one.

Canada goose stretching a wing

Later in the day, I got a chance to photograph another bird that’s to get right in a photo, a crow.

American crow

Since that one was shot full frame, I could crop in on this one to show the feather details on the crow’s head better.

American crow

I had over-exposed these slightly to make sure that I’d get the feather details in the images, so these required some adjustments to the exposure, but not much. I love the way that you can see the crow’s bushy feathers growing at the base of its beak, and its “ear patches”, which I’ve never been able to show in an image before. You may also notice that crows have brown eyes, they’re not black as they appear in most photos of them.

However, just when I think that I want to shoot everything with the 5D, I shoot a series of action photos…

Female northern shoveler taking a bath

…that show how well the 7D Mk II can do in good light…

Female northern shoveler taking a bath

…with its much faster frame rate…

Female northern shoveler drying her wings

…even if I didn’t get the best view of the colors on her wings…

Female northern shoveler drying her wings

…or completely freeze all the motion in these photos…

Female northern shoveler drying her wings

…I know that one of these days, everything will fall into place, and I’ll get the exact images that I’m striving for. It’s only a matter of time and luck, as I’m getting closer all the time, just as with the close-up of the crow.

It’s also just a matter of time for me to get most of the species of birds regularly seen in Michigan for the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on. To go with the red phalarope from earlier in this post, this week, I was able to photograph a Little gull.

Little gull feeding

Adding this species puts me at 240 species so far, not bad for some one that isn’t a hardcore birder.

Anyway, I first spotted the Little gull as it flew from the pond to the far side of the man-made pond, but that meant that it was really too far away for good images of it by itself.

Little gull, Bonaparte’s gulls, and northern shovelers

You can tell the Little gull by its orange feet compared to the pale pink feet of the Bonaparte’s gulls. It also has white wingtips as opposed to the black wingtips of the Bonaparte’s gull. Those were the two clues that I used to pick the Little gull out of the flock of 30 to 40 Bonaparte’s gulls that it was sharing the pond with.

This is why I continue to return to the Muskegon County wastewater facility, not only do I continue to find new to me species of birds there as shown in this post, but there’s so many species of birds there on a regular basis, especially during migration. Here’s a shot that includes a Wilson’s snipe, dunlin, the Little gull, Bonaparte’s gulls, a ring-billed gull and a few of the thousands of northern shovelers there.

Assorted species of birds

That image shows the size difference between the three species of gulls in the image better, you can see that the Little gull is, as its name implies, much smaller than the Bonaparte’s gulls, which are in turn, much smaller than the ring-billed gull. By the way, the Wilson’s snipe is to the far left in the frame and hard to make out.

I hung around quite a while, and it’s a good thing that I did, for eventually, I got the image of the Little gull alone in the frame, along with this one.

Little gull

And just like that, I’m almost to my self-imposed limit for photos in a post, so I’ll end this one with a photo from this Friday.

Dark-eyed junco in the fall

Two sure signs that winter is approaching, the Juncos have come back to this area from their breeding grounds to the north, and the fall colors of the leaves behind the junco. There’s a story behind that photo and many of the others that I shot on Friday of this week, but I’ll save that for the next post.

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


What should I title this one?

This past week, as I was on my way to the northern lower peninsula of Michigan, or as we refer to it here, simply “going up north”, to shoot a few images of the fall colors…

The Manistee River from an overlook along the North Country trail

…I spotted two adult bald eagles feeding on road kill right on the shoulder of the road. I pulled off to the other shoulder of the road as I passed them, slamming on the brakes as I did. But, as I backed up, they both flew off, leaving me this shot because they didn’t fly very far.

Adult bald eagle

The second eagle flew past me…

Adult bald eagle in flight

…but I didn’t have time to switch the camera to the saved bird in flight setting that I have saved in the camera, so that one was shot with the same settings used for perched birds. The shutter speed was too slow to freeze the motion, but at least I got a fairly good image of the eagle.

I backed up away from the eagles, hoping that they would return to feeding, one did, and I was able to get close enough to it to get this photo of it.

Adult bald eagle eating

I had an idea what would happen next, so I switched over to the saved bird in flight settings, as the eagle took off.

Adult bald eagle in flight

It isn’t easy to track even such a large bird as it takes off, as they rise and fall with each wing beat, and trying to keep their entire wings in the frame as that’s happening meant that I missed on almost all the rest of the photos in the short burst that I shot. I wish that I had led the eagle as it took off a little more so that there was more space ahead of the eagle in that image, but at least I didn’t cut its wings off in that one.

I can’t help it, but I also have to say that the image above would have been impossible if I had been using the 7D Mk II camera. That image was another shot at ISO 25600 to get the required shutter speed needed to freeze the action with the maximum aperture of f/8 that I’m forced to use with the 100-400 mm lens and extender behind it. Seeing that I was able to shoot this with the 5D Mk IV makes me even more happy to have purchased it when I did,rather than waiting longer until it would have been more affordable for me. Getting the entire adult bald eagle in the frame so that it nearly fills the frame with that level of detail makes being broke for a while longer worth it to me.

As the eagle turned away from me, I stopped tracking it with the auto-focus, which was the wrong thing to do, for the eagle turned around, and flew past me in the other direction…

Adult bald eagle in flight

…and I wasn’t able to get a solid focus lock on it as it twisted and turned as it flew to join the other eagle that was still perched in a tree.

A sidenote here, you may have noticed the band on the eagle’s leg. That makes me wonder how old this eagle is, as it’s the first eagle that I’ve seen where I can see that it had been banded at some point. I know that a few eagles are still banded in Michigan, but most aren’t, as they’re no longer an endangered species in Michigan. This eagle was either one that had been banded in an ongoing study of eagles, or is one that’s so old that it had been banded while eagles were still on the endangered species list in Michigan. Since eagle can live for decades, maybe as long as 50 years, it’s quite possible that this is a very old eagle. It’s certainly a fine specimen that looks very healthy, and although the second photo of it in flight isn’t very good, it does show how muscular and powerfully built eagles are.

I tried backing away from the eagles again, but they didn’t return as quickly as they had before. So, I turned around, and went down the road a little way to shoot this photo to warm up for shooting the fall colors later, while hoping that the eagles would return to feed on the carcass of the roadkill.

A warm up photo for later

When I returned to where the eagles were, some one else was pulled off the road, photographing the eagles perched in the trees, so I continued on my way north. I stopped at Peterson Bridge over the Pine River to shoot these photos.

The view from Peterson Bridge over the Pine River 1

There are probably too many from this location…

The view from Peterson Bridge over the Pine River 2

…but I was doing what I still have to do far too often…

The view from Peterson Bridge over the Pine River 3

….learning how to compose the images that I shoot with wide-angle lenses…

The view from Peterson Bridge over the Pine River 4

…while trying to show as much of the limited color in the leaves as there was here.

The view from Peterson Bridge over the Pine River 5

 

The view from Peterson Bridge over the Pine River 6

A short distance to the north, I pulled off the main road onto an US Forest Service road for this one shot at 24 mm with the 24-70 mm lens…

The forest beginning to show some color at 24 mm

…then I switched to the 16-35 mm lens for this one.

The forest beginning to show some color at 16 mm

I’d say that the two lenses are equal in image quality, but you can see more distortion in the image shot at 16 mm than the one shot at 24 mm because of the way that the trees seem to all lean towards the center of the frame. In this case, I was going for that distortion, probably because I’m old enough to remember how bad the distortion in older wide-angle lenses was. I also like that effect at times, and this is one of them.

Back on the main road, I pulled off on a side road now and then to shoot these, more to show the brilliant colors rather than to create a truly good landscape image.

Just to show some color 1

 

Just to show some color 2

 

Just to show some color 3

 

Just to show some color 4

As you may have noticed, there was solid cloud cover all day, although I did shoot two images later when a tiny hole in the clouds opened up, which you’ll see later. The clouds meant that I could shoot in any direction at any time, which was good, but I’m not sure how much the lack of sunshine “hid” the colors of the leaves in the distance of some of the images to come. For example, I stopped at the roadside park that overlooks the Hodenpyle Pond, and shot this one.

Overlooking the Hodenpyle Pond, wide-angle

But, the colors on the hills across the pond looked muted to me, so I zoomed in to shoot a series of photos to stitch into this panoramic image.

Overlooking the Hodenpyle Pond, zoomed in view

The hills on the other side of the pond do show up a little better in the pano, but the colors in the pano don’t. I didn’t have very much time to shoot there, as it was, I’d set-up the tripod to shoot a few photos, then have to move to get out of the way of other people who had stopped to admire the view, then after they left, move back into position to try something else. I also had to wait until any people going up or down the stairway were out of the scene before I shot any photos.

