It’s now officially summer already, and I’m seeing evidence that the waterfowl are beginning to molt. That means that I won’t be shooting many photos of them for the next few months, until they return to their breeding plumage or something spectacular happens that’s too good not to photograph. So, I’ll begin the photos in this post with a portrait of a male redhead duck while he’s still looking so dapper.
Once again, I blew it, I was using the bird portrait set-up to shoot that, when the duck turned towards me to stretch its wings.
He gave me ample warning of what he was about to do, but I suffered a momentary brain freeze, forgetting that all I had to do was make a quick turn of the mode dial to switch to settings that would have frozen the movement of his wings. The thought went through my head at the time to switch to the second body that was already set for action shots, but I didn’t have time for that. I would have had time to turn the dial if I had remembered that it was all that it would have taken to get the correct settings. My one excuse is that I had no idea that there was still a pair of redheads around, and that I’d be so close to them.
In fact, my first instinct had been to grab the action set-up first, expecting them to take flight, until I saw that the pair of them were going to pose nicely for me. It was then that I grabbed the portrait set-up.
I try to anticipate what’s going to happen in every situation, but most of the time, I guess wrong. The darned birds and other critters seldom cooperate with me. They seem to get some enjoyment out of doing the unexpected. I was lucky in some ways, I had good soft light for the portraits, so I’m very pleased with them. If I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t have the polarizing filter on the lens to cut down on the glare from the water, but as low as the light was, I wasn’t expecting the glare to be so harsh.
Anyway, I have a couple of photos from a few weeks ago that I haven’t posted yet, as they’re not very good.
The deer running across the field must have gotten close to the nests of the meadowlark and bobolink, causing them to take flight. They didn’t attack the deer as red-winged blackbirds would have, but waited for the deer to pass, then settled back down into the grass and out of sight. I thought that it was interesting to get them all in the frame at one time though. Here’s a slightly better photo of the doe and her fawn.
It’s already so late in the season that the fawns are following their mothers around now instead of staying hidden most of the time and waiting for the mother to return so that the fawns can nurse.
I’ve been chasing sparrows around a lot the past few weeks, hoping to find a species of them that I’ve never photographed before. I haven’t had any luck with new species, but here are two species that I haven’t posted photos of lately.
The male chipping sparrows will perch up off the ground to “sing” although their song doesn’t amount to very much. The vesper sparrows never seem to leave the ground, I see them running through the fields at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, but I seldom get this clear of a view of them. It was only because this one was keeping an eye on me that I got those photos. Most of the time it was hugging the ground staying below the level of the top of the vegetation.
Changing gears, how do male squirrels find females that are in heat and ready to mate?
They follow the scent trail that the females leave behind, just as a dog follows a scent trail. I don’t know if he caught up with the female, I didn’t watch him that long, but his nose never left the trail he was on.
This chipmunk was climbing a tree to reach the berries in the tree.
I have two versions of motherwort flowers to share, one taken with the sun behind me…
…and one where the sun was on the other side of the flowers, backlighting them.
Those were shot while I was walking more for exercise than for photos, so I didn’t have my macro lens with me for a close-up of an individual flower.
I found a dragonfly that was willing to pose for me while I explored different lighting options, this first one is with the sun behind me.
I moved to the side for this one.
And, I went to where the sun was shining through the dragonfly for this last one.
I should have used a little, very little, fill lighting for that last one, but I’m still quite pleased with the results. I love the way that the dragonfly’s body glows from the light passing through it, and it also shows the wings the best of any of these shots. If only I could have brightened up its face a little more.
As long as I can press the shutter button on my camera, I’ll continue to experiment in different ways.
That’s what Michael Melford, the Nat Geo photographer whose videos I’ve watched many times, would call working the scene, just like the motherwort earlier. B&H Camera has many good how-to videos from presenters like Michael Melford, although I don’t always agree with how the other presenters go about getting their photos. For example, one well-known wildlife photographer who has many videos on Youtube through B&H, baits almost all of the subjects to bring them up close, from hummingbirds to large raptors, to the big cats of Africa. That’s cheating as far as I’m concerned.
Recently, I’ve watched a couple of videos through B&H with a new to me presenter, Ron Magill. He’s a zoologist by training, and a bigwig at the Miami, Florida zoo, and as such, many of his photos are of captive animals. But, he tells you straight up which of his images are of captive critters, and which are not. What I love about his presentations are his passion, enthusiasm, and love of nature, which really come through as he gives his talks. Even though he’s sponsored by Nikon, there’s no talk of camera gear to speak of, it’s all about getting the shot, the thrill that comes with it, and the reasons why those of us who love nature photography continue to shoot away.
He also talks about saving the memories with the photos we shoot, telling the stories of nature, and also photography as a learning tool.
For example, the beaks of most birds are solid and inflexible, however, some shorebirds have flexible beaks.
You can see in that image that the sandpiper’s bill is curved one way as it preens…
…and in that image, the bill is back to its normal curve, which is down. Having flexible bills makes it easier for them to probe for food in the mud. I’ve read that before, but I never saw it with my own eyes until I shot the series of photos of the sandpiper that I did.
When I began blogging, my goal was to share the places that I went and the things that I saw that few people get the chance to see in person.
However, even though I was able to photograph some aspects of animal behavior that I wanted to share, my photos weren’t very good, and they did a poor job of conveying that behavior. So, I got caught up in working to improve the quality of my photos so that people can see in them what I see in person. But, I lost track of what my original intent was when I started my blog.
In the beginning, I hoped that people would be able to tell that the subject I was shooting was a bird. As my photos improved, I hoped that people would be able to identify the species from the photo. But, in reading and watching videos about good wildlife photography, I went too far, and tried to make the judges of photo contests happy, even though I had given up on entering any of my images in contests in the first place. That meant that you had to be able to see the critter’s eye(s), and that they were in sharp focus. I went on to always wanting to get the catch light in a critter’s eye, and now, I’m to the point where I don’t think that an image of a bird is a good one unless you can see the bird’s iris in its eye.
That’s fair, but it’s still a little soft because I was quick on the shutter release. This next one is sharper, but by then, the cardinal had turned slightly so that part of its bill is hidden behind the branch.
I suppose that learning that a bird’s eye is much like ours, with an iris, that there’s a color to a bird’s eye, and that their eyes aren’t just a black bulge on their face is something new to most people, it was to me. And, while I’d love every image to be perfect, that’s never going to happen.
If I were willing to take the time to learn Photoshop, I could probably remove the branch from the images above completely, and “construct” the cardinal’s bill by cutting and pasting the tip of the bill from other images. But, I don’t want to sit in front of my computer that long, I’d rather be out shooting more photos instead. Now that I have the equipment and proficiency to get images like those on a regular basis, I was a little lost as to where to go next. It’s not as if my quest for quality had been reached completely, but I can’t foresee any huge leaps in the quality of my images in the future. When you can see the iris in a bird’s eye, and see the individual fibers of its feathers, then that’s doing pretty good.
So, that’s why watching those videos of Ron Magill happened at the right time. As I said, his passion, enthusiasm, and love of nature really comes through in his presentations. He gets so excited that I wondered at times how he ever managed to hold the camera still enough to get the great images that he does. Not only that, but there’s a great deal of humor in his talks as he describes his journey as a nature photographer, and how he gets his images. He’ll keep you laughing, that’s for sure.
Part of the answer is going back to what I was trying to do when I started my blog, telling the stories that I saw in nature. The other direction that I’m going to take is to use the skills that I’ve acquired to create more artistic images.
A couple of years ago, I read on another person’s blog that the hardest thing about reading other blogs as a photographer is the urge to critique every one else’s images. That’s not the case with me, as my photos continue to improve, I find it harder all the time to comment on other people’s photos. Part of that is because photography is subjective, like all art forms. Just because some one else has a different style of photography than I do does not mean that they are wrong and that I’m right, or vice versa. That’s what makes photography so great in my opinion, we all see the world differently, and I like seeing how other people view the world around them.
Another reason that I find it harder to comment on the photos shot by others is that not every one wants to spend their last dime on camera gear, or lug it all around with them. That’s okay with me, I understand that some people are content with their images the way that they are, and that I can still appreciate the beauty of the subjects that they shoot, and learn from their photos at the same time.
I still have a lot to learn, both in the way of photography, but especially about the things that I photograph. On the evening that I shot the sulphur cinquefoil image, my plan had been to shoot St. John’s wort flowers, as I had great light, and not a hint of any breeze at all. However, the flowers of St. John’s wort must close in the evening, for I couldn’t find a single open flower on the plants. Yes, it’s that time of year already, when mid-summer flowers are blooming. At least it seems like mid-summer already, as short as our summers are here in Michigan.
I did attempt to shoot the sunset, but the 100-400 mm lens isn’t very good for landscapes…
…and trying to find a pleasing view of the sunset was problematic. You can see a short stretch of the expressway in that photo, at least there were no cars going past at that instant. In the twilight after sunset, I shot these three bunnies enjoying the perfect summer evening.
I must be getting lazy, I didn’t even bother to reduce the noise in those images, even though they were shot at ISO 12,800 and could stand some noise reduction. These were shot mostly as a test, since it’s only been a short time since I’ve been shooting at an ISO setting that high when required.
No award winners there, but the memories of that evening will stay with me whenever I view those images. It was getting dark, the people had left the park so it was quiet, the temperature was perfect for me, it was just me and the three bunnies sharing a most pleasant evening.
Changing gears, there’s going to be a total eclipse of the sun this August, but to view the total eclipse, I’d have to travel a few hundred miles south of where I live. It will be very close to a total eclipse here, so I’m thinking about purchasing the neutral density filter that’s required to photograph the event. In the grand scheme of what I’ve spent on photography equipment, the ND filter is peanuts, but the question is, do I want to spend that for a one time use when it may even be cloudy here that day? That, and to do it right, I’d have to take the day off from work. It would be nice to catch a once in a lifetime event like that though. I’ll think about it some more.
I’m also thinking of trying more night-time photography, shooting few star trails and the Milky Way. I wouldn’t be able to do those from home because of the amount of light from the City of Grand Rapids, but they’re something that I’m keeping in mind for the future.
Having the psoriasis flare-up and having to spend time in the hospital this spring sure screwed up my plans for this summer. I was hoping to spend less money on camera gear, which has happened, but more on weekend trips to northern Michigan where I could probably end up shooting photos 24 hours a day if I didn’t need sleep. Oh, well, there’ll be other years for that, I hope.
I have 4 long years to work before I can retire and devote myself completely to photography. The more that I shoot, the more that I believe that I could keep myself occupied 24 hours a day. I shot this image of a red-winged blackbird well after the sun had dropped below the horizon and for this one, I did some noise reduction.
That image would have been impossible for me to get just a couple of years ago, and while it isn’t great, it’s pretty good. It’s the same for these.
I don’t know if it was just about sunset when I shot those, but the nuthatch actually stayed in one place looking around long enough for me to get several good photos of it.
I have two more images from last night, shot before the sun began to set.
