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

Posts tagged “Bald Eagles

Eagles in action

It’s winter here in West Michigan, and it’s been a blah type of winter so far. It’s been cold and cloudy most of the time, but we haven’t had very much snow so far this year. It’s been cold enough that many of the smaller bodies of water have frozen over, so most of the waterfowl have flown south for the winter. It’s been getting tougher to find subjects to photograph with every passing week, mostly due to the weather.

One constant for over a month has been the large number of bald eagles hanging out in the vicinity of the Muskegon County wastewater facility and the adjacent county landfill. At one point, I counted 13 bald eagles in view at one time, although they were scattered across the frozen surface of the storage lagoon at the wastewater facility. Bald eagles aren’t fussy about what they eat or where they find their food, they’ll scavenge the landfill just as the gulls and crows do. They also are able to pick off an occasional gull or one of the few remaining waterfowl, along with small mammals and other sources of food.

The photos in this post will all be of eagles that I’ve shot the past two months, and many of them aren’t very good, but they do show eagle behavior that many people never get the chance to see. I’m going to start with one of the better images that I’ve shot lately.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Of course it was a juvenile eagle, although this image of an adult is pretty good also.

Adult bald eagle in flight

And, it’s been relatively easy to get two eagles in the frame at once, as in this adult gliding past a juvenile perched on the ice.

Adult bald eagle flying past a perched juvenile

When the eagles first showed up, I was shooting them no matter how far away from me they were, and no matter how poor the weather was at the time. I’m going to include this series because it shows a juvenile eagle challenging an adult, even though they were too far away from me, and there was a huge flock of Canada geese between myself and the eagles. But, this shows both the eagles in action, and the large number of geese that remain around here.

Juvenile bald eagle challenging an adult

 

Juvenile bald eagle challenging an adult

 

Juvenile bald eagle challenging an adult

 

Juvenile bald eagle challenging an adult

 

Juvenile bald eagle challenging an adult

I should have known that a week or two later I’d be able to shoot two other eagles going at it a little closer to me.

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

I can’t say for sure that it was intentional, but it looked as if the eagle that had been perched filled its talons with ice and snow…

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

…and dropped it on the other eagle’s tail.

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

These “battles” seem to be all posturing, with no actual physical contact between the two combatants.

By the way, if it matters, all of these were shot with the Canon 7D Mk II and the 400 mm f/5.6 prime lens because of the 7D’s higher frame rate so that I could capture the action takin place.

Now then, on the other end of the behavior scale, I caught the two resident eagles doing a little early season courting. I can tell that they are the resident pair, because the male’s head looks flat and small compared to most eagles, I’ve seen them often enough to recognize the male. And, I can tell that they were courting by their behavior. That includes “billing”, that is they touch their bills together, and them calling to one another as you’ll see here.

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

I was hoping that when first one of them flew off…

Adult bald eagles

…followed closely by the second one…

Adult bald eagle in flight

…that I’d be able to witness and photograph them mating which is done while they are airborne with their talons locked together in a downward spiral, but that wasn’t to be the case. By the way, eagles mate for life, so this pair was renewing their vows for the upcoming year.

Again if it matters, that last series was shot with the 5D Mk IV, the 100-400 mm lens, and 1.4 X tele-converter because of how dreary it was that day, and because the eagle’s courting action was much slower than when they are fighting or flying. I also used that same set-up for these.

Juvenile bald eagle touchdown

 

Juvenile bald eagle touchdown

I switched to the 2X tele-converter for added reach for these two, which shows an adult bald eagle with its kill, an unlucky fox squirrel that wasn’t paying enough attention to the dangers lurking above it.

Adult bald eagle with a fox squirrel it had caught

 

Adult bald eagle with a fox squirrel it had caught

In deciding which photos to include, along with how many of each action sequence, I also asked myself if I should wait until I shoot better ones in better light and when the eagles are closer to me. I’m reasonably certain that I’ll get better images in the future, but I also have to remember that many people who look at my blog have never seen a bald eagle in person, let alone the behaviors that I managed to capture, even if the photos are poor.

I suppose that it’s one of the good things about blogging, if or when I do get better images of the same types of behavior, I can simply do another post using them. I only hope that I don’t bore the readers of my blog too much as I practice for the big day when I get the chance to shoot the images that I’d really like to post.

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

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First real post of 2018

My last post was done in the middle of January, which is when I’m starting this post as well. I still haven’t been outside with a camera yet this year, and I may not make it this week either. I have a doctor’s appointment on my day off from work to make sure that the medicine that I’m taking for my psoriasis isn’t damaging my liver or other vital organs.

I’m more than a bit disappointed about not getting out this week, as it’s forecast to be the nicest day so far this year, with a temperature around freezing, and some sunshine for a change. Oh well, they’re be plenty of nice days this year when I can make it outside to shoot photos.

I think that this new job that I started last fall will actually give me more time for photography once I get used to the schedule. There have been days when even though I worked, I could have easily had the time to get out and shoot some photos from around home, or even have gone to Muskegon and back. But, it’s been so cold that I had no desire to freeze my fingers off for a few photos shot on grey, dreary days when there’s little hope of getting a good photo.

There’s been a lot for me to learn so far on this new job, mostly learning which postal employees know what they are talking about if I have a question. I could easily go on at length about all there is to learn, but I’m beginning to get the hang of it, and despite a few slip ups on my part, it’s going much better than during my first few weeks there. The pay is good, so good that I no longer have to work 10 to 12 hours a day to make ends meet, unlike at the last place that I worked.

I typically only work for 5 to 6 hours a couple of days each week, then a couple of longer days, in the 8 to 10 hour range, depending on the runs that I do. Since I earn $4 an hour more than at my last employer, I still make more money at the new job. Oh, and that $4 an hour is what I see in my paycheck. They also pay another $5 per hour that I use to pay my benefits and never see in my paycheck. My health insurance, dental insurance, and all other benefits come out of that $5 an hour that doesn’t show up in my paycheck, and some of that goes into a retirement savings account after my various insurances are paid for. That goes along with an IRA, and my employer has a profit-sharing program that also goes into my IRA as well. So, financially, I’m much better off at this job than my last.

Still, money is going to be tight until I get the hospital bill that I ran up last spring paid off. I have a rebate card from B&H Camera that I have to use before the end of April, or it will expire, and I’ll lose that rebate. I plan on purchasing a tripod collar and another quick release plate for the gimbal head so that I can mount my 70-200 mm lens on the gimbal head to use it to shoot videos if that’s the focal length required at the time that I shoot the video.

One thing that I’m learning about shooting video is that I don’t have to be zoomed in as tight on a subject for the subject to show up well in the video. Another thing that I’m learning is that I can’t hold the camera steady enough to produce a quality video no matter how short the lens that I use is. I know that most people use a dedicated head for videos, but I don’t want to spring for yet another tripod and head just to shoot videos. In my limited testing, the gimbal head does what I need it to do, steady the camera and lens, yet let me follow the action that I’m trying to shoot.

So far for the year, I have three photos saved that I shot testing ways to make the 400 mm lens focus closer than 11 feet by adding an extension tube behind it. I can get down to eight feet, which will work well for times when I can use it. I also have three short video clips saved as well, as I was trying to get my camera set-up correctly to shoot videos.

I know that I’m going to have to change one of the settings that I changed back to where it was, or it will mess me up as I’m trying to shoot photos while using live view focusing. In a round about way, that takes me to my next point.

I needed another ink refill for my printer, so I stopped at the local camera store to pick one up. While there, I couldn’t resist the chance to check out a Canon 5D Mk IV in person, rather than just reading about it online. While the 5D is laid out almost exactly as the 7D that I use is, I have reprogrammed the 7D to the point where things that I do automatically with the 7D took me a while to do on the 5D because of how I have customized the 7D. That’s okay, as I can customize the 5D to match the way that I have my 7D bodies set-up, still, that reminded me how much I have changed the 7D to shoot the subjects that I do the way that I do. That may not directly affect image quality, however, it does allow me to make the changes to the camera settings as quickly as I need to in order to shoot the photos that I do. And, that does result in better images because I can use the right settings most of the time, since it takes me so little time to make the changes.

On another related note, I finally have made it out to shoot a few photos, including a sunrise for a change.

Muskegon sunrise 1

One thing that has given me fits while trying to shoot a series of images to produce a HDR image as these are is that the 7D that I’ve begun using for landscapes canceled the auto-bracketing for exposure whenever I’d change anything, including refocusing the scene. There have been times when I almost switched back to the 60D body just for that reason, as once I set the 60D for exposure bracketing, it stayed set until I changed it. I went into the menu system of the 7D for another reason, and found a setting labeled AEB auto cancel, and it was enabled. I disabled it, and that put an end to me having to reset the bracketing all the time as I had been doing.

Muskegon sunrise 2

Most of the time I love how customizable the 7D is, but then there are times when some obscure menu setting drives me crazy trying to figure out why the camera doesn’t do what I want it to do.

It was a great sunrise, I could have used a fish-eye lens because the entire sky was colored by the rising sun. I used the 16-35 mm lens at 16 mm for the first one, the 100-400 mm lens set at 100 mm for the second.

Now then, Photomatix recently released a new version of their software to create HDR images, and I’m still learning to make the best use of it. I think that the first image is a little over the top, so I went back and tried it a second time with different Photomatix settings, and this is the result.

Muskegon sunrise 3

That version is much closer to what I was seeing as I shot the photos. I wanted to shoot more photos of the sunrise, but it came to an end rather quickly, almost as if some one had switched off the color all at once. I also wanted to move to another location for a better photo, and switch to my 10-18 mm lens to capture more of the sky, but the sunrise was over by then.

It turned out to be a very nice day, with plenty of sunshine and the temperature getting above freezing for a change. Not only was the weather nice, but I got my best photos to date of northern pintail ducks.

Northern pintail ducks in flight

I almost blew my chance at improving over photos like this one, shot on a bitterly cold, grey day in March of 2014.

Male northern pintail

I’ve been waiting to do a post on this species in the My Photo Life List project that I’ve been working on until I was able to shoot better photos of them than the one above.