My next major stop was right along the side of the road, M 37, just north of the intersection with M 115. This is where I had shot some of the images of the Milky Way during my earlier scouting trip.

Manistee River Valley at night

This is how the area looks during a fall day.

Michigan M 37 as it crosses the Manistee River Valley

I purposely shot that image to show the view from the highway as you get to the Manistee River Valley. I then tried for better images…

The view of the Manistee River Valley wide-angle

And once again, I tried stitching several images together to form this panoramic view.

The view of the Manistee River Valley panoramic view

This was the scene behind me…

More fall color

…and it was here that I saw the only blue sky of the day…

Still more fall colors

…but you can’t see the opening in the clouds in the image, drat. At least a small shaft of sunlight hit a few of the more colorful trees then.

I then spent quite a bit of time driving the back roads in the area, as I’m not that familiar with it, and where the best views were to be found. I stopped at a one lane bridge over the Manistee River to shoot this photo though.

Michigan’s Manistee River in the fall

I hate to admit it, but I was somewhat lost for a while because I was following directions from Google Maps, and what I thought would be a maintained dirt road was in reality a seasonal two-track and there weren’t any road signs at intersections with other two-tracks along the way. I ended up having backtrack and then stick to better roads to make it to my next destination. However, while I didn’t shoot any photos during this period, I did enjoy seeing the fall colors as I was driving.

I finally made it to the destination that I had in mind for this trip, the high rollway observation deck along the Manistee River. The observation deck is also along the North Country Trail, but there’s a parking lot nearby, with just a short walk to the deck.

A short walk through the woods to the observation deck

Even on a Friday, it was a popular spot for people doing fall color tours, so I had to wait my turn to get to the best spot on the deck for photography. While I was waiting, I shot these two.

Waiting on the high rollway observation deck overlooking the Manistee River

 

Waiting on the high rollway observation deck overlooking the Manistee River

When I had my chance to set-up at the best spot on the deck, I shot this one.

From the high rollway observation deck overlooking the Manistee River

I shot several more images from there, but I’m not going to put them in this post. That’s because I hope to return there this coming weekend when there will hopefully be a bit more color and better weather than this week. I would have rather had light rain to really saturate the colors more, or a bright sunny day with a few clouds in the sky than the dull grey overcast of this day.

I made several more stops on the way home, but this is the only photo that I’m going to include in this post.

From the scenic overlook near Cadillac, Michigan

I’m including that one because I shot it with the 70-200 mm lens, not that the lens is any big deal. But, I am learning which lens to use more quickly than I thought that I would. I’m not used to using my short lenses, so it surprised me at how well I chose the correct lens for a scene when I first saw what I intended to shoot. There were only one or two times when the lens that I put on the camera didn’t give me the field of view that I wanted, and had to switch lenses before shooting the scene. Of course that doesn’t include scenes where I knew that I’d want to shoot with different lenses to record the scene in different ways. I did that several times, and I’ve included the version that I liked the best here, rather than including all the images that I shot at a particular location, again, because I plan to go back this weekend.

Also, I made a few stops on Thursday to shoot some fall color scenes…

A yellow border for a dirt road

 

An unnamed small lake near Grant, Michigan

 

The Muskegon River high banks near Newaygo, Michigan

You can see that the weather on Thursday was the same as it was Friday, low, grey clouds. It’s that time of year in Michigan, cool, fall air coming across the relatively warm waters of Lake Michigan produces the lake effect clouds that will plague west Michigan all winter long. Sunny winter days are as rare as hen’s teeth in West Michigan, which I’ve whined about every winter.

The good news is that the cool fall weather has killed most of the mosquito population for this year, and with no warm weather in sight, we may be skeeter free until next May.

The bad news is that I was stupid enough to make my quarterly appointments with my dermatologist for this Thursday, and that also means that I have to first go to a medical lab to have blood work done first. On top of that because I’m a truck driver, I must have a physical every other year as a condition of being allowed to drive a commercial vehicle. Since my Thursday was already ruined for the purposes of photography, I went and had that DOT physical done as well so that I’ll be able to continue working and getting a paycheck every week.

It was a very sunny day, in fact, there were no clouds in the sky at all to add any interest to landscape photos I would have shot if I’d had the time to return up north. On Friday, the clouds rolled in at sunrise, and the rest of the day was just as dreary as it had been the previous week, so I didn’t bother returning to any of the places featured in the photos in this post, I stuck around Muskegon instead.

Muskegon State Park, Snug Harbor portion

The rest of the photos that I shot on Friday will go into my next post. Hopefully, the leaves will be at their peak color around here then, but it’s not going to be a good year for color from what I’m seeing so far. I think that it’s because of the drought that we had this summer that many of the leaves are going straight to brown this year.

If nothing else, maybe I’ll be able to find a few birds that only pass through my area twice a year during migration.

Juvenile black-bellied plover

I do have a dentist appointment next week, but at least I made that one for earlier in the morning, so I’ll be able to get out in the afternoon and continue shooting until sunset, if it’s worth photographing.

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


Some more boring photography talk

Sorry, I can’t help it, there’s quite a bit of news when it comes to photography gear, and about my learning how to use what I have more effectively.

Both Canon and Nikon have recently introduced full frame sensor mirrorless cameras, which are going to be the wave of the future for cameras as we know them. The old familiar DSLR is going to fade away over the next decade, at least that’s how I see things going.

Since mirrorless cameras can be built smaller, lighter, and cheaper by not needing the mirror assembly, that’s a big selling point to begin with. Then, because the rear element of the lens attached to the camera can be mounted closer to the sensor because the designers don’t need to leave room for the mirror assembly, the light coming through the lens doesn’t have to be bent as much to get the lens to project the image onto the sensor. This is particularly true with wide-angle lenses, less so for telephoto lenses. That means that the new wide-angle lenses will be even sharper than the best lenses built so far for traditional DSLR bodies, because the less that the light needs to be bent ass it passes through the lens, the sharper the image will be.

Because of that, both Nikon and Canon have designed new lens mounts to take advantage of that, and I can’t tell you about the new Nikon lenses, but the new Canon lenses are indeed sharper than the older style lenses built for a traditional DSLR mount.

Doesn’t that figure, I just upgraded my wide-angle lenses, and now they are obsolete, sort of. The superior sharpness of the new lenses designed for mirrorless cameras is mostly when the aperture is wide open, and as the lens is stopped down to get a wider depth of field, the advantage of the mirrorless lenses shrinks  to nothing at the apertures typically used for landscapes when everything in the frame needs to be in sharp focus.

Sony has been building full frame mirrorless cameras for some time now, and their cameras are much better than the first generations of mirrorless cameras from Nikon and Canon. However, Sony hasn’t been able to match them when it comes to lenses. A lot of Sony camera users mount other manufacturer’s lenses to their Sony using an adaptor.

So at least for now, I see no reason to think about upgrading from the Canon 5D Mk IV or the Canon 7D Mk II bodies that I’m using now. That’s especially true because Canon put the same sensor as the 5D has in its new mirrorless camera. In many ways, the new mirrorless body would be a step backwards for me, but I won’t list all the reasons for that.

However, I will be watching to see what Canon does with their line-up of mirrorless cameras, if they bring out a mirrorless version of the 5DS R body with the super high-resolution sensor with no low pass filter, I could be tempted, because that would be something that would make dramatic improvements in any landscape images that I shoot. But’s that’s a long way off right now, as I have no idea what Canon is planning on as far as their line-up of mirrorless bodies, or if the even plan on building an updated 5DS R body. And even if they do, it would have to be a lot cheaper than the current 5DS R body before I would consider making such a move. That’s why I’m hoping that they release a mirrorless version of it as they perfect their mirrorless designs in the future. The new Canon mirrorless body is $1,000 less than the 5D Mk IV that I recently purchased, even though they use the same sensor. I hope that the trend continues in future generations of Canon mirrorless cameras.

For right now, I’m going to concentrate on learning to get the best out of the 5D and the new wide-angle lenses I’ve acquired. They have been a big step up in quality over the crop sensor bodies I have been using, along with the EF-S lenses designed for the crop sensor bodies.

The outlet from Duck Lake meeting Lake Michigan

 

Looking north from Duck Lake State Park

However, the biggest improvement that I see with the 5D comes when I use my older telephoto lenses in low-light situations…

Juvenile wild turkey at dusk

…as that was shot at ISO 25600, much higher than I could have gotten away with if I had used the 7D body instead.

