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

Latest

When it’s too cold outside

Since my work schedule has me up in the wee hours of the morning, and it’s too cold to spend much time outside even after the sun comes up, I was sitting around thinking about photography and how to improve the images I shoot. These days, I almost always use a tripod for landscape photos, so that I can dial the ISO down to 100 for the best image quality, and let the shutter stay open as long as necessary, since landscapes don’t generally move to blur the image.

Snow scene before dawn

Snow scene before dawn

That was shot on my way to the Muskegon County wastewater facility well before the sun came up. I know that because here’s the view that I had as the sun came over the horizon once I had arrived at the wastewater facility.

Sunrise January 8, 2017

Sunrise January 8, 2017

That scene lasted for only a few seconds, long before I could get somewhere for a better shot of the sunrise, the color was gone.

It turned out to be another very slow day as far as photography, I shot a couple of more snow scenes.

The creek still flows

The creek still flows

 

Looking down the trail

Looking down the trail

On this day, instead of shooting only fair photos of flying Canada geese, I shot fair photos of mallards in flight as soon as there was enough light to do so.

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

 

Mallards taking off

Mallards taking off

 

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

 

Female mallard in flight

Female mallard in flight

 

Female mallard in flight

Female mallard in flight

 

Female mallard in flight

Female mallard in flight

I suppose that those aren’t too bad considering how gloomy it was and that they were all shot with the ISO set to 6400 trying to get enough light into the camera. I did find a few eagles, only one perched though, and it was in a bad spot.

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

 

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

There was a flock of crows on the other side of the road keeping their eyes on the eagle, here’s one of them.

American crow

American crow

A brief thin spot in the clouds allowed me to shoot this mourning dove at 800 mm, the 400 mm lens plus the 2 X tele-converter.

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

In fact, I spent most of the day practicing my manual focusing techniques with that combination.

Fidgety Herring gull

Fidgety Herring gull

 

Horned lark that wouldn't stop moving

Horned lark that wouldn’t stop moving

 

American tree sparrow that finally posed for me.

American tree sparrow that finally posed for me.

Those were the best that I could do yesterday, and I saw no point in going back today, which is Monday as I begin this post. By the way, none of the photos from the morning dove on were cropped at all, that’s why I’m trying to get better with the 400 mm lens with the 2 X tele-converter behind it.

Instead, I decided to do some indoor testing relating to the thoughts that I began this post with, how for landscapes, I use a tripod and can therefore set the ISO much lower. At first I couldn’t think of a suitable indoor subject for such a test. Over the past few winters, I’ve used a few different ones indoors as I experimented with my macro lens, my wide-angle lenses, or the extension tubes that I have. None of the subjects that I used for those tests really represented birds or wildlife well, even though one of the test subjects was a rubber ducky. The problem with it for testing is that it doesn’t have the fine detail of a real bird’s feathers. Then it hit me, I have a stuffed animal that an ex-girlfriend gave me 40 years ago.

My stuffed dog

My stuffed dog

That was shot with the 100-400 mm lens set to 400 mm, the camera ISO set to 100 and a several second exposure.

I learned a good deal in my testing, some of the things that I learned surprised me, but one thing that didn’t was that the 100-400 mm lens isn’t quite 400 mm even when zoomed all the way. That was confirmed when I switched to the 400 mm lens.

400 mm prime lens

400 mm prime lens

I hadn’t moved the dog or my tripod, yet the 400 mm lens gets a little closer than the 100-400 mm lens does. It’s common for zoom lenses not being quite the focal lengths that they are rated as.

But, here’s where the subject of image quality gets tricky. When I zoomed in on the stuffed dog’s eye in Lightroom, the 400 mm prime lens was significantly sharper than the 100-400 mm lens, even though it’s hard to see much difference in the full size photos. But, I prefer the color rendition of the 100-400 mm lens.

One of the things that surprised me right off the bat was how wobbly my tripod set-up is when using the long, heavy lenses. I had to set the shutter release to a two second delay to let everything stop moving before the shutter fired. The tripod legs are steady enough, as well as the head that I have on the tripod, but the quick release system that I have, along with the way that it mounts on the lenses seems to be where all the motion came from.

Also, the three-way head that I have may be rated to carry the weight of the long lenses, but getting aimed at the exact spot I wanted was a pain. I’m already planning to upgrade to a more suitable tripod system for my longer lenses, so that’s not really an issue, but it did open my eyes a little to how important that will be if I do begin using a tripod more often when shooting birds and wildlife.

Neither lens would auto-focus accurately in the low light in my kitchen, in order to get a sharp image, I had to manually focus to get a good sharp image. That led to the next surprise, the 100-400 mm lens is a royal pain in the you know where to manually focus. I think that it’s because of how fast it is to auto-focus, it requires only minute adjustments of the focus ring to make large differences in where it is focused at. I gave up testing that lens, and worked with just the 400 mm prime from there on for the most part. The 400 mm lens is a bit slower to auto-focus, and it requires that I turn the focus ring much more to make significant changes to where it is focused at, much like an old film era lens.

Next up, I added the 1.4 X tele-converter to the 400 mm prime lens. I found that I couldn’t manually focus accurately through the viewfinder, but if I went into the live view mode, and zoomed in on where I wanted the image to be in focus, I could pull off images like this.

400 mm lens and 1.4 X extender

400 mm lens and 1.4 X extender

That surprised me also, the 1.4 X extender didn’t seem to work well with that lens when I tried it in the field, but there was almost no loss of sharpness when mounted on the tripod.

Of course the next step was to switch to the 2 X extender on the 400 mm prime lens for this image.

400 mm prime lens and 2 X extender

400 mm prime lens and 2 X extender

There is a little fall-off in sharpness, but it still performed much better than I had expected, and better than cropping an image down to make the subject appear as close. That confirms the limited testing that I’ve done in the field with that lens so far.

I also learned a few things about my Canon 7D Mk II that I didn’t know before I did this testing. I had the ISO set manually to 100 for these test shots, or so I thought. When I went into live view to focus, I would see ISO 16000 appear in the screen while I was focusing. That makes sense, the camera had to turn up the ISO to form the live view image for me to see. Most of the time, I would switch live view off before I pressed the shutter release, but there was one time that I forgot to switch it off. Then, the  camera stayed at ISO 16000 even though I have it set in the menu system to never go higher than 12800. But, the results weren’t that bad.

800 mm ISO 16000

800 mm ISO 16000

You can’t see the noise in the image as it appears here, but when I zoomed in using Lightroom, I could see the noise then, not as much as I thought there would be, but there was some.

Yet another surprise was that when I forgot to turn off live view before taking the shot is that the camera crops the image slightly as you can see by comparing the last two photos. When I viewed the images in the camera, it showed the entire image with bars across the image, but when the images were sent to Lightroom, all that was sent were the parts of the image within the bars.

I went back and tried the 100-400 mm lens again, using live view, but that was my last surprise, that lens can not match the 400 mm prime lens in sharpness, at least not in this test. I would have guessed that the two lenses were about equal, that’s what I had found from using both in the field. I should repeat this testing someday when there’s good light outside to see if I get the same results.

Having had more time to think about my unscientific testing, I should have turned off the Image Stabilization of the 100-400 mm lens since it was mounted on a tripod. The experts say that isn’t necessary to turn it off, but I always do on my short lenses when I’m shooting landscapes, and it seems to work better.

I did switch the lenses to manual focus while I was manually focusing. Despite what Canon says about manual over-ride, I found that the camera would fight me as I manually focused, and it would attempt to set the focus where it wanted.

Okay then, this very unscientific testing did confirm my original thoughts, that if I were to use a tripod and set the ISO much lower, I can get better quality images that way, if the subject sits still long enough.

It also confirms something that I’ve been thinking about as I read lab reviews of lenses, they don’t always equate into real world results. For example, the 100-400 mm lens failed in what I was trying to do inside, but as I’ve used that lens as I normally do outside, it has stunned me with how good it is. I would have rated it equal to or better than the 400 mm prime lens from the images it has produced in the field. I suppose that lab tests have their place, they tell you how well a piece of camera gear will perform in the lab under controlled conditions.

You can’t trust the reviews done by many of the professional photographers, because many of them either receive some form of compensation from the manufacturers, or are angling to be one of those who receive some form of compensation from the manufacturers.

It’s also hard to trust user reviews as well, since one never knows if the person doing the review is being honest, or if they even know how to use the equipment that they are reviewing.

You could rent a lens for a week or two, but I’m not sure that one would become familiar enough with a lens in such a short period of time. If you were to rent it for a long enough count of time to become sure of its capabilities and shortfalls, you may as well have purchased it in the first place.

The manufacturer’s specifications don’t help much either. For example, many manufacturer’s give a spec for the least amount of light required for a camera to auto-focus, what they don’t tell you is how inaccurate the auto-focus becomes as the amount of light approaches that lowest limit. That’s what happened when I started the test that I did, both lenses seemed to auto-focus, however, the fuzzy photos that I got told me otherwise.

As always, I learned a great deal during this little exercise, about my camera, the lenses, and my tripod system. One thing that still puzzles me though is why there isn’t more noise visible in the image shot at ISO 16000. I have to use Lightroom to remove noise in photos shot at ISO 6400 or higher normally. That one is a real head scratcher.

I’ve heard that Live view focusing is the most accurate, because you are seeing what the sensor actually sees as it’s about to capture the image. You’re not using the focusing screen or relying on an auto-focus sensor to make the determination if the lens is in focus or not. I will say one thing though after this test, just how good the auto-focusing systems are today is amazing, despite their weaknesses.

So, another week has gone by, and I’ve made another trip to the Muskegon wastewater facility. It was a rare, almost sunny day, however a ground inversion in the atmosphere created a haze in the light, scattering it in ways that didn’t lead to the best photos. I tried to get my best images ever of a snow bunting using what I had learned from my indoor testing, but I couldn’t use live view focusing for them because they move around so much. Still, these aren’t bad considering that I was manually focusing the 400 mm lens with the 2 X extender behind it.

Snow bunting

Snow bunting

 

Snow bunting

Snow bunting

I’ll save the rest of the photos from my most recent trip for the next post, I’ll fill this one out with a few more images shot over the summer and fall. Heck, some go all the way back to spring.

???

Wood sorrel?

 

Lily of the valley?

Lily of the valley

 

Hawkweed?

Hawkweed?

