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


The money shot

Sometimes I get the shot that I’m hoping for, or at least I come very close. It was a rather slow day of birding at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, I ended up shooting far more macro photos of insects and flowers than I did of birds, as you will see later. It was so slow that I stopped off at the office building where they have a few bird feeders out, hoping that I could catch a few of the birds as they came and went from the feeders.

The feeders are on the north side of the building, and very close to it, so the feeders are in deep shade for most of the day. There are some ornamental trees planted around the office building, and the birds use them as a stopping point as they come and go to the wooded area on the other side of the driveway to the office building. My goal was to catch one of the hummingbirds, since I haven’t been able to get a photo of one this year, but the hummers were too quick for me. By the time that I had located where they had landed in one of the trees and begun to work my way to where I could get a good photo of it, the hummer was already gone.

I did find this juvenile downy woodpecker though.

Juvenile male downy woodpecker

As I was photographing it, I saw its mother feeding it.

Juvenile male downy woodpecker being fed by its mother

I was using the 100-400 mm lens with the 1.4 X tele-converter for the close-ups of the juvenile, so I missed getting mom in the frame. I zoomed out for the next time she fed Junior.

Juvenile male downy woodpecker being fed by its mother

The mother was bringing food from the suet feeder in large chunks, then she would jam the suet into a crack in the bark of the tree, where she could break the chunk up into smaller bits for Junior.

With them behind the branches, the photo above isn’t very good, so between my moving around a bit, and Junior moving to a spot where I had a clear view of him, I was getting a few portraits of him until mom returned, but she came back sooner than I expected.

Juvenile male downy woodpecker being fed by its mother

I couldn’t just yank the camera over to get more of her in the frame though, that’s what I get for zooming in all the way.

Juvenile male downy woodpecker being fed by its mother

You can see Junior using his barbed tongue to pull the tiny bit of suet mom is giving him, so I’m happy with that shot, and also this next one.

Juvenile male downy woodpecker being fed by its mother

You can see that I was easing the camera to the left, but mom took off right after that.

After that, Junior went to the crack in the bark where mom had been putting the suet when she first arrived from the feeder. It turned out that mom had left some of the suet there that Junior found and devoured, but not before showing me that he had found it.

Juvenile male downy woodpecker

Okay, I got some good photos of mom feeding Junior, but in analyzing the entire event, I wonder if mom was also teaching him how to find his own food by putting the suet in the crack of the tree bark, and leaving some of it for him to find. I also wonder if Junior learned how woodpeckers store food for the winter, by putting the food in places like the crack in the tree bark by watching what she was doing.

Just a few more words about how I got the photos. Mom never seemed stressed by my presence, she never sounded her alarm call, nor did she hesitate as she was feeding Junior. If she had, I would have left the area immediately, as I usually do when I see an adult bird feeding one of its young. Of all the species of woodland birds in Michigan, the two that don’t seem to mind my being very close to them are chickadees and downy woodpeckers.

Female downy woodpecker

That was shot a few days earlier here where I live, and that image wasn’t cropped either.

Now for some boring talk about camera gear. I had put a spotting scope and the accessories that would allow me to mount my camera on it on my wish list at B&H photo. However, the manufacturer just boosted their prices by more than 25% for each piece that I would need for what is called digiscoping. That price increase makes that look a lot less attractive to me, and in thinking it over some more, I’m not the kind of person to set-up a spotting scope and check out every one of the thousands of gulls in a flock to find the one rare gull.

After all, I’ve been doing quite well without a spotting scope, although there have been times when another birder nearby has allowed me to look through their scope to find the rare bird that I was looking for. I think that I could do without the scope and get a pair of very good binoculars instead, for a lot less money. As in almost $3,000 less now that the prices of the items that I would need increased as much as they did.

I’d be more happy with a full frame camera and only one other lens to carry around with me than I would be with a spotting scope. I’m growing tired of trying to increase the dynamic range of my crop sensor 7D Mk II in Lightroom, along with the noise reduction required at times. I know that a full frame sensor camera won’t eliminate all the editing that I’d have to do to my images, but it would help. I’m almost to the point where I’m going to set Lightroom to bring down the highlights 100% and raise the shadows 25% as I import images, since those settings are where many of my images end up. But, part of that is because I do expose to the right of the histogram, meaning slightly over-exposing my images, to cut down on noise in the shadow areas. And, I do that because in most of my images, the subject is the shadow to Lightroom.

The events of this past weekend helped me make that decision concerning the spotting scope versus a full frame camera. On Saturday, it was a slow day for birding as I’ve already said, so I decided to do some macro photography since the wind wasn’t too bad at the time. That idea came from seeing this butterfly.

Unidentified butterfly

I then decided that it was time to get a good macro photo of one of the milkweed flowers there. At first, I was settling for longer shots that I thought that I could crop down, but then I told myself that I was being lazy again. I went back to my car and grabbed the long extension tube from the set of three that I purchased a while back, and that was enough behind the 100 mm macro lens to give me these, which weren’t cropped at all.

Milkweed flower side view

I think that these show the complex structure of the milkweed flowers very well.

Milkweed flower front view

Then, I got really lucky. As I was shooting those, one of the green bees that I’ve tried to shoot a good photo of for years showed up on the milkweed flowers.

Unidentified green bee on a milkweed flower

Isn’t it pretty?

Unidentified green bee on a milkweed flower

I did cheat a little, I flipped those images because the bee was facing down as I shot the photos, and I thought that the images looked better after I flipped them. But, the big thing is that I happened to be ready with the extension tube behind the macro lens when the bee landed. I probably could have spent the day there, shooting macros of the various insects that came along to feed on the nectar of the milkweed. The scent in the air almost convinced me, as I love the smell of the milkweed too.

I’ll have some other macro photos shot shortly after those shortly, but first, more gear talk from the next day, Sunday. It was another slow day for birding, and the wind was whipping up quite strong very early in the day as a cold front pushed through the area, so macros were pretty much out of consideration, since all the flowers were being blown around by the wind.

However, there was a flock of seven mute swans in the small man-made lake just south of the Muskegon County wastewater facility proper. So, since I haven’t used the new gimbal head on my tripod much, I thought that it would be a good idea to set-up the tripod and gimbal head to practice on a species of birds that I wouldn’t care if I messed the photos up or not. I have plenty of good images of mute swans, so I decided to turn the day into a practice day.

My new tripod and gimbal head set-up

The gimbal head was not locked when I shot that, that’s the beauty of it, the camera stays pointed where I want it pointed, even as windy as the day was. The Benro tripod that I got for half price because they discontinued that model has no center post, but does have a substantial hook under it where I can hang my second long set-up to keep it close by and ready, but off the ground or trying to hold it as I use the camera on the tripod. That also helps to steady the set-up, it’s almost as solid as a rock as I move the camera on the gimbal head around to follow the action. Here’s a closer look at the gimbal head.

My gimbal head on the tripod with camera and lens attached

My plan almost worked well, but the swans stayed on the other side of the lake, since that side was sheltered a little from the wind. But, as I was just getting set-up, one of the swans assumed its aggressive posture…

Mute swan getting aggressive

…getting ready to chase one of the other swans away.

Mute swan getting aggressive

With the gimbal head, I was able to track the swan very well.

Mute swan getting aggressive

In the old days, I’d post dozens of images of the swans chasing each other around, but I’ll be able to get much better images at another time, when the swans are closer to me. But, as a test of the tripod and gimbal head, it was a complete success. Well, maybe not a complete success, I did do one thing wrong, I didn’t use the portable hide that I also recently purchased. I didn’t need the hide to get closer to the swans, but to block the light from hitting the LCD display on the back of the camera when I tried live view focusing with the 400 mm lens and 2 X tele-converter.

Mute swans in action at 800 mm and live view focusing

The camera, lens, and extender seemed to do well enough, but I couldn’t see the white swans in the LCD display well enough to keep them in the frame as they moved. The 7D Mk II will not auto-focus while looking through the viewfinder with the 400 mm f/5.6 lens and 2 X tele-converter due to the loss of 2 stops of light because to the tele-converter. However, I can use live view auto-focusing as I did earlier this spring with the golden eagle, or these swans here. It does work, and I think that the results are more consistent than when I try to manually focus while looking through the viewfinder. It is very slow though, better suited to perched birds than action shots.

I did consider shooting some video of the swans, but I would have gotten too much wind noise if I had shot video. Oh well, some other day when I’m closer to the swans and there’s less wind.

So, what does any of this have to do with whether I purchase a spotting scope or not, it’s this. I’d rather be shooting photos than scoping out a flock of birds for one that’s different, or one hiding somewhere that it takes a spotting scope to find it. And, there’s always something to photograph no matter what the weather or other conditions are at the time. The more time that I put into photography, the better my photos are. If I had spent the day scoping out the gulls, I would have missed Junior being fed by its mother, or the green bee on the milkweed. The time that I spend practicing with the gear that I have will pay dividends down the road as well. While the 800 mm of reach that I get with the 400 mm lens and 2 X extender are less than I’d get with a spotting scope, I do pretty well with it, well enough to get birds for the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on.

I had a lot of fun playing with the new gimbal head, learning what it can and can’t do. As far as what it can’t do, there isn’t much, I’m learning that there’s a reason most serious wildlife photographers use a gimbal head. The one that I purchased is a cheaper off-brand than what most professionals use, but I don’t have the super heavy telephoto lenses that they have either. For my mid-weight lenses, the one that I bought works just fine, better than I had hoped. I am glad that I set-up my camera and lens in the store before I purchased it, even a cheap off-brand isn’t that cheap compared to the other types of tripod heads.

Here’s another example of why I’d rather be shooting photos than scoping out birds, I was following a male yellow warbler around as it flitted from branch to branch looking for insects.

Almost a male yellow warbler in flight

While I didn’t get a clear shot of him in flight, I did catch him as he looked for the insect that was trying to hide from him.

Male yellow warbler searching for food


Male yellow warbler searching for food

Sometimes the story is more important than image quality, and I think that these three images show you exactly how many warblers go about foraging for food. The insect saw the warbler coming, and was doing its best to hide, but the warbler tracked it down.

By the way, I’ve received an inquiry from some one on the staff of the American Bird Conservancy asking if they can use one of my images of a female dickcissel. Of course I said yes, even though I won’t get paid for it. To have one of my photos posted online by such an organization, which is similar to the Audubon Society, is payment enough.

It’s funny in a way though, the image they asked to use is one of my older ones shot with the 60D and the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) and I have better quality images shot since then, but in the image they asked to use, the dickcissel is holding a grasshopper in her mouth. Here’s the image that they asked to use.

Female dickcissel

Once again, the story trumped image quality.

Still, I prefer to get the best images that I can.

Juvenile tree swallow, classic pose


Juvenile tree swallow, fun pose

I love the way that it’s staring into the lens so intently in that second image. I’ve had chickadees fly into the lens hood of my lenses a couple of times. I don’t know if the birds see their reflection in the front element of the lens, or if they think that there may be insects hiding in there. But no matter the reason, some birds seem to take a great interest in the front of my camera lens, which is lucky for me.

Anyway, I promised more macro photos, so I’d better get back to them.

Butterfly weed


Bumblebee on butterfly weed


Unknown flowering object

I just read something online about how many bees look like flies, and vice versa, so I’m not sure what the insect on top of the flower is. You may have to take a close look, but there’s a beetle with a long snout to the lower left of the image, it looked as if it was using its long snout to feed on nectar. The bee or fly seemed to be gathering pollen, but I could be wrong.

Bee? and beetle on a Black-eyed Susan


Bee? on a Black-eyed Susan

Then, a honeybee came along, and the smaller insect and the honeybee took turns chasing one another away.

Honeybee on a Black-eyed Susan

Finally, they struck an uneasy peace and decided to share.

Honeybee and friend on a Black-eyed Susan

I had to find one of the flower buds just beginning to open to find one without an insect on it.

Black-eyed Susan flower bud opening

For being shot outside on a somewhat windy day, those aren’t bad. I just watched another how-to video on macro photography, and once again, most of the images were shot inside using several light sources for each image. I’ve done that before, and it is the best way to get the eye-popping macro images that you see, but I prefer to wonder around outside and shoot what I see when I see it. My images may not be as good, but it’s more fun to me.

