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

Muskegon County Wastewater Facility

Stalking the elusive good landscape photo

A while back, I left a comment to Kerry’s Lightscapes Nature Photography blog to the effect that he must stalk the exact position to shoot his magnificent landscape photos from, just as a hunter stalks his prey. I’ll have to start this by saying that I’m nowhere near as good as what he is, but I’m learning, you do have to stalk a great landscape, or at least that’s the way I have to approach that genre of photography. That’s how I got some of the photos from the last short post, including this one.

Muskegon State Park beach in autumn

Muskegon State Park beach in autumn

The story on that image is that I had finished birding for the day, and was driving towards Duck Lake to shoot the sunset if a good one materialized. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of the red leaves of the maple trees through a small gap in the trees, and knew that I had to investigate the scene to see if I could get a good photo. I turned around, found a place nearby to park, then grabbed the camera with the 15-85 mm lens on it, along with my tripod. The lens already had the polarizing filter on it, I’m finding that it does wonders for the fall colors as it cuts down on the glare and reflections coming off from the leaves.

Anyway, as I walked along, I began setting up my tripod in at least half a dozen spots, until I chose this one.

The beach at Muskegon State Park, first attempt

The beach at Muskegon State Park, first attempt

Not bad, but I knew that I could do better. I zoomed in a little, lowered the tripod, and shot this one.

The beach at Muskegon State Park, second attempt

The beach at Muskegon State Park, second attempt

Better, but then you can’t see much of the beautiful blue-green water of Lake Michigan, which I thought was a big part of the scene, at least to me.

So, I moved down to the beach, looking for something to put in the foreground of the photo to give the photo some depth, and found a piece of driftwood in the sand. That led to the photo that I began this post with, but I still could have done better. I should have moved a little closer to the piece of driftwood, and lowered my tripod a lot more, to make the driftwood more prominent in the frame. Darn, why didn’t I think of that then?

Even the photo that pleased me the most is a chamber of commerce, picture postcard style of photo, sorry about that. 😉 However, we’re supposed to photograph what we love, and there are few things that I love more than warm sunny fall day as you see in the photos so far, so I don’t care what the experts say. I only missed the golden hour of sunset by a little bit, as you can tell from the long shadow cast by the driftwood in the first image. Oh, that reminds me, I did consider moving closer and lower to make the piece of driftwood more prominent at the time, but I was worried that the shadow would also become much more prominent as well as the driftwood. I suppose that I should have hung around a little longer for perfect light. But, I was off to shoot the sunset at Duck Lake.

Two posts ago, I said that I could get a much better photo of the Duck Lake channel leading to Lake Michigan, yes and no. My composition was much better this time….

Duck Lake channel to Lake Michigan

Duck Lake channel to Lake Michigan

…but I missed the exposure or something. The color saturation is way too high as the image came out of Photomatix, but when I tried to reduce it, the photo looked bad, really bad, so you get to see the over-saturated version, sorry. Not only can I get the color better, but I believe that there’s still a better position to shoot from. However, I was running late for the sunset, as I got distracted by the antics of a pileated woodpecker on my way to the beach.

Pileated woodpecker

Pileated woodpecker

 

Pileated woodpecker

Pileated woodpecker

And when the woodpecker started snacking on grapes, well, you know me, I just had to shoot away.

Pileated woodpecker eating grapes

Pileated woodpecker eating grapes

 

Pileated woodpecker eating grapes

Pileated woodpecker eating grapes

 

Pileated woodpecker eating grapes

Pileated woodpecker eating grapes

 

Pileated woodpecker eating grapes

Pileated woodpecker eating grapes

 

Pileated woodpecker eating grapes

Pileated woodpecker eating grapes

 

Pileated woodpecker eating grapes

Pileated woodpecker eating grapes

I think that I should have cropped those for my blog, I’m getting so used to seeing the large display on my computer that I forget how small the images and subjects in the images appear here.

As it was, I made it to the beach just as the sun was going down.

Sunset at Duck Lake

Sunset at Duck Lake

 

Sunset at Duck Lake 2

Sunset at Duck Lake 2

Wouldn’t you know, there was a gap in the clouds right in the direction that  really wanted to shoot towards, so I had to make do with those.

An interesting side note, you may have noticed that the channel had been blocked by sand, it had been very windy that day and the day before. The wind was actually blowing the water draining from Duck Lake back into the lake itself, and the drifting sand took advantage of that to create a temporary dam, blocking the channel completely. That causes the water level in Duck Lake to rise, but eventually, it will break through the sand dam and drain into Lake Michigan again, until the next very windy period comes along. This happens over and over again to the smaller streams that empty into Lake Michigan. Each time the stream gets blocked, it cuts a new path to the big lake, so the scene is often very different from the last time you saw it.

Anyway, I stuck around until it was almost dark to shoot the image that you saw in the last post…

Duck Lake sunset

Duck Lake sunset

…as well as this one.

Moving clouds at sunset

Moving clouds at sunset

Because of the very long shutter openings needed to get enough light to the camera sensor, the clouds moved during the times that the shutter was open while shooting the three images I used to create those HDR images. I kind of like that effect, and I don’t think that I overdid it the way some people do. I wish that the wind had wiped out the footprints in the sand that people had left behind though, in this photo as well as the earlier one from the beach, but you can’t have everything. At least not in Michigan, where you’ll find people walking the beach no matter what the weather is, any time of the year.

Gee, I started at the end of the first day of this past weekend, a bad place to start, so I may as well throw in the photos that I shot with the 300 mm lens while at Duck Lake now.

Sunset over Lake Michigan

Sunset over Lake Michigan

 

Bird of fire again

Bird of fire again

 

Oops, forgot something

Oops, forgot something

In that last shot, I forgot to extend the lens hood after having adjusted the polarizing filter, so I got some lens flare in that one. Oh well, there’ll be other chances in the future.

In my quest for good landscape photos featuring the fall colors around here, this is the typical view of the fall colors that we have in southern lower Michigan.

The back 40 woodlot

The back 40 woodlot

While the colors may be great, the photo is the pits. The farm field in the foreground is boring, even a bit ugly, and there’s nothing there to add interest or depth to that image. The area is flat, and if there isn’t water or the hand of man to break up the woods, then this is what you see.

In the woods 1

In the woods 1

 

In the woods 2

In the woods 2

There are no steep hills, rock outcroppings, or anything else to prevent vegetation from growing, so that’s what you see in the woods. These next two will show that as well, they were shot on the trail to Lost Lake.

Lost Lake trail, the wide view

Lost Lake trail, the wide view

 

Lost Lake trail, the less wide view

Lost Lake trail, the less wide view

I really wanted to set-up my tripod and do that one right, but I got run over by a mountain biker on that trail earlier this year. The trail is very narrow, with the planks laid down to prevent you from sinking into the mud, as the ground is very wet there. But, I think that you can see how the vegetation grows so thick around here that it’s hard to find an opening to shoot photographs through. The rest of the trail is even more enclosed by the vegetation…

Along the Lost Lake trail

Along the Lost Lake trail

…it isn’t until you get to Lost Lake itself that you can see through the trees.

Lost Lake through the woods

Lost Lake through the woods

By picking one of the few larger openings, you can get a photo like this one.

Lost Lake on a fine fall day

Lost Lake on a fine fall day

It’s not that I’m complaining about how well things grow around here, but you can see that across the lake, the vegetation grows dense around here, and even in the parking lot for the trail, I had to shoot tight shots of the trees.

The parking lot for the boat launch and Lost Lake trail at Muskegon State Park

The parking lot for the boat launch and Lost Lake trail at Muskegon State Park

So, I’ve been looking for bodies of water to break up the woods, but most of the time, that’s only substituting an uninteresting body of water for a farm field in the foreground.

Fall colors across a small Michigan lake

Fall colors across a small Michigan lake

If there had been less wind, and I could have gotten reflections of those colors off from the water, then that would have been much better, but the story here this fall has been the wind. You can see that by the flag in this next photo.

A cloudy, windy day at Muskegon Lake

A cloudy, windy day at Muskegon Lake

By the way, you’re looking across Muskegon Lake at the city of Muskegon itself in that last photo, and what do you see, trees and one or two large buildings. That’s Michigan, where not only can’t you see the forests for the trees, but you can’t see the cities either. 😉

So, when you see a scene like this…

Two trees in a corn field

Two trees in a corn field

…you know that there are more trees nearby.

Two trees and lots of friends in a corn field

Two trees and lots of friends in a corn field

It’s true, great weather makes for boring skies, but I’ll take a day like that every once in a while. 😉 I should also note that I wanted to isolate the brightly colored tree in the first photo, and easily could have if I had moved to my right so that the colored tree would have blocked your view of the green one as I did in the second photo. However, you may have noticed that the brightly colored tree looks brighter in the first photo than it does in the second. I’m finding that moving a few feet one way or the other can make a big difference in how the colors of fall look in my photos. If it’s sunny and I can, I prefer to shoot from a spot where I get a combination of side lighting and back lighting where the sun really lights up the leaves of the trees as in this photo.

The marsh at Lane's Landing

The marsh at Lane’s Landing

However, that’s a difficult direction to shoot, so it requires making a HDR image to kill the shadows that I get on sunny days, and we’ve had a lot of them the past two weeks as you can see.

Yellow at the Muskegon State Game Area

Yellow at the Muskegon State Game Area

 

Orange at the Muskegon State Game Area

Orange at the Muskegon State Game Area

 

Sunny days at the Muskegon State Game Area

Sunny days at the Muskegon State Game Area

 

More sun at Lane's Landing

More sun at Lane’s Landing

You can also see that those last 4 are rather plain snapshots, even though I was able to get some great color. Color alone doesn’t make a great photo, you need to seek out a good scene, then stalk it to get the light just right. Remember to clean the front of the filter before you start shooting though. 😉

Oops , I forgot something again

Oops , I forgot something again

Luckily, I shot a few more photos of that scene from different angles after cleaning the filter, along with a couple from Creekside Park.

Creekside park on a cloudy day

Creekside park on a cloudy day

 

Creekside park on a sunny day

Creekside park on a sunny day

 

Creekside park on a sunny day

Creekside park on a sunny day

 

Creekside park on a sunny day

Creekside park on a sunny day

 

Across the street 2

Across the street 1

 

Across the street 2

Across the street 2

I do believe that I’m starting to get the hang of getting a sense of depth to my photos, when the scene allows it. When I get it right, it looks as though you could walk right into them, when I really get it right, they look as though you’d want to walk into the scene.