It’s now Saturday morning, and I’m going to eat breakfast and then go out and see what I can find to photograph today.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
My last post was another of my boring ones on camera gear and my efforts to improve my ability to use what I already have to get better images. In this post, I hope to better explain why it’s so important to me to improve my images.
Nature is full of stories, whether it’s a simple, but beautiful one, of a small bird singing its heart out trying to attract a mate…
…or a more complicated one of how birds fly.
I want to improve my skills as a photographer to better tell the stories that nature presents us if we take the time to observe those stories.
Added to that is my curiosity of how animals learn how to live. By that, I mean such things as how do birds learn where and how to build their nests. Most species of birds build their own distinctive style and size of nest, and how do the young know how to do that when they’ve never seen an adult build a nest? Do they learn by growing up in a nest, seeing how it is built? Or, is building a nest “hardwired” in their brain at birth so that they know what to do when the time comes?
That story is a little problematic for me to tell, as I seldom sit near a nest as it’s being built, nor do I sit and watch the adult birds feeding their young.
In the past, when I’ve seen a bird building a nest out in the open where I can see it easily, I’ve shot a few photos, then moved on to prevent disturbing the bird building the nest. It’s usually the same when I happen upon a nest that has young birds in it, I may shoot a photo or two, then move on so that I don’t disturb the adults.
As you can see, the blue jay had built its nest in a thick tangle of branches and was well hidden from view. The dense branches surrounding the nest also makes it harder for a larger raptor to find and raid the nest.
The way that I found the nest was by watching the adult, hoping for a clear photo of it. The adult took a circuitous route to the nest, pausing often to look around in a way that made me think that it was foraging for food, not on its way to a nest. After watching the entire event play out, I now know that the blue jay was being careful not to let any potential predators know where its nest and young were hidden.
Blue jays are members of the corvid family of birds, the most intelligent birds that there is. Apparently, their intelligence extends to where they build their nests, and how they come and go as they feed their young.
On the other hand, there are the American robins. I’ve posted photos of them building their nests right out in the open, shown photos of them feeding their young in those nests, and even posted a series of photos last year that showed a hawk taking one of the young robins from such a nest.
It’s easy to find a robin’s nest, find an adult collecting food…
….follow it as it moves around…
…and eventually, the robin will go straight to its nest.
Unfortunately, many predators have figured that out, and find that young robins are a good meal for themselves or their young.
Corvids, being as intelligent as they are, have also learned to watch adult birds bring food to their young also.
In some ways, crows are even better predators of young birds, although they may not take as many as raptors do in total. On the day that I shot the last photo, a pair of crows were acting as a team. One crow was distracting the other species of birds in the area by circling low to draw the attention of the other birds…
…while the crow in the first photo in this series raided one of the other bird’s nest.
Even blown up on my computer, I can’t identify the species of young bird that the crow is carrying away, but I don’t think that it was a Baltimore oriole. There were several other species of birds attacking the crow, including a red-winged blackbird and an eastern kingbird. I chose to use the image of the adult Baltimore oriole chasing the crow as I’ve never captured that in the past, and as a way of showing that many species will defend their young against much larger predators. And, not all the species of birds present at this spot attempted to chase off the crow, although they probably would have if it had gotten very close to its young.
That’s one of the darker stories that nature has for us if we take the time to observe what’s happening around us. Here’s a much more pleasing story, although I missed the best part.
I was shooting a few portraits of a cedar waxwing…
…because it’s been a while since I’ve posted any photos of them.
A second waxwing landed in the same bush, and it looked to me as if it had food in its bill. Cedar waxwings are social birds that often share food with others in the flock, especially males that are wooing a female. The waxwing that I was photographing moved right next to the one that had just arrived that had the food, but there was a branch full of leaves blowing right in front of the pair as they sat there perched.
If the second waxwing did share its food with the first one, I missed it while moving to a spot where I had a clear view of them.
I hope that I have better luck the next time.
In a way, the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on is a story as well. It’s the story of the diversity of birds that can be seen in Michigan, or most parts of the world for that matter. With that is the behaviors of each species, although I could do a better job at that.
When I first began trying to identify shorebirds, the easiest one for me to ID was the spotted sandpiper, so for a while, I posted quite a few images of them. I’ve since gotten better at identifying the other shorebirds, but I still remember how many photos of the spotted sandpipers that I posted, so I haven’t included any photos of them for a while.
It’s easy to see how they came by their name, the spots on their bellies. By the way, I had inserted a different photo of a spotted sandpiper here, but then I went out and shot this one, which is much better.
On the other end of the spectrum as far as the number of images of a species of bird that I’ve posted is this one, the red-necked phalarope.
These are long distance migrants that only stop in Michigan on their way to their breeding grounds in the Arctic. The females are typically more colorful than the males, which is unusual in the bird world, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever posted photos of this species in its breeding plumage before.
Those two species remind me to say a few words about their preferred habitat, and by extension, how to make identifying all birds, but especially shorebirds, a little easier.
You can see that the spotted sandpiper was walking along the rocks along the shore, that’s their preferred habitat, rocky areas from what I’ve seen. They seldom venture out into the water, but instead, they walk around the rocks looking for insects there.
On the other hand, the phalaropes prefer shallow ponds with smooth bottoms, i.e. gravel or sand, and they are typically the shorebirds out in the deepest water when compared to the other species of shorebirds. They will even feed while swimming, although they seem to prefer to wade if they can.
So, when I went looking for the red-necked phalarope after others had reported seeing it, finding it was relatively easy for me now, even though there were hundreds of other shorebirds very close by at the time. The phalarope was the one in the deepest water, while all the others were wading closer to shore. A quick look through the viewfinder of my camera confirmed that it was indeed the phalarope, so I began shooting.
It’s also because of each species of bird’s preferred habitat that makes it easier to photograph some species well, such as the spotted sandpiper, while others, like the phalarope are more difficult to get good images of. The spotted sandpipers stick to land, meaning that I can get closer to them, while the phalaropes are the farthest from shore, so I can’t get as close to them.
Here’s another species of bird that it’s rare to get such a good look at.
Towhees are a species of large sparrow. As such, they spend most of their time on the ground in thick brush where they are difficult to see. This spring, I’ve been lucky enough to catch two of the males out in the open singing to attract a mate. When they’re down on the ground foraging through the leaf litter in search of food, they are almost impossible to see.
Here’s another story for you, small birds can often find cover from the rain, but most larger birds can’t. Here’s a miserable looking turkey vulture doing what it can to stay dry during a downpour.
I don’t know why they held their wings out as the rain fell on them, but many of them, although not all, did hold their wings open.
But it didn’t matter if they held their wings open or closed, they were some of the saddest looking birds that I’ve ever seen. After the rain let up, all the vultures opened their wings to dry off.
On the other end of the emotional scale, tell me that this guy doesn’t look happy and even a bit proud of his catch.
At first, I couldn’t think of a reason for this kingfisher to be where it was, since there was no water nearby. Then it dawned on me, it was on its way back to the burrow where its nest was, and the kingfisher was pausing to look around to see that no predators were watching it before it flew into the burrow to feed its young.
I’ve gone on at length about how I’m working to improve my photos, working towards having great images to tell the story of what I saw happen. In a way, that’s a two-edged sword. I’ve not posted some photos of interesting happenings that I’ve seen because the image quality was so poor. I’ve forgotten that there are times when the story is more important than the quality of the images that I post here, especially since I’ve already surpassed the quality threshold of how my images will appear in my blog. Let me show you what I mean with these two sets of images.
I came upon a family of sandhill cranes at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, and of course, the red-winged blackbirds were making the crane’s lives miserable.
You can see that the crane in front has ducked to avoid the blackbird, which is something that I wanted to capture. That image was shot with the 100-400 mm lens with a 1.4 X tele-converter behind it, and cropped slightly, because of how far away the cranes were. I was also using my bird portrait settings, so my shutter speed was relatively low, and the camera is set to tick off 4 frames per second maximum, which is as fast as I can get for the best quality images. In reality, it seldom manages the 4 frames per second due to the slow shutter speeds.
Anyway, the second crane didn’t duck, and the blackbird slapped it in the face with its wing as it flew past. I missed that shooting at the slow frame rate I was using, but I did capture this as the next frame.
You can see that the blackbird is already landing in the weeds, but the best part of that image is the look on the second crane’s face. Unfortunately, you can’t really see the look on the crane’s face the way that the image is presented here. So, I thought about that overnight, and I decided the absolute image quality wasn’t as important as the story and the look on the crane’s face. I went back into Lightroom and created a virtual copy of both images, then cropped the copies severely, even though I knew that the images would suffer as far as sharpness.
Of course I couldn’t create the missed image of the blackbird slapping the crane in the face, but you can now see the look of innocent terror on the crane’s face, as if it were asking what just happened, and why me?
Yes, action happens fast in the wild, too fast for me to always be able to capture the precise moment that it happens.
Anyway, that little exercise has taught me a great deal, that for my blog, cropping an image that much works fine, even though I’d never print the cropped images. I wouldn’t have to, blown up on my computer or if I printed the images to a large size, I don’t need to crop the images for people to see what I want them to see, but in the small size that images appear in my blog, then I should make virtual copies and crop the copies much more than the originals. In the future, I’ll skip the normal size images, and only post the severely cropped images in an instance such as this one. I should have thought about this before.
But, it’s only because the quality of the images that I copied and cropped so severely was so good to begin with that I was able get away with cropping as much as I did. The severely cropped images look as good or better than my best older images from a few years ago. So, all the work that I’ve put into learning photography is paying dividends now.
Anyway, if you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I use gulls as practice subjects for birds in flight because they’re so common, and easy to photograph well. I still practice on gulls to stay sharp, the problem is that there are times when I get an image so good that I just have to share it, despite how my images of gulls in flight that I’ve posted here.
If only I could get lighting like that when I’m trying to shoot these guys.
There’s too much noise in these images for them to be considered good ones, but as quick as the swallows are, almost any image of them in flight is a keeper.
I was surprised that the 7D Mk II with the 400 mm prime lens could keep up with one flying directly at me in the low-light at the time.
It seems like whenever all the other conditions are good for me to try photographing the swallows in flight, the light is poor. On this morning, there was an insect hatch taking place close to shore, which brought in a large number of the swallows. Believe me, trying to photograph one or even a few swallows close to me is a tough proposition, I need many of them in the area to get one or two good shots of them. For the few images that I did get, I shot quite a few more with the swallow out of focus, or even out of the frame as they darted about picking off the insects.