One last image for this post before I publish it.

Male Green-winged teal

I thought that both days of the weekend were slow for birding, yet I’ve got more than enough photos left over for another post. I’m spoiled.

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

How the time does fly

It’s now officially summer already, and I’m seeing evidence that the waterfowl are beginning to molt. That means that I won’t be shooting many photos of them for the next few months, until they return to their breeding plumage or something spectacular happens that’s too good not to photograph. So, I’ll begin the photos in this post with a portrait of a male redhead duck while he’s still looking so dapper.

Male redhead duck

Once again, I blew it, I was using the bird portrait set-up to shoot that, when the duck turned towards me to stretch its wings.

Male redhead duck


Male redhead duck


Male redhead duck

He gave me ample warning of what he was about to do, but I suffered a momentary brain freeze, forgetting that all I had to do was make a quick turn of the mode dial to switch to settings that would have frozen the movement of his wings. The thought went through my head at the time to switch to the second body that was already set for action shots, but I didn’t have time for that. I would have had time to turn the dial if I had remembered that it was all that it would have taken to get the correct settings. My one excuse is that I had no idea that there was still a pair of redheads around, and that I’d be so close to them.

In fact, my first instinct had been to grab the action set-up first, expecting them to take flight, until I saw that the pair of them were going to pose nicely for me. It was then that I grabbed the portrait set-up.

Redhead ducks

I try to anticipate what’s going to happen in every situation, but most of the time, I guess wrong. The darned birds and other critters seldom cooperate with me. They seem to get some enjoyment out of doing the unexpected. I was lucky in some ways, I had good soft light for the portraits, so I’m very pleased with them. If I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t have the polarizing filter on the lens to cut down on the glare from the water, but as low as the light was, I wasn’t expecting the glare to be so harsh.

Anyway, I have a couple of photos from a few weeks ago that I haven’t posted yet, as they’re not very good.

Whitetail doe, fawn, and a meadowlark and male bobolink

The deer running across the field must have gotten close to the nests of the meadowlark and bobolink, causing them to take flight. They didn’t attack the deer as red-winged blackbirds would have, but waited for the deer to pass, then settled back down into the grass and out of sight. I thought that it was interesting to get them all in the frame at one time though. Here’s a slightly better photo of the doe and her fawn.

Whitetail doe and her fawn

It’s already so late in the season that the fawns are following their mothers around now instead of staying hidden most of the time and waiting for the mother to return so that the fawns can nurse.

I’ve been chasing sparrows around a lot the past few weeks, hoping to find a species of them that I’ve never photographed before. I haven’t had any luck with new species, but here are two species that I haven’t posted photos of lately.

Chipping sparrow


Chipping sparrow


Vesper sparrow


Vesper sparrow

The male chipping sparrows will perch up off the ground to “sing” although their song doesn’t amount to very much. The vesper sparrows never seem to leave the ground, I see them running through the fields at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, but I seldom get this clear of a view of them. It was only because this one was keeping an eye on me that I got those photos. Most of the time it was hugging the ground staying below the level of the top of the vegetation.

Changing gears, how do male squirrels find females that are in heat and ready to mate?

Male Fox squirrel tracking down a female

They follow the scent trail that the females leave behind, just as a dog follows a scent trail. I don’t know if he caught up with the female, I didn’t watch him that long, but his nose never left the trail he was on.

This chipmunk was climbing a tree to reach the berries in the tree.

Eastern chipmunk

I have two versions of motherwort flowers to share, one taken with the sun behind me…


…and one where the sun was on the other side of the flowers, backlighting them.


Those were shot while I was walking more for exercise than for photos, so I didn’t have my macro lens with me for a close-up of an individual flower.

I found a dragonfly that was willing to pose for me while I explored different lighting options, this first one is with the sun behind me.

Dragonfly, traditional lighting

I moved to the side for this one.

Dragonfly, side lighting

And, I went to where the sun was shining through the dragonfly for this last one.

Dragonfly, back lighting

I should have used a little, very little, fill lighting for that last one, but I’m still quite pleased with the results. I love the way that the dragonfly’s body glows from the light passing through it, and it also shows the wings the best of any of these shots. If only I could have brightened up its face a little more.

As long as I can press the shutter button on my camera, I’ll continue to experiment in different ways.

That’s what Michael Melford, the Nat Geo photographer whose videos I’ve watched many times, would call working the scene, just like the motherwort earlier. B&H Camera has many good how-to videos from presenters like Michael Melford, although I don’t always agree with how the other presenters go about getting their photos. For example, one well-known wildlife photographer who has many videos on Youtube through B&H, baits almost all of the subjects to bring them up close, from hummingbirds to large raptors, to the big cats of Africa. That’s cheating as far as I’m concerned.

Recently, I’ve watched a couple of videos through B&H with a new to me presenter, Ron Magill. He’s a zoologist by training, and a bigwig at the Miami, Florida zoo, and as such, many of his photos are of captive animals. But, he tells you straight up which of his images are of captive critters, and which are not. What I love about his presentations are his passion, enthusiasm, and love of nature, which really come through as he gives his talks. Even though he’s sponsored by Nikon, there’s no talk of camera gear to speak of, it’s all about getting the shot, the thrill that comes with it, and the reasons why those of us who love nature photography continue to shoot away.

Great blue heron in flight

He also talks about saving the memories with the photos we shoot, telling the stories of nature, and also photography as a learning tool.

For example, the beaks of most birds are solid and inflexible, however, some shorebirds have flexible beaks.

Semi-palmated sandpiper

You can see in that image that the sandpiper’s bill is curved one way as it preens…

Semi-palmated sandpiper

…and in that image, the bill is back to its normal curve, which is down. Having flexible bills makes it easier for them to probe for food in the mud. I’ve read that before, but I never saw it with my own eyes until I shot the series of photos of the sandpiper that I did.

When I began blogging, my goal was to share the places that I went and the things that I saw that few people get the chance to see in person.

However, even though I was able to photograph some aspects of animal behavior that I wanted to share, my photos weren’t very good, and they did a poor job of conveying that behavior. So, I got caught up in working to improve the quality of my photos so that people can see in them what I see in person. But, I lost track of what my original intent was when I started my blog.

In the beginning, I hoped that people would be able to tell that the subject I was shooting was a bird. As my photos improved, I hoped that people would be able to identify the species from the photo. But, in reading and watching videos about good wildlife photography, I went too far, and tried to make the judges of photo contests happy, even though I had given up on entering any of my images in contests in the first place. That meant that you had to be able to see the critter’s eye(s), and that they were in sharp focus. I went on to always wanting to get the catch light in a critter’s eye, and now, I’m to the point where I don’t think that an image of a bird is a good one unless you can see the bird’s iris in its eye.

Male northern cardinal

That’s fair, but it’s still a little soft because I was quick on the shutter release. This next one is sharper, but by then, the cardinal had turned slightly so that part of its bill is hidden behind the branch.

Male northern cardinal

I suppose that learning that a bird’s eye is much like ours, with an iris, that there’s a color to a bird’s eye, and that their eyes aren’t just a black bulge on their face is something new to most people, it was to me. And, while I’d love every image to be perfect, that’s never going to happen.

If I were willing to take the time to learn Photoshop, I could probably remove the branch from the images above completely, and “construct” the cardinal’s bill by cutting and pasting the tip of the bill from other images. But, I don’t want to sit in front of my computer that long, I’d rather be out shooting more photos instead. Now that I have the equipment and proficiency to get images like those on a regular basis, I was a little lost as to where to go next. It’s not as if my quest for quality had been reached completely, but I can’t foresee any huge leaps in the quality of my images in the future. When you can see the iris in a bird’s eye, and see the individual fibers of its feathers, then that’s doing pretty good.

So, that’s why watching those videos of Ron Magill happened at the right time. As I said, his passion, enthusiasm, and love of nature really comes through in his presentations. He gets so excited that I wondered at times how he ever managed to hold the camera still enough to get the great images that he does. Not only that, but there’s a great deal of humor in his talks as he describes his journey as a nature photographer, and how he gets his images. He’ll keep you laughing, that’s for sure.

Part of the answer is going back to what I was trying to do when I started my blog, telling the stories that I saw in nature. The other direction that I’m going to take is to use the skills that I’ve acquired to create more artistic images.

Newly opened leaves


Sulphur cinquefoil

A couple of years ago, I read on another person’s blog that the hardest thing about reading other blogs as a photographer is the urge to critique every one else’s images. That’s not the case with me, as my photos continue to improve, I find it harder all the time to comment on other people’s photos. Part of that is because photography is subjective, like all art forms. Just because some one else has a different style of photography than I do does not mean that they are wrong and that I’m right, or vice versa. That’s what makes photography so great in my opinion, we all see the world differently, and I like seeing how other people view the world around them.

Another reason that I find it harder to comment on the photos shot by others is that not every one wants to spend their last dime on camera gear, or lug it all around with them. That’s okay with me, I understand that some people are content with their images the way that they are, and that I can still appreciate the beauty of the subjects that they shoot, and learn from their photos at the same time.

I still have a lot to learn, both in the way of photography, but especially about the things that I photograph. On the evening that I shot the sulphur cinquefoil image, my plan had been to shoot St. John’s wort flowers, as I had great light, and not a hint of any breeze at all. However, the flowers of St. John’s wort must close in the evening, for I couldn’t find a single open flower on the plants. Yes, it’s that time of year already, when mid-summer flowers are blooming. At least it seems like mid-summer already, as short as our summers are here in Michigan.

I did attempt to shoot the sunset, but the 100-400 mm lens isn’t very good for landscapes…

Sunset in Creekside Park

…and trying to find a pleasing view of the sunset was problematic. You can see a short stretch of the expressway in that photo, at least there were no cars going past at that instant. In the twilight after sunset, I shot these three bunnies enjoying the perfect summer evening.

Cottontail rabbits at sunset

I must be getting lazy, I didn’t even bother to reduce the noise in those images, even though they were shot at ISO 12,800 and could stand some noise reduction. These were shot mostly as a test, since it’s only been a short time since I’ve been shooting at an ISO setting that high when required.

Cottontail rabbits at sunset

No award winners there, but the memories of that evening will stay with me whenever I view those images. It was getting dark, the people had left the park so it was quiet, the temperature was perfect for me, it was just me and the three bunnies sharing a most pleasant evening.

Changing gears, there’s going to be a total eclipse of the sun this August, but to view the total eclipse, I’d have to travel a few hundred miles south of where I live. It will be very close to a total eclipse here, so I’m thinking about purchasing the neutral density filter that’s required to photograph the event. In the grand scheme of what I’ve spent on photography equipment, the ND filter is peanuts, but the question is, do I want to spend that for a one time use when it may even be cloudy here that day? That, and to do it right, I’d have to take the day off from work. It would be nice to catch a once in a lifetime event like that though. I’ll think about it some more.

I’m also thinking of trying more night-time photography, shooting few star trails and the Milky Way. I wouldn’t be able to do those from home because of the amount of light from the City of Grand Rapids, but they’re something that I’m keeping in mind for the future.

Having the psoriasis flare-up and having to spend time in the hospital this spring sure screwed up my plans for this summer. I was hoping to spend less money on camera gear, which has happened, but more on weekend trips to northern Michigan where I could probably end up shooting photos 24 hours a day if I didn’t need sleep. Oh, well, there’ll be other years for that, I hope.

I have 4 long years to work before I can retire and devote myself completely to photography. The more that I shoot, the more that I believe that I could keep myself occupied 24 hours a day. I shot this image of a red-winged blackbird well after the sun had dropped below the horizon and for this one, I did some noise reduction.

Red-winged blackbird

That image would have been impossible for me to get just a couple of years ago, and while it isn’t great, it’s pretty good. It’s the same for these.

White-breasted nuthatch

I don’t know if it was just about sunset when I shot those, but the nuthatch actually stayed in one place looking around long enough for me to get several good photos of it.

White-breasted nuthatch

I have two more images from last night, shot before the sun began to set.

Day lily


Male American goldfinch

It’s now Saturday morning, and I’m going to eat breakfast and then go out and see what I can find to photograph today.

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

Telling the story well

My last post was another of my boring ones on camera gear and my efforts to improve my ability to use what I already have to get better images. In this post, I hope to better explain why it’s so important to me to improve my images.