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

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Ten miles further north

In my last post I said that I hoped to go up north for this past weekend, to shoot landscapes with the fall colors in the Jordan River Valley. I didn’t make it, work and the weather conspired against me. I worked very late on what is my Friday, not getting home until after 3 AM Saturday, which meant that I didn’t get to bed until around 5 AM. When I woke up, I decided that after the three and a half hour drive to get there, then setting up my campsite, that Saturday was shot, and that would leave me only part of Sunday. The weather forecast was too good in some ways, not a cloud in the sky on Sunday, possibly the worst conditions for landscape photos. Beside that, the wind was very strong, with gusts over 30 MPH, meaning I’d be fighting foliage moving in the wind, which meant that the photos wouldn’t be as sharp as I wanted, if I shot with the ISO as low as I wanted to shoot at.

So, I changed my plans, spending a very productive two days birding at the Muskegon Wastewater facility, the weather was close to perfect for flying bird photos.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

With very few clouds in the sky to turn it into a milky white background, and a strong wind meaning that the larger birds, especially the ones that soar, would be heading into the wind most of the time. They do that because the wind blowing across their wings provides lift, just as an airplane wings do as they move through the air. As I was saying, since they were generally moving into the wind, it made it much easier to know where to be, and what setting to use, along with a predictable flight path making it a piece of cake to keep them in focus.

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

I also used my polarizing filter all day, although I didn’t always have the time to get it dialed in, as the harrier photo shows. In addition, I was using some new settings for the 7D Mk II that I learned from some of the online videos from the Canon learning center that I found.

I’ll have at least another post on the birds, along with the fall color shots that I took on both Saturday and Sunday.

Fall colors in the Muskegon State Game area

Fall colors in the Muskegon State Game area

The rest of this post will deal with the short period of time around sunset on Saturday. I thought that there could be a great sunset that evening, given the weather forecast, and there was. However, I missed the best of it by giving up too soon due to the cold wind chilling me to the bone. More on that later as well.

My original plan was to photograph the sunset over the Muskegon Lake channel leading to Lake Michigan. As I was driving towards my intended destination I realized that where I planned to shoot from would have yielded some bland, uninteresting photos as the sun would have been too far to the north of the channel. I would have ended up with all my sunset photos looking like this.

Sunset over Lake Michigan

Sunset over Lake Michigan

Since the shoreline this far south is almost perfectly straight, that’s what you normally see unless you’re someplace where there’s something to add some interest to the foreground.

So, I decided to chance going to Duck Lake State Park, where there’s a channel from Duck Lake feeding into Lake Michigan. It’s about ten miles north of Muskegon State Park, where I had planned to shoot from. I used to go there a lot when I was younger, and before it became a state park. Once the state did make it a state park, it’s typically jammed with people elbow to elbow. But, since it’s fall now, I decided to risk it.

Here’s a wide shot looking east, up the channel towards Duck Lake.

Duck Lake channel

Duck Lake channel

And for practice, I shot this tighter shot.

Duck Lake channel 2

Duck Lake channel 2

Those are far from the best that I could do if I had taken more time shooting in that direction, but the sun was already beginning to set, and I had many other things to photograph.

Dune overlooking the Duck Lake channel

Dune overlooking the Duck Lake channel

I was afraid that the sunset was going to be a bust.

Sunset over Duck Lake channel

Sunset over Duck Lake channel

The  last five images were shot with a 60D body and the EF-S 15-85 mm lens on it. I could see some possibly very good images if I shot at a much longer focal length, so I used the 7D Mk II and the 300 mm lens to shoot many of these types of photos.

Waves breaking near sunset

Waves breaking near sunset

I went crazy, running back and forth between the wide-angle set-up, and back closer to the beach to shoot these.

Gulls on the beach

Gulls on the beach

I tried different exposures…

Gulls on the beach

Gulls on the beach

…and different angles.

Gulls on the beach 3

Gulls on the beach 3

I stopped to chat with this older gent for a few minutes.

Fellow photog

Fellow photog

Then, I went back to shooting just the water and waves…

Waves at sunset 1

Waves at sunset 1

 

Waves at sunset 2

Waves at sunset 2

 

Waves at sunset 3

Waves at sunset 3

I love the texture of the water that I got by using the polarizing filter and a high shutter speed, along with the warm glow from the setting sun. It got better though.

Sunset at the Duck Lake channel

Sunset at the Duck Lake channel

 

Sunset at the Duck Lake channel with gulls in flight

Sunset at the Duck Lake channel with gulls in flight

Seeing the gulls, I just had to shoot a few of these.

Birds of fire 1

Birds of fire 1

 

Birds of fire 2

Birds of fire 2

 

Birds of fire 3

Birds of fire 3

Then, I went back to shooting just the lake and sunset with the long set-up again.

Sunset again

Sunset again

 

Sunset again 2

Sunset again 2

 

Sunset again 3

Sunset again 3

 

Sunset again 4

Sunset again 4

By then, I was chilled to the bone by the cold, stiff wind coming across the cold waters of Lake Michigan. I shot one more wide shot…

Sunset over Duck Lake channel again

Sunset over Duck Lake channel again

…actually, I shot many wider shots, but just as when I had tried some sunrise photos when there were waves on Lake Michigan, all the other images are junk due to the movement of the waves. If I’d have boosted the ISO settings, I could have frozen the waves, but then I would have had to deal with noise. I’m going to have to get some neutral density filers so I can slow the shutter speed down even more, and smooth out the waves completely, or wait until the one or two days per year when Lake Michigan is smooth as glass. 😉

As it was, I packed it in for the day, way too early as it turns out. It looked as if the colors of the sunset were fading as I left, but I should know better than that. The best sunset photos are usually shot about 30 minutes after the actual sunset. As I was driving home, I could see a brilliant sunset taking shape in my rearview mirror, but there wasn’t a suitable place to shoot from where I was at the time. If I had tried to shoot out over the lake, I think that the wave action would have ruined the images, I would have liked to have tried though. I should know enough by now to always pack a heavy coat for sunset photos, especially near any of the Great Lakes, even though it had been a pleasantly warm day.

I did find a good place to shoot both sunsets and sunrises from though, and I’ll certainly keep Duck Lake State Park in mind for those times when I’m near Muskegon, and looking for a place to photograph. It is ten miles further north from Muskegon, so I did make it “up north” this weekend after all.

As it was, I didn’t get THE shot that I wanted, in either the tight or the wide-angle photos, but I did learn a great deal shooting these, which I hope to put to use soon.

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


I’m so unbelievably lucky!

So, in my last post I had photos of two of the three bald eagles I saw that day, and also two species of falcons, the merlin and peregrine falcon. What I didn’t get a photo of, and it really bothered me, was of one of three kestrels that I saw that same day. Then, there were at least eight red-tailed hawks, the sandhill cranes, several species of shorebirds, a quite a few ducks around also. I was thinking about that when it hit me just how spoiled I have become.

There are only three species of falcons seen regularly in Michigan, the peregrine…

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

…merlin…

Merlin

Merlin

 

…and kestrels, which I wasn’t able to get a usable photo of that day, even though I have in the past.

Kestrel

American Kestrel

There are five species of falcons that have been seen in Michigan in total, the three mentioned above, along with the Gyrfalcon, which is an occasional winter visitor to Michigan when some of them migrate south from their usual home on the Arctic tundra. Also, one report of a juvenile Prairie Falcon seen four years ago about 100 miles northwest of where I live. That one may have been blown here in a storm, or being a juvenile, it may have wandered several hundred miles outside of that specie’s normal range looking for a territory of its own.

Most people have never seen one species of falcons, I see three in one day, and get bummed out because I didn’t get a good photo of one of the three, just how spoiled am I? Of course the one that I missed is the cutest of the three.

I haven’t been posting any photos of ducks lately, it’s molting season for them, and they all look like female mallards right now, even the males.

Male mallard molting

Male mallard molting

I did a cropped version of that photo, but I like the full size version better, with the mallard on the tan rocks and the green water behind him.

Even the male wood ducks are looking a little drab this time of year, although you can see that this one is beginning to grow new brightly colored feathers.

Wood duck

Wood duck

But when he saw me shooting his picture, he hid the bright feathers and kicked it up to top gear.

Wood duck

Wood duck

I caught this blue winged teal showing some color as well.

Blue winged teal in flight

Blue winged teal in flight

What I haven’t posted many photos of from my trips along the lakeshore, including Muskegon, Grand Haven, and other spots, has been the more common songbirds. I have shot a few photos of them, but I usually tell myself not to bother, I can get photos of them around home. That hasn’t been true this year. For one thing, I don’t have time to walk everyday like I used to, but there’s something else going on as well.

This spring, all the usual songbirds that nest in the park where I walk showed up right on cue. However, very few of them remained to nest here, and I don’t know why that is. Last year, several pairs of Baltimore orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks, eastern kingbirds, and other songbirds nested and raised their young here. This year, they all moved on other than one pair of rose-breasted grosbeaks, which I was able to shoot photos of. As soon as the young fledged, they left also. I don’t know if it’s because of predators, particularly house cats running free, or some other reason the birds didn’t stick around.

Oh, while looking through my recent photos to see what to post, I found some of a kestrel from August 13th of this year.

American kestrel

American kestrel

American kestrel

American kestrel

Since I’m back to the falcons, here’s a photo from back during the Memorial Day weekend, shot at Grand Haven, Michigan.

Peregrine falcon in a man-made nesting box

Peregrine falcon in a man-made nesting box

I know that it isn’t a good photo, but it shows one reason that peregrine falcons are increasing in numbers. There are man-made nesting boxes like that built for them in several towns and cities, including Grand haven, Muskegon, and even Grand Rapids.

And yes, I have photos from all the way back in May that I haven’t gotten around to posting yet. Now is as good of time as any to begin catching up, so here goes.

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird

 

Trumpeter swans

Trumpeter swans

 

Juvenile caspian tern

Juvenile caspian tern

 

Two great blue herons in flight

Two great blue herons in flight

 

White-throated sparrow

White-throated sparrow

 

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

 

White-crowned sparrow

White-crowned sparrow

 

Grey catbird collecting stuff to use in its nest

Grey catbird collecting stuff to use in its nest

 

Female yellow-dumped warbler

Female yellow-rumped warbler

 

Eastern phoebe

Eastern phoebe

 

Eastern phoebe

Eastern phoebe

 

Rose-breasted grosbeak

Rose-breasted grosbeak

 

Double crested cormorants in flight

Double crested cormorants in flight

 

Common tern in flight

Common tern in flight

 

Purple martins

Purple martins

 

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

 

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

 

Male common yellowthroat

Male common yellowthroat

 

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

 

Green heron

Green heron

 

Grasshopper sparrow

Grasshopper sparrow

 

Northern rough-winged swallow

Northern rough-winged swallow

 

Vesper sparrow

Vesper sparrow

 

Male orchard oriole

Male orchard oriole

 

Horned lark

Horned lark

 

Eastern meadowlark and red-winged blackbird

Eastern meadowlark and red-winged blackbird

 

Male Eastern towhee

Male Eastern towhee

 

Male Eastern towhee

Male Eastern towhee

Sorry about the poor quality of the towhee photos, it was the only time this year that I saw one in the open, and it was raining at the time. I had the wipe the lens several times just to get those photos.

