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

Posts tagged “Birds

Common Nighthawk, Chordeiles minor

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

Common Nighthawk, Chordeiles minor

The common nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) is a medium-sized  crepuscular or nocturnal bird within the nightjar family, whose presence and identity are best revealed by its vocalization. Typically dark (grey, black and brown), displaying cryptic colouration and intricate patterns, this bird is difficult to spot with the naked eye during the day. Once aerial, with its buoyant but erratic flight, this bird is most conspicuous. The most remarkable feature of this aerial insectivore is its small beak that belies the massiveness of its mouth. Some claim appearance similarities to owls. With its horizontal stance and short legs, the common nighthawk does not travel frequently on the ground, instead preferring to perch horizontally, parallel to branches, on posts, on the ground or on a roof. The males of this species may roost together but the bird is primarily solitary. The common nighthawk shows variability in territory size.

This caprimulguid has a large, flattened head with large eyes; facially it lacks rictal bristles. The common nighthawk has long slender wings that at rest extend beyond a notched tail. There is noticeable barring on the sides and abdomen, also white wing-patches.

The common nighthawk measures 22 to 25 cm (8.7 to 9.8 in) long, displays a wing span of 51 to 61 cm (20 to 24 in) weighs 55 to 98 g (1.9 to 3.5 oz), and has a life span of 4 to 5 years.

The common nighthawk may be found in forests, desert, savannahs, beach and desert scrub, cities, and prairies, at elevations of sea level or below to 3,000 m (9,800 ft). They are one of a handful of birds that are known to inhabit recently burned forests, and then dwindle in numbers as successional growth occurs over the succeeding years or decades. The common nighthawk is drawn into urban built-up areas by insects.

The common nighthawk is the only nighthawk occurring over the majority of northern North America.

Food availability is likely a key factor in determining which and when areas are suitable for habitation. The common nighthawk is not well adapted to survive in poor conditions, specifically low food availability. Therefore, a constant food supply consistent with warmer temperatures is a driving force for migration and ultimately survival.

During migration, common nighthawks may travel 2,500 to 6,800 kilometres (1,600 to 4,200 mi). They migrate by day or night in loose flocks; frequently numbering in the thousands, no visible leader has been observed. The enormous distance travelled between breeding grounds and wintering range is one of the North America’s longer migrations. The northbound journey commences at the end of February and the birds reach destinations as late as mid-June. The southbound migration commences mid-July and reaches a close in early October.

There are no differences between the calls and song of the common nighthawk. The most conspicuous vocalization is a nasal peent or beernt during even flight. Peak vocalizations are reported 30 to 45 minutes after sunset.

A croaking auk auk auk is vocalized by males while in the presence of a female during courtship. Another courtship sound, thought to be made solely by the males, is the boom, created by air rushing through the primaries after a quick downward flex of the wings during a daytime dive.

In defense of their nests, the females make a rasping sound, and males clap their wings together. Strongly territorial males will perform dives against fledglings, females and intruders such as humans or raccoons.

Frequent flyers, the long-winged common nighthawk hunts on the wing for extended periods at high altitudes or in open areas. Crepuscular, flying insects are its preferred food source. The hunt ends as dusk becomes night, and resumes when night becomes dawn. Nighttime feeding (in complete darkness) is rare, even on evenings with a full moon. The bird displays opportunistic feeding tendencies, although it may be able to fine-tune its meal choice in the moments before capture.

Vision is presumed to be the main detection sense; no evidence exists to support or refute the use of echolocation. The birds have been observed to converge on artificial light sources in an effort to forage for insects enticed by the light. The average flight speed of common nighthawks is 23.4 km/h (14.5 mph).

The common nighthawk breeds during the period of mid-March to early October. It most commonly has only one brood per season, however sometimes a second brood is produced. The bird is assumed to breed every year. Reuse of nests by females in subsequent years has been reported. A monogamous pattern has also recently been confirmed.

Courting and mate selection occur partially in flight. The male dives and booms in an effort to garner female attention; the female may be in flight herself or stationary on the ground.

Copulation occurs when the pair settles on the ground together; the male with his rocking body, widespread tail wagging and bulging throat expresses guttural croaking sounds. This display by the male is performed repeatedly until copulation.

The preferred breeding/nesting habitat is in forested regions with expansive rocky outcrops, in clearings, in burned areas or in small patches of sandy gravel. The eggs are not laid in a nest, but on bare rock, gravel, or sometimes a living substrate such as lichen. Least popular are breeding sites in agricultural settings. As displayed in the latter portion of the 20th century, urban breeding is in decline. If urban breeding sites do occur, they are observed on flat gravel rooftops.

It is a solitary nester, putting great distances between itself and other pairs of the same species, but a nest would more commonly occur in closer proximity to other species of birds.

Females choose the nest site and are the primary incubators of the eggs; males will incubate occasionally. Incubation time varies but is approximately 18 days. The female will leave the nest unattended during the evening in order to feed. The male will roost in a neighbouring tree (the spot he chooses changes daily); he guards the nest by diving, hissing, wing-beating or booming at the sites. In the face of predation, common nighthawks do not abandon the nest easily; instead they likely rely on their cryptic colouration to camouflage themselves. If a departure does occur, the females have been noted to fly away, hissing at the intruder or performing a disturbance display.

The eggs are elliptical, strong, and variably coloured with heavy speckling. The common nighthawk lays two 6–7 g (0.21–0.25 oz) eggs per clutch; the eggs are laid over a period of 1 to 2 days. The female alone displays a brood patch.

The chicks may be heard peeping in the hours before they hatch. Once the chicks have broken out of the shells, the removal of the debris is necessary in order to avoid predators. The mother may carry the eggshells to another location or consume a portion of them. Once hatched, the nestlings are active and have their eyes fully or half open; additionally they display a sparing cover of soft down feathers. The chicks are semiprecocial. By day 2, the hatchlings’ bodily mass will double and they will be able to self-propel towards their mother’s call. The young will hiss at an intruder.

The young are fed by regurgitation before sunrise and after sunset. The male parent assists in feeding fledglings and will also feed the female during nesting. No records exist to support a parent’s ability to physically carry a chick.

On their 18th day, the young will make their first flight; by days 25–30, they are flying proficiently. The young are last seen with their parents on day 30. Complete development is shown between their 45–50th day. At day 52, the juvenile will join the flock, potentially migrating. Juvenile birds, in both sexes, are lighter in colour and have a smaller white wing-patch than adult common nighthawks.

Like other members of the caprimulgid clan, the nighthawk’s ground nesting habits endanger eggs and nestlings to predation by ground carnivores, such as skunks, raccoons and opossums. Confirmed predation on adults is restricted to domestic cats, golden eagles and great horned owls. Peregrine falcons have also been confirmed to attack nighthawks as prey, although the one recorded predation attempt was unsuccessful. Other suspected predators are likely to attack them, such as dogs, coyotes, foxes, hawks, American kestrels, owls, crows and ravens and snakes.

 

On to my photos:

These images were shot way back in the spring of 2013, in northeastern Michigan while I was on vacation. I had hoped to get better images, or to catch one perched, but I haven’t been lucky enough to do so.

Common nighthawk

 

Common nighthawk

 

Common nighthawk

 

Common nighthawk

 

Common nighthawk

 

This is number 208 in my photo life list, only 142 to go!

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

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A few hours of sunshine

I’m going to start this post with three slightly different versions of the same scene for two reasons. The first is that I amazed myself by seeing a hint of what was to come, and I waited for it to happen as the sun rose higher in the sky.

A rare sunny morning 1

That image is made from three bracketed images blended together using Photomatix to create the HDR image above. That’s the second reason for posting three versions of the same scene, to show how much dynamic range the 5D Mk IV has, and how different software produces different results.

Here’s another version, which is a single image that I used only Lightroom to produce.

A rare sunny morning 2, not a HDR

Finally, another HDR image that I made using the HDR function in Lightroom.

A rare sunny morning 3

I like all three versions for different reasons, but I think that the last version is the one that comes closest to matching what I saw. The biggest take-away from these three versions is that I can get by with a single image from the 5D if I have to, and also that I need to only bracket my exposure one stop with the 5D rather than the two stops that I used to do when using one of my crop sensor cameras.

It’s probably a lot more important that I saw the first hints of the sun hitting the goldenrod seed heads as I was turning around at the end of a dead-end road and waited until the sun rose high enough to cast its golden light on just a portion of the foreground. I did wait a little longer for the sun to light up more of the foreground, but by then, it had lost the golden glow that you can see in these images.

Before I get to any more photos, I’m going to whine about the weather. We just had our tenth coldest November (temp: -5.4 degrees) ever, and with gloomy skies most of the time. We had just 8.9% of possible sunshine, and 21 of 30 totally overcast days. In addition, snowfall was 7.6″ above average.

To go with the foul weather this past month, Christmas is approaching, and since I work for a company contracted to carry the mail for the US postal service, I’ve been working a few more hours per week because of the heavier volume of mail this time of year. The Christmas rush hasn’t affected my days off, at least not yet, but my days at work have become longer, mostly because the postal service can’t meet its own schedule, and the weather hasn’t helped either.

I have a good number of images that I shot on that one sunny morning before the clouds rolled back in shortly after noon that day, but they are mostly of northern shovelers.

Female northern shoveler

With such good light and the pretty background, I couldn’t resist just shooting away…

Female northern shoveler

…although I couldn’t get a male that was showing his finest plumage in the same light.

Male northern shoveler

When I did find the male that I wanted to shoot, the light wasn’t quite as good, and the background isn’t as good, because the other shovelers are a distraction.

Male northern shoveler

But, that image does show the beautiful markings of the shoveler’s feathers, especially on his flank, along with how his feathers grow on his back, and the hints of color here and there as well.

I also have two images of a small group of shovelers whose nap I interrupted.

Northern shovelers

All those yellow eyes staring at me was kind of creepy.

Northern shovelers

I did get a few poor photos of common redpolls while the sun was out…

Common redpoll

 

Common redpoll

 

Common redpoll

I have other photos left from that sunny day, but this past Friday, I had the chance to watch and photograph over a dozen bald eagles in action, even though weather conditions were poor, and much of the action was really out of the range of my camera gear.

Three bald eagles in flight

Not only was it cloudy that day, with a few sprinkles of rain now and then, it was a bit foggy as well, so you’ll have to forgive the poor quality of these photos.

Bald eagle missing a dead northern shoveler frozen to the ice

I don’t know what killed the shoveler, but it was stuck in the ice, and this eagle wasn’t strong enough to pull the body out of the ice.