 

Another that I've forgotten

Another that I’ve forgotten

 

Male brownheaded cowbird

Male brown-headed cowbird

 

I don't know what it is, but it's pretty

I don’t know what it is, but it’s pretty

 

White Pine

White Pine

 

From the viburnum family

From the viburnum family

 

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

 

Blue-eyed grass

Blue-eyed grass

 

Caterpillar

Caterpillar

 

Female brownheaded cowbird

Female brown-headed cowbird

Looking at these photos from last year make me wish that spring was here already! It’s been even gloomier here than usual this past week, other than on Sunday when I shot the snow buntings. It’s been warmer since then, which was nice, but the warm air has led to the snow melting, and that in turn has led to foggy days and nights with the moisture from the melting snow in the atmosphere. I am so ready for spring!

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

New Years Day 2017

Well, 2017 started on an optimistic note, nary a cloud in the sky at dawn when I arrived at the Muskegon County wastewater facility.

The first sunrise of 2017

The first sunrise of 2017

But as you can see, things are still frozen over around here, although we’ve lost most of the snow that’s fallen so far this winter.

New Years Day 2017

New Years Day 2017

I had high-hopes that I’d be able to test out the new 400 mm lens in good light, and I suppose you could say that I did, but not in the way that I had hoped. Although I tried very hard, I could not get close to a perched bird, not even one of the many starlings there.

Starling

Starling

I couldn’t even get close to a flying gull.

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

It’s a pretty pathetic day when that’s the best that I could do as far as flying gulls.

I titled one of my recent posts “I remember my failures”, but I also remember my successes, and I was getting some very good photos last fall before the clouds, snow, and cold set in for the winter, like this one.

Black-bellied plover, winter plumage

Black-bellied plover, winter plumage

It’s very difficult to match that photo when there are few birds around to begin with, and the few species of birds left for the winter are busy trying to stay alive, and don’t have time to pose for me. I think that I need an attitude adjustment, each photo that I shoot doesn’t have to be better than the one that I shot before. Still, there were several times on Sunday when I considered going somewhere else in hopes of finding birds that I could get closer to.

I was even wondering if it was worth it to go to the wastewater facility as often as I do, because I know that I can get better photos at other locations, even if the photos are of fewer species of birds. But, there is one reason for me to keep going back to the wastewater facility, to get photos of species of birds that I have never photographed before. On Christmas Day, I finally got photos of a northern shrike for example.

Anyway, I was a bit bored despite the good light on Sunday, so I decided to test out the new 400 mm lens on a few of the Canada geese flying in and out of the grassy cells, mostly because I couldn’t find any other birds to shoot.

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

 

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

 

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

 

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

I’m happy to report that the new lens does very well, when I get everything right. The 100-400 mm lens is easier to use, but the 400 mm lens can produce sharper images of birds in flight as you can see. I’m finding that there’s more of a learning curve to the 400 mm lens though.

I shot those photos while I was as close to a huge flock of geese as I could get without causing them to all take off as a flock, and picking and choosing which small flocks to shoot as the smaller flocks came and went.

What I wanted to do was find a way to photograph the entire flock, which numbered in the hundreds, I even shot a few photos as I would a landscape, with a very short lens, but then the geese were nothing but brown lumps in a brown field. I was scanning the flock with the 400 mm lens, trying to find a way to convey just how many geese there were there, when I saw a bit of orange in the flock. At first, I dismissed it as a mallard, but it didn’t look like it was the bill or foot of a mallard, so I kept watching that spot.

One greater white-fronted goose in a flock of Canada geese

One greater white-fronted goose in a flock of Canada geese

That image was cropped, and I don’t know if you can pick out the orange bill of the greater white-fronted goose or not. I still wasn’t sure if I was seeing a mallard or some other species of duck, so I continued to watch that spot, and eventually, two greater white-fronted geese stepped out into the open, here they are at 400 mm and not cropped.

Two greater white-fronted geese in a mixed flock

Two greater white-fronted geese in a mixed flock

I cropped this next one, also shot at 400 mm.

Two greater white-fronted geese in a mixed flock

Two greater white-fronted geese in a mixed flock

While those images may have been good enough for me to use in the My Photo Life List that I’m working on, I wanted better photos, so I put the 2 X tele-converter behind the 400 mm lens for these two photos.

Two greater white-fronted geese in a mixed flock

Two greater white-fronted geese in a mixed flock

 

Two greater white-fronted geese in a mixed flock

Two greater white-fronted geese in a mixed flock

Not great, but there’s no doubt that they are greater white-fronted geese, and not a domesticated species that had escaped into the wild. Another species that I can cross off from my list, not a bad way to start the new year.

I would have preferred that I could have isolated just the greater white-fronted geese with none of the Canada geese in the frame, but I had to take what they gave me. Most of the time they were out of sight within the huge flock of Canada geese.

Not to brag, but I still have excellent eyesight, several other serious birders had checked out the flock of Canada geese without seeing the two greater white-fronted geese in the flock. I made the mistake of telling one of the other birders of my find, and it wasn’t long before there were several other cars surrounding me. So, I moved down to the next cell, and found one northern pintail duck hanging out with the mallards and Canada geese.

Northern pintail drake, mallards, and Canada geese

Northern pintail drake, mallards, and Canada geese

The pintail is to the left in the frame, I wanted a better photo, but that’s the best I could do.

A little later, I was scanning another portion of the flock of geese, when I spotted another northern pintail, see if you can pick it out of the flock.

Northern pintail duck surrounded by Canada geese

Northern pintail duck surrounded by Canada geese

Here’s the 800 mm and cropped version.

Northern pintail duck surrounded by Canada geese

Northern pintail duck surrounded by Canada geese

So, I guess that you could say that I did test out the new 400 mm lens, using it as a 800 mm manually focused lens to pick out individual birds out of the flock. Manually focusing is a pain, especially when the bird is moving, even if the movement is slow.

Common goldeneye

Common goldeneye

But, I did have good light, which helped, that’s one of my better photos of that species because I got the green of its head and its small crest in that image. I also got one of my better photos of a gadwall duck.

Gadwall duck

Gadwall duck

I’d rather not post photos of bird’s butts as they fly away from me, but there are times when I have little choice.

Gadwall duck in flight

Gadwall duck in flight

Maybe someday, I’ll get a really good photo of that species.

The same holds true of the kestrels…

Male American kestrel

Male American kestrel

…they’re so small and wary, that I find it impossible to sneak up as close to one as is required for a good photo. You can see that he had already spotted me and was watching intently to see if I’d try to get closer. As I was trying to switch to bird in flight settings, he took off before I could.

Here’s the last three photos from New Years Day.

Juvenile ruddy duck

Juvenile ruddy duck

 

Common goldeneye

Common goldeneye

 

Common goldeneye

Common goldeneye

I knew none of those would be great portraits, it was the light on the water in each photo that made me decide to shoot those.

So, that’s all of my photos from New Years Day, unless I were to bore you with a bunch of photos of the Canada geese in flight, and I’ve already put enough of those photos in this post.

Proofreading this post has made me realize just how spoiled I’ve become, both in the subjects that I shoot, and in the quality of the images that I get. While other than the greater white-fronted geese, the birds in this post may be very common for me to see, they aren’t for most people. And as far as image quality, the Canada geese in flight photos from this post show just how far I’ve come as a photographer the last few years. They’re sharp, in focus, and most of all, exposed properly so that you can see the details in their feathers, both under and on the tops of their wings.

Some of that is due to better equipment, using the 7D Mk II rather than the 60D, and better lenses, but most of the improvement has been because I’m learning how to get the photos that I’ve always wanted.

Probably the biggest lesson that I’ve learned is that every piece of photo equipment has certain quirks in the way that it operates and performs. I could easily do an entire post about the quirks that I’ve found with my gear, but I’ll give you a couple of examples. The 100-400 mm lens shows a wider depth of field at similar settings than the other three long lenses that I own, while the new 400 mm prime lens requires 1/3 to 2/3 stop more light in exposure compensation than my other lenses. I have no idea why those things are true, but they are.

In the past, I’d fight those quirks, thinking that I could force the equipment to perform exactly like the textbook says it should perform, but I’ve learned to accept those quirks and set the camera accordingly. If I’m using the 100-400 mm lens, I simply open the aperture one stop to get the depth of field that I want for an image. If I’m using the 400 mm prime lens, I add that 1/3 to 2/3 stop more light in the exposure compensation to get to the same exposure as my other lenses.

That may be the most important photography tip that I can pass along, learn your equipment and how it operates. Just because some one else uses certain settings to get a great image doesn’t mean that you’ll get the same results at those same settings.

Anyway, after the fairly nice day on New Years Day, we’ve been back in the deep freeze with almost constant snowfall. The snow hasn’t added up to very much, since it’s all been the light, fluffy lake effect snow, but with the clouds and the cold, I haven’t been out at all this week. I even volunteered to work Monday, which is normally a day off for me.

The forecast for this coming weekend is the same, cold, cloudy, and more light snow. So, I guess that I’ll have to fill this post out with photos from last summer and fall. That leads me to one last (for this post) comment on photo gear. Recently I said that purchasing the 300 mm lens was probably a mistake, after giving it more thought, I’ve changed my mind. While it may not be as good for birds…

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

 

American robin

American robin

…as either of my newest lenses, it’s an excellent lens for shooting subjects very close to me, such as flowers.

Bindweed

Bindweed

 

I forgot again

I forgot again

 

Sweet pea

Sweet pea

 

Dandelion seeds

Dandelion seeds

That lens is also excellent for insects as well.

Damselfly

Damselfly

 

Skipper

Skipper

Up close, the 300 mm lens is as good as any lens I own, it’s only at distances more than 25 feet that its performance begins to drop off. So, when I go somewhere such as Aman Park or Loda Lake to photograph flowers, and of course the insects on the flowers, I can take the 300 mm lens since it’s like a long-range macro lens. The extra distance that I can shoot insects from with the 300 mm lens versus the 100 mm macro lens means that I can get the shot without spooking the insects as I would if I used the macro lens. And, while the 300 mm lens may not be my best lens for birds, it does an acceptable job on birds.

That leads me another one of those quirks I was writing about earlier. According to the specifications, the 100-400 mm lens is supposed to be at least as good as the 300 mm lens at close distances, but in the limited number of times I’ve tried the 100-400 mm lens out on very close subjects, it hasn’t been able to match what I can do with the 300 mm lens.

However, flowers and insects are still several moths away, and thinking about photographing them only makes the current weather outside more miserable, so I’d better end this post now before I whine about the weather even more than I already do.

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

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

The green-winged teal (Anas carolinensis or Anas crecca carolinensis) is a common and widespread duck that breeds in the northern areas of North America except on the Aleutian Islands. It was considered conspecific with the common teal (A. crecca) for some time but the issue is still being reviewed by the American Ornithologists’ Union; based on this the IUCN and BirdLife International do not accept it as a separate species at present. However, nearly all other authorities consider it distinct based on behavioral, morphological, and molecular evidence. The scientific name is from Latin Anas, “duck” and carolinensis, “of Carolina”.

