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

Posts tagged “Birds

From the boardwalk

I’m going to attempt to stick with one topic for this post, the photos that I’ve shot recently at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. I’m sure that I did a post on this nature preserve in the past, but I think that it’s time for me to do an updated post on it, since it’s one of the places that I visit regularly.

To begin with, here’s a map that I swiped off from the internet.

Map of the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

 

And then, a photo to get things started.

Swamp sparrow

I have better images, but the swamp sparrow is a fitting subject to start with. As you can see from the map, the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve is a peninsula jutting out into the Muskegon River delta where the river meets Muskegon Lake. Actually, with the water levels of Lake Michigan, and therefore all the connected bodies of water like Muskegon Lake, much higher than they were a few years ago, the preserve is more of an island than a peninsula until the water levels drop again. There’s water flowing under both of the two bridges that you can use to get from the parking lot to the preserve itself.

Most of the preserve is marshy or under water completely, and the dry land portions are thick tangles of vegetation that has taken hold since the area was cleaned up after being used as a dump for years. It’s a perfect example of nature reclaiming land that had been abused by man in the past. I don’t know how large the overall size of the preserve is, I would estimate that the parts of it that are dry land are between 5 and 10 acres total, not very large at all. Most of the preserve is marsh, as this photo shot from the bridge to enter the preserve shows.

The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

You can see on the map, as well as in my photos to follow, that it’s far from a wilderness area. To the east is one of the few north/south roads that has a bridge to cross the Muskegon river, and it’s a state highway that carries a good deal of traffic. To the west is a condominium development and a mariana. To the south is the main part of the north branch of the Muskegon River where it enters Muskegon Lake, and across the river is the old Cobb coal-fired power plant that is being decommissioned now.

The Cobb power plant near Muskegon, Michigan

I titled this post “From the boardwalk” because at least half of the paths look like this…

The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve boardwalk

…or this view along the river…

The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve boardwalk

…or this section of boardwalk across the marsh.

The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve boardwalk

I’d guess that the total length of the paths I usually walk is less than a mile, but I normally spend several hours there because I move very slowly. That’s because the vegetation is so thick there that I take a few steps, try to look through any openings in the vegetation, then move a few more steps. This is the way the path typically looks in the summer.

The path at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

The bad news is that it’s had to see the birds as they hide in the vegetation, the good news is that if you do see one, it’s almost always very close.

Grey catbird bringing home the bacon

 

Where the bacon ended up going (juvenile grey catbird)

The preserve is at the north end of a much longer system of paths meant for walkers, joggers, and cyclists in the greater Muskegon area, and therefore is a very popular place. Most people never see the birds or other wildlife there, but the wildlife sees them, and has become accustomed to having people nearby up to a point. It isn’t as if the wildlife is tame, but human activity and noise doesn’t bother the wildlife as much as in more natural settings. That also helps me get close to what I’m trying to photograph. Here’s a view of the main bike/walking path through the preserve.

The bike path through the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

That was shot from one of the two raised observation decks that have been built there at the preserve. The first raised observation deck is on dry land…

observation deck at the MLNP

…and I thought that it would be a great place to photograph birds that live in the leaf canopy from, however, I seldom see any birds in the trees next to the deck. The second observation deck is built out over the marsh, and once in a while, I hang out there to photograph birds flying past that deck.

Green heron in flight

Because of the height of the observation deck…

Green heron in flight

…I’m not shooting at such a high angle upwards, so it looks like I’m at about the same elevation as the birds flying past me. That’s unlike this image…

Great blue heron in flight

…which I shot with the heron directly over me as I shot it.

Most of the time that I’m there, I’m either in the thick vegetation on the dry land portion of the preserve photographing songbirds…

Blue jay

…or standing in one place on the boardwalk waiting to see what appears in the marsh for me to photograph.

Muskrat eating a cattail

In that photo, you can see that the muskrat tears the cattail stalks apart to eat the center portion of the cattail, leaving the outer sheath of the leaves. Here’s a photo of another muskrat bring cattails back to its den.

Muskrat bringing cattails back to its den

Also from the boardwalk, I shot this series of images showing a first year male red-winged blackbird bathing.

First year male red-winged blackbird bathing

Because of the height of the boardwalk I have to shoot down to photograph subjects such as the muskrat or this red-winged blackbird…

First year male red-winged blackbird bathing

…however, I have all the time in the world to get the camera settings right to produce the images that I want…

First year male red-winged blackbird bathing

…getting the shutter speed high enough to freeze the blackbird’s head, but showing the motion blur of the bird’s body and the water drops.

First year male red-winged blackbird bathing

As small as the preserve is, and with so many people using it, I’m always surprised when I see deer there.

Whitetail doe

For this series, I was standing in the dense vegetation waiting for birds to land close to me, when the deer came into view. She knew I was there, but that didn’t stop her from sampling the food there.

Whitetail doe

 

Whitetail doe

After she finished her snack, I was able to shoot a better photo of her.

Whitetail doe

Here are a few of the other subjects that I’ve photographed there recently.

Cottontail rabbit

 

Female snapping turtle laying eggs

 

Honeysuckle flowers

 

Damselfly

 

Damselfly

There aren’t that many mosquitos at the preserve, not when you look at all the still water and vegetation around, and I think that the lack of them is due to the large number of damsel and dragonflies, along with insect-eating birds, such as this barn swallow.

Barn swallow

It must have been full and also very happy, for it landed on the railing of the boardwalk next to me and began singing away.

Barn swallow

It was singing a toe tapping song as you can see from that last image. ūüėČ

Barn swallow

I mentioned the height of the boardwalk earlier in this post, that’s good in a way, because you can see down through the reeds and other aquatic vegetation whereas, if the boardwalk was lower to the water, you’d only be able to see a wall of reeds as you walked along the boardwalk. Because of that fact, I’ve been able to photograph a number of species of birds that are difficult to photograph because of their preferred habitat. The list of species I’ve shot there includes the Virginia Rail, marsh wren, and least bittern.

Least bittern

 

Least bittern

It may not look like it from my photos here, but I had to use manual focus to get those shots, as the auto-focusing system of camera and lens couldn’t pick the bird out from the thick vegetation that it was in. The least bittern may be the most difficult species of bird to photograph that I’ve run into so far, but the Virginia rail…

Virginia rail

…was a very close runner-up.

I take that back, the Virginia rail is a more difficult species to photograph, because it stays in the reeds all the time, while the least bitterns do fly above the reeds…

Least bittern in flight

 

Least bittern in flight

…but one has to be quick to catch them during one of their short flights.

Gee, I’ve reached my self-imposed quota of photos for a post, and I still have quite a few left. So, I’m going to add this one…

Panorama from the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

…because it’s one of my first attempts at shooting a panorama and was made with three images shot with the 16-35 mm lens and stitched together in Lightroom. As easy as Lightroom makes it to create a panorama, it’s something that I need to do more of in the future so that I become better at setting up to shoot them. I really should have zoomed in more, and added another image if I had then needed it. But, that’s getting off topic.

Anyway, I do have enough photos for another post shot at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and I’m sure to return there, but I think that my next post will be from yesterday, when I returned to the osprey nest in hopes of getting good images of them.

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

Advertisements

I shouldn’t have, but I did

On my last two days off from work, I did the same old thing at the same old places as I usually do, I went to the Muskegon County wastewater facility and the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. I did so because I was trying to find a species of bird that I need for the My Photo Life list project that I’m working on, a northern mockingbird. A mockingbird has been seen and heard several times this spring at the wastewater facility, but I hadn’t been able to locate it, until Friday.

Northern Mockingbird

That photo would have been good enough for me to cross that species off from my list of species that I need to complete the list, but I was able to use some natural cover to get slightly closer and with a clear view of the mockingbird.

Northern Mockingbird

I thought that as long as he continued to sing…

Northern Mockingbird

…that he didn’t think that I represented a threat to him. I made sure that I had shot plenty of images of him, enjoying his song as I watched him through the viewfinder, and then I moved on, listening to him as I walked back to my car. Now I know why people say that the song of a mockingbird is one of the most beautiful bird songs that one can hear.

Earlier this spring, I listed three species of warblers as my goals for this spring, but I have yet to make a serious search for any of the three. Although, I did keep my eyes open when I visited Lane’s Landing in the Muskegon State Game Area, as all three of the species have been seen passing through that area in the past. The way things have been going this spring, I may not get a chance to search for the three species that I had as my goal for the year, as I’ve been quite lucky to cross several other species off from the list this spring. That’s okay, there’s always next year, as long as I’m adding species to my completed list, it doesn’t make any difference which species they are, or where I find them.

