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

Muskegon SGA

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!

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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!


Going back in time, Muskegon area, April 19, 2015

After my last post, which included several poor images due to the rain and fog, along with my quest to rack up a large number of species of birds just to see how many I could get, I was ruthless in selecting better images for this post. Not that there aren’t a few clinkers here and there, but overall, the images are much better. I see from the date that I’m still nearly a month behind in my postings, that helped me to weed through the photos for this post as well.

It’s been so long ago that my memories of the day have already begun to fade away, I’m not sure, but I think that the was the first weekend after I had purchased the new Canon 7D camera body. I put the 300 mm lens on it, and thought that I had it set-up fairly well for bird in flight photos, but it turns out that I was wrong. Not that it didn’t work well for birds in flight, but as I have used the camera more, and learned more about the auto-focusing system, the settings I used on this day were far from optimum for action photos.

I mounted the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) on one of the 60D bodies, and carrying both cameras, set out looking for birds at Lane’s Landing, in the Muskegon State Game area. I arrived as planned, just after daybreak.

Dawn in the marshes

Dawn in the marshes

The low light made it challenging to get good bird photos, even though they were out and about to greet the day.

American coot

American coot

A pair of geese flew past me, so I grabbed the 7D and turned it loose shooting way too many photos of the geese, but I was testing my settings for the day. That wasn’t a good idea, for the camera hadn’t finished writing all the images to the very slow memory card I had in the camera when a great blue heron flew past me, following the geese. The camera buffer was still almost full, so I only got a few shots of the heron before the buffer was full again, here’s one of the better photos.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

In some ways, it’s a good thing to be behind in posting these to my blog, as I can look back and see what I did wrong, and I know what I’ve learned since then. Getting to know the 7D has been a real learning experience, and I feel that I’m just coming to grips with what it can do now, a month later. But at the time, I didn’t know just how little I knew, so I continued to shoot away whenever any bird flew close enough for me to test the camera out.

Male ring-necked duck in flight

Male ring-necked duck in flight

Since I had just upgraded from the 60D, I was using the settings that I had learned worked well for it for my settings in the 7D. I can’t say that those settings were totally wrong, but close to it, the 7D is an entirely new ballgame compared to the 60D, as far as its capabilities, and the settings I should be using to get the best out of it. However, I don’t want to get too technical, as I did in a previous post.

So, I walked the trail that leads to the Muskegon River from the parking area at Lane’s Landing, carrying the Beast in my hands, with the 7D and 300 mm lens slung around my neck. If I saw a perched bird, I used the Beast…

Swamp sparrow

Swamp sparrow

Swamp sparrow singing

Swamp sparrow singing

…and if a bird flew past me, I’d set the Beast down on the ground and grab the 7D…

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

…to shoot shots like that one.

It works well enough, if I have the time to set the Beast down somewhere safe, and if I have the time to make the switch, as I did when I noticed a large, lanky bird flying towards me.

Osprey

Osprey

I find it just a bit odd that there aren’t more osprey around the area, as it seems like it would be the perfect habitat for them, with the open waters of Lake Michigan, Muskegon Lake, the Muskegon River, and other bodies of water close by. Maybe it’s because there are so many bald eagles in the area already? It would be great to see more osprey, as they are still rare here in west Michigan.

Anyway, I continued to the river and back, shooting these on my way.

Male hairy woodpecker

Male hairy woodpecker

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Hermit thrush

Hermit thrush

I was a week or two too early for many of the migrating birds, so I didn’t find much to photograph there at Lane’s Landing. It was much the same at the headquarters of the Muskegon State Game Area, even though I walked farther there than I have ever walked before. Most of the birds and other subjects that I found to shoot were within sight of the headquarters building and parking lot, like these tree swallows checking out a nesting box.

Tree swallows

Tree swallows

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

Sorry for so many photos of the swallows, but they are one of my favorite species of birds, and difficult to get a good photo of, or at least it used to be. I seem to be doing quite well with them this spring, as you will see.

Here’s a species that I see often, but it’s another that I have trouble getting good photos of, bluebirds. Like wood ducks, I see them, but can never get close to them to get a really good photo, so these will have to do.

Eastern bluebird in flight

Eastern bluebird in flight

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird in flight

Eastern bluebird in flight

I shot those while I was standing in the parking lot of the headquarters, and chatting with two conservation officers from the Michigan DNR. They found my efforts rather humorous, a couple of great guys.

I’m going to throw in a little side note here. I have the new iMac, new to me software in Lightroom, and the new 7D camera, and I’m in seventh heaven! There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t learn something new about at least one of those items, often it’s more than one thing. I love to learn, so that’s making this a lot of fun to me, but I am so tempted to do post after post of me telling you of what I’ve learned. I’ve already done too much of that in the past, so I’m holding back even though it’s hard for me.

Anyway, back to the post at hand. Since this trip was before the spring migration got into full swing, I hadn’t seen many birds on this day. So, I headed over to the wastewater treatment facility, where I knew that there’d be at least waterfowl to photograph. I may as well begin this segment out with the worst photo from the day that I’m going to post, a pair of bald eagles hiding in the trees.

Bald eagles

Bald eagles

Since the ice is off the lakes, the eagles that overwinter near Muskegon have returned to their summer homes, so I see fewer of them now. What I can’t figure out is why the last few times that I have seen them, they’ve been hiding back in the tree branches like songbirds do. Oh well, it’s still a thrill to see them even if the view is obscured.

Okay, now for the waterfowl from the day.

Gadwall

Gadwall

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

This mallard was reaching up and nipping the buds off from the bush above him.

Male mallard

Male mallard

Male mallard

Male mallard

It’s no wonder that there are mallards everywhere, they’ll eat just about anything that doesn’t eat them. 😉

I still had the Beast on a 60D body, and it seemed as though every bird began to move at about the time I was almost ready to press the shutter.

Horned grebe taking flight

Horned grebe taking flight

Horned grebe taking flight

Horned grebe taking flight

American coot taking flight

American coot taking flight

People think of grebes and coots as ducks, but they’re not. They don’t have webbed feet as true ducks do, as you can see in these photos. They have fleshy appendages on their oversized feet that are similar to the webbing of a duck’s foot, but both grebes and coots still have individual toes. Both species also have very small wings, so it takes them a great deal of effort to get airborne. You know that they are very skittish when you see them take off and fly, both of them would rather swim from danger than fly if possible.

Of course the birds that I would have liked to have seen fly wouldn’t, so I can’t show you the blue wing patches that gave this species its name.

Blue-winged teal

Blue-winged teal

The rarest bird of the day was this female Lapland longspur.

Female lapland longspur

Female Lapland longspur

I wish that it had been a male, I could use photos of a male in breeding plumage, but the only times I’ve seen this species before has been in the fall when the sexes look similar.

The second rare bird that I got was a peregrine falcon.

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

IMG_4378

Peregrine falcon in flight

I was hoping that it would land and perch for some close-ups, but no luck there.