Nature is full of stories, whether it’s a simple, but beautiful one, of a small bird singing its heart out trying to attract a mate…

Male dickcissel singing

…or a more complicated one of how birds fly.

Green heron in flight

I want to improve my skills as a photographer to better tell the stories that nature presents us if we take the time to observe those stories.

Added to that is my curiosity of how animals learn how to live. By that, I mean such things as how do birds learn where and how to build their nests. Most species of birds build their own distinctive style and size of nest, and how do the young know how to do that when they’ve never seen an adult build a nest? Do they learn by growing up in a nest, seeing how it is built? Or, is building a nest “hardwired” in their brain at birth so that they know what to do when the time comes?

That story is a little problematic for me to tell, as I seldom sit near a nest as it’s being built, nor do I sit and watch the adult birds feeding their young.

In the past, when I’ve seen a bird building a nest out in the open where I can see it easily, I’ve shot a few photos, then moved on to prevent disturbing the bird building the nest. It’s usually the same when I happen upon a nest that has young birds in it, I may shoot a photo or two, then move on so that I don’t disturb the adults.

Adult blue jay feeding its young

As you can see, the blue jay had built its nest in a thick tangle of branches and was well hidden from view. The dense branches surrounding the nest also makes it harder for a larger raptor to find and raid the nest.

The way that I found the nest was by watching the adult, hoping for a clear photo of it. The adult took a circuitous route to the nest, pausing often to look around in a way that made me think that it was foraging for food, not on its way to a nest. After watching the entire event play out, I now know that the blue jay was being careful not to let any potential predators know where its nest and young were hidden.

Blue jays are members of the corvid family of birds, the most intelligent birds that there is. Apparently, their intelligence extends to where they build their nests, and how they come and go as they feed their young.

On the other hand, there are the American robins. I’ve posted photos of them building their nests right out in the open, shown photos of them feeding their young in those nests, and even posted a series of photos last year that showed a hawk taking one of the young robins from such a nest.

It’s easy to find a robin’s nest, find an adult collecting food…

American robin collecting food for its young

….follow it as it moves around…

American robin collecting food for its young

…and eventually, the robin will go straight to its nest.

Unfortunately, many predators have figured that out, and find that young robins are a good meal for themselves or their young.

Red-tailed hawk taking a young robin back to its nest

Corvids, being as intelligent as they are, have also learned to watch adult birds bring food to their young also.

American crow carrying off a baby bird

In some ways, crows are even better predators of young birds, although they may not take as many as raptors do in total. On the day that I shot the last photo, a pair of crows were acting as a team. One crow was distracting the other species of birds in the area by circling low to draw the attention of the other birds…

American crow in flight


American crow being attacked by a Baltimore oriole

…while the crow in the first photo in this series raided one of the other bird’s nest.

Even blown up on my computer, I can’t identify the species of young bird that the crow is carrying away, but I don’t think that it was a Baltimore oriole. There were several other species of birds attacking the crow, including a red-winged blackbird and an eastern kingbird. I chose to use the image of the adult Baltimore oriole chasing the crow as I’ve never captured that in the past, and as a way of showing that many species will defend their young against much larger predators. And, not all the species of birds present at this spot attempted to chase off the crow,  although they probably would have if it had gotten very close to its young.

That’s one of the darker stories that nature has for us if we take the time to observe what’s happening around us. Here’s a much more pleasing story, although I missed the best part.

I was shooting a few portraits of a cedar waxwing…

Cedar waxwing

…because it’s been a while since I’ve posted any photos of them.

Cedar waxwing

A second waxwing landed in the same bush, and it looked to me as if it had food in its bill. Cedar waxwings are social birds that often share food with others in the flock, especially males that are wooing a female. The waxwing that I was photographing moved right next to the one that had just arrived that had the food, but there was a branch full of leaves blowing right in front of the pair as they sat there perched.

If the second waxwing did share its food with the first one, I missed it while moving to a spot where I had a clear view of them.

Cedar waxwings

I hope that I have better luck the next time.

In a way, the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on is a story as well. It’s the story of the diversity of birds that can be seen in Michigan, or most parts of the world for that matter. With that is the behaviors of each species, although I could do a better job at that.

When I first began trying to identify shorebirds, the easiest one for me to ID was the spotted sandpiper, so for a while, I posted quite a few images of them. I’ve since gotten better at identifying the other shorebirds, but I still remember how many photos of the spotted sandpipers that I posted, so I haven’t included any photos of them for a while.

Spotted sandpiper

It’s easy to see how they came by their name, the spots on their bellies. By the way, I had inserted a different photo of a spotted sandpiper here, but then I went out and shot this one, which is much better.

On the other end of the spectrum as far as the number of images of a species of bird that I’ve posted is this one, the red-necked phalarope.

Red-necked phalarope, probably female

These are long distance migrants that only stop in Michigan on their way to their breeding grounds in the Arctic. The females are typically more colorful than the males, which is unusual in the bird world, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever posted photos of this species in its breeding plumage before.

Red-necked phalarope, probably female

Those two species remind me to say a few words about their preferred habitat, and by extension, how to make identifying all birds, but especially shorebirds, a little easier.

You can see that the spotted sandpiper was walking along the rocks along the shore, that’s their preferred habitat, rocky areas from what I’ve seen. They seldom venture out into the water, but instead, they walk around the rocks looking for insects there.

On the other hand, the phalaropes prefer shallow ponds with smooth bottoms, i.e. gravel or sand, and they are typically the shorebirds out in the deepest water when compared to the other species of shorebirds. They will even feed while swimming, although they seem to prefer to wade if they can.

So, when I went looking for the red-necked phalarope after others had reported seeing it, finding it was relatively easy for me now, even though there were hundreds of other shorebirds very close by at the time. The phalarope was the one in the deepest water, while all the others were wading closer to shore. A quick look through the viewfinder of my camera confirmed that it was indeed the phalarope, so I began shooting.

It’s also because of each species of bird’s preferred habitat that makes it easier to photograph some species well, such as the spotted sandpiper, while others, like the phalarope are more difficult to get good images of. The spotted sandpipers stick to land, meaning that I can get closer to them, while the phalaropes are the farthest from shore, so I can’t get as close to them.

Here’s another species of bird that it’s rare to get such a good look at.

Eastern towhee

Towhees are a species of large sparrow. As such, they spend most of their time on the ground in thick brush where they are difficult to see. This spring, I’ve been lucky enough to catch two of the males out in the open singing to attract a mate. When they’re down on the ground foraging through the leaf litter in search of food, they are almost impossible to see.

Here’s another story for you, small birds can often find cover from the rain, but most larger birds can’t. Here’s a miserable looking turkey vulture doing what it can to stay dry during a downpour.

Turkey vulture in the rain

I don’t know why they held their wings out as the rain fell on them, but many of them, although not all, did hold their wings open.

Turkey vultures in the rain

But it didn’t matter if they held their wings open or closed, they were some of the saddest looking birds that I’ve ever seen. After the rain let up, all the vultures opened their wings to dry off.

Turkey vulture drying its wings

On the other end of the emotional scale, tell me that this guy doesn’t look happy and even a bit proud of his catch.

Belted kingfisher with its catch


Belted kingfisher with its catch

At first, I couldn’t think of a reason for this kingfisher to be where it was, since there was no water nearby. Then it dawned on me, it was on its way back to the burrow where its nest was, and the kingfisher was pausing to look around to see that no predators were watching it before it flew into the burrow to feed its young.

I’ve gone on at length about how I’m working to improve my photos, working towards having great images to tell the story of what I saw happen. In a way, that’s a two-edged sword. I’ve not posted some photos of interesting happenings that I’ve seen because the image quality was so poor. I’ve forgotten that there are times when the story is more important than the quality of the images that I post here, especially since I’ve already surpassed the quality threshold of how my images will appear in my blog. Let me show you what I mean with these two sets of images.

I came upon a family of sandhill cranes at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, and of course, the red-winged blackbirds were making the crane’s lives miserable.

Female red-winged blackbird attacking sandhill cranes

You can see that the crane in front has ducked to avoid the blackbird, which is something that I wanted to capture. That image was shot with the 100-400 mm lens with a 1.4 X tele-converter behind it, and cropped slightly, because of how far away the cranes were. I was also using my bird portrait settings, so my shutter speed was relatively low, and the camera is set to tick off 4 frames per second maximum, which is as fast as I can get for the best quality images. In reality, it seldom manages the 4 frames per second due to the slow shutter speeds.

Anyway, the second crane didn’t duck, and the blackbird slapped it in the face with its wing as it flew past. I missed that shooting at the slow frame rate I was using, but I did capture this as the next frame.

Female red-winged blackbird attacking sandhill cranes

You can see that the blackbird is already landing in the weeds, but the best part of that image is the look on the second crane’s face. Unfortunately, you can’t really see the look on the crane’s face the way that the image is presented here. So, I thought about that overnight, and I decided the absolute image quality wasn’t as important as the story and the look on the crane’s face. I went back into Lightroom and created a virtual copy of both images, then cropped the copies severely, even though I knew that the images would suffer as far as sharpness.

Female red-winged blackbird attacking sandhill cranes

Of course I couldn’t create the missed image of the blackbird slapping the crane in the face, but you can now see the look of innocent terror on the crane’s face, as if it were asking what just happened, and why me?

Female red-winged blackbird attacking sandhill cranes

Yes, action happens fast in the wild, too fast for me to always be able to capture the precise moment that it happens.

Anyway, that little exercise has taught me a great deal, that for my blog, cropping an image that much works fine, even though I’d never print the cropped images. I wouldn’t have to, blown up on my computer or if I printed the images to a large size, I don’t need to crop the images for people to see what I want them to see, but in the small size that images appear in my blog, then I should make virtual copies and crop the copies much more than the originals. In the future, I’ll skip the normal size images, and only post the severely cropped images in an instance such as this one. I should have thought about this before.

But, it’s only because the quality of the images that I copied and cropped so severely was so good to begin with that I was able get away with cropping as much as I did. The severely cropped images look as good or better than my best older images from a few years ago. So, all the work that I’ve put into learning photography is paying dividends now.

Anyway, if you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I use gulls as practice subjects for birds in flight because they’re so common, and easy to photograph well. I still practice on gulls to stay sharp, the problem is that there are times when I get an image so good that I just have to share it, despite how my images of gulls in flight that I’ve posted here.

Ring-billed gull in flight

If only I could get lighting like that when I’m trying to shoot these guys.

Cliff swallow in flight

There’s too much noise in these images for them to be considered good ones, but as quick as the swallows are, almost any image of them in flight is a keeper.

Cliff swallow in flight

I was surprised that the 7D Mk II with the 400 mm prime lens could keep up with one flying directly at me in the low-light at the time.

Cliff swallow in flight


Cliff swallow in flight

It seems like whenever all the other conditions are good for me to try photographing the swallows in flight, the light is poor. On this morning, there was an insect hatch taking place close to shore, which brought in a large number of the swallows. Believe me, trying to photograph one or even a few swallows close to me is a tough proposition, I need many of them in the area to get one or two good shots of them. For the few images that I did get, I shot quite a few more with the swallow out of focus, or even out of the frame as they darted about picking off the insects.

There were 20 to 25 swallows there at the time, flying in a circular pattern of sorts, and for once, the wind was right for me to try to shoot the swallows. They would fly at full speed very close to shore for a ways picking off the bugs as they hatched. Then, they would turn out over the water farther as they turned around to get back to where they had started. I would try to get a focus lock on them as they came back to where they started down the shoreline, and attempt to keep them in the viewfinder as they came towards me, then turned to go along the shore. I only sat there for about half an hour, but my arms were growing weary from trying to track the swallows as quick as they are. But, I learned that my equipment is up to the task, now all I need is better light and stronger arms. 🙂

I have one more short story consisting of four images to share before I end this post. Another thing that I’ve been doing lately is shooting a lot of images of any subject that will pose nicely for me. I used to stop when I thought that I had a good image, to try to find another subject to shoot. Now, I’ll keep shooting until I grow tired of it, or the subject takes off. The first image is of this whitetail doe.

