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

Hiking

Welcome 2019, but time for a break

Well, so far January has been a little milder than an average year here in West Michigan, however, sunshine has been as rare as ever so far this winter. I’m also having difficulty in finding birds other than eagles to photograph, and I’m not entirely sure of why that’s the case. Some of the reasons are that I’m no longer shooting photos of birds that are really out of camera range, in dreadful light, or that refuse to pose for me. Also, I’ve made what for me is a huge investment in very good cameras and lenses, so I’ve been extra cautious with that gear to protect it all from the winter weather. I’m thinking of purchasing a good quality point and shoot camera that I can carry in a pocket to take with me while walking through the woods. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to afford one until next winter though, since my purchases of the Canon 5D Mk IV and the 24-70 mm lens have left my bank account drained.

I am, however, shooting plenty of images of eagles in action, which I’ll get to in a while here. First, I’m going to start with an image that I shot at sunset on one of the few sunny days that I can remember so far in the new year.

Icy sunset

I started with that one because it fits the header of my blog better than this version of the scene…

Icy sunset, my favorite view

…which I much prefer over the first version.

By the way, besides purchasing the full frame 5D Mk IV and the two wide-angle lenses that were upgrades over the crop sensor versions I used to use, I’ve also purchased a new backpack to hold all of my full frame gear, along with another holster bag that’s large enough to accept any of my camera bodies with the battery grips and tripod quick release plates attached to the cameras.

One of my 60D bodies was slightly damaged while I had it in the old backpack, and I didn’t want the same to happen to any of my newer gear. I searched long and hard to find the right bags for me this time, and I found ones that I really love. The backpack holds any of my cameras comfortably and safely, along with my lenses and other accessories needed. It’s also very convenient to access whatever body and lens combination that I choose to carry in the top of the backpack, it stands up on its own, and I only have to partially unzip the bag to get to the second set-up. If I need an item stored lower in the bag, all I have to do is lay the bag on its back and unzip the rest of it. It also has dividers that have padding on both sides of a rigid center so the backpack is much more resistant to being crushed and my gear damaged than the one that I use for my crop sensor gear.

The holster bag is large enough to comfortably and easily hold a second body with an attached lens, and a second lens if needed, or my flash unit and other accessories for the flash if I’m planning on shooting macro images. It is also stronger than the holster bag that I had been using, along with being large enough to hold the camera bodies that I use now with all the accessories attached to the bodies.

Toward the end of last summer, or possibly early fall, I showed a photo of a rig that I came up with to hold my flash unit in place while shooting macros.

Macro lighting rig

At the time that I shot that photo, I had to remove the tripod quick release plate from the camera body that I wanted to use the lighting rig on, then screw the rig to the camera body. That was a pain to do each time, so I purchased a quick release clamp that’s the same as on the head of my tripod, so now, I can quickly clamp the lighting rig to any of my camera bodies I choose to use, then just as quickly, remove the lighting rig from the body to shoot normally.

That has worked so well, that I’m planning on coming up with a similar set-up that will allow me to use any of my camera and lens combinations on both of the tripod heads that I use.

News flash:

But, rather than bore every one with what I have in mind, I have an announcement to make.

I think that it’s time for me to take a break from blogging for a while again. Over the years, I have taken several such breaks for several months each time, and they do me a world of good as far as content and motivation for continuing to blog.

There are several reasons why I’m choosing now as the time for a break, the weather and the lack of subjects to photograph, along with my computer.

First the weather and lack of subjects to photograph. It’s turned extremely cold here in Michigan, so cold that schools have been closing due to the wind chill on some days. I love the camera gear that I have now, and don’t want to risk damaging any of it by exposing it to cold that is well below Canon’s recommendations as far as temperature. Then, there’s the almost constant lake effect cloud cover that comes with the cold. We have one grey overcast dreary day after another when the weather pattern sets up as it is now, along with copious amounts of lake effect snow that makes driving a difficult task. I have to put up with it for work, I’d rather not have to do the same on my days off from work. And, I’d rather not go back to shooting poor photos just to fill my blog posts with after I’ve worked so hard to improve my skills to the level where I’m at now.

I’m also having trouble finding birds other than eagles to photograph, which I said earlier. I should include gulls and crows along with eagles, but frankly, I have enough photos of gulls already, the same with crows. For over a month, I’ve had trouble finding even the most common of smaller birds such as chickadees and cardinals to try to photograph, and I’m not sure why that is. I’ve gone to my favorite spots for smaller birds and not seen so much as a feather during this time, and I’ve seldom even heard a bird in the distance.

Then, there’s the situation with my computer, which is an iMac. About two weeks ago I decided that it was time for me to update the operating system to “Mohave”, Apple’s latest and supposedly greatest. When the upgrade was finally installed, it was like starting with a brand new computer, most of my settings had reverted back to the default settings. The upgrade also caused Keychain, the Apple app that stores passwords and the like so that you don’t have to remember them every time you sign on to a web site to have been emptied, so I had to go to every web site that requires a password and sign in as from scratch, then store those passwords in Keychain once again.

Fortunately, I save all my passwords in a text file, so that task wasn’t too bad, but then another problem popped up. I found that my Email was going to all different folders than the way that I had the system set-up to handle incoming Emails, they were going everywhere with no rhyme or reason to which folder they were going to. It took me a while to track them all down, and send them to the correct folders. I guess that’s what I get for trying to be organized.

Then, once I had all the Emails in their proper folders, another problem popped up, this one has to do with WordPress and my ability to comment on or like posts from other bloggers. This seems to be based on the themes that other bloggers use, there are some WordPress sites that I have not been able to successfully log into at all since I did the OS update. For other WordPress sites, I have to log in both to leave a comment and then log in again to like the post, and even then, the system doesn’t always work as it should. I could go on, but I’ll sum it up by saying that it’s been a mess.

Oh, and one other thing, since I did the upgrade, neither Lightroom or Photomatix work quite as they should, and they will not work together at all the way that they used to. This means that processing the few photos that I’ve shot lately has taken much more time than it should have. This is really problematic for me, as I’m using the standalone version of Lightroom which is no longer supported by Adobe. I doubt if Adobe will upgrade the version of Lightroom that I use, they want to push every one into their subscription version that requires a monthly fee to use.

I was planning on switching over the subscription version eventually, probably later this year, but it looks as if I’m going to be forced to do so ahead of my schedule. That version is affordable, but it was an expense that I was trying to put off until I had the entire hospital bill from two years ago paid off before I made the switch. I only have a few more payments to make, so the end is in sight as far as that bill is concerned, and by taking a break from blogging for a while, it will be helpful to my wallet as well.

Anyway, time for a few photos, these were all shot last week, when there was a rare sunny (for the most part) day.

Juvenile bald eagles in flight

This series shows an adult eagle chasing a juvenile…

Bald eagles in flight

 

Bald eagles in flight

…and the gyrations that the eagles can make in flight.