That reminds me to say that you should always try to get the best possible image in the camera that you possibly can. But, it’s not always easy to do so. One thing that I have learned is that with digital photography, if you’re going to miss on the exposure settings, it is better to over-expose the image than to under-expose it. That’s the exact opposite of what I learned when shooting slide film, you never over-exposed an image, there was no way to save an over-exposed slide. In fact, with Kodachrome, it was recommended that you under-expose what your light meter called for by one-third to one-half stop.

Under-exposing a digital image and trying to brighten it in any software introduces noise that I can’t remove no matter how I try to remove it. On the other hand, software is able to bring down the exposure quite a bit without any adverse effects showing up in the images.

Adding these photos will put me over my self-imposed limit, but what the heck, I’m trying to get caught up here.

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

 

Ruby-throated hummingbird

Ruby-throated hummingbird

 

Ruby-throated hummingbird

Ruby-throated hummingbird

 

Rose-breasted grosbeak

Rose-breasted grosbeak

 

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

 

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

 

Great crested flycatcher

Great crested flycatcher

All birds, I’m sorry about that. No flowers, insects, or cute squirrels in this post, I’ll have to make up for it in my next one. That will be hard to do though, fall migration has begun in earnest. The red-winged blackbirds that spent the summer here are already gone, as one example. There will be more through here later on, as the ones that spent the summer farther north move through. It’s the same with some of the shorebirds also, more are being reported all the time.

Fall is coming, sooner than what I want, but you can’t change the progression of seasons. There are hints of color in the leaves of some trees already, and fall flowers are beginning to bloom.  I’m going to try to pack in as many photos this fall as I can, because after fall comes winter, and the endless dreary days under lake effect clouds here. I have been making a few plans for the fall, but so much depends on my work schedule that I’m never sure if those plans will come to fruition or not, we’ll see.

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


Muskegon July 5th, 2015

On the second day of my three days off from work for the 4th of July, I went to the Muskegon area once again. I set-up to shoot photos of the sunrise over my favorite marsh in the Muskegon County wastewater facility. But, it turned out to be a rather boring one for wider shots, so I was limited to a few tighter shots of various subjects. If only the water didn’t have the sickly color that it does in these photos, it would be great!

Glittery sunrise

Glittery sunrise

Glittery sunrise

Glittery sunrise

I was playing around, waiting for it to become light enough to shoot other types of photos, when the thought occurred to me to try this one.

Grass and sunrise

Grass and sunrise

I couldn’t resist trying to make a HDR image of the same thing.

Grass and sunrise

Grass and sunrise

The sandhill cranes were there after having spent the night in the marsh.

Sandhill cranes

Sandhill cranes

And this time, two deer came along to look the scene over. I was not able to get both the cranes and the deer in the same photo, not like the last time I was there.

Deer at sunrise

Deer at sunrise

I’m probably a bit off my rocker, trying to shoot wildlife photos before the sun has even risen above the horizon, but pushing the limits of my camera and my own skills may pay off one of these days. Besides, it gives me something to do while I’m waiting for better light.

Sandhill crane flying into the sunrise

Sandhill crane flying into the sunrise

Sandhill cranes flying into the sunrise

Sandhill cranes flying into the sunrise

A short sidebar here, the Canon 7D Mk II may not be the low light camera that some people claimed that it was when it was first introduced, but I’m learning that it is better than I gave it credit for. Yes, there’s still a lot of noise in my photos shot at high ISO settings, almost as much as in photos shot with the 60D. However, I’m finding that after cleaning up the photos in Lightroom, those shot with the 7D are much better than what I could ever hope to get with the 60D.

Pre-dawn eastern kingbird

Pre-dawn eastern kingbird

So, I keep working at getting better images all the time, and here’s a couple of examples of what the 7D can do even at ISO 6400.

Grey catbird at dawn

Grey catbird at dawn

It helps when the birds let me get as close as this to them.

Grey catbird at dawn

Grey catbird at dawn

That wasn’t cropped at all, which helps a great deal to produce a good image, that and having used the 300 mm L series lens on the 7D. Those aren’t my best photos of a catbird, but they’re pretty darned good for having been shot when there was just enough light to see well.

Anyway, it turned out to be a good thing that I had made a stop at the wastewater facility, I was able to get better photos of a short billed dowitcher than what I’ve gotten in the past.

Short billed dowitcher

Short billed dowitcher

I even found one of the dowitchers posing with the American Avocet to show you size comparison.

Short billed dowitcher and American avocet

Short billed dowitcher and American avocet

And, I got my best photos of the avocet to date.

American avocet

American avocet

I found a few other things to shoot while at the wastewater facility, like a great blue heron and its reflection.

Great blue heron and its reflection

Great blue heron and its reflection

I caught a deer looking over one of the man-made dykes to see if I was on the other side, but I had fooled the deer, and was behind her instead.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

I also found a patch of rabbit’s foot clover…

Rabbit's foot clover

Rabbit’s foot clover

…and tried a macro shot of one of the flower heads, but there wasn’t enough light yet for this to be good.

Rabbit's foot clover

Rabbit’s foot clover

Then, it was on to my main destination for the day, Lost Lake in the Muskegon State Park.

It was a warm weekend, not hot, but I’m one of those who prefers cool weather to hot weather. Lost Lake is about the perfect place to beat the heat on a summer day. The wind coming over the waters of Lake Michigan, which is still only around 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 C), and the shade from the forest provide natural air conditioning on a hot day.

That reminds me, another benefit of getting out at dawn is that it’s cooler in the summer, along with less wind, and more critters.

Anyway, on my way back to Lost lake, I stopped to shoot this scene.

Hemlock and cedar swamp

That’s a HDR image, here’s the best my camera could do in one image.

Hemlock and cedar swamp

Hemlock and cedar swamp

It’s really nothing special, just a small clearing in the forest, but I just love those places where the light makes it all the way to the ground, and new growth is occurring. It can be nearly as dark as night in the thickest parts of a swamp forest like that. It will be there in just a few short years as the new growth eventually blocks out the sun in this spot also. But, other clearings will open up as trees are blown over by the wind, as their roots don’t go very deep in the wet soil of a swamp like this.

That’s one thing about nature that many people forget, nothing is permanent, nothing is forever. It was over 100 years ago that the fires in northern Michigan left the area a virtual wasteland, but nature can heal itself if given the chance. The places that I remember as a kid, which was 50 years ago, have changed a great deal over time, they no longer look the way that I remember that they looked back then. Even the worst of areas that were burned have some new growth now, and will eventually become forests again if allowed to. But, I should have a few photos to illustrate what I’m talking about before I go too far down that trail, so instead, I’ll return to the things that I saw along the trail to Lost Lake.

Eastern kingbird chasing a crow

Eastern kingbird chasing a crow

The hummingbirds were enjoying the early morning sun as they warmed themselves and looked for insects at the same time.

Ruby-throated hummingbird sunning itself

Ruby-throated hummingbird sunning itself

Meanwhile, I found these growing on the first floor.

Partridge berry flowers

Partridge berry flowers

And, there were squirrels everywhere, here’s just one that there was enough light to photograph.

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

I caught this chipmunk as it was gathering food.

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

And it decided that if it had to sit still and pose for a few photos that it may as well enjoy a little snack while doing so.

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

This raccoon was on its way up a tree to spend the day sleeping in the shade.

Raccoon

Raccoon

Arriving at Lost Lake, I was greeted by this scene.

Water lily

Water lily

I made my way around the lake to the observation platform, and spent the rest of my time there photographing the flowers…

Water lily

Water lily

…birds…

Male American redstart

Male American redstart

…other wildlife…

Green frog

Green frog

…and fungi that I found.

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

One of the many reasons that I had to gone to Lost Lake was to try out the new Canon 100 mm macro lens, which I used to shoot the rest of these.

The pink Pogonia orchids were past their prime, but I shot this one to try out the new lens.

Pink oogonia orchid

Pink Pogonia orchid

I found this little yellow flower, but I have no idea what it is.

Unidentified flowering object

Unidentified flowering object

I know that these are Atlantic blue-eyed grass flowers.

Atlantic blue-eyed grass

Atlantic blue-eyed grass

And, I also know that these are bladderworts.

Bladderwort

Bladderwort

Bladderwort

Bladderwort

I believe that the is a cranberry flower, but I could be wrong.

Cranberry flower?

Cranberry flower?

I found this plant or moss growing in the very shallow water along the lake.

Plant or moss?

Plant or moss?

The sundew  photos came out well!

Sundew

Sundew

Sundew

Sundew

I found this grass or sedge also growing in the shallow water of the lake.

Grass or sedge?

Grass or sedge?

It had an odd growth pattern down lower on the stem, which I found interesting.

Grass or sedge?

Grass or sedge?

While I was shooting those photos, this came flying past me, but all I had with me at the time was the 100 mm lens, so this is cropped severely.

B-17 Flying Fortress, possibly the "Aluminum Overcast"

B-17 Flying Fortress, possibly the “Aluminum Overcast”

Finally, to end this one, a dragonfly…

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

…and a damselfly.

Damselfly

Damselfly

I’ll be returning to the shores of Lake Michigan this weekend, since the weather forecast is calling for the warmest temperatures we’ve had in nearly two years. Since we had such a cold winter, and cool spring and early summer, the waters of the Great Lakes are still quite cool. I’ll use nature’s air conditioning, rather than running the AC at my apartment. If I didn’t have an appointment early Monday morning, I would have gone camping somewhere this weekend, but that’s the way that it goes sometimes.

This time when I go to the lake, I hope to shoot a few photos along the beach, where ever I decide to go, for the newer readers of my blog who may not have seen my earlier photos of the beaches. We do have some great sandy beaches here in Michigan, but I find that they become a bit boring after a while, they are miles and miles of water, sand, and sand dunes. To some one who hasn’t seen them, they look spectacular at first, but I suppose that I take them for granted, having grown up here.

That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Muskegon June 26th, My favorite marsh

Doing this second post about my trip to Muskegon on the 26th, which actually covers the first half of my day, seems weird to me. I should do them in order from now on. Anyway, after reading reports that an American avocet and American wigeon had both been seen at the Muskegon County wastewater treatment facility over the past week, caused me to break my vow not to return there until fall. I have photos of an American wigeon, but they’re not great, and I’d never seen an avocet before, so I needed photos of that species for the My Photo Life List project I’m working on.

With my new work schedule, it’s easy to get to Muskegon well before sunrise, so that’s what I did. There weren’t many clouds in the sky to add color to the sunrise, but I still set-up one of my 60D bodies with the EF-S 15-85 mm lens attached, mounted on my tripod, to see what would develop. It was still dark as I was setting up, but I could hear sandhill cranes nearby, so I was hoping for photos of them once the sun rose high enough for wildlife photography.

I began shooting series of photos to turn into HDR images as the sun began to rise, but it did look as if the sunrise was going to be rather boring, as you can see.