Whitetail doe

I shot about twenty images of her before I got that one with both of her ears turned towards me as she listened to the shutter clicking away and no shadows in her ears or on her face. This may be my best ever portrait of a doe, as you can really see her beautiful long eyelashes, although if she would have turned her head slightly, the eyelashes would have shown up even more.

The other example of shooting a lot of images of the same subject is this grasshopper sparrow. This first image shows it shaking itself like a dog.

Grasshopper sparrow

I think that it shook itself so much that it became a little dizzy from its expression and body language in this image.

Grasshopper sparrow

After a few moments, it went back to singing again, and I was able to get this shot.

Grasshopper sparrow

It may be just a grasshopper sparrow, but I think that they are pretty birds in their own way, and I hope that it shows in the images of it that I’ve posted here.

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

In search of perfection

Of course one can not attain perfection, one can only come close. Still, that doesn’t stop me from trying, because when I do, I get the best images that I can under the circumstances at the time.

But, I’m learning that it isn’t just the photographer that can’t reach perfection, neither can the manufacturers of cameras and lenses. As good as the camera gear that I have now is, each item is lacking in one way or another.

Take the Canon 100-400 mm L series lens that I recently purchased. Its auto-focus is much faster than any of the other long Canon lenses that I own. However, when I’m chasing small birds in low light as they are when they’re in their normal habitat…

Male yellow warbler

…I believe that the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) is even better as far as auto-focus. However, that lens can’t match the image quality of the Canon lens in those situations. I love the soft light in that image, along with the pose that the warbler struck.  But, something that I can’t control is the fact that this individual doesn’t have the pronounced red streaks on its chest as most males of this species have. So my pursuit of perfection is dependent on the individual birds that I find to photograph as well as my skills as a photographer.

I can’t use the Canon 400 mm L lens in those situations, its minimum focus distance is just over 11 feet, meaning that I wouldn’t be able to get as close to small birds as I do at times, like this one. Since I know that, I have’t tried using that lens to chase small birds where they live.

The Canon 300 mm L lens was great for close-ups, but its performance tailed off as the distance to the subject that I was shooting increased.  I could go back in my archives and find numerous images shot with the 300 mm lens that are close to macro shots because that lens was at its best the closer I was to the subject. However, I could also go back in my archives and find even more images where the 300 mm lens was softer than it should be when the subjects were farther away from me.

Theoretically, the 100-400 mm lens is supposed to be just as good up close, its minimum focusing distance is just a hair closer than the 300 mm lens is. However, in practice so far, I’m having trouble getting super sharp images from that lens down near its minimum focusing distance. There have been exceptions to that though.

Iris and pollinators


Eastern swallowtail butterfly


Eastern swallowtail butterfly

Still, I believe that the 300 mm lens was even sharper up close than those images shot with the 100-400 mm lens are. I’ve spent very little time with the 100-400 mm lens shooting at very short distances, so maybe it’s me and not the lens that’s responsible for the poor performance so far. Every bit of camera gear comes with a learning curve, since the 100-400 mm lens can produce images as good as the butterfly, I may have to practice with that lens more at very close range to get the best out of it.

Those images bring up a weakness in the Canon 7D Mk II camera that I use most of the time as well. Being a crop sensor camera, its low light performance and dynamic range aren’t as good as a full-frame camera’s would be. I pushed the adjustments in Lightroom quite a bit to bring those images of the butterfly into something worth posting.

It’s the same with this one.

Male mallard

You should see the detail in the image above viewed full screen in its full resolution, you can see each individual feather on the mallard’s neck!

That brings up something else that I have to say, and I hope that it doesn’t sound as if I’m bragging, not too much anyway. When I get things right with one of my best lenses, the image has to be viewed as large as I can blow it up on my computer, or print it out very large if I have it printed, to truly see the level of detail that there is in my best images these days. When viewed as the images are presented here, you can not see the fine detail like the individual fibers that make up the mallard’s feathers, or individual scales in the butterfly’s wings as you can when I blow them up on my computer, or have them printed at 11 X 14 or 14 X 20. So, I am making progress, even if I have already reached the limits of the quality that you can see in the images in my blog.

Anyway, what good is dramatic lighting if camera that I’m using can’t capture it as well as it should? Both the butterfly and the mallard images could still use some dodging and burning, but I’d rather not spend all my time editing images on the computer. I’d like some time to be outside shooting more photos. I could post an unedited photo of both the butterfly and mallard to show you how much I had to work on them in Lightroom to make them as good as they are, but I won’t. I’ll only say that I’d still like a full-frame camera one of these days for its better low-light performance, and higher dynamic range. You may not notice it, but I’ve lost some of the detail in the feathers of the white ring around the mallard’s neck because it was blown out too much for Lightroom to recover. I still had to push the shadows more than I would have liked to get the greens and blues of the mallard’s head right the way that I saw it when shooting that image. Because the ISO setting was low to begin with when I shot those, I didn’t get much noise by boosting the shadow detail as much as I did.

Maybe I’m getting too picky as I try for the best images possible. I didn’t use to worry as much about noise in the shadow areas of an image or if a few highlight areas were blown out as long as the overall image looked good. I suppose that it’s because the overall quality of the images I shoot continues to improve, that I’m bothered by those things now when it wasn’t that way before.

I have learned to get good images of birds in flight with the 100-400 mm lens.

Red-winged blackbird chasing a red-tailed hawk carrying a young robin


Red-winged blackbird chasing a red-tailed hawk carrying a young robin

However, the 400 mm prime lens is still easier and a better choice to use for flying birds, especially in poor lighting.

Male wood duck in flight

Now, if I can get a wood duck to repeat the same flight path someday when the light is better, I’ll really have a great shot that shows all of the duck’s colors!

Anyway, if it were a perfect world, camera manufacturers would develop a sensor that recorded light exactly as our eyes see it. That’s not likely to happen, as it isn’t only our eyes that see light. Our brains adjust what we see, much like we can adjust images with the various types of software on the market these days.

And if it were a perfect world, lens manufacturers would produce lenses that produced exceptional results through the lens’ entire range of focus and aperture. Maybe some one does, but not in the price range that I can afford.

If it were a nearly perfect world, I’d be able to carry all of my camera gear with me, and the correct lens would magically be mounted to the camera for the next opportunity that I have to shoot a photo. But, that isn’t possible either, the weight is prohibitive.

Shooting photos at the Muskegon County wastewater facility tends to spoil me. Most of the time I’m in my vehicle, with the two 7D bodies, one with the 400 mm prime lens on it, the other with the 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X tele-converter on it. When I see a stationary bird…

Male ruddy duck

…I grab the second set-up for a portrait like that one.

For birds in flight…

Green-winged teal landing


Green-winged teal landing


Green-winged teal landing

…I grab the camera with the 400 mm prime lens on it. Those aren’t great, but at least you can see why green-winged teal are named what they are. These next two are better examples of what that set-up can do.

Male mallard landing


Male mallard landing

I’d love to be able to carry both of those set-ups with me all the time, but they’re too heavy and cumbersome for longer walks, so I normally bring just the 100-400 mm lens with me.

As I’m walking more for health reasons than for photography these days, I’m faced with the question of what do I bring, and what do I leave behind. It almost always works out the same, what I leave behind is what I need for what I see on any given day. If I bring my macro lens expecting to shoot insects or flowers, then I don’t see any insects, or the wind kicks up so much that trying to photograph flowers is more frustrating that I have patience for.

If I bring my wide-angle lens expecting to shoot a few landscapes, then good opportunities never present themselves, but then there are insects all around me, and no breeze at all, so flower photography would have been easier.

I think that the plan that I came up with a while back is the right choice for me to make.

As I use the newer 100-400 mm lens more, I’m getting much better results with it, both as a near macro lens…

Ox-eye daisy?


Bird’s foot trefoil


Six spotted tiger beetle

..and for birds in flight, as the red-winged blackbird and hawk photos from earlier show.

Of course it’s great on birds that are perched.

Grey catbird singing

Even in low-light situations.

Grey catbird singing

Eventually, I’ll purchase a full-frame sensor camera and Canon’s 24-105 mm lenses. Along with the 7D and the 100-400 mm lens, that will cover everything from most landscapes, near macros, birds in flight, as well as bird portraits. I can easily carry that, along with just two accessories, the 1.4 X tele-converter, and the set of extension tubes that I have. The tele-converter extends the 100-400 mm lens to 560 mm for longer shots, and the extension tubes will convert the 24-105 mm lens to a macro lens of sorts. Along with the close focusing ability of the 100-400 mm lens, I should be set for almost anything, and all of that will weigh much less than half of what I tried to carry with me in the past.

That will mean that I’ll have to do some swapping of lenses and accessories, but the weight reduction for longer walks will be worth it.

Now then, I’ve received the bill for my stay in the hospital, and the bad news is that the health insurance that I have through work covered very little of it. The good news is the hospital doesn’t seem to be in any hurry for me to pay the entire bill as quickly as possible. I’ve talked to one of their financial representatives, and I have two years to pay the bill interest free. If I went longer than two years, they would charge interest, but paying it off in two years is something that I can do fairly easily. I’ve already made a lump sum payment of almost 1/5 of the total bill, and my monthly payments for the next two years will be easy for me to make, it will be less than what I was spending on camera gear.

Finally knowing how much the hospital bill is and what terms they offer has been a huge load off from my mind. I knew that the insurance I have through work isn’t very good, so that my portion of the bill would be large. The insurance company paid about $250 dollars of my hospital stay, with me picking up all the rest. That makes me wonder why I “contribute” towards the insurance at all, but enough of that for now.

That will put an end to any purchases of camera gear, except for a few relatively inexpensive things that I have on my want list. That’s okay for now, I can work on improving my skills with what I already own as I pay off the hospital bill. Once that bill is paid, I can begin saving for a full-frame camera and the 24-105 mm lens.

Another weekend has come and is almost gone, and I should begin another post with the images that I’ve shot the past two days in an effort to keep my posts shorter. However, that’s not going to be the case.

I still need to improve my action photography, but I feel as if I’m making progress in the right direction.

Red-winged blackbird and common grackle exchanging words in flight

Those two were on the wrong side of me as far as the position of the sun, but at least you can identify the species of both birds. The grackle by its pale eye, and the red-winged blackbird by its red shoulder patches.

I was lucky in one way, the two of them hovered there squawking at one another long enough for me to switch to the saved settings for birds in flight, and get a good focus lock on them with the 100-400 mm lens.

Red-winged blackbird and common grackle fighting in mid-air

Grackles are not shy, retiring birds at all, and they are a bit larger than the red-winged blackbirds, so it surprised me that the red-winged blackbird…

Red-winged blackbird chasing off a common grackle

…was able to drive the grackle away.

Red-winged blackbird chasing off a common grackle

Maybe it’s because the red-winged blackbirds are fearless, and will take on birds much larger than themselves.

Red-winged blackbirds attacking a sandhill crane


Red-winged blackbirds attacking a sandhill crane

Those were shot early in the morning at Muskegon, and I was going for portraits of the cranes, so I had the 1.4 X tele-converter behind the 100-400 mm lens. But, the red-winged blackbirds chasing the cranes put an end to any thoughts of a good portrait shot. In the low-light at the time, my shutter speed was too low to freeze all the movement going on…

Red-winged blackbirds attacking a sandhill crane


Red-winged blackbirds attacking a sandhill crane


Red-winged blackbirds attacking a sandhill crane

Finally, I got the shots that I was hoping for…

Red-winged blackbird attacking a sandhill crane

…with the one crane asking the other, “Does this bird make my butt look big.”…

Red-winged blackbird attacking a sandhill crane

…and the second crane replying, “Only when it spreads its wings out.”…

Red-winged blackbird attacking a sandhill crane

…until the cranes moved into taller vegetation and the blackbirds gave up the chase.

I think that this is a good place to end this post. I have some other action shots to share, but I can use them in another post which explains why I’m working so hard to improve my photography skills. I’ll end this post with one more close-up shot this weekend with the 100-400 mm lens.

Skipper butterfly

I shot quite a few photos at close range this past weekend, and I am getting better results with that lens in those situations. I think that I may have to calibrate the focus of that lens to the 7D body though, as part of the problem I was having seems to be that the lens focuses slightly behind the subject at close range. But, I’ll work with it a bit longer before I do that, as I’d hate to spoil how well it works at longer distances.