One other thing that I have been trying to do this spring is to show a wider variety of birds, and not fill my posts with only a few species of birds. However, since I’m getting so close to having photographed most of the species of birds seen in my part of Michigan, finding new series becomes harder all the time. I have posted more than one image of one species at times, when the series told a story, as with the cedar waxwing eating aphids. I never shoot only one photo of any bird when I have the chance to shoot more than one, so I have a lot of leftover photos from my earlier trips this spring, of species that seldom appear here, such as this American avocet.

American avocet

 

American avocet

 

American avocet

And, this eared grebe.

Eared grebe

Also, this female rose-breasted grosbeak, even though they are a common species here.

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

 

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

I’m not sure why I felt the need to use those photos from earlier this spring in this post, when I shot plenty of equally good or better images this past weekend.

Male northern shoveler in flight

Early morning light reflecting off from the water makes getting an image like that easy, it’s the same with this one.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

If only the eagle had turned to look at me. ūüė¶

Grasshopper sparrow

 

Killdeer

My new work schedule is working well for me to get to where I’m going for the day when the light is great, right at sunrise, even though most of the sunrises have been rather boring as far as the sunrise itself. I’ve been very fortunate for the past month, I’ve had excellent light with mostly clear skies at sunrise, and as the days have progressed, only high, thin clouds have formed by the afternoon, meaning that I’ve had very good light almost the entire time that I’ve been out for this month. It also helps when a bird perches in great light to shoot an image such as the last one of the killdeer.

The killdeer was standing on the rock in a place where the light from the sunrise struck only the bird and the top of the rocks, the base of the rocks and the water were still in the shade, so I had to shoot that image even though killdeer are very common, and I’ve posted many photos of them in the past.

I could go on at length about how diffuse light is easier to shoot photos in…

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

…but that I’m learning how to use the shadows to help define the shape of my subject to get a more three-dimensional look to the subject, but I won’t. I’ll only repeat something that I’m learning, light illuminates, shadows define. That’s one of the reasons that I shoot more photos of any one bird when I have the chance, along with getting the best possible pose from the subject that I can.

No wildlife, especially birds, are ever completely motionless, so I watch the subject through the viewfinder, and when I get a good pose from the subject, with the light as good as it can be, then I’ll fire off a series of shots in low-speed continuous until I see that the bird has moved again. I think that most of the images in this post so far are good examples of that. However, there are still times when a subject doesn’t move, and I have to settle for an image with shadows that are too harsh.

Ruddy duck

I shouldn’t have posted that image due to the harsh shadow on the left side of the bird, but it isn’t often that I get that close to a ruddy duck. They’re usually more skittish than this one was, and even he took off a few seconds after I shot that image.

Ruddy duck in flight

Enough of that, I think that the time has come to show a map of my home state of Michigan again.

Map of Michigan

That’s because there are several new readers to my blog, and not all of them are familiar with where I live. You can see that Michigan, shaded in yellow on the map, consists of two peninsulas surrounded by four of the five Great Lakes. I live in the metropolitan Grand Rapids area, which is labeled on the map, as is Muskegon, which is on the shore of Lake Michigan. It’s only about a 50 mile drive for me from home to Muskegon. Also, I drive to Traverse City four nights a week for work, which is about 135 miles north of grand Rapids. The area where I located the osprey nest and the three nature preserves that I featured in a recent post are about 50 miles due north of Grand Rapids.

I also posted this map because I was considering shooting completely different subjects during my time off from work this week. It just so happened that my two days off coincided with the new moon for a change, and I was thinking of trying for a shot of the Milky Way and/or a star trails image. The Milky Way appears in the southern sky, and unfortunately, most of Michigan’s light pollution is in the southern third of the lower peninsula, and I’d also have to deal with the light coming from Chicago Illinois, which isn’t shown on the map, but is only 150 miles southwest of my location. That means that I’d have to go quite a distance to the north to get away from the manmade lights

I didn’t trust the weather forecasts either, as on both of my days off, it clouded over during the afternoon, and while the forecast called for clear skies again overnight, I didn’t want to drive as far from home as would be required only to find that there were clouds blocking my view of the sky. Maybe I’ll try the night photography this fall if the timing of the new moon and the weather cooperates.

Also, on Friday, the clouds thickened to the point where thunder showers developed, and I sat along the road between Muskegon State Park and Duck Lake State Park, hoping for a chance to photograph lightning. However, the lightning bolts were few and far between, and I hadn’t thought of a way to keep my camera and lens dry as the rain fell. Maybe one of these days I’ll catch a storm where the lightning is visible before the rain starts falling, or I’ll invest in a good umbrella to keep myself and my camera gear dry. Although, I did have the idea of opening the lift gate of my Subaru, setting the tripod up under the lift gate, and sitting in the back of the car to shoot photos and stay dry. It wouldn’t have worked where I was on Friday though, but it’s something for me to keep in mind for future reference.

The point to all this, if there is one, is that there are so many things that I’d like to photograph, but as always, time limits what I can do. There are plenty of scenic areas in Michigan, but I’ve been chasing birds, because spring is the best time of the year for bird photography. The males are in their breeding plumage, and there are the birds that only migrate through Michigan, but don’t nest here.

It just dawned on me, I go through the same cycle every year. All through the winter, I’m complaining about the lack of light and the fact that the birds, what few there are, are all in their eclipse plumage. Then, when spring arrives, I complain that I don’t have enough time to photograph everything that I’d like to.

I don’t know how to break that cycle though, it’s something that I know is going to happen, so I shouldn’t complain about it as much as I do. I should just shoot the images that I can, and let nature go through its cycles with no complaints from me.

Moth mullein

 

White campion

 

Bee on an unidentified flowering object

 

Bee on an unidentified flowering object

 

Motherwort

 

Dragonfly

 

Turkey poult

 

Eastern kingbird

 

Unidentified damselfly

And, I probably shouldn’t think about visiting new places in hopes of finding a photographic nirvana as much as I do, as long as I’m shooting good images and I’m not bored sitting around waiting for wildlife to appear, what difference should it make where I shoot the images.

I say that because I did do the exact same thing two days in a row last week while searching for the mockingbird, and now I may have to repeat that this week, as a rare to Michigan Henslow’s sparrow is being seen and heard regularly at the wastewater facility lately. That’s another species of bird that I need to track down for the My Photo Life list project that I’m working on, and I’ll probably find the temptation of adding another species to my list too great to pass up.

In addition, I’m getting good photos of birds and other subjects at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, including a few series of photos of bird behaviors, such as the cedar waxwing eating aphids. I have quite a few photos from MLNP left over to post, and I think that one day on my upcoming “weekend”, that I’ll take a few wider photos and devote a future post to just photos from there. I say that because I’m planning on where to go for my next two days off from work as I type this.

In the meantime, here’s a few more photos from my last outings.

Wood duck at dawn

 

Upland sandpiper

 

Upland sandpiper chick

 

Sandhill crane

 

Female downy woodpecker

 

Female downy woodpecker

I know that my posts have been jumbled up messes lately, I’m sorry, but I can’t help it. I get started on a subject, then it’s time for work or for me to go out and shoot more photos, and I lose my train of thought, or I worry that people will find the track I was on boring, so I switch to another subject. I’ll try to make my post more readable in the future though.

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


I was afraid of that

Well, I went back to the Muskegon River area where I had gone and shot the landscape photos from my last post. But, I got a late start, and missed the chance to photograph a glorious sunrise, although it was wonderful to view as I drove north towards the river. I also managed to find the three nature preserves that I hadn’t been able to locate on my last trip up there, but more on them later.

Even though I was too late to catch the color that had been in the sky earlier, I still wanted to return to the same spot to explore other compositions for future reference. That didn’t happen, as the river was several feet higher than the previous week, and I would have needed to wear my waders or hack through brush to get to the same place. It wouldn’t have mattered if I had found the exact location that I had shot the last images from, with the river being so much higher, the scene would have been completely different anyway.

So, I settled for this shot of an ox-eye daisy…

Ox-eye daisy?

…and this photo looking downstream after the sun was above the horizon.

Morning on the Muskegon River

I mentioned in my last post that this spot on the river is between two dams used to generate electricity, so the water level of the river fluctuates depending on the demands for electricity, and the amount of water being released by the dams.