This dabbling duck is strongly migratory and winters far south of its breeding range. It is highly gregarious outside of the breeding season and will form large flocks. In flight, the fast, twisting flocks resemble waders.

This is the smallest North American dabbling duck. The breeding male has grey flanks and back, with a yellow rear end and a white-edged green speculum, obvious in flight or at rest. It has a chestnut head with a green eye patch. It is distinguished from drake common teals (the Eurasian relative of this bird) by a vertical white stripe on side of breast, the lack of both a horizontal white scapular stripe and the lack of thin buff lines on its head.

The females are light brown, with plumage much like a female mallard. They can be distinguished from most ducks on size, shape, and the speculum. Separation from female common teal is problematic.

In non-breeding (eclipse) plumage, the drake looks more like the female.

It is a common duck of sheltered wetlands, such as taiga bogs, and usually feeds by dabbling for plant food or grazing. It nests on the ground, near water and under cover. While its conservation status is not evaluated by IUCN at present due to non-recognition of the taxon, it is plentiful enough to make it a species of Least Concern if it were; it is far more plentiful than the common teal.[8] It can be seen in vast numbers in the Marismas Nacionales of western Mexico, a main wintering area.

This is a noisy species. The male has a clear whistle, whereas the female has a feeble quack.

The American green-winged teal breeds from the Aleutian Islands, northern Alaska, Mackenzie River delta, northern Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Labrador south to central California, central Nebraska, central Kansas, southern Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland, and the Maritime Provinces.

The American green-winged teal winters from southern Alaska and southern British Columbia east to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and south to Central America. It also winters in Hawaii

Nesting chronology varies geographically. In North Dakota, green-winged teal generally begin nesting in late April. In the Northwest Territories, Canada, green-winged teal begin nesting between late May and early July. At Minto Lakes, Alaska, green-winged teal initiate nesting as early as June 1 and as late as July 20.

Green-winged teal become sexually mature their first winter. They lay 5 to 16 eggs. The incubation period is 21 to 23 days.

Green-winged teals often fledge 34 to 35 days after hatching or usually before 6 weeks of age. Young green-winged teal have the fastest growth rate of all ducks.

Male green-winged teal leave females at the start of incubation and congregate on safe waters to molt. Some populations undergo an extensive molt migration while others remain on or near breeding grounds. Females molt on breeding grounds.

Green-winged teal are among the earliest spring migrants. They arrive on nesting areas almost as soon as the snow melts. In early February, green-winged teal begin to depart their winter grounds, and continue through April. In central regions green-winged teal begin to arrive early in March with peak numbers in early April.

In northern areas of the United States, green-winged teal migrating to wintering grounds appear in early September through mid-December. They begin migrating into most central regions during September and often remain through December. On their more southerly winter areas, green-winged teal arrive as early as late September, but most do not appear until late November.

Green-winged teal inhabit inland lakes, marshes, ponds, pools, and shallow streams with dense emergent and aquatic vegetation. They prefer shallow waters and small ponds and pools during the breeding season. Green-winged teal are often found resting on mudbanks or stumps, or perching on low limbs of dead trees. These ducks nest in depressions on dry ground located at the base of shrubs, under a log, or in dense grass. The nests are usually 2 to 300 ft (0.61 to 91.44 m) from water. Green-winged teal avoid treeless or brushless habitats. Green-winged teal winter in both freshwater or brackish marshes, ponds, streams, and estuaries. As they are smaller birds, they tend to stay in the calmer water.

Green-winged teal, more than any other species of duck, prefer to seek food on mud flats. Where mud flats are lacking, they prefer shallow marshes or temporarily flooded agricultural lands. They usually eat vegetative matter consisting of seeds, stems, and leaves of aquatic and emergent vegetation. Green-winged teal appear to prefer the small seeds of nutgrasses (Cyperus spp.), millets (Panicum spp.), and sedges to larger seeds, but they also consume corn, wheat, barley, and buttonbush (Cephalanthus spp.) seeds. In marshes, sloughs, and ponds, green-winged teal select the seeds of bulrushes, pondweeds, and spikerushes (Eleocharis spp.). To a lesser extent they feed upon the vegetative parts of muskgrass (Chara spp.), pondweeds, widgeongrass (Ruppia maritima), and duckweeds (Lemna spp.). They will occasionally eat insects, mollusks, and crustaceans. Occasionally during spring months, green-winged teal will gorge on maggots of decaying fish which are found around ponds.

 

On to my photos:

These photos were shot at the Muskegon County wastewater facility over the past few years.

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

 

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

 

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

 

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

 

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

 

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

 

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca in flight

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca in flight

 

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca

This is number 200 in my photo life list, only 150 to go!

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

wordpress_logo_post_whenever2

I’m tired of planning

First of all, I hope that every one had a Merry Christmas and that the new year is beginning well for you!

Although I know that I have much more of it to do, for right now, I’m tired of planning for the future and researching camera gear, I want to get out and shoot some good photos!

I have found a few more places to check out when the weather gets better, but there’s something that really irks me that I run into many times when checking out places online. A perfect example of this is the Detroit River International  Wildlife Sanctuary, it sounded like a great place to go to find waterfowl, shorebirds, and wading birds. The website for the sanctuary has descriptions of the trails and the boardwalks that have been built to allow people to see and photograph the abundant wildlife there, but then you get to the kicker. Most of the sanctuary is closed to the public, including many of the trails and boardwalks, due to a lack of staffing in this instance, except for when they have an open house to hit visitors up for donations.

This is something that I run into time and time again, especially with places managed by the Federal Government and certain non-profit organizations, they have a website that tells you how great the place is, and what’s to be found there, but then I find that it’s closed to the public all or most of the time.

I understand that there are places that are too environmentally sensitive to allow unchecked public access, but what irks me is that to the Federal Government and these certain non-profit groups, most of the lands they hold are deemed too environmentally sensitive to allow any public access. At the same time, they are hitting me up for money because according to them, our public lands are under attack and they need money to fend off those attacks. My question is, why bother protecting public land when the public isn’t allowed access to them? And, as they continued to close off more and more areas to the public, then the people who want to get out and connect with nature are forced to use less and less land where public access is allowed, making those places more crowded all the time. Then, the overcrowding becomes an excuse to further limit access to public lands.

Maybe it bothers me so much because I’ve seen that scenario play out in one of what used to be my favorite parts of Michigan, what is now known as the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. That area was once two Michigan State Parks, and a few Michigan State Forest Campgrounds, along with some Michigan State Forest public land. Then, the Federal Government took control of the existing parks, and began adding more land, which I thought was a good thing. However, as time went on, more and more of the area was closed to the public, or you were only allowed to access it in certain places. The last time that I was up there, it was so crowded in the few areas where the public was allowed that I vowed never to return again. Oh well, there are plenty of places to go in Michigan, so if I have to cross a few places off from my list, it’s really not that big of a deal. I’d better quit here, while I’m behind, because I know many readers don’t agree with me on this subject.

I went to the Muskegon Wastewater facility on Christmas day, hoping to get some decent light to test out the new 400 mm lens in, but that didn’t happen. It was another dreary day here in West Michigan, and for most of the time that I was there, I couldn’t get a bird to sit still long enough to get any photo of them. It was not one of my better days, I almost got my Subaru stuck trying to drive on one of the roads that hadn’t been plowed in a while.

Eventually, there was a little bit more light, and a willing gull for me to use as a model when testing the new lens. Here’s the gull with the new 400 mm lens, and the image hasn’t been cropped at all.

Herring gull, 400 mm, not cropped

Herring gull, 400 mm, not cropped

I added the 1.4 X tele-converter to get to 560 mm for this one, which wasn’t cropped at all either.

Herring gull, 560 mm, not cropped

Herring gull, 560 mm, not cropped

The test didn’t go quite like I planned, as soon as I added the extender, I could only use the center focus point, so I couldn’t get the images as close to the same as I would have liked. Auto-focus doesn’t work at all when I swapped the extenders, going to the 2 X extender. But, out of habit, and wanting to keep the composition as close as I could for this photo, I still had the center focus point on the gull’s eye.

Herring gull, 800 mm, not cropped

Herring gull, 800 mm, not cropped

Not bad, it isn’t quite as sharp as without the extender, so the next step happened when I got home, when I cropped some of the photos. Here’s an image at 800 mm and cropped for a head shot.

Herring gull, 800 mm, cropped

Herring gull, 800 mm, cropped

Here’s an image shot at 400 mm and cropped to the exact same image size as the last one.

Herring gull, 400 mm, cropped to the same image size as the last one

Herring gull, 400 mm, cropped to the same image size as the last one

It’s still sharper than the image that I shot at 800 mm, but that changes when I cropped a 400 mm image down to get as close to the gull as I had at 800 mm.

Herring gull, 400 mm, cropped to get the gull the same size

Herring gull, 400 mm, cropped to get the gull the same size

The image shot at 800 mm and cropped slightly is sharper than the last one. For my use here, you wouldn’t know the difference, but if I were to print them out, the 800 mm image cropped would be superior to the 400 mm cropped image, by a wide margin. If there would have been better light, any of these images would have been even better!

I also tested the new 400 mm lens out on flying birds, with the same difficulty, no light, at least for most of the day. So, here’s an image of a mallard landing to show how much of a wake they make as they land.

Male mallard landing

Male mallard landing

As in the case of the portrait shots, eventually I got a little better light for flying birds.

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

I never noticed the radio antenna in the background when I was shooting the series, luckily, the 400 mm lens tracked the mallards well as I continued to shoot.

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

I don’t think that the 400 mm lens focuses as quickly as the 100-400 mm lens, but the 400 mm lens seems to do okay. I had no trouble acquiring the intended subject, and it did track the subjects well.

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

 

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

 

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

 

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

 

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

I love the fact the gull’s eyes in these last few photos are sharper than what I could get of a perched bird’s eye using either the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) or the 300 mm lens, with or without an extender, even at the higher ISO setting that I had to use for these.

It occurs to me as I think about comparing my two newest lenses, the two of them together weigh just a few ounces more than the Beast did alone. The 100-400 mm lens is well-balanced as I said before, and I can track birds in flight well with it. The new 400 mm lens is much lighter, lighter than even the 300 mm lens since the 400 mm doesn’t have Image Stabilization. The 400 mm lens points well, by that I mean that as I raise the camera to my eye, I’m on target and ready to shoot as soon as the auto-focus does its thing. That could be because of how long and skinny that lens is compared to the others, but all the weight is in the camera, not the lens, or so it seems as I use it. It will take me a while to get used to the balance of this set-up.