It was a dark, dreary, foggy day this spring when I tried to shoot migrating warblers and other small birds the made me decide to upgrade to the 5D. Some of you may remember the post that I did about that day, and how I whined about the poor quality of the images that I ended up with. Well, last Friday was very similar to that day last spring as you can see in this photo…

The Cobb power plant in Muskegon

…right down to the on and off mist and drizzle falling as I looked for things to photograph. By the way, I included yet another photo of the Cobb power plant as I’m planning on recording the work as it is dismantled. I’m not sure what’s going to be done with the land that it’s on, as I’m sure that since it was a coal-fired plant that there’s a lot of environmental clean-up that will have to be done once the plant is gone.

Anyway, here are the birds that I photographed in the very raw conditions of that day.

Downy woodpecker

 

Downy woodpecker

 

White-throated sparrow

All three of those were shot at higher ISO settings, yet there isn’t the loss of detail or color saturation that I gotten when I’ve used the 7D Mk II in such conditions. As a comparison, here’s an image from that dreary day this spring.

Bay-breasted warbler

Forgive me for bragging, but wow, what a difference! Especially when you consider that I used the exact same lens for the birds on Friday as I did for the warbler this spring. The differences in image quality is all due to the camera used, and seeing them side by side here makes being broke for a while longer worth the investment that I made in the 5D.

Here are the other images that I shot in the mist while I was at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve on Friday.

Fall colors starting

In these, which were also shot at higher ISO settings, the clarity and color improvements of the 5D…

Pokeweed berries

…are also put to good use…

Virginia creeper putting on a display of color

…although I missed the composition in that last photo. I wanted to show the colors in the background as well as the Virginia creeper vines in the foreground, but I should have moved to the left and showed more of the Virginia creeper vines. Oh well, I messed up this one also.

Natural decorations

I liked the way that the Virginia creeper and grape vines spiraled up the spruce tree naturally, like Christmas decorations, but I used a wide-angle lens from very close to the spruce. I should have moved back, and used a longer lens to have gotten a better angle of the scene.

While I usually use the aperture priority mode while photographing birds, I’m thinking of using the manual mode more often, just because that would allow me to change the shutter speed more quickly when I see something similar to the bluebirds bathing from my last post.

Eastern bluebird bathing

The one fly in that ointment is the maximum aperture of the lenses that I’m using now, especially when I have the 1.4 X tele-converter behind them as I typically do. Most of the time, I’m starting out at f/8 due to the loss of light from the extender. There’s no getting around that short of purchasing a faster (and much more expensive) lens. But, on a sunny day as when I photographed the bluebirds, I could have pushed the ISO higher to get faster shutter speeds to freeze the motion better. That’s especially true with the 5D, but I could have gone higher with the ISO with the 7D when I had such good light. Just something for me to keep in mind on nice days with good light.

While I’m on the subject of trying different things, on Thursday, I finally got around to testing the new 24-70 mm lens with an extension tube behind it to allow the lens to focus closer than it does without the extension tube.

Assorted lichen on a post

I had to crop off the bottom of the photo, as there was a harsh shadow there caused by the lens hood touching the post because that’s how close that set-up focuses. I deliberately chose a post with only a few widely spaced small lichen to help me judge the depth of field of that set-up. Also, I used the medium length extension tube only, I didn’t test the long tube out. I’m not sure that the long tube would work behind that lens as close as I was when using the medium length tube. I don’t think that it will work for insects because of how close the lens has to be to the subject, but for subjects that remain stationary, I think that this set-up will work every bit as well as my 100 mm macro lens.

This was a similar test shot, but without the extension tube behind the 24-70 mm lens.

Unidentified fungal object

It’s hard for me not to jump forward to the images that I shot this weekend, when I have so many left from last week. So, since I’ve babbled on long enough already, here are the rest of the photos from last week, as I shot a few hints of the fall colors that are showing up around here, and also tried to shoot a wider variety of birds that I haven’t posted many photos of lately.

Ladybug

 

The first hints of fall colors

 

Mute swan

 

White-breasted nuthatch

 

White-breasted nuthatch

 

More fall colors showing

 

White-crowned sparrow hiding

 

Dragonfly hanging out on a nice fall day

 

So it begins

 

More from the Snug Harbor part of Muskegon SP

 

Just a depth of field test

 

Savannah sparrow

 

Savannah sparrow

 

Greater yellowlegs

 

Greater yellowlegs

 

American pipit

I’m really excited about my next post, as I was able to shoot one of my better images of an adult bald eagle in flight as I was on my way to northern Michigan to shoot some pretty good images of the fall colors on display there.

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


Anatomy of a sunset

With conditions similar to last week, although not as extreme as far as the wind, I returned to Duck Lake State Park Friday evening to capture this sunset.

Lake Michigan sunset from Duck Lake State Park

I was going to say that I don’t know how dedicated landscape photographers do what they do, set-up in advance, and get great sun sets or rises behind what would be a pleasing scene even without the colors of the sky being present. However, I do know how they do it, I chose not to do things the correct way Friday evening.

I’m still learning the 5D Mk IV and how it works with my two new wide-angle lenses, so I shot all the sunset images you’ll see in this post handheld. In some ways, I’m glad that I did, because the light that evening was always changing, and there were different scenes that I shot, which I’ll get to later.

I could have set-up in a different spot while using my tripod and I would have gotten an even better image of the sunset at its peak. In the past, I’ve gone so far as to set-up two tripods, one on the west side of the road that runs next to Lake Michigan there at Duck Lake, and the other tripod on the east side of the road, looking out over Duck Lake. But on this evening, there were still too many people who had come to see the sunset, and I didn’t feel safe leaving either of my cameras unattended while I raced under the bridge back and forth to shoot excellent images of the sun sets or rises that I’ve seen there during the times that I’ve shot with two set-ups in the past.

I think that I’ll go back a little, and go through the photos that I shot in the order that I shot them to help to explain my thinking. I had stopped in Muskegon State Park to check the horizon to see if there was a chance that the cloud cover that had been overhead all day would break to reveal a good sunset.

Looking toward the beach and breakwaters at Muskegon State Park

By the way, that’s one of three scenes that I shot with both the 16-35 mm and 24-70 mm lenses to compare the two, and I can see no difference between the two.

Anyway, looking to the south, as I was there, things looked pretty grim as far as there being a good sunset to photograph, but looking to the north, I could see some breaks in the clouds, and even a few patches of blue sky. So, I drove the short distance to Duck Lake State Park, and made another set of test shots to compare the two lenses.

Lens test and a warm up for things to come.

As the light changed, I shot this one, looking to the north.

The beginnings of a good sunset at Duck Lake State Park

I shot this series of three photos as the sun actually set.

Actual sunset at Duck Lake State Park 1

…but, because the color in the sky was in a narrow band at the horizon, I zoomed in a little with each shot…

Actual sunset at Duck Lake State Park 2

…ending with this one.

Actual sunset at Duck Lake State Park 3

I then zoomed all the way back out to 16 mm for this image.

Sunset looking northwest at Duck Lake State Park

I should have shot a panorama of two images to be stitched together for that view, either that, or I’ll need an even wider lens. But, I am impressed by the field of view of the 16-35 mm lens on a full frame sensor camera versus what I got on the crop sensor 7D.

I thought that there’d be a short period of time between when the sun slipped below the horizon, and when the light from the sun hit the underside of the clouds, so I was headed back to my Subaru when I saw that this had been behind me.

Looking to the east

Seeing that, I wanted to explore that scene further, but a check of the sky looking to the west again is when I saw the scene that is the first image in this post, which I’ll insert here again.

Lake Michigan sunset from Duck Lake State Park

I tried going wider, I tried zooming in more, but that’s the image that I liked the best from the many that I shot in that direction at the time.

I then turned back to the north to shoot this one…

Looking northwest over Lake Michigan

…and then literally ran up the dune that was behind my Subaru in the earlier photo to shoot this one on my way up the dune…

Looking east over Duck Lake

…and this one when I got to the top of the dune.

Looking east over Duck Lake at Duck Lake State Park

By the way, all of these were shot as single images with the 5D Mk IV, to see how well it reproduced the colors of the sunset. These aren’t bad, but I believe that more of the subtle colors would have been shown if I had bracketed three images to create a HDR image. I suppose that I could also bring out more color by using Lightroom, but this was all about learning what the camera is capable of by itself, for my future reference.

Anyway, the display of color in the sky wasn’t done yet, I shot this on my way back down the dune…

From one of the dunes at Duck Lake State Park

…and I shot these three as the colors began to fade.