After I shot the two photos above, I stopped at the dam farthest upstream, as there’s a very small park there, and that led to my surprise of the day, which I’ll get to in a second or two. First, here’s a photo of a sign at the little park by the dam that has a map of the area on it to help give you a better idea of what this area is like.

Dam sign

The access site from where I shot the landscape photos in this post and my last post is a few miles downstream of the place on the map labeled “You are here”. I was checking out the park, and spotted these flowers there…

Unidentified white flowers

…when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a large bird carrying a stick fly behind some trees. I had just read the sign and had noticed that there was an osprey nest platform in the area, little did I know that it was right there in the park.

Osprey at its nest

I returned to my car to install the 1.4 X tele-converter to get better photos of the osprey.

Osprey at its nest

But, I was on the ground looking up at the nest, not the best angle for photography.

I’m not sure if the osprey on the nest was the bird that I had seen carrying a stick to the nest, or if it was that bird’s mate which was perched in a nearby tree screeching away at something.

Osprey

I thought about setting up my tripod with the gimbal head on it to shoot more photos of the osprey…

Osprey

…but due to the layout of the park and where the nest was located, I think that late afternoon would be the best time to photograph them.

Osprey

And as it was, I shot almost 100 images of them as I dealt with the shadows caused by the light coming from the wrong direction.

Osprey

Since they have nested there, I can return at my leisure to shoot more images of them whenever I have the time to do so.

Osprey

To tell you the truth, it felt to me as I was cheating by hanging out there by the osprey nest, but they didn’t seem to be a bit bothered by my presence at all. They’re probably quite used to people being there in the park. Even shooting with the light the way it was at the time, I got what are easily my best images to date of the osprey, and I didn’t have to work to get them.

On the other hand, my instincts for finding places to photograph birds are still as good as ever, as the area around the Muskegon River has the habitat required for many species of birds. In fact, an extremely rare to Michigan sighting of a Mississippi kite happened last week just a few miles downstream from this area that I’m beginning to explore.

Speaking of exploring, as much as I wanted to shoot more photos of the osprey, I had other places I wanted to check on to see if they would be suitable as a place to go where I could set-up my portable hide and spend a day shooting wildlife.

My first stop turned out to be a bust, it looked like public land on the maps, but it turned out that it was private and well-marked as such. My second stop was one of the nature preserves that I hadn’t been able to locate on my last outing to the area, the Coolbough Natural Area.

Sign for the Coolbough Natural Area

I walked the loop around the wetlands area that you can see on the map above, because I thought that it would be the most likely area to find a place to set-up the portable hide.

As a place to go for a pleasant walk in the woods, I couldn’t think of a much better place to go than this is. I saw only one other person during my walk around the most well used trails from what I could tell from how worn the trails were. Or I should say, from how little wear there was to most of the side trails, as the wetlands loop was easily the most used trail in this natural area. It was quiet, except for occasional singing birds, and there are many types of habitat in this natural area to see as you walk through it.

But, I didn’t find a spot that would make it worthwhile to sit in a hide, as there’s nothing there to concentrate the wildlife in any one small area. Not even the ponds, which I thought would be the most likely spot to set-up the hide.

The wetland area of the Coolbough Natural Area

I sat where I shot that photo from for some time to see if anything would show up there at the pond, but other than a good number of red-winged blackbirds, I saw only a few other species of songbirds, and no waterfowl or wading birds at all. I was a little surprised that there weren’t even any mallards or Canada geese there, although I’m sure that the pond does have a few visitors from time to time.

Given the weather that day, it would have been a good day to have taken my macro photography gear and spent my time looking for and photographing wildflowers, but I didn’t know what I would find since it was my first time there.

Lady’s slipper

That was shot with the 16-35 mm lens, but I should have brought my macro lens. The 16-35 mm lens worked fine for that image, but other things that I saw really needed the macro lens.

Slime mold?

I made do with the 100-400 mm lens along with the 16-35 mm lens while I walked the trail.

Unidentified fluttering object

 

Wild geranium?

 

Eastern box turtle

Finally, my one photo of a bird from during my walk.

Eastern wood pewee

If I were a birder that was only interested in counting the number of species of birds that I saw through my binoculars, the Coolbough Natural Area would be a great place to go, but as a photographer, it was tough to get close to any of the birds that I saw and heard during my walk there. The birds are free to spread out and so they do, and there’s no single place where one is likely to get close to the birds there.

I suppose that I could change the way I go about getting photos of birds, I did see a bluebird gathering food for its young, and I saw where the bluebird carried the food it had collected back to its nest. I could set-up the hide near the bluebird’s nest and photograph it as it came and went, but that idea doesn’t appeal to me. I’d rather not sit in a hide all day for a few images of one species of bird, even if the images turned out to be excellent. I’ll have more thoughts on this subject later.

My next stop was the Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary…

Sign for the Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary

…where I shot two poor landscape photos…

The Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary

…to show that it was mostly open meadow…

The Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary

…which is rare in Michigan.

Maybe I’m missing something, the powers that be claim that this open oak/pine savanna was common in this part of Michigan before the Europeans arrived here. But, they have to do prescribed burns every few years to maintain these open areas, or the forest would take over. You can see by these photos that there are a good number of trees that have sprouted since the last time this area was burned, and it won’t be long before they have to do another controlled burn there to keep the area as it is. That’s all I’m going to say on the subject, or I’ll get in trouble if I state my opinion on the subject.

As an area for birding, this was a complete bust, I should have taken my macro lens and shot the tiny meadow wildflowers there.

My next stop was similar…

Sign for the Karner Blue Nature Sanctuary

…in that it was mostly open meadows with only small wooded areas. However, as a place for birding, it would be a better choice than the Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary as there are more wooded areas and it is a much larger preserve as well.

Neither of the sanctuaries controlled by the Michigan Nature Association have parking areas or trails of any type, you have to pull off the side of the road to park, and you’re free to roam around both of the sanctuaries. I doubt if any one other than dyed in the wool wildflower lovers ever visit either of these sanctuaries. That’s not all bad, and for my purposes, either of them would be perfect, if there was any wildlife to photograph there. You know, that sounds misleading, as there’s plenty of insects to go with the wildflowers that I could have photographed, but I was looking for places to go to photograph birds and other types of wildlife.

Whitetail deer fawn

The fawn was shot at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, which was my final stop for the day. Since I saw that the male ducks were just beginning to molt into their eclipse plumage, I was hoping to get a few good images of the ducks in flight that showed all the colors of the breeding plumage.

Male mallard in flight

The light made for pleasing images…

Male blue-winged teal in flight

…but I couldn’t catch a duck where the colors on its wings really popped…

Male northern shoveler yoga

…with the exception of this male northern shoveler…

Male northern shoveler in flight

…and even then, I’m not happy with that image.

I still find it hard to believe that 1/2000 second isn’t a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the motion of a duck’s wings, unless they are so far from me that I have to crop the images considerably to make the bird appear as large in the frame as I’d like. Those were cropped a little, but not much, because the ducks had been resting on shore, and I was able to get close to them before they took flight. The motion blur at that fast of a shutter speed does tell you how fast the ducks flap their wings at take off though.

Okay then, of course I’ll return to the small park near the dam where the osprey nest…

Osprey

…is located to shoot better images of the adults, along with the young osprey as the grow.

I think that I’ll return to the Coolbough Natural Area from time to time when there’s good light and light winds so that I can shoot images of the wildflowers there, with maybe an occasional bird if I’m lucky.

However, I didn’t find a spot at any of the three nature preserves that would make it worthwhile to take the portable hide, set it up, and spend hours in it, as the wildlife is abundant at all three preserves, but it’s also spread out too much to make using the hide a viable plan of action for getting good images of the wildlife.

I was afraid of that. As I have speculated in the past, the small preserves on the edges of human development force the wildlife to concentrate in those small preserves, making them much better choices for photography. For example, on the day after the one that produced the images that you’ve seen so far, I spent a few hours at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve again, and there was never a time when there weren’t several birds in sight at all times.

Cedar waxwing

This waxwing was eating the few ripe berries on the bush it was perched in.

Cedar waxwing

There was never a time at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve when I couldn’t see close to 20 species of birds if I looked around. Of course, most of the birds were out of camera range, but you never know when one will fly past.

Great blue heron in flight

That’s not even my best flying bird of the day, but it goes well with the cedar waxwing images above it. There’s an advantage to having shot plenty of good images of a species, I don’t feel the need to shoot a perfect image every time that I get a chance to photograph that species again. So, I can get more creative and artistic as with the waxwing. I didn’t zoom in all the way for the first image of it, and I also stopped down the lens for more depth of field to achieve a photo that looks similar to an Audubon watercolor in my opinion, I love that image even if I was able to zoom in more for the second image of the waxwing. I also like the look of the heron image, it looks like a painting rather than a photograph.