Anyway, I’ve now have two quality long lenses so that once I get a second body, I can have one set for portraits, and one for action. This is an example of why that’s important. In the middle of shooting some of the flying gull photos you’ve seen in this post, I spotted a kestrel. I thought that I had changed the camera settings, but I was wrong.

American kestrel shot with the wrong settings

American kestrel shot with the wrong settings

The camera settings were whacked, and I missed a good photo of the kestrel because I was too busy trying not to spook the bird to check the settings as I was shooting.

I have some more photos from Sunday, but first, there was almost good light for a short time today!

No white in sight!

No white in sight!

I was going to say that the new 400 mm lens wouldn’t be good for small birds, but I could be wrong about that. I started out shooting some goldfinches that were really too far away for a great image, but they turned out better than I thought that they would.

American goldfinch eating teasel seeds

American goldfinch eating teasel seeds

 

American goldfinch eating teasel seeds

American goldfinch eating teasel seeds

 

American goldfinch eating teasel seeds

American goldfinch eating teasel seeds

 

American goldfinch eating teasel seeds

American goldfinch eating teasel seeds

One of the last photos of the day was this one, when I was much closer to one of the goldfinches, but the light wasn’t as good by then.

American goldfinch eating leaf buds

American goldfinch eating leaf buds

I’ve seen squirrels eat the leaf buds from trees before, but never a bird, but that’s what the goldfinch is munching on, a leaf bud.

If only I had more time, I could have done better with the birds today, but I had to wait for the rain to come to an end before venturing out. When I did make it outside, I found a different world than what there was yesterday, a record high temperature for the date, and most of the snow was going fast. That left small lakes everywhere there wasn’t a new creek flowing to get rid of the rain and melting snow. Too bad it won’t last, even all day today, by tomorrow we’re back in the freezer again.

Anyway, I was able to shoot a few images with the ISO set under 2000, unlike most of the day before. And, you probably won’t be able to tell from these photos as they appear here, but the new lens exceeded my expectations when it came to the smaller birds.

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

I had to try this, to see how well the new lens can pick birds out of the brush.

Blue jay hiding

Blue jay hiding

Just for the heck of it, I tried this shot to see how close the new lens would focus down to, way too far away for lichens.

Lichens

Lichens

It was the next two photos which changed my mind about the new lens and smaller birds.

Male House finch

Male House finch

When I can dial the ISO down, the new lens is even sharper than the 100-400 mm lens, and that’s saying a lot!

Male House finch

Male House finch

It’s no wonder that the 400 mm f/5.6 lens from Canon has the reputation of being the lens for birders. Now, I can’t wait to see what it can do in very good light.

I think that the color reproduction is outstanding as well, but it seems to need a little more light when I set the exposure compensation.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Also, I don’t think that I get as much depth of field with the 400 mm lens as I do with the 100-400 mm lens, even though in theory, they should be exactly the same.

Blue jay

Blue jay

Overall, I’d say that the new 400 mm lens will make a great companion to the 100-400 mm lens when I’m out specifically for birds.

Blue jay in flight

Blue jay in flight

 

Juvenile turkey on the run

Juvenile turkey on the run

You can see that not all of the snow is gone, but a healthy chunk of it is gone. It was also the sunniest day so far this month, 17 of the first 25 days of December we had 0% of possible sunshine. It’s not hard to beat 0%.

That takes me back to Sunday, which was one of those 17 days with no sunshine.

Coyote

Coyote

I’ve seen coyotes before, but I believe that the one above is my first photo of one, they normally disappear before I can get a shot. The same is true of foxes.

Red fox on the run

Red fox on the run

You can see that this one was picking them up…

Red fox on the run

Red fox on the run

…and laying them down as it ran for cover.

Red fox on the run

Red fox on the run

There were two foxes, out on the center dyke of all places, completely surrounded by water except for that narrow dyke that separates the two lagoons. The one in the photos ran across the lagoon, the other ran along the base of the dyke so I didn’t have a clear view of it. Maybe they were lying in wait for a gull or a goose? It seemed like an odd place to foxes to hang out, I was on the center dyke looking for snow buntings, which weren’t there. All of the small flocks of snow buntings had joined into one huge flock…

Snow buntings

Snow buntings

…and that’s only a small portion of the flock. I shot one video, but in the middle of the buntings flying past me, I got the great idea to try to focus on those in flight, it did not go well.

So, I shot a second one, letting the buntings flit around while I tried to remain still.

Holding a camera with a 400 mm lens still at arm’s length so I can see the camera’s rear screen isn’t easy. I tried to cut the shaky part at the end off using Canon’s software, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it. Still, I think that you can see what I mean when I say that these birds are in perpetual motion.

Some one saw a snowy owl at the wastewater facility earlier in the week, but I couldn’t find it. That isn’t because my eyes are going bad, for I was able to spot this bird flying across a field more than 100 yards away from me, see where it landed, and then get close enough for a few poor images of it.

Northern shrike

Northern shrike

That’s a species that I needed for the My Photo Life List project, even though I have seen northern shrikes in the past, I’ve never photographed one. They are smaller than a blue jay, so to spot one at the distance that I was from it tells me my eyesight is still good. I watched it fly back across the field, but the photos that I took when I got to that spot weren’t as good because it was even farther away from me. I watched it hunt for a while, but I didn’t want to get greedy. I’ve found that once I’ve gotten poor photos of a species, better ones usually follow soon after.

Northern shrike

Northern shrike

Now that I know where the shrike hangs out, I hope to get better photos of it soon.

That doesn’t always work though, I still struggle when it comes to kingfishers.

Male belted kingfisher

Male belted kingfisher

I know where he hangs out, but that doesn’t help me get any closer to him, he’s far too wary for that to happen.

I have two more photos from Sunday (Christmas Day) left, and here they are.

Rock dove (feral pigeon)

Rock dove (feral pigeon)

 

Muskrat

Muskrat

All in all, not a bad weekend of using the new lens despite the lack of light most of the time. I can tell that there are a few things that I’ll have to get used as I use it more, but I rate it as a winner for sure. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to test the new 400 mm lens out in some good light this coming weekend, New Years Day is forecast to be sunny, but I’m not sure that I believe it.

Anyway, as I finish this one up, I’d like to wish every one a Happy New Years, and may 2017 bring you everything that you’re wishing for!

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

I remember my failures

After publishing my last regular post on Sunday, I went out for a walk in the snowstorm, without a camera. I remember that I’ve done that in the past when it was snowing heavily, but it seemed so weird this time.

I will say this, I stayed much warmer, and the cold and snow didn’t bother me as much, because I was moving faster, and I concentrated on keeping myself warm and dry, not my camera and lens. Winter isn’t so bad after all. 😉

It may be that by the time I get around to publishing this post, my newest bit of camera gear will have arrived. I absolutely love the images that I’ve been shooting with the 100-400 mm lens that I purchased a few months ago, it’s been a great reminder that the lens used on a camera is more important than the camera itself in may ways. But before I ramble on about lenses, first I have to pat myself on the back a little.

One thing that I’m proud of is that I don’t go overboard when editing my images, even the HDR images that I create. I generally add a little clarity and vibrance to the images, very little when compared to what the experts recommend. I very seldom touch the color saturation, although I’ve found that the 7D Mk II needs a little help in that department when I’m shooting almost directly into the sun, which I shouldn’t be doing anyway.

I crop the photos when needed, and fix the lack of dynamic range that digital cameras have. That is, I usually bring down the highlights and raise the shadows a little. If I shot the photo at a high ISO setting, then I’ll reduce the noise, and that’s it.

As I’ve said a few times, I joined the North American Nature Photographers Association on Facebook so that I can compare my images to those that other people shoot. While the majority of the images that I see there are quite well done, there are some that are so heavily edited that they look nothing like what one would ever see in nature.  It’s difficult to pick out what I think are the worst “sins” that some photographers make, but pushing the color saturation well past the point of what I think is correct is one of them. Then there are the HDR images that are way overdone in the first place, then the photographer compounds the mistake by pushing the color saturation even further. Another one of the things that I see which I don’t care for is vignetting the image to the point where the edges of the photo are very dark, and the corners are almost black.

I should take a few of my images, edit them in ways that I think are wrong, and show every one what I’m talking about, but every one’s taste varies. Me, I go for the most realistic look that I can get in an image. I think that I’m doing very well in that regard.

I do hate to brag, but I’ve come a long way over the past couple of years in both getting the photo as good as it can be in the camera, and in editing the images afterward. Some of that is due to equipment, good glass is everything is one thing that I’ve learned.

Oh, by the way, that reminds me, a while back I did a post on something that I heard a lot from people when I showed them my photos. They’d say “You must have a really good camera” and that would tick me off a little. As my images have improved, I don’t hear that any longer, instead, I hear “You’re really good”.

Okay then, I’ve been putting a lot of thought, as always, into how I can improve on the images that I get now. Most of that involves improving the things that I do already, but there’s one thing I could accomplish with more camera gear to improve my images, and that is to have a second long set-up ready to go at all times. It’s great when a bird stays in one place and let’s me shoot away…

Great egret preening

Great egret preening

…but many times, I approach a bird hoping to get a good portrait shot, but the bird takes flight…

Great egret at take off

Great egret at take off

…before I can. So there I am with the camera and lens set incorrectly for an action shot because I was hoping to shoot a portrait first. It’s even worse when I’m using a tele-converter behind the lens to get a longer focal length, as the extender slows or disables the auto-focus system.

I do tend to remember my failures. I remember this spring, hoping to get a good portrait of a male bufflehead duck, so I put the 2 X extender behind the 300 mm lens. Just as I was getting ready to shoot a portrait, the male buffleheads went into their courting display to impress the female nearby. I did manage a few fair photos of their display, but I could have done much better if I had been prepared for it. I could recount dozens of other examples of when I guessed incorrectly as to what the wildlife I was preparing to photograph was about to do as I got ready to photograph them.

It takes me several seconds to change camera and lens settings, dealing with tele-converters only lengthens that to well over a minute, and the action is over before I can make the required changes. And, unless I want to work as many hours per day as I can for the rest of my life, it looks like I’m stuck using tele-converters to get close-ups of my subjects. If I had two long set-ups ready to go, one for portraits, one for action, I could swap cameras quicker than I can change all the settings required.

So with that in mind, I once again researched the possible long lenses, and I’ve settled on the Canon 400 mm f/5.6 lens. I’ve put that lens on my want list, then taken it off again numerous times. I’d love a lens with a wider maximum aperture, but to go to a 400mm f/4 lens would cost well over $5,000 more, and I’m not going to spend that much for one more stop of light. I could go with a Sigma 500 mm f/4 lens, but that’s also $4,000 more than the Canon 400 mm, and it doesn’t function with the Canon tele-converters that I have. They may be cheap, but it would put the total cost close to $5,000, and I’d rather not carry two more tele-converters with me all the time.