Fading sunset at Duck Lake State Park 1

 

Fading sunset at Duck Lake State Park 2

 

Fading sunset at Duck Lake State Park 3

These last three are the ones that would have benefitted the most by my using my tripod and bracketing for HDR images.After having viewed these images again, and written what I have about them, now I have decided that what I should have tried was tilting the camera over to the portrait orientation to get even more of the clouds in  some of the scenes, and shot multiple images to be stitched together in panoramas to get the width that I wanted. Sigh, hindsight is always 20/20, and I did think about  panorama while I was there, but with the camera in the landscape orientation. I’m not sure if it would have worked as fast as the clouds were moving and with the waves on Lake Michigan, but I should have at least tested it to see if it would work. I have to keep telling myself these things in the hope that I will remember to try them the next time a similar occasion arrises.

That didn’t happen this week though, I did set-up the tripod and shoot a HDR image of the sunset Thursday evening.

Another Duck Lake State Park sunset

In fact, I shot quite a few HDR images on Thursday while using the new 5D Mk IV camera, here’s the best of the lot.

Muskegon SP colors in HDR

However, I’m finding that I don’t need to shoot bracketed images to blend into a HDR image with the 5D…

Muskegon SP colors in a single image

…as I prefer the single image version over the HDR version.

That’s been the case most of the times that I’ve tried shooting HDR images with the 5D with its expanded dynamic range over the crop sensor 60D and 7D Mk II bodies that I’ve been used to shooting with. Also, the sky ends up looking wonky in HDR images that I shoot with the 5D, along with the fact that the final image looks fake.

Bad HDR image of the fall colors

Anyway, I was using the 5D with the 24-70 mm f/4 so often on Thursday that I grew tired of swapping lenses all the time, so I put the birding set-up on the 7D just in case, and the just in case did happen.

Eastern bluebird getting ready for a bath

I had seen the bluebirds perched on sign posts as I moved from one part of the Snug Harbor area in Muskegon State Park to another area. They all flew off, but I parked there in hopes that they would return, and as you can see, they did. I shot the bluebird above as it bathed…

Eastern bluebird bathing

 

Eastern bluebird bathing

…when a second bird landed in the puddle to join the first…

Eastern bluebirds

…but due to the short depth of field as close as they were to me, I wasn’t able to get them both in focus at the same time. But, when the second one started its bath, I fired away…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…I kept an eye on the shutter speed as I shot…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…and seeing that it was 1/800 to 1/1000 second…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…I hoped that I’d get the amount of motion blur that I hoped for…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…while freezing some of the water drops in the air…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…but I should have gone even quicker with the shutter speed…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…to freeze the bird completely in at least a few photos…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…even if the water drops look good…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…and of course I thought about switching over to the 5D for more dynamic range so that the shadows in that last photo wouldn’t be as dark as they are. But by then, the birds felt clean enough that they moved off to look for food. Also, these were cropped only slightly, I would have had to crop more if I had used the 5D because of the crop factor of the 7D.

Sorry for so many photos of the bluebirds, but they are usually difficult for me to get that close to since they are quite wary of humans most of the time. They’re such cheerful little birds, and one of my favorite species to watch and hear singing, that I went a little overboard with the photos.

Earlier in the day I had been chasing other species of small birds…

Pine warbler stretching to see

…luckily, this pine warbler stuck around long enough for me to dial in the correct exposure…

Pine warbler looking chunky

…and, this white-breasted nuthatch worked its way towards me as I shot a good many photos of it, ending with this one.

White-breasted nuthatch with an attitude

I’ve already put too many images in this post, and I have plenty leftover from both last week, and from yesterday, so it’s time to put an end to this post before I go out again today to see what I can find now that the morning rain has ended.

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


Eaten alive, drained of blood

Well, I was going to whine about the swarms of sand flies and mosquitos that drove me off the beach in Muskegon State Park this last Thursday, but I won’t spend too much time doing so. One of the many great things about the beaches along the Great Lakes in Michigan is that there are seldom any insect pests to bother a person spending time on the beach. There have been a few times in the spring when I’ve run into the swarms of sand flies in the past, but never before in the fall, and not with the swarms being as bad as what I ran into this week. It’s also rare to find mosquitos on a Lake Michigan beach, as the wide sand dunes that form the beaches don’t offer skeeters any place to reproduce or hide from predators. I go into more detail, but I won’t.

That’s because I’m going to rave about my new Canon 5D Mk IV and the two wide-angle lenses that I’ve purchased to go with it, the 16-35 mm f/4 and 24-70 mm f/4 “L” series lenses.

Gale warnings on the big lake

Seeing that image here, I’m a bit disappointed, it’s darker here than when I view the image directly on my computer, I’ll have to try another one.

Gale warnings on the big lake number 2

That one’s a bit dark too, if that continues, I’ll have to make a second copy of this type of image and lighten the copy for posting in my blog, something that I’d rather not do.

Editor’s note:

Since I have typed the bit about the images appearing too dark in this post, I’ve viewed them several more times. How good they look all depends on the lighting in my apartment as I view these images. Some of the differences seem to be caused by the new Canon 5D Mk IV, as the images from it seem to be more affected by the ambient light in my apartment than the images from my other camera bodies. I haven’t figured that one out yet though. I think that I’ll put a poll at the end of this post to ask readers how they think that the images look when they view them.

Anyway, I was a bad boy when I shot these, as I didn’t use my tripod. I would have if I had found enough space to set it up, but I was standing right on the edge of the bank. At one point, the sand gave way under one of my feet, and I had to throw myself up the bank to prevent myself from falling down the bank and into the water. Luckily, I was able to prevent any damage to my camera or lens, and even better, keep them out of the sand as I hit the ground.

It’s hard for me to do this, but I’m going to go back to Thursday and show the mundane photos that led up to the point where I shot the images above.

New England asters and a monarch butterfly

It’s too bad that the monarch was in the shade, so here’s the asters without the butterfly.

New England asters

I don’t know what plant this is, but I loved the deep maroon color it had.

Maroon colored plant

While I was shooting this great blue heron…

Great blue heron

…I noticed these three garden spiders in the grass I was looking over the top of to see the heron…

Three garden spiders at once

…it’s been a good year for spiders from what I’m seeing this fall.

I guess that this was the image from this weekend that set me on the path to the landscape images that I started this post with.

Another failed attempt on my part

I was shooting into the sun, and getting lens flare in the frame as I tried to shoot this scene. So for that one, I held one hand so as to shade the front of the lens to prevent the flare. Trying to hold up the 100-400 mm lens on the 5D with the heavy battery grip on it with just one hand was more than I could do, so I missed the composition that I wanted, despite many attempts. I should have faced the swarms of mosquitos and set-up the tripod to get the exact composition that I wanted, but I wasn’t sure that it would be worth it. I think that it would have been…

Sparkles in the late afternoon sun

…as I don’t know what these plants are either, but I loved the way that they sparkled in the sun.

I thought that there was the possibility of there being a good sunset to photograph, so that’s when I headed to the Muskegon State Park beach, and was chased away by the sand flies and mosquitos there.

Sunset over a dune at Muskegon State Park

The sunset was just okay, nothing special, but I could have done better than this…

A ho-hum sunset

…if I would have had an interesting foreground and put more thought into the image, rather than being pre-occupied by fending off hoards of biting insects attacking me.

So, that brings me to Friday. I began at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, hoping to find a few birds, but other than huge flocks of starlings, and the ever-present mute swans…

Mute swans in flight

…there weren’t many birds to be found. I’d say that the wind that day may be to blame for that, but I learned later, it wasn’t.

I amused myself by shooting these photos to pass the time while looking for birds.

Damselfly

 

Viceroy butterfly

 

Ex-buttonbush flower

 

Goldenrod

 

Dragonflies mating

Part of my plan for the day was to check out two other parks near the Muskegon Lake Nature preserve, which I did. One holds some promise, but the only photo that I shot there was this one.

Heavy equipment on top of the stack at the Cobb power plant

The Cobb power plant is shut down, and they are beginning to dismantle it. Here’s a photo of the entire plant that I shot earlier this summer to show how tall the smokestack is.

The Cobb power plant near Muskegon, Michigan

I have no idea how they got the heavy equipment on top of that smokestack, it’s beyond me.

After checking out the two parks, I stopped at the Snug Harbor day use area of the Muskegon State Park. I began by shooting a few fungi…

Unidentified fungi

I think that this next one…

Unidentified fungus

…opens up to look like this one, but I could be wrong.

Unidentified fungus

I also shot these flowers as I was wandering around…

Aster?

…along with this guy.