I’m beginning to think that the place that I go doesn’t matter as much as my approach to photographing wildlife. As I said, I could take the portable hide to where the bluebird nest is and finally get good images of a bluebird, but I’ve never done anything like that before. Sure, when an opportunity too good to pass up, like the osprey nest in the small park, comes along, I take advantage of it. But, I’ve never purposely tracked down a bird’s nest just to shoot images of the birds that built the nest.

It would be easy enough for me to do this time of year…

Female red-winged blackbird gathering damselflies to feed to her young

…all I have to do is watch where an adult took the food that it was gathering for its young, and keep watching until I spotted the nest. Then, I could set-up the portable hide and wait for the adults to return time and time again as they feed their young.

Or, I could do something that I noticed that some one else has done, put up a bird feeder out in the woods somewhere and wait for the birds to come to the feeder.

That still seems like cheating to me, it isn’t as if I have a feeder outside my house where I’d be sitting and watching the birds as we used to do at my parents home. And, I’ve always taken pride in the fact that 99.9% of the wildlife that I’ve shot photos of were completely wild birds shot in natural settings. The photo of the red-winged blackbird may not be the perfect image of that species…

Female red-winged blackbird gathering damselflies to feed to her young

…but there’s something to be said for less than perfect images that are good, and show the behavior of the subject, as with these last two photos. It looks to me as the blackbird was plucking newly “hatched” damselflies from the water as the damselflies emerged from the water to dry their wings after they had transformed from nymphs to their adult stage. So, in one photo, you can tell several things at one time. The damselflies have no color yet, which is what leads me to believe that they had just emerged from the nymphal stage of their life cycle. They are easy pickings for the blackbird until their wings dry and they are ready to take flight for the first time. Because the damselflies are easy pickings, I’m sure that young red-winged blackbirds are fed a steady diet of damselflies.

Anyway, I find an osprey nest, and it’s located in a tiny park between a busy road and a working hydro-electric dam in an area that’s quite noisy, and not a good place to shoot videos. I have no need for the portable hide there, as the osprey don’t seem to mind humans being close to them.

I find a natural area that’s very quiet and would be a great location to shoot videos at, but I couldn’t find a spot within the natural area that would make it worthwhile for me to set-up the hide and spend time sitting in it.

Isn’t that the way it goes, I really was afraid of that.

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


After Alberto

Well, I don’t know what type of storm Alberto was, some people referred to it as a tropical storm, others as a sub-tropical storm, but no matter what, the remnants of it came into west Michigan, passing right over my hometown of Grand Rapids. The storm pumped very warm temperatures into the area as it approached, we set several records for high temperatures this past week, and came close to setting an all-time high temperature for the month of May. Now that Alberto has come and gone, we’re beginning to cool off and return to more normal temperatures as the month of June arrives.

As for the storm itself, it was a rather ho-hum affair with a few hours of rain and a few minor wind gusts.

It’s hard to believe that it’s June already, it was just a month ago that we had our last significant snowstorm of the season. Everything in nature seems to be in a hurry to make up for lost time, and I’ve missed a lot of the parts of spring that I enjoy the most. The early spring flowers have come and gone, and the early summer flowers are blooming already.

Iris

And, I’m seeing signs that the ducks are beginning to molt out of their breeding plumage already.

Male mallard beginning to molt

Luckily, I caught this handsome chap…

Male mallard

…as I was set-up for him to take off, but he refused to move until I set the bird in flight set-up down, and picked up the set-up for a better portrait of him. That’s when he chose to fly away.

I also caught a male ruddy duck looking his best, even if he refused to pose for me.

Male ruddy duck

Okay, that brings me to something that I probably shouldn’t write about, but I will anyway. This won’t be about photo gear, but about how I go about getting the photos that I do, and why.

That bad day of shooting warblers that I had a few weeks ago may have been one of the best things that’s happened to me lately. Since then, I have redoubled my efforts to get better images of all types. I think that most people would be happy with this photo, other than some default adjustments that I have Lightroom do to every image that I import into it to make the images look like what I saw through the viewfinder when I shot them, nothing was done to this image.

Cedar waxwing

I didn’t crop that, nor did I adjust the exposure, but that’s not good enough for me any longer. I moved closer to the waxwing, and by a stroke of luck, he moved a few branches lower for this photo.

Cedar waxwing

That wasn’t cropped either, but I could see that the waxwing was eating something it was finding on the branches of the tree, and I was curious to see what it was eating. So, between my trying to get better images all the time and my curiosity to learn what the waxwing was eating, I shot close to 100 photos to get this image showing it plucking an aphid off from the tree, and, these next two images have been cropped slightly to show that.

Cedar waxwing eating an aphid

I didn’t know before this series of images that waxwings ate aphids, but because of my photos, I learned something this day.

Cedar waxwing

Of course I went for a regular portrait image as well.

Cedar waxwing

That’s not my best portrait of a cedar waxwing, but I’ll take it for now until the next opportunity comes along.

Anyway, it was my curiosity of wildlife behavior which at first fueled my desire to get better images. I wanted to see what birds were eating and how they ate for example. Somewhere along the line, that morphed into trying for the best image possible, which isn’t all bad. I think that I’m almost to the point where I can do both parts of the equation well, capture the behavior of wildlife and produce good images at the same time.

After all, I was standing there watching one of the most beautiful species of bird native to Michigan, I was able to observe its behavior and feeding habits up close through the viewfinder of my camera, and capture what I was seeing to share with others who may also be interested in such things, there’s nothing to top that as far as my way of thinking goes.

I do need to work on my landscape images more though, and while I’m driving for work each evening, I pass a spot that I thought would be a good place to shoot a sunset or sunrise, depending on the time of day it was when I was there. Since the spring migration of birds is all but over with, I thought that last Friday after Alberto had passed through the area would be a good day to shoot a few landscapes, given the weather report.

The place that I had in mind is about 50 miles (80 Km) northwest of the city of Muskegon, which is the center of the hub of places that I’ve been going to most of the time lately. It’s also about the same distance from my home. It’s a spot on the Muskegon River between two dams used to generate electricity, not that it matters, the attraction to me is the river valley and how it looks to me as I pass this spot each evening for work.

Arriving at sunrise, I started by shooting an image facing downstream, which is to the west, as the sky towards the sunrise wasn’t that interesting yet.

Muskegon River sunrise

That’s not anything special, but I like it because it says northern Michigan at sunrise to me. It was quiet except for the birds singing in the trees along the river, no wind, and a little mist rising off from the water. A very pleasant morning on a great day to be alive. This photo also shows me that this would be a good place to shoot a sunset from.

I decided that it was time to walk around a bend in the river and shoot towards the rising sun in the east. Along the way, I noticed these flowers…

Daisy?

…and with no wind, my tripod in hand, and my camera with the 16-35 mm lens on it, I decided to give the flowers a go and see what I could do. I guess that I would call that a test shot, but I like it enough to include here.

After getting around the bend in the river, I checked out a number of possibilities and settled on this one.

Muskegon River sunrise 2

I’m not that happy with the vegetation in the right side of the frame, but other than that, I love this image. In retrospect, I probably should have backed up a few feet to get all of the still water reflecting the clouds at the bottom of the frame in the frame, and possibly some of the rocks that formed that pool of still water also. Of course, some color to the sky would have been nice as well, but that’s beyond my control. Overall though, I’m quite pleased with the composition and I think that I did about the best that I could at the time.

I do need to shoot more landscapes, so that I’m more comfortable doing so, and also so that I can get set-up more quickly to take advantage of ever-changing light. There’s so much more to good landscape photography than there is to wildlife photography that I need to keep in mind as I’m setting up. Not only are all the camera settings different, but it requires a different mindset as well.

You’d think that because landscape photography tends to be slow and methodical compared to capturing the action of wildlife photography that it would be easier. It may be to some people, but not to me. I could go into more detail, but I won’t, I’ll sum this up by saying that I do see my landscape photography skills improving, and that I’ll continue to improve as I shoot more landscapes.

I have to say that I’ve come to the point where the slow, methodical actions required for landscape photography no longer bother me the way that they used to, I quite enjoyed wandering around with the camera handheld, looking for the best composition through the viewfinder. Then, setting up the tripod, double checking where I positioned it, leveling the camera on the tripod, and all the other things that are required for that type of photography. I could have gone back and shot the daisy flowers later when the exposure required was less than the nearly 2 seconds that it was when I shot the flowers using the tripod at sunrise, but it’s no longer a hassle to me to use the tripod.