Anyway, I was shooting photos of mallards in flight for practice more than any other reason…

Mallards in flight

 

Male mallard in flight

…because of the way that the light is reflected off from the snow left on the ground to light the underside of their wings.

While I was shooting the mallards, I spotted the pair of pintails much closer to me than I’ve ever gotten to that species before, but I had the bird in flight set-up in my hand. I even got the pintails in focus as they were resting, but like the idiot that I am, I never pressed the shutter button. Instead, I set the bird in flight set-up down, and grabbed the portrait set-up to get what I hoped would be excellent images of the pintails. You know what happened, they took off as I was making the switch, so I had to go back to the bird in flight set-up.

Northern pintail ducks in flight

They may not be brightly colored, but they are very elegant looking ducks, so I was happy that I got the photos that I did. Also, just as with the mallards, the light reflecting off from the snow lit the underside of their wings very well.

Knowing that the pintails would probably return to the same pond as where I found them, I went off in search of other subjects for a while, then I did go back to where I had first seen them. Just as I got there, a pair of male pintails were coming in for a landing.

Male Northern pintail ducks in flight

The pintails knew I was there, so they stayed in the far side of the pond, over twice as far away from me as they had been when I first spooked them. Still, I was able to shoot a few reasonably good photos of them, much better than any of the earlier ones that I had saved over the years.

Northern pintail ducks

You can see in that last image that the females are smaller than the males, and while the females may look like a female mallard, the dark bill of the pintail is one way of telling a female pintail from a female mallard, which have orange bills.

The other photos that I shot this day are only so-so, but at this time of the year, I have to take what I can get.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

American crow in flight

 

American crow in flight

 

American crow in flight

 

Great blue heron resting

I’ve since made it out again, on a day when the light was horrible, despite the sun trying to burn through the clouds. It was so hazy that it interfered with the auto-focusing system of my usually reliable camera. Not only that, but I wasn’t able to get close to any wildlife at all, other than a snowy owl well before sunrise. Still, it was fun to watch the owl trying to pick off a duck now and then. I never saw it succeed in any of its attacks though, the ducks were too quick to spot the owl as it approached. I eventually lost sight of the owl as dark as it was at the time.

Right after sunrise, this Cooper’s hawk came flying past me though.

Cooper’s hawk in flight

It’s been a while since I’ve shot a photo of a Cooper’s hawk, otherwise I wouldn’t have included that one because of the noise in the image.

Here’s a photo to show how low and close to the snow that snowy owls fly when they’re moving to another perch to hunt from.

Snowy owl in flight

Maybe I’ll catch one coming at me one of these days, rather than flying past me as it glides just above the snow. But, because they fly so low, they’re hard to spot in the distance against a white background.

On the other hand, I spotted these two bald eagles, one adult and one juvenile, soaring towards me as I looked for things to photograph. As they approached me, they took turns flying at one another.

Bald eagles in flight

Since neither of them was carrying food, I don’t know why they would make passes at each other. I don’t know if it’s part of the bonding process between an adult and its young, a game that eagles play, or exactly what the reason is, but it’s something that I see often.

Bald eagles in flight

The adult broke off and headed straight towards me, but I couldn’t get a good photo of it as it passed over my head due to the haze in the air at the time.

The juvenile hung back a little, and when it flew over me, it took a path that put blue sky behind it, so I was able to shoot this one before it got directly over me.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Birds in flight have always fascinated me, as they have many people, but the more that I attempt to photograph them, the more fascinated I have become. I should expand that, it isn’t just because I’m trying to photograph birds in flight, but it’s that I’m learning to identify the species of bird flying by just the way that it flies, long before I can see the colors of the bird that I’m seeing at the time.

At the same time that I shot the two male pintails returning to the pond, there were hundreds of mallards also returning to land there at the same time. Yet I had no trouble at all picking the pintails out of the flock of mallards because of the shape and motion of their wings. It’s hard to describe the differences, even though it was easy enough to see as I scanned the incoming flock of ducks as they returned to the pond. For one thing, the pintails flap their wings even faster than the mallards do, and the arc that their wings move in is different as well.

It seems that each species of bird flies slightly different from other similar sized birds, even if they are in the same family of birds, such as ducks. It’s easy enough to tell the difference between a long-winged duck such as a mallard, and a species of duck with much shorter, broader wings, such as a common goldeneye for example.

Male common goldeneye in flight

However, mallards and pintails are very close in size, yet their flight is different enough to allow me to identify which species a duck in flight is, just by the motion of its wings.

I think that I’m paying more attention to the different ways that birds fly because I’m spending much more time near open bodies of water, and at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, where there are vast tracts of open land devoid of trees. For most of my life, I spent most of my time hiking in wooded areas, where I’d see small songbirds flitting from one tree branch to another. Even then I could tell that there were differences in the way that the various species of birds that I saw flew, but most of the time, I couldn’t see birds in the distance because of the trees.

When I’m along the shore of Lake Michigan, or at the wastewater facility, it’s easy to spot a larger bird flying over a quarter of a mile away, and then I’d like to be able to identify it in order to decide if it’s a species of bird worth trying to get closer to or not. That’s where being able to identify the species just by the way that it flaps its wings comes into play. Is the bird I’m seeing a gull, or something else, an eagle, or a turkey vulture, a crow or a falcon? It can be hard to tell by size alone, as across the distances that I can see birds in open areas, it’s more difficult to judge the size of a bird and how far away from me it really is when the bird is in the open sky with nothing nearby to help me judge the bird’s size and distance from me.

As an example, I spotted a hawk a good distance away from me on my lasting outing, but I wasn’t sure of which species of hawk that it was until I had watched it in flight. It was a rough-legged hawk…

Rough-legged hawk in flight

…which I could tell by the way that it hovered over an area pausing to look the area over when it thought that there may be food below.

Rough-legged hawk in flight

However, as much as I could attempt to explain the differences in how similarly sized birds fly, and how you can use that to identify the bird in question, is beyond my writing ability. Even in my still photos, it’s impossible to see the differences, even if I shoot two different birds at one time in the frame together.

American crow harassing a red-tailed hawk in flight

 

American crow harassing a red-tailed hawk in flight

 

American crow harassing a red-tailed hawk in flight

To truly show the differences in how those two birds move their wings in flight I’d have to shoot videos, and I’m not good enough at shooting video yet, and I probably will never become good enough in the future. I’m afraid that ability to show what I’m trying to explain would only come if I invested in quality video recording gear rather than relying on the video capabilities of my DSLRs.

I have neither the money to afford expensive video gear, nor the time to learn how to make the best use of it, and I never will bless I were to hit the lottery. So, I encourage you to watch various species of birds in flight so that you may learn of what I’m talking about.

Anyway, I’ve had trouble finding many birds to photograph the last three times that I’ve been out with the camera this year so far. So, I shot a few photos of lichens to pass the time, and to keep my skill at macro photography ready for the spring when the flowers begin to bloom.

Unidentified lichen

 

Unidentified lichen

The flowers of spring can’t get here soon enough for me, it’s been a long, cold, snowy winter so far, with no hint of that changing in the weather forecasts I’ve seen. I have the day off from work, but I’m not going to bother to go out to shoot any photos, as there’s still more snow about to begin falling here before daylight. The past two weeks have been miserable as far as the cold and snow, although we may get a day or two of around average winter days this coming week. Just getting back to average will seem like a heat wave. And, a day or two without any new snow falling will be a nice change as well.

After I arrived home from work yesterday, I watched the noon forecast, hoping for nicer weather, and that’s what the forecaster said at the time, that there may even be a little sunshine for today. But, when I woke up and checked the forecast at 11 PM, it had changed to include yet more snow for the day. A check of the radar confirmed that there is indeed another band of snow headed towards the area and it will arrive just before dawn, bah humbug!

So, I’m going to finish this post with a pair of flower photos from last fall…

Sneezeweed?

 

Unidentified sunflower

I have no idea when I’ll be able to do another of my regular posts like this one, so I’ll be filling in the gaps with more posts on the My Photo Life List project until we get some better weather around here, sorry.

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


Looking forward to 2018

In my last post I wrote that I was beginning to plan and to set goals for myself in the coming year. But, before I move on to those topics, I thought that a look back at the year 2017 was in order.

Going back through my Lightroom catalog month by month, I selected one image for each month. The image that I chose isn’t necessarily the best image that I shot that particular month, but I tried to include some variety in the subjects, as well as overall interest rather than the image that was technically the best of the month. When making the selections, it was difficult to choose just one image for the month. There were usually five or six images in the running to represent each month, and making the choices that I did often came down to my personal favorites, rather than if the image was tack sharp, or how well it represented the month for which it was chosen.

But first, here’s yet another photo of a snowy owl from my last excursion out. The remarkable thing about this day is that there was actually some sunshine.

Snowy owl

In fact, blue skies are such a rarity this time of year, that I shot this very poor landscape image just to help me remember what blue sky looks like.

Blue skies for a change

Okay then, let’s go back to last January, to begin the year in review. Since this was the year that I finally became somewhat proficient shooting birds in flight well, I’m going to start the year with this merlin in flight.

Merlin in flight

In February, I shot this common merganser taking off.

Common merganser

You may begin to see a pattern here, as March is also represented by a bird in flight, a male northern harrier.

Male northern harrier in flight

So, for April, I made sure that the subject of the image wasn’t moving for a change.

Green heron showing its crown

Once spring arrived, my choices became even harder, because there weren’t only bird photos to choose from, but also insects and flowers. So, I decided to combine the two for May.

Green bee on a milkweed flower

For June, I went back to birds, because it’s rare for me to get as close to a hooded merganser as I did this pair.

Hooded mergansers

But for July, I returned to a flower.

Purple coneflower

I had to choose a bird for August, since in many ways, this is the best image of a bald eagle that I’ve ever shot.

Bald eagle

For September, I chose one of the first asters of fall.

Aster

For October, I selected this one, not quite a landscape photo, not quite a bird photo.

Misty morning

That brings us to the final image of the year in review, this bald eagle in flight.

Bald eagle in flight

I know, too many birds, and not enough other subjects. That’s one thing that I hope to remedy in 2018.