These are the only birds that wanted their portrait taken.

Killdeer

Killdeer

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

Even the turkeys were running away from me.

Turkey

Turkey

It’s been just over two years now since I replaced my old Nikon with the first of two Canon 60D bodies, and began collecting lenses to use with them. During those two years, I’ve been prattling on about photography and gear more than nature.

It’s been just about a month now that I’ve had the new 7D Mk II. I’m not going to say that I have it all figured out yet, far from it. Canon has a 56 page manual on how to get the most from the auto-focus system alone, it’s that complicated. However, I can already tell it’s as close to perfect for me as there is on the market right now. It’s going to allow me to get the shots that I’ve been missing with the 60D, as far as action shots.

All the pieces of the photography puzzle are coming together nicely right now, I have one large piece to go, along with some accessories to pick-up over time, but I think that my posts where I go on and on about photography are nearing an end, and I’ll be getting back to blogging about my observations of what I see in nature.

This little guy probably says it best, “It’s about time!”

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

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


The birding big day, my way, in rain and fog most of the day

Okay, I’m jumping way ahead with this post. May 9th was the Birding Big Day, when every one is supposed to go out and count birds. Well, I did it my way, photographing the birds rather than counting. I have two warnings to begin with, I went for the largest number of species that I could get a photo of, and there will be too many photos in this post. On top of that, many of the photos are of rather poor quality, because the weather was horrible for photography, and I was chasing numbers, not quality.

Why else would I post a photo like this….

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

…when I have photos like this of the same species saved and waiting for me to have time to post it?

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Well, it was because I was trying to see how many species of birds I could shoot in one day. Better weather would have helped, in both image quality and number of species, but I think that I did okay.

So, it was raining with a bit of fog in the air as I got ready to leave home, but I was able to get an early start on the birds with this photo, taken outside of my apartment as I was packing my camera gear into my car.

Canada goose and goslings

Canada goose and goslings

I knew that over near Lake Michigan would be my best bet for racking up the greatest number of species, but on the other hand, I also knew that the places that I usually go would be packed with other birders out for the Big Day bird count. So, I began my quest at Olive Shores Park, near Port Sheldon, Michigan. I had never been there before, I was actually headed somewhere else, but I saw the signs, and decided to check it out.

With the rain and fog, I was using the new 7D Mk II with the 300 mm L series lens on it, since they’re both weather sealed. I missed a few birds because the 300 mm lens didn’t have the reach that I needed, but the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) isn’t weather sealed, and the rain never let up. I did get this photo of a chipping sparrow there though.

Chipping sparrow

Chipping sparrow

Three species so far.

My next stop was the Palomita Nature Reserve, which I saw signs for along the road as I was driving to the first park. The Palomita Reserve is owned by the Land Conservancy of West Michigan, is approximately 40 acres in size, and protects the Great Lakes marsh at the mouth of Little Pigeon Creek. I had never been there either, but I’m sure that I’ll return. I’d tell you why, but this post is going to be too long as it is. So, here are the birds that I got there.

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Wood ducks

Wood ducks

Rose-breasted grosbeak

Rose-breasted grosbeak

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

White-crowned sparrow

White-crowned sparrow

American robin

American robin

Up to ten species, and I was just getting started.

My next stop was Grand Haven, Michigan. I hadn’t planned on stopping at the Grand River channel, but as I was driving past it, I spotted a Caspian tern, so I pulled into the city park there to try for a photo. I got it.

Caspian tern in flight

Caspian tern in flight

I could say something about the jerks that walked right in front of me, even though I asked them not to, but I won’t. I could also rave about the auto-focusing system of the 7D, but I’ll save that for a later post. 😉

Eleven species.

My real goal near Grand Haven was Harbor Island, which I have written about in the past. It was filled with birds, and there, I managed to get these.

Male mallard

Male mallard

Spotted sandpiper in flight

Spotted sandpiper in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Warbling vireo

Warbling vireo

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

Brown-headed cowbird

Brown-headed cowbird

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

JVIS1586

Yellow warbler

Yellow warbler

JVIS1602

Song sparrow

About this time, the rain let up, so I switched to the Beast, which helped a lot to get these next ones.

 

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

Scarlet tanager

Scarlet tanager

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Blue jay

Blue jay

Mute swan

Mute swan

Up to twenty-seven species so far, not that the photos are that great. I wouldn’t have included the last two, and never even would have tried the last one of the swan if I hadn’t been going for numbers.

You can see that the sun came out for a while, but that was short-lived. By the time that I made it to my next stop of the day, the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, the rain and fog had returned. The rain was light, so I stuck with the Beast for these.

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

Eastern kingbird

Eastern kingbird

Grey catbird

Grey catbird

Common grackle

Common grackle

Baltimore oriole

Baltimore oriole

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Those put me up to thirty-three species for the day, but the rain began coming down harder, too hard for me to be carrying the Beast around unprotected. So, I headed towards the Muskegon County wastewater facility, where I could bird by car, and I thought that I’d be able to really rack up some big numbers there.

However, the weather continued to go downhill, and the birds were more skittish than I had ever seen them there. I think that there had been numerous people there earlier for the Big Day bird count. I had already run into quite a few other birders that day, and I’m sure that the wastewater facility had been hit hard earlier. But, I managed to add a few more species to my total for the day, even though some of these photos are bad, really bad.

Killdeer

Killdeer

Turkeys

Turkeys

Lesser scaup

Lesser scaup

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

Northern shoveler

Northern shoveler

Common mergansers

Common mergansers

American coot

American coot

Ruddy duck

Ruddy duck

Bonaparte's gull

Bonaparte’s gull

Gadwall

Gadwall

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

Pie-billed grebe

Pie-billed grebe

American crow

American crow

That makes 46 species, and the next one not only added to the daily list, but my life list as well, a vesper sparrow.

Vesper sparrow

Vesper sparrow

I had considered packing it in, but the Lifer prompted me to carry on. I didn’t know that I was up to 47 species, I had been too busy trying to get the photos to keep count.

It was getting close to dusk, but the rain let up, so I was able to add these to my list for the day.

Horned lark

Horned lark

Common raven

Common raven

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Upland sandpiper

Upland sandpiper

Blue-winged teal

Blue-winged teal

Least sandpipers

Least sandpipers

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

So there you’ve it, 54 species of birds photographed on the Big Day. There were a few notable misses, like the common tern or red-breasted nuthatch, but I don’t think that 54 species photographed in a day is too shabby, even if some of the photos are.

In other news, I’ve ordered faster memory cards for the new 7D, that will help a lot.

In work related news, on Tuesday at 2 AM, I start my bid run, which I’ll be doing every day unless the load is cancelled for some reason. Every three months, the company that I work for opens up the dedicated runs that they have available for us to bid on, based on seniority. I lucked out and got one of the runs towards the top of my list. I chose it so that I would work Tuesday through Saturday, with Sundays and Mondays off. That way I can schedule any appointments such as dentist or what have you on Mondays without worrying about my work schedule. It will also mean that I’ll have an entire weekday off from work for outdoor things when the parks shouldn’t be so crowded.