Black morph, eastern gray squirrel

I spotted a mixed flock of birds that included both bluebirds and flickers, but as I was trying to get close enough to the birds to shoot any photos, I saw a buttonbush growing in the water of Muskegon Lake. However, all that I had with me was the 100-400 mm lens on the 5D. I returned to my car and grabbed my tripod and the 24-70 mm lens, and returned to where the buttonbush was. However, but that time, the light had changed, and the scene wasn’t what I wanted any longer. So, I sat down on the shore, and waited, eventually getting this image when the light got better again.

The Snug Harbor marsh in Muskegon State Park

I would have liked to have gotten a little lower, but that wasn’t possible, still, I’m happy with what I got by waiting for good light to return, rather than shooting the scene with dull light.

As luck would have it, I had put the 100-400 mm lens back on the camera, stood up, when a bluebird flew past me and landed nearby.

Eastern bluebird

And, it even turned around to give me a cleaner background behind its head.

Eastern bluebird

I also shot these two photos of a flicker, this one to show the shape of the red patch on the back of its head…

Northern flicker

…and this one to show how they close their eyes to protect them as they dig for ants, their preferred food.

Northern flicker

I could have stayed there at Snug Harbor and gotten more photos of birds, but there were swarms of mosquitos following me around the entire time despite the wind. It’s called Snug Harbor for a reason, towering sand dunes between Muskegon Lake and Lake Michigan block the winds from the west, the direction that the wind was from on this day. I knew that the mosquitos wouldn’t be able to fight the wind on the beach that day, and I didn’t think that the sand flies would either, so that’s where I went next.

I was right, no flying insect could withstand the wind gusts on the beach, as the gusts were well in excess of 30 MPH (50 KPH) at the time. The waves on Lake Michigan were large, but because it was a gusty wind, not as large as they would have been if the sustained wind would have been higher.

I put the 16-35 mm lens on the 5D, and began wandering around on the beach, shooting this one just to make sure that I had the settings correct.

On the point

Seeing that on the back of the camera told me that I was on the right track, but that I needed to wait until the sun broke through the clouds…

Almost magic light

…and that I would have close to magic light when the sun hit the water in narrow beams.

Almost magic light 2

It was during this timeframe that I shot the two images at the top of this post.

I may have gotten even better images if I had stayed on the beach and fought the wind longer, but I also wanted to get some shots that showed how large the waves were, which you really can’t see from the photos so far. I went to the main beach at Muskegon State Park, where I put the 100-400 mm lens to use to shoot this one.

A windy day at Muskegon

I shot a good number of photos similar to that one, some with the waves breaking over the top of the red structure on the breakwater that you see here. But, I liked that one the best because of the color of the water, the waves crashing into the breakwater, and the gulls flying in formation on such a windy day.

Say what you will about gulls, but they are amazing fliers to be out in the winds this day. And, they make it look easy, when I saw other birds fighting the wind for all that they were worth earlier in the day. I had watched a great blue heron battling the wind, getting blown back in wind gusts, then struggling forward when the wind slacked off a little, only to be blown back again, until it gave up and landed on the nearest solid ground. When I photographed the swans in flight earlier, they were being blown about in the wind also.

Anyway, I took a short break, then decided to go north to Duck Lake State Park to catch the sunset there. I shot these next two in order to warm up and check the camera settings again.

Getting ready for sunset

 

Seeing some color begin to appear

Seeing that, which I shot from my car, I decided that it was time to fight the wind, set-up my tripod, and do things the correct way.

Sunset at Duck Lake State Park

This turned out to be another “if only” time, for if only the clouds hadn’t been where they were at sunset, my images would have been even better. As it was, this is the best I came up with as far as color in the sky.

Sunset at Duck Lake State Park 2

The wind had increased to the point where it was gusting to close to 50 MPH (80 KPH) by then. I didn’t level the tripod and camera the way that I normally would have, I pushed the legs down into the sand far enough to hold it steady and to level it at the same time.

Also, I made use of one of the free camera bags that I’ve received from B&H Photo recently to carry the 24-70 mm and 70-200 mm lenses with me if I had felt the need to switch to one of them rather than use the 16-35 mm lens. I had to tie the camera bag to the fallen limb that you see in the foreground of the two images above, the camera bag with the two lenses in it was being blown across the sand if it wasn’t tied down. I had thought to take a lens cleaning cloth with me, which I needed to dry the front of the lens off between shots due to the spray from the waves being blown by the wind.

So, even though I knew what was going to happen next, I returned to my car to get out of the wind. Oh, and that reminds me, the temperature was dropping rapidly as the wind was blowing colder air with it. The temperature today is 30 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than this time yesterday, and that drop in temperature started just before sunset, as I was shooting these images. Fortunately, I had taken a heavy, long sleeve T-shirt with me to put over the light T-shirt I had on all day before this, but I should have brought a sweatshirt or jacket to go with the T-shirt. And, it didn’t help matters any that I was getting wet from the windblown spray from the waves to go with the colder air.

Of course what happened next was that the colors from the setting sun below the horizon lit up the underside of the clouds…

After sunset 1

…I considered going back out into the wind and cold and burying my tripod in the sand again to hold it steady…

After sunset 2

…but I did the best that I could shooting handheld from the inside of my vehicle with the window down.

After sunset 3

These aren’t bad, but the ISO was too high for them to be as good as they could have been had I used the tripod to hold the camera. And, because of the lay out of the area, I couldn’t get a good composition either.

By then, the sand from the beach was being blown around so much by the wind that it looked like snow drifting in the winter. The sting on exposed skin from the windblown sand didn’t feel very nice to begin with, and I didn’t want to expose my camera gear to it any more than I had already. So yes, I settled for less than I could have gotten as far as image quality.

Thinking about that last paragraph since I typed it has me in a bit of a corundum. Maybe I should have used one of my older camera bodies and lenses in the extreme weather as it was on that evening to prevent any damage to my newer and better gear. The images that I would have gotten would be very close to what I did get. And, this goes along with the moment that I described earlier when the sand slid out from under my foot and I fell to the ground to prevent myself from going the other way and into the water.

Stuff happens as we all know, which is why I won’t sell my older gear even though it isn’t as good as what I’m currently using. I could have easily knocked either the camera or lens, or both, out of commission when I fell, and the same could have happened from the wind-blown sand and spray later in the evening. Having my older gear as back-ups is a wise decision I believe. If I were on a trip somewhere, it would be hard for me to replace something that got broken, damaged by the weather, or just quit working, due to both the financial costs and the availability of a replacement lens or camera body in a timely manner.

However, all of my newer photo gear is weather sealed and better suited to such conditions than my older gear, which makes the decision as to what stuff I should risk to get an image more difficult to make. And, knowing that I wouldn’t be getting the very best image that was possible if I used my best gear would make it less likely for me to put the effort into shooting the photos as I should. If I had thought of using my old gear, I probably would have still stayed in my car and shot the same photos rather than face the wind, sand, and spray. I suppose what I use will depend on the exact situation at the time, but it is something for me to keep in mind in the future.

Switching gears somewhat, I did learn a lot from this weekend. For one thing, not all landscape photos have to be shot early in the morning or in the late in the evening, I needed the full sun to bring out the true colors of the waters of Lake Michigan as I saw them at the time, and to bring out the patterns that the wind made on the surface of the water between the waves. So, I’m going back to what I used to do more often, if I love the view, I’m going to shoot it when I see it, then decide later if I could do better at a different time of day.

Also, and here’s where I brag on my newest camera gear, the Canon 5D Mk IV and both of the newest L series wide-angle lenses that I’ve purchased make a huge difference in the quality of the landscape images that I’m shooting. I absolutely love the 16-35 mm f/4 lens as I’ve said before. It’s sharp from corner to corner, and the colors in the images that I shoot with it really pop, as in the days when I shot with Kodachrome slide film. I think that the 24-70 mm lens is as good as the 16-35 mm lens, but I haven’t shot any images that would let me do a side by side comparison between the two lenses. The scenes that I’ve shot with the 24-70 mm lens haven’t been as compelling as the ones that I’ve shot with the 16-35 mm lens. Maybe I’ll have to do this next week. I’ll try to find a scene what I can shoot somewhere between 24 mm and 35 mm, and shoot the scene with both lenses to test them out to see how they compare.

I didn’t know that wide-angle zoom lenses could be that good. In my film days, I used a 24 mm prime lens, which apparently wasn’t very good quality. Both of my new lenses are far superior to it.