Bald eagles in flight

 

Bald eagles in flight

 

Bald eagles in flight

 

Bald eagles in flight

 

Bald eagles in flight

 

Adult bald eagle in flight

 

Adult bald eagle in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

These next two show how cold and windy it’s been lately, cold enough for the ice to get quite thick, and windy enough that waves were able to break the ice up and throw it on shore.

Ice broken by the wind

 

Ice broken by the wind

 

Ice flow

These two show a small part of the flock of gulls that soar over the landfill looking for scraps of food to eat.

Gulls in flight

 

Gulls in flight

At least there was some sun before the lake effect clouds rolled back in. However, not even the 5D Mk IV captured the colors in the sky the way that I hoped that it would.

The clouds return

Going back to the day when I shot the sunset seen earlier, I shot these photos.

Testing my macro rig

 

Alder? catkins

 

Reflections of a sunny day

 

Reflections of a sunny day 2

 

Loved the colors

 

Sand patterns in black and white

 

Just a rare sunny winter day along Lake Michigan

I think that I made the most out of what little sun we’ve had around here.

Red squirrel eating rose hips

 

Red squirrel eating rose hips

 

Red squirrel eating rose hips

 

Driftwood in black and white

Since this will be my last post for a while, I may as well throw in a few more photos.

Up close with a juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

American crow taking flight

 

The demolition of the Cobb power plant continues

 

A shipwreck from the late 1800’s exposed by winter storms

 

A close-up of the construction of the ship

Okay, I think that’s enough for now, in fact, enough until I return from this short break in my blogging. Not only has the weather taken a turn for the worse, with bitterly cold temperatures forecast for over a week, but this will also give me time to catch up with other things in my life that I’ve been putting off.

I should be back to blogging on a regular basis again towards the end of March, at least I hope that it warms up by then. In the meantime, I’ll do a few more posts of individual species of birds in the My Photo Life List project, but I won’t publicize them, and they will be posted with no comments or likes allowed. Those posts have never been very popular anyway, so I doubt if any one will miss them or the ability to comment on them.

Oh, one more thing, I doubt if I will be commenting on other people’s post for the time being either, at least until there are software updates that allow me to do so without the hassles that I’m facing when I try now. Sorry!

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

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Happy lichen

In a comment discussion with Allen, who writes the New Hampshire Garden Solutions blog, he made a remark that really stuck with me, he doesn’t know why, but lichens seem happy in the winter. And since there’s a lack of other subjects to photograph in Michigan this time of year, I’ve been spending time shooting some of the lichens that I’ve found.

Colorful lichens in the winter

I can’t identify any of these, sorry to say, but I can appreciate seeing their beautiful colors when the rest of the area is decidedly lacking in color.

More colorful lichens

For those that don’t know what lichen are, here’s a snippet from Wikipedia…A lichen is a composite organism that arises from algae or cyanobacteria living among filaments of multiple fungi in a mutualistic relationship. The combined lichen has properties different from those of its component organisms. Lichens come in many colors, sizes, and forms. The properties are sometimes plant-like, but lichens are not plants. Lichens may have tiny, leafless branches (fruticose), flat leaf-like structures (foliose), flakes that lie on the surface like peeling paint (crustose), a powder-like appearance (leprose), or other growth forms. Or to put it another way…”Lichens are fungi that have discovered agriculture” —Trevor Goward.

The curious somewhat scientific side of me finds lichens interesting to say the least, but the more often that I get really close to them…

Lichen

…I often wonder if I’m seeing two versions of the same lichen…

Lichen(s)

…or many different species growing together…

Lichens

…and I wonder just how many species there are…

Lichens

….and how to identify them without a science lab with me…

Lichens

…or watching the same specimen over time to be able to tell what is going on…

Lichens

…but I also enjoy seeing the other things that grow with lichens, such as mosses…

Lichens and moss

…and the closer that I look…

Lichens

…the more species I find. Looking at this white spot on the bark of a maple tree, what I thought was discolored bark was actually very tiny lichens which gave the tree bark a brown appearance from a distance…

Lichens

….yet is more of a burnt orange color up close…

Lichens

…and then I wondered if these are two species competing for the same spot…

Lichens

…or just what is going on in that last photo.

A pleasant thing about getting set-up for the macro photos so far is that I found other subjects than just lichens to shoot…

White pine sap flowing from a wound in the tree

But still I wonder, just what it is that I’m seeing in photos such as this one?

Lichens?

The same applies to this one as well, just what is going on here?

Fungi?

I assume that the base “structure” is a fungus, but what about the transition areas that show up as green?

Is this an algae growing on top of an existing fungus?

Fungi?

Even as close as I could get with my macro lens, I can’t tell what it is that I’m seeing.

If it is an algae growing on a fungus, is this the way that lichens first develop?

Fungi?

To make things even harder, is this a mold growing on a lichen?

Mold growing on lichen?

Or another species of lichen competing for space, or has the photosynthesis stopped in the white parts of the fungi, causing it to lose its green color?

Mold growing on lichen?

No matter what I was seeing as far as the different forms of life, it was nice to see a color other than brown this time of year as I shot these macro photos.

Fungi

Still more things to ponder, has something such as a mouse or squirrel eaten the ends of this lichen, or is this something else, possibly related to reproduction?

Have these lichen been eaten back?

I’m more familiar with this type of lichen fruiting body, called apothecia.

More lichen

I got distracted by the brighter colors in this shot…

More lichen

…I was going for a closer photo of the apothecia…

Lichen apothecia

…and tying to get as close to them as my macro lens is capable of…

Lichen apothecia

…I cropped this one a little to get as close as I could.

Lichen apothecia

One last look at a lichen.

Still more lichen

So that this entire post isn’t only lichen, I have a few landscape images to use up.

Pine plantation

These next two show how snow and sand blow around equally this time of year.

The top of a dune

We get some snow, the wind blows sand over the snow, then it snows again, and the process repeats for most of the winter.

Winter in the dunes

Crepuscular rays are a sight often seen in association with our lake effect clouds during the winter, so I’m trying to learn how to get them to stand out more in my photos.

Crepuscular rays over Lake Michigan

I suppose that I should throw in one photo of a bird as well. After all the gloomy skies, I thought that this one would be a good choice.

Male American goldfinch last spring

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


Eagles in action

It’s winter here in West Michigan, and it’s been a blah type of winter so far. It’s been cold and cloudy most of the time, but we haven’t had very much snow so far this year. It’s been cold enough that many of the smaller bodies of water have frozen over, so most of the waterfowl have flown south for the winter. It’s been getting tougher to find subjects to photograph with every passing week, mostly due to the weather.

One constant for over a month has been the large number of bald eagles hanging out in the vicinity of the Muskegon County wastewater facility and the adjacent county landfill. At one point, I counted 13 bald eagles in view at one time, although they were scattered across the frozen surface of the storage lagoon at the wastewater facility. Bald eagles aren’t fussy about what they eat or where they find their food, they’ll scavenge the landfill just as the gulls and crows do. They also are able to pick off an occasional gull or one of the few remaining waterfowl, along with small mammals and other sources of food.