My favorite marsh at sunrise

My favorite marsh at sunrise

But, I hung around with the camera still set-up just in case, besides, it was still far too dark for a photo of the cranes. That didn’t stop me from trying though.

Sandhill cranes at dawn

Sandhill cranes at dawn

I even removed the landscape set-up from the tripod, and attached the 7D Mk II with the 300 mm lens on it to the tripod, and tried my very first wildlife HDR image, although the results were not as good as I hoped that they would be.

Sandhill cranes at dawn, HDR version

Sandhill cranes at dawn, HDR version

Then, things got really interesting! As the first rays of the sun hit the dew covered grasses, a mist began to form to create a thin layer of fog near the ground, which the sun’s early rays turned to a bright orange color!

Misty morning marsh

Misty morning marsh

This was enough to keep me hanging around to see what developed next, the sunrise got better.

Misty morning marsh

Misty morning marsh

Then, a whitetail deer came wandering along.

Whitetail deer in the mist

Whitetail deer in the mist

This is when I got so lucky I couldn’t believe it, I only wish that my skills as a photographer would have been up for this shot. The deer decided to look down into the marsh, right behind the flock of cranes, with the orange-pink glow of the sunrise as a background.

Whitetail deer and sandhill cranes at sunrise

Whitetail deer and sandhill cranes at sunrise

Not good, I kept trying though, and finally got this one, the best of the lot.

Whitetail deer and sandhill cranes at sunrise

Whitetail deer and sandhill cranes at sunrise

I didn’t stop shooting with the landscape set-up though, here’s what I think is my best shot of just the sunrise.

Misty morning marsh

Misty morning marsh

I paused from time to time to shoot more photos of the cranes.

Sandhill cranes at sunrise

Sandhill cranes at sunrise

A short break from the sunrise photos for a second or two. Sandhill cranes and herons are relatives, but their behaviors are very different. Herons will perch somewhere in an elevated place, such as a tree, stump…

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

(Taken on an earlier trip to Muskegon)

…or man-made object…

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

…to stay safe from predators.

The sandhill cranes on the other hand, look for marshes or other bodies of water of the right depth so that they can stand in the water away from shore to stay safe from predators, as they are doing in the previous photos.

At sunrise, the herons fly to the water to hunt for fish, frogs, or other things.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Whereas at sunrise, the sandhill cranes fly to dry ground where they forage for insects and the other things that they eat.

Sandhill cranes in flight at dawn

Sandhill cranes in flight at dawn

As you can see, I blew a great opportunity there when the flock of cranes that I had been watching decided that it was breakfast time. I didn’t do any better when the next crane flew off either.

Sandhill crane in flight at dawn

Sandhill crane in flight at dawn

The cranes didn’t have to go far for food, so they never got very high above the ground, all they had to do was fly above the dike that had created the marsh, so I had to shoot fast.

So, if you see sandhill cranes in the water, they are there primarily to rest, although they may eat a snack or two while they stand in the water. They spend most of the daylight hours in open fields looking for food.

Sandhill cranes at dawn

Sandhill cranes at dawn

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

Sandhill cranes

Sandhill cranes

Sandhill cranes

Sandhill cranes

Now then, back to the sunrise. I tried a few more HDR images, but for some reason, the later ones look as if I faked them. I don’t know why the dark halo around the sun showed up, it must have something to do with how the camera sensor reacts to very bright sunlight.

Misty morning marsh

Misty morning marsh

So, instead of using the wide set-up, I used the 300 mm lens for these.

Misty morning marsh

Misty morning marsh

Misty morning marsh

Misty morning marsh

Misty morning marsh

Misty morning marsh

Misty morning marsh

Misty morning marsh

I probably should have experimented more with other lenses and set-ups, but I was shooting other things with that set-up in between the sunrise photos, and was too busy to play. The 300 mm lens let me keep just the parts of the horizon that were turned the brilliant orange color in the frame for those photos. I didn’t do that in Lightroom. In fact, I played with the color balance in an attempt to tone down the orange a little, but switching to the cloudy or shady setting only made the orange even more pronounced. That’s about what I saw, and it is what the camera saw.

That’s it for the sunrise.

The Muskegon County wastewater facility has been recognized for the efforts that management puts into making the facility a wildlife friendly place.

Sign

Sign

Which is the reason that I’m able to get the photos there that I do, like the American avocet, seen here with a lesser yellowlegs for size comparison.

American avocet on the left, lesser yellowlegs on the right

American avocet on the left, lesser yellowlegs on the right

And here’s the avocet by itself.

American avocet

American avocet

I also tracked down the American Wigeon, but it absolutely refused to turn to face me so that I could get a photo that showed its light stripe on its forehead.

American wigeon

American wigeon

Here’s a few of the other ducks that are still around.

Female northern shoveler and brood

Female northern shoveler and brood

Male lesser scaup

Male lesser scaup

Gadwall

Gadwall

Lesser scaup pair

Lesser scaup pair

Egyptian geese

Egyptian geese

Egyptian goose

Egyptian goose

Egyptian goose

Egyptian goose

And, if you didn’t get enough of the upland sandpipers in the earlier post from a few weeks before, here’s two more.

Upland sandpiper

Upland sandpiper

Upland sandpiper

Upland sandpiper

I could have spent yet another entire day there, but I had orchids to photograph that day at Lost Lake.

I’m sorry for the rather disjointed writing of this post, but I’m getting ready to leave on a trip north to the only national wildflower sanctuary in the United States, Loda Lake to see what I can find there.

That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Jumping ahead, Muskegon June 26th, making do

I’m jumping ahead again, and while I have a few good shots from previous trips to the Muskegon area, most of them were shot on gloomy days. This past weekend, there was sunshine for a change, and my original plan was to hike in Muskegon State Park, and spend some time at Lost Lake there, to photograph the flowers and dragonflies. Even though I said that I wouldn’t be going back to the Muskegon County wastewater facility for a while, that was my first stop on this day, to shoot photos of two species of rare birds that had been seen there. I did manage to get them both, but I’m doing the posts on this trip in reverse order, so my next post will include the rare birds.

The Lost Lake area in Muskegon State Park is a great place to find some rare plants and flowers this time of the year, and I had one in mind that I really wanted to shoot photos of, the rose pogonia orchids. So, I set out with all my photo gear, finding a few things to photograph along the trail leading back to the lake. Those photos will appear a bit later in this post, as I want to start out with the star of the show, the wild orchids.

I got back to Lost Lake, and was happy to see that I had timed this trip just right, the orchids were in full bloom. But, this is when my Tokina macro lens died on me. It wouldn’t do anything, so I sat down for a few minutes to weigh my options. I decided to use my EF-S 15-85 mm lens with the middle length extension tube behind it so as to be able to fill the frame with the orchids. It worked out well enough.

Rose pogonia orchid

Rose pogonia orchid

Rose pogonia orchid

Rose pogonia orchid

I had set-up my LED light on the Gorillapod tripod to add the extra light that I needed to get those photos, that’s a great set-up for macro photos. The extension tubes work well enough, but they limit the range over which a short lens will focus to such a degree as to make it necessary to play with the tubes to get the right one(s) behind the lens for the exact distance from the subject that you want to be to fill the frame with the subject. That didn’t bother me too much on this day, as I had planned to spend most of the day there.

However, many of the flowers that I hoped to shoot are either done for the year, or haven’t begun to bloom yet. I found one pathetic Atlantic blue-eyed grass flower, not worth taking a photo of, the same with the bladderworts, they were few and far between, and not very good specimens for photography. I couldn’t find the large colony of pitcher plants that used to be there, but the sundew are spreading like crazy as the water level of Lost Lake rises, and makes the soil around the lake even wetter than it has been in recent years.

So, I went looking for other things to photograph.

The spore producing part of an unidentified moss.

The spore producing part of an unidentified moss.

That was good, this one is even better.

The spore producing part of an unidentified moss.

The spore producing part of an unidentified moss.

I was very pleased with the way that the 15-85 mm lens performed while using it with the extension tubes.

It looked like wild strawberry to me, but probably isn't

It looked like wild strawberry to me, but probably isn’t

Pincushion moss?

Pincushion moss?

In fact, seeing these photos contributed to my having decided not to try to have the dead Tokina lens repaired, but to purchase a new Canon 100 mm L series macro lens instead, especially since the Canon is weather sealed, which is important to an all-weather photographer such as myself. If I can get photos as good as this one with the new Canon lens, I’ll be a happy camper for sure!

Dragonfly hiding

Dragonfly hiding

I went the other way for this photo, I dug out the 10-18 mm lens to put its large depth of field and close focusing abilities to use for this photo.

Moss

Moss

Those were all shot with one of the 60D bodies, but it didn’t seem to matter which body I used, these were with the 15-85 mm lens and extension tube on the 7D Mk II.

Indian pipes

Indian pipes

Indian pipe

Indian pipe

I have to say, having all my camera gear, well, most of it, sure made photography fun and interesting! I used the LED light for some of those images, my flash unit with either the LED light that is has, or the flash itself as a slave removed from the camera, to get those photos.

News flash!

I picked up a Canon 100 mm L series macro lens today (Thursday) after work.  The Tokina may have had good optics, but the 15-85 mm lens with the extension tube was close, and much easier to use than the Tokina. The new Canon macro lens is even easier, I took a few test photos with it outside my apartment, and didn’t get a single bad photo, despite poor light for all but one image, and a slight breeze blowing the flowers around. It will auto-focus all the way down to at least close to one to one…

Hop trefoil?

Hop trefoil?

…the small yellow flower was about 1/4 inch across and the image wasn’t cropped at all. The faster auto-focus kept up when the flowers moved in the breeze, 25 shots and not one out of focus. The IS is the same, not one blurry because of camera shake either. It’s even much lighter than the Tokina. The topper, it performed equally as well on one of the 60D bodies as it did on the 7D body! How I wish now that I had saved for the Canon lens in the first place, but it never would have been in my budget while I worked at my old job. Oh well, live and learn.

Wait a minute here, I’m not being totally fair to the Tokina. What I learned while using that lens for the last year and a half I put into use today while trying out the new Canon, without even thinking about it. If I had been starting from scratch with the Canon, my results wouldn’t have been close to as good. Still, the new Canon is a much easier lens to use, so it will be worth it in the long run.

It just so happens that I stumbled onto something about Loda Lake, a Federal Wildflower Sanctuary about 70 miles north of where I live. I’ve heard about it before, and I’ve seen the signs for it, and always meant to stop and check it out, but never have. That’s the reason that I picked up the new Canon, I have plans to go there this weekend if the weather forecast is correct. It will be good to get up north again, and check out a new place that I’ve never been to before.

Back to our regularly scheduled post.

When I wasn’t shooting true macros, I stayed busy shooting dragonflies with the 300 mm lens.