And, the 5D Mk IV continues to amaze me even when I’m shooting some of the more mundane photos that I shoot. Purchasing it has left me broke, but it’s worth it, as I love seeing the detail that I get in all the images that I shoot. It has really raised the quality of my images, and not only that, it makes me want to put more effort into shooting the photos in the first place, because I know what the camera is capable of producing when I do things the right way, and put some thought into the images I’m shooting.

I’ve seen incremental increases in image quality as I’ve purchased better equipment in the past, but nothing has made as big of an impact as moving up to the full-frame sensor of the 5D.

The downside to that is that I have a harder time motivating myself to shoot more mundane images. This is something that I have to work on. I’m not always going to have great, or even good lighting. The subject matter may not always be great, but it may be something that many people may find interesting.  And in many cases, since I’m not interested in shooting mundane photos, I don’t even track a subject with the camera to shoot any images so if the subject does do something that would be worth recording, even if in a poor image, I’m not prepared to record it.

Anyway, as I said earlier in this post, I’m including a poll that I hope people take the time to click. There’s not much point to me continuing to blog and rave about how good some of my images are if the people seeing the photos and reading my blog don’t have the best view of the images in my post as they could have. So if you could please take the time to answer this short question, I’d appreciate it.

To help people make the decision, I’ve brightened this version of the very first image in this post by 1/3 of a stop…

Gale warnings on the big lake lightened

…and here’s the original version again.

Gale warnings on the big lake

I have to say that the original version looks better full size and at full resolution on my computer. However, within this post, the lightened version looks better. I don’t know why it is, but now that I’ve reviewed all the images in this post, and others from previous posts, all of the images shot with the 5D appear darker in my blog than when I view them in Lightroom. Maybe it’s because of the site of the original files from the 5D? It produces image files almost twice as large as I get from the 7D, while the number of mega pixels is only half again as large as the 7D. Anyway, it’s something that I need to keep in mind and work on in the future.

 

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


Plans changed, again

Well, I was thinking of going up north this Thursday on a scouting trip to check out places to photograph the fall colors in a few weeks, but it looks like it’s going to rain heavily most of the day in the area that I’m planning on going to. I may not even make it out to shoot any photos today from the looks of the radar this morning, we’ll see.

So, this post will be mostly photos that I shot last week, when my plans were also changed, in part, due to the weather. The forecast for last Thursday was for a thin layer of high clouds, which created nice, diffused light which would have been great for macro photography of flowers. To go with that, very light winds, so I wouldn’t have to chase flowers being blown around in the wind. I went to Huff Park, and quickly ran into two problems, a lack of flowers still in bloom, and hoards of hungry mosquitos. As cool as it was, there were no dragonflies or damselflies moving at the time, and with no wind, there was nothing to keep the mosquitos in check.

Here’s a few of the photos I did shoot as I was slapping at the skeeters.

Dew covered flower

Unfortunately, even though there were large numbers of spiders around…

Orb weaver spider

…they had no effect on the mosquito population at all. I did shoot a few photos of this one to show how it was repairing its web.

Orb weaver spider

I also shot a couple of short videos of the spider weaving its web, but they’re too shaky to post.

Here’s the rest of the images from my short time at Huff Park last week.

Turtlehead flowers

 

Joe Pye weed

So, I returned to my car and thought about where I could go to shoot some photos, and I recalled seeing many bird sighting over the past few years from a park called Covell Park in Whitehall, Michigan.

Whitehall is the next city north of Muskegon, where the White River flows into Lake Michigan. It isn’t very far north of Muskegon, less than a half an hour if you take the expressway, a little longer if you take the back roads as I did.

Covell Park is for the most part a parking lot that provides access to what is a rails to trails pathway that runs north out of Whitehall. There’s a bridge over the White River, which is where I think that most of the bird sightings occur, as the area surrounding the river is marshland, which is great habitat for wading birds and shorebirds, which make up the majority of the bird sightings that I’ve been interested in from there. The bridge over the White River would be a great place to set-up a spotting scope and spend time scanning the edges of the marshes for such birds. But, for photography, there’s really no way to get close enough to the birds in the marshes by foot. It would be a great place to put a boat or kayak in the river, and slowly paddle around the marshes there though.

I did walk the section of the rail trail that passes through the marsh, but there were few openings in the vegetation where I could look into the marsh though. Here are the few images I shot there.

Purple sweet pea

 

Unidentified fungi

 

American goldfinch

 

Purple coneflower

 

Some species of lobelia

 

Yellow toadflax

 

Unknown flowering object

 

Fall still life

I should have shot a few wider photos to show the marshes and how the single path across them was the narrow, raised old railroad grade, but I didn’t. I doubt if I will return to that park unless I get really brave, and begin taking my expensive camera gear in my kayak in the future.

Since I was in the same general area, I stopped to shoot a photo of the lighthouse built where the White River meets Lake Michigan.

The White River Lighthouse

I should have, but couldn’t resist shooting a passing gull.

Ring-billed gull in flight

I also found a song sparrow scouring the rocks along the river channel for food.

Song sparrow looking surreal

It’s fall, and not only are birds migrating south, but so are the monarch butterflies. I may have a distorted view as far as how rare they are becoming, for I see them in large numbers near the shores of Lake Michigan every fall. I assume that they are headed southwest from across the entire state of Michigan, they get to Lake Michigan, and follow the coast south around the lake until they can fly across land in the direction that they really want to go. I saw a large number of them as I walked the short distance along the channel, and I just had to try to capture one in flight.

Monarch butterfly in flight

These photos were test shots to see if I could catch one, I may have to try this again when the skies are clear so that I get a better background than the grey skies when I shot these.

Monarch butterfly in flight

I’ve been checking the radar all morning, and moderate rain continues to fall to the north where I had planned on going today. The weather isn’t much better here, the rain did let up for a short time, but another line of thunder showers is passing overhead as I’ve been working on this post. So now, I’ll move on to  the photos from last Friday.

This is why I no longer shoot many photos of waterfowl in the fall…

Male northern shoveler in its fall plumage

…when they’re such colorful birds in the spring.

Male northern shoveler in flight

On the other hand, American kestrel are pretty birds at any time of the year.

American kestrel in flight

If only they’d allow me to get closer to them.

American kestrel in flight

Those were shot in the late morning, as dawn was quite foggy.

Foggy fall morning

Seeing a small flock of sandhill cranes in the fog…

Sandhill cranes on a foggy morning

…I decided that it would be a good test of the new 5D Mk IV to see how it would perform on a foggy day.

Sandhill cranes on a foggy morning

A little more work in Lightroom, and I came up with this one.

Sandhill cranes on a foggy morning

By the way, you can see that the cranes were eating corn that had been dropped in the road.

Grass seeds in the fog

Some one asked about dew covered spider webs, and while I’ve shot many of them this fall, I haven’t posted them. I feel that they are a bit clichéd, and I lose track of what I have and have not posted photos of recently. And, while I’ve shot many that were better than this next one, I haven’t shot what I considered to be one that stood out among the rest. I’ve done better in the past.

Spider web

And, unlike past years when I seldom saw the spiders that spun the webs, this year, I’m seeing them everywhere.

Garden spider and web

Dew does change the appearance of the things covered in it…

Grass seeds close up take 1

…so I tried two completely different takes on this example.

Grass seeds close up take 2

I wish that I could have gone slightly wider with this next one…

Fall colors

…but then I would have had some distractions in the frame to go with the bright leaves and berries.

I think that I post too many photos of dragonflies…

Dragonfly

…but that was a test of depth of field and composition when it comes to close-ups of insects.

Finally, two photos of a belted kingfisher in flight.

Belted kingfisher in flight

I used to post many photos of this species that were similar, but I haven’t posted any lately.

Belted kingfisher in flight

Well, it’s now Friday morning. I did manage to make it to the Muskegon area yesterday afternoon after the morning storms had passed through the area. I shot a pitifully low number of photos though, so I’ll just end this one here, and tell the story of what happened yesterday, and what happens today, in my next post.

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


Having trouble getting started

I’m having trouble getting started with this post at the present time, I could do a post about GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), which I thought that I had conquered. But, both Canon and Nikon have recently introduced full frame mirrorless cameras which will probably be the future of digital photography. I could explain why that is, and why I’m interested, but I don’t think that I will, at least not now.

I could do a post on why it’s hard for me to post average photos of common subjects…

Red-eyed vireo

…since I shot the image of the dragonfly from my last post, and I’ve been expanding my horizons this summer in shooting night photos, the Milky Way, and the other subjects that I’ve been shooting. But, I won’t, as that leads me back to photo gear and techniques, such as how my images of birds in flight…

Juvenile tree swallow in flight

 

Great blue heron in flight

…have improved to the point that I’m now proud of the images of them that I shoot far more often than not.