Bald eagle missing a dead northern shoveler frozen to the ice

I had been watching the eagles going after what turned out to be the dead shoveler, including a juvenile eagle trying to land on the ice, but breaking through, and giving up on the not so easy meal. Not wanting to fill the buffer of the 7D, I made a mistake right after that last photo. I knew that there were other eagles waiting for their chance to try to pluck the duck from the ice, so I let off not only the shutter release, but the button that activates the auto-focus as well. When the next eagle swooped in…

Bald eagle swooping down to pluck a dead duck from the ice

…the eagle was so low and close to the ice, while being too far away from me for the auto-focus to lock in on it…

Bald eagle swooping down to pluck a dead duck from the ice

…that it took a few frames for the camera to find the eagle.

Bald eagle swooping down to pluck a dead duck from the ice

But, I was able to capture the moment that the eagle grabbed the duck…

Bald eagle plucking a dead duck from the ice

…and a few more frames before I did fill the buffer…

Bald eagle plucking a dead duck from the ice

…and the auto-focus did eventually lock onto the eagle, even if a little late.

Bald eagle plucking a dead duck from the ice

Of course I wish that the eagle had been closer, the weather better, and that the eagle had been coming towards me rather than going away from me, but at least I achieved one goal in this series, capturing an eagle in flight grabbing its next meal, even if that meal was a dead duck rather than a fish or other prey.

I should also note that this series was better suited to my last post about pushing the limits of my photography gear, as these photos would have been impossible for me to capture just a few years ago. And, I hope now that I have “broken the ice” in getting this series, that I’ll get chances for better images in the future. I did learn from this experience, and that’s what matters.

Now then, back to the photos that I shot on the sunny morning, even though most of them are of northern shovelers.

Male northern shoveler in flight

I used to have the silly notion that there was such a thing as the perfect image of a single species of bird, I have given up on that idea.

Male northern shoveler

Instead, I’ve learned that there are opportunities for great images no matter what angle they’re shot from, especially if there’s any action taking place in the image.

Male northern shoveler

I like the frozen water drops in that image, along with the details in the feathers on the shoveler’s back…

Male northern shoveler

…while this one was showing off more of his colors.

This female swam so close to me that I had to photograph her…

Female northern shoveler

…and attempt to show the comb like projections (called lamellae) along the edge of her bill. You can almost see them in this cropped in image.

Female northern shoveler

Here are the rest of the photos I shot that day.

Ring-billed gull grabbing lunch

Shooting gulls in action has been great practice that I put to use to catch the eagle in action earlier in this post.

An early morning bald eagle

 

The ice continues to grow

 

Ice patterns

I haven’t been doing any long hikes this fall, but even on my short hikes, I’ve been testing the idea of carrying only one camera, the 100-400 mm lens, and the 24-70 mm lens to attempt to cover all my needs while lugging less gear with me all the time. The 24-70 mm lens has a near macro function…

Lichen

…but sometimes I fail miserably when I use it…

Fungi

…while other times, it seems to perform well. Other than that, I’ve found that carrying just that limited amount of gear works out well enough for my needs unless I’m after specific types of images, such as landscapes. Then, I carry more of my lenses, and if I know that I’ll be shooting mostly macros, then I bring the 100 mm macro lens along with the 24-70 mm lens.

Oriental bittersweet on a sunny day

A bit of color is always nice this time of year, even if it is the terribly invasive oriental bittersweet. Actually, Brian Johnson has eliminated most of it at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, but he has done so slowly over time, as he is doing with other invasive species of plants. We talked about that recently, and he could go around and cut the vines of the oriental bittersweet where ever it appears, but he doesn’t want to remove all of it at once, since the birds there have come to depend on it for food. He keeps whittling it back, and letting other food sources grow to take its place before he kills off more of it.

Another view of the oriental bittersweet berries

So in a few more years, there won’t be any of it left there at the MLNP.

Well, that’s it as far as photos shot in the sun for a while, I still have several day’s worth of photos shot in poor conditions, most of which I’ll probably not bother to post here. That’s because they’re not very good, and also because they are of the same species of birds that I’ve been featuring lately.

I should note that a few snowy owls have been showing up around the area, I saw two recently, but didn’t bother to shoot any photos of them. They were way out on the ice too far away for a good photo, and the zoo that follows them around has already formed as soon as they were first reported in the area. It’s kind of funny in a way, on the day when I was watching the eagles, several people stopped to ask if I was watching a snowy owl, or if I had seen any. One of those times, I replied that I was watching the flock of eagles out on the ice, the people who stopped to ask about the owls hadn’t even noticed a dozen bald eagles in the flock. I probably should have shot a photo of all twelve of them together, but I was actually after snow buntings at the time, and not in position to shoot the eagles together at the time. It was at that point when all twelve eagles took flight for some reason, breaking up the flock into smaller ones. I never did get the shot of a snow bunting that I was after either.

Anyway, since many of the photos that I have saved, and those that I’ll shoot this weekend will all be very similar due to the weather, my next post will likely be one of the ones that I have saved for the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on.

Also, I think that my next regular post will be one looking back over this past year, since it’s getting to be about that time of year. I need to point out one last thing in this post, as I began thinking about a year in review post and I looked back at a few of my recent images, a new feeling came over me, one of contentment, I’m very happy with the gear that I have now, and how much my skill level has increased of late. I no longer worry whether or not I’ll be able to capture things that I see, but now I know that I will get the shots I want eventually. For example, I shot this today…

Bald eagles courting

…still too far away, but you can see the lovebirds doing a little bonding in preparation for the coming year.

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


Pushing and learning

With winter here, and no light to work with for good images of birds, no flowers or insects to photograph, and a general feeling that I’m wasting my time going out with a camera this time of year, I’ve decided instead of giving up, I’d work on pushing my equipment to the limits and beyond, and to also learn to tweak my camera settings to get the best possible images that I can, no matter what time of year it is.

But first, I’m going to go back to an idea that I had a long time ago, that having two cameras with me at all times is a good thing despite the weight of carrying them, along with the expense.

I stopped at the beach at Muskegon State Park more or less on a lark, just to see the waves crashing into the breakwater there. I noticed a hole opening in the clouds, so I put the 24-70 mm lens on the 5D body, and I shot a series of images of the magic light that appeared, here’s the best of the series.

Crepuscular rays at Muskegon State Park

It was a raw, windy day, if you look closely, you can see that there’s sand being blown around, which is the reason that they put the snow fencing up along the beach, trying to control the sand.

But, as I was watching the light change, I noticed a bald eagle flying along the beach. So, I grabbed the 7D with the 400 mm prime lens on it to shoot the eagle.

Bald eagle hunting along the beach

I didn’t crop that image much, as it would never be a great image of the eagle itself, I wanted to capture the moment, with the eagle flying above the waves of Lake Michigan as it looked for prey. I was hoping that I’d be able to record it diving down to capture a fish, but that didn’t happen.

I wished that I had a better foreground in the landscape image, but as quickly as the light was changing, I didn’t dare move at that time. Later, when the light had mostly gone over to plain grey skies, I did test the new tires on my vehicle to drive through piles of wind-blown sand to what would have been a better location for the first image.

A few remaining crepuscular rays

You can see that the great light was all but gone, but I did have a better foreground and middle ground in the second landscape.

That location was also better to shoot photos of the eagle as it looked for food.

Bald eagle hunting at the beach in Muskegon SP

I still hoped to capture the eagle catching a fish, but it turned out that the eagle had spotted a dead fish on the beach to eat.

Bald eagle hunting at the beach in Muskegon SP

I could tell what was going on by the gulls and crows nearby waiting for the eagle to eat its fill. As soon as the eagle left, the other scavengers moved in to get their portions of the remains.

Anyway, having two camera with me allowed me to get photos of both events as they occurred, the crepuscular rays over the beach, and the eagle on the prowl.

Two other things come to mind about that time at the beach, one is that the 24-70 mm is an excellent lens, as you can see how sharp the landscape images are from corner to corner. It’s funny though, I still like the 16-35 mm lens more, even though the 24-70 mm lens is its equal. I think that my preference is based on what I use each lens for, rather than image quality though.

The other thing is that the new tires on my Subaru work well, I drove through some drifted sand that many other vehicles would have gotten stuck in. In fact, I had turned around the first time that I saw the sand drifts, as I could see where other vehicles had gotten stuck in the sand.

Okay, my images of birds in flight have improved a great deal over the past few years, and now, some of them are better than my images of stationary birds from the past.

Male northern shoveler in flight

However, back when I was still using the Nikon D50 before it died, I shot a photo of a flock of mallards that I would like to have a do-over on.

Mallards in flight, a blast from the past

There are several things that I really like about that photo, but there’s also plenty that I don’t like about it. I like the facts that the mallards in flight are mostly frozen and sharp, other than some blur in their wings as they flapped. But, the background is blurred because I was following the mallard with the camera, and the blurred background adds to the sense of motion in the photo. I also liked the soft light that allows the colors of the mallards to show without any harsh shadows.

I don’t like the way that the mallards are “clumped together” in several places within the image, nor do I like the horizon being off because I had the camera tilted when I shot that one. I also wish that I had been able to zoom in just a tad more to make the mallards in the frame slightly larger.

That photo was pure luck, it’s one of the few times that the old Nikon performed well. Also, I didn’t have time to zoom in very far with the old 70-300 mm lens that I used at the time, which actually worked to my advantage this one time.

So, one of the things that I’m going to work on this winter is getting better images of flocks of birds in flight. I should add that I’ll be able to spend the time that it takes for this because I no longer have to struggle to come up with any good shots from a day out with a camera. This also goes along with my plans to shoot in the manual mode more often. The settings that I have saved in all of my cameras for birds in flight are all manual mode settings, and I’ve also learned that when I use a flash for extra light in macro photos, switching to manual is a must. I also know that my long lenses, both the 100-400 mm zoom and 400 mm prime, are too long for the image of a flock of birds that I have in mind.

And now that I’m typing out my thoughts on this subject, I remember that this spring, I shot a number of images of gulls in flight with the 16-35 mm lens that I really liked.

Gulls flying in formation

With all of this in mind, last week I set out to begin playing with my lens selection and camera settings to learn how to get better images of flocks of birds in flight. Wouldn’t you know, as always, the best laid plans of mice and men seldom work out as their plan was laid out. Typically, the mallards at the Muskegon wastewater facility prefer to hang out in the flooded fields of the rapid filtration cells rather than the large storage lagoons. In fact, I should mention that mallards and many other puddle ducks love freshly flooded land, even if the flooded area is just a large puddle. I don’t know what it is that they find to eat in these flooded areas, but it has to be something that puddle ducks love, because they can be found in such places more often than not.

I got my equipment set-up in advance, using the 70-200 mm lens on the 7D, choosing that lens to prevent myself from zooming in too far as I do most of the time. Usually, I can drive to next to one of the rapid filtration cells and I have to wait until the mallards become nervous by my presence before they take flight, and this is where my plan failed.

For some reason, long before I approached the cell that the mallards were in, the entire flock took flight, so this was my best shot in this attempt.

Many mallards in flight

At least you get an idea how many mallards were there, although that’s just a small portion of the flock. And, I learned a little from the camera settings that I used for that image as well, so it wasn’t a total waste of time.