I also explored spotting scopes and the adaptors that can be used to mount a camera to them, and once again, the total cost of one of those set-ups would be about $5,000, funny how that works.

As for the camera body for the second long set-up, I’ll go with another 7D Mk II, as it’s the best option that Canon makes for wildlife photographers. The 5D Mk IV offers better low-light performance and dynamic range, but with lower resolution, which in a way, equates to sharpness. The 5DS R has slightly higher resolution than my 7D, but with worse low-light performance. And, both of the 5D models are over $2,000 more than the 7D costs.

The 7D Mk II does everything that I want a camera to do, other than high-resolution landscapes, and I’ve been producing some great photos with it this past summer.

I went to the Muskegon County wastewater facility on Monday, just as the most recent snowstorm was ending. I’ll show you a few snowy scenes later, but the first photos that I shot play into what I was talking about as far as having a second long set-up for birds. As I turned off from the main road and into the entrance of the wastewater facility, I was met by this eagle.

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

I only had the time to get the camera turned on, I didn’t have time to change any settings or to add the 1.4 X tele-converter, which I should have done for a better image. So, I ended up with yet another so-so photo of an eagle.

Anyway, here are three landscape photos that I shot, these are all HDR images to overcome the lack of dynamic range of my camera.

Winter wonderland 1

Winter wonderland 1

 

Winter wonderland 2

Winter wonderland 2

 

Winter wonderland 3

Winter wonderland 3

Most of the roads, if you want to call them that, at the wastewater facility hadn’t been plowed, and the foot of fresh snow was testing the all wheel drive capability of my Subaru. So, I wasn’t able to get in the correct position to shoot some of the snow scenes that may have been better.

I found a large flock of American tree sparrows…

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

…but that’s the only photo that I’ll share right now.

I also found several large flocks of snow buntings, at first, I tried to shoot a good close-up…

Snow buntings

Snow buntings

…but that wasn’t working because they seldom sit still. Instead, I tried for a few flock shots.

Snow buntings

Snow buntings

These little birds are in perpetual motion as they look for seeds, you can see that three of the four in the foreground are running to where one had found seeds.

Snow buntings

Snow buntings

You can also see that they grab the vegetation sticking out of the snow to pull it up which may expose more seeds for them to eat. They’re fun birds to watch, but difficult to photograph, because on a whim, the entire flock will take flight, and move on to the next spot to feed.

I also saw a small flock of tundra swans in the distance.

Tundra swans in flight

Tundra swans in flight

As quickly as the open water is freezing over, I’ll wager that they were that they’re getting ready to head farther south.

There were two eagles sitting out on the edge of the ice, but too far away for a good photo. When a third eagle flew over to harass one of the first two…

Bald eagles in flight

Bald eagles in flight

…I couldn’t resist shooting a short burst off the action.

My only other photo of the day is this one of a rough-legged hawk in flight, looking the wrong way.

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

I’m getting a bad feeling about this coming winter, even worse than I had before. In some ways, it makes little sense to purchase any more camera gear when the weather is going to be too bad to get out and use that gear very often. On the other hand, the 400 mm lens is on sale, plus I have a rewards card from B&H Photo that has to be used before it expires, which will reduce the cost, plus any time that I get to use it will help me get used to it for when better weather does arrive.

More about the weather, up until yesterday, the 16th, we had 55 minutes of sunshine for the entire month of December, which averaged out to a little more than 4 minutes per day. But the majority of that came on the one Monday when I went out and shot a few of the photos from my last post. There’s already enough snow on the ground that the only places that I’ll be able to get to are those where the roads have been plowed. The forecast for the next ten days is the same, cold and snow, with the only difference between days is how cold, and how much snow will fall.

And since I wrote that last segment, it’s been more of the same. We were under a winter weather advisory for most of the past weekend as yet another Arctic front passed through the area bringing more snow, more cold, and more clouds. The good news is that the cold air may retreat later this week, and we may see temperatures slightly above freezing for a few days this next week. Although the temperature may get above freezing, we’ll still have a white Christmas here as the temperature won’t be warm enough to melt the snow already on the ground, and we’ll have more fall this week anyway.

Wednesday marks the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year as far as sunlight, from then on, the amount of sunlight each day will begin increasing again. At least that’s something to look forward to.

I’m also looking forward to the new 400 mm lens being delivered today, I’d be home staying out of the cold even if I didn’t have to wait for the lens to be delivered. With the wind chill around zero (-17 C) and a foot of fresh snow on the ground, I’ve been doing research into places to go when the weather does warm up. I’ve found quite a few, however most of them are farther north than I can go for a weekend, unless I want to spend most of my time off driving to and from the places I’ve found. But, I have found a few much closer to home where I’m likely to find species of birds that I need to add to the My Photo Life List project.

Well, the new 400 mm lens arrived very late in the afternoon, after I had gone to bed in fact. Fortunately, I heard the buzzer when the delivery driver arrived, and I was able to leap out of bed and let him in before he gave up. My first impressions are that the lens is relatively small and light compared to the 100-400 mm lens, it’s even lighter than the 300 mm lens because it doesn’t have Image Stabilization. In fact, it’s so light that I wonder how well I’ll be able to track large birds in flight with it, only time will tell.

One of the reasons that I didn’t purchase this lens earlier is because of its long minimum focusing distance, around 12 feet. That’s not close enough for small birds in thick vegetation, but it will be fine for my trips to the Muskegon wastewater facility or the channel to Lake Michigan, where the birds are typically larger, and I shoot them at longer distances. I’ve shot one photo with it so far, a photo of my computer screen. The long minimum focusing distance was apparent even then, at first I thought that the auto-focusing wasn’t working because I was too close to the computer. I took a step back, and shot this at 1/60 second and ISO 12800 handheld.

Test shot

Test shot

Not bad for no IS, I can’t wait to try it out in good light.

I did get to tryout out in good light today, but I couldn’t find anything to photograph. All the water in the ponds and creek is frozen, so no mallards or geese, and with a sustained wind of nearly 30 MPH, with higher gusts, I knew that most birds would be hunkered down to stay warm. So, I found an icicle to photograph.

Icicle on a rare day with blue skies

Icicle on a rare day with blue skies

It’s only the first full day of winter, and I’m already suffering from cabin fever. Since the weather hasn’t been very good, I’ve been working more to fill the void. I’ve also been planning, for this next year and beyond. I’ve submitted my vacation request at work, for the third week of May again this year. That’s a long way off, and I’ll have to see what the weather will be like as that week approaches, but I plan to go up north for a week of camping and birding as I have the past several years.

Because I slowed down and took better care of myself last year, it was one of the best vacations that I’ve ever had. I plan to do the same thing this year, in the same area if the weather allows. I’ve even found a few more places in the Alpena, Michigan area that should be good for both birding and scenery photos.

Next year, I’ll be eligible for two weeks of vacation if I can gut it out where I work, then I’ll take one week off in the spring, and save the second week, probably for early fall for another trip to the upper peninsula as I did a few years ago. I could prattle on and on about my plans, and all that they mean, but it’s time to finish this post up with some photos from last fall.

Bee, fly, and asters

Bee, fly, and asters

 

Bee on an aster

Bee on an aster

 

Bee between asters

Bee between asters

 

Unidentified fly object

Unidentified fly object

 

Unidentified fly object

Unidentified fly object

 

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

 

Blue jay

Blue jay

 

Fall colors in the sun

Fall colors in the sun

 

Fall colors in the rain

Fall colors in the rain

 

Fall colors in the rain 2

Fall colors in the rain 2

 

Grapes in the fall

Grapes in the fall

Here’s a few more photos.

Petunias

Petunias

 

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

 

More fall colors

More fall colors

 

Crown vetch

Crown vetch

 

Still more fall colors

Still more fall colors

 

Cooper's hawk in flight

Cooper’s hawk in flight

 

Falling leaf

Falling leaf

 

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

 

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

It looks as if the weather is going to improve this weekend, I hope to get outside at least on Sunday.

I almost forgot, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone!

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

Black Tern, Chlidonias niger

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Black Tern, Chlidonias niger

 

The black tern (Chlidonias niger or Chlidonias nigra) is a small tern generally found in or near inland water in Europe and North America. As its name suggests, it has predominantly dark plumage. In some lights it can appear blue in the breeding season, hence the old English name “blue darr”.

Adults are 25 cm (9.8 in) long, with a wingspan 61 cm (24 in), and weigh 62 g (2.2 oz). They have short dark legs and a short, weak-looking black bill, measuring 27 mm (1.1 in), nearly as long as the head. The bill is long, slender, and looks slightly decurved. They have a dark grey back, with a white forewing, black head, neck (occasionally suffused with grey in the adult) and belly, black or blackish-brown cap (which unites in color with the ear coverts, forming an almost complete hood), and a light brownish-grey, ‘square’ tail. The face is white. There is a big dark triangular patch in front of the eye, and a broadish white collar in juveniles. There are greyish-brown smudges on the ides of the white breast, a downwards extension of the plumage of the upperparts. These marks vary in size and are not conspicuous. In non-breeding plumage, most of the black, apart from the cap, is replaced by grey. The plumage of the upperparts is drab, with pale feather-edgings. The rump is brownish-grey.

The North American race, C. n. surinamensis, is distinguishable from the European form in all plumages, and is considered by some to be a separate species.

In flight, the build appears slim. The wing-beats are full and dynamic, and flight is often erratic as it dives to the surface for food; similar to other tern species.

Its call has been described as a high-pitched “kik”; the sound of a large flock has been called “deafening”.

Their breeding habitat is freshwater marshes across most of Canada, the northern United States and much of Europe and western Asia. They usually nest either on floating material in a marsh or on the ground very close to water, laying 2–4 eggs.

In England the black tern was abundant in the eastern fens, especially in Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, until the early nineteenth century. The English naturalist Thomas Pennant in 1769 referred to “vast flocks” of black terns “whose calls are almost deafening”. Extensive drainage of its breeding grounds wiped out the English population by about 1840. Intermittent attempts by the species to recolonise England have proved unsuccessful, with only a handful of English breeding records, and one in Ireland, in the second half of the twentieth century.

North American black terns migrate to the coasts of northern South America, some to the open ocean. Old World birds winter in Africa.

Unlike the “white” Sterna terns, these birds do not dive for fish, but forage on the wing picking up items at or near the water’s surface or catching insects in flight. They mainly eat insects and fish as well as amphibians.

On to my photos:

These photos were shot at the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary over the past few years during my vacations to the area in May of each year. Unfortunately, due to a number of circumstances, all my photos of this species are when they are in flight and the light was not that good.