The run that I got can be completed in eight hours if everything goes to plan, and then I have the option of working longer if I choose to, or calling it a day. Two AM may not sound like an ideal start time, but I think it will work well for me. During the week, I should be able to get a walk in after work, and on weekends, I can sleep in, and still be up at dawn, my favorite part of the day.

Anyway, sorry for the poor quality of the photos in this post, but considering the weather, the 7D did quite well.

In reality, this day wasn’t much different as far as the species that I see on any given day, but this time I went for numbers, rather than shooting more photos of fewer species, when I could get very close, and had the best lighting of the day.

I still have photos from three previous trips to the lakeshore area, and a few from around home yet to post. Hopefully, my new work schedule will allow me more time for blogging as well as getting out more than I’ve been able to the last few months.

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


Muskegon birding April 12th, The one/two punch

I wished that I had received my new Canon 7D Mk II to use this trip, as it would have been a great day to test the auto-focusing system of that camera. I couldn’t have asked for better weather, the day began cool and clear, but quickly warmed up to be the warmest day so far this year, and the warmest since the end of October. For once, no lake effect clouds developed in the afternoon to block the sun.

You’re probably tired of hearing this, but I purchased a Canon 300 mm L series lens to use as an alternative to the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) due to the weight of the Beast, and because it is far from the ideal lens to use when trying to photograph birds in flight. On this day, I took both of them with me while I was hiking. I set-up one camera body with the 300 mm lens on it specifically to capture birds in flight, and set the lens for that as well. I think that it worked well enough.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

I set-up the second body with the Beast on it to shoot stationary birds….

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

…even if they didn’t remain stationary for very long…

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

…and did their best to elude the camera.

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

On this trip, I began the day at Lane’s Landing, which is in the Muskegon State Game Area, as the birding reports showed some promise that I may find a few rare birds there. Unfortunately, I never did get a lifer on this day, but still, it was a glorious day to be out and about.

I had just started my walk at Lane’s Landing when a pair of mallards took off, and I hadn’t figured out exactly how I was going to carry and use both cameras with long, heavy lenses on them, so this was shot with the Beast.

Male mallards in flight

Male mallards in flight

I let the one body with the 300 mm lens on it dangle on the camera strap around my neck, and carried the other body with the Beast on it in my hands. That wasn’t comfortable for very long, but it was the only way of carrying both set-ups with me.

I tried to get a clear photo of some fox sparrows I spotted, but once again, they managed to stay partially hidden all the time.

Fox sparrow

Fox sparrow

The song sparrows must have been taking lessons from their cousins.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

In fact, that seemed to be the theme of the early part of the day, the birds were doing very well at staying partially hidden from me.

Male hooded merganser

Male hooded merganser

Male hooded merganser

Male hooded merganser

That was the closest that I’ve ever been to a hooded merganser, but I had to shoot through the vegetation, so the photos aren’t very good.

I had slightly better luck with a ring-necked duck.

Ring-necked duck

Ring-necked duck

Ring-necked duck

Ring-necked duck

At least there was more distance between the reeds and the duck so that the reeds don’t show as much in those photos, but they sort of spoiled these next two.

Ring-necked duck taking flight

Ring-necked duck taking flight

IMG_4122

Ring-necked duck taking flight

At least when the ducks really got airborne, I didn’t have to deal with the vegetation any longer.

Ring-necked duck in flight

Ring-necked duck in flight

I shot this one, just because it says spring with a song sparrow surrounded by the maple blossoms.

Spring song sparrow

Spring song sparrow

And, I shot this one just because I liked it.

Flood reflections

Flood reflections

The storms which spawned the deadly tornadoes in Illinois last week crossed Lake Michigan and hit the West Michigan area quite hard also. We didn’t have the severe weather, but the storms did drop copious amounts of rain, so many areas of both Lane’s Landing, and the state game headquarters area were under water.

Some boring camera talk follows, so you may want to scroll past this section.

I had set-up the camera body with just the 300 mm lens on it to servo auto-focus and high-speed continuous shooting, along with some other adjustments specifically for birds in flight. I didn’t use the 1.4 X tele-converter, as I wanted to see just how quickly and accurately the lens could focus without the extender. At 300 mm, the lens wasn’t long enough to get good close-ups of birds in flight, but that was okay for this day, as it was only a test of sorts.

Whenever I spotted a bird in flight, I would set down the camera with the Beast on it, and begin shooting with the 300 mm lens ass soon as the bird got within range.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

It didn’t take me long to get an idea of how many frames the camera could shoot before the buffer filled, so I shot in quick bursts. When I first looked at the images after downloading them to the computer, I thought that they were all very good. But as I zoomed in on each photo, I found that only about a third of the images were really as sharp as I would like.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Two thirds of the images were a bit soft from the focus being off slightly, but since I had shot so many photos, I came up with quite a few good ones. By the way, there were two hawks there at the time, I don’t know if they are a mated pair, or just happened to be hunting together.

Red-tailed hawks in flight

Red-tailed hawks in flight

I also got a sandhill crane, one of many that I heard and saw, but only this one flew close enough for a photo.

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Without the tele-converter behind it, the 300 mm lens did an excellent job of auto-focusing on the flying birds that I shot on this day, the problem is, 300 mm just isn’t long enough most of the time. I will say that this set-up was a joy to use, much lighter and easier to swing around and follow moving birds than the Beast is. I had the hare-brained thought of canceling the 7D Mk II and going for the 400 mm L series lens instead, except for the number of rejects that I still got.

News flash!

I am now (finally) the proud owner of a Canon 7D Mk II! I picked it up this morning, and managed to get in a walk in the rain to break it in the hard way. I won’t include any of the few photos that I shot, since the weather was so poor for photography, I gave the camera the torture test by trying shots that I knew that I wouldn’t be able to get with the 60D that I currently use.

Three things stood out right away about the 7D, the auto-focus is light years ahead of the 60D, but it’s going to take me a while to learn how to take full advantage of its capabilities. It has 65 focus points versus 9 for the 60D, and a lot more flexibility in using them. I can use any one of the focus points, use small groups of them, medium size groups of them, one-third of them as a group, or all 65 at once. In addition, there are six preloaded scenarios for how the camera tracks moving subjects, and those can be fine tuned even more to suit the subjects that I shoot.

The exposure meter is also much improved over the 60D, I didn’t make many adjustments to the exposure as the system in the 7D got it right nearly every time, despite the dreadful conditions, something that I didn’t expect.

Also, while the weather was poor today while I was out, I think that the 7D is going to produce better quality images over what the 60D is capable of, which is another pleasant surprise.

What the heck, I’ll throw in one image from this morning, because it shows how the 7D produces images that have a “finished” look to them.

Female mallard

Female mallard

Not all my images from this morning looked that good, but I was testing the auto-focus to see if it could zero in on small birds in the brush, and for the first time ever, I was able to get reasonably good shots of the birds while using the 300 mm lens without having to help the lens out.