Thinking back to when I began my blog, I think that I was a better story-teller back then. However, I was a poor photographer, so the photos that I shot to help tell the stories didn’t show the story that I was trying to tell very well. So, I set out to make myself a better photographer, and I believe that I have succeeded, at the cost of not telling many stories as I used to.

One thing that I hope to do in the coming year is to go back to story telling, even if the photos that I shoot to go with the story aren’t that good.

Here’s an example of what I mean. There are few birds in flight that are as graceful as a snowy owl, and I can’t think of another species of bird that makes flight look as effortless as snowy owls do. With just a few beats of their wings, they are airborne and moving at a pretty good clip, spending most of the their time in flight gliding just above the snow…

Snowy owl in flight

…with just an occasional flap of their wings to maintain their momentum.

Snowy owl in flight

Even then, they stay low to the ground most of the time.

However, all their gracefulness comes to an end when it’s time for them to land. I’ve been lucky to see a number of them land, either while they were hunting, or they were escaping from people trying to get too close to the owls. I would say that a snowy owl landing is more of a controlled crash than a landing. I continued to track the owl in the photos above, but I didn’t shoot any more photos until I saw it set its wings for a landing…

Snowy owl landing

…the owl was really too far away, but I couldn’t take my finger off from the shutter button…

Snowy owl landing

…it was looking good at that point, until the owl’s feet touched the snow…

Snowy owl landing

…the owl was sliding across the snow, you’d think that a bird that spent most of its time in the Arctic would know that snow and ice are slippery…

Snowy owl sliding across the snow

…but it ended up in a heap as it slid across the snow…

Snowy owl landing

…until its talons were able to grab on to something in the snow, at which time the owl popped up as if to say “I meant to do that”.

Snowy owl landing

Of course I wish that I had been much closer to the owl as it crashed, but I don’t always get what I want.

That holds true for the weather so far this winter, it’s been brutal here in Michigan, and I know that it’s been even worse in other parts of the U.S. I haven’t been outside with a camera since before Christmas, and that’s not likely to change in the future, at least as far as I can tell by the weather forecasts.

The cold temperatures and the nearly non-stop snow falling has made working as a truck driver that much more difficult. The company that I work for now has been leaving the trucks running 24 hours a day in some instances, because they can’t get the trucks started agin if they sit for very long as cold as it’s been. I’ve also hooked to a couple of trailers that the brakes were frozen on, which means sliding under the trailer to hammer or pry the brakes loose so that the trailer will move. It’s been no fun at all the past three weeks a I write this, with at least another week to go before there’s any sort of warm-up. Even then, we’ll be lucky if it gets above the freezing mark, but I’m sure it will feel like a heat wave as cold as it’s been.

So, I’ve had some time on my hands, but not much to do. I was really looking forward to 2018, but making plans has been harder than I thought, since it’s so miserable outside so far this year.

I also remember that I had made big plans for 2017, none of which came to fruition. Ending up in the hospital for nearly a week last April derailed most of my plans for the spring and beyond. I’m still paying off the bill from that episode, but I’m making good progress on it. However, it puts a crimp on making plans that require spending very much money for the near future.

With some time on my hands due to the cold, I’ve been doing what I did the past few winters, watching how-to videos online and researching possible new camera gear. As far as camera gear, it will be a year or more, but all that I really need is a full-frame camera body and the Canon 24-105 mm lens. With a Canon 5D IV body, the lens that I want, and what I already have, I can get by carrying just two cameras as I do now, and two lenses, rather than the five lenses that I try to carry now. The reasons for the full-frame body are reduced noise at higher ISO settings, and wider field of view when shooting landscapes, as I’ve said before.

Many of the how-to videos that I’ve been watching were on how to edit photos, more so than videos on how to shoot better photos in the first place. Not to brag, but as far as sharpness and exposure, I do all right when it comes to shooting the photos that I do.

I will say this about editing images, there are a lot of people who put hours of work into editing the photos that they shoot. I’ll never get to that point, I don’t have the patience to sit in front of my computer for hours working on getting the perfectly edited version of an image that I’ve shot. I’m not one to lighten the eye of a bird by using the brush tool in Lightroom, or do all of the other painstaking editing that some people do for what I would say are minor improvements in the final image. But, I would like to get better at using Lightroom, so I suffer through the videos anyway.

Between watching those videos, and time to go through my Lightroom catalog, I have done some weeding out of photos that will never make the grade for one reason or another. I have thousands of images on my computer that no one will ever see, but I can’t bring myself to delete them despite that. They are memories for me to look back on during cold winters like this one.

So, with all of that in mind, my goals for this year are quite humble when compared to the plans that I’ve made in the past.

One is to use my tripod and the gimbal head that I purchased last year more often. I still shoot handheld most of the time, when I know that using the tripod would result in even better images. I do use the tripod for 95% of the landscape images that I shoot, so there’s no reason other than laziness not to use the tripod more often for other subjects. If I were to use the tripod more often for birds, I could go lower with the ISO settings to gain resolution in my images, since I could lower the shutter speed and not worry about camera movement. It only takes me a minute or two to set the tripod up, so there’s no excuse not to use it.

That goes with my second goal for the new year, shooting more video and getting better at it. That’s going to require that I use the tripod more often so that my videos are steadier and not so shaky as they have been. I really want to capture the courtship displays of some species of ducks, especially buffleheads and mergansers, as those displays would bring a smile to any one that watched them. I wanted to do that last year, but it was around the time in the spring when I ended up in the hospital, so I missed the courtship displays of the waterfowl completely.

I’m also planning on going back to many of the places that I haven’t been visiting as often, or not at all, that I used to go. I’ve gotten stuck in the rut of going to just a couple of places in the Muskegon area, hoping to add species of birds to the My Photo Life List project that I began several years ago. Also, some of that was due to health issues last year, as it took me most of the summer to fully recover my health to the point where I could cover longer distances as I used to walk. In fact, I’m still not 100%, but that’s mostly because I took it too easy last summer, when I should have pushed myself harder.

I’m not going to worry about posting to any schedule in the coming year, I’ll do a post when I get enough photos to do a good post, rather than trying to post once or twice a week, every week as I have been doing up until this winter. It helps that this winter has been so cold and snowy as to keep me inside most of the time, so I don’t have any new photos to share.

Well, almost another full week has gone by since the last time I worked on this post, and even though I have the day off from work, I won’t be venturing out to shoot any photos today. Even though we may set a record high temperature for the day, rather than a record low as we have been lately. That’s because there’s a dense fog advisory issued by the weather service, and it’s raining, not snowing for a change.

I also have too many other things that I have to do today, some banking to take care of, and I must have blood tests done ahead of a doctor’s appointment next week, and far enough in advance so that the results are available for the doctor to review them.

And, since I’ve been working nights, I’m normally going to bed shortly after sunrise on most days. That’s the pits for right now, but once spring and summer get here, that schedule could work out well for me. As it is now, it’s not light enough for photography until nearly 9 AM on most days in the winter here. But, I prefer to be on the location where I’m planning on going by 4 AM in the spring and summer months, because sunrise is so much earlier then. If I keep the same schedule then, it will work out very well for me. I’ll be able to sleep in on my days of from work, and still arrive at my destination as the sun rises.

Until then, I’m not sure how many of these regular posts I’ll be doing, but that will give me time to get caught up with the posts that I have to do towards the My Photo Life List project that I’ve been working on. I just finished another draft of a post towards the project, and the photos that I had of the species of bird for that post were just over three years old. They were shot when I was still using the Canon 60D camera and Sigma 150-500 mm lens, and before I had begun shooting in RAW or using Lightroom to edit my photos.

As I’ve done in the past, if I shoot better photos of the same species, I can go back and edit the post later to include the better quality photos.

Oh, and speaking of Lightroom, I’ve just read that Adobe has ended support of the standalone version of Lightroom that I’ve been using. I think that I can get by using the version that I have now for another year or two, but if I want to upgrade, I’ll have to sign up for the monthly fee version of Lightroom, that also includes Photoshop as well. I’m not happy about that, but what can one do, I’m sure that I’m not the only one that’s sorry to see the standalone version of Lightroom go away.

It’s now the middle of January, and I still haven’t been out with a camera since Christmas. We did have a short warm-up, but that brought rain and fog to the area, and my work schedule prevented me from getting out even in the low light. So, I’m going to finish this post with one more snowy owl photo…

Snowy owl

…this red-shouldered hawk seen on my way to Muskegon the last time I visited…

Red-shouldered hawk

…along with another leftover from last summer.

Great crested flycatcher

The weather people are forecasting another week in the deep freeze for us here, but after that, it should begin to warm up to close to average temperatures here for at least a week or two. That means high temperatures around freezing, but it will seem like a heat wave around here.

I put some of the free time that I had this morning to use by figuring out how to get the weight of my cameras with a battery grip and the long lenses that I have to balance better on the gimbal head of the tripod. The set-up I used before worked, but it left all the weight on just the quick release plate, with the foot of the tripod mount of the lens forward of the support base of the gimbal head. By reversing the tripod collars on the lenses, I was able to get the weight of the set-up above the support base of the gimbal head, therefore I don’t have to worry about one of the quick release plates breaking, sending my camera and lens crashing to the ground. I also learned a few other little tricks that may or may not come in handy, I’ll be able to tell for sure when I’m able to get out into the real world to test them.

At this time, I don’t know what else to say. I’m ready for spring to arrive, but that’s still well over a month away. I do plan on getting out before that, how often will depend on the weather, my work schedule, and a few other things. I’m not going to post something just to do a post on a set schedule, I’ll wait until I have photos or videos worth posting. As I said earlier, I’ll use the time to get caught up on the My Photo Life List project, even though I know those posts bore many readers.

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


And, they’re everywhere

I had already begun this post before I made it out to shoot any more photos, so I’m slipping this in the first part of this post. My last post contained mostly photos of snowy owls, and I’m afraid that this one will also. That’s because of how many have arrived in this area, Wednesday, the 22nd, was my first day off from work in eight days, and when I went to Muskegon, I found five different snowy owls there.

The bad thing about that is so many people are going there to see and photograph the snowy owls, that it is becoming a zoo, with people chasing the owls around to get photos of them. I’m going to start with the last image that I shot, because it’s my favorite, even though I have what most people would consider to be better photos of the owls.