Black tern in flight

Black tern in flight

 

Black tern in flight

Black tern in flight

 

Black tern in flight

Black tern in flight

 

Black tern in flight

Black tern in flight

 

Black terns in flight

Black terns in flight

 

Black tern in flight

Black tern in flight

 

Black tern in flight

Black tern in flight

This is number 199 in my photo life list, only 151 to go!

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

wordpress_logo_post_whenever2

Until I see the light

Well, even though there’s not much snow on the ground yet, it’s winter here in West Michigan. I’m sure that you’ll be tired of hearing about the almost constant cloud cover that we have here during the winter months, but that’s what we get here. Since the weather pattern changed, we’ve had two six-day stretches with 0% of possible sunshine already, and there’ll be far too many more similar stretches over the course of the winter.

It’s very difficult to shoot good photos when there’s hardly any light at all, but the good news is that it’s only a few weeks until the days start getting longer again. Having lived in West Michigan my entire life, I know that come the end of January, we’ll have a rare sunny day, and that it’s then that I’ll hear the male cardinals…

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

…begin to sing in hopes of attracting a female…

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

…to be its mate.

We’ll still have to deal with February, which is often our coldest month of the year, but at least the days will be getting longer, and there’ll be more light for photography.

Despite the could cover Sunday, I went to the Muskegon County wastewater facility in hopes of finding something to photograph. I did find the peregrine falcon…

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

…and it’s been moving around more than it did for the first month after it first showed up there. It used to always be found hanging out by the cells where the gulls congregated, but I’m finding it in different parts of the 11,000 acres that make up the wastewater facility recently.

The only reason that I’m posting that photo is because when I shot it, I couldn’t tell that it was the falcon because the light was so bad. That photo won’t win any awards, but I think that being able to shoot in such low light and come up with any photo is a good thing.

One thing that I’m constantly working on is being quicker with the camera. A few weeks ago, as I was driving home, four deer ran across the road ahead of me. I had to brake to miss them, I was able to get pulled off the road, grab my camera, and get this photo of the last of the deer crossing the road.

Whitetail doe on the run

Whitetail doe on the run

I didn’t have time to change any of the camera settings, so it isn’t as good as it could have been. The same thing happened yesterday, I saw a small buck crossing the road ahead of me, and managed to get stopped to shoot this one.

Whitetail buck on the run

Whitetail buck on the run

In fact, I’m not sure that I had come to a complete stop when I shot that. I was trying to zoom in on the buck, make sure that an oncoming car wasn’t going to hit me, and fire off a burst, all at the same time. Once I got everything as good as I could in the limited time that I had, I got this one.

Whitetail buck on the run

Whitetail buck on the run

I wish that the first one, with the buck completely airborne, would have come out as well.

I do try to anticipate when I’m going to need to change the camera settings, but it doesn’t always work out the way that I expect. I shot this photo to remind me of that.

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

I had seen the mallards ahead of time, and I was able to get the camera settings change to the bird in flight settings that I have saved in advance of when the mallards took off. However, as I moved forward towards the mallards, I spotted a kingfisher, which of course spotted me at the same instant. As I was beginning to point the camera at the kingfisher, a great blue heron saw me and took flight also. So, there I was, with birds taking off all around me at the same time. The kingfisher dove below the vegetation, so I wasn’t able to photograph it. The heron flew directly away from me, so all I saw in the viewfinder was its tail, and I was left to shoot a bad photo of the mallards as a reminder to pay more attention in the future.

It’s been quite slow at the wastewater facility the past few weeks, there may be thousands of geese and ducks, along with a few raptors, but it’s getting harder to get close to them. Some of that is due to the fact that the waterfowl have been hunted and shot at since it’s hunting season here. And, some of the reason that the birds won’t allow me to approach them is because with the onset of colder weather, they are busy feeding for their flight south.

On my way home on Sunday, I stopped at a park within the City of Grand Rapids, just to shoot a few mallards up close.

Male mallard

Male mallard

I also shot this series of one of them coming in for a landing.

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

Touchdown!

Male mallard landing

Male mallard landing

They displace a lot of water as they slow down…

Male mallard landing

Male mallard landing

…and for once, I was able to catch that…

Male mallard landing

Male mallard landing

…as I panned with the mallard.

Male mallard landing

Male mallard landing

I shot those with the Image Stabilization in the lens turned off. As you know, I’ve been doing some testing lately, and I’ve found that turning the IS off for birds in flight results in sharper images. The problem is that I sometimes forget to turn it back on…

Male mallard portrait

Male mallard portrait

…and my portrait shots aren’t as sharp as they could have been. That’s because I shoot at slower shutter speeds to keep the ISO lower, but without IS, camera shake becomes a problem at those shutter speeds.

That, and seeing what the 70-200 mm lens without IS can achieve as far as sharpness in good light…

Herring gull

Herring gull

…whether the gulls are stationary, or in flight…

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

…when I can get close enough to a subject to use that short of lens, has me thinking again. However, I’ll save those thoughts for a later time.

In the meantime, here’s a few photos that I shot last week Saturday, while I was walking around home.

A bit of color left 1

A bit of color left 1

 

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

 

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

 

A bit of color left 2

A bit of color left 2

We’re under a winter storm advisory here for the next few days, there will probably be another advisory or warning for the upcoming weekend as well. This doesn’t bode well for photography in the foreseeable future. I’m not looking forward to this winter at all. I have a few photos left over from this past summer, and I should get busy and do a few of the My Photo Life List posts, but I’m in a bit of a funk after seeing the forecast for the next ten days, and even beyond.

I’d rather not have my blog be nothing but mallards…

Female mallard

Female mallard

 

Female mallard

Female mallard

….fox squirrels, no matter how cute and pudgy they are right now…

Fat fall fox squirrel

Fat fall fox squirrel

…with a few geese thrown in for good measure…

Canada goose

Canada goose

 

Canada goose

Canada goose

 

Canada goose

Canada goose

…along with the gulls that I practice on.

jvis0607

Ring-billed gull in flight

 

jvis0651

Ring-billed gull in flight

 

jvis0652

Ring-billed gull in flight

 

Ring-billed gull

Ring-billed gull

I remember that those are about the only species of birds that I was photographing towards the end of last winter, even though it was a mild one. I should keep an open mind, maybe this winter will bring more of the other species of waterfowl into Muskegon, especially the channel to Lake Michigan, and I’ll find more subjects this winter than last.

Even though I already feel like hibernating, I shouldn’t. The more that I avoid the cold and snow, the more that I want to avoid it. If I were to force myself to spend more time outside, I know that I’d end up enjoying it.

I stopped off at the channel to Lake Michigan twice this pat weekend, and all that I have to show for my visits is this photo of a double-crested cormorant.

Double-crested cormorant

Double-crested cormorant

That was from Monday, when we actually had some sunshine for a change. I thought that I’d get quite a few photos since the light was good, but I found very few things to shoot. One was this rough-legged hawk…

Rough-legged hawk

Rough-legged hawk

…which I shot facing the sun with the 100-400 mm lens and 2 X tele-converter. I tried circling the hawk, but it didn’t like me coming up behind it…

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

…so it took off before I could get close to it. Fortunately, I had removed the extender so that the auto-focus would function just in case.

With good light, I made another stop at the same city park as I had the day before, but not even the mallards would cooperate for photos. I did shoot this photo of a gull perched on a statue within the park at 100 mm…

Ring-billed gull on a statue

Ring-billed gull on a statue

…and then again at 400 mm to show how much of a difference it makes.

Ring-billed gull on a statue

Ring-billed gull on a statue

If I’d have been thinking, I would have taken two more photos, one with the 1.4 X tele-converter, and another with the 2 X. Maybe the next time that I find a bird perched when I don’t really care if I get the shot or not, I’ll do just that, shoot a series of photos at the various focal lengths and not crop the photos at all so that you’ll have a better idea of how I get the photos that I do.

My other photo from my stop at the park is another mallard of course.

Female mallard

Female mallard

I shot that one because of how the water looked as the light changed. It was a day when the light changed often.

Changing light

Changing light

The snowstorm that was predicted for this weekend arrived right on schedule, it’s snowing at a moderate rate as I type this. If I do make it outside for a walk, I probably won’t even carry my camera gear with me. I know that I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating, I spent a lot of money on a camera and lens that are weather sealed, yet because their quality is so good, I prefer not to subject them to the same conditions that I used to carry my less expensive gear in.

So, I may as well use up a couple of more photos from a few weeks ago to end this post.

Peaceful morning with a great blue heron

Peaceful morning with a great blue heron

 

Milkweed seed pods at sunrise

Milkweed seed pods at sunrise

I’m afraid that it’s going to be a long, cold, snowy winter, and that I’ll be shooting very few photos for the next few months.

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

Little did I know

Little did I know that when I made the change from film photography to digital photography that I’d have to expand my knowledge of computers, and make considerable purchases of computing accessories. I have my 27 inch iMac back! I was getting lost for the first few minutes of using it again, the screen is huge compared to the Macbook pro I’ve been using the past week.

The technician thinks that a bad memory module corrupted the operating system. All that they had to do was to re-install the operating system. Then, restore everything using the latest back-up to my computer that Time Machine had made. It was after that they discovered that one of the memory modules that I had installed some time ago had a number of bad blocks in it.

Thanks to my zealous program of backing everything up, and Apple’s Time Machine, it’s truly as if nothing had happened. Everything is exactly as I had it set-up before, and best of all, I have my full Lightroom catalog intact! Whew, what a relief!

In a worst case scenario, I could have plugged the external drive where I store my photos into the Macbook pro to access the original RAW captures with no editing or keywords to help me find the photos that I was looking for. What also would have been gone are the collections that I made to sort my best photos of certain subjects from all of the not so good photos of the same subjects. It would have been worse than starting over from scratch, something that I wasn’t looking forward to if it came down to that.

Besides my Lightroom catalog, I would have lost some of the other files on my computer, including the spreadsheet that I use as my list of species for the My Photo Life List project, as well as the progress that I’ve made so far.

So, during the time when I didn’t have access to the iMac, I’ve been think about different ways to do even a better job of backing everything that I absolutely need backed up and ready to go if the need ever arrises again.

I still haven’t been able to get Lightroom to make a back-up copy of my catalog to either of the external hard drives that I use for storing my photos. However, I have been able to back the catalog up to a thumb drive that I have, and even better, to my iCloud account. The iCloud account is 5 Gb of online space that Apple allows purchasers of their products to use. So, that takes care of that problem for now. As long as I can access the Internet, I’ll always have a back-up copy of my Lightroom catalog, and the other important files that I have on my computer.