Just as the mallards all took flight long before I got into the position that I wanted to be in, you can never predict what’s going to happen when attempting to photograph nature. Earlier on that day, I had been parked where I could look out over mixed flocks of ducks to see if there were any species in the flock worth trying to photograph. Suddenly, wave after wave of northern shovelers came flying towards me to join the flock that was already there. Each wave consisted of about a dozen to about twenty ducks, but I had my long lenses on both cameras, and this is what happens most of the time in that situation.

Female northern shoveler photo bombing my attempt

In all, I’d say that well over 100 northern shovelers came flying towards me, but as in that photo above, there was an out of focus duck in the foreground to ruin the photos. I did better when a lone male approached from the other direction a bit later.

Male northern shoveler landing

I love it when I catch the moment of touchdown, if only the light had been a little better. From all the photos of waterfowl landing on water I shoot, you may have noticed that northern shovelers lower their bodies into the water so that their butts and spread-out tail feathers slow them down much more quickly than some other species of waterfowl. Mallards and Canada geese in particular seem to enjoy skating across the top pf the water on only their feet for extended distances as if they were waterskiing. That may have something to do with the way that shovelers feed, I don’t know. Shovelers strain the surface water for their food, so maybe they prefer not to disturb the water any more than necessary. That’s just a thought of mine, it’s not based on any scientific study.

In some ways, having fewer subjects to photograph during the winter is a good thing, for it allows me to slow down while watching a flock of birds since I’m not in a race with myself to try to photograph everything that there is to see in nature in one day. Then, when I see a northern shoveler in a flock taking a bath and at about the best distance from me as possible…

Male northern shoveler taking a bath

…I know that it will dry its wings when finished, so I can be prepared…

Male northern shoveler drying its wings

…and capture the entire sequence…

Male northern shoveler drying its wings

…from start to finish…

Male northern shoveler drying its wings

…and show his beautiful coloration while he’s doing his thing…

Male northern shoveler drying its wings

…and the best part was that I was able to keep him in the frame…

Male northern shoveler drying its wings

…because I’ve practiced shooting this sequence so many times in the past.

Male northern shoveler drying its wings

Slowing down and paying more attention to the background also pays dividends.

Oriental bittersweet

I also tried to shoot a few snow scenes this past week, nothing great though.

Cloudy, snowy morning 1

These would have been better with a little sun and blue skies…

Cloudy, snowy morning 2

…something that I may actually see this week.

Cloudy, snowy morning 3

I have some ideas about some other things to try this winter, one is shooting snow scenes at night under a full moon. However, that’s so dependent on the weather that I’m not sure if I’ll ever see the right conditions on any of my days off. I do stand a better chance of that than a sunny day though, because the wind usually drops off at night, which allows the lake effect clouds to break up until sunrise. As soon as the wind picks up, the clouds soon follow. At least I now have a camera and lenses for such photos if the weather does ever cooperate.

Switching gears, there has been a northern shrike that has spent the winter months at the Muskegon County wastewater facility for several years, until last year. I never saw it, and I never saw one reported there on eBird when I’d check what species were being seen in Muskegon County. I don’t know if the shrike that had been seen there for years died of old age, or if it had chosen a new area to spend the winter. But last week, I saw this one there.

First year northern shrike

That’s one of last summer’s young, you can tell from the way that its chest is brownish, with bits of white to go with the brown.

First year northern shrike

Its chest will eventually turn all white as it grows its adult feathers.

I was much closer to the shrike when I first spotted it, but it was mostly hidden by a few remaining leaves along with branches of the bush it was perched in. As I followed it with my camera, I caught this.

Northern shrike hacking up a pellet

Owls are known for regurgitating the indigestible parts of critters that they eat in the form of pellets, but it turns out that most, or all raptors do the same thing, even the smallest ones such as the shrike. As I’ve sat watching eagles and several species of hawks, I’ve seen them regurgitate pellets, but I’ve never been able to photograph it. This photo of the shrike doing so was mostly luck, I was just shooting away hoping for a good pose with a clean foreground. I was able to see the pellet drop right after that photo was recorded, but I was hooting in slow continuous rather than high-speed, so the pellet was out of the frame before the camera fired again.

Thanksgiving Day was another cold, dreary day here, and the majority of the photos that I shot were almost identical to those that I’ve already put in this post, so I’ve decided not to use most of them. I did catch a juvenile bald eagle flying overhead early in the day.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

And, I caught yet another northern shoveler drying its wings…

Male northern shoveler drying its wings

…and I’m including this one to show how birds “blast a hole in the water” as they bathe…

Male northern shoveler taking a bath

…along with two different versions of how shovelers form tightly knit rafts as they feed…

Northern shoveler feeding frenzy

…as I can’t decide which of these two I like the best.

Northern shoveler feeding frenzy

We have more species of birds moving into the area to spend the winter, I’m not sure if I shot a photo of a rough-legged hawk at all last winter…

Rough-legged hawk in flight

…so it was good to see one this early this winter.

Also, the snow buntings have returned…

Male snow bunting

…but for some reason, neither of my cameras seem to be able to produce a sharp image of one, these were shot with the 5D…

Male snow bunting

…and this one was shot with the 7D.

Female snow bunting

This species is going to be a challenge for me this winter, to get an excellent image of one. They are very flighty birds, that form large flocks. Just when you think that you’re close enough to one to get a good image, one of the other members of the flock will take flight, and away they all go. They seem to expend far too much energy as they fly from place to place, and in the way that they feed. Many small birds are always in motion, no species more than snow buntings, they’re always moving.

Well, the good news is that there were a few hours of sunshine last Friday, the bad news is that by noon, the clouds rolled back in and have been here ever since. I’ll save those images for my next post, as I’m up to my limit for this post already.

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


Another winter begins

Well, it’s begun, winter in West Michigan that is. That means no flowers, no insects, and also a lack of many other subjects other than birds and an occasional landscape for several months. I have some photos that I shot from this spring and summer that I saved to put into earlier posts, but didn’t, that I can use to fill in my posts over the winter. I’ll also be restarting my series of posts on one specific species of birds per post in the My Photo Life List project that I’ve been working on as well.

Last Thursday was what’s become all too typical already this year, dark and dreary, so I didn’t shoot many photos at all. The weather was even worse on Friday, when we set a record for the date for snowfall at 4 inches. That’s not a lot compared to the records later in the year, but it was for so early in November. I’m not whining yet, just stating fact, but we’ve had 0% of possible sunshine on 8 of the last 12 days, and we’re at less than 4% of possible sunshine for the month of November so far.

I blew it on Friday, it was the first day that the snow accumulated to any degree, and the scenes of the first real snow were as lovely as any I’ve ever seen, due in part to how early in the year it came. Many trees were still holding their finest fall colors, and with the fresh white snow falling on them, it was really beautiful to see. But, I need new tires for my vehicle, and had chosen Friday as the best day to get them, because of the weather forecast. But it turned out, I couldn’t get the tires installed on that day, so I went home, had lunch, then set out to capture some of the scenes I had seen, but it was too late. The wind had picked up, and most of the snow was melting already, so I headed to Muskegon in hopes that I’d find landscapes to shoot there, I didn’t.

Another reason that I haven’t been shooting as many photos lately is that since the first part of October, I’ve been running into Brian Johnson, who does the bird banding at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and I’ve spent a lot of time talking to him. I enjoy the chats that we have, it isn’t often that I meet a true nature lover as Brian is, and on top of that, he’s extremely knowledgeable, since his real job is to do environmental impact research, he bands birds as a hobby. Since on most days when I’ve run into him have been dark and dreary, I spend an hour or two each time talking to him rather than looking for things to photograph. I learn so much from him that I consider it time well spent for the information that I learn, both as far as where to look for certain species of birds, and so many other things that I can’t possibly list them all here.

Anyway, I’m going to begin the photos in this post with a species that you’re all probably tired of seeing, but it’s the best image that I’ve shot in the last two weeks but haven’t posted yet.

Two male northern shovelers

I was hoping that I was close enough to them so that you’d be able to see the specialized structures that they have on their bills to strain food out of the water, but in this small size image, you can’t. I’ll have to get even closer, and hopefully in the spring, when one is in full breeding plumage.

These next two are from yesterday as I type this, and they show how my days have been going the past few weeks. This one was shot at about 11:30 AM to show that I had missed the sun again, and because there was some color in the sky that really doesn’t show well in this photo.

Missed the sunshine again

Just 40 minutes later, there was a pretty good snow squall taking place, so I shot this one to show that.

And the snow moves in

It’s funny, despite the terrible light that I’ve had the last several weeks, I’ve been shooting a lot of ducks in flight, both for practice, and to push my gear and myself to see what’s possible. I know that in low light that the 5D would be the better camera to use, but my 7D camera is still my choice for flying birds, so I’ve been working with it.

Joining the crowd

What I learn from each camera is often transferable to the other, for example, what I learned about the auto-focus system of the 5D when shooting stationary subjects has helped me get sharper images with the 7D. And, the 7D, with its much higher frame rate, is still the best choice for me to get shots like this.

The take-off ballet

One thing about the low light, there’s no shadows in these photos.

Male mallard in flight

Although, there’s too much noise in them for the photos to be considered good…

Male mallard in flight

…so I’ll have to work on that this winter. That goes with getting better shots of flocks of birds in flight as well.

Mallards in flight

Now then, for a boring bit here. The 7D is rated at ten frames per second, and it can actually shoot that many photos per second, or very, very close to it, which is why I still prefer it over the 5D. The 5D is rated at 7 frames per second, however, how I have that body set-up, my guess is that I’m lucky to get 5 frames per second, and the buffer of the 5D also fills much sooner, than the 7D, so I’m not able to shoot as many photos with the 5D before it stops to write what’s in the buffer to the memory card(s).

Both cameras hold two memory cards, both a CF card and a SD card. The write speed for CF cards is much faster than the write speed for the SD cards, and I believe that’s why the 5D can’t match its rated frames per second for me. I have the 7D body set-up to record to only the faster CF card which is why it will match its rated speed without filling the buffer as quickly as the 5D body. I have the 5D set to record to both cards at once, just in case the CF card were to fail, which does happen on occasion, although not to me, yet. I did have trouble getting the photos off from a CF card once, but I was able to download the photos on the card by using recovery software that came with the card. I’m pretty sure that the slower SD card in the 5D is the bottleneck in the camera that causes it to shoot slightly slower and fill the buffer sooner, along with the camera having to write to both cards simultaneously.

Since I feel that I’m more likely to get a once in a lifetime image with the 5D, that’s why I have it set to record to both cards, if one fails, the other is the backup.

Anyway, I may as well use my other two photos from yesterday now.

Bald eagle

The eagle’s mate flew to the same tree shortly after I had shot that photo, but I didn’t bother to go back and get them together because I’ve shown plenty of photos of them in the past.