Snowy owl

That owl landed close to me after it had been chased from where I had been shooting it earlier. I could see that the zoo was coming to where I shot the earlier photos…

Snowy owl

…so I was on my way back to my car when the zoo spooked the owl and it landed near me. It looked up over the rocks at me, I don’t know if it was saying goodbye to me, or asking me to protect it from the zoo, but either way, I love the photo of the owl peeking over the rocks at me.

Now, back to what I had typed earlier.

With so little time to get outside to shoot photos these days, I feel compelled to bring back images that I can post here on my blog. I think that I should be working on refining the techniques that I use, along with learning new ones, such as learning to make good panorama images made by stitching two or more images together. I most certainly should have tested the portable hide that I purchased last spring, but still haven’t used yet. I did think about getting it out when photographing the snowy owls seen in my last post, but I didn’t want to spook the owl that I saw first that was perched in such a good location, nor did I want to look silly while in a group of people when shooting the second owl of the day.

The reality is that I have such a limited amount of time to spend outside with the camera, that I’ve been ending up with posts which are overloaded with one species of birds lately. One post had too many great blue herons, then there was the post with too many images of bald eagles, and the last post had too many images of snowy owls. In my defense, part of the reason for the lack of variety in my posts lately has also been because the majority of species of birds have flown south for the winter. It’s more difficult to shoot a variety of birds when there’s a limited number of species around. And, part of the reason for the lack of variety is my desire to shoot more images that I may be able to sell as prints. I’m much more likely to sell a print of a bald eagle or snowy owl than I am to sell one of a chickadee, but you never know about that. It’s all what catches some one’s eye.

Also, there’s the fact that due to the summer drought, an extended warm spell and the drought continuing into October, this years fall foliage photo opportunities were a bust. Many trees dropped green leaves this fall, and just as many trees turned directly to brown before dropping their leaves.

Then, there’s my new job. I’m not sure if this is going to work out or not. Three days this week, I started work between one and two A. M., today, I’m starting at 4:15 P. M. Then, it’s back to 11:30 P. M. for a start time. So that I can adjust, they gave me the equivalent of an extra half day off from work, but that means that I’m working six days a week to make any money. And, on the one day that I do get off from work, I’ve been stuck doing household chores and trying to adjust my sleep pattern for the coming week.

When I interviewed with this company, I specifically asked if they switched the schedule around on drivers like that, and of course they told me no. That was obviously a lie, because my scheduled start times have been all over the place the after the first week that I was there.

In defense of the person doing the scheduling, I am the rookie, and therefore, I’m being used to fill holes in the schedule, rather than having a set schedule as the drivers who have been there longer have.

As it’s worked out, when I have been able to get out to shoot any photos, it’s been raining, and I haven’t had much time even when I do get out.

On the plus side, my legs are beginning to get into better shape because I load and unload the trailer at most stops that I make. I’m not just sitting in the truck for 10 or 12 hours a day. With the poor circulation that I have in my legs, they need exercise on a regular basis, and my old job left no time for that.

Since I’m on the subject of my job, there’s one more rant that I have to go off on, and that’s dealing with the Post Office and the ridiculous schedules that they have.

The way that the Post Office’s schedule is, I’m supposed to be a specified loading dock at a specified facility at a specified time, all based on the assumption that the branch that I’m at has the outgoing mail cued up near the specified dock, waiting to be loaded. In practice, it doesn’t work, as I’ll show up at the right dock at the right time, only to find that there’s still a truck parked there, so I have to wait until that truck leaves. Usually, the truck at the dock when I arrived is running late for one reason or another.

Then, when I do get parked at the specified dock, I find that the mail hasn’t been cued up yet, and I have to wait until postal employees bring it out from the processing area to the loading dock. My schedule shows a tiny window, often ten minutes or less, for me to load the trailer and secure the load, based on the mail being there waiting for me. All too often, I don’t begin to load the trailer until my scheduled out time is drawing near.

None of that matters to the postal employees that record a driver’s in and out times, if the last cart full of mail makes it to the dock before my scheduled departure time, then I can be marked as late to depart if I don’t get it on the trailer and secured before the scheduled departure time. The reason is, that the Postal Service can also reprimand the employees at the branch if they are the reason that the mail is late to depart, or arrive at its destination. So, since they risk getting in trouble, they cut the drivers no slack at all as far as following the schedule. If they do hold me up 15 minutes after my scheduled departure time, then I get a “get out of jail card”, known as a late slip, but they are loath to hand them out, because doing so makes them look bad, and open for reprimand. The one exception to that is when the processing department is to blame for a late departure, then the dock workers are all too eager to print out a late slip.

Compounding that problem is the fact that we often have two or three stops at different branches, so we have to get the mail for the last stop loaded on the trailer first, with the mail for the first stop on the rear of the trailer, because we don’t have the time to sort it out at the stops we have to make.

What often happens is that because they are in a hurry to get the mail on the dock in time, it’s a mixed up mess with the various stops all mixed together, which I have to sort out as I load the trailer. I must be getting better at it, since I haven’t heard about being late the last few weeks.

Anyway, back to photography and my photos. Having typed what I had so far, and trying to avoid the zoo, I shot a few landscape photos with the recently purchased 16-35 mm L series lens just to get more used to it, and to test it out more. I didn’t have great light, nor scenes that would wow people, but I’m extremely happy with the results that the lens produces.

A little color on a grey day

And, it felt good to explore landscape photography again rather than just chase birds around.

Looking down the road

Nothing special, but they do serve well as test shots to see how well that the new lens does, and as I said, I’m very happy with it. It’s definitely a step up from the 15-85 mm lens that I was using.

Back to the owls, they really were everywhere, here’s two of them perched on top of power poles to escape the zoo.

Two snowy owls in one shot

Not a very good photo, but how often does one get a chance to include two snowy owls in the frame at once? You can also see how one is much lighter than the other, which is one way to identify individuals.

I did attempt to photograph other species of birds, here’s a pair of male buffleheads, but I really needed more light to bring out the colors of their heads.

Male bufflehead ducks

I also worked very hard to get bad images of the snow buntings that I saw.

Snow bunting

There was a large flock of the snow buntings, there must have been 200 of them in the flock, flying from place to place. They never stay in one place for very long, a few seconds at the most it seems.

Snow bunting

It could be that the snow buntings are always on the move because there’s a peregrine falcon lurking about.

Peregrine falcon

If only I had better light for that one, same as in my last post.

I feel better now, I was able to make it out two days in a row, and even had a little filtered sunlight on the second day. The reason that I was able to get out for the second day in a row is because my schedule at work is flip-flopping again, going from starting in the morning to starting late at night again, but I’ve whined enough about that.

I was able to get another explosive take-off by a mallard, showing how much water that they displace as launch themselves into the air.

Male mallard take-off

It takes a great deal of power to move that much water, and he’s a pretty duck as well.

Male mallard take-off

I was also able to get a few good photos of a male northern shoveler in flight, although he hasn’t molted back into breeding plumage completely yet.

Northern shovelers in flight

I wish that I could post a larger version of that first one, as it really shows the beautiful colors of the shoveler’s wing.

Northern shovelers in flight

I have to say it again, the 400 mm f/5.6 L series lens is so good that my images of birds in flight are sharper than I could get of perched birds with any of my other lenses that I have been using. I absolutely love the 400 mm lens, so much so that some of the snowy owl portraits were shot with it, then cropped, rather than using the 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X extender.

In my indoor testing last winter, the 400 mm prime lens showed itself to be sharper than the 100-400 mm lens, alone, with the 1.4 X extender, and especially with the 2 X extender. In the field, I haven’t tried the 2 X extender on the 400 mm prime lens, as it doesn’t have Image Stabilization. But, I found one of the resident eagles that I shot so many photos of a few posts ago, and I decided that it was time to test the 400 mm lens with the 2 X extender.

Bald eagle, manually focused at 800 mm

The 7D Mk II can’t auto-focus through the viewfinder when using the slow 400 mm f/5.6 lens and 2 X extender to get to 800 mm, so I took a great deal of time getting the focus correct for that image manually. Then, I switched to live view focusing, which the 7D can do with the same set-up, and I shot this one.

Bald eagle, live view focusing at 800 mm

The 400 mm prime lens with the 2 X extender out performs the 100-400 mm lens with the 1.4 X extender, needless to say, I was impressed. The more that I use the 400 mm prime lens, the more that I want to use it for everything because of how sharp it is. If there had been more light, the results would have been even better. The eagle hung around long enough after I shot those to give me time to review them, then remove the extender for this one.

Bald eagle in flight

That one was cropped a lot more, but it’s still sharp, and I was able to get the shot.

I also used the 400 mm lens for this one.

Ripples at sunrise

Now then, back to the snowy owl, the one that peered over the rocks at me as I left. I had walked down to get close to it, and spent some time photographing it long before the zoo arrived. The zoo was busy chasing two other owls up and down the center dike at the wastewater facility, leaving me alone with this owl.

Snowy owl

You can see that it wasn’t afraid of me, it even walked closer to me on its own a couple of times. When it did, I’d back away in case it decided to fly, as it would have been too close to me if it did. But, it hung out there with me, allowing me plenty of chances to get good photos. I wasn’t quite ready when it yawned, so I had to throw the camera up to my eye quickly when it did.

Snowy owl yawning

I was trying to shoot and move the camera to get a better composition at the same time, never a good thing, for this next one is a bit soft due to motion blur.

Snowy owl yawning

I was also able to get a better photo showing the owl’s huge feet covered in feathers as it walked.

Snowy owl

They are very slow, deliberate walkers, and are usually looking down at the ground as they walk. Still, I like that one, you can see its very sharp but rather dainty claws very well along with the feathers covering their feet to keep their feet warm in the snow. Those large feet act as snowshoes when there’s snow on the ground, allowing the owls to walk on top of the snow rather than sink into it.

That last one was shot as the zoo approached the owl and myself, so I had already begun to walk back to my car, I looked back, and sure enough, the zoo had gotten so close that the owl couldn’t stand it, and it flew towards me.