The photos in this post will all be of eagles that I’ve shot the past two months, and many of them aren’t very good, but they do show eagle behavior that many people never get the chance to see. I’m going to start with one of the better images that I’ve shot lately.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Of course it was a juvenile eagle, although this image of an adult is pretty good also.

Adult bald eagle in flight

And, it’s been relatively easy to get two eagles in the frame at once, as in this adult gliding past a juvenile perched on the ice.

Adult bald eagle flying past a perched juvenile

When the eagles first showed up, I was shooting them no matter how far away from me they were, and no matter how poor the weather was at the time. I’m going to include this series because it shows a juvenile eagle challenging an adult, even though they were too far away from me, and there was a huge flock of Canada geese between myself and the eagles. But, this shows both the eagles in action, and the large number of geese that remain around here.

Juvenile bald eagle challenging an adult

 

Juvenile bald eagle challenging an adult

 

Juvenile bald eagle challenging an adult

 

Juvenile bald eagle challenging an adult

 

Juvenile bald eagle challenging an adult

I should have known that a week or two later I’d be able to shoot two other eagles going at it a little closer to me.

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

I can’t say for sure that it was intentional, but it looked as if the eagle that had been perched filled its talons with ice and snow…

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

…and dropped it on the other eagle’s tail.

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

These “battles” seem to be all posturing, with no actual physical contact between the two combatants.

By the way, if it matters, all of these were shot with the Canon 7D Mk II and the 400 mm f/5.6 prime lens because of the 7D’s higher frame rate so that I could capture the action takin place.

Now then, on the other end of the behavior scale, I caught the two resident eagles doing a little early season courting. I can tell that they are the resident pair, because the male’s head looks flat and small compared to most eagles, I’ve seen them often enough to recognize the male. And, I can tell that they were courting by their behavior. That includes “billing”, that is they touch their bills together, and them calling to one another as you’ll see here.

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

I was hoping that when first one of them flew off…

Adult bald eagles

…followed closely by the second one…

Adult bald eagle in flight

…that I’d be able to witness and photograph them mating which is done while they are airborne with their talons locked together in a downward spiral, but that wasn’t to be the case. By the way, eagles mate for life, so this pair was renewing their vows for the upcoming year.

Again if it matters, that last series was shot with the 5D Mk IV, the 100-400 mm lens, and 1.4 X tele-converter because of how dreary it was that day, and because the eagle’s courting action was much slower than when they are fighting or flying. I also used that same set-up for these.

Juvenile bald eagle touchdown

 

Juvenile bald eagle touchdown

I switched to the 2X tele-converter for added reach for these two, which shows an adult bald eagle with its kill, an unlucky fox squirrel that wasn’t paying enough attention to the dangers lurking above it.

Adult bald eagle with a fox squirrel it had caught

 

Adult bald eagle with a fox squirrel it had caught

In deciding which photos to include, along with how many of each action sequence, I also asked myself if I should wait until I shoot better ones in better light and when the eagles are closer to me. I’m reasonably certain that I’ll get better images in the future, but I also have to remember that many people who look at my blog have never seen a bald eagle in person, let alone the behaviors that I managed to capture, even if the photos are poor.

I suppose that it’s one of the good things about blogging, if or when I do get better images of the same types of behavior, I can simply do another post using them. I only hope that I don’t bore the readers of my blog too much as I practice for the big day when I get the chance to shoot the images that I’d really like to post.

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


2018, a look back, and ahead

It’s getting close to the end of the year, so I suppose that it’s time to take a look back at a few of the photos that I shot this year.

It’s been a big year for me as far as how much my skill as a photographer has improved. In selecting the photos to put in this post, I’m including subjects that I rarely photograph just as a change of pace as much as I can, along with photos that I shot this year that taught me a great deal as I shot them.

Even at the beginning of this past year, I was shooting and hoping that I’d get a photo good enough to post here in my blog. Looking back at the photos that I posted from January, I see that there weren’t many, mostly due to the weather, but also because of a lack of subjects to photograph.

Snowy owl

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Those two aren’t bad, but I could do so much better now, especially the one of the eagle in flight, that it’s apparent to me now how much my images have improved this year.

February of 2018 was also cold and snowy as I remember…

Gray squirrel

…but there were a few sunny days…

Female northern cardinal

…and being a bit bored by the lack of subjects to shoot, I began experimenting more, using my 16-35 mm lens to shoot a flock of gulls in flight.

Gulls in flight

March brought the first flowers of the year…

Crocus about to bloom

…along with a couple of subjects that I rarely see…

A mink on the run

…which may not be all that bad.

Skunk

As I remember it, April was also well below average as far as both temperature and sunshine…

The Basilica of Saint Adalbert at night

…so I expanded the range of subjects that I shoot to include these night scenes from downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I live.

Double exposure of the full moon and the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan

I also learned a good deal about macro photography as I shot the following image.

Unidentified bee

I had shot many good macro images before that one, but it was one of the first warm days of the year, and I was laying on the ground to shoot the dandelion flowers when the bee landed near me. Not being in any hurry to move, I played around with the camera and lens settings, and also put an extension tube behind the macro lens.

May of 2018 was our first warm month of the year, in fact, it was as if some one had flipped a switch, and we went from winter to summer in just a week or so. With the quick flip in the weather, the birds migrating north were in a hurry to reach their destination, so it seemed as if they all passed through the area in only a week or two. It was in May as I was shooting migrating warblers that I decided to upgrade from the crop sensor Canon 7D Mk II to the full frame sensor 5D Mk IV, based on the images that I shot one dreary day.

Bay-breasted warbler

The 7D Mk II is a fine camera when there’s enough light for it though, as these images show.

Unidentified (for now) butterfly

And, since it will shoot 10 frames per second, I still prefer it over the 5D when shooting action images, such as this one.

Clear-winged or hummingbird moth in flight

 

American avocet

 

Barn swallow chattering away

And, I was still working on my camera settings and techniques to shoot birds in flight.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

June brought more flowers, and I began to work on improving my images of them.

Iris

Especially when it comes to adding extra light with my flash unit to get good sharp images without any harsh shadows present in the images.

Wild geranium?

I also discovered an osprey nest about an hour drive from where I live, so I visited it a few times to get this image of a male osprey returning to the nest with what’s left of a fish after he had eaten his share of it.

Male osprey carrying a fish

I also increased the number of landscape images that I was shooting to work on my skills in that genre of photography.

Dunes at Muskegon State Park

The time that I spent at the osprey nest and at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve helped me to hone my images of birds in flight to the point where they are nearly as good as my images of perched birds.

Green heron in flight

 

Female belted kingfisher

July of 2018 saw me trying my hand at more night photography, in this case, the fireworks on the 4th.

4th of July fireworks

Even though most of the landscape photos that I shot over the summer weren’t good enough to post in my blog, I continued to plug away at improving my skills.