Anyway, I’ll have a lot more to say about the 7D in coming posts, so back to the trip at hand.

I had walked as much of the Lane’s Landing area as I could without a wetsuit and snorkel, so my next stop was the headquarters area of the Muskegon State Game Area. That’s where I got the photos of the yellow butt, and my first turtle of the year.

Painted turtle sunning

Painted turtle sunning

I saw plenty of birds, but due to the flooding, I wasn’t able to get close to any of them, other than the warbler above. But, this is where the 300 mm lens’ ability to focus quite close came into play.

Comma butterfly

Comma butterfly

Comma butterfly getting a drink

Comma butterfly and a few flies getting a drink

Willow? catkins

Alder? catkins

I’ll tell you, carrying two cameras, one with the Beast on it, the other with the 300 mm lens on it was no fun, but they do make a great combination! The Beast is the Beast, it gets the small birds trying to hide, and at a pretty good distance away from me. The 300 mm lens did great on flying birds, and also serves well as a near macro lens for small subjects too close for the Beast to focus on.

Those were the only photos that I shot at the Headquarters area, so it was on to the wastewater treatment facility to shoot some ducks.

Lesser scaup

Lesser scaup

Lesser scaup

Lesser scaup

With some good light for a change, I thought that I was going to get a good shot of a male bufflehead to show how colorful they are….

Bufflehead ducks

Bufflehead ducks

…but the female ran in front of the male as I was shooting, which ruined the photo, and prompted the male to go after her.

Male bufflehead duck

Male bufflehead duck

I think that it was the reflection of the bright sunlight that caused this lesser scaup’s head to be lit in a weird way.

Lesser scaup

Lesser scaup

I got my best photo ever of a pie-billed grebe!

Pie-billed grebe

Pie-billed grebe

I wasn’t so lucky with a pair of horned grebes. I saw them and put the camera on the one in front, just as it dove…

Horned grebes

Horned grebes

…when it popped back up, I found that it was a female, which don’t have the pronounced “horns” that the male does…

Horned grebes

Horned grebes

…and when I went for the male, it dove just as I snapped the shot.

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

There were a few ruddy ducks around.

Ruddy duck

Ruddy duck

As well as a few canvasbacks.

Canvasback duck

Canvasback duck

Next up (literally), a pair of blue-winged teal.

Blue-winged teal

Blue-winged teal

One of them took off, the other turned towards me while preparing for blast-off…

Blue-winged teal

Blue-winged teal

…most ducks run on top of the water to build up speed to get airborne, not the teal, they explode straight up…

Blue-winged teal

Blue-winged teal

…which I wasn’t expecting as you can see. I got the Beast moving fast enough to catch up with the teal…

Blue-winged teal

Blue-winged teal

…but the camera and lens were moving too quickly for a sharp photo, until the teal leveled off.

Blue-winged teal in flight

Blue-winged teal in flight

The Beast is much better suited to stationary birds, and it gave me my two best photos to date of a male bufflehead.

Male bufflehead duck

Male bufflehead duck

Male bufflehead duck

Male bufflehead duck

And before I move on to other types of birds…

Northern shovelers

Northern shovelers

American coot

American coot

…all in all, a pretty good variety of ducks on this day, and in breeding plumage in good light for a change.

The tree swallows have just arrived, and they’ve already begun building nests.

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

I’m going to end this one with a few more birds in flight, starting with a male northern harrier, sometimes called grey ghosts, as they are typically much lighter than the females.

Male northern harrier in flight

Male northern harrier in flight

Male northern harrier in flight

Male northern harrier in flight

Male northern harrier in flight

Male northern harrier in flight

Male northern harrier in flight

Male northern harrier in flight

I had to include the butt shot to verify that it was a northern harrier, the white band around the base of the tail is a dead give away.

Since I’m on butt shots, another red-tailed hawk.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

And to wrap this up, a turkey vulture.

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

It’s Monday morning, just after 8 AM, and I just got home from work. The weather is cool but clear, and I’m tempted to grab the 7D and head out for a walk. However, I’m dead tired and really need some sleep, so I think that I’ll hold off for now and go out this afternoon after I’ve slept. There’s no reason to attempt to learn the new camera when my mind isn’t working, so that’s it for this one.

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


Along Lake Michigan, January 18th, 2015

Since the weather forecast called for a mixture of snow and rain overnight, giving way to some sunshine shortly after dawn, I headed over to Lake Michigan again, hoping to shoot a few good photos of the waterfowl and whatever else I could find. The forecast was correct in that I drove over to Grand Haven, my first stop of the day, in a rain/snow mix. The precipitation did end about the time I arrived there, and it was just before dawn.

I parked in a city park on the south side of the Grand River channel that leads to Lake Michigan to see if I could spot any waterfowl, even though there wasn’t enough light to try any photos yet. Silly me, I was sitting there viewing several rafts of ducks in the pockets of open water that were interspersed between packs of ice floating down the river. It was getting lighter by the minute, and as I thought of exiting my vehicle to see if there was enough light to photograph the ducks, I looked over to see that the walkway extending out to the lighthouse was still lit up.

I could see that the rest of the city lights were turning off, so I quickly grabbed the camera that had the 300 mm prime lens and 1.4 X extender on it to shoot this.

Grand Haven Lighthouse

Grand Haven Lighthouse

I know, I should have used the tripod, as the shutter speed was way too slow to get a sharp photo, and in fact, I did try for a better photo, but by the time I got the tripod set-up, the lights had turned off. But, that will remind me to do it right the next time I’m there that early. 😉

To make up for that shot, here’s one from later in the day, a grey, grey squirrel.

Grey squirrel

Grey squirrel

If you’re familiar with grey squirrels, you know that they have two color variations, the one seen here, and also, some are all black. For years, I tried getting a good photo of a black grey squirrel with my old Nikon, but never did. I have shot several good images of the black ones with my Canon, however, it dawned on me that I had never tried for a good image of a grey one. Now I have. Well, at least as good as I could get in the low light of the day, since the sun never did burn through the clouds.

So, the story from this day was editing the images I shot this day. For one thing, I learned how to make the noise reduction feature of the Canon Digital Professional Photo software function. In my earlier attempts, the software froze, and never did any noise reduction when I tried it. Since the light was so poor most of the day, I had to shoot at higher ISO settings, which of course resulted in a great deal of sensor noise in most of the waterfowl photos.

I also did a lot of tweaking to the exposures of most of the waterfowl and other photos from the day. While no software can make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, doing the editing of the images from the day made it so that the trip wasn’t a complete waste of time. I would have come home with just a handful of photos if I hadn’t edited these.

Also, no amount of editing can make up for the lack of light. I shot this red-breasted merganser shortly after my failed attempt to get a good shot of the lighthouse.

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

If only the darned waterfowl would hold still, I’d have a chance for a good photo. But, that’s seldom the case. I was quite surprised at how skittish the waterfowl were, the only reason that I tried for the merganser when I did was that some one walking their dog well away from the channel was causing the waterfowl to move away from me, and out of camera range. So, I had to try that photo when I did.