Snowy owl in flight

Sorry, not very good, I was rushed to get any photo of the owl, and it dropped down below the top of the dike and out of view just after that. I was thinking that it was going to work out that way, which is why I had begun to walk away in the first place. But, I was still on the west side of the dike to give the owl space, my plan had been to cross over to the east side after I had put more distance between us.

I could go on at length about the zoo chasing the snowy owls, but I’ll give you just one example of what I’m talking about. There was a guy standing on the passenger seat of a SUV with his upper body protruding through the moon roof of the vehicle as he held his camera. There was a woman driving the SUV, with the guy giving her directions as to when to stop and when to move, and what direction to turn. They were the lead vehicle in a train of vehicles following the snowy owls around, I guess to get photos of the owls in flight, for they always approached the owls until they flew.

Well, I lied, I have another example to share. On the second day there at the wastewater since my last post, I avoided the owls and the zoo as much as I could except for one short period of time. As I was looking for other birds to photograph, I saw that some one who I speak to often when I see him there was parked a reasonable distance from a snowy, shooting photos from time to time. I was coming from the opposite direction, so I parked a little bit farther away from the owl than he was, hoping that any one else approaching from my direction would have the good sense to also stop and allow the other guy his chance of getting a good photo. It didn’t work, some jerk in a pickup truck drove around me, and right up to the owl, chasing it down into the rocks along the dike. I’m sure that the other photographer that I speak to often was fuming at that. My only hope is that the owl moved down into the rocks before the jerk in the pickup got any good photos of the owl.

The thing is, that if you take your time and approach the owls correctly, you can get quite close to them, and get photos like this.

Snowy owl

I spent most of the time that I was shooting the owls down on my knees, or even sitting on the ground so that I could get photos without a distracting background, while especially the guy standing in the SUV was shooting down at the owls, so even if he got a little closer, I doubt that his photos were as good because of the angle he was shooting at.

I suppose that mot people don’t have the patience to do what I did, my biggest problem was that the owl I was hanging out with kept walking closer to me, so that I kept moving back away from it in case it decided to fly. The zoo may have gotten photos of the owls in flight, but always of the back of the owls, because they always flew away from the zoo.

I guess that at least a few of the owls have gotten tired of the zoo chasing them all the time. There had been five of them there at the wastewater facility on the two days that I was there last. From the most recent reports that I’ve seen, only one remains, the other four have moved to a different area where they’re left alone, at least I hope so.

Anyway, I’m going to end this post with another leftover from earlier this year.

Remembering spring

That was shot back in May, and I don’t remember what species of flowers they are, sorry.

Anyway, I was notified via voicemail that I have tomorrow off from work. The message came by voicemail because I had already gone to bed in case I did have to work, so needless to say, I wasn’t able to plan anything for tomorrow, or today for that matter. Had I known in advance that I wouldn’t have to be back at work until 2 A. M. Friday morning, I would have been able to get out with the camera for two days, rather than one short one. Oh well, I was looking for a job when I found this one, and I still have recruiters hounding me from some of the other companies that I checked out before taking this job.

Also, for the second straight week, I’ve worked eight days in a row before a day off, but still haven’t gotten close to 40 hours in for the week. That’s because I’ve been doing all short runs of between 5 and 7 hours long. If this continues, I’ll be forced to find another job, because while this employer pays well by the hour, if you don’t work many hours, you don’t make any money.  I like not working 10 to 14 hours a day as I did on my last job, but this is ridiculous.

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


Lake Michigan birding March 22nd, The long boring version

It’s Sunday afternoon as I start this, the wind is howling like banshee outside in advance of the snow that’s forecast to arrive later. I’m sure glad that I got my walk in early this morning!

But, that is this weekend, the weather was just about as cold as it was yesterday and today last weekend when I went to the Lake Michigan shoreline. I arrived in Grand Haven just as it was beginning to get light. I had planned to go back and get better images of the breakwater and lighthouse while the lights were on for some time, ever since I tried shooting the scene handheld several weeks ago. There wasn’t as much ice left on the breakwater as there had been before, but I still set-up my tripod and camera to capture the scene anyway.

Grand Haven breakwater at dawn

Grand Haven breakwater at dawn

That’s the HDR version, otherwise, the photo is practically devoid of color, other than the white lights. I shot several series of photos to get that one HDR image, and I was about to fold the tripod up to put it away, when I saw the sunrise beginning to show signs of being a good one, in the other direction. So, despite my fingers going numb from the cold, I set-up to shoot this one, more for practice than anything else. I haven’t done much night photography since I switched from film to digital, and I thought that the practice would be just the ticket.

Sunrise over Grand Haven from Grand Haven State Park

Sunrise over Grand Haven from Grand Haven State Park

The only reason that I’m including that one is so that you can see what Grand Haven State Park is like. The yellow lines on the pavement denote the “campsites”. You should see that park in the summer, the “campers” are packed in there like sardines! Yet, that campground is almost always full, just because it is right on the beach. Not my cup of tea in any way, shape, or form.

I knew that there wasn’t time to drive to a more scenic spot, so I did the best that I could from that location.

Grand Haven, Michigan sunrise

Grand Haven, Michigan sunrise

Then, much to my surprise, the red in the sky extended well past me to the west, over the breakwater, so I turned around again for this one from my last post.

Sunrise at the Grand Haven breakwater

Sunrise at the Grand Haven breakwater

Okay then, time for me to prattle on a little. As you know, I’ve had my new iMac and Lightroom for just over a month, and I’m continuing to learn new things all the time. One thing that I’ve learned, and this may sound silly, is to not sit as close to the computer screen as I used to when I still used the old laptop. The display of this new iMac is huge, when I’m working on a photo in Lightroom, the image is a little larger than an eight by ten print, which shows all the flaws in an image even before I crop the image at all. Taking a cropped image up to that size makes it look as though the quality of the image is the pits, but it isn’t really as bad as it appears to be.

And, there is so much to learn in Lightroom, I found another series of tutorials online, these are from Adobe, the company that publishes Lightroom. They are much shorter than the two tutorials that I posted links to in the past, these average about twenty minutes long. However, they sure pack a lot into a very short time, I’m glad that I started with the two longer videos from B&H Photo to get to know Lightroom, now, I can almost keep up as I learn new tricks for using it in these videos from Adobe.

And, there are so many tricks to learn in Lightroom, not just editing photos, but storing, organizing, and finding the exact photo that one is looking for. There’s often several ways to accomplish any task, so the learning continues.

Lightroom is an amazing program, but I’d rather not turn this blog into yet another “how to” blog about Lightroom, there seems to be plenty of sources for tips about using it already available.

News flash, I came home from work on Monday afternoon after working a fourteen hour shift, only to find that my apartment had been flooded again, this time by a pipe that burst in my neighbors apartment. This flood was much worse than the one back in January, the damage from which they had never gotten around to repairing yet. Just as well, they would have had to do most of it all over again.

To make a long story short, I spent three nights in motels, two nights at my expense, one night on the company that I work for expense, as I did an overnight run to southern Ohio since I couldn’t stay in my apartment anyway. So, that’s the reason I was late replying to comments here, and got behind on other people’s blogs. Sorry, I had no internet access for most of this week. That’s also put me way behind in my blogging.

As it happened, I worked close enough to what I can legally work for a week by Thursday afternoon, that I have Friday off, and don’t have to return to work until Monday evening, a nice long Easter weekend for me. I went for a walk in the morning, talked to the maintenance supervisor about how the repairs had or had not been done, and I’ve been doing some major cleaning since then. A maintenance person showed up to do the last of the needed repairs, but most of the clean up of my property remains for me to do. The only thing the maintenance people care about is the company’s property, the carpeting and drywall, my stuff is my problem. Oh well, at least nothing was damaged.

Now then, back to the trip at hand.

Because it was still so cold out, I drove to several spots in Grand Haven where I could scope out the Grand River and other waterways, including Harbor Island, using my binoculars to see if there were any waterfowl or other birds worth trying to photograph. The only photos that I shot during this portion of the trip were of the first killdeer I’d seen this spring.

Killdeer

Killdeer

I drove to the north, to the Mona Lake channel and Lake Harbor Park to see what, if anything there was worth photographing. I found the first song sparrow of the year there.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

A few common mergansers.

Common mergansers in flight

Common mergansers in flight

Common merganser

Common merganser

My first American coot of the year.

American coot

American coot

Although it was still a bit early for good light for photography, as you can see. I walked the trail along the Mona Lake channel to the Lake Michigan shore, pausing to shoot one of the last American tree sparrows of the spring, as these will be heading north to their breeding grounds soon.

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

Most of the ice on Lake Michigan had melted, but what was left had been piled up along the shore by the wind, so I shot a few photos, using the wrong lens.

Spring ice on Lake Michigan

Spring ice on Lake Michigan

Spring ice on Lake Michigan

Spring ice on Lake Michigan

Spring ice on Lake Michigan

Spring ice on Lake Michigan

I shot those using the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens), but I wished that I had taken one of my short lenses with me for those photos, to give you all a wider view of the icebergs on the lake.

Anyway, as I was walking back to the parking area, I saw a juvenile bald eagle flying in my direction. I was watching it through tree branches as it approached, so I couldn’t start shooting as soon as I saw it, but that worked out well, for I had time to get the camera and the Beast set-up for when the eagle cleared the trees.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

That wasn’t cropped at all, that’s how close to me the eagle flew as it cleared the trees.

The eagle continued on, out over Mona Lake, I could post a few more not as good shots of the eagle as it did, but then something happened that was more interesting. One of the many gulls hanging around the area began attacking the eagle.

Gull attacking a bald eagle

Gull attacking a bald eagle

Gull attacking a bald eagle

Gull attacking a bald eagle

The eagle turned around, flying back in my direction, with the gull hot on its tail.

Gull attacking a bald eagle

Gull attacking a bald eagle

Gull attacking a bald eagle

Gull attacking a bald eagle

Who knows, maybe one of these days I’ll catch something like this happening when there’s good light so my photos will be better. But, that’s the way it goes for me. I guess that I’m luckier than most, as I see these things more often than most people, but seldom in good light. I do find it interesting that on one day, the eagles will be chasing the gulls, looking for an easy meal, the next day, the gulls will be chasing the eagles away. How do they decide who is going to chase who each day?