Before I forget, they charged me $75 to check everything out, re-install the operating system, and do the restore. In some ways that seems rather expensive for what they did, but on the other hand, having the entire system checked out on the proper test equipment as well as cleaned makes it worth it to me.

Another bonus is that I learned a great deal more about both of my computers, and I grew quite fond of the Macbook pro after using it for a week. In addition, I learned some new to me features in Lightroom that I’ll be trying out soon.

I suppose that I should get around to the photos for this post, and I’ll start with one from last summer.

Daisy

Daisy

That’s because the weather here continues to be quite dreary whenever I have the time to make it outside with my camera. I’ll go back in time for this one as well.

Damselfly

Damselfly

Now then, back to reality.

Snowy sunrise

Snowy sunrise

The weather forecast for that day was for the holes in the clouds to open up, but instead, they closed, making the rest of the day as dreary as it could be. I did shoot a deer on the run though.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

And, I found a pair of eagles arguing over who was going to lay claim on the landfill for the day.

Bald eagles fighting for territory as gulls look on

Bald eagles fighting for territory as gulls look on

It was hard to keep the auto-focus system locked on the eagles with so many gulls all around the eagles.

Bald eagles fighting for territory as gulls look on

Bald eagles fighting for territory as gulls look on

I did the best that I could though.

Bald eagles fighting for territory as gulls look on

Bald eagles fighting for territory as gulls look on

 

Bald eagles fighting for territory as gulls look on

Bald eagles fighting for territory as gulls look on

 

Bald eagles fighting for territory as gulls look on

Bald eagles fighting for territory as gulls look on

It’s a lot easier to get a single eagle in flight.

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

Despite the lack of light, I got the best images of a rough-legged hawk in flight that I’ve ever gotten

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

I didn’t have to crop these very much at all.

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

If only there had been a little more light.

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Or blue skies instead of the grey clouds.

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

So, let’s see what else I have saved from just before my computer crashed.

Glowing leaf

Glowing leaf

That’s right, I did catch a few rays of sunshine around home after work one day.

Rose leaves in the sun

Rose leaves in the sun

This is far from my best photo of a fox squirrel, but I haven’t posted one lately, so here goes.

Fox squirrel with lunch

Fox squirrel with lunch

Here’s a bird that I don’t post enough photos of…

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

…because it’s hard to catch one in the open and in a good position for a photo. This one doesn’t really qualify as a good photo, but it will have to do for now.

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

Now that I have my home computer back up and running, I’ll get back to posting to the My Photo Life List project soon, but in the meantime, let’s go back to Halloween, when I shot these. Some will appear familiar because they’re similar to photos I posted earlier, but they’re not duplicates.

Halloween sunrise

Halloween sunrise

These are the second best versions of photos that I posted earlier.

Halloween sunrise 2

Halloween sunrise 2

Or, things that didn’t make the cut when I did my earlier posts.

Whitetail deer on the run

Whitetail deer on the run

 

Whitetail deer on the run

Whitetail deer on the run

 

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird

 

Green-winged teal

Green-winged teal

 

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

These were shot at the time when I was working out the final settings that I use now for birds in flight.

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

You can see that these aren’t quite as sharp as some of my photos since then.

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

 

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

I don’t know why it is, but it’s very hard for me to get a sharp photo of a snow bunting.

Snow bunting

Snow bunting

Maybe it’s their color, or maybe it’s because it’s rare for them to ever stop moving. Mallards are much easier to get a sharp photo of, even when they’re moving.

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

But, you can see that the exposure settings that I used then resulted in the highlights under their wings to be blown out in some images.

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

I had the same problem with gulls.

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

The highlights in the gull’s “armpit” were blown out. I have the opposite problem with dark birds in flight.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Which is why I’ve come up with several sets of bird in flight settings that I have now stored in the custom settings of the 7D.

While not birds in flight, I have a few more older photos to use up in this post.

Eastern kingbird

Eastern kingbird

It’s nice when a bird poses so well for me.

Eastern kingbird

Eastern kingbird

 

Male common yellowthroat

Male common yellowthroat

It’s now Saturday afternoon, and I did make it out for a walk after work. None of the few photos that I shot were very good, it was another dark, dreary day, with a few snow pellets falling from time to time. However, I mentioned earlier that I had found some features in Lightroom that I had looked for in the past but not found until I was using my Macbook computer. One of those is the ability to stitch photos together to make a panorama, and here’s my first attempt at it.

Panorama test

Panorama test

Lightroom did all the hard work of aligning the two images up, and it was quite easy to do. I hope to shoot a few other photos this weekend to try it out more, but that may not happen. The forecast for tomorrow is for our first snow storm of the season, even though it won’t be much of a storm, just a few inches of snow. Next weekend is when the real cold and snow is forecast to hit here in Michigan.

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

Happy Thanksgiving 2016

I’m beginning this post on Thanksgiving Day, using my little Macbook pro for now. The weather today is about the same as it has been all week, grey, cold, gloomy, with light fog and drizzle. Hardly a good day for photography, unless I was shooting landscapes, which seems a little pointless right now.

Maybe it was the rapid change in the weather, but I’m feeling a little under it today, and I didn’t want to carry very much with me while I went for a walk around home. I shot 4 photos total, 2 versions each of these two images.

Yellow

Yellow

 

Red

Red

I suppose that I could have driven around somewhere to find a few landscapes worth shooting, but this little Macbook leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to editing photos in Lightroom, plus, I don’t have Photomatix installed on it to make truly good landscape photos.

I didn’t really feel like driving anyway, I did have the day off from work, for what it’s worth. I slept in an hour or two longer than usual, and after drinking some coffee, catching up on things on the Internet, and cleaning my apartment, I went back to bed and slept a couple of hours more until it got light outside. Then I went for the walk, which even though I didn’t see many things to photograph, was a very pleasant one despite the gloomy weather.

If it sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not, I needed a day to relax and not do very much when I’m usually so pressed for time. It’s been so long since I had a lazy day, that I’ve forgotten how to have one. 😉

I did miss the large screen of the 27 inch iMac when I did what little editing to the photos from today that I posted so far, but I’m looking at this situation as a blessing in disguise. The way things are going, I’ll be able to get this Macbook pro and the version of Lightroom that I have installed on it set-up the way that I want. That way, when I do go on trips, I won’t be fooling around with those details at that time. I may not be able to do any major editing, but I can sort through the photos and delete the poor ones, and flag the best of the rest of the photos for further editing on the iMac when I’m back home. I had forgotten how much I had customized Lightroom with presets. Not only that, I’ve forgotten how to make the presets that I’ve been using on the iMac.

As bad as things are with my large iMac down, things could have been much worse. At least I have all of my photos saved, on not one but two external drives, and I did have Apple’s Time Machine set-up to back up the computer full-time. Hopefully, when I do get the iMac back, it will be as if nothing had happened.

Anyway, I did a short day at work on Saturday, and despite the clouds and occasional drizzle, I went for a walk. I didn’t shoot many photos, due to the weather, and I’m not sure how good these that I did save really are.

Goldenrod gall

Goldenrod gall

I was playing, learning just how much depth of field that I have with the new 100-400 mm lens for that photo.

For this one, I was going to try to catch the blue jay in flight, but it went the wrong way when it did take off.

Blue jay on sumac

Blue jay on sumac

I’m still working on my very low-light settings also.

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

With millions of leaves on the ground, why this one caught my eye, I don’t know, but it did.

Sycamore leaf

Sycamore leaf

Another close-up of a goldenrod gall as another test.

Goldenrod gall

Goldenrod gall

I actually had fair light for this next one, but in the wrong direction. As soon as I moved to get a better view of the squirrel, it took off.

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

My only other bird photos were of a flock of goldfinches feeding on teasel seeds, but too far away for a good photo of any of them.

American goldfinch eating teasel seeds

American goldfinch eating teasel seeds

The weatherman says that we may see some sun on Sunday for the first time in a week, I sure hope so.

The weatherman was wrong for the most part. There were a few holes in the clouds as I arrived at the wastewater facility just before dawn, but they soon closed up for most of the day. There were a few more holes in the clouds around 2 PM, and I did see a few patches of blue sky, but most of the day was just as dreary as the past week has been.

So, between my having to edit these on my little Macbook, and the lack of light, I’m not sure how good the photos that I shot are. I know that this one is horrible, but it’s of a Cooper’s hawk pretending to be the peregrine falcon that been hanging around the wastewater facility the past few weeks.

Cooper's hawk

Cooper’s hawk

I thought that it was the falcon until I got home and edited that image. That’s when I saw the banded tail and knew it was a Cooper’s hawk.

Later, I tracked down the peregrine falcon, it was perched on the exhaust of the grain drying equipment, probably to stay warm on a chilly day.

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

Despite the low-light, I shot a photo of both an eared grebe…

Eared grebe

Eared grebe

…and a horned grebe…

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

…just because I hadn’t photographed either species recently. Too bad both of them are in their winter plumage, they’re very striking birds in the spring.

I didn’t see any swans on this day, but I did see the same 4 snow geese that hide out in the middle of thousands of Canada geese. First, early in the morning while they were still in the lagoon…

Snow and Canada geese

Snow and Canada geese

…that’s the wide version not cropped, here the snow geese are in a cropped photo.

Snow and Canada geese

Snow and Canada geese

Later, after the geese had left the lagoon to feed in one of the farm fields, I saw the snow geese with the Canada geese again.

Snow and Canada geese

Snow and Canada geese

That’s just a small portion of the huge flock of Canada geese, and there were more arriving all the time.

More geese arriving to add to the flock

More geese arriving to add to the flock

I didn’t attempt to count the geese, but my guess would be somewhere around 5,000 of them, I’ve never seen a flock as large as that one before, not even at the wastewater facility.

It’s 4 AM on Monday morning as I’m typing this section of the post, it’s 38 degrees (3 C) outside, with a line of heavy rain just arriving into the area. You’ll have to forgive me, but it looks as though I’ll be staying indoors today. I wouldn’t mind a light rain or drizzle, but I see no reason to go out and get soaked to the bone on a day like today. That means more bad photos from yesterday though, as they’re all that I have available to me until I get my iMac back.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

I also saw one of the adult bald eagles…

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

…but it refused to pose for me, so that was the best that I could do.

I worked on my settings for birds in flight in low-light…

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

 

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

…not too bad, but I think that I can still do a little better.

I finally gave up at the wastewater facility, and drove over to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, hoping to find a few small birds that I could get close to. I had limited success at that, I think that Brian’s bird banding this fall has made the birds more wary of humans than normal. The poor light didn’t help either, these are the best I could do, no matter how hard I tried.