Trumpeter swan family stopping over on their way south

There had been a much larger flock of trumpeter swans, with a few snow geese hanging out with them, a few weeks ago.

Trumpeter swans and snow geese

But, they were all too far away from me for a good photo.

While I’m at it, I may as well fill out this post with the poor photos that I shot during the past two weeks in the snow for the most part.

Hooded mergansers

 

Color on a grey day

 

A lonely patch of sunshine

 

Lesser black-backed gull

 

Female northern shoveler having fun

 

Female northern shoveler having fun

 

Female northern shoveler having fun

 

Female northern shoveler landing

 

Male northern shovelers landing

 

Male northern shovelers landing

 

Male northern shovelers landing

 

Northern shovelers in flight

 

Male northern shoveler landing

 

Common goldeneye

This series really has too many photos, but at the same time, it’s kind of cute also.

Common goldeneye yoga

 

Common goldeneye yoga

 

Common goldeneye yoga

 

Common goldeneye yoga

 

Common goldeneye yoga

I have three more photos shot during one of the rare and short sunny periods from the last two weeks to finish this post.

Canada geese landing on a sunny fall day

I’m including these two to show how short and stubby the wings of a ruddy duck are.

Ruddy duck wing stretch

 

Ruddy duck wing stretch

These two photos also show that ruddy ducks are pudgy little things, almost like basketballs with wings attached.

I’m already up to my self-imposed limit on photos, so it’s time to end this one. I hate to say this, but I think that my next post will be mostly about photography. The reason is that with as rotten as the weather has been, I’ve been shooting fewer photos when I do get the chance to get out with my cameras, and since that’s the case, I’ve been trying new things, or I should say, tweaking my settings from the way that I have been shooting. So, I’ll apologize in advance.

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


A hungry bird is an easy bird

While I was sitting at the Muskegon County wastewater facility looking over the flocks of various species of birds in view, I noticed this Merlin land quite near to my vehicle, and of course I had to photograph it.

Merlin

After I had identified the other species of birds nearby, I continued on my way, eventually circling back around to almost the same spot where I had seen the merlin before.

Merlin

That image was cropped a little, for one thing, the merlin was feeding on what remained of a duck that I’m guessing was killed by a larger predator, and I didn’t want any one to be put off seeing the blood and meat from what remained of the duck. However, here’s the full image, and you’ve been warned, so if you’re squeamish, scroll past this one quickly.

The reason that the merlin didn’t fly away was that it was hungry and didn’t want to give up its meal. I would have also stayed further away to allow it to eat in peace, but that was on the center dike where’s there’s only a single track running the length of it, with little room to turn around. So, I had to make a choice, drive past the merlin to continue on my way, or risk damaging my vehicle on the rocks on the edges of the dike. I assumed that the merlin would fly a short distance away, then return after I had passed, but stayed put instead.

Those images go with some that I had shot the previous day at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, at the bird feeders near the outdoor classroom. One of the volunteers was using a large riding lawn mower to blow the leaves off from the paved trails there intended for cyclists, because wet leaves on pavement are very slippery and could lead to a cyclist wiping out, getting injured, and suing the group that operates the preserve. However, the sounds of the tractor and leaf blower were keeping all the birds at bay along the trails, the only quiet spot in the preserve was near the bird feeding station. I was also lucky that the volunteer clearing the leaves from the trails had also filled the feeders before they had begun the leaf removal.

While the overwhelming majority of the photos of birds I shoot are birds that I find “in the wild”, I have on rare occasions sat near the feeding station at the preserve to photograph birds as they approach the feeders, like this cardinal.

Male northern cardinal

However, he wouldn’t raise his crest to show his full beauty until he was on the feeder.

Male northern cardinal

I shot a series of him cracking open sunflower seeds…

Male northern cardinal

…to get at the meat inside…

Male northern cardinal

…but still photos don’t do justice to how the birds manipulate the seeds with their tongues as they remove the outer husks of the seeds. I suppose that the way birds eat shouldn’t surprise me, humans do the same thing as far as moving food in our mouths as we eat, still, I find watching birds in action fascinates me.

Also, shooting at the feeders provided me with another series of photos as well. In my last post, I noted that blue jays have a specialized pouch in their throats to hold food to be stored for later. Many people don’t know that, which is why many people think of blue jays as gluttons, they’ll land on a feeder and seemingly swallow large numbers of seeds quickly, but they’re not actually eating the seeds then…

Blue jay gathering a seed to eat later

…you can tell that this blue jay was filling its gular pouch with seeds, hulls and all, and later, in a safer setting, it did what other birds do…

Blue jay breaking open a sunflower seed to eat the meat

…break the sunflower seed open to get to the meat inside. While other birds will grab one seed to eat in a safer location…

White-breasted nuthatch

…the gular pouch that the blue jays have is similar to the large cheeks of a chipmunk…

Eastern chipmunk looking for dropped seeds

…which the chipmunks use to carry food to be stored for later.

I missed the nuthatch eating the seed that it carried away, but I did catch it cleaning its beak after eating the seed…

White-Breasted nuthatch cleaning its beak

…by rubbing it on the branch it was perched on. Then, after a quick look around…

White-Breasted nuthatch

…to make sure it was safe, and deciding where it was going to go next, it was off.

White-Breasted nuthatch

By the way, the chipmunk reminds me that once again, I failed to get photos of all three species of squirrels native to Michigan in one day, not that chipmunks are squirrels, but they are closely related. I did get red squirrels…

Red squirrel

 

Red squirrel

…and both color variations of grey squirrels…

Grey squirrel, black morph

 

Grey squirrel, grey morph

…but I wasn’t able to find a fox squirrel to get all of our squirrel species in one day. I did shoot this one just to test the dynamic range of my camera…

Grey squirrel, black morph

…because I thought that the black squirrel on the nearly white feeder would be a good test, and it was. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have shot that photo.

I know that I shouldn’t, but I can’t help bragging about the 5D Mk IV camera body and its dynamic range compared to the crop sensor 7D that I’ve been using. It doesn’t matter if it’s the black squirrel on the light feeder, a landscape…

From the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

…or birds in flight in a snowstorm…

Northern shoveler in flight in a snowstorm

…the 5D is so much better than what I’m used to, and while I’m not looking forward to winter, I know that my photos will be much better this winter than in past years because of how much better the 5D is.

Anyway, changing gears, in my last post I promised a few photos from the north campground at Muskegon State Park, and here they are.

Autumn in Muskegon State Park 1

 

Autumn in Muskegon State Park 2

 

Autumn in Muskegon State Park 3

I like the way that I got the color in this one…

Autumn in Muskegon State Park 4

…however, I like the overall composition in this version of the same scene…

Autumn in Muskegon State Park 5

…so I included both versions.

Speaking of different versions, that brings up something else. Later in the evening, after shooting the photos above, I caught the sunset at Duck Lake State park.

But as I was waiting for the sun to set, I shot this image as a rain squall approached from the north.

As the squall approaches

There wasn’t much of a gap in the clouds to let the sun shine through at the horizon, but it looked like it would be a good sunset to photograph.

Sunset at Duck Lake State Park wide 1

But, even at 70 mm with the 24-70 mm lens, my field of view was too wide, so I switched to my 70-200 mm lens for this one.

Sunset at Duck Lake State Park telephoto 1

That’s an older lens in Canon’s line up, and it shows in that photo because I got lens flare in it. Going back to the much newer 24-70 mm lens, which has much better coatings on the lens elements to prevent such flares, I was able to shoot this one with no lens flare.

Sunset at Duck Lake State Park wide 2

However, while that one is okay, I really wanted to zoom in tighter on the sunset, so I went back to the 70-200 mm lens for the final shot of the evening.

Sunset at Duck Lake State Park telephoto 2

You can see that the lens flare was even worse, and ruined what could have been an excellent image of the sunset. I love the effect that light from the setting sun has on the dune grass, how it takes on the appearance of a spider web, something that I’ve captured in the past when the opportunity has presented itself.

I thought that I was done purchasing big-ticket photography gear such as lenses and cameras, but it looks as if that is a never-ending fact of life. This almost had to happen, as Canon has just announced their third version of their 70-200 mm f/2.8 IS lens that has much better coatings on the lens elements that virtually eliminate lens flare, along with improving color and contrast when shooting subjects with the sun behind the subject.

I’m not sure why Canon, or any other lens manufacturers for that matter, can’t simply change the coatings in older lenses, but I hear that it has to do with the way that each lens element bends the light, that the coatings do effect that. I hope that it’s the true reason that they can’t upgrade the lens coatings in older models of lenses, and that it isn’t just greed, forcing those of us with older lenses to upgrade if we want the best possible images.

That sort of goes along with the new full frame mirrorless cameras that are hitting the market at this time. As I wrote in an earlier post, due to the fact that the rear elements of the lenses for a mirrorless camera can be closer to the camera’s sensor, lens manufacturers can build better lenses for mirrorless cameras than they can for a DSLR with the mirror box between the lens and the camera sensor. From the early reviews, that seems to be true. Canon has released two professional grade lenses for their new EOS R mirrorless cameras that are far better than any of their existing DSLR lenses. And, the consumer grade 24-105 mm lens for the mirrorless camera tests out to being nearly as good as Canon’s best DSLR lenses, and cost nearly two-thirds less than the DSLR lenses.

Still, it’s a pretty hefty chunk of change at $1,100 for the new 24-105 mm lens, but that’s better than the nearly $3,000 for Canon’s best DSLR lenses in the same focal length range.

Fortunately, I don’t have to be in a hurry to upgrade any of my gear as it stands now. The new Canon mirrorless camera may be able to accept better lenses, but it lacks many of the features that I depend on in the 5D Mk IV or 7D MK II bodies I use now. The old 70-200 mm lens may be prone to lens flare and lack Image Stabilization, but it’s my least used lens. Although, part of the reason for that is because of its age and lack of the features of my newer lenses. I do find myself using it much more on the 5D than I did on my crop sensor bodies, because it’s the right lens as far as field of view in more instances with the full frame body than it was with the crop sensor bodies. That’s the reason that I’m thinking of upgrading, not because I got lens flare in the situation above, but because I’m using the 70-200 mm lens more all the time, although there are also times when I should use it but don’t, because of its shortcomings.

So, a few years from now, I could see myself upgrading to the new 70-200 mm lens once it’s been on the market for a while, the price drops a little, and Canon offers rebates on it. A bonus of the new lens would be that it could be an effective birding lens with a tele-converter behind it, but I won’t know until I try it. The new 70-200 mm lens with even a 2 X extender is as sharp as the 100-400 mm lens I’m using now is, but I’m not sure if that combination will focus quickly enough.

The same applies to a mirrorless body. Canon’s current model can’t cut it for most of the subjects that I shoot. But, once future models are designed, and more lenses added to the offerings beyond the three available now, I can see myself purchasing a mirrorless body and a wide-angle zoom lens for it, primarily for landscapes.