Anyway, my next stop was the Muskegon Lake channel, then it was on to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and I’m not going to add any of the few photos that I shot at either of those locations. The light was still poor, and the things that I saw weren’t that noteworthy.  That changed at the next stop, the Bear Lake channel to Muskegon Lake.

That’s not one of my usual stops, as there’s no public access there, other than the parking lot of the Bear Lake Tavern. Since it was still relatively early on a Sunday morning, the tavern was closed, so I stopped to shoot a few photos of the mallards there. The weather was finally getting better, and playing with the mallards seemed like a good way to get some practice.

Male Mallard

Male Mallard

Male Mallard

Male Mallard

Since I had all my camera gear with me in my car, I had switched to using one body with just the 300 mm L series lens on one body, and the 70-200 mm L series lens on the other, as I could easily get too close to the mallards with either lens.

I was a bit surprised to see a pair of Pekin ducks there…

Pekin ducks

Pekin ducks

Pekin ducks

Pekin ducks

Pekin ducks

Pekin ducks

…and I was even more surprised when this guy came out from under one of the boat ducks along the channel to pose for me!

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

So, I hung around the area, shooting the mallards, the wood duck, and a few gulls that showed up, trying various lenses and settings for these.

Male mallard

Male mallard

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

Female mallard/black duck hybrid

Female mallard/black duck hybrid

Female mallard/black duck hybrid

Female mallard/black duck hybrid

Male mallard

Male mallard

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

The last two images were shot with the Beast, as I had switched back to that lens as I prepared to leave.

My last stop of the day was the portion of Muskegon State Park on the north side of the Muskegon Lake channel. The only photos that I shot were of a male northern cardinal as he sang.

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing

So, I switched my camera over to shoot video, for those of you who have never heard a cardinal’s song.

Not great, but do you know how hard it is to hold a camera with the Beast on it stationary at 500 mm when pointed nearly straight up and at arm’s length?

So, that wraps up another one, it’s early on Saturday morning now, I have my apartment in a livable condition for now, although I still have a lot of work left to do. But, I’m going to take this morning off, and head to the Pickerel Lake Nature Preserve to see what I can find there while the weather is fairly nice. The forecast is for rain/snow mixed tomorrow, that’s apartment cleaning weather.

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


Lake Michigan birding March 22nd, a quick preview

It’s Thursday evening, and I already have 51 hours in for the week, and the legal limit is 60, so tomorrow will be a (relatively) short day. Needless to say, I haven’t been out walking at all the week, 14 hours on with 10 hours off does that to me.

Note: You can click on any of these photos for a larger version, and I recommend that you do, I’m very, very proud of these.

However, I did make it to the Lake Michigan shoreline early Sunday morning. How early? This early!

Sunrise at the Grand Haven breakwater

Sunrise at the Grand Haven breakwater

All my efforts at learning the Photomatix HDR software is beginning to show fruit, especially when I use Lightroom to do the conversion to Tiff before loading the images in Photomatix.  Not to brag, but I can see that I’m making real progress.

It was a very cold morning, I nearly froze my fingers off getting the sunrise photos, and most of the photos from the day, but it was worth it! I stopped at the Bear Lake channel that feeds into Muskegon Lake on a bit of a lark, to fool around with the mallards there…

Male mallard

Male mallard

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

…when this guy came out from under one of the boat docks there.

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

When I think about all the times that I’ve stalked wood ducks trying to get a good photo of one, well, it’s been a struggle to put it mildly. Now, I had one at close range that let me shoot all the photos that I wanted.

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

And though the light wasn’t perfect, it was good enough as you can see. To me, wood ducks are one of the most beautiful species of any type of bird, not just waterfowl, it’s a wonder that I didn’t fill the entire memory card of the camera with just photos of him. But then, I wouldn’t have shot this one of a juvenile bald eagle.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Yup, it was that kind of day.

Now, it’s time for me to shower and turn in for the night.

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


Muskegon Birding, March 8th, 2015

I haven’t made it out very often lately, my work schedule has prevented that. I’ve been working long hours, this week it was 55 hours in five days, so even though the weather has been nice, I’ve been too tired when I get out of work to do any hiking or walking.

I’ve also fallen behind in my blogging, so this post will cover a trip to the Muskegon area way back on March 8th. While I didn’t shoot photos of any new species this time, I did have better light than  I did for most of my trips there this past winter. I tried to use some of what I have learned while using Lightroom to shoot better photos in the first place, that, and get the best from my photo equipment.

Overall, I’ve been somewhat disappointed in the performance of the 300 mm L series telephoto lens I have, but when I get that lens to focus spot on, it does an exceptional job!

Male mallard

Male mallard

However, my go to lens for birding is still the Beast ( Sigma 150-500 mm lens) due to its more reliable focusing. So all the rest of the photos in this post were shot with that lens.

The photo of the mallard was shot at the Muskegon Lake channel, where I started on this day. There were plenty of waterfowl around to shoot, like this female red-breasted merganser.

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

The birding reports from the Muskegon area which showed the common eider and black scoter still there had brought out droves of people looking for them with the arrival of nicer weather. The constant movements of those people kept most of the waterfowl agitated and/or over to the far side of the channel, out of photo range. I tried for a few duck in flight photos, with mixed results…

Female red-breasted merganser in flight

Female red-breasted merganser in flight

Bufflehead in flight

Bufflehead in flight

Bufflehead in flight

Bufflehead in flight

Greater scaup in flight

Male Greater scaup in flight

…the Beast does okay, but it is not a great lens for moving subjects, at least not those that move as fast as ducks do. I should qualify that, the Beast isn’t great for moving subjects if I don’t have the time to switch the optical stabilization mode to action, or off completely for moving subjects on my Canon 60D body. It will be interesting to see how it and the 300 mm L series lens perform on a 7D Mk II body.

Yes, I have decided to upgrade to the better body, but I’ve calmed down about that again since my last post. At that time, I had just returned from a walk during which I had missed many photo opportunities due to the inconsistent focusing of the 300 mm lens. With the return of warmer weather, I’ll be able to carry the Beast more often, which works very well on the 60D bodies that I currently use. Of course, that may change by the time that you read this, I’ll be carrying the Beast around home today for the first time in months when I go for my hike.

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I try to make long-term plans, however, the spontaneous side of me hates having equipment that doesn’t function the way that I want it to, and I’m prone to make hasty decisions because of that. Because of the poor quality of the photos of the Cooper’s hawks mating in my last post, I was very upset at the time I wrote that post. I have to tell myself to calm down, that I have the rest of my life to accumulate better gear, and better photos. I don’t have to get perfect photos every time, although that’s what I try for most of the time. I know that there are going to be plenty of bad photos no matter which camera or end I use, that’s the way that nature photography is, you’re not in a studio where you can control the light and every other aspect of photography.

In a way, I feel as though I’m flying blind at the present time as far as what the quality of my photos really is. I upgraded my computer to the new iMac and began using Lightroom at the same time. Based on what I saw, I’ve changed many of my camera’s basic settings to make my images better because of that. However, everything looks different on this new computer, from my earlier photos to everything else that I view. So, I have to ask myself is it the display, Lightroom, or camera settings, a combination of all of the above, or am I being tricked into thinking my photos have improved. I may have to have a few printed out to see just where I stand at this time. So to that end, I have just ordered 8 X 10 prints of 5 of my best photos from since I began using Lightroom and the new iMac, and changed the basic settings of the camera. Once I see them, I’ll have a better idea where I currently stand as far as image quality. I guess that I’ll put this post on hold until then.

Okay, once again, I am officially amazed. Without a doubt, the prints that I had made are by far the best I’ve ever gotten from any of my cameras, including my old Pentax film camera! These were sharper, clearer, and the color reproduction was almost perfect. I’m not saying those things to brag, but it’s always good to see improvements in something that I love to do, and to know that I’m making progress.

From what I can tell, the settings that I had dialed into the camera to record better jpeg images muddied up (hows that for a technical term?) the images since I have switched to shooting in RAW all the time. That, and I still think that Lightroom does a much better job of converting the RAW images to jpeg for use here, or to print, than the software that came with my camera did at the conversion. No matter what the reasons are, I’m very impressed by the results that I see, both on my computer, and now in the prints that I had made.

So, in addition to the mallard photo above, here are the photos from this trip that I had printed to check on quality.

Grey squirrel

Grey squirrel

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

I also had the recent photo of the eagle printed…

Bald eagle sans twig

Bald eagle sans twig

…along with one of the robins from the last post.

American Robin

American Robin

Okay then, now that I know for sure where I stand as far as the quality of my current images, time to get back to the task at hand, my trip to Muskegon. And, in doing so, I going to post a poor photo for the record, a bald eagle that was perched on the far side of the channel, keeping an eye on things happening.

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

The eagle stayed there the entire time while I was there, it would watch the ducks and gulls fly by, and the people coming and going as if it didn’t have a care in the world. It didn’t seem to bother the ducks very much. I got slightly better photos of the common eider.

Common eider

Common eider

Common eider

Common eider

I have to thank the eider for getting on top of that chunk of ice to give me a better view!

This male long-tailed duck decided to yank my chain…

Male long-tailed duck

Male long-tailed duck

…for just as the female did the last time I was there, the male rose up…

Male long-tailed duck

Male long-tailed duck

…and I thought that it was going to dry its wings…

Male long-tailed duck

Male long-tailed duck

…but he changed his mind about that.

Male long-tailed duck

Male long-tailed duck

On this trip, a female did dry her wings, and I managed to catch it.

Female long-tailed duck

Female long-tailed duck

Female long-tailed duck

Female long-tailed duck

Here are the rest of the images that I shot while at the Muskegon Lake channel.

Ring-billed gull

Ring-billed gull

Mute swan

Mute swan

Male greater scaup

Male greater scaup

Female greater scaup

Female greater scaup

Female greater scaup

Female greater scaup

Male greater scaup

Male greater scaup

Male greater scaup

Male greater scaup

IMG_3598

Juvenile mute swan napping

 

With the steady stream of people showing up looking for the eider and black scoter, I decided to head over to the other end of Muskegon Lake and hang out at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve for a while shooting song birds.