There were 20 to 25 swallows there at the time, flying in a circular pattern of sorts, and for once, the wind was right for me to try to shoot the swallows. They would fly at full speed very close to shore for a ways picking off the bugs as they hatched. Then, they would turn out over the water farther as they turned around to get back to where they had started. I would try to get a focus lock on them as they came back to where they started down the shoreline, and attempt to keep them in the viewfinder as they came towards me, then turned to go along the shore. I only sat there for about half an hour, but my arms were growing weary from trying to track the swallows as quick as they are. But, I learned that my equipment is up to the task, now all I need is better light and stronger arms. 🙂
I have one more short story consisting of four images to share before I end this post. Another thing that I’ve been doing lately is shooting a lot of images of any subject that will pose nicely for me. I used to stop when I thought that I had a good image, to try to find another subject to shoot. Now, I’ll keep shooting until I grow tired of it, or the subject takes off. The first image is of this whitetail doe.
I shot about twenty images of her before I got that one with both of her ears turned towards me as she listened to the shutter clicking away and no shadows in her ears or on her face. This may be my best ever portrait of a doe, as you can really see her beautiful long eyelashes, although if she would have turned her head slightly, the eyelashes would have shown up even more.
The other example of shooting a lot of images of the same subject is this grasshopper sparrow. This first image shows it shaking itself like a dog.
I think that it shook itself so much that it became a little dizzy from its expression and body language in this image.
After a few moments, it went back to singing again, and I was able to get this shot.
It may be just a grasshopper sparrow, but I think that they are pretty birds in their own way, and I hope that it shows in the images of it that I’ve posted here.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
Of course one can not attain perfection, one can only come close. Still, that doesn’t stop me from trying, because when I do, I get the best images that I can under the circumstances at the time.
But, I’m learning that it isn’t just the photographer that can’t reach perfection, neither can the manufacturers of cameras and lenses. As good as the camera gear that I have now is, each item is lacking in one way or another.
Take the Canon 100-400 mm L series lens that I recently purchased. Its auto-focus is much faster than any of the other long Canon lenses that I own. However, when I’m chasing small birds in low light as they are when they’re in their normal habitat…
…I believe that the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) is even better as far as auto-focus. However, that lens can’t match the image quality of the Canon lens in those situations. I love the soft light in that image, along with the pose that the warbler struck. But, something that I can’t control is the fact that this individual doesn’t have the pronounced red streaks on its chest as most males of this species have. So my pursuit of perfection is dependent on the individual birds that I find to photograph as well as my skills as a photographer.
I can’t use the Canon 400 mm L lens in those situations, its minimum focus distance is just over 11 feet, meaning that I wouldn’t be able to get as close to small birds as I do at times, like this one. Since I know that, I have’t tried using that lens to chase small birds where they live.
The Canon 300 mm L lens was great for close-ups, but its performance tailed off as the distance to the subject that I was shooting increased. I could go back in my archives and find numerous images shot with the 300 mm lens that are close to macro shots because that lens was at its best the closer I was to the subject. However, I could also go back in my archives and find even more images where the 300 mm lens was softer than it should be when the subjects were farther away from me.
Theoretically, the 100-400 mm lens is supposed to be just as good up close, its minimum focusing distance is just a hair closer than the 300 mm lens is. However, in practice so far, I’m having trouble getting super sharp images from that lens down near its minimum focusing distance. There have been exceptions to that though.
Still, I believe that the 300 mm lens was even sharper up close than those images shot with the 100-400 mm lens are. I’ve spent very little time with the 100-400 mm lens shooting at very short distances, so maybe it’s me and not the lens that’s responsible for the poor performance so far. Every bit of camera gear comes with a learning curve, since the 100-400 mm lens can produce images as good as the butterfly, I may have to practice with that lens more at very close range to get the best out of it.
Those images bring up a weakness in the Canon 7D Mk II camera that I use most of the time as well. Being a crop sensor camera, its low light performance and dynamic range aren’t as good as a full-frame camera’s would be. I pushed the adjustments in Lightroom quite a bit to bring those images of the butterfly into something worth posting.
It’s the same with this one.
You should see the detail in the image above viewed full screen in its full resolution, you can see each individual feather on the mallard’s neck!
That brings up something else that I have to say, and I hope that it doesn’t sound as if I’m bragging, not too much anyway. When I get things right with one of my best lenses, the image has to be viewed as large as I can blow it up on my computer, or print it out very large if I have it printed, to truly see the level of detail that there is in my best images these days. When viewed as the images are presented here, you can not see the fine detail like the individual fibers that make up the mallard’s feathers, or individual scales in the butterfly’s wings as you can when I blow them up on my computer, or have them printed at 11 X 14 or 14 X 20. So, I am making progress, even if I have already reached the limits of the quality that you can see in the images in my blog.
Anyway, what good is dramatic lighting if camera that I’m using can’t capture it as well as it should? Both the butterfly and the mallard images could still use some dodging and burning, but I’d rather not spend all my time editing images on the computer. I’d like some time to be outside shooting more photos. I could post an unedited photo of both the butterfly and mallard to show you how much I had to work on them in Lightroom to make them as good as they are, but I won’t. I’ll only say that I’d still like a full-frame camera one of these days for its better low-light performance, and higher dynamic range. You may not notice it, but I’ve lost some of the detail in the feathers of the white ring around the mallard’s neck because it was blown out too much for Lightroom to recover. I still had to push the shadows more than I would have liked to get the greens and blues of the mallard’s head right the way that I saw it when shooting that image. Because the ISO setting was low to begin with when I shot those, I didn’t get much noise by boosting the shadow detail as much as I did.
Maybe I’m getting too picky as I try for the best images possible. I didn’t use to worry as much about noise in the shadow areas of an image or if a few highlight areas were blown out as long as the overall image looked good. I suppose that it’s because the overall quality of the images I shoot continues to improve, that I’m bothered by those things now when it wasn’t that way before.
I have learned to get good images of birds in flight with the 100-400 mm lens.
However, the 400 mm prime lens is still easier and a better choice to use for flying birds, especially in poor lighting.
Now, if I can get a wood duck to repeat the same flight path someday when the light is better, I’ll really have a great shot that shows all of the duck’s colors!
Anyway, if it were a perfect world, camera manufacturers would develop a sensor that recorded light exactly as our eyes see it. That’s not likely to happen, as it isn’t only our eyes that see light. Our brains adjust what we see, much like we can adjust images with the various types of software on the market these days.
And if it were a perfect world, lens manufacturers would produce lenses that produced exceptional results through the lens’ entire range of focus and aperture. Maybe some one does, but not in the price range that I can afford.
If it were a nearly perfect world, I’d be able to carry all of my camera gear with me, and the correct lens would magically be mounted to the camera for the next opportunity that I have to shoot a photo. But, that isn’t possible either, the weight is prohibitive.
Shooting photos at the Muskegon County wastewater facility tends to spoil me. Most of the time I’m in my vehicle, with the two 7D bodies, one with the 400 mm prime lens on it, the other with the 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X tele-converter on it. When I see a stationary bird…
…I grab the second set-up for a portrait like that one.
For birds in flight…
…I grab the camera with the 400 mm prime lens on it. Those aren’t great, but at least you can see why green-winged teal are named what they are. These next two are better examples of what that set-up can do.
I’d love to be able to carry both of those set-ups with me all the time, but they’re too heavy and cumbersome for longer walks, so I normally bring just the 100-400 mm lens with me.
As I’m walking more for health reasons than for photography these days, I’m faced with the question of what do I bring, and what do I leave behind. It almost always works out the same, what I leave behind is what I need for what I see on any given day. If I bring my macro lens expecting to shoot insects or flowers, then I don’t see any insects, or the wind kicks up so much that trying to photograph flowers is more frustrating that I have patience for.
If I bring my wide-angle lens expecting to shoot a few landscapes, then good opportunities never present themselves, but then there are insects all around me, and no breeze at all, so flower photography would have been easier.
I think that the plan that I came up with a while back is the right choice for me to make.
As I use the newer 100-400 mm lens more, I’m getting much better results with it, both as a near macro lens…
..and for birds in flight, as the red-winged blackbird and hawk photos from earlier show.
Of course it’s great on birds that are perched.
Even in low-light situations.
Eventually, I’ll purchase a full-frame sensor camera and Canon’s 24-105 mm lenses. Along with the 7D and the 100-400 mm lens, that will cover everything from most landscapes, near macros, birds in flight, as well as bird portraits. I can easily carry that, along with just two accessories, the 1.4 X tele-converter, and the set of extension tubes that I have. The tele-converter extends the 100-400 mm lens to 560 mm for longer shots, and the extension tubes will convert the 24-105 mm lens to a macro lens of sorts. Along with the close focusing ability of the 100-400 mm lens, I should be set for almost anything, and all of that will weigh much less than half of what I tried to carry with me in the past.
That will mean that I’ll have to do some swapping of lenses and accessories, but the weight reduction for longer walks will be worth it.
Now then, I’ve received the bill for my stay in the hospital, and the bad news is that the health insurance that I have through work covered very little of it. The good news is the hospital doesn’t seem to be in any hurry for me to pay the entire bill as quickly as possible. I’ve talked to one of their financial representatives, and I have two years to pay the bill interest free. If I went longer than two years, they would charge interest, but paying it off in two years is something that I can do fairly easily. I’ve already made a lump sum payment of almost 1/5 of the total bill, and my monthly payments for the next two years will be easy for me to make, it will be less than what I was spending on camera gear.
Finally knowing how much the hospital bill is and what terms they offer has been a huge load off from my mind. I knew that the insurance I have through work isn’t very good, so that my portion of the bill would be large. The insurance company paid about $250 dollars of my hospital stay, with me picking up all the rest. That makes me wonder why I “contribute” towards the insurance at all, but enough of that for now.
That will put an end to any purchases of camera gear, except for a few relatively inexpensive things that I have on my want list. That’s okay for now, I can work on improving my skills with what I already own as I pay off the hospital bill. Once that bill is paid, I can begin saving for a full-frame camera and the 24-105 mm lens.
Another weekend has come and is almost gone, and I should begin another post with the images that I’ve shot the past two days in an effort to keep my posts shorter. However, that’s not going to be the case.
I still need to improve my action photography, but I feel as if I’m making progress in the right direction.
Those two were on the wrong side of me as far as the position of the sun, but at least you can identify the species of both birds. The grackle by its pale eye, and the red-winged blackbird by its red shoulder patches.
I was lucky in one way, the two of them hovered there squawking at one another long enough for me to switch to the saved settings for birds in flight, and get a good focus lock on them with the 100-400 mm lens.
Grackles are not shy, retiring birds at all, and they are a bit larger than the red-winged blackbirds, so it surprised me that the red-winged blackbird…
…was able to drive the grackle away.
Maybe it’s because the red-winged blackbirds are fearless, and will take on birds much larger than themselves.
Those were shot early in the morning at Muskegon, and I was going for portraits of the cranes, so I had the 1.4 X tele-converter behind the 100-400 mm lens. But, the red-winged blackbirds chasing the cranes put an end to any thoughts of a good portrait shot. In the low-light at the time, my shutter speed was too low to freeze all the movement going on…
Finally, I got the shots that I was hoping for…
…with the one crane asking the other, “Does this bird make my butt look big.”…
…and the second crane replying, “Only when it spreads its wings out.”…
…until the cranes moved into taller vegetation and the blackbirds gave up the chase.