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

 

Female house finch

Female house finch

 

Female house finch

Female house finch

Usually, when birds are actively feeding, I can eventually get a good photo of them, but it was tough going on this day. I added the 1.4 X tele-converter behind the 100-400 mm lens for this next batch, I’m undecided if that was a mistake or not.

Female house finch

Female house finch

 

Male house finch

Male house finch

 

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

 

Male house finch

Male house finch

The tele-converter meant that I had to crop these images less, but I was having trouble getting sharp photos while using it. It could have been because of the light, those were shot during the time I mentioned earlier, when a few holes opened up in the clouds. Rather than making things easier, it became more difficult, as what little sunshine that there was only brightened the clouds behind the birds more than the birds themselves. The overpowering light coming off from the bright clouds made it extremely difficult to get the exposure correct.

Anyway, rather than harp on the poor light any longer, here’s two photos from the MLNP that aren’t of birds.

Buttonbush seeds

Buttonbush seeds

 

Oriental bittersweet berries?

Oriental bittersweet berries?

My next stop was the Muskegon Lake channel to Lake Michigan, I hoped to find a few diving ducks there. Instead, all I found was a lone male mallard.

Male mallard preening

Male mallard preening

 

Male mallard preening

Male mallard preening

 

Male mallard preening

Male mallard preening

 

Male mallard preening

Male mallard preening

 

Male mallard preening

Male mallard preening

I used the 1.4 X extender for those also, just to get better at using it behind the 100-400 mm lens. As with everything, there’s a learning curve that comes with it, and I haven’t used that combination very much so far. I also shot this with it.

Yellow in a sea of brown

Yellow in a sea of brown

It was a boring day as far as photography, other than having to work extra hard to get bad photos, and most of you know what I do on boring days, shoot gulls.

Herring gull taking flight

Ring-billed gull taking flight

One day, all the practice photos that I shoot of gulls will pay-off.

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

I love the fact that now I can get the eye of a flying bird as sharp as the eyes of perched birds in my photos were just a year or two ago. And, when a bird is perched and conditions are right…

Herring gull

Herring gull

…I can get images like that last one. Maybe I should give up on everything else and shoot photos of nothing but mallards and gulls. 😉 Of course I’m just kidding, but by the time that winter sets in for real, that may be about all that I find to photograph for a while.

That’s why I started posting to the My Photo Life List project again, but until I get my iMac back, I can’t do any of those posts. All the images that I have sorted by species left to post are stored on that computer. I suppose that I could plug the external drive that my photos are stored on into my Macbook, but then, I’d have to sort through thousands of photos to find the images that I need for those posts.

If I needed any more bad news, the weather forecast for the next week is just as bad as it has been lately, cloudy with rain everyday for the foreseeable future.

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

Winter arrives here in West Michigan

It will be difficult to top the photos from my last post, at least for a while. The long-range winter forecasts are not looking good for my efforts to get even better photos than I have been getting. The warm summer, and very mild fall have left the water temperatures of the Great Lakes well above average, which means that as the colder air from Canada makes its way across the lakes, we’ll be left with near constant lake effect clouds and snow until the lakes cool off.

On Friday, we tied our record high temperature record of 70F (21 C) with bright sunny skies. On Saturday, the temperature hovered near freezing with snow and rain being driven by winds over 30 MPH (48 KPH). I did drive over to the Lake Michigan shore on Saturday after work, hoping to get some good photos of the waves crashing over various things there, but it was snowing so heavily that photos were next to impossible.

I did get the furniture from the spare bedroom in my apartment back in place since they finally got around to almost finishing everything required after the water leak in the spare bedroom. I haven’t moved my computer back into the spare bedroom yet, I may wait until next Saturday to do that.

Since I won’t be shooting as many photos over the winter months, I have begun posting to the My Photo Life List series once again, as many of you may have noticed. I have photos of 30 species of birds to put into those posts that I’ve shot over the last two years. All of the species have appeared here in my blog when I first found them, but I haven’t gotten around to doing a dedicated post on those species yet. I’m very close to being 2/3 of the way through the list that I’m working from, maybe I’ll pick up enough of our winter resident only species to get me to the 2/3 mark this winter.

In theory, I should be able to get to the 300 species mark here in West Michigan, but that would be if I managed to find and photograph every species that has ever been reported here, and that isn’t likely to happen. My odds will be much better if I spend more time in the parts of Michigan where most of the remaining species that I need to complete the list are found in greater numbers, and for longer periods of time than they are found here, as many were just passing through this area when they were reported before.

That brings me to another point, I don’t want to spend the years that I have left to work before I retire buying more camera gear. I’d like to spend more time enjoying the great outdoors much sooner than when I retire, rather than working as much as I can to pay for more camera gear. So, I have made major revisions to the wish list that I have, and my plans for when I purchase what remains on that list. This revision was prompted in part by what I have learned the past few weeks, and because I was trying to decide what to buy for myself as a Christmas present.

I was going to start by upgrading my wide-angle lenses, however, I have decided that it wasn’t the wisest thing to do. Both of the wide-angle lenses on my wish list are brand new offerings by Canon and Sigma, meaning that I would be paying full price for them. By this time next year, I’ll bet that I can find both of those lenses on sale and save a few hundred dollars if I wait. Besides, why upgrade lenses for landscapes at a time when I’m not shooting many landscape photos?

Then, I thought that I should purchase the gimbal head for my tripod. As I was photographing the kingfisher from my last post, I tried holding the camera up until the kingfisher took flight to photograph it taking off, but I couldn’t hold the camera up that long. So, I reasoned that now would be a good time to purchase the gimbal head, so that I could keep the camera on the bird for as long as it sat in one place, and get photos of it taking off too. But, winter is setting in, and I know that I’m not going to stand around freezing to get an image that I could just as easily get during the warmer months and remain comfortable while I do.

So, going down my wish list, I took a good, long, hard look at what I had put on it, and what I really need versus what I’d like to have, all in the context of my recent photos, and comparing them to others that I have seen by other photographers. I also took into account my own abilities as well.

From using the 100-400 mm lens with the 2 X tele-converter, I know that 800 mm of focal length is about all that I can manage while holding the lens in my hands. Yes, I could go longer if I used my tripod, but that isn’t always possible for me the way that I go about getting the photos that I do. Also, it’s much better to get closer and use a shorter length lens than it is to stay back and use a longer lens. If I can get good head and shoulder photos of birds with the camera gear that I have now…

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

…then, there’s really no reason for me to spend the rest of my life working to pay for an even longer lens. I shot that photo a few weeks ago, not long after I had begun using the 100-400 mm lens, my images have improved since then.

I almost hate going back through the photos that I have saved from over the summer and posting them now, but with the weather as bad as it’s been so far this weekend, I have little choice.

Damselfly

Damselfly

Besides, I’m already missing seeing these things…

Orange hawkweed?

Orange hawkweed?

…and I won’t see them again until next spring.

I did go to the Muskegon County wastewater facility yesterday to look for birds in the snow.

Drastic weather change

Drastic weather change

The biggest surprise was hundreds of swans! These are part of a larger flock in the west lagoon…

Tundra or trumpeter swans

Tundra or trumpeter swans

…these are a small flock from the east lagoon…

Tundra or trumpeter swans

Tundra or trumpeter swans

…I was hoping to make a positive ID with a close-up…

Tundra or trumpeter swan

Tundra or trumpeter swan

…but I still can’t say for sure which species they were, there could have been both species, as this is part of a larger flock also in the east lagoon.

Tundra or trumpeter swans

Tundra or trumpeter swans with a few geese and other waterfowl

The swans were probably forced to land due to the storm that blew through here on Saturday, I’ve never seen so many of them in one place before, no matter which species they were.

Since the light was horrible all day, I spent some time working on my low-light bird in flight settings.

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Gulls almost always are obliging subjects to practice on.

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

But, I wish that the light had been better for this one.

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Great timing on my part, but the lack of light meant that it was all for nothing.

Suppose that the same thing applies to this next series as well. I spotted a young bald eagle hunting.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

It was using the wind to provide lift as it looked for possible prey below it.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

I’ve seen crows mob hawks, and there’s nothing that they go after as hard as an owl, but I seldom see them bother eagles.

American crows attacking a juvenile bald eagle

American crows attacking a juvenile bald eagle

Of course on a day when there was poor light…

American crows attacking a juvenile bald eagle

American crows attacking a juvenile bald eagle

…I see the crows doing just that, mobbing an eagle, even catching a ride on the eagle’s back now and then.

American crows attacking a juvenile bald eagle

American crows attacking a juvenile bald eagle

There were times when I thought that the crows were teasing the eagle.

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

I kept the eagle in the viewfinder, and the auto-focus tracking it, and whenever I saw a crow enter the frame, I’d fire off a short burst.

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

If only it had been a sunny day!

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

 

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

 

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

 

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

 

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

 

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

 

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

 

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

 

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

 

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

 

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

 

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

 

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

 

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

I know, too many photos of the eagle and crows, but it isn’t often that I’m close enough to such action to get even the poor photos that I did.

News flash!

My 27 inch iMac will no longer boot up. That means that for the time being, I have no access to my photos, which is no big deal, since I didn’t shoot a single good photo this entire weekend. All of the actual photos are stored on one external drive, and backed up on another external drive, so they are safe. I’ve also been using Apple’s Time Machine to back up the iMac to one of the external drives as well.

I’ve spoken to some one at a computer repair establishment, and they believe that once they have fixed the reason that the computer won’t boot up, that they’ll be able to restore everything from the Time Machine back-ups, including my Lightroom catalog, so that it will be as if the crash never happened, even if it is the computer’s hard drive that failed. I sure hope so. Otherwise, I’d have the RAW images, but none of the editing that I’ve done to them.

At this point, I’m sure glad that I went a little overboard in not only backing up in the first place, but in having a redundant back-up as well. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to lose all my photos. I could plug the external drives into the Macbook pro and work in Lightroom on it, but with this small screen, it just wouldn’t be the same.

For the time being, I’m using my little Macbook pro, and I haven’t used it very much up to this point. You could say that I’m getting a crash course in using it, as well as getting it set-up the way that I want. It’s also taking me some time to recover all of my Internet links, passwords, and those sorts of things, so I’m very busy. I haven’t had a lot of spare time to read or comment on other people’s blog the way that I should, but please, bear with me as I work things out on my end.

I am thinking that when this is all over, and my iMac is up and running again, that I should look into one of the cloud based back-ups available. Not for all of my photos, but for my Lightroom catalog and the other important files and settings of my computer. It would take too long and be too expensive to back-up my photos to the cloud, two hard drives work well enough for that.

I hope that my iMac is back up and running sometime next week, with Thanksgiving occurring this week, the computer repair place will be closed both Thursday and Friday.

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