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

I don’t get it

Okay, I’ve had my very first full physical examination by a doctor, and he said that I was in good shape for some one my age. The results of the lab tests came back, and they said the same thing. For example, while my “good” cholesterol was a little low, and my “bad” cholesterol is towards the high-end of what’s considered healthy, my overall cholesterol was 40 points below the upper limit. None of this is helping me understand what caused the severe psoriasis flare-up I experienced this spring, or the less severe one that I had last spring. All the other lab results from the blood work say the same thing, overall, I’m in good shape.

While I’m very thankful for my overall good health, in a way, it would be nice if something were slightly out of whack that could be a reason for these flare-ups. Other than being a bit overweight, and not getting enough exercise over the winter months, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for the flare-ups. I suppose that it will remain a mystery.

There’s another thing about my having psoriasis that affects where and when I go out into the woods, insect repellent has a negative effect on my psoriasis. So, I have several choices, go out and be sucked dry of blood by the skeeters, apply insect repellent and deal with it making my psoriasis worse, or find places to go where I don’t need to apply the insect repellent. I have also purchased a mosquito net to go over my head, which will help, but it won’t keep the little bloodsuckers off from the rest of me.

Luckily, the park near home where I used to walk each day is relatively free of mosquitoes. I’ve seen a few there, but most days I can walk the entire three miles and never have to swat any skeeters. The same is true of the Muskegon County wastewater facility for the most part. The skeeters there are limited to the early morning hour around sunrise, and then only near the artificial marshes nearest to the wooded areas of the facility. The skeeters can be quite bad around the woodlot areas, but I can shoot the same species of birds that I would find there at home or in other places. For the most part though, the wastewater facility is mosquito free.

That could be because of the huge numbers of insect-eating birds that make the wastewater facility their home.

Eastern kingbird in flight

In the past, I’ve shown photos here of the huge flocks of swallows that form at the wastewater facility in the fall, but swallows are present in great numbers from early spring until they migrate south in the fall. One of the swallows would have been a better example of one of the insect-eating species of birds to use here, but I wasn’t able to get a good photo of any of them this past weekend. I did catch the eastern kingbird in the photo above looking for its next meal though.

Eastern kingbird in flight


Eastern kingbird in flight

I don’t think that it found what it was after, as I didn’t see anything in its beak as it flew off.

Eastern kingbird in flight

However, later in the day, I did catch one right after it had found something to eat.

Eastern kingbird with lunch

I have a number of images of a pair of kingbirds landing after they had made short flights in search of meals. Each time, they  return to the same general area of the fence that you can see in the image above. I spent some time watching and photographing the pair of them, more cooperative subjects than they were are hard to find. However, I’ll save those images for later, maybe.

There are other things around the wastewater facility that eat insects as well…

Jumping spider


Jumping spider

If it matters to any one, those were shot with the 100 mm macro lens on one of the 60D bodies that I have. I was going to test that lens on the 7D Mk II, but by the time I swapped lenses, the spider was gone, so it was a good thing that I “settled” for the 60D at first.

I say that I “settled” for using the 60D because it may be a fine camera, it can’t do what I can do with the 7D Mk II when it comes to birds in flight. This next series is a great example of what the 7D Mk II, the correct camera settings, and right lens can do.

Ring-billed gull diving for food

It may be only a gull, and not a tern or kingfisher…

Ring-billed gull diving for food

But being able to capture this series…

Ring-billed gull diving for food

…made me a happy camper at the time.

Ring-billed gull diving for food


Ring-billed gull diving for food

I’ll admit that it took me a few attempts to capture that entire sequence of one gull from when it was hovering over the pond to splashdown. I had to learn to judge from the gull’s body language when it was going to begin its dive, and learn how fast they were while in the dive so I could keep them centered in the frame as they plunged into the water.

I’m still a very happy camper for being able to get the middle shot of the gull just before its beak hit the water. However, even at 10 frames per second, the gull is nearly totally submerged in the next shot, that’s how fast they dove after whatever they were feeding on. Like a dummy, I never did hold the shutter release down to continue shooting as the gulls emerged from the water so that I may have been able to see what they were eating. I was too worried about keeping the buffer in the camera ready for the next dive.

Anyway, I can see that I’m going to have even more trouble in the future keeping my posts shorter as far as images. Being able to capture a series of photos as events such as the gull diving or the kingbird searching the weeds for food means more photos worth considering for inclusion here. Then there are the older reasons my posts tend to be long still in play. For example, I was trying for a good shot of this song sparrow so that I could make a positive ID as to what species it was.

Song sparrow

It isn’t a very good photo, but I’m including it because it’s part of the story. As I was trying for the sparrow, I saw something else lurking in the weeds just off to the left of the sparrow, I thought that it was a rabbit. It wasn’t, it was a fox, and very close to me. However, I didn’t know that until the fox lost its nerve and took off running.

Red fox bounding away

Because I was using the camera set-up for a portrait of the sparrow, the shutter speed was too low for a good photo of the fox. I did manage one more poor image of the fox as it ran away from me. I should have paid more attention when I saw what turned out to be the fox hiding in the weeds in the first place, but I was focused on the sparrow at the time.

Red fox bounding away

Having one camera set-up for action shots, and the other set-up for portrait shots works very well most of the time. I’m getting better at grabbing the correct set-up when an opportunity presents itself as you may be able to tell from most of my recent photos.

Sometimes though, I grab the wrong set-up on purpose, here’s an example of that.

Green heron

That was shot with the bird in flight set-up, even though the heron was perched. The reason for that is because I was shooting towards the sun with the background being white clouds. I have the set-up for birds in flight ready for that when it happens, with +2 stops of exposure compensation included so that whatever I’m shooting isn’t just a silhouette against the clouds.

Since the heron stuck around longer than I expected, I was able to switch over to the other set-up, which includes the 1.4 X tele-converter behind the 100-400 mm lens, and adjust the exposure compensation, so I was able to get a little closer to the heron.

Green heron

However, the heron wouldn’t raise its crown again, so I prefer the first image. Having the right set-up dialed into the camera ahead of time makes life so much easier. I’m to the point where I have the newer 7D body set-up almost exactly how I want it, but it’s such a sophisticated camera that it may be a while before I’m completely finished. Some of the things that you can set on the 7D aren’t in the manual, I learned those setting by watching the many online videos there are about getting it set-up. However, I don’t remember which videos held which tips, and I don’t have time to search for and watch all of those videos again. The one setting that bugs me the most is the one having to do with being able to move or select groups of focus points without pushing any extra buttons. On the first 7D body I purchased, I was able to set-up the focus point selection so all I have to do is move the joystick to move the focus point(s) or to select how many I use. I still have to push a separate button first on the second body to do the same thing. It wouldn’t be that big of deal, but I have to remember that quickly as I’m trying to get a shot where changing the focus point(s) is a consideration.

Still, having two camera bodies each with a long lens on it comes in extremely handy, to me it was worth the cost. During the same time frame as I shot the green heron, a pair of sandhill cranes came flying past me.

Sandhill cranes in flight

I continued shooting as they came closer, here’s the best of the images that I shot at their closest approach to me.

Sandhill crane in flight

I use the 400 mm f/5.6 lens as my bird in flight lens, because it doesn’t have image stabilization, and with the high shutter speeds needed for birds in flight…

Red-winged blackbird in flight


Northern shoveler in flight


Semi-palmated sandpiper in flight

…image stabilization isn’t needed.

When I’m shooting bird portraits, I use the 100-400 mm lens with the 1.4 X tele-converter behind it to get to 560 mm and closer to the birds.

Great blue heron


Eastern towhee


Eastern towhee


Semi-palmated sandpiper


Male northern cardinal

That set-up works well enough, although like any one else that does wildlife photography, I’d love to have an even longer lens for times like this.

Juvenile bald eagle

The eagle was out in a field with a kill that it had made, and I had to crop that image too much for it to be a good one. I think that the eagle had gotten a rabbit…

Juvenile bald eagle with a kill

…but I couldn’t tell for sure as far away from me as the eagle was. There was also a turkey vulture nearby, waiting for the eagle to finish eating before it started cleaning up the leftovers that the eagle didn’t finish, but it was too far from the eagle for a photo that showed them together.

I was in the process of setting up my tripod with the gimbal head on it so that I could switch to the 2 X tele-converter to get closer to the eagle, but that was more than the eagle could stand. It took its lunch somewhere else to finish. However, while I was getting set-up, a pair of male bobolinks got into a territorial tussle, and I was able to shoot this photo of one of them.

Male bobolink

Well, this post is getting too long already, but I have to share these two photos.

Male eastern box turtle

I know that the turtle is a male because of its red eyes.

Male eastern box turtle

And, one last photo to remind myself to better anticipate what’s going to happen next.

Whitetail doe

I saw her standing, and shot a few photos of her then. However, then I sat there watching her with the camera settings the same, even though I should have known what was going to happen. She hoisted her tail and pranced off in the dainty way that deer have when they’re not frightened too badly, so my shutter speed was too low to freeze her motion as well I as should have gotten. I did catch her with all four feet off from the ground, but that photo would have been much better if I had done what I should have.

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

At least I’m alive

I thought long and hard about doing this post, but since my blog is a record of my life in many ways, I decided to do it.

Due to health reasons, I’ve missed most of my favorite time of the year, spring, and even worse, I’ve had to cancel my vacation this year. I had to use my vacation days to cover the time that I missed at work because of my health issues.

I have psoriasis, which is just an annoyance to me most of the time. Psoriasis is a hereditary auto-immune disease that causes my immune system to attack my skin. I’ve had it to varying degrees my entire life, but towards the middle of April, I had what is called a flare-up of my psoriasis. It got to the point where it covered most of my body, and it only took a week or so for it to spread that much.

I had what I thought was just a bad cold just before the psoriasis flare-up began, and I thought that the cold had brought with it strep throat, which is a known trigger for psoriasis flare-ups. I went to an urgent care facility, and the doctor prescribed antibiotics in case it had been strep throat, or if I had a skin infection. The antibiotics didn’t help. I have some other thoughts as to what brought on the flare-up, which I’ll share later.

I managed to work another week, despite pain whenever I moved any part of my body, because the psoriasis had formed a thick, solid coating of almost dead skin over most of my body. Any movement on my part caused that thick layer of dead skin to tear the newer skin underneath apart, I liken it to being skinned alive.

Some of you may remember that I mentioned some health issues last year in my blog at about the same time of the year, and that it wasn’t until I went on my vacation last year that I began to feel good again. I had a minor psoriasis flare-up last year, which antibiotics helped clear up, or so I thought. There were also some other underlying health issues last year as well.

Remembering what I went through the previous year, I was already trying to find a primary care physician to help me with the underlying issues that I thought were causing the psoriasis flare-ups, but it isn’t easy to get a quick appointment with a good doctor. I’ve seen enough bad doctors in my life, I wasn’t going to settle for another of those.

Anyway, I did see a physicians assistant who works out of the same office as the primary care physician I had chosen, and she recommended immediate hospitalization because I was in such poor health overall.

At the hospital ER, the first doctor that examined me was overwhelmed by how bad my psoriasis flare-up was, and called another doctor in to also examine me. The second doctor was also overwhelmed, and I could overhear the two of them discussing various treatment options available to them to help me recover. I could tell that they were concerned for me and were good doctors trying to get to the bottom of something that they had little experience with.

I was admitted to the hospital, and spent four days there, under the care of a third doctor, also a very good one, who tried his very best to get to the bottom of what had caused this severe of a psoriasis flare-up.

Obviously, I survived, due to excellent care by both the doctors and nurses that cared for me during my hospital stay. By the end of the four days that I spent in the hospital, the psoriasis flare-up began to subside, and while some movements on my part were still painful, I was doing better. Still, no one could tel me what brought on the extreme flare-up, that will probably remain a mystery.

Since then, I have seen a dermatologist, whom I’m not impressed with. He’s the same dermatologist that made me overly sensitive to sunlight when I was seeing him back in the early 1990’s. However, he’s considered to be the area’s best expert on psoriasis, so I’ll continue to see him for the time being.

I was also able to see the primary care physician that I chose, and I was very impressed with him.