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

The snow was still quite deep on the trails, but it was a beautiful day with comfortable temperatures for early March, so I sat down on at a picnic table in the sun to listen to the birds and photograph any that came near.

Male house finch

Male house finch

Male house finch

Male house finch

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

American Tree sparrow

American Tree sparrow

American Tree sparrow

American Tree sparrow

Grey squirrel

Grey squirrel

American Tree sparrow

American Tree sparrow

Grey squirrel

Grey squirrel

Feather in the wind

Feather in the wind

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Mourning dove taking flight

Mourning dove taking flight

I didn’t get photos of all the birds that I would have liked to, but it was nice to just sit in the sun and enjoy the day and hear the birds singing for the first time in months!

With the nicer weather, more people began to show up, which kept the birds at bay, but by then, a chilly wind coming over the ice of Lake Michigan and Muskegon Lake had cooled me to the point where it was time to find a warmer spot. So, it was off to the wastewater treatment facility to see what I could find there.

It was early afternoon by then, not the best time of day for birding, but I did find a flock of common redpolls that had stopped there on their way north to feed on the exposed seeds as the snow melted.

Common redpoll

Common redpoll

Common redpoll

Common redpoll

Most of the trails and two-tracks were still blocked by the large snowdrifts left from this past winter, which meant that I couldn’t get to many of the best birding spots. I did get a couple of shots of a rough-legged hawk in flight.

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

There were a few redhead around…

Male redhead ducks

Male redhead ducks

…I don’t know why, but one redhead was hanging out with the greater scaup, so much for birds of a feather. 😉

Male redhead duck and male greater scaup

Male redhead duck and male greater scaup

Since I’m out of practice shooting flying birds, I decided that I would practice on the gulls, I had many to choose from.

RIng-billed gulls in flight

Ring-billed gulls in flight

The gulls would have just as soon have perched on the ice for a siesta, but there was a bald eagle nearby…

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

…and every twenty minutes or so, the eagle would soar over the gulls looking for an easy meal, and that would send all the gulls into a frenzy until the eagle had returned to its perch. I tried for photos, but my timing was off, I was always in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I did get lots of practice on the gulls…

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

…and caught this juvenile eagle as it flew past to see what the adult was up to.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Well, that was it for the day, not a bad day overall, even though I wasn’t able to get anymore lifers on this trip.

I’m publishing this on Sunday morning, before I head out before dawn for another Lake Michigan shoreline trip, and tomorrow in the wee hours of the morning, I head out to do an overnight run for work, so I may not get a chance to reply to comments for a while. Sorry about that, but my schedule these days is rather chaotic, as I never know when or for how long I’ll be working, and the ten hours that I typically have off from work each day doesn’t leave me much time for anything other than eating and sleeping.

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


Muskegon Birding, February 28th, 2015, Two lifers

I haven’t made it out very often lately, between work and the weather. Last weekend, I went to the Airzoo in Kalamazoo to shoot photos of the planes in the museum there, and I’m still working on a post on that trip.

The Kalamazoo Airzoo

The Kalamazoo Airzoo

We’ve shattered the record for the coldest February on record, a full two degrees colder than the previous record, set in 1978. That’s been reason enough to stay indoors where it’s warm. 😉 But, with the promise of some sunshine, and reports of some rare birds coming from the Muskegon area, I’d been hibernating long enough, and just had to get out to shoot some photos. Low temperature this morning,  -4 F (-20 C),  the 7th time in the last 14 days we’ve been below zero.

Sure enough, it was sunny while I was driving towards Muskegon, and the sunshine even managed to hold long enough for me to shoot photos of one of two lifers that I saw this day, a black scoter.

Male Black Scoter

Male Black Scoter

But, it soon clouded over right along Lake Michigan, which was a shame, as there were plenty of waterfowl around for me to photograph.

Male White-winged scoter

Male White-winged scoter

I realized that I’ve posted quite a few images of the male white-wing scoters in the past, so here’s a series of photos of a female, diving, then surfacing to eat what she had found.

Female White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

Female White-winged scoter

I thought that this female long-tailed duck was going to dry her wings after coming up from a dive…

Female long-tailed duck

Female long-tailed duck

Female long-tailed duck

Female long-tailed duck

Female long-tailed duck

Female long-tailed duck

…but that was as far as she went, then she said “The heck with it, it’s too cold to generate any kind of a breeze”.

Female long-tailed duck

Female long-tailed duck

With halfway decent light for a change, I got better photos of common goldeneyes as well.

Female common goldeneye duck

Female common goldeneye duck

Male common goldeneye ducks

Male common goldeneye ducks

Although, I have to admit that I used Lightroom to improve those, and most of the images in this post.

The ducks were quite skittish, so I sat in my car, waiting for them to return close enough for good photos. That worked fairly well, other than a steady stream of people stopping by to look for the rare birds. Every time some one pulled into the parking lot, the ducks would all swim to the north side of the channel, well out of camera range. I’d wait, the ducks would come back towards me, and I’d get a few photos before the next car arrived. On the other hand, the mute swans would swim over when some one pulled up, looking for a handout, as a few people feed the swans and ducks.

Mute swan

Mute swan

I probably should have zoomed out a bit for that one. 😉

There was one redhead duck that never went very far, however, he refused to pose, as he was trying to sleep.

Sleeping male redhead duck

Sleeping male redhead duck

And, this female red-breasted merganser refused to look at me, even though I was so close that this image hasn’t been cropped at all.

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

I did catch her drying off though….

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

…before she moved away to do some preening.

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

The males were more skittish, and so I got one fair photo of one of them.

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

As the ducks were returning after their swim to the other side of the channel, I got a redhead and a greater scaup together….

Male redhead duck and greater scaup

Male redhead duck and greater scaup

…then, I shot each one individually.

Male greater scaup

Male greater scaup

Male redhead duck

Male redhead duck

I think that you can see how quickly the light was changing, from almost sunny, to cloudy, then sunny again, for a few seconds. That soon came to an end, and by the time that I had walked out to the end of the breakwater to catch the common eider, the snow had begun.

Common eider

Common eider

Common eider

Common eider

Not bad, two lifers in one trip! I have to give a shout out to the two serious birders who helped me spot both of the lifers, I think that I would have found them anyway, but having some one with a spotting scope point them out sure speeds things up.

On my way back to my Forester (and hoping that I didn’t lose any fingers to frostbite), I shot a few more photos there at the Muskegon Lake channel.

Common mergansers

Common mergansers

This female goldeneye had just surfaced with a crayfish, and wasn’t about to leave it behind when I spooked her, so she took it along with her.

Female common goldeneye in flight

Female common goldeneye in flight

This male followed her.

Male common goldeneye in flight

Male common goldeneye in flight

Male common goldeneye in flight

Male common goldeneye in flight

One last photo from the Muskegon Lake channel, here’s a long-tailed duck and a mallard to show you how tiny long-tailed ducks are.

Long-tailed duck and mallard

Long-tailed duck and mallard

Looking toward the east, I could see that the clouds were hugging the Lake Michigan shore, and that inland, it was sunny. So, I headed over to the other end of Muskegon Lake to visit the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. It was sunnier there than at the channel, but it wasn’t any warmer, and there’s nothing to block the wind, so I didn’t linger long enough to shoot a single photo. Instead, I headed even farther inland, to the Muskegon County wastewater treatment facility. I finally used my long-term visitor’s pass!

Unfortunately, with all the snow that has fallen around Muskegon, the trails, and even some of the two-tracks were blocked, unless I wanted to do some serious drift busting, and I didn’t. Not on foot, or in my Subaru, not as deep as some of the drifts were. So, I think that this is a good spot for this HDR image, even though I shot it later in the day.

Snow scene

Snow scene

I’m not sure that I needed to do a HDR, but it so fast and easy now to do them on my new iMac while never exiting Lightroom, that I figure that it was better safe than sorry. I shot a number of them, that’s the only one worth posting though. I kept getting distracted by birds, mostly eagles.

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

There were numerous bald eagles there, how many I can’t say for sure, but at least a dozen, maybe more. Most of them were hanging around the landfill, fighting the gulls, crows, and ravens for scraps. But every once in a while, one of the eagles would go off to other areas in search of food. I had plenty of opportunities to shoot bad photos of eagles in flight, as they weren’t cooperative in the least. Once, while I was shooting snow scenes, an eagle was soaring very close to me, but the light was all wrong at the time. I kept an eye on the eagle, hoping that it would continue moving slowly in the same direction it had been as it circled near me. Eventually, the eagle did move to the other side of me, I set the camera with the short lens on it down in my car, grabbed the camera with the long lens, and the eagle immediately took off in a straight line to get back to where the light was wrong. I hopped into my car and took off trying to pass the eagle to get the light right, the eagle won, only because it took the direct route, and I had to stay on the plowed road.

Darn, I need a lot of practice shooting flying birds, it’s been so long that my timing was way off, as you will see. Anyway, here’s a better shot of the eagle above.

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

With some sunshine, I was able to get a few good photos of other birds as well.

Female common goldeneye

Female common goldeneye

Male gadwall

Male gadwall

Male gadwall in flight

Male gadwall in flight

Male greater scaup

Male greater scaup

Female gadwall

Female gadwall

And, it wasn’t just waterfowl.

IMG_3450

Unidentified gull, probably a juvenile ring-billed

 

Horned lark with a kernel of corn

Horned lark with a kernel of corn

Horned lark

Horned lark

Pigeons, or rock dove

Pigeons, or rock dove

There’s nothing like some good light for a change to improve my photos! Well, good light, and now Lightroom. 😉

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

My best shot of an eagle from the day, and it has a twig “growing” out of its beak. 😦

No problem, I can fix that in Lightroom now.

Bald eagle sans twig

Bald eagle sans twig

Removing the twig was cool, but it’s getting the exposure correct that I really love about Lightroom. Bald eagles in the sun are tough to photograph well, if you expose to get their chocolate-brown bodies correct, then the their heads and tails are usually blown out. If you expose for their heads and tails, then, you usually lose the details of their feathers on their bodies. I look at that last one and I think “That’s exactly what a bald eagle looks like!”. A funny (to me) story about that eagle. It was perched in the tree so long that I shot a number of photos using just the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens). I then added the 1.4 X tele-converter to the Beast, but I never got a usable photo. I did get a good shot of the eagle’s tail as it flew off though, but I’m not going to post it.