I’m going to add two more photos to this post to illustrate why all of this is important to me. Fist, my best eagle image shot with the Canon 60D and Sigma 150-500 mm lens…

Bald eagle shot at ISO 250 with 60D camera

…and the recent photo of an eagle in flight shot in about the worst conditions possible at ISO 25600.

Adult bald eagle in flight

Even though the eagle in the second photo is moving, its eye is sharper than the eye of the eagle in the first photo. There’s also more detail in the white feathers on the eagle’s head in the second photo. I’d say that the details in the eagle’s darker feathers are better in the first image, it was shot in great light, while the second image was shot shortly after dawn on a dreary day with very little light. The yellow colors of the eagle’s beak and feet are truer to real life in the second image as well. And, I can remember trying to adjust the yellows in the first image to get them as good as they are, while I didn’t have to do anything with the color in the second photo.

So, when I use equipment in poor light that can compare well to what I used to be able to get in very good light with my older gear, then it tells me that the upgrades were well worth it. Now, I have to catch an eagle willing to pose so nicely as the one in the first photo did to really show what the newer gear is capable of.

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


I’d better get used to it

It’s Autumn here in West Michigan, and the temperatures have been running below average for the second half of October, which means that I’ve been dealing with lake effect clouds for most of the time while I’ve been out with a camera lately. I’d better get used to it, as lake effect clouds will be the norm around here until next spring. Oh well, I’m sure that I’ll whine about the clouds, although not to the extent that I have in past years because with the 5D Mk IV, I now have a camera better suited to shooting in low light.

That said, I’m going to begin the photos in this post with images shot with the 7D Mk II because it’s a great camera to use for action photos in fair to good light. I shot this series as I was looking for the Little gull that I had in my last post. I had the 5D set-up to shoot portraits, and the 7D set-up for birds in flight. So, while I was sitting around hoping to get better images of the Little gull, I would occasionally shoot photos of the other gulls in flight to ease the boredom…

Bonaparte’s gulls and a dunlin in flight

…although I caught a dunlin in that photo as it was flying with the gulls.

Say what you want about gulls, they look very graceful in flight…

Bonaparte’s gull in flight

…and I loved the reflections of this gull as it landed…

Bonaparte’s gull landing

…and I wondered if this gull was watching its own reflection as it landed…

Bonaparte’s gull landing

…although it’s more likely that the gull found something to eat on the surface of the water…

Bonaparte’s gull landing

…which is why it chose to land where it did.

Bonaparte’s gull landing

In my last post, I had a photo of a junco with a colorful background created by the fall leaves, here’s another version of the same junco.

Dark-eyed junco

I said that there was a story behind that photo, so here it is. I had stopped at the Snug Harbor day use part of Muskegon State Park in hopes of finding some really good fall colors to photograph, but the colors there were quite dull for the most part.

Snug Harbor, Muskegon State Park

Besides the picnic area and fishing pier at Snug Harbor, there’s also a public boat ramp there. I almost always go to the boat ramp so that I can look out over Muskegon Lake to see if there are any waterfowl nearby to photograph. As I was driving around the circular drive to and from the boat ramp, I noticed a few brighter colored leaves…

Just a small wooded area in Muskegon State Park

…but I couldn’t get a good image of the small wooded area within the circular drive. I did park nearby and wander around the rest of the are, but I doubt that I’ll post any of the poor photos that I shot while I did.

When I returned to my vehicle and started to drive away, I saw a thrush come out of that small wooded area to grab something off from the ground, then fly back into the woods. I stopped to look more closely, and I saw that the wooded area was filled with birds of many different species. So, I parked there again, and tried walking both within that wooded area, and around the edge of it.

It was very frustrating, I could see many birds, but they all stayed well out of range for a photo, no matter how slowly or quietly I tried to move through that wooded area. I’d take a few steps, then stop where I was somewhat hidden by brush and wait for a bird to land nearby, but none did, except for a juvenile cedar waxwing that landed above me. I’m not going to include that photo, as the waxwing was too far away and against the grey sky, I have so many better images of that species that I don’t feel like posting a poor one.

But, as I tried and failed to get any bird photos, here are two things that caught my eye as I was watching the birds.

Old and new sapsucker holes in a tree

I forgot to take note of what species of tree that was, it’s obvious that the sapsuckers find the sap from that species quite tasty, as the entire main trunk of the tree and several large branches all showed that generations of sapsuckers had been feeding on the sap from it.

Here’s the other subject that I shot.

Unidentified fungal object

By the way, portions of that small wooded area were very wet, too wet to walk through, but I covered as much of it as I could. After walking all the way around it, I returned to my vehicle to see several birds feeding on the ground and the edge of the woods around my vehicle. I had already been thinking that I wished that I had taken the portable hide with me and set it up in that small section of woods somewhere to sit and hope that a bird would land near to me if I were hidden. I really wish that I hadn’t taken the portable hide out of my vehicle, because I think that using it there would have worked on this day.

I did the next best thing though, I parked where I could use my vehicle for a hide, and sat there in comfort. Here are the birds, beside the junco that I already posted, that I was able to photograph from my vehicle.

Downy woodpecker

My luck got better…

Hermit thrush

…it’s been a while since I’ve posted a photo of a hermit thrush…

Hermit thrush

…so I’m posting these three, even if they’re not very good.

Hermit thrush

With as many bluebirds in the woods as there were, I was hoping for a better photo than this.

Eastern bluebird

Blue jays often store food for later, they have a pouch in their throats that can hold an acorn or two much like the cheek pouches of chipmunks. Here’s a blue jay gathering acorns to store…

Blue jay picking up an acorn

…down the hatch.

Blue jay swallowing an acorn

The blue jay would have used its beak to open the acorn to eat the meat inside if it was going to eat it at that time, which is how I know that it was going to store the acorn for later.

While most of the birds that I wanted photos of the most refused to come as close as I would have liked, of course a chickadee was the exception to that.

Black-capped chickadee

Eventually, the birds all moved on and I wasn’t seeing them anymore, so I did the same. And by the way, I missed many more species than the ones that I got photos of, I couldn’t believe how many birds were flocked together in such a small area.

I’m not sure if I’d have been able to do any better with the portable hide, migrating birds tend to be more wary because they’re not familiar with the area and because they’re not tied to a location by their nests or young. But, I would have liked to have tried the hide, so it’s going back into my vehicle just in case. And, I’m not sure about using it for small birds to begin with, just as most of the birds were out of camera range as I used my vehicle as a hide, I’m afraid the same thing will happen if I’m sitting in the hide.

Well, I’m getting way behind in posting right now, along with reading other people’s posts, and about everything else as October has been a very busy month for me. I had a number of personal business items to take care of, along with doctor and dental appointments, it was as if everything had been dumped on me at once. So, I’m going to throw in a bunch of photos that are from the same timeframe as those already in this post without making many comments on them.

Manmade lake and fall reflections

 

Northern shovelers and dunlin enjoying their mid-day snooze

 

American pipit

 

Male northern shoveler stretching

 

Male northern shovelers

 

Fall colors in Muskegon State Park 1

 

Fall colors in Muskegon State Park 2

 

Fall colors in Muskegon State Park 3

 

Near the Muskegon State Park campground entrance

 

Near the Muskegon State Park campground entrance

 

The Muskegon State Park campground entrance

Actually, there are two campgrounds in Muskegon State Park, these photos are from the north campground which is on Lake Michigan. There’s also the south campground, which is on Muskegon Lake where it empties into the channel that leads to Lake Michigan. I’ll have more photos from within the north campground in my next post, as there were very few campers there this past weekend.

I had a couple of photos from Duck Lake State Park that I was going to share, but the colors there were rather drab this fall, so I changed my mind about using them. It doesn’t help that it has been cloudy most of the time for the better part of October, or this photo would have been a winner I think.

Fall colors on another cloudy day

I better get used to shooting when the skies are cloudy again, as that will be the case on most days this fall and winter until next March. I’m not looking forward to it, or the cold, or snow, but there’s not much that I can do about the weather.

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


Off to a good start

My day off from work last Friday started off on a good foot…

Down on the farm at sunrise 1

…that’s the second of two HDR images that I shot at sunrise, here’s the other.

Down on the farm at sunrise 2

Actually, I took them in the opposite order, shooting the zoomed in view first, then wanting to get more of the glorious colors of the sky in the image, I zoomed out for the other one.

Forgive me for this, but I want to explain something that I learned while making those images.

While I was using the Canon 7D Mk II or even the 60D cameras, I used software called Photomatix to create HDR images, in part, because Adobe Lightroom wasn’t capable of merging several images together to create the HDR image back then. And, even when Lightroom did include the ability to merge images into HDR images, I felt that Photomatix still did a better job, so I continued to use it, and not the photo merge feature in Lightroom.

However, since I purchased the Canon 5D Mk IV, I’ve never been happy with the HDR images that Photomatix produced when I merged images in that software. That was okay, because the 5D has so much more dynamic range than either of the crop sensor cameras I had been using that for most landscape images that I shot with the 5D, I didn’t need to create a HDR image most of the time. After all, HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, and in a way, the 5D has that capability built-in.

But, for sunrises and sunsets, not even the 5D can capture the entire dynamic range between light and dark. I’ve tried loading three images shot bracketing the exposure by two stops into Photomatix just as I used to do with images from my crop sensor cameras, but I haven’t been pleased with the results. I was already thinking of ways to get more realistic looking HDR images from images shot with the 5D, so on the morning of this sunrise, I tried something new. Because the 5D has so much more dynamic range than my other cameras, I reasoned that maybe the problem was that Photomatix couldn’t calculate the true lighting of the scenes that I’ve shot up until now, so instead of bracketing the exposure by two stops, I went with just one stop in each direction to take advantage of the higher dynamic range of the 5D to begin with.

Then when I got home, more or less on a lark, I used the photo merge HDR feature in Lightroom for these images, rather than use Photomatix. As you’ve seen, the photo merge feature in Lightroom produced very good HDR images that look realistic. So, I then tried loading the same three images into Photomatix to create a HDR image, this is the result.

Bad HDR image of the same scene

I much prefer the HDR images from Lightroom to the one produced by Photomatix software, but then, I’m going for realistic, and I don’t want to create those wild, over the top HDR images that some people prefer. I don’t want halos around the roof of the barn, the silo, or around the trees in the background as the Photomatix software produced in this image. The halos are faint, but they are there, and they make the image less sharp than the images produced by Lightroom. I also prefer the more realistic colors in the clouds as well.

However, after having said all of that, I’ll be willing to bet that if I use the 7D body for a HDR image in the future, I’ll find that Photomatix performs better as it has in the past. All of this is part of the learning curve in using the new 5D Mk IV, since so much of photography these days is driven by software as much as the camera and lens used. The main thing is that I’ve learned how to make better use of the dynamic range of the 5D in the way that I process the RAW images that it produces.