A sidenote, when I was checked into the hospital, I weighed 301 pounds and my blood pressure was sky-high. Two weeks later, when I saw my new primary care doctor, my weight had fallen 29 pounds to 272 pounds, and my blood pressure was towards the high-end of the range, but within what is considered to be safe. That 29 pounds that I lost was almost all fluids that had accumulated in my body and had caused me to swell up like a balloon. My blood pressure had been so high because my heart had to deal with all of the fluid accumulated in my body.

So, where do I go from here?

I feel bad because I haven’t had the time to comment on the blog posts that people have posted over the last two months. For one thing, trying to get my health back has taken a lot of my time. Also, it’s been painful for me to type due to cracked skin on my finger tips up until the last few days. I still have a few fingers with cracked skin on the ends, but they are improving a little each day.

I’ve only been out with my camera gear twice since all these health issues began, again, the dry, cracked skin on the ends of my fingers made it painful to operate the camera. Also, I’ve been more focused on my overall health than in shooting photos.

Short-billed dowitcher

Since my health issues began, I’ve had time to reflect on what has caused those issues, I think that the psoriasis flare-ups are a symptom of my letting my overall health slide a bit over the past two years. So, I’m not sure when I’ll begin blogging more consistently again, at least not now as I type this. I have to get back into shape because I don’t get enough exercise on the job that I have now. My old job was better in that respect, unloading and reloading the trailer twice a night helped me stay in shape. I didn’t have to think about getting enough exercise other than what I got at work.

I have an appointment with my primary care doctor next Monday, for a full, complete physical, the first that I’ve ever had. I’ll know more after that. One good thing about my hospital stay was that they did many lab tests on me, and by the end of my stay, the results looked pretty good. Still, a complete picture of my overall health will help me decide what course of action I’ll be taking from here on.

Walking slowly to sneak up on birds…

Male Brewer’s blackbird


Grey catbird

…isn’t going to give me the exercise that I need. Neither is sitting in the new portable hide that I purchased just before my health issues manifested themselves. I still haven’t tested it to see how well it works.

For the time being, my health is going to have to come first, and photography second.

That’s okay for now, I’ll still have the portable hide and all my photography gear once I get back into shape, and my health is back to normal. That goes for the new tripod and gimbal head that I also purchased this spring. I was in the process of getting them out and setting them up to shoot a better version of this image…

Short-billed dowitchers and reflections

…when a northern harrier flew over the flock of shorebirds…

Dunlin, short-billed dowitchers and other assorted shorebirds

…causing the entire flock to take flight.

Assorted shorebirds in flight

I missed the northern harrier, but I was able to grab the camera set-up for birds in flight for these photos.

Assorted shorebirds in flight

Since it’s been over a month since I was out with a camera, I was woefully out of practice.

Least sandpiper


Great blue heron before dawn

I’ve missed the early spring flowers, along with many of the migrating birds that others have seen this spring. Heck, some of the early nesting birds already have young ones to care for.

Killdeer chick

This is what that chick will grow up to look like.


While I have missed a lot this spring, just getting outside while I’ve been working on my health has been wonderful, even though I haven’t shot many photos. Just hearing the birds singing…

Male Baltimore oriole


Male yellow warbler

… brings me great joy!

I may have missed the early spring flowers, but I’ve been getting outside while walking in time to catch some of the most aromatic spring flowers…


…which has made walking for exercise that much more enjoyable.

Still, I miss being out with the camera, as you can tell from these photos.

Great blue heron


Semi-palmated plover


Grasshopper sparrow hiding


Female yellow warbler

I no longer have to shower twice a day to soften the dead skin covering my body so that the medicinal cream that the doctors prescribed for me can reach the healthier skin under the dead skin. I’m down to one shower a day now, and each day, my psoriasis retreats a little more. That’s giving me more time to get out and walk to help me get back in shape, and even bring a camera now and then.

While I don’t know when I’ll get back to posting on a regular basis, I do know that I never want to go through what I went through this spring ever again in my life. This is the second year in a row that I’ve let my health slip during the winter months, and I’ve paid the price for having done so. In fact, I’ll be paying the price for what happened to me this spring for a long time, as I’m looking at some huge medical bills that I’ll have to pay. I do have health insurance, but with very large deductibles that are my responsibility to pay. That means no more camera gear for the foreseeable future. That’s okay, because most of the items that I was looking at were things that would be nice to have, but I didn’t really need them. The camera gear that I have now is more than adequate for what I want to accomplish, once I am fully up to speed on getting the best out of what I have.

I’ve also come to understand that my past posts were too long most of the time, with too many photos in most of them. While this is going to end up being a very similar post to what I used to do, that’s only because it’s been so long since I’ve posted anything. I don’t quite know how I’ll fit the variety of birds…

Male blue-winged teal


White-crowned sparrow


Pectoral sandpiper


Eastern kingbird


Female red-winged blackbird


Eastern Phoebe


Mourning dove

…in my posts as I have in the past. The only reason I’m including so many species in this post is in honor of the birding big day, when birders world-wide try to spot as many species in one day as they can. These photos were all shot on the weekend of the birding big day.

I guess that all of this boils down to questions of balance, balancing the time I spend working on my health against how much time I spend trying for better images. Balancing the number of images I put into a post against how long each of my posts end up being. As I weigh each photo, it’s hard for me to decide what to include, and what to discard. Here’s an example.

Great egret

While that isn’t my best image of a great egret, it’s the only one that I’ve posted that shows one with its breeding plumage and showing the green lores (the area in front of a bird’s eye) that egrets get for a few days during the breeding season. While I’m sure that I’ll get a better image of a great egret during the breeding season someday, that’s my best so far. If I wait for the perfect image of every species, I’d never post another image. But, as I mark my progress forward, I end up with too many images in every post.

Well, it’s been a week since I last worked on this post. I’ve had my first complete physical ever, and the doctor says that other than my psoriasis, I’m in pretty good health for some one my age, and he can’t believe how much my psoriasis has improved in the two weeks since I had last seen him. I do have to work on my weight and blood pressure still, and we’re still waiting on the blood tests done, but I’m feeling like a new man right now.

I’m still having lots of second and third thoughts about publishing this post, because I’m not looking for sympathy in any comments that people may leave. I did this to myself by hibernating over the last two winters and letting my health slip away. While I would appreciate the well wishes of others, that’s not why I would post this if I do. I also feel guilty for not commenting on other people’s blogs since I have taken a break from posting. It’s not fair that I accept the comments of others to my blog if I’m not commenting on their blogs.

Anyway, things are settling down, and I’ve managed to increase the distance that I walk when I’m able from just under a mile to the full three miles around home here that I used to do. I’ve only taken the camera with me as I’ve done these around home walks once, and here are a few of the photos from that walk.

American crow


Goat’s beard


Antique car


Lily of the valley


High bush cranberry flowers


House wren

So, I guess that’s about it for now. I will say that I’m very pleased with the doctor that I’ve chosen as my primary care physician, as he takes the time to not only listen to the questions that I have about my health, but also to answer those questions to the extent that he is able. He’s not a dermatologist, so he can’t answer all the questions that I ask, but he knows enough to know how difficult it can be to find a psoriasis treatment that actually works for each individual. But, my opinion is that if I work with him to get back to where I’m in the best shape as far as my overall health, that my psoriasis will improve as well.

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

American Woodcock, Scolopax minor

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.

American Woodcock, Scolopax minor

The American woodcock (Scolopax minor), sometimes colloquially referred to as the timberdoodle, is a small chunky shorebird species found primarily in the eastern half of North America. Woodcocks spend most of their time on the ground in brushy, young-forest habitats, where the birds’ brown, black, and gray plumage provides excellent camouflage.

Because of the male woodcock’s unique, beautiful courtship flights, the bird is welcomed as a harbinger of spring in northern areas. It is also a popular game bird, with about 540,000 killed annually by some 133,000 hunters in the U.S.

The American woodcock is the only species of woodcock inhabiting North America. Although classified with the sandpipers and shorebirds in Family Scolopacidae, the American woodcock lives mainly in upland settings. Its many folk names include timberdoodle, bogsucker, night partridge, brush snipe, hokumpoke, and becasse.

The population of the American woodcock has fallen by an average of slightly more than 1% annually since the 1960s. Most authorities attribute this decline to a loss of habitat caused by forest maturation and urban development.

The American woodcock has a plump body, short legs, a large, rounded head, and a long, straight prehensile bill. Adults are 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm) long and weigh 5 to 8 ounces (140 to 230 g).Females are considerably larger than males. The bill is 2.5 to 2.75 inches (6.4 to 7.0 cm) long.
The plumage is a cryptic mix of different shades of browns, grays, and black. The chest and sides vary from yellowish white to rich tan. The nape of the head is black, with three or four crossbars of deep buff or rufous. The feet and toes, which are small and weak, are brownish gray to reddish-brown.

Woodcock have large eyes located high in the head, and their visual field is probably the largest of any bird, 360° in the horizontal plane and 180° in the vertical plane.

The woodcock uses its long prehensile bill to probe in the soil for food, mainly invertebrates and especially earthworms. A unique bone-and-muscle arrangement lets the bird open and close the tip of its upper bill, or mandible, while it is sunk in the ground. Both the underside of the upper mandible and the long tongue are rough-surfaced for grasping slippery prey.

The primary breeding range extends from Atlantic Canada (Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick) west to southeastern Manitoba, and south to northern Virginia, western North Carolina, Kentucky, northern Tennessee, northern Illinois, Missouri, and eastern Kansas. A limited number of woodcock breed as far south as Florida and Texas. The species may be expanding its distribution northward and westward.

After migrating south in autumn, most woodcock spend the winter in the Gulf Coast and southeastern Atlantic Coast states. Some may remain as far north as southern Maryland, eastern Virginia, and southern New Jersey. The core of the wintering range centers on Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.

Woodcock eat mainly invertebrates, particularly earthworms (Oligochaeta). They do most of their feeding in places where the soil is moist. They forage by probing in soft soil in thickets, where they usually remain well-hidden from sight. Other items in the diet include insect larvae, snails, centipedes, millipedes, spiders, snipe flies, beetles, and ants. A small amount of plant food is eaten, mainly seeds. Woodcock are crepuscular, being most active at dawn and dusk.

Woodcock migrate at night. They fly at low altitudes, individually or in small, loose flocks. Flight speeds of migrating birds have been clocked at 16 to 28 miles per hour (26 to 45 kilometers per hour). However, the slowest flight speed ever recorded for a bird, 5 miles per hour (8 kilometers per hour), was recorded for this species. It is believed that woodcock orient visually using major physiographic features such as coastlines and broad river valleys. Both the autumn and spring migrations are leisurely compared with the swift, direct migrations of many passerine birds.

In the North, woodcock begin to shift southward before ice and snow seal off their ground-based food supply. Cold fronts may prompt heavy southerly flights in autumn. Most woodcock start to migrate in October, with the major push from mid-October to early November. Most individuals arrive on the wintering range by mid-December. The birds head north again in February. Most have returned to the northern breeding range by mid-March to mid-April.

Migrating birds’ arrival at and departure from the breeding range is highly irregular. In Ohio, for example, the earliest birds are seen in February, but the bulk of the population does not arrive until March and April. Birds start to leave for winter by September, but some remain until mid-November

In Spring, males occupy individual singing grounds, openings near brushy cover from which they call and perform display flights at dawn and dusk, and if the light levels are high enough on moonlit nights. The male’s ground call is a short, buzzy peent. After sounding a series of ground calls, the male takes off and flies from 50 to 100 yards into the air. He descends, zigzagging and banking while singing a liquid, chirping song. This high spiralling flight produces a melodious twittering sound as air rushes through the male’s outer primary wing feathers.

Males may continue with their courtship flights for as many as four months running – sometimes continuing even after females have already hatched their broods and left the nest.

Females, known as hens, are attracted to the males’ displays. A hen will fly in and land on the ground near a singing male. The male courts the female by walking stiff-legged and with his wings stretched vertically, and by bobbing and bowing. A male may mate with several females. The male woodcock plays no role in selecting a nest site, incubating eggs, or rearing young. In the primary northern breeding range, the woodcock may be the earliest ground-nesting species to breed.