Oh by the way, I should add that both of the landscape images here are HDR images where I shoot three exposure bracketed images and blend them together in software to overcome the limits of the dynamic range of my camera’s sensor. I do try to keep my images as realistic as possible though, getting the final image as close to what I saw through the viewfinder as I can. My goal is that no one would be able to tell that they are HDR images if I didn’t tell them.

On my way out of the parking lot, I stopped to shoot these flowers.

Unidentified flowers

There were hundreds of these trees loaded with the flowers, and I looked for a place where I could shoot a photo to show that, but I never did find a place that would have resulted in a good image of the masses of flowers in bloom.

My plan had been to go from the place where I shot the landscapes to three nature preserves nearby, but like the complete idiot that I am, I forgot to bring the directions to the preserves with me. I drove around looking for the preserves, but never found them. Retracing my route on Google maps, I was close to them, but I never saw a single sign of any of them. I think that it’s time for me to become more methodical about many things, like keeping a notebook with my camera gear all the time to keep things such as directions and notes on places that I go to, or would like to go to. Keeping that information on my computer is all well and good until I need the information while I’m away from home. Maybe I should begin using my Macbook for that purpose, other than as a backup for my iMac or while I’m on vacation. Silly me, I have the way to solve a problem at hand but don’t use it.

So, I’ve fired up the Macbook that I have, and put the directions to some of the many nature preserves that I’d like to check out this summer in the computer. I have them somewhat organized, and even went to so far as to set-up a folder that I can put notes about places and the times that I’ve been to them.

I will be going back to the same area again, as I would like to refine the landscape photos that I shot from along the river, and because I saw and heard many birds back in the woods as I was looking for the nature preserves.

Anyway, since I couldn’t find the nature preserves that I wanted to check out, I went all the way to the Muskegon area¬†while on the look out for other places that may yield good landscape photos or were possible places to look for wildlife. I did see a couple of scenes that I would have liked to have photographed, but there was always traffic behind me when that happened, and I didn’t want to pull off to the side then.

That means that I spent most of my two days off from work at the same old places again, but in some ways, what difference does it make, other than I’d like to find a quieter area where I could shoot more videos, especially of birds as they sing.

Brown thrasher singing

If only he would have turned to face me, darn.

Brown thrasher singing

I had originally stopped because I saw two kestrels in the tree that the thrasher is perched in, and quite low to the ground. Of course they flew up to branches much higher in the tree before I could get a photo of them, and the only reason I’m including this photo here is because one of the kestrels had a small rodent that I can’t identify in its talons.

American kestrel with its lunch

It was while I was watching the kestrels to see what they were doing that the thrasher landed as close to me as it did, when they are normally just as shy as the kestrels are. I was lucky to get the images of the thrasher, but the kestrels remained true to form and left the area soon after I shot the photo above.

I do need to work on my photos of flower along with landscape photos, I’m happy with the iris themselves in these two photos…

Iris

…but I’m not at all happy with the background…

Iris

…as the washed out green of the grass in the background distracts from the beauty of the flowers. If it wasn’t for the background, I’d say that those are my two best images of an iris ever, as I nailed the focus point for a sharp image that shows the translucent beauty of the petals of the flowers.

It wasn’t the background that was the main problem when I shot a few columbine flowers…

Columbine flower

…it was getting the entire flower in focus in low light…

Columbine flower

…without all the noise in that last photo. I did use my LED light to try to light the flower, but it wasn’t enough.

Also, I used the 60D body and my macro lens for both the iris and columbine, the swiveling screen of the 60D came in especially handy when shooting up at the columbine. I didn’t have to lay on my back in the mud to shoot that last photo. I swiveled the screen to where I could use live view to see what the camera was seeing as I knelt down next to the flower with the camera pointed up at the flower.

I did try the on-camera flash to get more light, that didn’t work at all. I also thought about using my flash unit off camera, but I couldn’t think of a way to make it fire the way the flower and camera were positioned for that photo. I really need several more hands or an assistant for that type of photo.

The wild lupine is in bloom, and I thought that I had great lighting for this photo.

Wild lupine

However, I was a little disappointed in that image. The next day, I tried again on another lupine that I saw…

Wild lupine

…these flowers had better colors, but the light wasn’t as good, neither is the background. Also, I should stop comparing wild flowers to specimens grown in a garden, but that’s another story for another day.

I have a few more images from that day to share.

Unknown flowering object with bee

I didn’t have time to retrieve and put an extension tube behind the macro lens so that I could get closer to the bee, this is the best that I could do.

Unknown flowering object with bee

 

Eastern kingbird

 

Skipper butterfly

I’m not 100% sure that this is an Acadian flycatcher, so I’m not counting it as a new species to be added to my life list. Flycatchers are notoriously hard to ID, and this one never made a sound that would help me to identify it. The buffy eye-ring suggests an Acadian flycatcher, but better images would have helped to confirm or exclude my identification of this bird.

Acadian flycatcher?

 

Horned lark

Well, the weather forecast for my next two days off from work is looking iffy at this time. I’m afraid that I’ll have to make last-minute decisions as to where to go to avoid possible rain and thunder showers that are in the forecast. I would like to check out the three nature preserves that I didn’t find on my last weekend if the weather cooperates. However there’s something that I need to keep in mind, the possibilities for photography are endless, and I should quit trying to stick with a plan even when the weather doesn’t cooperate, and go with the flow instead.

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


Help, I’ve fallen in love!

Warning, there’s a lot of technical details about photography in this post, those of you who are bored with my prattling on about those details may skip reading what I’ve typed, and only look at the photos.

Barn swallow chattering away

I’m sure that by now, most of you have seen the image of the bald eagle and fox fighting over a rabbit that the fox had killed and was carrying when the eagle decided to steal the rabbit from the fox, that image is all over the internet right now. If you haven’t seen the image, a bald eagle swooped down on a fox carrying a rabbit to steal the rabbit from the fox, but the fox refused to let go. The eagle was strong enough to carry both the rabbit and fox until the fox decided that discretion was the better part of valor and let go of the rabbit, dropping unharmed to the ground as the eagle made off with the rabbit.

Along with that image, which I can only wish that I had taken, a couple of people commented on the photography aspect of what I wrote in one of my recent posts, and one person, Cornell Apostol, even wrote a post in his own blog as a result of things that I said.

So, I feel the urge to let my mind wander around in my thoughts on photography and photo gear yet again.

Yes, the equipment used by photographers is the means to the end, not the end itself, I understand that. However, it does require good camera gear to capture an image such as the eagle and fox as well as the photographer, Kevin Ebi, was able to shoot when he saw what was happening.

Although, no one who views that image is going to notice at first how sharp it is, or how well exposed it is, that image wouldn’t have the impact that it does if the image hadn’t been good to begin with.

Also, I complained about the noise in my images taken on a recent dark, dreary day, but then I remembered what I would have gotten as far as images if I were still using the Canon 60D body and Sigma 150-500 mm lens. The old combination wouldn’t have gotten the photos of the bay-breasted warbler, they were shot with the 7D Mk II and ISO settings higher than the 60D was capable of to begin with. Add to that the fact that the Sigma is almost a full stop slower than the Canon 100-400 mm lens that I used for the warbler, and I would have been almost two full stops “short” of enough light to get any image at all from the equipment that I used to use. So, while my photos weren’t great, they were far better than nothing, which is what my old camera and lens would have gotten.

While equipment may not be everything, it’s still important to have equipment that will be able to get an image when the opportunity is presented. If I ever have the chance to shoot something as dramatic as the eagle trying to steal the fox’s rabbit, I want to be able to get the shot. If I see a rare bird, I want to be able to document it.

However, there’s more to consider when it comes to camera gear than getting a shot in the first place, or even image quality, cost is one thing, weight¬†is another. I may be in fairly good shape for some one who is 63 years old, but I don’t want to strap a 20 pound backpack on myself and attempt to hike 10 miles a day any longer.

So, when Canon announced the recent sale price and free battery grip for the 5D Mk IV, with or without a lens, with two lenses to choose from. That set me to thinking of which of the two lenses offered would be the best for my use once again. The two “kit” lenses are the 24-105 mm f/4 IS L series, and the 24-70 mm f/4 L series. I thought that I had settled on the 24-105 mm lens, but that decision has always bothered me, as that lens is far from Canon’s sharpest.