Or, I could brag about how much my macro images have improved lately…

Grasshopper

 

Water strider

…but I don’t want to go down that road either.

I could do a post on the ethics of baiting wildlife, and whether it’s a violation of my own ethics if I see that birds…

Male northern cardinal molting

 

Male northern cardinal molting

 

White-breasted nuthatch

 

White-breasted nuthatch

…or other wildlife comes to eat what others have left for them…

Red squirrel

…when I could just post this photo…

White-breasted nuthatch

…and not mention that I got that photo by standing near food that some one else had left to attract the bird in the photo.

In some ways, what I did in standing near the pile of peanuts, sunflower seeds, and other seeds on the ground isn’t much different from when I stand near a bush covered with berries that I see birds eating and photograph the birds as they come to eat the berries. The only difference is that the berries are a natural source of food that I take advantage of, rather than putting the food out myself.

I could do a detailed description of Huff Park, the park that I’ve gone to the past two weeks…

Sign for Huff Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan

…but I think that the signs says everything that I would have to say about the park.

Wait, that’s not true, I do have something to say about this park. It’s another of the postage stamp sized parks that attracts a wide variety of migrating birds that use the park during their journeys, both north in the spring, and south in the fall. This park, like many of the other smaller parks I’ve been visiting lately, provide the birds with food and cover, places for them to rest and refuel within the limits of Michigan’s second largest city.

I used to go to the largest parks and other public areas that there were in the area where I live, thinking that getting away from other people was the key to finding birds to photograph, and while I do see a few birds in large parks, they are spread out more, and harder to find. These small parks, such as Huff Park, The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and the East Grand River Park in Grand Haven, concentrate the birds in small areas, making them easier to find and photograph. Not only that, I would think that these small oasis parks are very important to the survival of many of the migrating birds that depend on these parks during migration.

That leads me to another observation that I’ve made recently, when I go to a large park, the birds are spread out over wide areas, and I see only one or two at a time. However, in the smaller parks, the birds form large mixed flocks that stay together as they move though the park as they search for food. I wonder why that is? Not that I have an answer, but it’s something that I hope to remember to ask Brian Johnson the next time that I bump into him.

Now, more than ever, I wish that I had been able to photograph more of the birds that I saw in Huff Park than I was able to.

Female northern cardinal

I missed more birds than I was able to get photos of.

Eastern wood-pewee

And for this next one, I threw the camera to my eye, hit the auto-focus button and shutter release at almost the same time, hoping that the camera would get a focus on the bird before it moved on me yet again.

Magnolia warbler

Just as on the trail to Lost Lake in Muskegon last week, I found flickers in flocks as they migrate south.

Northern Flicker

While the year round resident downy woodpeckers were nearby, but they were also there in small flocks mixed in the overall larger mixed flocks of birds.

Male downy woodpecker

Some of it makes sense to me, when I think about it. I can see why flycatchers such as the pewee and a few eastern Phoebe that I wasn’t able to get photos of, would hang around near the warblers, vireos, and other smaller birds, to pick off the flying insects stirred up by the smaller birds as they worked through the vegetation looking for their own preferred insects to eat.

I’m guessing that the flickers were in small family flocks, maybe several families of them migrating together, and they are vocal birds, often calling to one another as they search for food, or in the case last week while on the Lost Lake trail, alerting the others to the Cooper’s hawk that was hunting the flickers and other small birds.

Maybe I’m on to something here. In large parks, the birds are able to spread out more, making it harder for potential predators…

Domestic cat

…to locate them. In a small park, where they are already concentrated in a small area to begin with, and therefore easier for predators to find them, maybe it’s safer for the birds to all stick together in even tighter flocks so that they can warn the others in the flock of predators, or receive the warnings from the others.

Of course, that theory may be all wrong, but it’s something for me to continue to observe this fall as the birds migrate south.

That reminds me, I have another “mystery” that I’d love to be able to solve. It concerns this juvenile bald eagle…

Juvenile bald eagle carrying a fish

…where it catches fish, and where it goes to eat them. This is the third time that I’ve seen this juvenile eagle carrying fish while flying over the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve from south to north. I have to wonder why it travels so far to eat the fish that it catches, since it’s a juvenile, and given the time of year that it is, it can’t be carrying the fish back to  its nest to feed its young. I’d love to find out where it does its fishing, it can’t be very far from the preserve from the lay of the land and water in that area. There are also trees and manmade objects that the eagle could use as a perch to land and eat the fish that it catches off to the south of the preserve, so I don’t understand why it travels so far and burns so much energy carrying the fish as far as it does. It’s not as if eagles share food, quite the contrary, they often steal food from other eagles and other predators when they can. Maybe that’s why this eagle travels as far as it does, it has a spot where it feels safe to perch and eat its meal in peace, and not have to fight off other eagles trying to steal the meal it worked so hard for.

It could also be that the eagle doesn’t want to alert any other passing eagles to the fishing spot that it’s found if it were to perch nearer to where it had caught the fish it was carrying. If another eagle flying past saw this one eating its meal nearby, the other eagle may encroach on this one’s favorite fishing hole. So, maybe as I typed this out, I’ve explained the mystery, but I’d still love to learn where this eagle does its fishing in hopes that I’d be able to photograph it in action.

I suppose that the poor photo of the eagle carrying its meal should be my motivation to continue to shoot photos such as that, as they prompt me to think about the behavior of the subjects of such photographs, and I try to figure out why the subject is doing what it’s doing.

Sometimes, that’s easy.

Jumping spider with its meal

I did try to shoot a better photo from close to the same angle, but the vegetation made that impossible.

Jumping spider with its meal

So, I had to settle for this.

Jumping spider with its meal

I also wish that I’d been able to switch to my macro lens and get closer to the spider, but it was already trying to move away from me, dragging the grasshopper with it since it didn’t want to lose its meal. On the other hand, this garden spider was too busy wrapping its latest victim in its web as I shot this photo.

Garden spider and its meal

That’s one of the many times that I should have switched to shoot a video of the spider as it used its hind legs to wrap the grasshopper in its web. But, handholding the camera, the 100-400 mm lens, and the 1.4 X tele-converter would have resulted in such a poor video because of how shaky it would have been that I didn’t even try to shoot a video.

Come to think of it, I have another mystery to solve, and I don’t think that I’ll be able to do that on my own.

The mystery of the blue leaves

I took that wide shot after I had removed some of the other foliage from around these leaves…

The mystery of the blue leaves

…to get the best possible view, and best possible photo of them.

It looked to me as if these leaves had turned blue naturally, and weren’t a result of human interference, such as paint. I suppose that the minerals in the soil could be the reason that these leaves turned blue, but I’m not an expert on plants. I can’t even identify the species of plant that this is, which is the reason that I included the wider shot, in hopes that some one would be able to tell me what this plant is, and possibly, why its leaves would turn that shade of blue.

Anyway, here are a few more of the photos that I shot this last week.

Tickseed sunflower?

 

Bumblebee on the same species of flower

Sometimes, I prefer a wider shot that I shoot…

Joe Pye weed

…over images that I shoot with the macro lens.

Joe Pye weed

I wonder why all spiders seem to hang upside down on their webs, and also, why I seldom see them in a position where I can shoot the top of them.

Orb weaver spider

I really meant to pay more attention to the leaves of this next flower so that I’d have a chance of identifying it, but I was distracted by the spider shown above and forgot to shoot a photo of the leaves.

One of the smartweed? Possibly lady’s thumb?

My skill level when it comes to identifying flowers is close to zero, I believe that this next flower is in the aster family, and not the daisy family, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn otherwise.

White aster?

This next one is just a wider photo showing some of the colors and textures that I saw and enjoyed, even if the photo doesn’t do justice to the scene.

Fall colors and textures

And finally, one of my favorite wildflowers which is coming to the end of its blooming period as fall approaches.

Chicory

Well, I have a good many thoughts running through my head right now, things that I have to sort out as I go. I’ve already had another two days off from work since I began this post, and I just barely managed to shoot enough photos for another post, maybe. They were somewhat disappointing days, made worse by the swarms of mosquitoes everywhere I went during those two days. We received over a foot of rain over a two-week period not long ago, which as I explained in a previous post, has made finding trails dry enough to walk harder to do. And with all the standing water left from the rain, it’s going to be a bad fall as far as the skeeters, at least until it dries out here.

Enough of that, time for me to work on my plans for going up north in a few weeks to photograph the fall colors there, and to begin another post.