Unidentified dragonfly

Unidentified dragonfly

Unidentified dragonfly

Unidentified dragonfly

Unidentified dragonfly

Unidentified dragonfly

Unidentified dragonfly

Unidentified dragonfly

Unidentified dragonfly

Unidentified dragonfly

Unidentified dragonfly

Unidentified dragonfly

Unidentified dragonfly

Unidentified dragonfly

It’s always good to have a long lens set-up and close by at all times, for I never know what’s going to show up.

Juvenile barred owl number 1

Juvenile barred owl number 1

Juvenile barred owl number 2

Juvenile barred owl number 2

Their parents were around also, but wouldn’t pose for me. I could see them moving around through the trees, but stayed well hidden.

I also heard a veery singing, but I wasn’t able to track it down for a photo. I did find a few birds though.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

Turkey

Turkey napping

Female common yellowthroat

Female common yellowthroat

Since we’ve had so much rain this year, I kept an eye out for fungi…

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

…but that’s the only good one that I saw. I do believe that I found two different slime molds though.

Scrambled egg slime mold?

Scrambled egg slime mold?

Coral slime mold?

Coral slime mold?

I took off my backpack that holds my camera gear, grabbed the camera set-up for macros, but in that short of time, the sun had moved enough so that the leaf canopy blocked almost all the sunlight, and it was nearly pitch black on the log where I found those were. I tried to get a better close-up, but even with extra lighting, the images were too poor to share.

After I had been at Lost Lake for a while, the water-lily opened up, as they close at night.

Water lily opening

Water lily opening

Water lily opening

Water lily opening

I didn’t think about it at the time, but it would have been a good time to test out the 7D Mk II’s ability to take time-lapse photos and shoot a series capturing one lily opening over time. There wasn’t much wind, so it would have been great. Maybe next time. Besides, I was using the 7D to shoot rodents.

Grey squirrel, black morph

Grey squirrel, black morph

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

So, you’ll have to make do with this one photo of a fully open water-lily.

Water lily

Water lily

My most unusual photos of the day came as I hiked back to the parking lot to leave, a robber fly eating a ladybug.

Robber fly eating a ladybug

Robber fly eating a ladybug

Robber fly eating a ladybug

Robber fly eating a ladybug

But, I hate to end a post on that note, so I’ll add one photo from the first part of my trip, while I was at the wastewater facility at sunrise.

Sunrise over the marsh

Sunrise over the marsh

Yes, I went crazy shooting more HDR images of yet another sunrise, although that wasn’t one of them. That photo was shot with the 7D and 300 mm lens, and is just as it came out of the camera. In my next post, I’ll cover the foggy sunrise, the rare birds that I found that morning, and a few surprises as well.

That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Jumping ahead, Muskegon June 21st, making progress

Even though I still have many photos from previous trips to the Muskegon and Grand Haven areas, I’m going to jump ahead and do a post with photos from just my last trip. That’s because I learned some new things, and other things that I knew were really driven home to me. So, be prepared for some of my babbling on about photography as I start this post, and here’s the reason why. And by the way, you can click on any photo for a larger view.

Muskegon marsh sunrise

Muskegon marsh sunrise

It had rained overnight, but for once, the weather forecast was correct, and the skies were just beginning to clear when I arrive at the Muskegon County wastewater treatment facility. I like to make that my first stop when I’m getting there at sunrise, because it’s open there, and enough light to shoot wildlife just after sunrise, since there’s no trees or hills to cast shadows.

Seeing that there could be a good sunrise, I shot a couple of test photos handheld to check exposures and which lens to use, then set-up my tripod with one of the 60D bodies and the EF-S 15-85 mm lens on it. I actually remembered to get everything set correctly, I got the focus where I wanted it, then switched off the auto-focus so that there’d be no changes as I shot series of photos to create a HDR image, which is what you see above. I shut off the image stabilization, since the camera was on the tripod. I set the mirror lock-up to reduce camera shake, and even got out my flash unit, which doubles as a remote shutter release, so that I wouldn’t have to touch the camera to fire the shutter. I even remembered to use the camera’s electronic level to make sure that my horizon would be straight.

However, that still wasn’t enough to get that image, for I messed up the composition at first.

Muskegon marsh sunrise

Muskegon marsh sunrise

That’s an earlier shot, and you can see that I got one of the buildings in the frame, which I didn’t want. In my defense, it was rather dark yet, as you can tell, and the viewfinder of the 60D doesn’t show 100% of what will end up in the photo. Canon claims that it shows 96%, I think that they are pushing it. The difference has burned me before, both in macros, when I think that I have filled the frame with the subject, and in landscapes, when things that I thought were just outside the frame ended up in my photos. This is what I see when I look through the viewfinder…

Daylily

Day lily

….but, this is what I get in the final image.

Dayliy

Day lily

Okay, enough of that, back to the sunrise photos. The second one isn’t a HDR image, it’s one that I processed in Lightroom just to see if I could get the desired results. Since the building being in the frame ruined the photo, it was time to play. Yes, Lightroom certainly made a big difference, but at a cost. You can’t see it in the smaller size as it appears here, but there’s tons of noise in the shadows, too much to be removed. If I were to print that second photo, it would look horrible because of the noise. You can only raise the shadow detail so much in Lightroom before that happens.

The next step was to load the images into Photomatix to create a HDR image, I tried tone mapping…

Muskegon marsh sunrise, tone mapped

Muskegon marsh sunrise, tone mapped

…but that looks fake, as the shadows are almost completely gone, the green of the grass is over saturated, and tone mapping destroyed the special lighting that only occurs around sunrises and sunsets. They are called the golden hours for a reason, because of the way the light is bent as it passes through the atmosphere, it takes on a golden glow, which is gone in the tone mapped version.

Here’s the exposure fusion version of the same image as above.

Muskegon marsh sunrise, exposure fusion

Muskegon marsh sunrise, exposure fusion

Much better, the golden glow is there, but the building is also still there. I finally noticed that, but I got sidetracked for a little bit, when a cedar waxwing flew out in front of me, and perched in front of the sunrise. I cautiously grabbed the 7D with the 300 mm L series lens on it for this shot.

Cedar waxwing at sunrise

Cedar waxwing at sunrise

There’s some real advantages to having more than one camera, and there’s one of them! Also, the 300 mm lens is much better than the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) in low light, so I had even prepared in advance, and had the right lens on the camera for the time of day that I’d be starting out at. I was lucky, the waxwing stuck around long enough for me to select the right focus points to get that shot. Even more amazing, it hung around, giving me time to move slightly, change the camera position to portrait, and select the correct focus points, to get this shot.

Cedar waxwing at sunrise

Cedar waxwing at sunrise

If I would have had to remove the camera from the tripod, switch lenses, and change almost every camera setting, I would have missed that photo. I suppose that I could try to remove the insects that look like spots in the lower part of the frame, maybe when I have more time, I’ll give it a try. And, I wish that the upper branch didn’t obstruct the view of the waxwing’s crest, but it would be a miracle if things went perfectly for me. 😉

Anyway, back to the sunrise. I repositioned the camera and tripod, and shot this.

Muskegon marsh sunrise, wrong workflow

Muskegon marsh sunrise, wrong workflow

I captioned that “wrong workflow, for not only do you need the right camera equipment, set correctly, and the right software to process digital images, you need to do the processing of images in the correct order to get the best results.

The very first image in this post, and that last one, are the HDR versions of the same three images, the difference between the two is the difference in the order that I did things. In that last photo, actually done first, I did the exposure fusion in Photomatix first, then went in and removed chromatic aberration, allowed the lens profile correction in Lightroom, and adjusted the color balance, to name a few things. Then, I remembered that you’re supposed to do all those things to the RAW images first, before loading them into Photomatix. So, that’s what I did, I cleaned up the RAW images in Lightroom first, then did the exposure fusion in Photomatix, and finally, did a bit of tweaking to the resulting image in Lightroom to get the best results, which I will add here again so that the difference is more apparent.

Muskegon marsh sunrise

Muskegon marsh sunrise

The differences may be subtle, but they’re enough to make a big difference in the overall appearance of the image. And that reminds me, a few months ago I said that the HDR images I produced looked better since I was loading the RAW images from Lightroom into Photomatix (The HDR software) in 16 bit Tiff format, rather than sending the RAW images directly to Photomatix. It turns out that I wasn’t imagining things, Kerry Mark Leibowitz, who shoots some of the best landscape photos I have ever seen, confirmed that while Photomatix can handle RAW images, it can’t handle them well. The only way to get really good HDR images in Photomatix is to use other software to do the RAW conversion first, as I’m doing now with Lightroom, then let Photomatix create the HDR images.

Maybe the most amazing thing about the sunrise photos is how proud of them I am, for what they are. A sunrise over a man-made marsh designed to remove contaminants from water at a wastewater treatment facility. 😉

One of these days though, it will be of something really special, and I think that I’m much better prepared for when that happens. I’m getting very close to having the camera settings down for those types of photos, and I’m learning the software end of it by shooting these types of photos.

Being prepared is everything, for as I said earlier, I had the 300 mm lens on the 7D and all set to go when this great blue heron decided that I had gotten too close to it.

Great blue heron taking flight

Great blue heron taking flight

I continued to shoot photos of the heron…

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

…the auto-focusing of the 7D had locked onto the heron, which gave me this as the heron circled me.

Great blue heron in flight

Misty morning heron in flight

Since I purchased the 7D Mk II, I’ve had lots of good things to say about it, and it’s difficult not to fill every post with praise for the 7D. I said some time ago that I wanted to begin exploring more artistic photos, and the 7D is the camera to do that with. Not only is the auto-focus great for birding, but the other features of the camera lend themselves to the more artistic images, as I hope that you’ll see in later posts.

However, the rare birds on this trip were shot with my “old standbys”, one of the 60D bodies with the Beast attached.

Egyptian geese

Egyptian geese

Egyptian goose

Egyptian goose

I don’t get to count those in the My Photo Life List project, as they’re not on the list from the Audubon Society, they’re probably escapees from some one’s farm, or some one’s pets that got away, and are taking up residence at the wastewater plant.

One of the 60D bodies was also responsible for these, shot with the macro lens.

Black-eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan

Chicory and unidentified insect

Chicory and unidentified insect

Chicory and unidentified insect

Chicory and unidentified insect

Chicory

Chicory

Alfalfa flowers

Alfalfa flowers

Timothy grass flowers?

Timothy grass flowers?

Whether you find these cute or not is a matter of personal taste I suppose, but they are newly hatched birds, in this case, gulls.

Very young unidentified gull

Very young unidentified gull

Very young unidentified gull

Very young unidentified gull

This was the first nice, sunny day when I’ve gotten out in some time, and between how late in the year it is already, and the nice weather, finding wildlife was harder than usual.  I’ve always said that bad weather is the best time to see wildlife, up to a point, and it held true on this day.

I did find an assortment of sparrows to photograph.