A summer day on the Muskegon State Park beach

And, with all the time that I’d been putting into improving my bird in flight images, it was time to tackle one of the hardest birds to photograph in flight.

Tree swallow in flight

I also continued to work on my macro photos when time permitted, both insects…

Red milkweed beetle

…and flowers.

Bull thistle up close

August is when I purchased the Canon 5D Mk IV, and I was stunned by the increase in its dynamic range over the crop sensor cameras I had been using.

Hemlock grove

On a scouting trip up north, I put the new 5D to the test, shooting the Milky Way at night (of course).

Manistee River Valley at night

Along with learning to use it for landscapes.

Sunset at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse beach

I spent a day at Lost Lake in Muskegon State Park testing out my newer lenses, my trusty 100 mm macro lens, and a lighting rig that I’m still working on to shoot images of the tiny world around us, both wider shots…

The lone fungi mini-scape

…and close up.

Unidentified purple fungi

With the purchase of the 5D, I could now use one of my 7D bodies for dedicated macro work, rather than one of my older Canon 60D bodies that I had been using.

Goldenrod soldier beetle mating

I think that the results speak for themselves.

All summer long, I noticed that I was slowing down, putting more thought into my photos before I shot them, and that trend has continued.

September was the month when I began putting all the things that I had learned up until then together, and I found that the rate of keepers I was getting each time I went out with the camera was going up, even though I was shooting fewer subjects in any one outing.

Unidentified dragonfly

 

Unidentified orange fungi

 

Male northern cardinal molting

 

Lake Michigan sunset from Duck Lake State Park

 

Purple coneflower

I found that there was almost no learning curve involved when I began using the 5D Mk IV along with the 7D Mk II, they’re both from Canon’s line of professional cameras, and the only real difference is the much higher image quality of the 5D. However, I also found out that what I learned using the 5D was transferable to the 7D most of the time, other than the 5D’s improved low-light performance and higher dynamic range. So, as long as I use the 7D in good light, I see very little loss of image quality when I use it rather than the 5D.

I was hoping for a splendid display of fall colors here in Michigan during the month of October, but it wasn’t to be, due to the weather again. But, I did try my best…

From the high rollway observation deck overlooking the Manistee River

…but finding bright colorful leaves was tough to do this year.

Just to show some color 1

It was on the trip up north where I shot the images above that I learned just how well the new 5D works in low light when I shot this eagle in flight.

Adult bald eagle in flight

I’ve detailed how I got that image and the settings used before, so I won’t repeat myself again. I will say that the 5D has three user saved modes available, and that I have two set for birds in flight under different lighting conditions, one of which I used here. The third one I have set for shooting landscapes, so when a scene such as this one appears, I have to only turn the mode dial to the correct saved mode to shoot such scenes.

Down on the farm at sunrise 1

And, I still use the 7D for action photos.

Eastern bluebird bathing

We had our second gloomiest November on record this year, with more than twice as many days with completely overcast skies than days when we saw any sunshine at all. With the flowers and insects gone for the year, I was left with birds…

Merlin

…and landscapes to photograph.

As the squall approaches

I did make the best of a few hours of sunshine that I had while I was out with my gear.

Two male northern shovelers

In my last regular post I said that I had a growing feeling of contentment as far as my photography is concerned, and that has come from my growing confidence in my gear, and my ability to use it effectively. I think that many of the images in this post show that, especially when I’ve begun shooting subjects that I had never shot in the past. However, that doesn’t mean that I won’t still be trying to improve my images even more as time goes on. And, that means that I’ll still be experimenting, as I did in these next two images from December.

I saw the a stiff wind was blowing freshly fallen snow across the ice at he Muskegon wastewater facility, and tried to get a photo to show that.

Wind blown snow over the ice

I wasn’t happy with the images that I got, so I thought that this would be a good time to add a neutral density filter to the front of the lens so that I could reduce my shutter speed to show more of the snow coming across the ice, and so that it would appear like moving water does in long exposures. I haven’t used the neutral density filters that I have very often, and I still have a lot to learn, as this attempt shows.

Wind blown snow over ice, longer exposure

I think that I had the right idea, but that my execution was bad. In the second photo, the weeds in the foreground aren’t sharp, because they were moving with the wind, just as the snow was. The second one does show more of the snow blowing over the ice, but it took me so long to get set-up, that I missed the best display of what I was trying to capture. I should have stuck around longer, for I’m sure that the amount of snow increased again later, but it was darned cold out there exposed to the wind.

Also, the ND filters that I have are 6 stop reduction of light, which to some one used to trying to get as much light into the camera as possible, seemed like a huge amount of light loss. But, I learned that 6 stops weren’t enough, I could have used a 10 stop ND filter, as 6 stops only got me down to a 1.6 second exposure versus 1/30 of a second without the filter. So, while I consider this experiment a bust, I did learn from it, and that’s what matters.

I’m also learning that I may have to rethink how and when to go about getting the best images of colorful birds in flight images.

Mallards at take off

On a cloudy day, there are no harsh shadows anywhere in that image, and the vivid colors of the mallards show up very well.

More mallards in flight

My mistakes in these images were that I used the 7D, and therefore there’s too much noise in the images, and I had the 400 mm prime lens on the camera because I didn’t expect the mallards to be where they were. If the mallards had been closer, the 400 mm lens would have been okay if I’d been able to get only one of the mallards in the frame, but it’s too long for flock shots.

Of course it takes a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion of the birds and the water drops that are part of the experience of seeing a flock of ducks take off, so the ISO required on a cloudy day would have made the 5D a better camera choice, since it does so much better than the 7D in such circumstances. However, as I’ve noted in the past, the higher frame rate of the 7D helps to get such photos. So, I have made changes in my settings in the 5D in the way that it records the photos to both cards in it, the fast CF card, and the much slower SD card. I have the 5D record RAW images to the CF card, but large JPEG to the SD card, so that the buffer of the camera doesn’t fill as quickly as when I recorded RAW images to both cards.

I haven’t had a chance to put the new settings to the torture test yet, but it should help the 5D’s frame rate enough to make it more suitable for action photography. That’s what it’s all about, learning your gear inside and out to get the best possible images that you can. And, that’s why my confidence in my gear continues to grow as I learn the little tweaks that help me to get the images that I want.

Since I wrote that, I have tested the new settings for how the camera records to both cards, and it does seem to help to speed the 5D up a little.

Also, it has occurred to me that shooting flocks of birds in flight is more similar to landscape photography than shooting a single bird in flight. The focal length of the lens is far more important when shooting flocks of birds. That’s because of how much long focal length lens compress the distances between both the birds and the background, and also because the depth of field increases with shorter lenses versus longer lenses. While I’m tempted to go on at length about that, I won’t, I’ll only add one last image that I recently shot with my 70-200 mm lens.

Canada geese taking off

While I was hoping that more of the thousands of geese present would take flight, this one taught me a good deal more about how to go about getting the shots that I’d like to eventually get.