The hen makes a shallow, rudimentary nest on the ground in the leaf and twig litter, in brushy or young-forest cover usually within 150 yards (140 m) of a singing ground. Most hens lay four eggs, sometimes one to three. Incubation takes 20 to 22 days.

The down-covered young are precocial and leave the nest within a few hours of hatching. The female broods her young and feeds them. When threatened, the fledglings usually take cover and remain motionless, attempting to escape detection by relying on their cryptic coloration. Some observers suggest that frightened young may cling to the body of their mother, who will then take wing and carry the young to safety.

Woodcock fledglings begin probing for worms on their own a few days after hatching. They develop quickly and can make short flights after two weeks, can fly fairly well at three weeks, and are independent after about five weeks.

The maximum lifespan of adult American woodcock in the wild is 8 years.

The woodcock population remained high during the early and mid-twentieth century, after many family farms were abandoned as people moved to urban areas, and cropfields and pastures grew up in brush. In recent decades, those formerly brushy acres have become middle-aged and older forest, where woodcock rarely venture, or they have been covered with buildings and other human developments. Because its population has been declining, the American woodcock is considered a “species of greatest conservation need” in many states, triggering research and habitat-creation efforts in an attempt to boost woodcock populations.

Creating young-forest habitat for American woodcock helps more than 50 other species of wildlife that need young forest during part or all of their life cycles. These include relatively common animals such as white-tailed deer, snowshoe hare, moose, bobcat, wild turkey, and ruffed grouse, and animals whose populations have also declined in recent decades, such as the golden-winged warbler, whip-poor-will, willow flycatcher, indigo bunting, and New England cottontail

On to my photos:

These photos were shot in April of 2017, near the headquarters for the Muskegon State Game Area.

American woodcock


American woodcock


American woodcock


American woodcock


American woodcock


This is number 202 in my photo life list, only 148 to go!

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


Notable photos

Even though I’m supposed to be taking a break from blogging, I can’t resist starting another post of some of the more notable photos that I shoot. This post will be nearly all photos and few words. I’ll start with a species of goose that I just recently crossed off the list for the My Photo Life List project, a Ross’s goose.

Ross’s goose

Much better than any of the photos I shot the first time I saw that species.

Also, using the 400 mm prime lens, 2 X tele-converter, and live view focusing with the set-up mounted to my new gimbal tripod head, I was able to get my best ever photos of a golden eagle.

Golden eagle

What’s also notable about that photo is that I waited half an hour to 45 minutes for the sun to break through the clouds to give me some good light to shoot that one in.

I have the feeling that using the gimbal head is going to make a great deal more improvement to the quality of images that I shoot than I had thought.

I’ve only used it on flying birds a few times, but it allows me to better track the birds more smoothly than I can by hand. I’ve only used it on the eagle as far as perched birds, but it allowed me to do exactly what I hoped it would. After shooting a few bad photos handheld, I saw that the eagle wasn’t going to fly away soon, so I set the tripod up with the gimbal head and shot a few better images.

However, it was still quite gloomy then, but I could see that holes were opening up in the clouds, so I waited. The way that the gimbal head works, I could keep the camera pointed at the eagle as I waited, and I shot another series of photos every time that I thought that the light had improved a little. Eventually, one of the holes in the clouds opened so that there was sunshine on the eagle, giving me the image that you see here. I was hoping that the eagle would stick around long enough for there to be sunshine on it and blue sky behind, but the eagle flew away before that happened.

I can’t say for sure, but I believe that the eagle flew off to stay in the sunshine. It had been a chilly morning, and I could really feel the difference when the sunshine hit me, it felt very good. The hole in the clouds that had put the sunshine on both myself and the eagle had closed, so I took that opportunity to check the quality of the images that I had just shot. When I looked up, the eagle was flying off, and it stayed in the sun as it did. The last time that I saw the eagle, it was riding an updraft to gain altitude without having to flap its wings at all.

There wouldn’t have been an updraft for the eagle without the sunshine to heat the ground and the air above it, so I wonder if the eagle had stayed perched there waiting for the sunshine to create the updraft. I know that it warmed up quite a bit as soon as the sun came out for good, and that I remember being jealous of the eagle’s ability to follow the sunshine as the size of the holes in the clouds increased the way that they did that day.

Anyway, I have digressed again, back to the gimbal head and the tripod that I have it mounted on. The tripod is a Benro Com37c, which I would classify as a medium heavy-duty tripod. It’s much sturdier than the Manfrotto tripod that I’ve been using for landscapes, and I was able to purchase it for about half price while it was on sale through B&H Photo.  It doesn’t have a center post to use to adjust the height, I have to do that through the angle of the legs and how far I extend them. I believe that not having a center post is one of the things that makes it so steady in use.

One added bonus to the Benro tripod is that it has a hook under where the center post would be if it had one, and I can hang my second long lens/camera set-up from that hook. It makes the tripod even more stable, and then I don’t have to set the second long lens set-up on the ground as I use the one that’s mounted on the gimbal head. If I hadn’t been reviewing my photos when the eagle took off, I would have snatched the second long set-up off from the hook, and used it to shoot a few images of the eagle taking off.

I could have mounted the gimbal head to the Manfrotto tripod that I already had, as it’s a fine tripod, but I don’t think that it would have been as solid as the Benro is. Also, the gimbal head works great with my long lenses for the way that I shoot with them, but I don’t think that the gimbal head would work as well for landscapes. Besides, I can see that there will come a time when I have the Manfrotto tripod set-up shooting landscapes, and the Benro tripod and gimbal head set-up for shooting wildlife at the same time.

An update. I got the excellent price on the Benro tripod that I did because it was being discontinued. That’s also why I was I was able to get the Manfrotto tripod that I’ve been using for a few years now. I really lucked out when it came to shopping for tripods, I now have two high quality carbon fiber tripods and I paid about what I would have paid for either of them if I hadn’t gotten them on sale.

In my never-ending playing with my camera gear, I used my 100 mm macro lens for this image.

Reflection of a flying ring-billed gull

If only there wasn’t the reflection of a second gull in that image, oh well, I learned a lot while shooting both perched and flying gulls with the macro lens.

Another week has gone by, and this past weekend was wet, cold, and windy. What’s notable about these images is that they turned out as well as they did in very poor conditions for photography, even the ducks looked as if they hated the weather at times.

Male northern shoveler

You can see the rain drops beading up on the shoveler’s back.

I think that ducks are some of our most colorful and beautiful birds, but with many species, you have to see their wings to fully appreciate their beauty, which means photographing them in flight. I wasn’t very hopeful when I saw that more species were returning in their full breeding plumage, but despite the low-light, I gave it a shot.

Male blue-winged teal in flight


Male redhead duck in flight


Male northern shoveler in flight


Male northern shoveler in flight


Male bufflehead taking off

With the 7D Mk II and the lenses that I have now, getting birds in flight is much easier, not only ducks, but raptors like this northern harrier as well.

Male northern harrier

I was able to shoot a few much better photos of another recent addition to My Photo Life List, the northern shrike.

Northern shrike

That brings me to a species of bird which has just returned for the summer, but isn’t colorful at all. They are fun to watch however, and I missed them while they were gone.

American coot

They use their oversized lobed feet as ducks use their webbed feet for swimming, but the coots are also able to wade in soft mud as well. They don’t fly unless forced to, so it’s a little unusual to see them with their wings spread.

American coot

That one was using its wings for balance as it climbed up on the rocks.

Give them a little food, and they look so happy.

American coot


American coot

A few weeks ago, I shot this photo of a horned lark showing its horns.

Male horned lark

And this past weekend, I got the quintessential image of a male red-winged blackbird staking out his territory.

Male red-winged blackbird

The time has come for me to put a hold on purchasing any more camera gear for a while, and instead, to get some type of portable blind to hide in and also some camouflaged clothes so that I can get closer to my subjects.

As if by magic, I found a portable hide designed for photographers and have ordered one. I don’t know if I’ll have the chance to try it this coming weekend or not, the forecast for the weekend is looking very good right now. If it turns out to be as nice as predicted, I’m planning on doing some doing some longer walks at some of the better birding locations in the Muskegon State Game area.

I suppose that I’ll have to give the new hide a try, since the one that I ordered is made for photographers that move around quite a bit. It’s not much more than a tarp with an opening for the lens to stick through, and a mesh opening to look through to spot the subject. It folds into a carrying pouch that you can wear on your belt if so inclined and weighs less than three pounds. The one that I ordered is the right colors for spring or fall, and if it works out well, I may eventually order a second one in white for our snowy winters here in Michigan.

Most of all, I’m looking forward to getting out in nice weather for a change, and the forecast is looking good for that right now. For the last month or more, if it was warm on a weekend, it was cloudy and gloomy, if there was good light, it’s been cold. The forecast for the upcoming weekend is for slightly above average temperatures and sunny skies, something I’ve not had since last fall.

Also if by magic, since my last post where I complained about not having enough time to blog, I’ve been getting home an average of an hour earlier than I was when I wrote that post. That still doesn’t leave me a lot of time to work on my blog, it’s still more time than I used to have. And, I still don’t have time to make it outside during the week. So, I’m really excited about having two good days to be out and about for a change.

I shouldn’t have typed that last paragraph, since I did, work has gone back to the way that it was before, leaving me just enough time to eat, sleep, and do the other things required just to survive. Still, I’m looking forward to a full weekend of being outside starting tomorrow.

Well, it’s Sunday morning as I type this, and Saturday was every bit as nice as they had predicted. Although, the day did begin well below freezing, so I began with some drive by birding at the Muskegon County wastewater facility as I have been doing. The light was so good that I installed a polarizing filter to the 400 mm lens to shoot ducks in flight. The polarizing filter helps to cut the glare coming off from the water, but it seemed to shift the colors of the  ducks that I shot. Look at the colors on this northern shoveler’s wings…

Northern shoveler blasting off

…compared to the photos earlier in this post.

Also, nice weather brought out a lot of birders, keeping most of the birds well out of range of my camera. Still, I was having fun trying to get good shots of ducks in flight.

Bufflehead duck in flight

I hate to brag, but I’m getting better all the time. However, there are still times when the birds won’t cooperate. I saw this pair of hooded mergansers, and tried to get a photo with both of them looking back at me at the same time, this was the best that I could do.

Hooded mergansers

Then, there are the wood ducks. Getting close to one out in the open is tough enough to begin with, then, they have so many colors in so many places, that it’s hard to get an image showing all those colors in one shot.

Male wood duck

That one shows the purple on the back of the duck’s head, but then you can’t see how colorful its face is.

Male wood duck and mallard

That one does a better job of showing the duck’s face, but then you can’t see the purple on the back of his head. It’s going to take perfect lighting at the perfect angle to fully capture all the colors of a male wood duck, so I’ll keep trying.

Once it had warmed up, I went to the headquarters of the Muskegon State Game Area, but there were some people target shooting there. they were set-up so that they were shooting right at the best birding trail, so I left. My next stop was Lane’s Landing, but by that time, most of the birds were taking their afternoon siesta, and I saw very few birds, and none close enough for a photo. I hope to do better today.

Sunday turned out to be a pretty good day, I could fill a post with the photos that I shot today, but I’ll stick to the notable ones, starting with another lifer for me, a rusty blackbird.

Rusty blackbird

I came across a small flock of them in a swamp near the Muskegon River as I was scouting for places to use the new portable hide when it arrives, and I managed to get that one good image, plus another not so good image of one of the flock.

The rusty blackbird looks a lot like a common grackle, but the common crackle has a much longer tail as you can see here.

Common grackle

I also got my first photos ever of a bird that I used to see quite often when I hunted, an American Woodcock.

American woodcock

They’re an odd-looking bird, their eyes are so far back on their head that they can see behind themselves.

American woodcock

They also have a flexible bill that they use to probe the soil for worms, and they constantly bob up and down as they walk. They are considered a shorebird even though they are seldom found near a shore, other than a small inland lake from time to time.

With the photos of those two species, I am now two-thirds of the way through the list from the Audubon Society that I’m working from as I try to photograph every species of bird seen regularly in Michigan. Not bad, it’s only taken me a few years to make it this far, now I need some time to be able to catch up in posting to the series of posts that I’m doing as I continue to cross new species off from the list. But, that would probably take away time that I could use in search of more species to cross off from the list.