Just one more quick thought on the subject, it could also be that the Photomatix software as trouble handling the much larger file size produced by the 5D camera as compared to the 7D. Because of its higher resolution and much larger sensor, the 5D produces RAW files that are twice the size of the RAW files produced by the 7D.

Anyway, I shot the sunrise on my way to the Muskegon County wastewater facility, where I hoped to find a few birds that I don’t regularly see around here as they migrate south. I did find three species, these dunlin…

Dunlin

…too bad that they were in the shadows most of the time…

Dunlin

…I also found this Red Phalarope showing a little of its breeding plumage yet…

Red phalarope

…but I hope to catch one next spring when its showing it full spring colors…

Red phalarope

A quick note here, I originally identified this as a red-necked phalarope, which I have already photographed in the past for the My Photo Life list project that I’m working on. However, it turns out that this is a red phalarope instead, and is a lifer for me. Now I’m doubly glad that I was able to get such good images of it. The differences between the two species are subtle, especially this time of year. I changed my original ID based on the reports and photos from more experienced birders, and by comparing the bills between the two species. The Red Phalarope has a shorter, stouter bill than the red-necked phalarope.

…and the same holds true for this black-bellied plover…

Juvenile black-bellied plover

…as it also looks rather plain in the fall.

Juvenile black-bellied plover

By then, the clouds were thickening, so I lost direct sunlight for these two.

Female lesser scaup

There were a few bufflehead that retained their breeding plumage, I caught this one.

Male bufflehead

I’m not sure what this gull was carrying…

Ring-billed gull carrying something

…but it dropped what ever it was…

Ring-billed gull dropping what it was carrying

…and while it looks like a stone that it dropped, I’m not sure of that.

Ring-billed gull

By the way, I shot those with the 7D and the 400 mm prime lens, and I’m glad that I did. With its higher frame rate, I was able to catch the action as the gull dropped whatever it was carrying. I didn’t have enough sense to watch the gull any longer to see what it was up to though. As much as I love the new 5D, there will still be times in good light when the 7D will be the best choice to use, especially when there’s action taking place that I want to capture.

With rain in the forecast for later, I wanted to get a walk in before the rain, so I went to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve next, where I shot this.

Just a scene that I like, nothing special

I did see a few birds, but the only one that I managed to get a photo of was a chickadee, and not a very good photo at that, so when the rain started, I went to the Snug Harbor part of Muskegon State Park to see how much the leaves had turned there.

One of the picnic pavilions at the Snug Harbor portion of Muskegon State Park

I also saw birds there, including two red-bellied woodpeckers chasing each other around in circles for a very long time, but I wasn’t able to get a photo of them, or the other birds there. The on and off rain during my time there didn’t help.

So, when the steady rain that had been forecast did arrive, I called it a day even though I hadn’t shot very many images. That gives me a week until I make it out with a camera again, and I hope to be able to resist the urge to talk about photography and the associated gear that goes with it.

Well, I managed to resist going off on a rant about the people who review cameras online, and how image quality is completely ignored or only rates a passing mention in most reviews. The only reason that I’m mentioning that now is because my day on Thursday began with me photographing one of the nearly tame Canada geese outside of my apartment.

Canada goose about to stretch

Canada geese may be common, but with their white “chin strap” on their otherwise black heads, they’re difficult to photograph well, at least they have been for me. So, ever since I purchased the 5D Mk IV, I’ve been wanting to test it out on several hard to photograph well birds, including the geese. That one is straight out the camera as far as exposure and cropping. The higher dynamic range of the 5D shows up well in that image, also in this one.

Canada goose stretching a wing

Later in the day, I got a chance to photograph another bird that’s to get right in a photo, a crow.

American crow

Since that one was shot full frame, I could crop in on this one to show the feather details on the crow’s head better.

American crow

I had over-exposed these slightly to make sure that I’d get the feather details in the images, so these required some adjustments to the exposure, but not much. I love the way that you can see the crow’s bushy feathers growing at the base of its beak, and its “ear patches”, which I’ve never been able to show in an image before. You may also notice that crows have brown eyes, they’re not black as they appear in most photos of them.

However, just when I think that I want to shoot everything with the 5D, I shoot a series of action photos…

Female northern shoveler taking a bath

…that show how well the 7D Mk II can do in good light…

Female northern shoveler taking a bath

…with its much faster frame rate…

Female northern shoveler drying her wings

…even if I didn’t get the best view of the colors on her wings…

Female northern shoveler drying her wings

…or completely freeze all the motion in these photos…

Female northern shoveler drying her wings

…I know that one of these days, everything will fall into place, and I’ll get the exact images that I’m striving for. It’s only a matter of time and luck, as I’m getting closer all the time, just as with the close-up of the crow.

It’s also just a matter of time for me to get most of the species of birds regularly seen in Michigan for the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on. To go with the red phalarope from earlier in this post, this week, I was able to photograph a Little gull.

Little gull feeding

Adding this species puts me at 240 species so far, not bad for some one that isn’t a hardcore birder.

Anyway, I first spotted the Little gull as it flew from the pond to the far side of the man-made pond, but that meant that it was really too far away for good images of it by itself.

Little gull, Bonaparte’s gulls, and northern shovelers

You can tell the Little gull by its orange feet compared to the pale pink feet of the Bonaparte’s gulls. It also has white wingtips as opposed to the black wingtips of the Bonaparte’s gull. Those were the two clues that I used to pick the Little gull out of the flock of 30 to 40 Bonaparte’s gulls that it was sharing the pond with.

This is why I continue to return to the Muskegon County wastewater facility, not only do I continue to find new to me species of birds there as shown in this post, but there’s so many species of birds there on a regular basis, especially during migration. Here’s a shot that includes a Wilson’s snipe, dunlin, the Little gull, Bonaparte’s gulls, a ring-billed gull and a few of the thousands of northern shovelers there.

Assorted species of birds

That image shows the size difference between the three species of gulls in the image better, you can see that the Little gull is, as its name implies, much smaller than the Bonaparte’s gulls, which are in turn, much smaller than the ring-billed gull. By the way, the Wilson’s snipe is to the far left in the frame and hard to make out.

I hung around quite a while, and it’s a good thing that I did, for eventually, I got the image of the Little gull alone in the frame, along with this one.

Little gull

And just like that, I’m almost to my self-imposed limit for photos in a post, so I’ll end this one with a photo from this Friday.

Dark-eyed junco in the fall

Two sure signs that winter is approaching, the Juncos have come back to this area from their breeding grounds to the north, and the fall colors of the leaves behind the junco. There’s a story behind that photo and many of the others that I shot on Friday of this week, but I’ll save that for the next post.

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


What should I title this one?

This past week, as I was on my way to the northern lower peninsula of Michigan, or as we refer to it here, simply “going up north”, to shoot a few images of the fall colors…

The Manistee River from an overlook along the North Country trail

…I spotted two adult bald eagles feeding on road kill right on the shoulder of the road. I pulled off to the other shoulder of the road as I passed them, slamming on the brakes as I did. But, as I backed up, they both flew off, leaving me this shot because they didn’t fly very far.

Adult bald eagle

The second eagle flew past me…

Adult bald eagle in flight

…but I didn’t have time to switch the camera to the saved bird in flight setting that I have saved in the camera, so that one was shot with the same settings used for perched birds. The shutter speed was too slow to freeze the motion, but at least I got a fairly good image of the eagle.

I backed up away from the eagles, hoping that they would return to feeding, one did, and I was able to get close enough to it to get this photo of it.

Adult bald eagle eating

I had an idea what would happen next, so I switched over to the saved bird in flight settings, as the eagle took off.

Adult bald eagle in flight

It isn’t easy to track even such a large bird as it takes off, as they rise and fall with each wing beat, and trying to keep their entire wings in the frame as that’s happening meant that I missed on almost all the rest of the photos in the short burst that I shot. I wish that I had led the eagle as it took off a little more so that there was more space ahead of the eagle in that image, but at least I didn’t cut its wings off in that one.

I can’t help it, but I also have to say that the image above would have been impossible if I had been using the 7D Mk II camera. That image was another shot at ISO 25600 to get the required shutter speed needed to freeze the action with the maximum aperture of f/8 that I’m forced to use with the 100-400 mm lens and extender behind it. Seeing that I was able to shoot this with the 5D Mk IV makes me even more happy to have purchased it when I did,rather than waiting longer until it would have been more affordable for me. Getting the entire adult bald eagle in the frame so that it nearly fills the frame with that level of detail makes being broke for a while longer worth it to me.

As the eagle turned away from me, I stopped tracking it with the auto-focus, which was the wrong thing to do, for the eagle turned around, and flew past me in the other direction…

Adult bald eagle in flight

…and I wasn’t able to get a solid focus lock on it as it twisted and turned as it flew to join the other eagle that was still perched in a tree.

A sidenote here, you may have noticed the band on the eagle’s leg. That makes me wonder how old this eagle is, as it’s the first eagle that I’ve seen where I can see that it had been banded at some point. I know that a few eagles are still banded in Michigan, but most aren’t, as they’re no longer an endangered species in Michigan. This eagle was either one that had been banded in an ongoing study of eagles, or is one that’s so old that it had been banded while eagles were still on the endangered species list in Michigan. Since eagle can live for decades, maybe as long as 50 years, it’s quite possible that this is a very old eagle. It’s certainly a fine specimen that looks very healthy, and although the second photo of it in flight isn’t very good, it does show how muscular and powerfully built eagles are.

I tried backing away from the eagles again, but they didn’t return as quickly as they had before. So, I turned around, and went down the road a little way to shoot this photo to warm up for shooting the fall colors later, while hoping that the eagles would return to feed on the carcass of the roadkill.

A warm up photo for later

When I returned to where the eagles were, some one else was pulled off the road, photographing the eagles perched in the trees, so I continued on my way north. I stopped at Peterson Bridge over the Pine River to shoot these photos.

The view from Peterson Bridge over the Pine River 1

There are probably too many from this location…

The view from Peterson Bridge over the Pine River 2

…but I was doing what I still have to do far too often…

The view from Peterson Bridge over the Pine River 3

….learning how to compose the images that I shoot with wide-angle lenses…

The view from Peterson Bridge over the Pine River 4

…while trying to show as much of the limited color in the leaves as there was here.

The view from Peterson Bridge over the Pine River 5

 

The view from Peterson Bridge over the Pine River 6

A short distance to the north, I pulled off the main road onto an US Forest Service road for this one shot at 24 mm with the 24-70 mm lens…

The forest beginning to show some color at 24 mm

…then I switched to the 16-35 mm lens for this one.

The forest beginning to show some color at 16 mm

I’d say that the two lenses are equal in image quality, but you can see more distortion in the image shot at 16 mm than the one shot at 24 mm because of the way that the trees seem to all lean towards the center of the frame. In this case, I was going for that distortion, probably because I’m old enough to remember how bad the distortion in older wide-angle lenses was. I also like that effect at times, and this is one of them.