When the merganser did slow down enough for the slow shutter speed that I was using could freeze his motion, he had turned so that what little light that there was at the time was wrong.

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

I knew that more people would be arriving to walk along the channel as the day progressed, so I shot what I could find in range, even in the very low light.

Greater or lesser scaup

Greater or lesser scaup

Female common goldeneye in front of white-winged scoters

Female common goldeneye in front of white-winged scoters

White-winged scoters

White-winged scoters

No award winners there, that’s for sure, but by reducing the noise and tweaking the exposures, you can see what species the waterfowl are.

Sure enough, as the people began going for their morning walks, the waterfowl either flew off to other locations, or moved to the north side of the channel, out of camera range. So, I packed up and drove to Harbor Island, but the river there was completely frozen over, so there wasn’t much to see. I continued on to the north side of the channel, and debated trying to walk the ice-covered walkway.

The north breakwater at Grand Haven

The north breakwater at Grand Haven

It didn’t matter, the ducks decided to leave well before I got close to them.

Mixed waterfowl taking flight

Mixed waterfowl taking flight

I could have, and probably should have, switched over to shoot ice formations found in the river.

Abstract ice

Abstract ice

But not me, I was there for birds, sort of.

One of the cool things about the ice on the river was the sounds that it made as it collided with itself. So, I switched over to shoot a video, hoping to capture the few remaining ducks and the tinkling sounds coming from the ice.

And hearing the sounds coming from the common goldeneyes as the came in for a landing prompted me to try catching the sound from a flock of them as they flew past me.

I wouldn’t call either of those a great success, but I hope that it gives you an idea of the sounds that go along with the sights that I see. Also, it highlights one way of identifying some species of birds by sounds when you can’t see them well enough to ID them.

So, there I was, trying not to slip and fall over the railing as I worked my way carefully along the ice-covered breakwater, with flocks of ducks flying past me at regular intervals, but I couldn’t get close to any of them, until four male goldeneyes came in for a landing close enough for me to shoot these.

Male goldeneyes landing

Male goldeneyes landing

Male goldeneyes landing

Male goldeneyes landing

Male goldeneyes landing

Male goldeneyes landing

Male goldeneyes landing

Male goldeneyes landing

Considering the poor light, not bad. A little noise reduction, and a few tweaks to the exposure, and I have photos worth posting, rather than deleting as I used to do.

I considered switching modes again, this time to landscape photos.

Frozen beach

Frozen beach

The lighthouse would have been a fine subject if I had put more thought into these.

The lighthouse at Grand Haven

The lighthouse at Grand Haven

The lighthouse at Grand Haven

The lighthouse at Grand Haven

But, the footing was treacherous everywhere that I tried to walk, it seemed as if everything near Lake Michigan at Grand Haven was covered in ice. Also, the clouds would occasionally spit a little rain or snow at times, and I didn’t want to be changing lenses at those times. So, I walked back to my vehicle and swapped to the 70-200 mm lens for this one.

The lighthouse at Grand Haven

The lighthouse at Grand Haven

I shot several others not worth posting, then in the shelter of my vehicle once more, I switched to my two wider angle lenses in turn, but neither of them produced an image worth posting. It wasn’t the fault of the lenses, but my unwillingness to risk a slip and fall on the ice while carrying my expensive gear. Not to mention, it was cold out there exposed to the wind.

So, I packed up once more, and headed north to Lake Harbor Park, on the Mona Lake channel to Lake Michigan. There, I found one of the resident mallards taking a bath….

Male mallard bathing

Male mallard bathing

Male mallard bathing

Male mallard bathing

….then striking a pose….

Male mallard

Male mallard

…before drying his wings.

Male mallard

Male mallard

This subtly colored, but beautiful female mallard hybrid was still there.

Female mallard hybrid  preening

Female mallard hybrid preening

She was making herself look pretty for this shot.

Female mallard hybrid

Female mallard hybrid

I also found this gal there, it looks like a female green-winged teal, but since she was hanging out with the other mallards, she may also be a hybrid.

Female green-winged teal?

Female green-winged teal?

Female green-winged teal?

Female green-winged teal?

I thought that the light was improving a bit, but that was just while I was around the mallards. Farther down the channel, it grew darker again, just as I spotted a few other species of ducks, like this male bufflehead.

Male bufflehead

Male bufflehead

He was hanging out with this female red-breasted merganser.

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

I looked back at the bufflehead just in time to catch him “saluting” me.

Male bufflehead

Male bufflehead

I swear, that’s the duck equivalent of giving me the finger, as shortly after that, he dove, and I never did see him again.

I shot a few photos of the ice formations there as well.

Ice formations on Lake Michigan

Ice formations on Lake Michigan

Ice formations on Lake Michigan

Ice formations on Lake Michigan

Most of the goldeneyes that I saw at Grand Haven were males, but here at Lake Harbor park, I saw mostly females.

Female common goldeneye ducks

Female common goldeneye ducks

Female common goldeneye duck

Female common goldeneye duck

Female common goldeneye duck

Female common goldeneye duck

Again, noise reduction and tweaking the exposure saved these photos, for what they’re worth.

My next stop was the Muskegon River channel, where I shot my gull portrait of the day.

Ring-billed gull

Ring-billed gull

And then, caught this female common goldeneye in flight.

Female common goldeneye duck in flight

Female common goldeneye duck in flight

Other than her, and more ice, there wasn’t much else in range of the camera, so I headed to the other end of Muskegon Lake to visit the aptly named Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, where I spent some time shooting songbirds.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

That’s also where I got the grey squirrel from earlier in this post.

Grey squirrel

Grey squirrel

Grey squirrel

Grey squirrel

It wasn’t the only mammal around.

Cottontail rabbit

Cottontail rabbit

Cottontail rabbit

Cottontail rabbit

But mostly, it was birds that I photographed. You may have noticed that the chickadee was on a bird feeder, something that I rarely do. I suppose that what I did do is much the same, I sat down on a picnic table close to the feeders and caught these birds as they came and went.

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

This cardinal was so close to me that I was cutting off her tail with the camera in the landscape position.

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

So, here she is with the camera in the portrait position, these were not cropped at all.

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Funny, I used to crop photos, but do no other editing. Most of these weren’t cropped at all, or just a little, but I edited them to reduce noise, and improve the exposure slightly when needed.

Still, it doesn’t help when the birds don’t play nice, I had this male cardinal all lined up for a great shot, but as I pressed the shutter, he turned away from me.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

This one tried to hide, but not very hard.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Juncos can be difficult to get close to, I lucked out, and had one perch this close to me as seen through the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens).

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Getting the noise reduction software to work sure helped those out.

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

Finally, my last stop of the day was the Muskegon County wastewater facility. I did the quick tour, no snowy owls in sight, but I did find one bald eagle just on the edge of the Beast’s range.