I know that my ramblings about working on the My Photo Life List bore some people, but it’s one of the best things that I have ever undertaken. It helps to keep my eyes and my mind sharp as search for new species, and how to identify birds quickly. It’s improved my skills as a photographer as I often have to shoot under less than ideal conditions when I first see a new species. I’m learning to be more patient as a scan a flock of birds to see if there are any different species “hiding” within a flock of birds. Mostly, I’m learning how diverse birds are, how beautifully marked many of what are considered plain birds are, such as the woodcock, and I’m also learning much more about the state that I live in, Michigan, as I search out the correct habitats for the birds that I need to find yet.

Moving on, some of the insect-eating birds have returned from down south, including the eastern phoebe…

Eastern Phoebe

…tree swallows…

Tree swallow

…and eastern bluebirds.

Eastern bluebird

At one point, the swallow was discouraging the bluebird from using one of the nesting boxes people have installed in the area, but they were too far away from me to get any photos of that.

I did get photos of two buffleheads fighting over a female.

Bufflehead ducks fighting

I shot close to 100 photos of them going at it, but I’ll just post that one.

I added to my collection of good photos of ducks in flight, or I suppose that I should say, ducks landing.

Northern shoveler landing


Northern shoveler landing

This will be too many photos for this post, but I have to use them all. Male Bufflehead are quite comical in the way that they land as they are trying to impress females.

Male bufflehead landing

After they hit the water, they ride on top of the water as tall as they can make themselves look.

Male bufflehead landing


Male bufflehead landing


Male bufflehead landing


Male bufflehead landing

Until they run out of steam, and slip straight down into the water.

Male bufflehead landing


Male bufflehead landing

It’s fun to watch them as they run across the water to build up speed so that they can skate on top of the water until they sink, then surface, bobbing their heads up and down, all to impress a female nearby. One of these days, I’m going to be in the right position and in the right circumstances to shoot a good video of them going at it.

Well, that’s about it for this post, but I’m going to throw in one last photo that shows that spring has finally arrived here in Michigan.

Song sparrow singing

It’s so good to step outside and here all the birds that have returned singing away in the mornings, and it gets better each day as more birds arrive.

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

Orange-crowned Warbler, Oreothlypis celata

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.

Orange-crowned Warbler, Oreothlypis celata

The orange-crowned warbler (Oreothlypis celata) is a small songbird of the New World warbler family.

These birds are distinguished by their lack of wing bars, streaking on the underparts, strong face marking or bright colouring, resembling a fall Tennessee warbler and a black-throated blue warbler, both of which are also members of the New World warbler family. The orange patch on the crown is usually not visible. They have olive-grey upperparts, yellowish underparts with faint streaking and a thin pointed bill. They have a faint line over their eyes and a faint broken eye ring. Females and immatures are duller in colour than males. Western birds are yellower than eastern birds.

Their breeding habitat is open shrubby areas across Canada, Alaska and the western United States. The nest is a small open cup well-concealed on the ground under vegetation or low in shrubs. The female builds the nest; both parents feed the young.

These birds migrate to the southern United States and south to Central America.

They forage actively in low shrubs, flying from perch to perch, sometimes hovering. These birds eat insects, berries and nectar.

Four to six eggs are laid in a nest on the ground or in a low bush.

The song of this bird is a trill, descending in pitch and volume. The call is a high chip.

On to my photos:

These photos were shot at the local park that I used to walk in daily when I had the time.

Orange crowned warbler


Orange crowned warbler

This is number 201 in my photo life list, only 149 to go!

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


Taking a break

I’ve been working on this post for weeks now, during the few moments when I have a chance to do anything with it. My work schedule allows me about an hour to myself in the morning, and that includes eating breakfast and getting dressed for work. On many evenings I have about an hour or a little more to myself, and that includes making supper and doing dishes after I eat. The only part of the week when I have any free time at all is on the weekends and that’s my time to be out shooting photos, editing them when I get home, adding keywords, and all the other things that I need to get done since I have no time during the work week.

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t been commenting on your blog posts, it isn’t that I didn’t enjoy the posts, but I simply have no free time for myself the way that my current work schedule is.

So, I am going to take a break from blogging for a while, until my schedule changes so that I have more time for both my blog and all of yours’. My schedule should change late this spring, about the time that I take my vacation in the middle of May, as the parts that I carry won’t be used on the next year’s model of car.

I may whip out a few of the posts on species of birds for the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on, since I’m so far behind doing those posts. If I do publish any of those posts, I’ll turn off the comments and likes, since those posts are rather boring to most people anyway. I know who the readers are who actually appreciate those posts whether they comment or like the post anyway, and that way I won’t feel as obligated to keep up with their posts on their blogs, as I simply don’t have the time right now.

I really don’t want to take a break right now, as with the weather improving and the light getting better, I’m back to shooting some very good images again.

Male Bufflehead duck

So for now, it’s back to the post that I have been working on for a while.

The temperatures have been up and down around here over the past two weeks, with some days feeling like early spring, and others feeling like the middle of winter. It snowed here most of the day on Saturday, but by Sunday afternoon, it was feeling and looking like spring again.

Northern shovelers in flight

Northern shovelers in flight

Other than the dramatic change in the weather between Saturday and Sunday this weekend, the big news was how many species of birds are returning from their winter homes already.

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight


Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird


American robin

American robin

I’m really looking forward to this spring, and trying to improve my photos even more than what I have already. One group of birds that I’m going to focus on early is waterfowl, mainly ducks.

Male common merganser

Male common merganser


Female common merganser

Female common merganser


Canvasback ducks

Canvasback ducks


Redhead ducks in flight

Redhead ducks in flight


Male northern shoveler landing

Male northern shoveler landing


Male northern shoveler in flight

Male northern shoveler in flight

I can see that I’m going to have a lot of fun shooting the ducks in flight, both for their beauty and to show how different species make it airborne. For example, the male ring-necked duck in these next two photos was able to launch itself into the air without a running start. However, the lesser scaup that it was hanging out with need a running start to build enough speed to get off the water.

Male Ring-necked duck and lesser scaup taking flight

Male Ring-necked duck and lesser scaup taking flight

So, the ring-necked duck was staying low and close to the scaup as you can see better in this photo. You can also see that the two species look similar, but between the way that they take off and the differences in their bills, it’s really quite easy to tell them apart in a good photo.

Male Ring-necked duck and lesser scaup taking flight

Male Ring-necked duck and lesser scaup taking flight

Here’s a for the record photo, a lone trumpeter swan on a frozen farm pond…

Trumpeter swan

Trumpeter swan

…because it’s unusual to see a lone swan since they mate for life, you almost always see at least two together most of the time. This may have been a young male looking for a territory to call its own.

I was afraid that my blog would end up being just gulls…

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight


Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

…and mallards…

Male mallard

Male mallard


Male mallard

Male mallard


Male mallard

Male mallard

…with an occasional bird of another species once in a while.

Starling in flight

Starling in flight

But with the return of more species of birds every day, that shouldn’t happen.

Great blue herons in flight

Great blue herons in flight


American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow


Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker


Dark-eyed junco on the run

Dark-eyed junco on the run


Pekin duck

Pekin duck


Ruddy ducks

Ruddy ducks

Another week has gone by, and I’ve had very little time to work on this post. My work schedule leaves me with no time for blogging except for on the weekends, and then I’d rather be out shooting photos than writing about shooting photos. This past week was worse because I had that nasty cold which caused me to need more sleep, but it’s been the same since I started this run in January. All that I have time for during the week is to eat, sleep, and work.

My plan for over the winter had been to post a few of the species of birds that I have saved for the My Photo Life List project that I’ve been working on, but I haven’t had the time to do any of those posts along with my regular posts. That’s too bad in a way, for I have been finding a few new to me species of birds this winter, like this lesser black-backed gull that I found on Saturday.

Lesser black-backed gull

Lesser black-backed gull

And, I was able to better images of an adult glaucous gull also…

Glaucous gull

Glaucous gull

…if I remember correctly, my best photos of that species were of a juvenile, so I can update the post for that species with good images of an adult.

As with most things, I jumped into that project without thinking through everything that it entails, such as looking at thousands of gulls…

Ring-billed gull in breeding plumage

Ring-billed gull in breeding plumage

…to find the two odd individuals from within that huge flock of mostly ring-billed and herring gulls. On the other hand, I’ve been learning so much from taking on that project about birds, photography, and myself, that I’m extremely happy that I decided to tackle it. Who knew that common gulls like the ring-billed go through a breeding plumage phase?

And, getting good photos of a bird in question makes it easier to properly identify which species it is. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a greater black-backed gull, so I assumed that the lesser black-backed from above was also a greater, until I got good photos. Then, I saw that the gull in question has yellow legs, making it a lesser black-backed gull, since greater black-backed gulls have pink legs. If I had been working from just my memories of the bird in question, I wouldn’t have been able to make a positive ID.


Okay, the only way that I wrote the introduction to this post where I explained that I’ll be taking a break from blogging for a while is by bringing my Macbook Pro with me while working, and typing while the trailer is being unloaded and then reloaded again.

I’m going to throw in a few more of my most recent photos to finish this off.

American kestrel




Male red-winged blackbird


Tufted titmouse


Red squirrel


Grey squirrel


male northern cardinal


Female northern cardinal


By the way, I shot another video of northern shovelers in a feeding frenzy, and it’s the best video that I’ve shot to date.

I should have, but didn’t, use my newest acquisitions to shoot that video. With all that I’ve been working lately, I’ve been able to afford a very sturdy but simple tripod and a gimbal head to go on the tripod. After much soul-searching, I went with a cheap off brand of gimbal head, only after having tested it out in the store with my birding set-up mounted on the gimbal head. While I’m sure that the head that I purchased wouldn’t be good enough for one of the monster long lenses that I’ll never be able to afford, it seems to be adequate for the medium length lenses that I have.

Ring-billed gull in flight

I also shot this image of a goose after it had fallen through thin ice and was on its way to catch up with the rest of the flock that had flown across the ice.

Canada goose in flight

I was surprised how easy it is to follow a moving subject the very first time that I used the gimbal head, it will only get better in the future. In some ways, it’s easier to follow the motion of a subject with the tripod and gimbal head supporting the camera, allowing me to concentrate on tracking the subject in a nice smooth manner. That’s because  I’m not dealing with my own wobbling around, the camera and lens are steady on the gimbal head making it easier to pan with the subject’s motion.

The gimbal head on the tripod will also come in very handy once I begin doing more of my photography from a blind or hide. That’s because the camera/lens can be balanced on the gimbal head so that the lens stays pointed where ever I want it pointed. So, I can leave everything set-up pointed in the general direction that I plan to shoot in, rather than having to set the camera down all the time because it’s too heavy to hold up all the time.

I didn’t use a hide or the new gimbal head, but I did sit stationary waiting for many of the small songbirds in this post, including these.

Black-capped chickadee


Common grackle


American tree sparrow

While these are good, I’m sure that if I were in a hide and had the camera all set-up on the gimbal head/tripod that I’d be able to do even better.

Like I said, I should have used the tripod for the video, but I had gulls flying overhead all the time, doing what gulls are known to do, as in pooping in flight so often that I had to wash my car on my way home, so I decided not to risk getting pooped on myself, since I can’t use the tripod and gimbal head inside of my Subaru.

You can be sure that I’ll continue to play with the new tripod/head set-up, just as I continue to play with lenses and settings.

A while back, I wrote that I had come up with new bird in flight settings based on using the manual mode, those settings worked so well that I’ve been using the manual mode more often lately for both flying and perched birds.

Herring gull shot in manual mode using 70-200 mm lens at 70 mm

Shooting in manual works best if I’m shooting the same or very similarly colored species of birds multiple times, so that I can get the exposure perfect for the birds. Then, it doesn’t matter if the background changes from light to dark or vice versa, the bird is exposed correctly most of the time.

I also used that photo to make another point, since I shot it with the 70-200 mm lens, you can see much more of the background due to the use of the wider lens. Most of the time a longer lens works better to reduce distractions in the background, but there are times when I like the wider view better. What I should have done is to have used the 100 mm f/2.8 macro lens for that shot, not that I needed the added focal length, but so that I could have used a smaller aperture to blur the background more. But, I’m not used to getting that close to my subjects.

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