It’s now officially winter, as of today. From now on, for the next 6 months, the hours of daylight will be getting longer again. We had a few sunny days lately, but never when I had time off from work to shoot any photos. So, I haven’t shot many photos lately, and the ones that I have shot are mostly of eagles. My next post will be another in the My Photo Life List project, but the next real post that I do will be of the eagles in action.

Also, with Christmas coming up in a few days, I will take this opportunity to wish every one a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, which ever you prefer.

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


A few hours of sunshine

I’m going to start this post with three slightly different versions of the same scene for two reasons. The first is that I amazed myself by seeing a hint of what was to come, and I waited for it to happen as the sun rose higher in the sky.

A rare sunny morning 1

That image is made from three bracketed images blended together using Photomatix to create the HDR image above. That’s the second reason for posting three versions of the same scene, to show how much dynamic range the 5D Mk IV has, and how different software produces different results.

Here’s another version, which is a single image that I used only Lightroom to produce.

A rare sunny morning 2, not a HDR

Finally, another HDR image that I made using the HDR function in Lightroom.

A rare sunny morning 3

I like all three versions for different reasons, but I think that the last version is the one that comes closest to matching what I saw. The biggest take-away from these three versions is that I can get by with a single image from the 5D if I have to, and also that I need to only bracket my exposure one stop with the 5D rather than the two stops that I used to do when using one of my crop sensor cameras.

It’s probably a lot more important that I saw the first hints of the sun hitting the goldenrod seed heads as I was turning around at the end of a dead-end road and waited until the sun rose high enough to cast its golden light on just a portion of the foreground. I did wait a little longer for the sun to light up more of the foreground, but by then, it had lost the golden glow that you can see in these images.

Before I get to any more photos, I’m going to whine about the weather. We just had our tenth coldest November (temp: -5.4 degrees) ever, and with gloomy skies most of the time. We had just 8.9% of possible sunshine, and 21 of 30 totally overcast days. In addition, snowfall was 7.6″ above average.

To go with the foul weather this past month, Christmas is approaching, and since I work for a company contracted to carry the mail for the US postal service, I’ve been working a few more hours per week because of the heavier volume of mail this time of year. The Christmas rush hasn’t affected my days off, at least not yet, but my days at work have become longer, mostly because the postal service can’t meet its own schedule, and the weather hasn’t helped either.

I have a good number of images that I shot on that one sunny morning before the clouds rolled back in shortly after noon that day, but they are mostly of northern shovelers.

Female northern shoveler

With such good light and the pretty background, I couldn’t resist just shooting away…

Female northern shoveler

…although I couldn’t get a male that was showing his finest plumage in the same light.

Male northern shoveler

When I did find the male that I wanted to shoot, the light wasn’t quite as good, and the background isn’t as good, because the other shovelers are a distraction.

Male northern shoveler

But, that image does show the beautiful markings of the shoveler’s feathers, especially on his flank, along with how his feathers grow on his back, and the hints of color here and there as well.

I also have two images of a small group of shovelers whose nap I interrupted.

Northern shovelers

All those yellow eyes staring at me was kind of creepy.

Northern shovelers

I did get a few poor photos of common redpolls while the sun was out…

Common redpoll

 

Common redpoll

 

Common redpoll

I have other photos left from that sunny day, but this past Friday, I had the chance to watch and photograph over a dozen bald eagles in action, even though weather conditions were poor, and much of the action was really out of the range of my camera gear.

Three bald eagles in flight

Not only was it cloudy that day, with a few sprinkles of rain now and then, it was a bit foggy as well, so you’ll have to forgive the poor quality of these photos.

Bald eagle missing a dead northern shoveler frozen to the ice

I don’t know what killed the shoveler, but it was stuck in the ice, and this eagle wasn’t strong enough to pull the body out of the ice.

Bald eagle missing a dead northern shoveler frozen to the ice

I had been watching the eagles going after what turned out to be the dead shoveler, including a juvenile eagle trying to land on the ice, but breaking through, and giving up on the not so easy meal. Not wanting to fill the buffer of the 7D, I made a mistake right after that last photo. I knew that there were other eagles waiting for their chance to try to pluck the duck from the ice, so I let off not only the shutter release, but the button that activates the auto-focus as well. When the next eagle swooped in…

Bald eagle swooping down to pluck a dead duck from the ice

…the eagle was so low and close to the ice, while being too far away from me for the auto-focus to lock in on it…

Bald eagle swooping down to pluck a dead duck from the ice

…that it took a few frames for the camera to find the eagle.

Bald eagle swooping down to pluck a dead duck from the ice

But, I was able to capture the moment that the eagle grabbed the duck…

Bald eagle plucking a dead duck from the ice

…and a few more frames before I did fill the buffer…

Bald eagle plucking a dead duck from the ice

…and the auto-focus did eventually lock onto the eagle, even if a little late.

Bald eagle plucking a dead duck from the ice

Of course I wish that the eagle had been closer, the weather better, and that the eagle had been coming towards me rather than going away from me, but at least I achieved one goal in this series, capturing an eagle in flight grabbing its next meal, even if that meal was a dead duck rather than a fish or other prey.

I should also note that this series was better suited to my last post about pushing the limits of my photography gear, as these photos would have been impossible for me to capture just a few years ago. And, I hope now that I have “broken the ice” in getting this series, that I’ll get chances for better images in the future. I did learn from this experience, and that’s what matters.

Now then, back to the photos that I shot on the sunny morning, even though most of them are of northern shovelers.

Male northern shoveler in flight

I used to have the silly notion that there was such a thing as the perfect image of a single species of bird, I have given up on that idea.

Male northern shoveler

Instead, I’ve learned that there are opportunities for great images no matter what angle they’re shot from, especially if there’s any action taking place in the image.

Male northern shoveler

I like the frozen water drops in that image, along with the details in the feathers on the shoveler’s back…

Male northern shoveler

…while this one was showing off more of his colors.

This female swam so close to me that I had to photograph her…

Female northern shoveler

…and attempt to show the comb like projections (called lamellae) along the edge of her bill. You can almost see them in this cropped in image.

Female northern shoveler

Here are the rest of the photos I shot that day.

Ring-billed gull grabbing lunch

Shooting gulls in action has been great practice that I put to use to catch the eagle in action earlier in this post.

An early morning bald eagle

 

The ice continues to grow

 

Ice patterns

I haven’t been doing any long hikes this fall, but even on my short hikes, I’ve been testing the idea of carrying only one camera, the 100-400 mm lens, and the 24-70 mm lens to attempt to cover all my needs while lugging less gear with me all the time. The 24-70 mm lens has a near macro function…

Lichen

…but sometimes I fail miserably when I use it…

Fungi

…while other times, it seems to perform well. Other than that, I’ve found that carrying just that limited amount of gear works out well enough for my needs unless I’m after specific types of images, such as landscapes. Then, I carry more of my lenses, and if I know that I’ll be shooting mostly macros, then I bring the 100 mm macro lens along with the 24-70 mm lens.