That focal range on a full frame camera is a very versatile lens, and would be the only lens that I’d need to carry with me for the occasional landscape or other subjects, other than wildlife, while I was hiking. I thought that I could get by using an extension tube or two behind that lens for macro photography, rather than carrying the 100 mm macro lens that I have.

Still, how soft that lens is bothered me.

I had considered the 24-70 mm lens in the past, but had been swayed by thinking that the 24-105 mm lens would be a better fit for me. After all, many of the professional photographers whose channels I have subscribed to on Youtube and who shoot Canon gear own and use the 24-105 mm lens. Then it dawned on me, most of the videos that those professionals posted were about learning to use Lightroom, and I was never that impressed by the photos that they shot. The one exception to that was Michael Melford, a Nat Geo photographer, who has switched to Nikon gear for better image quality. But, I thought that if the 24-105 mm lens had been good enough for Nat Geo in the past, then it would be good enough for my use. On the other hand, why should I settle for second best? Also, even a two page spread in Nat Geo isn’t the same as when you print out an image to 13 X 19 or 16 X 20 as I do with many of my best images. The small format of a magazine is better suited to the use of a lens that isn’t the sharpest available.

Another factor that has caused me to rethink things yet again are the recent trips that I made where I dedicated myself to shooting only certain subjects, and not trying to photograph everything that I saw that interested me. I learned that I can easily carry all the camera gear that I would need for landscapes, as an example, if I did limit myself to carrying only the gear needed for landscapes.

That takes me back to some of the recent photos that I’ve shot, and seeing how sharp that they were from edge to edge. Here’s an example from the 16-35 mm¬†lens…

Sunrise over a marsh

…and you can see how sharp the lens is by looking at the dead reeds in the lower right hand corner of that image.

Then, there’s this image shot with the 70-200 mm lens…

Double exposure of the full moon and the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan

…and you can see how sharp that lens is in the lower left corner of the image by looking at the trees and power poles in the lighted position of that image.

Well, maybe you can’t really see how sharp they are in this small format, but when I view those images on my 27″ iMac, I can see just how sharp those lenses are in the corners, and I’m loving what I see. Here’s two more recent images shot with the 16-35 mm lens…

My ode to the beauty of the green of spring

 

Early summer marsh

I absolutely love the 16-35 mm lens, and I’m having loads of fun learning how to use it! Part of me wants to put that lens on a camera body and take it with me everywhere I go, shooting everything I see that comes close to being a landscape. I know that the last image is nothing special, other than it captured the scene as I saw it, which has been a problem at times with the other lenses I’ve used.

Okay, changing gears a bit, fortunately, there’s an independent ¬†lab that has a website,¬†https://www.dxomark.com¬†which tests camera sensors and lenses. That’s where I learned just how superior the sensor of the 5D Mk IV was to the sensor of the 7D Mk II cameras that I current use are, in real numbers. Most reviews of camera gear are done by talking heads affiliated with one camera company, or are only talking heads, and in most of their reviews, image quality is all but ignored. That’s something that I’ve complained about in the past when I was researching gear to purchase.

Instead of a talking head telling me that I’d see “improved low-light capabilities”, the tests done at¬†https://www.dxomark.com tell me that I’ll see almost 3 full stops of improvement in low-light as far as noise in my images, and two full stops more of dynamic range when I upgrade to a 5D Mk IV. Real numbers based on lab tests, not some one trying to sell me the latest and greatest because they’re getting paid by the company that just released the latest and greatest.

Seeing real numbers is what convinced me to not to purchase the new 6D Mk II, since the dynamic range of that camera is no better than the 7D Mk II, even though I’d see some low-light improvement, and could afford the 6D right now. It makes no sense to make what amounts to a lateral move in my opinion. I’d have to give up auto-focusing capabilities and high frame rates for improved low-light images.

It’s the same with lens testing, real numbers, not some one’s impressions of how good a lens is. When it comes to zoom lenses,¬†https://www.dxomark.com tests the lenses at various focal lengths and aperture settings so that you get a clearer image of how well the lens may perform, the way that you use it on the camera that you use.

When I first began looking at the lens testing done by¬†https://www.dxomark.com, one thing stood out right away. That’s because they also test the lenses on several different camera bodies.

Some of Canon’s high-end lenses do not perform very well on their consumer grade bodies, but are great on their pro grade bodies. Hmmm, that may explain why I was never that impressed with the 70-200 mm f/4 L series lens on the 60D body I was using it on. On the other hand, mounted to the 7D Mk II, I think that the same lens is one of the best that I own. Too bad that the lens in question is so old that¬†https://www.dxomark.com has never tested it, I’d like to see the comparisons between camera bodies with that lens. I think that what I see in other lenses as far as the differences in the bodies playing a part in the performance of the lens applies to what I’ve seen in my own trials and tribulations.

To go with that, some of the Canon EF S lenses built for crop sensor cameras perform better on their consumer grade bodies better than the higher priced L series lenses intended for professional use. I don’t know if that holds true for other companies that make cameras and lenses or not, I have a hunch that it does. Canon seems to tweak their lenses towards the bodies they will most likely be used on, and vice versa.

So, anyway, getting back to the 24-70 mm and 24-105 mm lenses, and for that matter, other alternatives that I looked into, this is what I’ve discovered. For the subjects that I shoot, the 24-70 mm lens is a better choice than most of the alternatives. While other lenses may be sharper with the aperture wide open, the 24-70 mm lens is sharpest stopped down to apertures more suited for landscapes and other subjects that I’ll be using it for. That lens is sharp edge to edge at the aperture settings I’ll most likely be using, and that’s what matters. It’s not how sharp a lens is at the center when the aperture is wide open, unless that’s the type of photography you do, and I don’t.

I’d say that this is the clincher, but it isn’t, the 24-70 mm lens also has a macro function. It isn’t a true 1 to 1 macro lens, but you can get to .7 life-size by using the macro function. So, if I’m on a hike and carrying the 7D with the 100-400 mm lens for birds, wildlife, and larger insects that don’t allow me to approach them very close, I can get by with the 24-70 mm lens on the 5D Mk IV for landscapes and near macro photography. I could also put the lens on the 7D to get a little closer to the subject if needed, due to the crop sensor of the 7D. I can use an extension tube to get to life-size if needed, also.

Okay, the real clincher was playing with the 24-70 mm lens at the local camera store. Yes, image quality is the most important aspect of a lens, but being user-friendly is also important. Plus, I thought that the macro function was somewhat of a gimmick, but in trying it out in the store, I found that it is a viable alternative to the 100 mm macro lens that I already have. I tried the 24-105 mm lens before, and it’s okay, but I fell in love with the 24-70 mm lens as soon as I touched it, or I should say, as soon as I looked through the viewfinder of the camera, and began making adjustments to both the lens and camera.

An added bonus is that the 24-70 mm lens is half a pound lighter than the 24-105 mm lens. That just happens to be one-third of the weight of the 70-200 mm lens. That means when I go out to shoot mainly landscapes, I can easily carry the three lenses that I’ll most likely need, and they won’t break my back carrying them.

More added bonuses, the 24-70 mm lens is $200 cheaper than the 24-105 mm lens, and it has the same hybrid Image Stabilization as the 100 mm macro lens that I have. For landscapes, the IS is no big deal, since I use a tripod most of the time, and turn the IS off. However, when shooting macros handheld, the hybrid IS that Canon developed for macro photography is amazing, and it works when using an extension tube behind the lens.

What this all boils down to is this, there’s no lens on the market that’s extremely sharp, at the center or edge to edge, at all apertures and all focal lengths, if it’s a zoom lens. And as I learned in looking at the camera and lens tested together, what model camera that one has plays a part in how sharp a lens appears to be, when you wouldn’t think that it made a difference. There’s so many things that one has to take into account when trying to decide on camera gear that it can be overwhelming at times.

While using the 24-70 mm lens in the store, it was hard for me not to purchase it right then and there, as my saving towards the 5D Mk IV is well along the way and I can easily afford the lens now. However, that would delay my purchase of the camera even longer, and the lens wouldn’t be that useful to me until I purchase the camera. On the other hand, the 16-35 mm lens on my crop sensor 7D is about the same effective focal length range as the 24-70 mm lens will be on a full frame 5D Mk IV when I purchase it, so in a way, I’ve been playing with a set-up that’s very close to what I’ll end up with down the road. Knowing what the future will look like is fueling my desire to complete my photo kit as quickly as I can.