I think that this is a good place to end this post. I have some other action shots to share, but I can use them in another post which explains why I’m working so hard to improve my photography skills. I’ll end this post with one more close-up shot this weekend with the 100-400 mm lens.
I shot quite a few photos at close range this past weekend, and I am getting better results with that lens in those situations. I think that I may have to calibrate the focus of that lens to the 7D body though, as part of the problem I was having seems to be that the lens focuses slightly behind the subject at close range. But, I’ll work with it a bit longer before I do that, as I’d hate to spoil how well it works at longer distances.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
Okay, I’ve had my very first full physical examination by a doctor, and he said that I was in good shape for some one my age. The results of the lab tests came back, and they said the same thing. For example, while my “good” cholesterol was a little low, and my “bad” cholesterol is towards the high-end of what’s considered healthy, my overall cholesterol was 40 points below the upper limit. None of this is helping me understand what caused the severe psoriasis flare-up I experienced this spring, or the less severe one that I had last spring. All the other lab results from the blood work say the same thing, overall, I’m in good shape.
While I’m very thankful for my overall good health, in a way, it would be nice if something were slightly out of whack that could be a reason for these flare-ups. Other than being a bit overweight, and not getting enough exercise over the winter months, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for the flare-ups. I suppose that it will remain a mystery.
There’s another thing about my having psoriasis that affects where and when I go out into the woods, insect repellent has a negative effect on my psoriasis. So, I have several choices, go out and be sucked dry of blood by the skeeters, apply insect repellent and deal with it making my psoriasis worse, or find places to go where I don’t need to apply the insect repellent. I have also purchased a mosquito net to go over my head, which will help, but it won’t keep the little bloodsuckers off from the rest of me.
Luckily, the park near home where I used to walk each day is relatively free of mosquitoes. I’ve seen a few there, but most days I can walk the entire three miles and never have to swat any skeeters. The same is true of the Muskegon County wastewater facility for the most part. The skeeters there are limited to the early morning hour around sunrise, and then only near the artificial marshes nearest to the wooded areas of the facility. The skeeters can be quite bad around the woodlot areas, but I can shoot the same species of birds that I would find there at home or in other places. For the most part though, the wastewater facility is mosquito free.
That could be because of the huge numbers of insect-eating birds that make the wastewater facility their home.
In the past, I’ve shown photos here of the huge flocks of swallows that form at the wastewater facility in the fall, but swallows are present in great numbers from early spring until they migrate south in the fall. One of the swallows would have been a better example of one of the insect-eating species of birds to use here, but I wasn’t able to get a good photo of any of them this past weekend. I did catch the eastern kingbird in the photo above looking for its next meal though.
I don’t think that it found what it was after, as I didn’t see anything in its beak as it flew off.
However, later in the day, I did catch one right after it had found something to eat.
I have a number of images of a pair of kingbirds landing after they had made short flights in search of meals. Each time, they return to the same general area of the fence that you can see in the image above. I spent some time watching and photographing the pair of them, more cooperative subjects than they were are hard to find. However, I’ll save those images for later, maybe.
There are other things around the wastewater facility that eat insects as well…
If it matters to any one, those were shot with the 100 mm macro lens on one of the 60D bodies that I have. I was going to test that lens on the 7D Mk II, but by the time I swapped lenses, the spider was gone, so it was a good thing that I “settled” for the 60D at first.
I say that I “settled” for using the 60D because it may be a fine camera, it can’t do what I can do with the 7D Mk II when it comes to birds in flight. This next series is a great example of what the 7D Mk II, the correct camera settings, and right lens can do.
It may be only a gull, and not a tern or kingfisher…
But being able to capture this series…
…made me a happy camper at the time.
I’ll admit that it took me a few attempts to capture that entire sequence of one gull from when it was hovering over the pond to splashdown. I had to learn to judge from the gull’s body language when it was going to begin its dive, and learn how fast they were while in the dive so I could keep them centered in the frame as they plunged into the water.
I’m still a very happy camper for being able to get the middle shot of the gull just before its beak hit the water. However, even at 10 frames per second, the gull is nearly totally submerged in the next shot, that’s how fast they dove after whatever they were feeding on. Like a dummy, I never did hold the shutter release down to continue shooting as the gulls emerged from the water so that I may have been able to see what they were eating. I was too worried about keeping the buffer in the camera ready for the next dive.
Anyway, I can see that I’m going to have even more trouble in the future keeping my posts shorter as far as images. Being able to capture a series of photos as events such as the gull diving or the kingbird searching the weeds for food means more photos worth considering for inclusion here. Then there are the older reasons my posts tend to be long still in play. For example, I was trying for a good shot of this song sparrow so that I could make a positive ID as to what species it was.
It isn’t a very good photo, but I’m including it because it’s part of the story. As I was trying for the sparrow, I saw something else lurking in the weeds just off to the left of the sparrow, I thought that it was a rabbit. It wasn’t, it was a fox, and very close to me. However, I didn’t know that until the fox lost its nerve and took off running.
Because I was using the camera set-up for a portrait of the sparrow, the shutter speed was too low for a good photo of the fox. I did manage one more poor image of the fox as it ran away from me. I should have paid more attention when I saw what turned out to be the fox hiding in the weeds in the first place, but I was focused on the sparrow at the time.
Having one camera set-up for action shots, and the other set-up for portrait shots works very well most of the time. I’m getting better at grabbing the correct set-up when an opportunity presents itself as you may be able to tell from most of my recent photos.
Sometimes though, I grab the wrong set-up on purpose, here’s an example of that.
That was shot with the bird in flight set-up, even though the heron was perched. The reason for that is because I was shooting towards the sun with the background being white clouds. I have the set-up for birds in flight ready for that when it happens, with +2 stops of exposure compensation included so that whatever I’m shooting isn’t just a silhouette against the clouds.
Since the heron stuck around longer than I expected, I was able to switch over to the other set-up, which includes the 1.4 X tele-converter behind the 100-400 mm lens, and adjust the exposure compensation, so I was able to get a little closer to the heron.
However, the heron wouldn’t raise its crown again, so I prefer the first image. Having the right set-up dialed into the camera ahead of time makes life so much easier. I’m to the point where I have the newer 7D body set-up almost exactly how I want it, but it’s such a sophisticated camera that it may be a while before I’m completely finished. Some of the things that you can set on the 7D aren’t in the manual, I learned those setting by watching the many online videos there are about getting it set-up. However, I don’t remember which videos held which tips, and I don’t have time to search for and watch all of those videos again. The one setting that bugs me the most is the one having to do with being able to move or select groups of focus points without pushing any extra buttons. On the first 7D body I purchased, I was able to set-up the focus point selection so all I have to do is move the joystick to move the focus point(s) or to select how many I use. I still have to push a separate button first on the second body to do the same thing. It wouldn’t be that big of deal, but I have to remember that quickly as I’m trying to get a shot where changing the focus point(s) is a consideration.
Still, having two camera bodies each with a long lens on it comes in extremely handy, to me it was worth the cost. During the same time frame as I shot the green heron, a pair of sandhill cranes came flying past me.
I continued shooting as they came closer, here’s the best of the images that I shot at their closest approach to me.
I use the 400 mm f/5.6 lens as my bird in flight lens, because it doesn’t have image stabilization, and with the high shutter speeds needed for birds in flight…
…image stabilization isn’t needed.
When I’m shooting bird portraits, I use the 100-400 mm lens with the 1.4 X tele-converter behind it to get to 560 mm and closer to the birds.
That set-up works well enough, although like any one else that does wildlife photography, I’d love to have an even longer lens for times like this.
The eagle was out in a field with a kill that it had made, and I had to crop that image too much for it to be a good one. I think that the eagle had gotten a rabbit…
…but I couldn’t tell for sure as far away from me as the eagle was. There was also a turkey vulture nearby, waiting for the eagle to finish eating before it started cleaning up the leftovers that the eagle didn’t finish, but it was too far from the eagle for a photo that showed them together.
I was in the process of setting up my tripod with the gimbal head on it so that I could switch to the 2 X tele-converter to get closer to the eagle, but that was more than the eagle could stand. It took its lunch somewhere else to finish. However, while I was getting set-up, a pair of male bobolinks got into a territorial tussle, and I was able to shoot this photo of one of them.
Well, this post is getting too long already, but I have to share these two photos.
I know that the turtle is a male because of its red eyes.
And, one last photo to remind myself to better anticipate what’s going to happen next.
I saw her standing, and shot a few photos of her then. However, then I sat there watching her with the camera settings the same, even though I should have known what was going to happen. She hoisted her tail and pranced off in the dainty way that deer have when they’re not frightened too badly, so my shutter speed was too low to freeze her motion as well I as should have gotten. I did catch her with all four feet off from the ground, but that photo would have been much better if I had done what I should have.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
I thought long and hard about doing this post, but since my blog is a record of my life in many ways, I decided to do it.
Due to health reasons, I’ve missed most of my favorite time of the year, spring, and even worse, I’ve had to cancel my vacation this year. I had to use my vacation days to cover the time that I missed at work because of my health issues.
I have psoriasis, which is just an annoyance to me most of the time. Psoriasis is a hereditary auto-immune disease that causes my immune system to attack my skin. I’ve had it to varying degrees my entire life, but towards the middle of April, I had what is called a flare-up of my psoriasis. It got to the point where it covered most of my body, and it only took a week or so for it to spread that much.
I had what I thought was just a bad cold just before the psoriasis flare-up began, and I thought that the cold had brought with it strep throat, which is a known trigger for psoriasis flare-ups. I went to an urgent care facility, and the doctor prescribed antibiotics in case it had been strep throat, or if I had a skin infection. The antibiotics didn’t help. I have some other thoughts as to what brought on the flare-up, which I’ll share later.
I managed to work another week, despite pain whenever I moved any part of my body, because the psoriasis had formed a thick, solid coating of almost dead skin over most of my body. Any movement on my part caused that thick layer of dead skin to tear the newer skin underneath apart, I liken it to being skinned alive.
Some of you may remember that I mentioned some health issues last year in my blog at about the same time of the year, and that it wasn’t until I went on my vacation last year that I began to feel good again. I had a minor psoriasis flare-up last year, which antibiotics helped clear up, or so I thought. There were also some other underlying health issues last year as well.
Remembering what I went through the previous year, I was already trying to find a primary care physician to help me with the underlying issues that I thought were causing the psoriasis flare-ups, but it isn’t easy to get a quick appointment with a good doctor. I’ve seen enough bad doctors in my life, I wasn’t going to settle for another of those.
Anyway, I did see a physicians assistant who works out of the same office as the primary care physician I had chosen, and she recommended immediate hospitalization because I was in such poor health overall.
At the hospital ER, the first doctor that examined me was overwhelmed by how bad my psoriasis flare-up was, and called another doctor in to also examine me. The second doctor was also overwhelmed, and I could overhear the two of them discussing various treatment options available to them to help me recover. I could tell that they were concerned for me and were good doctors trying to get to the bottom of something that they had little experience with.