Oriental bittersweet on a sunny day

A bit of color is always nice this time of year, even if it is the terribly invasive oriental bittersweet. Actually, Brian Johnson has eliminated most of it at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, but he has done so slowly over time, as he is doing with other invasive species of plants. We talked about that recently, and he could go around and cut the vines of the oriental bittersweet where ever it appears, but he doesn’t want to remove all of it at once, since the birds there have come to depend on it for food. He keeps whittling it back, and letting other food sources grow to take its place before he kills off more of it.

Another view of the oriental bittersweet berries

So in a few more years, there won’t be any of it left there at the MLNP.

Well, that’s it as far as photos shot in the sun for a while, I still have several day’s worth of photos shot in poor conditions, most of which I’ll probably not bother to post here. That’s because they’re not very good, and also because they are of the same species of birds that I’ve been featuring lately.

I should note that a few snowy owls have been showing up around the area, I saw two recently, but didn’t bother to shoot any photos of them. They were way out on the ice too far away for a good photo, and the zoo that follows them around has already formed as soon as they were first reported in the area. It’s kind of funny in a way, on the day when I was watching the eagles, several people stopped to ask if I was watching a snowy owl, or if I had seen any. One of those times, I replied that I was watching the flock of eagles out on the ice, the people who stopped to ask about the owls hadn’t even noticed a dozen bald eagles in the flock. I probably should have shot a photo of all twelve of them together, but I was actually after snow buntings at the time, and not in position to shoot the eagles together at the time. It was at that point when all twelve eagles took flight for some reason, breaking up the flock into smaller ones. I never did get the shot of a snow bunting that I was after either.

Anyway, since many of the photos that I have saved, and those that I’ll shoot this weekend will all be very similar due to the weather, my next post will likely be one of the ones that I have saved for the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on.

Also, I think that my next regular post will be one looking back over this past year, since it’s getting to be about that time of year. I need to point out one last thing in this post, as I began thinking about a year in review post and I looked back at a few of my recent images, a new feeling came over me, one of contentment, I’m very happy with the gear that I have now, and how much my skill level has increased of late. I no longer worry whether or not I’ll be able to capture things that I see, but now I know that I will get the shots I want eventually. For example, I shot this today…

Bald eagles courting

…still too far away, but you can see the lovebirds doing a little bonding in preparation for the coming year.

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


Pushing and learning

With winter here, and no light to work with for good images of birds, no flowers or insects to photograph, and a general feeling that I’m wasting my time going out with a camera this time of year, I’ve decided instead of giving up, I’d work on pushing my equipment to the limits and beyond, and to also learn to tweak my camera settings to get the best possible images that I can, no matter what time of year it is.

But first, I’m going to go back to an idea that I had a long time ago, that having two cameras with me at all times is a good thing despite the weight of carrying them, along with the expense.

I stopped at the beach at Muskegon State Park more or less on a lark, just to see the waves crashing into the breakwater there. I noticed a hole opening in the clouds, so I put the 24-70 mm lens on the 5D body, and I shot a series of images of the magic light that appeared, here’s the best of the series.

Crepuscular rays at Muskegon State Park

It was a raw, windy day, if you look closely, you can see that there’s sand being blown around, which is the reason that they put the snow fencing up along the beach, trying to control the sand.

But, as I was watching the light change, I noticed a bald eagle flying along the beach. So, I grabbed the 7D with the 400 mm prime lens on it to shoot the eagle.

Bald eagle hunting along the beach

I didn’t crop that image much, as it would never be a great image of the eagle itself, I wanted to capture the moment, with the eagle flying above the waves of Lake Michigan as it looked for prey. I was hoping that I’d be able to record it diving down to capture a fish, but that didn’t happen.

I wished that I had a better foreground in the landscape image, but as quickly as the light was changing, I didn’t dare move at that time. Later, when the light had mostly gone over to plain grey skies, I did test the new tires on my vehicle to drive through piles of wind-blown sand to what would have been a better location for the first image.

A few remaining crepuscular rays

You can see that the great light was all but gone, but I did have a better foreground and middle ground in the second landscape.

That location was also better to shoot photos of the eagle as it looked for food.

Bald eagle hunting at the beach in Muskegon SP

I still hoped to capture the eagle catching a fish, but it turned out that the eagle had spotted a dead fish on the beach to eat.

Bald eagle hunting at the beach in Muskegon SP

I could tell what was going on by the gulls and crows nearby waiting for the eagle to eat its fill. As soon as the eagle left, the other scavengers moved in to get their portions of the remains.

Anyway, having two camera with me allowed me to get photos of both events as they occurred, the crepuscular rays over the beach, and the eagle on the prowl.

Two other things come to mind about that time at the beach, one is that the 24-70 mm is an excellent lens, as you can see how sharp the landscape images are from corner to corner. It’s funny though, I still like the 16-35 mm lens more, even though the 24-70 mm lens is its equal. I think that my preference is based on what I use each lens for, rather than image quality though.

The other thing is that the new tires on my Subaru work well, I drove through some drifted sand that many other vehicles would have gotten stuck in. In fact, I had turned around the first time that I saw the sand drifts, as I could see where other vehicles had gotten stuck in the sand.

Okay, my images of birds in flight have improved a great deal over the past few years, and now, some of them are better than my images of stationary birds from the past.

Male northern shoveler in flight

However, back when I was still using the Nikon D50 before it died, I shot a photo of a flock of mallards that I would like to have a do-over on.

Mallards in flight, a blast from the past

There are several things that I really like about that photo, but there’s also plenty that I don’t like about it. I like the facts that the mallards in flight are mostly frozen and sharp, other than some blur in their wings as they flapped. But, the background is blurred because I was following the mallard with the camera, and the blurred background adds to the sense of motion in the photo. I also liked the soft light that allows the colors of the mallards to show without any harsh shadows.

I don’t like the way that the mallards are “clumped together” in several places within the image, nor do I like the horizon being off because I had the camera tilted when I shot that one. I also wish that I had been able to zoom in just a tad more to make the mallards in the frame slightly larger.

That photo was pure luck, it’s one of the few times that the old Nikon performed well. Also, I didn’t have time to zoom in very far with the old 70-300 mm lens that I used at the time, which actually worked to my advantage this one time.

So, one of the things that I’m going to work on this winter is getting better images of flocks of birds in flight. I should add that I’ll be able to spend the time that it takes for this because I no longer have to struggle to come up with any good shots from a day out with a camera. This also goes along with my plans to shoot in the manual mode more often. The settings that I have saved in all of my cameras for birds in flight are all manual mode settings, and I’ve also learned that when I use a flash for extra light in macro photos, switching to manual is a must. I also know that my long lenses, both the 100-400 mm zoom and 400 mm prime, are too long for the image of a flock of birds that I have in mind.

And now that I’m typing out my thoughts on this subject, I remember that this spring, I shot a number of images of gulls in flight with the 16-35 mm lens that I really liked.