As I was switching back to just the Beast, I happened to look up to where the eagle had been, and it was back again. This time, I just drove a little closer to it to get those last two photos, rather than add the tele-converter again. 😉

I was disappointed that I didn’t find a snowy owl to photograph in the sun, I think that they have all left to return home above the Arctic Circle for mating season. But, I did find this eagle who was willing to act as a stand in for the owls though.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

I think that the eagle was confused, I thought that they soared overhead looking down for prey, this one was on the ground watching the gulls fly overhead. Maybe it had been watching the snowy owls hunting from the ground all winter long and decided to give that technique a try, 😉

Anyway, that wraps this one up, I have several posts to do from my trip to the Airzoo, so it’s probably alright that I haven’t been shooting many photos during the week.

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


Some blasts from the past

In preparation for the arrival of my new computer, I’ve been looking at a few of my old photos, shot a few years ago with my old Nikon camera and lens.

I’ve asked around as to whether the new iMac would be able to read the image files that I have on the back-up drive that I have, and the answers have been yes, no, and maybe, so I’ll go with maybe for now. However, I think that I can transfer a few of the photos at a time to a flash drive that I have, and import them onto the new iMac that way, or so I’ve been told. So, I dug up the flash drive and found the images that I’ll use for this post, a best of the best from my old Nikon I suppose you could say.

But first, some other news, I have received my long-term visitor’s pass to the Muskegon County wastewater facility. That means that I don’t have to call ahead each time to arrange to have a pass left there for me on weekends, and can go anytime that the weather makes it worth going.

Then, there’s the weather, it seems like when I get time off from work, it’s cloudy and dreary outside. I did make it out on Sunday, not only was it dreary, but it was foggy as well, very poor for photography. I’m saving the few photos that I shot until the new computer arrives. I would have had time for a walk today, but the day dawned much as it did yesterday, although right on cue, just before I had to leave for work, the sun came out. That seems to be the way things have been going lately, if I’m working, the sun is out, if I have time off, then the weather stinks.

Now then, I have received my Federal Income Tax refund already, which bulged my checking account beyond what I needed for the new computer, and was all set to order the 21.5 inch display iMac that I had decided was the best for me. Funny thing, 1 to 3 days to build it special for me, and 2 day shipping to get it to the local Apple store became 10 to 14 days before it would arrive.

This coming weekend is going to be miserable for any outdoor activities, and I wanted the new computer here by then so I could get it set-up while the weather was too bad outdoors for even me. Wind chills down so low as to be dangerous with off and on lake effect snow is not good weather to be out in.

So, I did some more research. I thought that I could purchase the base model iMac with just 8 Gb of ram, then add more myself, no can do. The case of the 21.5 inch iMac is sealed, the ram has to be added at the factory when the computer is built, or by an authorized service center, meaning big bucks to add ram to it.

So, more research again. I found that the 27 inch display iMac can be upgraded by the user. You push a button on the back of the computer, a small door pops open, and you can add more ram yourself. Not only that, but the maximum ram for the 21.5 inch is 16 Gb, while the 27 inch will accept 32 Gb of ram.

Okay, the base 27 inch model is $300 more than the base 21.5 inch model, except that with the added ram that I wanted, and the other upgrades, it works out that the base 27 inch model is less than $100 more than the 21.5 inch model that I was going to special order.

You know what that means, I’ll be picking up the base 27 inch model this weekend. There are more advantages than just being able to add ram myself. The 27 inch comes with a faster processor, faster hard drive, and better video card as well. I’m sure that the standard 8 Gb of ram will work for me for the time being, and I can add more ram later, and for probably less than the $200 that Apple charges to do so. More ram is always good, so being able to go all the way to 32 Gb rather than 16 Gb is a good thing. Not to mention the much larger display to view my images on. 😉

So, if things go as planned, this weekend I’ll be getting a new 27 inch display iMac set-up and ready to go in time for spring, as I look out my window and not feel guilty about not going out as the wind howls and blows the snow around. 🙂

Okay then, now it’s time for some photos. A few of you may remember some of these, as I said earlier, they were shot with my old Nikon for the most part, although I may slip in a few from my Canon Powershot as well. They were taken when I still lived at the previous apartment complex where I lived at the time these were shot.

While I don’t miss those apartments, or the poor management there, I do miss the wildlife, especially my “pet” red-tailed hawks.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Because of the way that those apartments were laid out, each summer I got to witness young hawks learning to hunt, and they grew used to my presence, allowing me to shoot some good photos despite the quirks of the Nikon.

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Then, there were the man-made lakes that surrounded most of the apartment complex. The land had been a gold course at one time, built in a naturally wet area. The golf course went broke, and developers built the apartments along what had been the fairways, and left the old water hazards in place. With several small bodies of water connected by a creek that flowed between them, and eventually to the Grand River, each summer, there would be great blue herons hunting along the water edges.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

During the spring and fall, migrating waterfowl would stop over at some of the lakes for short periods of time, like these mute swans.

Mute swan

Mute swan

Mute swans

Mute swans

Mute swan

Mute swan

Mute swan

Mute swan

Probably one of the most memorable and beautiful things that I have ever witnessed in nature was the courting behavior of a pair of swans.

Mute swan courtship

Mute swan courtship

Mute swan courtship

Mute swan courtship

Mute swan courtship

Mute swan courtship

The lakes attracted plenty of geese as well.

Canada geese taking flight

Canada geese taking flight

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

The trees that had once lined the fairways of the old golf course became the home for many small songbirds as well.

Juvenile barn swallow

Juvenile barn swallow

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

American robin

American robin

Male house finch

Male house finch

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

Chipping sparrow

Chipping sparrow

We also had a flock of turkeys that called the area home.

Male turkey

Male turkey

Young male turkey

Young male turkey

As you can see, I used to luck out and get a few good photos from the old Nikon before it croaked. However, I’d love to have my new Canon and my current lenses and live in an area like that with so much wildlife around. But, moving has worked out better for me overall, this area has plenty of wildlife also, but it’s spread out more, and critters are wilder, not as used to people. That makes it tougher to get as close as I used to be able to get where I used to live, and remember, I’m posting the best of the best, not the thousands of poor images I used to end up with while I struggled with the Nikon.

In fact, to prove that it’s not so much the camera as the person using it, here’s a few from my old Canon Powershot, a compact digital point and shoot camera.

Spring flowers

Spring flowers

Spring flowers

Spring flowers

Iris

Iris

Green heron

Green heron

Fall foliage

Fall foliage

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Patterns on the Lake Michigan beach

Patterns on the Lake Michigan beach

Snapping turtle

Snapping turtle

IMG_2032

Spring flowers

 

Green heron

Green heron

I think that this post is about done, but I have two photos from my old Nikon of a bald eagle that I’d like to share as well.

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this look back in time, I know that I have. I still have a few more of the best of the best that I may post soon, when I get the time. I plan to be busy this weekend getting the new computer set-up, if everything goes as planned. But, you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. 😉

Oh, one more photo for this one.

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

The eagle and the doe were the only winter photos that I could tolerate posting at this time of year, I am so looking forward to spring! I want to be photographing flowers, insects, and of course, songbirds, especially as they are singing. Just a few short weeks to go, and winter should be about over with, I hope!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by, and I hope that my next post will have been written on my new computer!


Along Lake Michigan, January 18th, 2015

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

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

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

Grand Haven Lighthouse

Grand Haven Lighthouse

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

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

Grey squirrel

Grey squirrel

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

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

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

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

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

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

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

Male red-breasted merganser

Male red-breasted merganser

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

Greater or lesser scaup

Greater or lesser scaup

Female common goldeneye in front of white-winged scoters

Female common goldeneye in front of white-winged scoters

White-winged scoters

White-winged scoters

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

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

The north breakwater at Grand Haven

The north breakwater at Grand Haven

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

Mixed waterfowl taking flight

Mixed waterfowl taking flight

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

Abstract ice

Abstract ice

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

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

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

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

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

Male goldeneyes landing

Male goldeneyes landing

Male goldeneyes landing

Male goldeneyes landing

Male goldeneyes landing

Male goldeneyes landing

Male goldeneyes landing

Male goldeneyes landing

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

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

Frozen beach

Frozen beach

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

The lighthouse at Grand Haven

The lighthouse at Grand Haven

The lighthouse at Grand Haven

The lighthouse at Grand Haven

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

The lighthouse at Grand Haven

The lighthouse at Grand Haven

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

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

Male mallard bathing

Male mallard bathing

Male mallard bathing

Male mallard bathing

….then striking a pose….

Male mallard

Male mallard

…before drying his wings.

Male mallard

Male mallard

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

Female mallard hybrid  preening

Female mallard hybrid preening

She was making herself look pretty for this shot.

Female mallard hybrid

Female mallard hybrid

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

Female green-winged teal?

Female green-winged teal?

Female green-winged teal?

Female green-winged teal?

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

Male bufflehead

Male bufflehead

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

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

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

Male bufflehead

Male bufflehead

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

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

Ice formations on Lake Michigan

Ice formations on Lake Michigan

Ice formations on Lake Michigan

Ice formations on Lake Michigan

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

Female common goldeneye ducks

Female common goldeneye ducks

Female common goldeneye duck

Female common goldeneye duck

Female common goldeneye duck

Female common goldeneye duck

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

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

Ring-billed gull

Ring-billed gull

And then, caught this female common goldeneye in flight.

Female common goldeneye duck in flight

Female common goldeneye duck in flight

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

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

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

Grey squirrel

Grey squirrel

Grey squirrel

Grey squirrel

It wasn’t the only mammal around.

Cottontail rabbit

Cottontail rabbit

Cottontail rabbit

Cottontail rabbit

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

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

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

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

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

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

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

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

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

This one tried to hide, but not very hard.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

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

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

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

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

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

Adult bald eagle

Adult bald eagle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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