I was admitted to the hospital, and spent four days there, under the care of a third doctor, also a very good one, who tried his very best to get to the bottom of what had caused this severe of a psoriasis flare-up.
Obviously, I survived, due to excellent care by both the doctors and nurses that cared for me during my hospital stay. By the end of the four days that I spent in the hospital, the psoriasis flare-up began to subside, and while some movements on my part were still painful, I was doing better. Still, no one could tel me what brought on the extreme flare-up, that will probably remain a mystery.
Since then, I have seen a dermatologist, whom I’m not impressed with. He’s the same dermatologist that made me overly sensitive to sunlight when I was seeing him back in the early 1990’s. However, he’s considered to be the area’s best expert on psoriasis, so I’ll continue to see him for the time being.
I was also able to see the primary care physician that I chose, and I was very impressed with him.
A sidenote, when I was checked into the hospital, I weighed 301 pounds and my blood pressure was sky-high. Two weeks later, when I saw my new primary care doctor, my weight had fallen 29 pounds to 272 pounds, and my blood pressure was towards the high-end of the range, but within what is considered to be safe. That 29 pounds that I lost was almost all fluids that had accumulated in my body and had caused me to swell up like a balloon. My blood pressure had been so high because my heart had to deal with all of the fluid accumulated in my body.
So, where do I go from here?
I feel bad because I haven’t had the time to comment on the blog posts that people have posted over the last two months. For one thing, trying to get my health back has taken a lot of my time. Also, it’s been painful for me to type due to cracked skin on my finger tips up until the last few days. I still have a few fingers with cracked skin on the ends, but they are improving a little each day.
I’ve only been out with my camera gear twice since all these health issues began, again, the dry, cracked skin on the ends of my fingers made it painful to operate the camera. Also, I’ve been more focused on my overall health than in shooting photos.
Since my health issues began, I’ve had time to reflect on what has caused those issues, I think that the psoriasis flare-ups are a symptom of my letting my overall health slide a bit over the past two years. So, I’m not sure when I’ll begin blogging more consistently again, at least not now as I type this. I have to get back into shape because I don’t get enough exercise on the job that I have now. My old job was better in that respect, unloading and reloading the trailer twice a night helped me stay in shape. I didn’t have to think about getting enough exercise other than what I got at work.
I have an appointment with my primary care doctor next Monday, for a full, complete physical, the first that I’ve ever had. I’ll know more after that. One good thing about my hospital stay was that they did many lab tests on me, and by the end of my stay, the results looked pretty good. Still, a complete picture of my overall health will help me decide what course of action I’ll be taking from here on.
Walking slowly to sneak up on birds…
…isn’t going to give me the exercise that I need. Neither is sitting in the new portable hide that I purchased just before my health issues manifested themselves. I still haven’t tested it to see how well it works.
For the time being, my health is going to have to come first, and photography second.
That’s okay for now, I’ll still have the portable hide and all my photography gear once I get back into shape, and my health is back to normal. That goes for the new tripod and gimbal head that I also purchased this spring. I was in the process of getting them out and setting them up to shoot a better version of this image…
…when a northern harrier flew over the flock of shorebirds…
…causing the entire flock to take flight.
I missed the northern harrier, but I was able to grab the camera set-up for birds in flight for these photos.
Since it’s been over a month since I was out with a camera, I was woefully out of practice.
I’ve missed the early spring flowers, along with many of the migrating birds that others have seen this spring. Heck, some of the early nesting birds already have young ones to care for.
This is what that chick will grow up to look like.
While I have missed a lot this spring, just getting outside while I’ve been working on my health has been wonderful, even though I haven’t shot many photos. Just hearing the birds singing…
… brings me great joy!
I may have missed the early spring flowers, but I’ve been getting outside while walking in time to catch some of the most aromatic spring flowers…
…which has made walking for exercise that much more enjoyable.
Still, I miss being out with the camera, as you can tell from these photos.
I no longer have to shower twice a day to soften the dead skin covering my body so that the medicinal cream that the doctors prescribed for me can reach the healthier skin under the dead skin. I’m down to one shower a day now, and each day, my psoriasis retreats a little more. That’s giving me more time to get out and walk to help me get back in shape, and even bring a camera now and then.
While I don’t know when I’ll get back to posting on a regular basis, I do know that I never want to go through what I went through this spring ever again in my life. This is the second year in a row that I’ve let my health slip during the winter months, and I’ve paid the price for having done so. In fact, I’ll be paying the price for what happened to me this spring for a long time, as I’m looking at some huge medical bills that I’ll have to pay. I do have health insurance, but with very large deductibles that are my responsibility to pay. That means no more camera gear for the foreseeable future. That’s okay, because most of the items that I was looking at were things that would be nice to have, but I didn’t really need them. The camera gear that I have now is more than adequate for what I want to accomplish, once I am fully up to speed on getting the best out of what I have.
I’ve also come to understand that my past posts were too long most of the time, with too many photos in most of them. While this is going to end up being a very similar post to what I used to do, that’s only because it’s been so long since I’ve posted anything. I don’t quite know how I’ll fit the variety of birds…
…in my posts as I have in the past. The only reason I’m including so many species in this post is in honor of the birding big day, when birders world-wide try to spot as many species in one day as they can. These photos were all shot on the weekend of the birding big day.
I guess that all of this boils down to questions of balance, balancing the time I spend working on my health against how much time I spend trying for better images. Balancing the number of images I put into a post against how long each of my posts end up being. As I weigh each photo, it’s hard for me to decide what to include, and what to discard. Here’s an example.
While that isn’t my best image of a great egret, it’s the only one that I’ve posted that shows one with its breeding plumage and showing the green lores (the area in front of a bird’s eye) that egrets get for a few days during the breeding season. While I’m sure that I’ll get a better image of a great egret during the breeding season someday, that’s my best so far. If I wait for the perfect image of every species, I’d never post another image. But, as I mark my progress forward, I end up with too many images in every post.
Well, it’s been a week since I last worked on this post. I’ve had my first complete physical ever, and the doctor says that other than my psoriasis, I’m in pretty good health for some one my age, and he can’t believe how much my psoriasis has improved in the two weeks since I had last seen him. I do have to work on my weight and blood pressure still, and we’re still waiting on the blood tests done, but I’m feeling like a new man right now.
I’m still having lots of second and third thoughts about publishing this post, because I’m not looking for sympathy in any comments that people may leave. I did this to myself by hibernating over the last two winters and letting my health slip away. While I would appreciate the well wishes of others, that’s not why I would post this if I do. I also feel guilty for not commenting on other people’s blogs since I have taken a break from posting. It’s not fair that I accept the comments of others to my blog if I’m not commenting on their blogs.
Anyway, things are settling down, and I’ve managed to increase the distance that I walk when I’m able from just under a mile to the full three miles around home here that I used to do. I’ve only taken the camera with me as I’ve done these around home walks once, and here are a few of the photos from that walk.
So, I guess that’s about it for now. I will say that I’m very pleased with the doctor that I’ve chosen as my primary care physician, as he takes the time to not only listen to the questions that I have about my health, but also to answer those questions to the extent that he is able. He’s not a dermatologist, so he can’t answer all the questions that I ask, but he knows enough to know how difficult it can be to find a psoriasis treatment that actually works for each individual. But, my opinion is that if I work with him to get back to where I’m in the best shape as far as my overall health, that my psoriasis will improve as well.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
Even though I’m supposed to be taking a break from blogging, I can’t resist starting another post of some of the more notable photos that I shoot. This post will be nearly all photos and few words. I’ll start with a species of goose that I just recently crossed off the list for the My Photo Life List project, a Ross’s goose.
Much better than any of the photos I shot the first time I saw that species.
Also, using the 400 mm prime lens, 2 X tele-converter, and live view focusing with the set-up mounted to my new gimbal tripod head, I was able to get my best ever photos of a golden eagle.
What’s also notable about that photo is that I waited half an hour to 45 minutes for the sun to break through the clouds to give me some good light to shoot that one in.
I have the feeling that using the gimbal head is going to make a great deal more improvement to the quality of images that I shoot than I had thought.
I’ve only used it on flying birds a few times, but it allows me to better track the birds more smoothly than I can by hand. I’ve only used it on the eagle as far as perched birds, but it allowed me to do exactly what I hoped it would. After shooting a few bad photos handheld, I saw that the eagle wasn’t going to fly away soon, so I set the tripod up with the gimbal head and shot a few better images.
However, it was still quite gloomy then, but I could see that holes were opening up in the clouds, so I waited. The way that the gimbal head works, I could keep the camera pointed at the eagle as I waited, and I shot another series of photos every time that I thought that the light had improved a little. Eventually, one of the holes in the clouds opened so that there was sunshine on the eagle, giving me the image that you see here. I was hoping that the eagle would stick around long enough for there to be sunshine on it and blue sky behind, but the eagle flew away before that happened.
I can’t say for sure, but I believe that the eagle flew off to stay in the sunshine. It had been a chilly morning, and I could really feel the difference when the sunshine hit me, it felt very good. The hole in the clouds that had put the sunshine on both myself and the eagle had closed, so I took that opportunity to check the quality of the images that I had just shot. When I looked up, the eagle was flying off, and it stayed in the sun as it did. The last time that I saw the eagle, it was riding an updraft to gain altitude without having to flap its wings at all.
There wouldn’t have been an updraft for the eagle without the sunshine to heat the ground and the air above it, so I wonder if the eagle had stayed perched there waiting for the sunshine to create the updraft. I know that it warmed up quite a bit as soon as the sun came out for good, and that I remember being jealous of the eagle’s ability to follow the sunshine as the size of the holes in the clouds increased the way that they did that day.
Anyway, I have digressed again, back to the gimbal head and the tripod that I have it mounted on. The tripod is a Benro Com37c, which I would classify as a medium heavy-duty tripod. It’s much sturdier than the Manfrotto tripod that I’ve been using for landscapes, and I was able to purchase it for about half price while it was on sale through B&H Photo. It doesn’t have a center post to use to adjust the height, I have to do that through the angle of the legs and how far I extend them. I believe that not having a center post is one of the things that makes it so steady in use.
One added bonus to the Benro tripod is that it has a hook under where the center post would be if it had one, and I can hang my second long lens/camera set-up from that hook. It makes the tripod even more stable, and then I don’t have to set the second long lens set-up on the ground as I use the one that’s mounted on the gimbal head. If I hadn’t been reviewing my photos when the eagle took off, I would have snatched the second long set-up off from the hook, and used it to shoot a few images of the eagle taking off.
I could have mounted the gimbal head to the Manfrotto tripod that I already had, as it’s a fine tripod, but I don’t think that it would have been as solid as the Benro is. Also, the gimbal head works great with my long lenses for the way that I shoot with them, but I don’t think that the gimbal head would work as well for landscapes. Besides, I can see that there will come a time when I have the Manfrotto tripod set-up shooting landscapes, and the Benro tripod and gimbal head set-up for shooting wildlife at the same time.