Adult bald eagle

Adult bald eagle

As you have seen, we never did get the promised sunshine this day, oh well, I should know by now to never believe a meteorologist. 😉

Okay then, now for some boring camera talk. As I speculated earlier, as I learn how to edit the images coming from my Canon 60D bodies, I’m happier with them than I have ever been. I’d still like to upgrade to the new 7D Mark II, but I’m no longer chomping at the bit the way that I was when it was first announced.

Part of my conversion to some one who post-processes his photos has been learning the details of the different camera models. My 60D has the same sensor as the original 7D has, so theoretically, the image quality from both should be the same. Straight from the sensor, that’s probably true. However, Canon programs their more expensive camera bodies differently than they do the lower end models.

Probably the best example of that is the 70D and the 7D Mk II, they share the exact same sensor. But, the reviews of both models say that the 7D Mk II is much better as far as noise at higher ISO settings. How can that be, if they have the same sensor? The answer is the software programmed into the camera by Canon, the 7D Mk II does a better job of editing the images in the camera.

If software is the reason, then what difference does it make if the software is programmed into the camera, or in some other software, say Lightroom, for example. It doesn’t matter, other than the time that it takes to edit the images outside the camera in post-processing, rather than having the camera’s software do it automatically.

Since I have learned that no camera can faithfully record many scenes due to the limitations of the current sensors built into cameras, post-processing is required anyway. So, I may as well do the noise reduction with software, as well as fixing the exposure weaknesses in the images coming from my camera.

Yes, I’d still like to upgrade to the 7D Mk II for its better weather sealing and auto-focusing system, but until I max out what is possible with my current camera, then I can wait until the new 7D has been on the market long enough for Canon to offer rebates on it, to save some money.

Well, since this post is already quite long, and the text has disappeared again, it’s time to wrap this one up!

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


Christmas weekend, along Lake Michigan

This post will cover photos that I shot on Christmas eve, Christmas Day, and the weekend following, at various locations along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

However, before I get to the photos, a few other news items from more recently. I arrived home this morning at 2 AM after having worked 16 hours, fighting non-moving traffic in downtown Chicago during “rush hour” made worse by a severe snowstorm. I walked through the entrance way of the building, and noticed a large puddle of water on the floor, and thought that it had been made by snow melting since the door to the building doesn’t always latch properly when the winds are strong, and the snow builds up under the door. But, when I opened the door to my apartment, I heard water running in my dining room, not good. The dining room is where I store my camera gear, and the floor had an even larger pool of water than the hallway had. Water was running down through the light fixture in the ceiling, as well as down the wall.

I lucked out though, none of my camera gear was wet, other than the holster bag that I had on the floor was slightly damp where it touched the carpet. I grabbed all my stuff and moved it to a safe location, then called maintenance.

The maintenance/security guard arrived in a matter of a few minutes, looked the situation over, then called the more skilled person on call. That person arrived in less than ten minutes, checked the apartment upstairs to see if the leak was coming from there, then deduced the water was from the hot water heating system we have. He shut down the boiler, then called the service company that handles the service on the heating system, as well as an emergency clean-up contractor.

To make a long story short, they had the leak repaired and the majority of the water removed by 5 AM and I was able to go to bed! I was impressed then, it strikes me as even more impressive after I got up later today, less than three hours to fix the leak and clean up the majority of the mess that had been made!

I have a fan left by the clean-up contractor running in the dining room to help dry out the carpeting, and a hole in the ceiling drywall that they had to cut open to access the burst pipe, but other than that, you’d hardly be able to tell that the dining room and kitchen had been flooded last night. They’ll have to come in and clean the carpet as well as tack it back down next week, and also repair the drywall once it has thoroughly dried.

I thought that I had been hit by another major disaster when I saw what was going on last night, but it has turned out to be just a minor inconvenience. In a way, I lucked out, for I had been scheduled for another mid-day run to Chicago for work, but when I saw the mess when I opened the door, I called dispatch and told them I wouldn’t be able to make it in on the scheduled time. I got my schedule changed to do a better run on Saturday, when the weather should be better. I’m loving my new employer, one that works with the employees rather than trying to shaft them all the time.

On a related note, you may read in the news of a huge pile-up of cars on I-94 in Michigan due to the snowstorm that hit us yesterday and today. One person dead, a truck carrying fireworks on fire, over 100 vehicles involved in the crashes at last count, and people being evacuated within a five-mile radius in case the truck on fire explodes.

I should have gone for a walk today, since I have the day off, but I only slept a few hours due to my schedule being so mixed up, and I don’t feel like going out and battling what amounts to a blizzard.

Besides, I had another reason to stay in, I had a package delivered with some goodies inside on Wednesday.

You know that my plan is to buy a new iMac when I saved up enough money to do so. That plan includes using Adobe Lightroom to manage and organize my photos on the iMac, as well as to edit my images when it is called for. So, since I needed Lightroom, and an external hard drive to store photos on seemed appropriate, I went ahead and ordered both Lightroom and a 4 TB external drive to connect to my new iMac when I get it.

It may seem silly to have purchased those items before the computer, but I know me, and if I had the computer first, I’d start using it before I had everything that I needed to be set-up properly, then have to re-do everything later. This way, when I do get the computer, I’ll be able to plug the hard drive in right away, and get Lightroom set-up to store all my images on it right from the get go.

4 Tb sounds like a huge amount of storage space, but I’ve nearly filled a 1 Tb drive with my images shot in jpeg, and images shot in RAW are 3 or 4 times the size of jpegs, so I don’t think that a 4 TB drive is overkill at all.

One other item that I purchased was a small, light-weight ball head to fit either my tripod leg set-up, or the monopod that I have.

In a previous post, I went on at length about the fact that I should carry and use my tripod more often. I also related that the 3 way head that I use on the tripod is almost as heavy as the tripod legs alone. The 3 way head will hold either of my long lenses with no problem, but I seldom use either of those lenses mounted on the tripod. So, I’ve been looking for a way to cut down on the weight of the gear that I carry each day, and/or a light weight solution to how I carry the tripod.

I can’t believe that no one makes a light weight carrying bag to hold a tripod set-up, either that, or I haven’t been able to find one yet. I wish that I knew some one who knew how to sew, I’d have one made for myself.

Anyway, as I was looking at a lighter alternative to the 3 way head that I have now, an idea struck me, try one of the ball heads on my monopod. I’ve had the monopod for years, but seldom used it, even though it doubles as a walking stick. The biggest drawback to me was that when I attempted to use it for macro photos, I’d end up holding the monopod at weird angles, and have to put more effort into holding the monopod steady than I would have to when using the camera by itself. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to shoot macros with the monopod nearly vertical, making it much better to use, and use the ball head to get the weird angles required at times. We’ll see, even if the ball head doesn’t work out well on the monopod, I can still use it on the tripod legs, and reduce the weight of the head by 2/3.

I know one thing, I do have to carry something that will let me get the macro shots that I want, when I want. You may remember that a while back I posted a photo of an ant trapped in pine resin.