Savannah sparrow

Savannah sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

And, I almost found a dickcissel singing, but he chose to stay mostly hidden on this day.

Dickcissel singing

Dickcissel singing

I didn’t have the same problem with this guy!

Male Indigo bunting

Male Indigo bunting

He hopped over to another branch and did some wing and leg stretches to warm up…

Male Indigo bunting

Male Indigo bunting

…then started belting out his favorite song again.

Male Indigo bunting

Male Indigo bunting

Male Indigo bunting

Male Indigo bunting

I’m going to post this one, just because I can.

Male Indigo bunting

Male Indigo bunting

One of his kids was hoping that dad would do less singing, and more looking for food.

Juvenile Indigo bunting

Juvenile Indigo bunting

It tried its best to convince dad that it was hungry.

Juvenile Indigo bunting begging for food

Juvenile Indigo bunting begging for food

I think dad thought that the youngster was old enough to find some of its own food, for while dad did feed the youngster, dad ignored the young bird for much of the time that I watched the two of them together.

This year is flying past me, there’s already plenty of young birds around, and some of the birds are beginning to molt into their fall colors, or I should say, lack of colors. I had plenty of chances to shoot mallards, but didn’t bother, as they are already molting, as is this guy.

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

He was really too far away for a good photo, and on that note, I’ll add a few more not so good photos, just for the record of what I saw this day, starting with three different juvenile bald eagles that I found on the northern edge of the wastewater property. I spotted the first as it perched on one of the irrigation sprayers…

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

…I tried sneaking up on it to get closer, that didn’t work…

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

…and as I was walking back to my car, eagle two took off from somewhere in the woods for this bad photo…

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

…to top it off, as I was getting back in my car, eagle three took off from even closer to where I had parked.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

It looks as though it has been a great year for a bumper crop of eagles! I still can’t believe that I didn’t spot the other two eagles earlier though, they’re huge and hard to miss.

A couple of more for the record shots, I don’t remember why I had pointed the camera at these, a female mallard and her brood, along with a gadwall.

Female mallard, her young, and a gadwall

Female mallard, her young, and a gadwall

Maybe it was because I thought it odd that the gadwall was hanging out with the mallards, but the gadwall was a rude one, for I guess it thought that the mallards weren’t moving quickly enough, it nipped the female mallard in the butt to get her to move faster.

Gadwall nipping a female mallard in the butt

Gadwall nipping a female mallard in the butt

There are jerks in the bird world too, for how could the gadwall nip a poor mallard mother positioning herself to protect her young? It’s not as if the gadwall moved any quicker once the mallards were out of its way.

Another slightly unusual occurrence, a wood duck in the east storage lagoon, which is like a man-made lake nearly one mile square.

Wood duck in open water

Wood duck in open water

I do see wood ducks there at the wastewater facility, but never out in open water like that, they typically stick to the smaller ponds and canals, closer to cover. In the wild, I never see them in the open, they are always close to, or in cover.

I’m not sure about this next photo, I don’t think that I took enough time to get it right when I shot it. I was going for a spotted sandpiper, but as I was looking for it through the camera, I saw this, and shot the photo.

Grass

Grass

Then shot the spotted sandpiper.

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

One thing that I haven’t learned how to do is sneak up on birds that live in open fields, like this bobolink.

Male bobolink singing

Male bobolink singing

That’s as close as I could get using the Beast and cropping quite a bit.

I’m much better at sneaking up on birds in the woods…

Eastern wood pewee

Eastern wood pewee

…and getting a quick photo or two before they spot me.

Eastern wood pewee

Eastern wood pewee

Then, there are the birds that don’t seem to mind that I’m close when I shoot their portraits.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Eastern kingbird

Eastern kingbird

Even though I’m over my self-imposed limit for photos, I have one more left to share.

Milkweed flowers

Milkweed flowers

I probably won’t be returning to the wastewater facility until the fall bird migration begins in August, which isn’t that far away. There are too many other places that I like that I haven’t visited this year, one of them being Lost Lake in Muskegon State Park. If we get a few hours of good light this weekend, Lost Lake, and the plants, flowers, and insects there, may be my destination.

I’m sorry for so many of the sunrise/landscapes in the beginning, but I’m still coming to grips with the idea that $200 worth of software, and using it correctly, is as important as any piece of actual photo gear to getting good landscape images. Now, if I could convince the birds to hold perfectly still long enough to get three shots of them, I’d try a HDR image of a bird. 😉

That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


More highlights from several lakeshore trips

Where do I start? I’m attempting to reduce the photos that I shot while on several trips to the Lake Michigan shore down to just one post, and it’s tough deciding what photos to use, and which ones to delete.

For example, I’ve posted quite a few photos of northern shovelers lately, but does that mean that I shouldn’t post one of my best of one of the shovelers in flight?

Male northern shoveler in flight

Male northern shoveler in flight

What about ruddy ducks, I’ve posted a lot of images of them lately as well, but if I catch one napping on the rocks and get very close to it before it notices me, I think that I should add it here.

Female ruddy duck in the rain

Female ruddy duck in the rain

Or, if I catch one flying near a mallard, I think that I shot post it to help out those who are learning how to identify birds. Not only is the mallard much larger, it’s long and lean compared to the ruddy duck. Its short, wide wings are really pronounced when viewed next to a mallard.

Ruddy duck and male mallard in flight

Ruddy duck and male mallard in flight

Even without a mallard near it, you can still see that the ruddy ducks have a completely different profile while they are flying, along with a completely different pattern of flapping their wings.

Ruddy duck in flight

Ruddy duck in flight

Not to mention those oversized feet!

Should I leave out my sunrise photos, even if the sunrise was less than I had hoped that it would be?

Sunrise at the lagoons

Sunrise at the lagoons

What if there’s a rare bird in the sunrise photo, such as a pelican?

American white pelican at sunrise

American white pelican at sunrise

Should I delete the photo where I zoomed in on the pelican, and cropped it severely also?

American white pelican

American white pelican

It isn’t every day that one sees a pelican, or an angry sun, just after sunrise.

Angry sun

Angry sun

What about the zoomed in version, where the sun looks even angrier?

Angrier sun

Angrier sun

Then, there’s this photo, shot before any of the sunrise photos.

Killdeer before sunrise

Killdeer before sunrise

I didn’t add any effects from Lightroom, other than basic exposure correction. The killdeer would stand perfectly still, until a wave broke over the rock it was standing on. Then, the killdeer would pluck any goodies the wave had brought, and then return to standing perfectly still again. The shutter speed was 1/3 of a second, long enough to blur the motion of the water, but other than the one feather blowing in the wind, the bird was still enough for a reasonably sharp photo. It also shows the effectiveness of image stabilization, for that was shot with me bracing the camera against the door of my car. Other than a great blue heron stalking its prey, I’ve never seen a bird stand as motionless as that killdeer, which I found quite interesting.

I go to the lakeshore for the birds, but I see other things, should I leave them out?

Female snapping turtle laying eggs

Female snapping turtle laying eggs

English plantain

English plantain

Black racer?

Black racer?

Early sunflower?

Early sunflower?

Early sunflowers?

Early sunflowers?

Red clover

Red clover

And if I do include subjects other than birds, how many should I use? Take deer for example, one good shot of a doe and last year’s fawn?

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

Should I stop there, or include one that shows the graceful power of a deer as it runs?

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

Or, should I include this portrait…

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

…as she stopped to check me out, and to remember a moment, which I missed…

Whitetail deer after being attacked by a red-winged blackbird

Whitetail deer after being attacked by a red-winged blackbird

…because I thought that I had enough photos of the deer and was zooming the lens out in preparation of putting it away, until I saw the blackbird smack the deer in the butt, sending the deer on its way.

What about this one of a buck just starting to grow what look like they will be a good set of antlers?

Whitetail buck

Whitetail buck

He’d better hide better than that come hunting season!

I’ve been telling myself that I shouldn’t go to the lakeshore as often, but that’s the area that works best when the weather won’t cooperate. As you can see, most of these photos were shot in low light, but they weren’t all shot at sunrise. The weather pattern here remains the same, with some rain almost every day. Continuing a trend, we’ve had rain 10 of the last 11 days. No complete washout, when it rains all day, but scattered on and off showers every now and then. Along the lakeshore, I can stay in my vehicle while it’s raining, then take short walks in between the showers, rather than be out in the rain. The funny thing is that I don’t usually mind walking in the rain, but not when it’s an everyday thing, this is getting ridiculous!

The places that I go along the lakeshore are relatively close together, so if I time it right, I can move from one place to the next while it’s raining, and once the rain let’s up, wander around a bit to see what I can find.

I have to throw in a short segment about my project to photograph every species of bird regularly seen in Michigan. I have photos that would put me to the two-thirds mark as far as species photographed, which is quite an achievement, not that I’m bragging. 😉 That’s in just over two years since the idea to do a photo life list hit me. I haven’t posted anything towards that series in a while, since I don’t have the time to do so right now. Besides, with all the flowers, wildlife, and other subjects to shoot, I’m still way behind on my posting anyway. I’ll resume that series this winter, when I don’t have many other photos to share.

But, I have to say a few things about taking on a project like that, and what I’m learning from it. One thing is how to shoot better photos, of course. But, it’s been so much more than that. Learning the behaviors of the different species of birds that allows me to get as close to them as I do. Learning new places to go, and coming to appreciate different types of habitat much more.

I grew up in the woods, and I’ve always leaned towards hiking in heavily wooded areas, such as the Pigeon River Country. I avoided swamps and marshes, especially in the summer when the skeeters, deer flies, and black flies can make you wish that you had never set foot outdoors. Well, in the spring and fall, before or after the bugs, those are beautiful places in their own right, and home to many species of birds that I never knew existed.

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat singing

Common yellowthroat singing

Swamp sparrow

Swamp sparrow

Swamp sparrow singing

Swamp sparrow singing

Before starting the My Photo Life List project, I avoided open fields, as I thought that they were boring, hardly, for I’m finding just the opposite to be true, if I take the time to learn what there is to see in an open field.

Male dickcissel singing

Male dickcissel singing

Male dickcissel singing

Male dickcissel singing

Those were shot on two different days, obviously, the reason that I included the second one is that after that male finished his song, he’d look high and low to see if any females were responding, which I found to be very humorous.

Male dickcissel looking for a mate

Male dickcissel looking for a mate

Another thing that I’ve learned from taking on the My Photo Life List project is to appreciate “my” part of the state of Michigan even more than I did. When I first thought of that project, I thought that I’d be traveling to different parts of Michigan much more to get as far as what I have. Yes, I’ve gotten a few species of birds on my trips north, but most have come within 45 miles of home. Really surprising has been the number of species that I’ve gotten while doing my daily walks from my apartment, when I’m never more than two miles from the door of my apartment.