An update. I got the excellent price on the Benro tripod that I did because it was being discontinued. That’s also why I was I was able to get the Manfrotto tripod that I’ve been using for a few years now. I really lucked out when it came to shopping for tripods, I now have two high quality carbon fiber tripods and I paid about what I would have paid for either of them if I hadn’t gotten them on sale.
In my never-ending playing with my camera gear, I used my 100 mm macro lens for this image.
If only there wasn’t the reflection of a second gull in that image, oh well, I learned a lot while shooting both perched and flying gulls with the macro lens.
Another week has gone by, and this past weekend was wet, cold, and windy. What’s notable about these images is that they turned out as well as they did in very poor conditions for photography, even the ducks looked as if they hated the weather at times.
You can see the rain drops beading up on the shoveler’s back.
I think that ducks are some of our most colorful and beautiful birds, but with many species, you have to see their wings to fully appreciate their beauty, which means photographing them in flight. I wasn’t very hopeful when I saw that more species were returning in their full breeding plumage, but despite the low-light, I gave it a shot.
With the 7D Mk II and the lenses that I have now, getting birds in flight is much easier, not only ducks, but raptors like this northern harrier as well.
I was able to shoot a few much better photos of another recent addition to My Photo Life List, the northern shrike.
That brings me to a species of bird which has just returned for the summer, but isn’t colorful at all. They are fun to watch however, and I missed them while they were gone.
They use their oversized lobed feet as ducks use their webbed feet for swimming, but the coots are also able to wade in soft mud as well. They don’t fly unless forced to, so it’s a little unusual to see them with their wings spread.
That one was using its wings for balance as it climbed up on the rocks.
Give them a little food, and they look so happy.
A few weeks ago, I shot this photo of a horned lark showing its horns.
And this past weekend, I got the quintessential image of a male red-winged blackbird staking out his territory.
The time has come for me to put a hold on purchasing any more camera gear for a while, and instead, to get some type of portable blind to hide in and also some camouflaged clothes so that I can get closer to my subjects.
As if by magic, I found a portable hide designed for photographers and have ordered one. I don’t know if I’ll have the chance to try it this coming weekend or not, the forecast for the weekend is looking very good right now. If it turns out to be as nice as predicted, I’m planning on doing some doing some longer walks at some of the better birding locations in the Muskegon State Game area.
I suppose that I’ll have to give the new hide a try, since the one that I ordered is made for photographers that move around quite a bit. It’s not much more than a tarp with an opening for the lens to stick through, and a mesh opening to look through to spot the subject. It folds into a carrying pouch that you can wear on your belt if so inclined and weighs less than three pounds. The one that I ordered is the right colors for spring or fall, and if it works out well, I may eventually order a second one in white for our snowy winters here in Michigan.
Most of all, I’m looking forward to getting out in nice weather for a change, and the forecast is looking good for that right now. For the last month or more, if it was warm on a weekend, it was cloudy and gloomy, if there was good light, it’s been cold. The forecast for the upcoming weekend is for slightly above average temperatures and sunny skies, something I’ve not had since last fall.
Also if by magic, since my last post where I complained about not having enough time to blog, I’ve been getting home an average of an hour earlier than I was when I wrote that post. That still doesn’t leave me a lot of time to work on my blog, it’s still more time than I used to have. And, I still don’t have time to make it outside during the week. So, I’m really excited about having two good days to be out and about for a change.
I shouldn’t have typed that last paragraph, since I did, work has gone back to the way that it was before, leaving me just enough time to eat, sleep, and do the other things required just to survive. Still, I’m looking forward to a full weekend of being outside starting tomorrow.
Well, it’s Sunday morning as I type this, and Saturday was every bit as nice as they had predicted. Although, the day did begin well below freezing, so I began with some drive by birding at the Muskegon County wastewater facility as I have been doing. The light was so good that I installed a polarizing filter to the 400 mm lens to shoot ducks in flight. The polarizing filter helps to cut the glare coming off from the water, but it seemed to shift the colors of the ducks that I shot. Look at the colors on this northern shoveler’s wings…
…compared to the photos earlier in this post.
Also, nice weather brought out a lot of birders, keeping most of the birds well out of range of my camera. Still, I was having fun trying to get good shots of ducks in flight.
I hate to brag, but I’m getting better all the time. However, there are still times when the birds won’t cooperate. I saw this pair of hooded mergansers, and tried to get a photo with both of them looking back at me at the same time, this was the best that I could do.
Then, there are the wood ducks. Getting close to one out in the open is tough enough to begin with, then, they have so many colors in so many places, that it’s hard to get an image showing all those colors in one shot.
That one shows the purple on the back of the duck’s head, but then you can’t see how colorful its face is.
That one does a better job of showing the duck’s face, but then you can’t see the purple on the back of his head. It’s going to take perfect lighting at the perfect angle to fully capture all the colors of a male wood duck, so I’ll keep trying.
Once it had warmed up, I went to the headquarters of the Muskegon State Game Area, but there were some people target shooting there. they were set-up so that they were shooting right at the best birding trail, so I left. My next stop was Lane’s Landing, but by that time, most of the birds were taking their afternoon siesta, and I saw very few birds, and none close enough for a photo. I hope to do better today.
Sunday turned out to be a pretty good day, I could fill a post with the photos that I shot today, but I’ll stick to the notable ones, starting with another lifer for me, a rusty blackbird.
I came across a small flock of them in a swamp near the Muskegon River as I was scouting for places to use the new portable hide when it arrives, and I managed to get that one good image, plus another not so good image of one of the flock.
The rusty blackbird looks a lot like a common grackle, but the common crackle has a much longer tail as you can see here.
I also got my first photos ever of a bird that I used to see quite often when I hunted, an American Woodcock.
They’re an odd-looking bird, their eyes are so far back on their head that they can see behind themselves.
They also have a flexible bill that they use to probe the soil for worms, and they constantly bob up and down as they walk. They are considered a shorebird even though they are seldom found near a shore, other than a small inland lake from time to time.
With the photos of those two species, I am now two-thirds of the way through the list from the Audubon Society that I’m working from as I try to photograph every species of bird seen regularly in Michigan. Not bad, it’s only taken me a few years to make it this far, now I need some time to be able to catch up in posting to the series of posts that I’m doing as I continue to cross new species off from the list. But, that would probably take away time that I could use in search of more species to cross off from the list.
I know that my ramblings about working on the My Photo Life List bore some people, but it’s one of the best things that I have ever undertaken. It helps to keep my eyes and my mind sharp as search for new species, and how to identify birds quickly. It’s improved my skills as a photographer as I often have to shoot under less than ideal conditions when I first see a new species. I’m learning to be more patient as a scan a flock of birds to see if there are any different species “hiding” within a flock of birds. Mostly, I’m learning how diverse birds are, how beautifully marked many of what are considered plain birds are, such as the woodcock, and I’m also learning much more about the state that I live in, Michigan, as I search out the correct habitats for the birds that I need to find yet.
Moving on, some of the insect-eating birds have returned from down south, including the eastern phoebe…
…and eastern bluebirds.
At one point, the swallow was discouraging the bluebird from using one of the nesting boxes people have installed in the area, but they were too far away from me to get any photos of that.
I did get photos of two buffleheads fighting over a female.
I shot close to 100 photos of them going at it, but I’ll just post that one.
I added to my collection of good photos of ducks in flight, or I suppose that I should say, ducks landing.
This will be too many photos for this post, but I have to use them all. Male Bufflehead are quite comical in the way that they land as they are trying to impress females.
After they hit the water, they ride on top of the water as tall as they can make themselves look.
Until they run out of steam, and slip straight down into the water.
It’s fun to watch them as they run across the water to build up speed so that they can skate on top of the water until they sink, then surface, bobbing their heads up and down, all to impress a female nearby. One of these days, I’m going to be in the right position and in the right circumstances to shoot a good video of them going at it.
Well, that’s about it for this post, but I’m going to throw in one last photo that shows that spring has finally arrived here in Michigan.
It’s so good to step outside and here all the birds that have returned singing away in the mornings, and it gets better each day as more birds arrive.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
I’ve been working on this post for weeks now, during the few moments when I have a chance to do anything with it. My work schedule allows me about an hour to myself in the morning, and that includes eating breakfast and getting dressed for work. On many evenings I have about an hour or a little more to myself, and that includes making supper and doing dishes after I eat. The only part of the week when I have any free time at all is on the weekends and that’s my time to be out shooting photos, editing them when I get home, adding keywords, and all the other things that I need to get done since I have no time during the work week.
Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t been commenting on your blog posts, it isn’t that I didn’t enjoy the posts, but I simply have no free time for myself the way that my current work schedule is.
So, I am going to take a break from blogging for a while, until my schedule changes so that I have more time for both my blog and all of yours’. My schedule should change late this spring, about the time that I take my vacation in the middle of May, as the parts that I carry won’t be used on the next year’s model of car.
I may whip out a few of the posts on species of birds for the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on, since I’m so far behind doing those posts. If I do publish any of those posts, I’ll turn off the comments and likes, since those posts are rather boring to most people anyway. I know who the readers are who actually appreciate those posts whether they comment or like the post anyway, and that way I won’t feel as obligated to keep up with their posts on their blogs, as I simply don’t have the time right now.
I really don’t want to take a break right now, as with the weather improving and the light getting better, I’m back to shooting some very good images again.
So for now, it’s back to the post that I have been working on for a while.
The temperatures have been up and down around here over the past two weeks, with some days feeling like early spring, and others feeling like the middle of winter. It snowed here most of the day on Saturday, but by Sunday afternoon, it was feeling and looking like spring again.
Other than the dramatic change in the weather between Saturday and Sunday this weekend, the big news was how many species of birds are returning from their winter homes already.
I’m really looking forward to this spring, and trying to improve my photos even more than what I have already. One group of birds that I’m going to focus on early is waterfowl, mainly ducks.
I can see that I’m going to have a lot of fun shooting the ducks in flight, both for their beauty and to show how different species make it airborne. For example, the male ring-necked duck in these next two photos was able to launch itself into the air without a running start. However, the lesser scaup that it was hanging out with need a running start to build enough speed to get off the water.
So, the ring-necked duck was staying low and close to the scaup as you can see better in this photo. You can also see that the two species look similar, but between the way that they take off and the differences in their bills, it’s really quite easy to tell them apart in a good photo.
Here’s a for the record photo, a lone trumpeter swan on a frozen farm pond…
…because it’s unusual to see a lone swan since they mate for life, you almost always see at least two together most of the time. This may have been a young male looking for a territory to call its own.
I was afraid that my blog would end up being just gulls…
…with an occasional bird of another species once in a while.
But with the return of more species of birds every day, that shouldn’t happen.
Another week has gone by, and I’ve had very little time to work on this post. My work schedule leaves me with no time for blogging except for on the weekends, and then I’d rather be out shooting photos than writing about shooting photos. This past week was worse because I had that nasty cold which caused me to need more sleep, but it’s been the same since I started this run in January. All that I have time for during the week is to eat, sleep, and work.