What would improve the quality of the images that I shoot right now is the camera, not the lens. I really could have used the 5D Mk IV to its full advantage during my recent outing when photographing the warblers on a misty, foggy, dreary day when I had to push the 7D to its limits to get any photo at all because of the lack of light.

And, I’m very much looking forward to using the 16-35 mm lens on the full frame 5D body to see just how wide that lens is compared to what I see when using it on the crop sensor 7D.

Although, as much as I love the 16-35 mm lens, the more I’d like to own its big brother, the 24-70 mm lens, right now, so that I can begin the learning curve with that lens, and to see if it will prove to be as versatile as I think it will be. That includes testing out the near macro function of that lens. If it’s as sharp, can capture fine details as well as the 16-35 mm lens, and produces such true to life colors as the 16-35 mm lens, along with functioning as a macro lens, don’t be surprised if I end up purchasing that lens if Canon offers rebates on it before I purchase the 5D Mk IV body.

One more thing (At least) for me to get off my chest while I’m on the subject of photo gear. When I was using the Sigma 150-500 mm lens, I had to stop it down to f/8 to get good sharp photos from that lens. But then, the birds that I shot tended to blend into the background to a larger degree than what birds do now in my images…

Grey catbird

…because I can shoot with either the Canon 100-400 mm or 400 mm prime lenses wide open for a shallower depth of field than I could when I used the Sigma lens. The shallower depth of field makes the birds pop out at you more, since the birds don’t blend into the background as much…

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

 

Blue jay

…and both of the Canon lenses are sharp enough wide-open that I don’t have to stop them down to get the subject sharp. That also makes for a more three-dimensional look that what I was able to get with the Sigma lens. Because of that, you can read the body language of the blue jay in the image above.

When I want to include some of the vegetation in a scene that contains a bird, I can do so…

Song sparrow, new leaves, and flower buds

..but that’s now my choice when I look through the viewfinder, not something forced on me by a lens that doesn’t perform as well unless it’s stopped down.

Male northern cardinal

Part of me wants to complete my camera kit as soon as possible so that it’s over and done with, and I won’t be thinking about it any longer. There are other considerations as well. I know that it will take me the better part of a day to go through the menu system of the 5D Mk IV after I receive it to set that camera up to what I shoot and how I shoot it. When I tried the 5D out in the store, it hit home to me just how much I have customized the 7D as far as saved settings and having changed the functions of some of the buttons used to change or access camera settings. I’ve had a 7D for a couple of years now, but I’m still tweaking the settings of it as I go along.

I’m still not to where I’d like to be, as often when I’m shooting a perched bird…

Pileated woodpecker

…I’m using a slower shutter speed to keep the ISO down for image quality, but then…

Pileated woodpecker

…the bird takes flight, and I end up with a blurry photo of it because of the slow shutter speed.

I’ve tried using the register recall function that the 7D has in those situations, however the camera won’t switch between aperture and shutter priority when I’ve tried it. I may have to approach the problem from a different angle to make the camera work as I want it.

Also, some people may call me crazy, but as I’ve speculated in the past, I think that cameras and particularly lenses need to be used for a while before they work as well as they end up working. My images continue to get sharper, and the auto-focusing of my lenses continues to improve as well, even though I can’t say why that is for sure. I think that when a lens is assembled, the moving parts for the zoom and focusing mechanisms are tight, and they loosen up over time as the lens is used. That may also explain the longer battery life that I’ve been seeing with my cameras as well.

I first purchased the battery grips for the 7D because I was coming close to draining a battery in a single day of shooting. And, even using two batteries in the grips, I would recharge the batteries after a single day of shooting because they had lost so much of their charge. Now I find that I can go for two, three, possibly four days of shooting without recharging the batteries, and there has to be a reason for it.

I think that it’s because the focusing mechanisms of the lenses have loosened up a bit, and the motor that dives them doesn’t have to work as hard to make them move. It would seem that since battery life gets shorter over the life of a battery that I’d be seeing the opposite, that the batteries would be draining faster now that they are a couple of years old, and have been recharged so many times.

Those reasons, and many others, are what are pushing me towards purchasing the new equipment that I would like to have as soon as possible. On the other hand, I’d really rather not go deep into debt to make those purchases right now.

I’ve already decided that I probably won’t upgrade the 7D body when Canon introduces the Mk III version of it, unless it does something spectacular like reach out and hold a subject in the perfect position in good light and has so much dynamic range that I don’t blow out the highlights as in this image…

Black-capped chickadee bring home the bacon

…when I can usually get the same subject better if I try hard enough.

Black-capped chickadee bring home the bacon

I have images of the back-end of the chickadee as it delivered the food to its young in the cavity of the tree in that image. I was hoping that the young could reach up to greet mom, but not yet from what I could see.

Except for its low-light performance…

Song sparrow at dawn

…and lack of dynamic range, I can’t see how Canon can improve the 7D to the point where I’d want to upgrade when I have a 5D to go with what I have now.

It’s not that my images are perfect, but many of them taken in good light are better than I hoped to achieve just a few short years ago.

American avocet

 

Female eared grebe

If only the male would have moved in front of his mate as he raised his crest…

Eared grebes

…I would have been an extremely happy camper. But, I was happy to get the shots that I did, the same applies to this great crested flycatcher.

Great crested flycatcher with lunch

 

Great crested flycatcher with lunch

OOo, that tickled as it went down!

Great crested flycatcher after lunch

And, if I could train the birds to perch in more photogenic locations…

Cliff swallow

…I’d be even happier with my images.

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


These are leftovers?

I have more photos leftover from my last two days off from work than will fit in just one more post, so I’ll have to whittle them down some as I go.

Red-eyed vireo

I’m not sure why I chose that photo as the first for this post or why I like it as much as I do. The pose is good, the foreground is clean, but the background is just okay. I wasn’t even very close to the bird, I have some much better close-ups of other species coming up in this post, but I really like that image.

I was much closer to one of the red-eyed vireo’s cousins, a warbling vireo…

Warbling vireo

…close enough so that you can see the warbler’s intended meal escaping by flying behind the warbler.

Warbling vireo

Warbling vireos may look rather plain, but they are cheery little birds that make spring a great time to be outside just to hear them singing, and fortunately, they sing often.

What could be better than hearing them sing overhead as one can smell lilacs and photograph bees covered in pollen…

Unidentified bee covered with pollen

…all at the same time?

I know that I should avoid writing about the camera gear that I have, and that I’d still like to have, and even how I get some of the photos that I do. However, every time that I decide to photograph something, I have to decide which camera/lens combination will produce the image that I have in mind, along with the settings used for both the camera and lens. The bee above is an example of that, I was going for wider shots of the lilac flowers when the bee landed on the flowers I was shooting. The 100 mm macro lens has a switch that limits the focusing range of the lens to speed up its ability to auto-focus, and to make it more accurate as well. Since I had the switch set to shoot wider shots, I couldn’t get as close to the bee as I wanted. By the time I shot a couple of photos, them flipped the range limiting switch, the bee was gone. I’m going to have to live with the fact that things like that are going to happen from time to time, as I did get the image of the lilac flowers that I was after, and it appeared in the last post, even if the shot of the bee in this post isn’t what I would have liked to have gotten.

That’s really true this time of year, there are so many things to photograph in early spring that won’t be seen again until next spring. Even if I were retired and spent every waking moment when there was enough light for photography, I could never shoot every thing that I would like to this time of year. As it was, my days began just before sunrise…

Early morning whitetail deer

…I became more serious as the sun broke over the horizon…

Mute swan at sunrise

…although I never got the image of the swan that I wanted…

Another morning mallard

…and I kept shooting until late afternoon.

Eastern swallowtail butterfly on lilac flowers

 

Eastern swallowtail butterfly on lilac flowers

Can you tell that I spent a lot of time near the lilac flowers?

Lilacs

I like the way that the flowers seem to jump out of the greenery in that photo.

News flash!

I have been out with my camera since I began this post, and while it was a slow day as far as photos overall, I did manage to get a few photos of one of my nemesis species of birds, a yellow-billed cuckoo.

Yellow-billed cuckoo

I’ve seen this species before, but I was never quick enough to get a photo of one in the past, and barely got this photo before the cuckoo went back to hiding in the thicker vegetation. It may not be a very good image, but there’s no mistaking the species of bird, which is my requirement for the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on. Hopefully as has happened in the past, now that I’ve broken the ice by getting one image of a species, better ones will follow soon.

Actually, I’ve had a pretty good spring this year, adding several new species to my list, although to this point, I haven’t seen any of the species that I targeted in an earlier post. That’s okay, as long as I’m still making progress, I’m not that worried about whether or not I get the species that I targeted.