Future fossil

Future fossil

I’ve been planning on going back and trying for a better photo than the one that one. Well, one sunny day a few weeks ago, I looked at where the ant had been, and the pine resin the ant was trapped in was gone. That goes along with having tried to get very good close-ups of the ice crystals in a recent post, without something to steady the camera, I couldn’t get the images that I wanted. If I don’t get it right the first time, there may not be a second chance!

I’ve already tested the ball head on the monopod here at home, and I think that it will make a fine set-up while hiking. I haven’t installed it on the tripod yet, maybe that will never happen, but it should work out fine that way as well.

Now then, I’m finally going to get around to the Christmas weekend and a few newer photos. With four days of play time, I made the most of it, visiting several places along the lake, looking for birds and some good light for a change. One of the places that I went was the Grand Haven break water, looking for both a common eider and a great black-backed gull, both of which had been reported there through eBirds. I found the great black-backed gull for the first time on a dark and stormy morning, and managed a few photos of it, however, on a return trip, I was able to do better. Before I get to the gull though, I’m going to start with a HDR image of the lighthouse at Grand Haven.

Grand Haven, Michigan lighthouse

Grand Haven, Michigan lighthouse HDR

The reason that I tried going with a HDR image was that I was trying to increase the contrast between the waves breaking against the lighthouse and the sky in the background. I shot close to 100 photos of the waves, and most looked like this if they weren’t edited.

Grand Haven, Michigan lighthouse

Grand Haven, Michigan lighthouse

If I got any contrast between the water and the sky, then the lighthouse was underexposed. If I exposed the lighthouse correctly, then the waves disappeared into the background. I’m not entirely happy with the HDR image here, but I’m still learning how to manipulate images in Photomatix.

By the way, these images are all out of order, not that it is a big deal, you’ll never know the difference. 😉

Okay then, here’s the great black-backed gull.

Great black-backed gull

Great black-backed gull

That’s a species of bird that I needed as I continue trying to photograph every species of bird regularly seen in Michigan for the My Photo Life List project that I began two years ago. I’m now well over 200 species, but they keep getting tougher all the time. I never did see the eider, although I stopped at the Grand Haven breakwater three times in four days.

For the shot of the gull above, I was north of it, meaning I was shooting toward the sun, so the photo isn’t the greatest. A jogger ran between the gull and myself, spooking the gull away. I walked a short distance away, and waited, the gull returned, and I was able to shoot better photos, although the black-backed gull had joined a flock of herring gulls. I prefer to get just the one species in the frame for the images I use when I post a specific species, but these will work. They show the differences in size and coloration between the black-backed and herring gulls.

Great black-backed gull

Great black-backed gull

I was hoping that I could get just the black-backed gull in the frame, but about then, a person walking their dog walked between myself and the gull, spooking the gulls once more.

Gulls taking flight

Gulls taking flight

It was hard to pick out just the one gull in the flock, but I did mange to zero in on the black-backed gull for this one.

Great black-backed gull in flight

Great black-backed gull in flight

Since these were shot at Grand Haven on the sunny day that I was there, I’m going to throw in this photo, even though it has nothing to do with nature, I just love this house.

A house in Grand Haven that I've always liked

A house in Grand Haven that I’ve always liked

I changed the subject from gulls, but I’m going back to them, even though these photos are nothing special. With lots of common herring and ring-billed gulls around, I practiced my bird in flight techniques for a while.

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

It was a rather cold day, so I returned to my Subaru to warm up for a while as I waited in hopes that the Black-backed gull would return, but it stayed out of camera range for the rest of the time I was there. I did however, shoot these next two photos, neither of which have been cropped at all, while waiting. The first was shot with the Canon 300 mm prime lens with the 1.4 X tele-converter behind it.

Ring-billed gull at 420 mm

Ring-billed gull at 420 mm

This one was shot with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) to show how much difference 80 mm makes as far as getting closer to a subject.

Ring-billed gull at 500 mm

Ring-billed gull at 500 mm

Quite honestly, even though I’ve done this before, I was surprised how much of a difference that extra 80 mm made.

For the snowy owl fans, I did go to Muskegon over the Christmas weekend also, and did see a few of the owls, here’s one.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Several posts ago, I had many photos of a flock of eagles fooling around relatively close to me, but in horrible light. On one day that I went to Muskegon when there was good light, there were a few eagles, but they stayed out of range of the camera for the most part. Here’s two that were close enough for me to even try for photos.

Immature bald eagle threatening an adult

Immature bald eagle threatening an adult

Immature bald eagle threatening an adult

Immature bald eagle threatening an adult

Immature bald eagle and an adult

Immature bald eagle and an adult

Those aren’t very good, and here’s why. There’s a flock of gulls in the foreground, behind the gulls, the two large dark objects are the eagles, with several crows nearby.

Gulls, bald eagles and crows

Gulls, bald eagles and crows

That gives you some idea how far the eagles were from me.

One of my stops over the weekend was Lake Harbor Park and there were a few eagles there as well, but once again, they stayed well out of camera range for a good photo.

Two bald eagles at Lake Harbor Park

Two bald eagles at Lake Harbor Park

While I was there, I also shot a few photos of hybrid mallards, I’ll start with one that has a black head.

Hybrid male mallard with a black head

Hybrid male mallard with a black head

Here’s another male of mixed heritage.

Hybrid male mallard

Hybrid male mallard

Maybe it got too close to me, I zoomed out for these next two.

Hybrid male mallard

Hybrid male mallard

Hybrid male mallard

Hybrid male mallard

By the way, those last two aren’t the same duck, it seems most of the mallards there at Lake Harbor Park were hybrids, as few of them were colored like a true mallard. I suppose it goes right along with this duck, a black duck/mallard hybrid.

Black duck/mallard hybrid

Black duck/mallard hybrid

Black duck/mallard hybrid

Black duck/mallard hybrid

Here’s a male mallard (I think) from Grand Haven.

Male mallard

Male mallard

It’s getting so that it’s hard to tell if a duck is really the species that you think it is around here, the mallards are mating with several different other species, and you can’t be sure of what species they are. Here’s yet another mallard with slightly different coloration, also from Grand Haven.

Male mallard

Male mallard

The only other photo that I shot at Lake Harbor Park was of this stump, just because I liked the colors.

Colorful stump

Colorful stump

I could have had a field day with that stump if there had been better lighting and I had brought my macro lens and tripod while walking the trail, maybe the next time. 😉

On one of the days in Grand Haven, I shot photos of the steam locomotive on display in a city park, trying out the 10-18 mm lens.

Steam locomotive

Steam locomotive

I posted images of this before, but they were shot with the 15-85 mm lens, I was trying to do better, but the fence there made it difficult to show the locomotive without the fence blocking it out.

Steam locomotive

Steam locomotive

That was the best that I could do without the fence getting in the way. Here’s two photos about the locomotive.

Steam locomotive information

Steam locomotive information

Steam locomotive information

Steam locomotive information

And, here’s the entire train from a different angle.