My plan for over the winter had been to post a few of the species of birds that I have saved for the My Photo Life List project that I’ve been working on, but I haven’t had the time to do any of those posts along with my regular posts. That’s too bad in a way, for I have been finding a few new to me species of birds this winter, like this lesser black-backed gull that I found on Saturday.
And, I was able to better images of an adult glaucous gull also…
…if I remember correctly, my best photos of that species were of a juvenile, so I can update the post for that species with good images of an adult.
As with most things, I jumped into that project without thinking through everything that it entails, such as looking at thousands of gulls…
…to find the two odd individuals from within that huge flock of mostly ring-billed and herring gulls. On the other hand, I’ve been learning so much from taking on that project about birds, photography, and myself, that I’m extremely happy that I decided to tackle it. Who knew that common gulls like the ring-billed go through a breeding plumage phase?
And, getting good photos of a bird in question makes it easier to properly identify which species it is. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a greater black-backed gull, so I assumed that the lesser black-backed from above was also a greater, until I got good photos. Then, I saw that the gull in question has yellow legs, making it a lesser black-backed gull, since greater black-backed gulls have pink legs. If I had been working from just my memories of the bird in question, I wouldn’t have been able to make a positive ID.
Okay, the only way that I wrote the introduction to this post where I explained that I’ll be taking a break from blogging for a while is by bringing my Macbook Pro with me while working, and typing while the trailer is being unloaded and then reloaded again.
I’m going to throw in a few more of my most recent photos to finish this off.
By the way, I shot another video of northern shovelers in a feeding frenzy, and it’s the best video that I’ve shot to date.
I should have, but didn’t, use my newest acquisitions to shoot that video. With all that I’ve been working lately, I’ve been able to afford a very sturdy but simple tripod and a gimbal head to go on the tripod. After much soul-searching, I went with a cheap off brand of gimbal head, only after having tested it out in the store with my birding set-up mounted on the gimbal head. While I’m sure that the head that I purchased wouldn’t be good enough for one of the monster long lenses that I’ll never be able to afford, it seems to be adequate for the medium length lenses that I have.
I also shot this image of a goose after it had fallen through thin ice and was on its way to catch up with the rest of the flock that had flown across the ice.
I was surprised how easy it is to follow a moving subject the very first time that I used the gimbal head, it will only get better in the future. In some ways, it’s easier to follow the motion of a subject with the tripod and gimbal head supporting the camera, allowing me to concentrate on tracking the subject in a nice smooth manner. That’s because I’m not dealing with my own wobbling around, the camera and lens are steady on the gimbal head making it easier to pan with the subject’s motion.
The gimbal head on the tripod will also come in very handy once I begin doing more of my photography from a blind or hide. That’s because the camera/lens can be balanced on the gimbal head so that the lens stays pointed where ever I want it pointed. So, I can leave everything set-up pointed in the general direction that I plan to shoot in, rather than having to set the camera down all the time because it’s too heavy to hold up all the time.
I didn’t use a hide or the new gimbal head, but I did sit stationary waiting for many of the small songbirds in this post, including these.
While these are good, I’m sure that if I were in a hide and had the camera all set-up on the gimbal head/tripod that I’d be able to do even better.
Like I said, I should have used the tripod for the video, but I had gulls flying overhead all the time, doing what gulls are known to do, as in pooping in flight so often that I had to wash my car on my way home, so I decided not to risk getting pooped on myself, since I can’t use the tripod and gimbal head inside of my Subaru.
You can be sure that I’ll continue to play with the new tripod/head set-up, just as I continue to play with lenses and settings.
A while back, I wrote that I had come up with new bird in flight settings based on using the manual mode, those settings worked so well that I’ve been using the manual mode more often lately for both flying and perched birds.
Shooting in manual works best if I’m shooting the same or very similarly colored species of birds multiple times, so that I can get the exposure perfect for the birds. Then, it doesn’t matter if the background changes from light to dark or vice versa, the bird is exposed correctly most of the time.
I also used that photo to make another point, since I shot it with the 70-200 mm lens, you can see much more of the background due to the use of the wider lens. Most of the time a longer lens works better to reduce distractions in the background, but there are times when I like the wider view better. What I should have done is to have used the 100 mm f/2.8 macro lens for that shot, not that I needed the added focal length, but so that I could have used a smaller aperture to blur the background more. But, I’m not used to getting that close to my subjects.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
I may as well start at the beginning for a change, since it’s rare that one of my first photos of a day is also one of best, unless it’s a sunrise photo.
With the eagle perched there and willing to pose for me, I switched camera bodies and long lens/tele-converter set-ups to shoot this one.
As I sat there watching the eagle, it assumed an aggressive posture to warn away other raptors, letting me know that another raptor was in the area.
It turned out that a red-tailed hawk that was being mobbed by crows had landed in the same tree as the eagle. I didn’t get a good shot of the hawk though, here’s the best that I could do.
If the hawk thought that landing near an eagle would discourage the crows, it was mistaken, for the crows paid no attention to the eagle, and the eagle paid no attention to the crows.
The eagle was focused on the hawk, and giving the hawk “the look”, which meant that the eagle thought that the hawk should move on.
It wasn’t long before the hawk took off, taking its entourage of crows with it, leaving the eagle by itself again.
Some of those were shot with the new 7D body, some with the older one. Some were shot with the 100-400 mm lens and 2 X tele-converter, some with the 400 mm lens and the same tele-converter. In good light, both set-ups are about equal as far as image quality.
I had very high hopes for the day, there was great light, very light winds, but very few birds. I saw very few mallards or Canada geese on Saturday, I have no idea where they had all moved to. I did find gulls to practice on though.
I was using the newer body with the 100-400 mm lens with the 1.4 X tele-converter for these next two. That set-up works great when I get very close to birds, I can zoom out to get the entire bird…
…or zoom in for a head shot.
I used the same set-up to get the best images of a snow bunting that I’ve ever shot.
They may not have the wow factor of some other species of birds, but I love their markings…
…and it was nice of this one to do its yoga exercises while I was shooting photos.
They’ve created a short nature trail at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, and so I walked it on Saturday for the first time. I missed the other birds because I was trying for only very good images, but I did get a chickadee…
…if I had been quicker, I may have gotten a shot of it as it tried to perch on my hat, but I had to settle for this one.
Stepping out of the woods and into one of the fields, I was greeted by two red-tailed hawks hunting together, probably a mated pair.
I had very high hopes for this weekend, as you can see in my photos so far, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky most of the time. However, two things limited the number of images that I shot. One was a lack of birds at the wastewater facility, and the other is that I’ve come down with a nasty cold or the flu. It’s hard to get close to birds when your nose is running all the time, and you’re coughing and sneezing most of the time as well. Yesterday, Sunday, I started at the Muskegon Lake Nature preserve hoping to sneak up on a few of the smaller birds there, but between how much noise I was making due to the cold, and just how cruddy I felt, I had to give it up and return to the wastewater facility where I could do most of my birding from my Subaru. I saw some promising signs that the waterfowl are returning, however, they stayed well out of camera range.
I must apologize to the people whose blogs I follow and comment on also, I’ve had a headache for the past three days which only gets worse when I try to comprehend what they have written. I’ll try to get caught up once I’m feeling better.
It’s now Tuesday morning, and this cold is still kicking my butt. That hasn’t been helped by returning to work yesterday. The hardest thing to deal with is trying to get enough sleep with the long hours that I have to work. At least I got a nap yesterday while waiting for the truck to be unloaded then reloaded on the other side of the state. I’ll probably do the same thing today.
Anyway, I’m going to throw in a few more photos that don’t require any comments from me, then call it good for this post.
It may take me a while before I’m able to catch up on every one else’s posts, and the same will apply to comments that people may leave to this post also. Last night, I came home, ate supper, did the dishes, and went straight to bed, I’ll probably do the same tonight the way that I feel right now.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
It was another mostly dreary weekend, that is for all of Saturday and most of Sunday. I went to a local park that I hadn’t been to in a while on Saturday, then went to the Muskegon County wastewater facility on Sunday. It was Sunday afternoon when gale force winds finally blew the clouds away to give me the best light that I’ve had for photography since the end of November.
I’ve shot more interesting photos of a Canada goose before, but I think that the photo above is the best technically as far as sharpness and exposure. The goose appears to pop out of the background, almost to the point of looking as if I combined two photos into one. That was shot with the 400 mm prime lens.
Unfortunately, because of the extremely strong winds, all the birds were hunkered down to stay out of the wind. They were having such a difficult time flying that I didn’t have the heart to try to get close to them which would make them take flight. But, in the few photos that I did shoot, I realized that I’ve just been killing time while waiting for good light all of this past winter.
The two days this past weekend couldn’t have been more different. On Saturday, it was cool and a bit foggy, with just a hint of a breeze now and then. Rather than walking in the park closest to me as I usually do, I went a few miles away to Palmer Park, which I used to walk on a regular basis. However, the trail that I most wanted to take was the boardwalk that ran through a swamp and connected trails maintained by Kent County with trails maintained by the City of Wyoming, Michigan. The last few times I walked there, the boardwalk was closed due to damage caused by flooding, mostly to the footings that held the boardwalk up over the swamp. But, rather than repair the boardwalk, I found that it had been ripped out completely.
I also found that most of the birds were feeding high in the tops of trees. We had a couple of very windy days towards the end of last week, and I believe that the birds were taking advantage of there being no wind to look for food in the tops of trees. I even walked the trail that runs right on the edge of the park, where there are houses right next to the trail, with many of the homes having bird feeders in the backyard. I didn’t see a single bird on any of the many feeders that I saw. Most of our winter resident birds use bird feeders, but they don’t live on seeds alone, they eat mostly insects in the wild, and I think that’s what they were doing on Saturday.
That’s the only photo that I shot of a bird other than a few mallards which I’ll get to later. Because of the weather conditions and the light, it wasn’t worth shooting any other photos of birds in the treetops. It was very nice to hear them and watch them at times, but any photos would have been as bad as the one above.
I chose to walk Palmer Park because I knew that there would be other things to photograph besides birds, and that I’d also be able to try out the 100-400 mm lens on subjects that would require that I used its ability to focus up close. The strength of the 300 mm lens is that it functions almost like a macro lens because it focuses at such a short distance. According to the specifications, the 100-400 mm lens should focus as well as close as the 300 mm lens. I’m not convinced that it does though, it doesn’t seem to be as sharp as the 300 mm lens up close.
Before I get to the photos, I’ve been reading Allen’s blog, New Hampshire Garden Solutions, for years now, and I still can’t identify any of the mosses, fungi, or lichens that I see. Still, I find them both beautiful and interesting, and good subjects for photography.
It must be that this winter suits this moss quite well, as I’ve never seen so many of the spore bearing parts of moss as I saw here.
I’m probably wrong, but I think these are turkey tails.