I thought that I was observant before, but since starting this project, my eyes have been truly opened to just what there is to see close to home, if one takes the time to look. It also begs the question, why didn’t I see these species of birds before? Well, some of them I probably had seen before, but never took the time to look them up in a field guide to positively identify them. To me, any small brown bird that hopped on the ground most of the time was a sparrow, the exact species didn’t matter to me. There was also a time when I was hiking at Muskegon State Park when I saw what I thought looked like a flock of pelicans flying high overhead, but I had no idea at the time that pelicans were ever seen in Michigan, so I assumed that my eyes were tricking me. Little did I know at the time that pelicans do visit my neck of the woods regularly.

Another thing that I’m learning is that you have to be careful driving, or even walking around this time of year, for there are lot’s of these around.

Just hatched spotted sandpiper

Just hatched spotted sandpiper

The only way that I know that it’s a spotted sandpiper is because mom was nearby, having a fit. That little thing was so small that any gust of wind would blow it over, so I shot one more photo…

Just hatched spotted sandpiper

Just hatched spotted sandpiper

…and then turned around.

I’m also happy to report that there seems to be a bumper crop of these this year.

Juvenile upland sandpiper

Juvenile upland sandpiper

Juvenile upland sandpiper

Juvenile upland sandpiper

Their dad would fly around me, at one moment looking as if he were going to attack…

Upland sandpiper in flight

Upland sandpiper in flight

…and the next, he would pretend that he was injured and flutter to the ground, a good distance away from his young.

Upland sandpiper in flight

Upland sandpiper in flight

Mom, on the other hand, placed herself between her young and the big bad photographer, ready to take him on if he approached to close.

Female upland sandpiper defending her young

Female upland sandpiper defending her young

Female upland sandpiper defending her young

Female upland sandpiper defending her young

Female upland sandpiper defending her young

Female upland sandpiper defending her young

Once she thought that her young were safely hidden in the grass, she changed tactics, and performed the “broken wing” act, to lead me away from the young.

Female upland sandpiper pretending to be injured

Female upland sandpiper pretending to be injured

Female upland sandpiper pretending to be injured

Female upland sandpiper pretending to be injured

Once I had moved far enough away, she’d give one last look to make sure that I was leaving, then rejoin her young in the tall grass.

Female upland sandpiper

Female upland sandpiper

On the opposite end of the cuteness scale from the young sandpipers are these birds.

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

But, I can’t end on that note, so here’s one more photo, just to brighten up your day.

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Yes, that’s how far behind I am, that photo shows the leaves just beginning to emerge, and the Juncos were still around before heading north to their summer homes. As it’s now getting towards the end of June, some of the birds have already begun to molt into their fall plumage. This year is racing past me at a blinding speed, but it’s my own fault, for working as much as I have this year, because I’m greedy. However, there’s a reason for that right now.

I returned to the Muskegon area again yesterday, and while I didn’t find many birds to photograph, the subjects that I did find to shoot really drove home the need to have the correct equipment for the subject at hand. Luckily, for what I found to photograph, I did have the right stuff with me, for I used more of my camera gear yesterday than I have in a very long time. I have one more lens that I want to purchase, and a few more accessories, so I’m willing to work long hours right now to complete my kit, then, I’ll back off from work, and spend more time enjoying life.

That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


It does get easier

With several budding birders and bird photographers following my blog, I thought that it would be a good time to pass on a few tips on how to identify birds quickly, and maybe a few tips on photographing birds. That’s because on one of my recent trips to the Lake Michigan shoreline, I noticed that I was identifying ducks in poor light, and at longer distances, when two years ago, I had a difficult time telling a scaup from a grebe, which isn’t really a duck to begin with.

First of all, taking photos so that you have time to consult field guides to help you make the ID is a good idea, but it isn’t often that a male in full breeding plumage of any species will calmly swim past you in nearly optimal conditions so that you get a great shot.

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

You may ask yourself why I chose a northern shoveler, when by the size of their snout, they should be easy to ID. Well, yes and no, you can’t always see their bill for one thing.

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

And, they have about the same colors as male mallards do, but in different places.

Male mallard and northern shovelers

Male mallard and northern shovelers

Sometimes, the northern shovelers will even try to act like a mallard by being goofy.

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

But, they just aren’t as good at being goofy as mallards are.

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

So, if you go back to the photo of the mallard with the shovelers, you can see that both species are very close to being the same overall length, but that mallards are stockier, shovelers are long and lean, and therefore, appear to ride lower in the water than what mallards do. After you see them often enough, every species of duck presents a different profile when seen at a distance.

So, it isn’t only by color that one can go by, it is many things, size, shape, behavior, and I’ll try to touch on more as I go along here.

If you see a small duck, less than half the size of an adult mallard, it’s probably a ruddy duck, positively if it has its tail sticking straight up.

Ruddy ducks

Ruddy ducks

So, even if the light is poor, if you see this…

Ruddy ducks

Ruddy ducks

…you know that they’re ruddy ducks. You don’t need a great view of them, just their profile and a few hints of their colors are enough to make the ID.

The only duck close in size to a ruddy duck is a wood duck, and there’s no mistaking an adult male wood duck for any other species.

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

You could mistake a female wood duck for another species, but even that isn’t easy to do, they have such a unique look to them.

Female wood duck in flight

Female wood duck in flight

The most important tip I can give you is that you should take every opportunity that you can to see the same species over and over again, so that you have them memorized. Then, it’s easy to tell a blue-winged teal…

Male blue-winged teal in flight

Male blue-winged teal in flight

…from a green-winged teal…

Male green-winged teal in flight

Male green-winged teal in flight

…from a mallard.

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

And, you’ll know that when you spot a duck that doesn’t have quite the same shape as any of the ducks that you see regularly, that you should try to get a closer look, and see what if any color differences there are between the ducks that you’re familiar with, and those you’re not, such as part of its bill being bright yellow.

Black scoter

Black scoter

I could go on about ducks, as I can now tell a scaup…

Male lesser scaup

Male lesser scaup

…from a grebe…

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

…but I’m going to move on to other birds that are far more difficult to ID than ducks are, shorebirds.

One of my first attempts to see, photograph, and identify shorebirds was at Isaacson’s Bay, near Alpena, in northern Michigan. I was walking along the mudflats, scanning way off in the distance expecting to be able to see the shorebirds running around from a distance, then get closer. I nearly stepped on what I thought was a killdeer, except that it didn’t look exactly like a killdeer…

Killdeer

Killdeer

…the bird I nearly stepped on had a colorful bill, and wasn’t as large as a killdeer, it was a semipalmated plover I learned later.

Semi-palmated plover

Semipalmated plover

The first tip I can offer is this, if the shorebird has a short, conical bill, it’s a plover or turnstone. If the bill is long and slender, then the bird is a sandpiper or other related species, such as dowitcher or godwit to name two others.

Again, photos can help, but photos can also be deceiving at times. One mistake that I made early on was trying to isolate one single bird as I have in the photos above. But, when it comes to identifying shorebirds, size is one of the keys. For example, here’s a dunlin and a semipalmated sandpiper (not semipalmated plover, two species that sound alike) together.

Dunlin and semipalmated sandpiper

Dunlin and semipalmated sandpiper

You can see that the dunlin is huge compared to the semipalmated sandpiper, but, there’s an even smaller species of sandpiper, the least sandpiper.

Least sandpiper

Least sandpiper

From my photos, the least sandpiper looks larger than the semipalmated, because I got closer to the least than I did the semipalmated. The semipalmated sandpiper has black legs, the least sandpiper has yellow legs, one of the ways that I can tell them apart.

If you see this…

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

…then, as the caption says, it’s a spotted sandpiper, one of the easiest to ID. Not only do its spots give it away, but if you see a shorebird bobbing its tail end up and down, it’s a spotted sandpiper

Now then, here’s a lesser yellowlegs, it’s easy to see how they got their name.

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Here’s a bird that’s about the same size, and has yellowish legs, but it’s an upland sandpiper.

Upland sandpiper

Upland sandpiper

It’s easy to tell the difference between these two, by the color of their bills and their markings. Making it even easier is that the upland sandpiper prefers open fields whereas the lesser yellowlegs is almost always near water, so habitat is a huge clue. And, you need every clue that you can find when it comes to shorebirds.

When I blow this photo up on my computer, I can see that the bird’s legs and bill have a greenish tint, which you may not be able to see here. What you can see is that it looks like some one splattered white paint on the bird’s back, making it a solitary sandpiper.

Solitary sandpiper

Solitary sandpiper

Solitary sandpiper

Solitary sandpiper

That’s another tip that I use, there isn’t much difference in the markings of the shorebirds, so I use tricks to help me remember those small differences. I can remember splattered with white paint easier than I can remember “Back dark olive with scattered small white spots. Bold white eye ring. Tail distinctly barred. Rump and center tail feathers dark.” as their description on All About Birds reads. Coming up with your own ways to help you remember the markings of birds, rather than relying on descriptions will help you memorize birds as you add them to your life list.

I’ve been lucky, I’ve had several conversations with Brian Johnson, a professional ornithologist, Caleb Putnam, who is in charge of confirming the accuracy of submissions to eBirds, and several other excellent birders over the past two years. One topic comes up time and time again, that even the best field guides are just starting points to identifying birds. The people who write the field guides put a lot of work into them, but there’s no way that they can cover all the regional and seasonal variations in a bird’s plumage, nor account for individual variations.

If you have a bird feeder in your backyard, I’m sure that after a while, you begin to recognize individual birds when they all looked exactly alike to you when the birds first began coming to your feeder. For example, not all male northern cardinals look exactly the same when we see them often and at close range. Some are a deeper red than others, some are plump, some are skinny, and so it goes for all birds. When we start out birding, we think that they are all identical, but they are not, there are variations within all species of birds, and there’s no field guide in the world that can cover them all.

That point was made clear to me while watching Brian at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. He was banding birds that day, and as he removed them from the nets used to capture them, he would explain some of the variations shown by the individual bird, literally in hand, as compared to the descriptions in most field guides. It was a very enlightening day to say the least!

I’m not saying that you can’t rely on field guides to be correct, but even the best descriptions, and even photos, are just starting points. You need to pay attention to where and when you saw the bird, any sounds that it may have made, and its behavior, as all are important clues to help identify which species it is.

Another difficulty in using field guides is that you may see a bird in a dense thicket, early in the morning, one poor light…

House wren

House wren

…or, you may see the front of the bird…

House wren

House wren

…when your field guide shows you photos of the species taken in great light taken from the rear of the bird…

House wren

House wren

…making it harder to compare the bird that you saw and/or photographed with what you see in the field guides.

House wren

House wren

Fortunately, wrens seldom keep their mouths shut for very long…

House wren singing

House wren singing

…and their songs are a positive way to ID them. Just make sure that the bird that you think you hear singing is the one actually singing, as these guys…

Grey catbird

Grey catbird

…along with brown thrashers and mockingbirds are very good mimics, and they can sing snippets of many other bird’s songs.