Steam locomotive and rail cars

Steam locomotive and rail cars

Also at Grand Haven, I shot this flock of common goldeneye ducks as they flew past.

Common goldeneye ducks in flight

Common goldeneye ducks in flight

Here’s a juvenile long-tailed duck that was playing in the surf.

Juvenile long-tailed duck

Juvenile long-tailed duck

It was hard to keep track of it, as a wave that was breaking would approach, the duck would dive under the wave…

Juvenile long-tailed duck diving under a breaking wave

Juvenile long-tailed duck diving under a breaking wave

…and I never knew where the duck would pop up next. Oh well, I have posted much better shots of long-tailed ducks before, and I’m sure that I’ll get more later this winter when the larger flocks arrive.

Another stop that I made was at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, where I found these birds.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

Not a great haul, but not too bad either.

I’ll finish this post with two more images of a snowy owl, this one had darker plumage than the others that I saw.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

So, that wraps up another one. If I left any spelling mistakes, I’m sorry, I’m rushing this one to finish before I leave for work.

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


Muskegon, December 21st, It is easier if you cheat

Sorry for another post from Muskegon so soon again, since I have plenty of photos from around home to share. However, a few things happened this past weekend that I want to post about while the day is still fresh in my memory.

To begin with, it was a rather slow day as far as birds to photograph. It hasn’t been very cold here compared to our average temperatures or even the way that November was. But, most of the water at the Muskegon wastewater treatment facility has frozen over, meaning most of the ducks and geese, other than a few mallards, have left for down south. With the waterfowl gone, most of the raptors have moved on as well. I did see a few bald eagles and hawks, there’ll be photos later, but really, the only subjects that I saw worth photographing were the snowy owls.

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

That image was shot about half-way through my day, before I started cheating, which I’ll get to later.

I learned a great many things this day, about snowy owls, photography, editing photos, what other people will do for a great photo, and what I’ll do for a good photo, but I’ll get to those things as I go.

The day began cold, cloudy, hazy, with a strong enough wind to make it feel much colder than it was, which was about the freezing point for most of the day. I didn’t even make it all the way past the entrance drive to the wastewater facility before I spotted the first of five snowy owls for the day. I started out using the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) by itself for this photo.

Snowy owl, 500 mm, not cropped

Snowy owl, 500 mm, not cropped

I wasn’t that impressed by the position of the owl or the conditions, so it was playtime. I added the 1.4 X tele-converter to the Beast, meaning that I had to manually focus for this one.

Snowy owl, 700 mm, not cropped

Snowy owl, 700 mm, not cropped

Here’s the cropped version.

Snowy owl, 700 mm, cropped

Snowy owl, 700 mm, cropped

Not too shabby given the poor light at the time.

I set-up my second camera body with the 300 mm prime lens, the 1.4 X extender, and for shooting action photos, primarily birds in flight. I tested all the camera and lens settings out on a pair of common mergansers that I spooked by accident.

Common mergansers taking flight

Common mergansers taking flight

A little farther along the road, I spotted my second snowy owl of the day, but it wasn’t in the mood to have its photo taken.

Snowy owl number two

Snowy owl number two

I tried out my action set-up again on a rough-legged hawk, first, as it landed….

Rough-legged hawk landing

Rough-legged hawk landing

…switched to the Beast while it was perched….

Rough-legged hawk

Rough-legged hawk

…and managed to grab the action set-up as the hawk took flight.

Rough-legged hawk taking flight

Rough-legged hawk taking flight

Some light sure would have helped those, or any of my early action photo attempts.

Pigeons (Rock doves) taking flight

Pigeons (Rock doves) taking flight

The white pigeon tried to fool me into thinking it was a snowy owl, but I didn’t fall for it. 😉

Pigeons (rock doves)

Pigeons (rock doves)

Not far from there, I found my third snowy owl of the day, this one was willing to pose for a few photos.

Snowy owl looking right

Snowy owl looking right

Snowy owl looking left

Snowy owl looking left

ough-legged hawk

Snowy owl looking straight at me

And, here’s the cropped version of the image above.

Snowy owl looking straight at me, cropped

Snowy owl looking straight at me, cropped

The chance one takes getting so close to birds is that if they decide to fly away…

Snowy owl taking flight

Snowy owl taking flight

…you only get parts of the bird in the image.

Snowy owl feet

Snowy owl feet

That’s for any readers that have a snowy owl foot fetish. 😉

The owl didn’t go far…

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

…I learned that snowy owls like my Subaru Forester.

Snowy owl perched almost over my Subaru

Snowy owl perched almost over my Subaru

I had to shoot a few more photos of the owl as I walked back to my car.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

From there, I hit all the typical birding hotspots around the wastewater facility proper, and the surrounding areas within the Muskegon State Game Area, which are considered part of the wastewater facility as they are under the control of Muskegon County, even though it is state land. I saw a pair of bald eagles on the ice of one of the lagoons, but well out of camera range. There were dozens of crows and hundreds of gulls, but little else to see. It may have been the slowest day of birding that I’ve ever had there.

I had planned to also go to the Muskegon Lake channel to look for late season migrating waterfowl, but looking towards that direction, I could see that the clouds were even thicker there, and very few waterfowl have shown up there according to eBird reports.

Instead, I drove back to the man-made hill that overlooks the grassy cells to hang out for a while and see if anything showed up. I’ve had good luck doing that in the past, and hoped that it worked again. I could see the first owl from when I arrived in the morning was still there in the grassy cells, and as I waited, I noticed that the owl hunted in a pattern of sorts.

The owl would perch on one of the pipes…

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

…or “ridges” that delineate each of the grassy cells…

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

…in a location where it could look down into two of the cells at a time. It would stay in each location for 15 to 30 minutes, and if it didn’t see anything, ….

Snowy owl taking off

Snowy owl taking off

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

…it would zig-zag across one cell to a spot where it could see down into the next two cells.

Watching the owl working its way across the grassy cells one pair at a time, I wondered if I could get in position ahead of the owl without it changing its pattern. The answer is obvious now, from the photos above, it was working well enough. In the photo above, you can see some of the pipes and other objects that the owl was using as perches in the background.

So, once the owl had moved, I would move to a point as close as I dared to get to the next place that I thought that the owl would land the next time that it moved.

Apparently, snowy owls hunt in a pattern that one can use to get into a better position to get good photos, one of many things I learned this day. The next thing that I learned is that snowy owls, at least the one I was watching, have a low success rate while they are hunting.

I was fine tuning how I was positioning myself anticipating the owls moves as the day went on. At one point, the owl took off, I didn’t save any of those photos, but the owl dove down into a cell, and didn’t come flying out the other side as I expected, so I went to see why…

Snowy owl trying to dig up a rodent

Snowy owl trying to dig up a rodent

Snowy owl trying to dig up a rodent

Snowy owl trying to dig up a rodent

Snowy owl trying to dig up a rodent

Snowy owl trying to dig up a rodent