Back on the main road, I pulled off on a side road now and then to shoot these, more to show the brilliant colors rather than to create a truly good landscape image.

Just to show some color 1

 

Just to show some color 2

 

Just to show some color 3

 

Just to show some color 4

As you may have noticed, there was solid cloud cover all day, although I did shoot two images later when a tiny hole in the clouds opened up, which you’ll see later. The clouds meant that I could shoot in any direction at any time, which was good, but I’m not sure how much the lack of sunshine “hid” the colors of the leaves in the distance of some of the images to come. For example, I stopped at the roadside park that overlooks the Hodenpyle Pond, and shot this one.

Overlooking the Hodenpyle Pond, wide-angle

But, the colors on the hills across the pond looked muted to me, so I zoomed in to shoot a series of photos to stitch into this panoramic image.

Overlooking the Hodenpyle Pond, zoomed in view

The hills on the other side of the pond do show up a little better in the pano, but the colors in the pano don’t. I didn’t have very much time to shoot there, as it was, I’d set-up the tripod to shoot a few photos, then have to move to get out of the way of other people who had stopped to admire the view, then after they left, move back into position to try something else. I also had to wait until any people going up or down the stairway were out of the scene before I shot any photos.

My next major stop was right along the side of the road, M 37, just north of the intersection with M 115. This is where I had shot some of the images of the Milky Way during my earlier scouting trip.

Manistee River Valley at night

This is how the area looks during a fall day.

Michigan M 37 as it crosses the Manistee River Valley

I purposely shot that image to show the view from the highway as you get to the Manistee River Valley. I then tried for better images…

The view of the Manistee River Valley wide-angle

And once again, I tried stitching several images together to form this panoramic view.

The view of the Manistee River Valley panoramic view

This was the scene behind me…

More fall color

…and it was here that I saw the only blue sky of the day…

Still more fall colors

…but you can’t see the opening in the clouds in the image, drat. At least a small shaft of sunlight hit a few of the more colorful trees then.

I then spent quite a bit of time driving the back roads in the area, as I’m not that familiar with it, and where the best views were to be found. I stopped at a one lane bridge over the Manistee River to shoot this photo though.

Michigan’s Manistee River in the fall

I hate to admit it, but I was somewhat lost for a while because I was following directions from Google Maps, and what I thought would be a maintained dirt road was in reality a seasonal two-track and there weren’t any road signs at intersections with other two-tracks along the way. I ended up having backtrack and then stick to better roads to make it to my next destination. However, while I didn’t shoot any photos during this period, I did enjoy seeing the fall colors as I was driving.

I finally made it to the destination that I had in mind for this trip, the high rollway observation deck along the Manistee River. The observation deck is also along the North Country Trail, but there’s a parking lot nearby, with just a short walk to the deck.

A short walk through the woods to the observation deck

Even on a Friday, it was a popular spot for people doing fall color tours, so I had to wait my turn to get to the best spot on the deck for photography. While I was waiting, I shot these two.

Waiting on the high rollway observation deck overlooking the Manistee River

 

Waiting on the high rollway observation deck overlooking the Manistee River

When I had my chance to set-up at the best spot on the deck, I shot this one.

From the high rollway observation deck overlooking the Manistee River

I shot several more images from there, but I’m not going to put them in this post. That’s because I hope to return there this coming weekend when there will hopefully be a bit more color and better weather than this week. I would have rather had light rain to really saturate the colors more, or a bright sunny day with a few clouds in the sky than the dull grey overcast of this day.

I made several more stops on the way home, but this is the only photo that I’m going to include in this post.

From the scenic overlook near Cadillac, Michigan

I’m including that one because I shot it with the 70-200 mm lens, not that the lens is any big deal. But, I am learning which lens to use more quickly than I thought that I would. I’m not used to using my short lenses, so it surprised me at how well I chose the correct lens for a scene when I first saw what I intended to shoot. There were only one or two times when the lens that I put on the camera didn’t give me the field of view that I wanted, and had to switch lenses before shooting the scene. Of course that doesn’t include scenes where I knew that I’d want to shoot with different lenses to record the scene in different ways. I did that several times, and I’ve included the version that I liked the best here, rather than including all the images that I shot at a particular location, again, because I plan to go back this weekend.

Also, I made a few stops on Thursday to shoot some fall color scenes…

A yellow border for a dirt road

 

An unnamed small lake near Grant, Michigan

 

The Muskegon River high banks near Newaygo, Michigan

You can see that the weather on Thursday was the same as it was Friday, low, grey clouds. It’s that time of year in Michigan, cool, fall air coming across the relatively warm waters of Lake Michigan produces the lake effect clouds that will plague west Michigan all winter long. Sunny winter days are as rare as hen’s teeth in West Michigan, which I’ve whined about every winter.

The good news is that the cool fall weather has killed most of the mosquito population for this year, and with no warm weather in sight, we may be skeeter free until next May.

The bad news is that I was stupid enough to make my quarterly appointments with my dermatologist for this Thursday, and that also means that I have to first go to a medical lab to have blood work done first. On top of that because I’m a truck driver, I must have a physical every other year as a condition of being allowed to drive a commercial vehicle. Since my Thursday was already ruined for the purposes of photography, I went and had that DOT physical done as well so that I’ll be able to continue working and getting a paycheck every week.

It was a very sunny day, in fact, there were no clouds in the sky at all to add any interest to landscape photos I would have shot if I’d had the time to return up north. On Friday, the clouds rolled in at sunrise, and the rest of the day was just as dreary as it had been the previous week, so I didn’t bother returning to any of the places featured in the photos in this post, I stuck around Muskegon instead.

Muskegon State Park, Snug Harbor portion

The rest of the photos that I shot on Friday will go into my next post. Hopefully, the leaves will be at their peak color around here then, but it’s not going to be a good year for color from what I’m seeing so far. I think that it’s because of the drought that we had this summer that many of the leaves are going straight to brown this year.

If nothing else, maybe I’ll be able to find a few birds that only pass through my area twice a year during migration.

Juvenile black-bellied plover

I do have a dentist appointment next week, but at least I made that one for earlier in the morning, so I’ll be able to get out in the afternoon and continue shooting until sunset, if it’s worth photographing.

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


Some more boring photography talk

Sorry, I can’t help it, there’s quite a bit of news when it comes to photography gear, and about my learning how to use what I have more effectively.

Both Canon and Nikon have recently introduced full frame sensor mirrorless cameras, which are going to be the wave of the future for cameras as we know them. The old familiar DSLR is going to fade away over the next decade, at least that’s how I see things going.

Since mirrorless cameras can be built smaller, lighter, and cheaper by not needing the mirror assembly, that’s a big selling point to begin with. Then, because the rear element of the lens attached to the camera can be mounted closer to the sensor because the designers don’t need to leave room for the mirror assembly, the light coming through the lens doesn’t have to be bent as much to get the lens to project the image onto the sensor. This is particularly true with wide-angle lenses, less so for telephoto lenses. That means that the new wide-angle lenses will be even sharper than the best lenses built so far for traditional DSLR bodies, because the less that the light needs to be bent ass it passes through the lens, the sharper the image will be.

Because of that, both Nikon and Canon have designed new lens mounts to take advantage of that, and I can’t tell you about the new Nikon lenses, but the new Canon lenses are indeed sharper than the older style lenses built for a traditional DSLR mount.

Doesn’t that figure, I just upgraded my wide-angle lenses, and now they are obsolete, sort of. The superior sharpness of the new lenses designed for mirrorless cameras is mostly when the aperture is wide open, and as the lens is stopped down to get a wider depth of field, the advantage of the mirrorless lenses shrinks  to nothing at the apertures typically used for landscapes when everything in the frame needs to be in sharp focus.

Sony has been building full frame mirrorless cameras for some time now, and their cameras are much better than the first generations of mirrorless cameras from Nikon and Canon. However, Sony hasn’t been able to match them when it comes to lenses. A lot of Sony camera users mount other manufacturer’s lenses to their Sony using an adaptor.

So at least for now, I see no reason to think about upgrading from the Canon 5D Mk IV or the Canon 7D Mk II bodies that I’m using now. That’s especially true because Canon put the same sensor as the 5D has in its new mirrorless camera. In many ways, the new mirrorless body would be a step backwards for me, but I won’t list all the reasons for that.

However, I will be watching to see what Canon does with their line-up of mirrorless cameras, if they bring out a mirrorless version of the 5DS R body with the super high-resolution sensor with no low pass filter, I could be tempted, because that would be something that would make dramatic improvements in any landscape images that I shoot. But’s that’s a long way off right now, as I have no idea what Canon is planning on as far as their line-up of mirrorless bodies, or if the even plan on building an updated 5DS R body. And even if they do, it would have to be a lot cheaper than the current 5DS R body before I would consider making such a move. That’s why I’m hoping that they release a mirrorless version of it as they perfect their mirrorless designs in the future. The new Canon mirrorless body is $1,000 less than the 5D Mk IV that I recently purchased, even though they use the same sensor. I hope that the trend continues in future generations of Canon mirrorless cameras.

For right now, I’m going to concentrate on learning to get the best out of the 5D and the new wide-angle lenses I’ve acquired. They have been a big step up in quality over the crop sensor bodies I have been using, along with the EF-S lenses designed for the crop sensor bodies.

The outlet from Duck Lake meeting Lake Michigan

 

Looking north from Duck Lake State Park

However, the biggest improvement that I see with the 5D comes when I use my older telephoto lenses in low-light situations…

Juvenile wild turkey at dusk

…as that was shot at ISO 25600, much higher than I could have gotten away with if I had used the 7D body instead.

It was a dark, dreary, foggy day this spring when I tried to shoot migrating warblers and other small birds the made me decide to upgrade to the 5D. Some of you may remember the post that I did about that day, and how I whined about the poor quality of the images that I ended up with. Well, last Friday was very similar to that day last spring as you can see in this photo…

The Cobb power plant in Muskegon

…right down to the on and off mist and drizzle falling as I looked for things to photograph. By the way, I included yet another photo of the Cobb power plant as I’m planning on recording the work as it is dismantled. I’m not sure what’s going to be done with the land that it’s on, as I’m sure that since it was a coal-fired plant that there’s a lot of environmental clean-up that will have to be done once the plant is gone.

Anyway, here are the birds that I photographed in the very raw conditions of that day.

Downy woodpecker

 

Downy woodpecker

 

White-throated sparrow

All three of those were shot at higher ISO settings, yet there isn’t the loss of detail or color saturation that I gotten when I’ve used the 7D Mk II in such conditions. As a comparison, here’s an image from that dreary day this spring.

Bay-breasted warbler

Forgive me for bragging, but wow, what a difference! Especially when you consider that I used the exact same lens for the birds on Friday as I did for the warbler this spring. The differences in image quality is all due to the camera used, and seeing them side by side here makes being broke for a while longer worth the investment that I made in the 5D.