Gulls flying in formation

With all of this in mind, last week I set out to begin playing with my lens selection and camera settings to learn how to get better images of flocks of birds in flight. Wouldn’t you know, as always, the best laid plans of mice and men seldom work out as their plan was laid out. Typically, the mallards at the Muskegon wastewater facility prefer to hang out in the flooded fields of the rapid filtration cells rather than the large storage lagoons. In fact, I should mention that mallards and many other puddle ducks love freshly flooded land, even if the flooded area is just a large puddle. I don’t know what it is that they find to eat in these flooded areas, but it has to be something that puddle ducks love, because they can be found in such places more often than not.

I got my equipment set-up in advance, using the 70-200 mm lens on the 7D, choosing that lens to prevent myself from zooming in too far as I do most of the time. Usually, I can drive to next to one of the rapid filtration cells and I have to wait until the mallards become nervous by my presence before they take flight, and this is where my plan failed.

For some reason, long before I approached the cell that the mallards were in, the entire flock took flight, so this was my best shot in this attempt.

Many mallards in flight

At least you get an idea how many mallards were there, although that’s just a small portion of the flock. And, I learned a little from the camera settings that I used for that image as well, so it wasn’t a total waste of time.

Just as the mallards all took flight long before I got into the position that I wanted to be in, you can never predict what’s going to happen when attempting to photograph nature. Earlier on that day, I had been parked where I could look out over mixed flocks of ducks to see if there were any species in the flock worth trying to photograph. Suddenly, wave after wave of northern shovelers came flying towards me to join the flock that was already there. Each wave consisted of about a dozen to about twenty ducks, but I had my long lenses on both cameras, and this is what happens most of the time in that situation.

Female northern shoveler photo bombing my attempt

In all, I’d say that well over 100 northern shovelers came flying towards me, but as in that photo above, there was an out of focus duck in the foreground to ruin the photos. I did better when a lone male approached from the other direction a bit later.

Male northern shoveler landing

I love it when I catch the moment of touchdown, if only the light had been a little better. From all the photos of waterfowl landing on water I shoot, you may have noticed that northern shovelers lower their bodies into the water so that their butts and spread-out tail feathers slow them down much more quickly than some other species of waterfowl. Mallards and Canada geese in particular seem to enjoy skating across the top pf the water on only their feet for extended distances as if they were waterskiing. That may have something to do with the way that shovelers feed, I don’t know. Shovelers strain the surface water for their food, so maybe they prefer not to disturb the water any more than necessary. That’s just a thought of mine, it’s not based on any scientific study.

In some ways, having fewer subjects to photograph during the winter is a good thing, for it allows me to slow down while watching a flock of birds since I’m not in a race with myself to try to photograph everything that there is to see in nature in one day. Then, when I see a northern shoveler in a flock taking a bath and at about the best distance from me as possible…

Male northern shoveler taking a bath

…I know that it will dry its wings when finished, so I can be prepared…

Male northern shoveler drying its wings

…and capture the entire sequence…

Male northern shoveler drying its wings

…from start to finish…

Male northern shoveler drying its wings

…and show his beautiful coloration while he’s doing his thing…

Male northern shoveler drying its wings

…and the best part was that I was able to keep him in the frame…

Male northern shoveler drying its wings

…because I’ve practiced shooting this sequence so many times in the past.

Male northern shoveler drying its wings

Slowing down and paying more attention to the background also pays dividends.

Oriental bittersweet

I also tried to shoot a few snow scenes this past week, nothing great though.

Cloudy, snowy morning 1

These would have been better with a little sun and blue skies…

Cloudy, snowy morning 2

…something that I may actually see this week.

Cloudy, snowy morning 3

I have some ideas about some other things to try this winter, one is shooting snow scenes at night under a full moon. However, that’s so dependent on the weather that I’m not sure if I’ll ever see the right conditions on any of my days off. I do stand a better chance of that than a sunny day though, because the wind usually drops off at night, which allows the lake effect clouds to break up until sunrise. As soon as the wind picks up, the clouds soon follow. At least I now have a camera and lenses for such photos if the weather does ever cooperate.

Switching gears, there has been a northern shrike that has spent the winter months at the Muskegon County wastewater facility for several years, until last year. I never saw it, and I never saw one reported there on eBird when I’d check what species were being seen in Muskegon County. I don’t know if the shrike that had been seen there for years died of old age, or if it had chosen a new area to spend the winter. But last week, I saw this one there.

First year northern shrike

That’s one of last summer’s young, you can tell from the way that its chest is brownish, with bits of white to go with the brown.

First year northern shrike

Its chest will eventually turn all white as it grows its adult feathers.

I was much closer to the shrike when I first spotted it, but it was mostly hidden by a few remaining leaves along with branches of the bush it was perched in. As I followed it with my camera, I caught this.

Northern shrike hacking up a pellet

Owls are known for regurgitating the indigestible parts of critters that they eat in the form of pellets, but it turns out that most, or all raptors do the same thing, even the smallest ones such as the shrike. As I’ve sat watching eagles and several species of hawks, I’ve seen them regurgitate pellets, but I’ve never been able to photograph it. This photo of the shrike doing so was mostly luck, I was just shooting away hoping for a good pose with a clean foreground. I was able to see the pellet drop right after that photo was recorded, but I was hooting in slow continuous rather than high-speed, so the pellet was out of the frame before the camera fired again.

Thanksgiving Day was another cold, dreary day here, and the majority of the photos that I shot were almost identical to those that I’ve already put in this post, so I’ve decided not to use most of them. I did catch a juvenile bald eagle flying overhead early in the day.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

And, I caught yet another northern shoveler drying its wings…

Male northern shoveler drying its wings

…and I’m including this one to show how birds “blast a hole in the water” as they bathe…

Male northern shoveler taking a bath

…along with two different versions of how shovelers form tightly knit rafts as they feed…

Northern shoveler feeding frenzy

…as I can’t decide which of these two I like the best.

Northern shoveler feeding frenzy

We have more species of birds moving into the area to spend the winter, I’m not sure if I shot a photo of a rough-legged hawk at all last winter…

Rough-legged hawk in flight

…so it was good to see one this early this winter.

Also, the snow buntings have returned…

Male snow bunting

…but for some reason, neither of my cameras seem to be able to produce a sharp image of one, these were shot with the 5D…

Male snow bunting

…and this one was shot with the 7D.

Female snow bunting

This species is going to be a challenge for me this winter, to get an excellent image of one. They are very flighty birds, that form large flocks. Just when you think that you’re close enough to one to get a good image, one of the other members of the flock will take flight, and away they all go. They seem to expend far too much energy as they fly from place to place, and in the way that they feed. Many small birds are always in motion, no species more than snow buntings, they’re always moving.

Well, the good news is that there were a few hours of sunshine last Friday, the bad news is that by noon, the clouds rolled back in and have been here ever since. I’ll save those images for my next post, as I’m up to my limit for this post already.