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


What all the talk leads to

At  the end of my last post, I said that I had shot one of the best images that I’ve ever taken, so here it is.

Unidentified dragonfly

Although, some people may prefer this slightly brighter version a little more.

Unidentified dragonfly

Those aren’t the same image with the second one brightened a bit, you can tell that by the background as the cattails in the shade moved in the wind between the images.

Either version is what I’ve been trying to accomplish as far as improving my photography skills to get the best possible images that I can. In truth, all it takes is luck, and shooting 750 photos of dragonflies to this point since I’ve been adding keywords to my photos in Lightroom. I had followed several of this species of dragonfly around on that day, shooting many photos that were okay…

Unidentified dragonfly

…but didn’t have the dramatic lighting of the first two. I knew that I was getting something special as I viewed the dragonfly through the viewfinder, and for once, I didn’t blow my chance. The dragonfly was in a good position, well away from the background vegetation. The late afternoon sun low in the sky raked the dragonfly from the side, but was diffused enough not to cast harsh shadows. The only thing that I would have changed if I could have, is that I wish that it had been facing towards me a little more than it was.

Sorry, this will be the camera talk part of this post.

While using the 7D Mk II, I’ve been exposing to the right, that is, setting the exposure to as bright as I could get it without blowing out the highlights. I’ve had to do that to prevent getting too much noise in the images that I’ve shot with that camera. But, the 5D Mk IV is completely different, even though the first two images were shot at ISO 8000, there wasn’t much noise in them to remove in Lightroom, although I have gone back and cleaned those images up a bit since the versions that you see here.

Using the 7D is like shooting with color print film, I’ve gotten the best results over-exposing slightly, from 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop. Soon after I began using the 5D, I’ve been setting the exposure as I would for color slide film, going 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop lower in exposure to get the color saturation and fine details in the images I shoot with the 5D. Since my favorite film back in the old days was Kodachrome slide film, using the 5D is a natural to me.

I’ve since gone a little lower with the exposure when shooting with the 7D, and that helps a little as far as color saturation and capturing fine details, but that camera still requires a brighter exposure setting than the 5D to prevent excess noise in my images.

The 5D Mk IV is spoiling me, in so many ways. I can use all the focus points while using the 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X tele-converter, while I’m limited to just the single center focus point with the same lens set-up on the 7D. I’ll try to move the focus point when using the 7D, or wonder why all the focus points don’t become active when I try to set the camera that way, and it takes me a few seconds to remember the differences between the two cameras.

Then there’s the better low-light performance of the 5D…

Whitetail family, sort of

…these were shot at ISO 25600…

Whitetail doe

…with no noise reduction other than what the camera itself does.

I wanted to get all three deer in the frame at once, but I wasn’t able to, as I also wanted to show that the closest fawn to me still has its spots. It was already turning to run off when I shot the first photo, with the other fawn following right behind it. Their mother stuck around for that last photo though, before she took off also. The 7D Mk II won’t even go that high for the ISO setting unless I enable the extended range for the ISO settings, and the amount of noise I’d get would be terrible. These aren’t bad at all considering how low the light was when I shot them.

Anyway, getting the image of the dragonfly that I did came at a good time for me. Since I’ve been expanding the range of subjects that I photograph, such as night photography in town, the Milky Way, and working on better macro images…

Unidentified orange mushroom

 

Violet webcap, Cortinarius violaceus?

…I haven’t been paying as much attention to birds…

Male northern cardinal molting

…or mammals…

Mosquito going after a squirrel that had stolen some one’s cookie

…as I should be.

I’ve been chasing great light…

Monarch butterfly

…or trying to be more artistic…

Damselfly and cattails

…although I think that the way that I framed that last shot to get the colors of the cattails and the composition the way that I did actually works to hide the damselfly. That’s why I continue to plug away with my photography, learning with each photo I shoot.

I was sitting on a bench taking a break, trying to cool down on a hot day, when I saw the damselfly. Rather than jump into action immediately, putting the focus point on the damselfly’s eye and firing away as I’ve done in the past, I sat there for a few minutes looking over the entire scene. I liked the colors of the cattails and the positions of the individual leaves, and the light, so I thought about ways I could incorporate them in my image when I shot it. I may have done too good of a job though, as the cattails distract the eye from the damselfly.

I did too much of the opposite on the previous day while at Lost Lake working on macro photos, as I walked to the observation deck to drop my un-needed photo gear, and after a quick stroll around the area, I found many of the subjects that I wanted to photograph. Then, I returned to the observation deck, got the macro set-up ready, and practically raced from subject to subject, checking them off from the mental list that I had made. That’s why many of the photos aren’t what I wanted…

Jelly fungus?

 

Unidentified fungal object

…I was in too much of a hurry to “complete a task”, rather than take the time to think about each image…

Puffball

…and get the best possible image of each subject.

I didn’t have to hurry, these things weren’t going anywhere, but I did. I only slowed down when I saw something that interested me that I hadn’t noticed before when I did my walk around the area.

Unidentified orange fungi

When I saw these, I noticed that the tips of them seemed to be different…

Unidentified orange fungi

…so I shot many photos of them.

Unidentified orange fungi

I thought that these were a species of coral fungi just beginning to grow, but now I don’t think so. In researching one of the subjects in another of my photos, I came across a website that may have provided me with the proper species name for these, but as I was researching something else at the time, I didn’t note the species or website that I found these on, silly me, again.

There are times when I see something that interest me, and after I’ve photographed it, I almost wish that I hadn’t. This has to be one of the ugliest, most menacing insects I’ve ever seen…

Ugly, menacing insect

…no matter what angle I shot it at.

Ugly, menacing insect

I’d hate to be bitten by that thing, whatever it was!

Anyway, even as I was rushing around shooting the macros and close-ups during my time at Lost Lake…

Partridge berry and plant?

…I was telling myself to slow down to get the best photo I could…

Unidentified fungal object

…but at the same time…

Unidentified fungal objects

….I had noted so many things that I wanted to shoot…

Unidentified fungal object

….that I wanted to make sure that I got to them…

Unidentified fungal object

…before I’d forgotten where they were.

Unidentified fungal object

Now it occurs to me that I should make use of a notebook that I purchased, but seldom use. I should have drawn a rough sketch of the area, and marked on the sketch where the things were that I wanted to shoot. That way, I wouldn’t have had to rely on my sometimes faulty memory to locate those things once I’m ready to begin shooting them. And, I know better than to carry the camera with me as I look for small subjects to photograph, as I would have missed most of these things if I had done that.

Most of the macros from my excursion to Lost Lake were shot in a very small area, perhaps 50 feet in diameter around the observation deck at the lake. In a way, I was overwhelmed by the possibilities, as some of the things I saw I did shoot photos of, but I’m not going to post them. I have a feeling that when it comes to macro photography, that this won’t be the only time that there are more subjects to photograph than I can remember if I scout first, and shoot later.

In my defense, I was also experimenting with the macro lighting set-up that I showed in my last post, some of the time that I should have been thinking about the best way to shoot some of these subjects was taken up by my thinking of how I could improve the lighting rig for in the future.

After the macro excursion on Thursday, I didn’t take my macro lens with me as I walked the local park on Friday, but I should have. I meant the Friday trip as a day of birding, staying in practice chasing small birds in the brush.

Red-bellied woodpecker

 

Great crested flycatcher

 

Eastern bluebird

 

Black-capped chickadee calling

 

Nashville warbler

I missed more birds than I was able to get, because it has been a while since I’ve chased them around to any degree. What I actually mean by chasing the birds around is usually standing in one spot waiting until I see a bird, then moving as little as possible to get a clear view of them. Most of the time on Friday, the birds had moved before I could get them in the viewfinder and in focus to shoot a photo of them. It didn’t help that my movements were limited because I was on the newly rebuilt boardwalk over the marsh at the park I was at.

For the record, I went to Huff Park in northeast Grand Rapids, very close to where I grew up as a kid. I’ve been there a couple of times in the past, but I quit going there because the boardwalk was falling apart, and if I remember right, part of it was closed during my last visit. The entire boardwalk has been replaced now, so I think that I’ll be going there one or two days a month this fall. It’s much closer to home than Muskegon, and it does attract a wide variety of migrating birds.

I wasn’t going to post this, it was a test of the new 24-70 mm lens, but it does show the marsh there at Huff Park.

The marsh at Huff Park, Grand Rapids, MI.

The birds are generally found around the edges of the marsh, and there’s a trail all the way around the marsh. Much of the trail is the raised boardwalk which does limit my ability to move around to get the best view of the birds, but I think that it will be worth it, time will tell.

 

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