I tried and failed to get them all in focus at the same time, but I still like this photo.
I’m afraid that this tree isn’t long for this world, as I say, I don’t know much about fungi, but this looks deadly to the tree to me.
The tree is almost 18 inches in diameter, and the entire side was covered with the fungus, here’s a closer look at it.
It’s hard to believe that I almost missed this very brightly covered one, but it was hiding in a difficult to get to spot.
Maybe my photos would have been better if it hadn’t been this kind of day.
You never know what critters you’ll find in the woods if you look hard enough.
Speaking of spring, I have no idea what this plant is, but it looks as if it’s getting ready to bloom.
I spent some time admiring the artwork produced by insects in a fallen log…
…and looking for a good background to shoot these alder catkins.
I found a few mallards in one of the small ponds, and was all set to catch them at take off. However, they refused to take flight while I was ready, they walked back into the reeds that surround the pond. I gave up waiting, but as I began to walk away, then they burst into flight. I was lucky, one pair circled me before moving on to the next pond.
I suppose that those aren’t too bad considering the conditions, dreary and a bit foggy, but compare them to this one from Sunday when I finally had some good light for a change.
Have I said that I love the 7D Mk II and the way that it can track flying birds?
It took me a little over a year to fully understand how to get the auto-focusing system set-up for what and how I shoot, but it was worth it! This was shot with the new 400 mm prime lens, as were the mallards in good light just above.
I learned something again on this day, I had thought that the 400 mm prime lens wasn’t as good as the 100-400 mm lens is in tracking birds in flight, but it all depends on the light. With good light, the 400 mm lens does just fine, since I got a good focus lock on the kingfisher while it was in the open, the 400 mm lens continued to track it as it flew through some cattails.
It stayed locked onto the kingfisher as it prepared to land on one of the cattails…
…but even at ten frames per second, I didn’t catch the actual landing…
…and I had to settle for these.
That’s when I knew that I’ve been just killing time, waiting for better light for photography!
This series also makes me realize that all of the money that I’ve spent on better photo gear and the time that I’ve put into learning how to get the best out of it has all been worth it as well. There are two reasons that I’ve been working so hard to improve my photos, one is to capture action series like the one above, the other is to get better images to help me identify birds.
In my last post, I showed the differences between a crow and a raven, in this post, I’ll show the differences between a juvenile bald eagle…
…and a juvenile golden eagle.
The first clue was actually behavior, the golden eagle was hunting over a field the same way that a hawk would, gliding over the field and pausing to hover over one spot from time to time as it looked for lunch. Bald eagles seldom hunt that way, they prefer to perch and keep an eye out for prey.
The second clue is the golden brown feathers on the neck of the golden eagle, barely visible in this shot, but they are what gave the golden eagle its name.
The next clue is that the white on the underside of the golden eagle’s wings are in more of a distinctive pattern, rather than the mottled white of the juvenile bald eagle.
Then, there are their beaks, the bald eagle has a massive beak that joins its face above its eye, while the golden eagle has a smaller beak that meets its face below its eye.
Finally, there’s the white band on the golden eagle’s tail, young bald eagles may show some white on their tails, but never in a distinct band like the golden eagle has.
I’ve had a couple of very long days at work this week, but this weekend is supposed to be a fantastic early spring weekend with warm temperatures and plenty of sunlight. I sure hope so, as I’ve been getting ready mentally all week-long since I saw the forecast. The very long work days have meant that I haven’t had much time to work on this post, and the warm sunny weekend that they forecast is here. So, here’s the rest of the photos that I shot this past weekend.
And with those, I’m out of here. I’m going to finish the last of my coffee, and get out there in the sun to shoot a few good photos for a change.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
In my last post, I had a terrible photo of a male horned lark, the only reason that I included it was because he was singing his spring song. The very next day, Sunday, I heard this little guy singing his spring song also!
It was nice of him to take a split second off from trying to find something to eat to pose so nicely for me. Maybe it was because the sun came out as I was photographing him, and that prompted him to stop and sing a few bars in the warmth of the sun.
I am so spoiled by my camera gear these days, and I’ve learned what sounded like overkill when I heard that the 7D Mk II had 65 focus points does indeed make it easier to get a better image.
So does getting closer…
…and even closer.
That’s where having so many focus points comes in handy, I was able to put one of them on the squirrel’s eye so that its eyes were perfectly in focus. Those were shot at 400 mm and were not cropped at all. So, if I had left the one focus point that I used in the center, the composition wouldn’t have been as good and I would have had more empty space in the image. It may look like I used the single focus point in the center, but I moved it up one row, and shifted it two to the right for that image.
I shot this one at 170 mm and didn’t crop it…
…but I don’t like that image as well because you can see the reflection of snow in the squirrel’s eye as well as my own reflection if I were to zoom in on the image. I like this one better, even though the light wasn’t as good.
I suppose that the reason that I’m so impressed by how useful all of the 65 focusing points available in the 7D is that there is so much hype in the marketing of cameras and lenses that when I find out that something that I thought was just hype turns out not to be, it sticks in my mind.
I had made a mistake the previous day. In my testing the 100-400 mm and 400 mm lenses indoors, the 400 mm lens outperformed the 100-400 mm lens by a wide margin as far as sharpness. So, I tried the 400 mm lens with the 1.4 X tele-converter behind it for all of my bird portrait shots that day. However, in my indoor tests, I was manually focusing on a subject that didn’t move, and had nothing around it to distract the auto-focusing system as there often is when shooting in the real world.
Since my indoor tests, I’ve noticed that the 400 mm prime lens doesn’t auto-focus as quickly or as accurately as the 100-400 mm zoom lens does, and on top of that, even once the 400 mm prime lens does focus on a subject, it is still prone to hunting for a focus even after that, unlike the 100-400 mm lens which locks on a subject and stays locked in.
That’s the reason that the photo of the horned lark singing came out as fuzzy as it is.
On the other hand, when there’s nothing around a subject to distract the auto-focusing system, the 400 mm prime lens with the tele-converter does extremely well.
Also, with the proper settings for both the camera and the lens, the 10-400 zoom lens does extremely well for birds in flight.
What that all means is that I’m not going to be able to dedicate one of the two lenses to birds in flight, and the other to portrait shots as I had planned. I’m going to have to size up the situation and choose which of the two lenses will perform the best under the conditions at the time. That’s not all bad though, it’s great to have two lenses that perform as well as these two do.
To some degree, that means that I have to take that into account as far as the way that I set-up each of the two 7D bodies as well. Fortunately, because of how versatile and programmable the 7D is, that won’t be a huge problem either.
Anyway, here’s the rest of the photos that I shot on Saturday at the wastewater facility near Muskegon.
And, here are the rest of the photos from Sunday around home.
I have my next order for camera gear ready to submit as soon as my income tax refund clears my bank account. This order will be accessories for the second 7D, memory cards, a screen protector, extra batteries, and a battery grip. I thought about doing without the battery grip, but in using one body with a grip and the second without, I almost have to add a grip to the second body. I really miss the extra support that I can give the camera with the battery grip on it, no matter which way I have the camera orientated. That’s another of those things that seem like overkill until you’ve tried it.
You may wonder what my hurry is, I’m going on vacation in the middle of May and I want to be as fully prepared for the week as I can possibly be. Last year, I was using the 300 mm lens with the 1.4 X tele-converter most of the time, and that set-up was the pits for the small birds like warblers that stay in the brush most of the time. I had to switch over to the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) to get a set-up that could catch those smaller birds. But then, my photos of the larger birds in flight didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped because the Beast simply does not do well when the subject is in motion.
Based on what I’ve seen from my two new longer lenses so far, the 100-400 mm lens will be the one that I choose when chasing warblers and other small birds. The 400 mm lens will be the one that I choose when I’m shooting larger birds such as eagles, whether stationary or in flight. The beauty of the newer lenses is that either of them will work in a pinch for the subjects that they may not be best suited for.
I got by last year with the limited memory cards and batteries, but again, I want to be fully prepared for this year’s vacation. I may do something else different this year as well. I’m thinking of getting a motel room one for night during the middle of the week so that I have electricity available to recharge the camera batteries, and where I can safely set-up my Macbook pro and download the photos that I’ve shot so far that week to make it easier to keep the photos organized.
Just thinking of my vacation, even though it’s still several months away, has put me into the planning mode. Trying to decide what to bring with me, and what to leave home this year. I do know that the way that I slowed down a little and made sure that I took care of myself last year worked out very well. I may have missed a few opportunities for photographs while I was taking the time to eat real meals, but I’m sure that I made up for that “lost time” later in the week when rather than being run down, I was alert and on the go to the very end of my week up north. I just hope that the weather is half as good as it has been the past few years.
That reminds me, I have a pair of hiking boots that I’ve only worn a few times since I purchased them, and the boots that I’ve been wearing are about worn out. I should switch over now and get used to the new pair before my vacation since I’ll be on my feet most of the time that week.
In the meantime, here’s a few leftovers from last fall.
The next two show the difference between a raven…
…and a crow, mostly the size and shape of their beaks.
I have a number of images of a great egret leftover from when I was fine tuning my settings for birds in flight, this is as good of time as any to use them up.
I have a few from last fall from around home to use up also.
It will be really nice when the sun makes its way higher above the horizon during the day to produce quality light for photography again!
There’s one odd thing that I should mention. When I ordered the second 7D body from B&H Photo, the way that I could get the cheapest price was to purchase the body with some accessories in a bundle, with them choosing the accessories. They were a 4T external hard drive, a 64 MB SD card, and a Lowepro camera backpack. I have set-up the external hard drive as a redundant back-up to the other 4T external drive that I already had. The SD card will come in handy, one can never have too many memory cards, especially when traveling. I haven’t had time to fully check out the backpack, since I already have two, however, this newest one looks as if it could be the one that I end up using most of all. I think that I can get the second body, my macro lens, and my 15-85 mm lens in this newest backpack, and it has room for lunch and a few other items in it as well. I think that it will work well on longer hikes when I take the minimum of gear with me and spend most of a day out in the woods.
But, the odd thing about the accessory package is that there were several hundred dollars worth of stuff in it, but by choosing that option, I got $300 off from the list price of the 7D. It makes no sense to me. I’m sure that B&H chose the items based on their excess stock, at least the items I received will be useful, unlike most of the packages I’ve seen bundled with a camera or lens.
I didn’t order the extra batteries from B&H though, because they have to go in a separate package and the shipping charges were more than I wanted to pay. I can pick up the batteries here locally.
Anyway, I’m about set for my vacation as far as photo gear. As far as my wish list goes, it has gotten much shorter the past few months, and I’m really in no hurry to purchase the items that remain on the list. I can get by quite well with the wide-angle lenses that I currently have for the time being. So, with that out of the way, time for a few more photos from last summer.
That wraps this post up, except for one last thing to say. In a way, it’s pretty sad that I make it out for both days of a weekend, and yet still have to fill the post with mostly leftover images from earlier in the year. Hopefully, that will change as soon as the weather around here improves.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!