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


Another winter begins

Well, it’s begun, winter in West Michigan that is. That means no flowers, no insects, and also a lack of many other subjects other than birds and an occasional landscape for several months. I have some photos that I shot from this spring and summer that I saved to put into earlier posts, but didn’t, that I can use to fill in my posts over the winter. I’ll also be restarting my series of posts on one specific species of birds per post in the My Photo Life List project that I’ve been working on as well.

Last Thursday was what’s become all too typical already this year, dark and dreary, so I didn’t shoot many photos at all. The weather was even worse on Friday, when we set a record for the date for snowfall at 4 inches. That’s not a lot compared to the records later in the year, but it was for so early in November. I’m not whining yet, just stating fact, but we’ve had 0% of possible sunshine on 8 of the last 12 days, and we’re at less than 4% of possible sunshine for the month of November so far.

I blew it on Friday, it was the first day that the snow accumulated to any degree, and the scenes of the first real snow were as lovely as any I’ve ever seen, due in part to how early in the year it came. Many trees were still holding their finest fall colors, and with the fresh white snow falling on them, it was really beautiful to see. But, I need new tires for my vehicle, and had chosen Friday as the best day to get them, because of the weather forecast. But it turned out, I couldn’t get the tires installed on that day, so I went home, had lunch, then set out to capture some of the scenes I had seen, but it was too late. The wind had picked up, and most of the snow was melting already, so I headed to Muskegon in hopes that I’d find landscapes to shoot there, I didn’t.

Another reason that I haven’t been shooting as many photos lately is that since the first part of October, I’ve been running into Brian Johnson, who does the bird banding at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and I’ve spent a lot of time talking to him. I enjoy the chats that we have, it isn’t often that I meet a true nature lover as Brian is, and on top of that, he’s extremely knowledgeable, since his real job is to do environmental impact research, he bands birds as a hobby. Since on most days when I’ve run into him have been dark and dreary, I spend an hour or two each time talking to him rather than looking for things to photograph. I learn so much from him that I consider it time well spent for the information that I learn, both as far as where to look for certain species of birds, and so many other things that I can’t possibly list them all here.

Anyway, I’m going to begin the photos in this post with a species that you’re all probably tired of seeing, but it’s the best image that I’ve shot in the last two weeks but haven’t posted yet.

Two male northern shovelers

I was hoping that I was close enough to them so that you’d be able to see the specialized structures that they have on their bills to strain food out of the water, but in this small size image, you can’t. I’ll have to get even closer, and hopefully in the spring, when one is in full breeding plumage.

These next two are from yesterday as I type this, and they show how my days have been going the past few weeks. This one was shot at about 11:30 AM to show that I had missed the sun again, and because there was some color in the sky that really doesn’t show well in this photo.

Missed the sunshine again

Just 40 minutes later, there was a pretty good snow squall taking place, so I shot this one to show that.

And the snow moves in

It’s funny, despite the terrible light that I’ve had the last several weeks, I’ve been shooting a lot of ducks in flight, both for practice, and to push my gear and myself to see what’s possible. I know that in low light that the 5D would be the better camera to use, but my 7D camera is still my choice for flying birds, so I’ve been working with it.

Joining the crowd

What I learn from each camera is often transferable to the other, for example, what I learned about the auto-focus system of the 5D when shooting stationary subjects has helped me get sharper images with the 7D. And, the 7D, with its much higher frame rate, is still the best choice for me to get shots like this.

The take-off ballet

One thing about the low light, there’s no shadows in these photos.

Male mallard in flight

Although, there’s too much noise in them for the photos to be considered good…

Male mallard in flight

…so I’ll have to work on that this winter. That goes with getting better shots of flocks of birds in flight as well.

Mallards in flight

Now then, for a boring bit here. The 7D is rated at ten frames per second, and it can actually shoot that many photos per second, or very, very close to it, which is why I still prefer it over the 5D. The 5D is rated at 7 frames per second, however, how I have that body set-up, my guess is that I’m lucky to get 5 frames per second, and the buffer of the 5D also fills much sooner, than the 7D, so I’m not able to shoot as many photos with the 5D before it stops to write what’s in the buffer to the memory card(s).

Both cameras hold two memory cards, both a CF card and a SD card. The write speed for CF cards is much faster than the write speed for the SD cards, and I believe that’s why the 5D can’t match its rated frames per second for me. I have the 7D body set-up to record to only the faster CF card which is why it will match its rated speed without filling the buffer as quickly as the 5D body. I have the 5D set to record to both cards at once, just in case the CF card were to fail, which does happen on occasion, although not to me, yet. I did have trouble getting the photos off from a CF card once, but I was able to download the photos on the card by using recovery software that came with the card. I’m pretty sure that the slower SD card in the 5D is the bottleneck in the camera that causes it to shoot slightly slower and fill the buffer sooner, along with the camera having to write to both cards simultaneously.

Since I feel that I’m more likely to get a once in a lifetime image with the 5D, that’s why I have it set to record to both cards, if one fails, the other is the backup.

Anyway, I may as well use my other two photos from yesterday now.

Bald eagle

The eagle’s mate flew to the same tree shortly after I had shot that photo, but I didn’t bother to go back and get them together because I’ve shown plenty of photos of them in the past.

Trumpeter swan family stopping over on their way south

There had been a much larger flock of trumpeter swans, with a few snow geese hanging out with them, a few weeks ago.

Trumpeter swans and snow geese

But, they were all too far away from me for a good photo.

While I’m at it, I may as well fill out this post with the poor photos that I shot during the past two weeks in the snow for the most part.

Hooded mergansers

 

Color on a grey day

 

A lonely patch of sunshine

 

Lesser black-backed gull

 

Female northern shoveler having fun

 

Female northern shoveler having fun

 

Female northern shoveler having fun

 

Female northern shoveler landing

 

Male northern shovelers landing

 

Male northern shovelers landing

 

Male northern shovelers landing

 

Northern shovelers in flight

 

Male northern shoveler landing

 

Common goldeneye

This series really has too many photos, but at the same time, it’s kind of cute also.

Common goldeneye yoga

 

Common goldeneye yoga

 

Common goldeneye yoga

 

Common goldeneye yoga

 

Common goldeneye yoga

I have three more photos shot during one of the rare and short sunny periods from the last two weeks to finish this post.

Canada geese landing on a sunny fall day

I’m including these two to show how short and stubby the wings of a ruddy duck are.

Ruddy duck wing stretch

 

Ruddy duck wing stretch

These two photos also show that ruddy ducks are pudgy little things, almost like basketballs with wings attached.

I’m already up to my self-imposed limit on photos, so it’s time to end this one. I hate to say this, but I think that my next post will be mostly about photography. The reason is that with as rotten as the weather has been, I’ve been shooting fewer photos when I do get the chance to get out with my cameras, and since that’s the case, I’ve been trying new things, or I should say, tweaking my settings from the way that I have been shooting. So, I’ll apologize in advance.

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


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!


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!