Although they aren’t known for mimicking other birds, one early morning I came across this robin singing softly, but not they typical robin song, it sounded like a catbird, singing parts of other bird’s songs.

American robin

American robin

The sounds the robin was making were just barely audible, but they were definitely bits of the songs of other birds.

If you watched the video of the dunlin in action in my last post, you’ll know that these shorebirds seldom hold still, getting sharp photos of them is often difficult. If they’re not running in search of food, then their heads are bobbing up and down, it’s often referred to as sewing machine movement, and if you watch the video again, you can see why.

Or, here’s a whole lot of them in action.

And, here’s a photo of a lot of dunlin in action.

A flock of dunlin in flight

A flock of dunlin in flight

I included those for a reason, how the birds behave is a clue to their identity. Dunlin are almost always seen in large flocks that stay together, even in flight. The solitary sandpipers got their name because they seldom are seen together in a flock as the dunlin are.

I know that I haven’t said anything that hasn’t been said before, that you need to go by size, shape, color, behavior, and where and when you see a bird to correctly identify it, but hopefully, seeing those things illustrated in photos, along with my personal experiences can help.

My way of remembering birds is photographing them. If you asked me to describe a red-eyed vireo…

Red eyed vireo

Red eyed vireo

Red eyed vireo

Red eyed vireo

…other than that they have red eyes, I’d be at a loss for words as to how to describe them. I remember birds by the photos that I take of them, rather than descriptions.

Larger birds are generally easier to photograph, you don’t have to get as close to them, and they tend to move slowly unless you spook them.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Small birds typically move quickly no matter what they’re doing when you see them. That makes it tough to get close and get a clear view of them.

Ruby crowned kinglet

Ruby crowned kinglet

Ruby crowned kinglet

Ruby crowned kinglet

Timing is critical to getting a good photo, you have to anticipate what the bird is going to do before it does what it’s going to do, and be ready when you get that split second chance for a photo, when dealing with small birds.

So, I see a bird that I want to photograph, and I’ll watch what it’s doing, which direction it is moving, and try to get ahead of it in a spot where I think that I have the best chance of seeing it in the clear, and with at least half-way good lighting. If you see a brown creeper, for example, they start at the base of a tree and work their way up, going around the tree as they work their way up. I’ll pick a spot on the tree where I think that the creeper will appear, have the camera focused on that spot, and wait…

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

…and hit the shutter release when the bird appears.

Well, this post is getting quite long already, and I’m really just getting started. So, I’ll sum this one up by saying that both identifying birds, and photographing them, does get easier over time.

That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


The highlights from several lakeshore trips

This is getting ridiculous, I have photos from 6 trips to the lakeshore saved right now. I also have multiple folders full of photos from around home as well. The photos date back to when the willows were just beginning to bloom, as well as the daffodils and trillium.

Going back through the photos, many of them are the same species of birds, but shot on different days, and quite a few of them aren’t very good. Some of that was the cloudy, wet month of May that we had, some of it was because I was arriving at my first stop of the day at sunrise.

Sunrise at Muskegon

Sunrise at Muskegon

Lone Canada goose at sunrise

Lone Canada goose at sunrise

Ruddy ducks at sunrise

Ruddy ducks at sunrise

Sunrise at Muskegon

Sunrise at Muskegon

Sunrise at Muskegon

Sunrise at Muskegon

Silly me, I can’t help but shoot photos not only of the sunrises, but I try to shoot photos of the birds and other critters that I see then.

If you want a true handle on the amount of wildlife in any area, be there at sunrise! You may think that there’s a lot of wildlife if you get outside around 8 or 9 AM, but that number pales in comparison to what you’ll see when the sun just starts above the horizon. Of course, getting good photos of the wildlife in that light is next to impossible, but that never stops me, as this photo of an obviously very pregnant deer should tell you.

Pregnant whitetail doe

Pregnant whitetail doe

While she foraged for food close to the ground, this buck that was nearby went for the leaves of a tree that he found to taste the best.

Whitetail buck just beginning to grow his antlers

Whitetail buck just beginning to grow his antlers

The photos that I’ve included so far bring up a point, that when I do a lakeshore trip, I have all my photography gear with me in my vehicle. When I get to some places, such as Lane’s Landing for example, I’m limited in what I carry with me, due to the weight of all my gear, and I miss some great shots because of that. Not birds, I always carry a birding set-up, but I miss flowers…

Appendaged Waterleaf

Appendaged Waterleaf

Unknown flowering object

Unknown flowering object

…and insects.

Unidentified skipper

Unidentified skipper

Now that I’ve brought up photography gear, you know that I’ll have to prattle on about that for a while. 😉

One of the things that I’ve wanted to do now that I have the new Canon 7D Mk II is to try out the 70-200 mm f/4 L series lens that I have on the new body. I got home from work one day with a little bit of extra time, but not enough to go for a walk, so I decided to try that lens out inside. It was a dark and dreary day anyway, so why not stay inside? I handheld the camera for the first few photos, then decided it was stupid to test out the lens/body combination in low light and high ISO settings. So, I set-up my tripod and dialed the ISO down to 100 and shot a series of photos that way. I am happy to report that the 70-200 mm lens works great on the 7D Mk II, just as the 300 mm L series lens does, none of the problems that I had with those lenses on the 60D bodies that I have.

Since I had the camera on the tripod, and still more time to kill, I dialed in the camera’s built-in flash, and also the EX 380 Speedlite, both on the camera, and as a slave unit. It was a very productive afternoon, as I also learned how to get the mirror lockup to function, as well as other camera functions that I hadn’t tried yet.

I’ve done similar tests the past two days, as I have purchased a set of Kenko extension tubes to use. For those who don’t know, extension tubes can turn a regular lens into a macro lens by moving the lens away from the focal plane of the camera, making it as if the lens can focus closer than it actually can without the extension tube(s). The Kenko set, which consists of 12mm, 20mm, 36mm long tubes, costs less than the 20 mm long tube from Canon costs alone. From the reviews, there’s no real difference between the Kenko tubes and those from Canon, and there’s no glass in an extension tube, it is as the name implies, a hollow tube that fits between the camera and lens. These fit all my lenses, I’ve tried them all. The odd thing about the tubes is that they make far more of a difference with short focal length lenses than they do long lenses. Anyway, they add more versatility to every lens I own, here’s a shot of a tiny blue wildflower with all three tubes behind the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) at 150mm.

Tiny blue wildflower

Tiny blue wildflower

And here’s a photo from the Tokina 100 mm macro lens with all three tubes behind it.

Tiny blue wildflower

Tiny blue wildflower

I didn’t crop those photos at all, I wish I could have had something in the frame to show you how small those flowers are, about 1/8 inch (3 mm) across, they look like blue specks scattered across the lawn rather than flowers.

Anyway, I probably won’t use those extension tubes often, but they will come in very handy from time to time in certain situations, so I’d like to have them with me all the time. That goes for the 70-200 mm lens as well, I seldom use it, as I don’t have room for it in the holster camera bag that I’ve been using to carry my gear with me. I think that it’s the second sharpest lens that I own, behind the Tokina macro lens, and I also believe that it delivers the best color rendition, even better than the Tokina. To have a lens like that sitting around and not using it is rather silly.

However, since the 300 mm lens focuses to almost the same distance as the 70-200 mm does, it’s a wiser choice for near macro photos of dragonflies, larger flowers, and butterflies. I’ve gotten some good landscape photos from the Beast set to its shortest focal lengths,, but the 70-200 mm would have been a better choice of lenses.

What I’m getting to is that this week, I’ll be ordering a backpack type camera bag to carry my ever-growing collection of camera gear. No earth shattering news there, but I’m ready for one, as I’m tired of missing shots because I didn’t have the right equipment with me at the time.

Now then, a few words about the 7D Mk II, without a doubt, almost everything it was cracked up to be! I say almost, I can’t say that I see a huge difference in image quality between the 7D and the 60D in low light, High ISO situations. When the Mk II was first released a lot of people, mainly paid Canon spokespersons it turns out, raved about its performance at high ISO settings. Yes, it’s slightly better than the 60D, but I still have to clean up the noise in Lightroom, so really it’s no big deal.

The Auto-focus is something that people raved about which has turned out to be true, no matter how hard birds try to hide from me, if they even breathe hard, the 7D Mk II detects that motion and locks onto them.

Brown thrasher hiding

Brown thrasher hiding

Grasshopper sparrow hiding

Grasshopper sparrow hiding

Since birds are almost always moving, even if they are perched…

Hermit thrush twitching its tail

Hermit thrush twitching its tail

Hermit thrush twitching its tail

Hermit thrush twitching its tail

…the 7D seeks them out so well that it’s almost scary at times. But, I’m sure that you’re all tired of hearing about how well the 7D auto-focuses.

The metering system, which few reviewers mentioned, also is better than I expected, I seldom adjust the exposure, the 7D gets it right on its own.

With the new, faster CF memory cards, I have yet to fill the camera’s buffer while shooting in low-speed burst mode, and I’ve tried.

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Those are just a few of the photos that I shot of that duck, the same goes for these. You can tell by the sour look on the male’s face that he wasn’t happy about another male showing off for his mate.

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

So, he decided to show the first male who was head duck around there.

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

I’m not sure, but I think that the female was flirting with the first male behind her mate’s back, both literally, and figuratively.

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

A number of waterfowl have hung around longer than they did last year, giving me a chance to get photos of the males in full breeding plumage.

Male ruddy duck

Male ruddy duck

I’ve also been able to observe their behavior more since they’ve been around longer. I’ve seen mallards bobbing their heads up and down while peeping like a chick, but I learned that male northern shovelers do the same thing.

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

I don’t know what the peeping means, but fights often break out soon after.

Male northern shovelers fighting

Male northern shovelers fighting

Male northern shovelers fighting

Male northern shovelers fighting

Male northern shovelers fighting

Male northern shovelers fighting

It looks as if the butt bite is a universal thing in the waterfowl world, along with the victor making sure that every one knows who won.

Male northern shoveler declaring victory

Male northern shoveler declaring victory

Male northern shoveler declaring victory

Male northern shoveler declaring victory

Male northern shoveler declaring victory

Male northern shoveler declaring victory

I mentioned how good it was to have all my gear with me, three camera bodies may seem excessive, but I used all three in short order a couple of times. The 7D Mk II to shoot good stills while using the Beast.

Dunlin

Dunlin

Then using the first 60D body with the 300 mm lens to shoot a video.

And finally, the second 60D body with the Tokina 100 mm lens to get a wider view of mallards wondering what all those small brown birds were that had surrounded the mallards.

Mallards watching assorted shorebirds

Mallards watching assorted shorebirds

I’ve already thrown in too many photos, and I haven’t even gotten to any of the cute ones yet.

Baby fox squirrel

Baby fox squirrel

Or, the good ones.

Common yellowthroat singing

Common yellowthroat singing

So, I guess that they’ll have to wait until the next post.

That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!