Here are the other images that I shot in the mist while I was at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve on Friday.

Fall colors starting

In these, which were also shot at higher ISO settings, the clarity and color improvements of the 5D…

Pokeweed berries

…are also put to good use…

Virginia creeper putting on a display of color

…although I missed the composition in that last photo. I wanted to show the colors in the background as well as the Virginia creeper vines in the foreground, but I should have moved to the left and showed more of the Virginia creeper vines. Oh well, I messed up this one also.

Natural decorations

I liked the way that the Virginia creeper and grape vines spiraled up the spruce tree naturally, like Christmas decorations, but I used a wide-angle lens from very close to the spruce. I should have moved back, and used a longer lens to have gotten a better angle of the scene.

While I usually use the aperture priority mode while photographing birds, I’m thinking of using the manual mode more often, just because that would allow me to change the shutter speed more quickly when I see something similar to the bluebirds bathing from my last post.

Eastern bluebird bathing

The one fly in that ointment is the maximum aperture of the lenses that I’m using now, especially when I have the 1.4 X tele-converter behind them as I typically do. Most of the time, I’m starting out at f/8 due to the loss of light from the extender. There’s no getting around that short of purchasing a faster (and much more expensive) lens. But, on a sunny day as when I photographed the bluebirds, I could have pushed the ISO higher to get faster shutter speeds to freeze the motion better. That’s especially true with the 5D, but I could have gone higher with the ISO with the 7D when I had such good light. Just something for me to keep in mind on nice days with good light.

While I’m on the subject of trying different things, on Thursday, I finally got around to testing the new 24-70 mm lens with an extension tube behind it to allow the lens to focus closer than it does without the extension tube.

Assorted lichen on a post

I had to crop off the bottom of the photo, as there was a harsh shadow there caused by the lens hood touching the post because that’s how close that set-up focuses. I deliberately chose a post with only a few widely spaced small lichen to help me judge the depth of field of that set-up. Also, I used the medium length extension tube only, I didn’t test the long tube out. I’m not sure that the long tube would work behind that lens as close as I was when using the medium length tube. I don’t think that it will work for insects because of how close the lens has to be to the subject, but for subjects that remain stationary, I think that this set-up will work every bit as well as my 100 mm macro lens.

This was a similar test shot, but without the extension tube behind the 24-70 mm lens.

Unidentified fungal object

It’s hard for me not to jump forward to the images that I shot this weekend, when I have so many left from last week. So, since I’ve babbled on long enough already, here are the rest of the photos from last week, as I shot a few hints of the fall colors that are showing up around here, and also tried to shoot a wider variety of birds that I haven’t posted many photos of lately.

Ladybug

 

The first hints of fall colors

 

Mute swan

 

White-breasted nuthatch

 

White-breasted nuthatch

 

More fall colors showing

 

White-crowned sparrow hiding

 

Dragonfly hanging out on a nice fall day

 

So it begins

 

More from the Snug Harbor part of Muskegon SP

 

Just a depth of field test

 

Savannah sparrow

 

Savannah sparrow

 

Greater yellowlegs

 

Greater yellowlegs

 

American pipit

I’m really excited about my next post, as I was able to shoot one of my better images of an adult bald eagle in flight as I was on my way to northern Michigan to shoot some pretty good images of the fall colors on display there.

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


Anatomy of a sunset

With conditions similar to last week, although not as extreme as far as the wind, I returned to Duck Lake State Park Friday evening to capture this sunset.

Lake Michigan sunset from Duck Lake State Park

I was going to say that I don’t know how dedicated landscape photographers do what they do, set-up in advance, and get great sun sets or rises behind what would be a pleasing scene even without the colors of the sky being present. However, I do know how they do it, I chose not to do things the correct way Friday evening.

I’m still learning the 5D Mk IV and how it works with my two new wide-angle lenses, so I shot all the sunset images you’ll see in this post handheld. In some ways, I’m glad that I did, because the light that evening was always changing, and there were different scenes that I shot, which I’ll get to later.

I could have set-up in a different spot while using my tripod and I would have gotten an even better image of the sunset at its peak. In the past, I’ve gone so far as to set-up two tripods, one on the west side of the road that runs next to Lake Michigan there at Duck Lake, and the other tripod on the east side of the road, looking out over Duck Lake. But on this evening, there were still too many people who had come to see the sunset, and I didn’t feel safe leaving either of my cameras unattended while I raced under the bridge back and forth to shoot excellent images of the sun sets or rises that I’ve seen there during the times that I’ve shot with two set-ups in the past.

I think that I’ll go back a little, and go through the photos that I shot in the order that I shot them to help to explain my thinking. I had stopped in Muskegon State Park to check the horizon to see if there was a chance that the cloud cover that had been overhead all day would break to reveal a good sunset.

Looking toward the beach and breakwaters at Muskegon State Park

By the way, that’s one of three scenes that I shot with both the 16-35 mm and 24-70 mm lenses to compare the two, and I can see no difference between the two.

Anyway, looking to the south, as I was there, things looked pretty grim as far as there being a good sunset to photograph, but looking to the north, I could see some breaks in the clouds, and even a few patches of blue sky. So, I drove the short distance to Duck Lake State Park, and made another set of test shots to compare the two lenses.

Lens test and a warm up for things to come.

As the light changed, I shot this one, looking to the north.

The beginnings of a good sunset at Duck Lake State Park

I shot this series of three photos as the sun actually set.

Actual sunset at Duck Lake State Park 1

…but, because the color in the sky was in a narrow band at the horizon, I zoomed in a little with each shot…

Actual sunset at Duck Lake State Park 2

…ending with this one.

Actual sunset at Duck Lake State Park 3

I then zoomed all the way back out to 16 mm for this image.

Sunset looking northwest at Duck Lake State Park

I should have shot a panorama of two images to be stitched together for that view, either that, or I’ll need an even wider lens. But, I am impressed by the field of view of the 16-35 mm lens on a full frame sensor camera versus what I got on the crop sensor 7D.

I thought that there’d be a short period of time between when the sun slipped below the horizon, and when the light from the sun hit the underside of the clouds, so I was headed back to my Subaru when I saw that this had been behind me.

Looking to the east

Seeing that, I wanted to explore that scene further, but a check of the sky looking to the west again is when I saw the scene that is the first image in this post, which I’ll insert here again.

Lake Michigan sunset from Duck Lake State Park

I tried going wider, I tried zooming in more, but that’s the image that I liked the best from the many that I shot in that direction at the time.

I then turned back to the north to shoot this one…

Looking northwest over Lake Michigan

…and then literally ran up the dune that was behind my Subaru in the earlier photo to shoot this one on my way up the dune…

Looking east over Duck Lake

…and this one when I got to the top of the dune.

Looking east over Duck Lake at Duck Lake State Park

By the way, all of these were shot as single images with the 5D Mk IV, to see how well it reproduced the colors of the sunset. These aren’t bad, but I believe that more of the subtle colors would have been shown if I had bracketed three images to create a HDR image. I suppose that I could also bring out more color by using Lightroom, but this was all about learning what the camera is capable of by itself, for my future reference.

Anyway, the display of color in the sky wasn’t done yet, I shot this on my way back down the dune…

From one of the dunes at Duck Lake State Park

…and I shot these three as the colors began to fade.

Fading sunset at Duck Lake State Park 1

 

Fading sunset at Duck Lake State Park 2

 

Fading sunset at Duck Lake State Park 3

These last three are the ones that would have benefitted the most by my using my tripod and bracketing for HDR images.After having viewed these images again, and written what I have about them, now I have decided that what I should have tried was tilting the camera over to the portrait orientation to get even more of the clouds in  some of the scenes, and shot multiple images to be stitched together in panoramas to get the width that I wanted. Sigh, hindsight is always 20/20, and I did think about  panorama while I was there, but with the camera in the landscape orientation. I’m not sure if it would have worked as fast as the clouds were moving and with the waves on Lake Michigan, but I should have at least tested it to see if it would work. I have to keep telling myself these things in the hope that I will remember to try them the next time a similar occasion arrises.

That didn’t happen this week though, I did set-up the tripod and shoot a HDR image of the sunset Thursday evening.

Another Duck Lake State Park sunset

In fact, I shot quite a few HDR images on Thursday while using the new 5D Mk IV camera, here’s the best of the lot.

Muskegon SP colors in HDR

However, I’m finding that I don’t need to shoot bracketed images to blend into a HDR image with the 5D…

Muskegon SP colors in a single image

…as I prefer the single image version over the HDR version.

That’s been the case most of the times that I’ve tried shooting HDR images with the 5D with its expanded dynamic range over the crop sensor 60D and 7D Mk II bodies that I’ve been used to shooting with. Also, the sky ends up looking wonky in HDR images that I shoot with the 5D, along with the fact that the final image looks fake.

Bad HDR image of the fall colors

Anyway, I was using the 5D with the 24-70 mm f/4 so often on Thursday that I grew tired of swapping lenses all the time, so I put the birding set-up on the 7D just in case, and the just in case did happen.

Eastern bluebird getting ready for a bath

I had seen the bluebirds perched on sign posts as I moved from one part of the Snug Harbor area in Muskegon State Park to another area. They all flew off, but I parked there in hopes that they would return, and as you can see, they did. I shot the bluebird above as it bathed…

Eastern bluebird bathing

 

Eastern bluebird bathing

…when a second bird landed in the puddle to join the first…

Eastern bluebirds

…but due to the short depth of field as close as they were to me, I wasn’t able to get them both in focus at the same time. But, when the second one started its bath, I fired away…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…I kept an eye on the shutter speed as I shot…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…and seeing that it was 1/800 to 1/1000 second…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…I hoped that I’d get the amount of motion blur that I hoped for…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…while freezing some of the water drops in the air…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…but I should have gone even quicker with the shutter speed…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…to freeze the bird completely in at least a few photos…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…even if the water drops look good…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…and of course I thought about switching over to the 5D for more dynamic range so that the shadows in that last photo wouldn’t be as dark as they are. But by then, the birds felt clean enough that they moved off to look for food. Also, these were cropped only slightly, I would have had to crop more if I had used the 5D because of the crop factor of the 7D.

Sorry for so many photos of the bluebirds, but they are usually difficult for me to get that close to since they are quite wary of humans most of the time. They’re such cheerful little birds, and one of my favorite species to watch and hear singing, that I went a little overboard with the photos.

Earlier in the day I had been chasing other species of small birds…

Pine warbler stretching to see

…luckily, this pine warbler stuck around long enough for me to dial in the correct exposure…

Pine warbler looking chunky

…and, this white-breasted nuthatch worked its way towards me as I shot a good many photos of it, ending with this one.

White-breasted nuthatch with an attitude

I’ve already put too many images in this post, and I have plenty leftover from both last week, and from yesterday, so it’s time to put an end to this post before I go out again today to see what I can find now that the morning rain has ended.

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