Now then, back to the leftovers from last week.

This green heron was calling…

Green heron calling

…to another green heron on the other side of a marsh…

Green heron calling

…I don’t know if the two were a mated pair or rivals for the territory, but both the herons kept calling back and forth quite often. I did eventually track down the other one, but it was too far away for a photo of it.

Now then, in my last post I showed male, female, and first year male Baltimore orioles, in this post, I have a male American redstart…

Male American redstart

…a female of the same species…

Female American redstart

…and a first year male American redstart…

First year male American redstart

…to show the variations between them. By the way, this is another species of bird that sings often.

Male American redstart singing

Isn’t spring a wonderful time of the year to be alive and outside where you can hear the birds singing and smell the flowers in bloom at the same time?

Apple flowers

 

Unidentified flowers

The past two weeks I’ve gotten close to a muskrat while it was eating, I wanted to shoot a video of this one as it peeled a cattail apart to get to the starchy center of the base of the cattail.

Muskrat eating a cattail

But, that was shot at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve which is always a noisy place because it’s right next to a main highway, and on this day, it was even noisier because several bus loads of school kids were there to learn about nature. The same applies to this photo from the previous week.

Muskrat eating a cattail

I think that since the peak of the spring migration is over, that it’s time for me to begin scouting other places to go. Places that are quieter, so that I can shoot videos without traffic noise, the noise from machinery as at the wastewater facility, or hoards of screaming school kids at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve.

I’m not sure that I’ll find a place as good as the places that I go to regularly now, but I know that I can find places that are quieter, even if the wildlife isn’t as abundant in these other places. As I speculated before, I think that the places that I’ve been drawn to the most the past several years have so much wildlife in so small of an area precisely because they are a tiny oasis¬†almost hidden within human activities and development. I sort of tested that theory this past week, I hiked part of the Snug Harbor trail within Muskegon State Park. There were birds singing scattered about as I walked along, but most were well out of camera range. The few times that I left the trail in an attempt to find the birds, they simply moved to another location and began singing again.

I found most of the birds that I did shoot photos of…

Common yellowthroat singing

 

Chipping sparrow singing

…at the edges between the large stands of woods in the park where they met with the parts of the park geared towards human activities. Of course, edges are always good places to look for wildlife to begin with, even if the edges are between two different types of habitat. Edges between human development and habitat suitable for wildlife seem to be particularly good places to find wildlife. Something that I need to keep in mind when I do begin scouting.

In the meantime, I have a few close-ups of birds that I shot at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve last week that I need to post.

Male northern cardinal

 

Blue jay

 

Male red-winged blackbird

I love it when I get so close to birds that I don’t have to crop the images at all as I did with these last three images. But, that comes from knowing every nook and cranny of the MLNP and where I’ll be able to sneak up on a bird, or sit and let it come to me. Having visited the MLNP as often as I have, I do know it like the back of my hand, which makes it easier to get good photos there, and that’s one reason that it will be hard for me to begin going to other places, it will take me a while to learn those other places as well as I know the places that I’ve been going to. Oh well, I guess that will be part of the learning experience. That’s also okay, as I still have quite a few photos left from this spring, so if I do have a bad outing or two as I look for other places to go, I still have photos to post, like this one.

Female red-winged blackbird

I’m only going to have one day off from work this week, I volunteered to work on one of my regular days off to help out my employer, and to earn a little extra money. The weather forecasted called for rain on the day that I’ll be working, so it seemed like a wise choice to work, but the forecast changed, and now it’s for another great day, darn.

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


The deciding factor

I have begun another post, one in which I debate with myself which camera gear I should purchase, and when I should make the purchases. ¬†It was spurred by the recently announced sale price for the Canon 5D Mk IV, and by the poor image quality of my photos of the warblers in my last post. I know that the photos of the warblers from that last post…

Bay-breasted warbler

…would have been even better if I had the 5D Mk IV, but as part of the debate I was having with myself, I pointed out that many of the photos from that morning would have been impossible for me to shoot even a couple of years ago. Yes, there’s too much noise in that image because of the ISO setting I was forced to use, and many of my images that morning weren’t sharp because of the very slow shutter speeds that I was forced to use to go with the high ISO settings. But, as I pointed out to myself, the 60D body and the Sigma 150-500 mm lens that I used to use wouldn’t have gotten any photos at all, so I have achieved one of the goals that I have set for myself, being able to photograph just about anything at any time.

Frankly, the debate that I was having with myself made my head hurt, as Mr. Tootlepedal would say, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever finish or post the other draft that I have begun. I’m sure that the debate that I’m having with myself will continue for as long as I try to improve my images, but I do very well with what I have now even on a very cloudy day…

Spotted sandpiper

…and therefore, I should always keep in mind how far that I’ve come so far before thinking that I just have to make the next leap in image quality right now.

Added to the mix was watching yet another video on landscape photography. I didn’t learn much from that video, but in the very beginning of it, the presenter said that he knew many photographers who had bought expensive cameras and lenses, but never went anywhere but local parks because they couldn’t afford to go anywhere else. “Gee, that sounds like me!” is what I thought when I heard that.

I’m tired of living like a pauper for the time being, I want to get out and enjoy using the camera gear that I have now much more than I’ve been able to the past few years. Noting that I have achieved one of the major goals that I set for myself helps to put everything into perspective for me.

Yes, I still plan on purchasing the 5D Mk IV, when I can truly afford it, and not before. That’s part of my overall plan, and that camera and the right lens for it to complete my selection of wider angle lenses is a big part of the overall plan.

One of the reasons that I haven’t been traveling to shoot landscape photos is that I know that the gear that I have now, while very good, isn’t the best for landscapes. But, just as I think of the photos that I shot in the past with the 60D body and even poorer lenses then as scouting photos of sorts, planning on returning to those locations in the future, maybe the future is now, and it’s time to do more “scouting trips” which may not yield the ultimate in image quality, but would help me to improve my landscape skills for when I do have better equipment.

I think that it’s time that I allowed myself to live a little and to enjoy what I have now.

After all, if I have a good weekend off from work with good light…

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

…I do okay with birds…

Pear flowers

…flowers…

Clear-winged or hummingbird moth in flight

and even insects.

I didn’t shoot any true landscapes this past weekend, as the lure of finding migrating birds that could be added to my life list…

Blue-winged warbler

…even if I had seen the species of bird before but had never gotten any usable photos of a male in breeding plumage…

Male blackpoll warbler

…before this past weekend. So, that’s two more species I can cross of the list of species needed.

By the way, do you know how quick those little birds are? Here’s the same warbler as it approaches warp speed, and on take-off no less. ūüėČ

Male blackpoll warbler approaching warp speed

Anyway, some of what I put into the other post is still applicable because the lens on a camera is still responsible for final image quality most of the time. This image…

My ode to the beauty of the green of spring

…wouldn’t be as good as it is if the lens I had used wasn’t sharp from edge to edge as this image is.

However, equipment isn’t everything, as I should know by now. I began my Saturday, which is really Thursday, at Harbor Island in Grand Haven, Michigan again. I was trying too hard for half the day, both in attempting to find new species of birds, and in trying to shoot really great images. That doesn’t work for me, I should have slowed down much sooner than I did, and let the images that presented themselves come to me.

Pie-billed grebe

I was using the 100-400 mm lens without the 1.4 X tele-converter, to speed up the auto-focusing of the lens and camera while I was photographing the smaller birds that morning…

Black and white warbler

…so, when I found myself as close to the grebe as I was…

Pie-billed grebe

…I was shooting at 400 mm. I couldn’t believe that the grebe stuck around long enough for me to install the extender behind the lens to get to 560 mm of focal length, as in this next photo.

Pie-billed grebe

But, the grebe had moved away from me a little, so the extender didn’t help me that much.

But, that brings up something that I need to remind myself of more often, that I should stop watching those how to become a better photographer videos that are available online. Each person presenting those videos has their own opinion on gear and techniques, and what I hear from one person is often exactly the opposite that I hear from another. An example is exposure, some experts tell you to over-expose your images slightly so that you don’t introduce noise when trying to lighten the shadow areas in an image. The next expert will tell you to under-expose your images slightly so that you don’t blow out the highlights in an image. Tele-converters are another area where there’s no consensus among the experts, some swear by them, other swear at them, saying that image quality with an extender is so poor that you should never use one. It took me a while to learn how to use tele-converters, but I see almost no drop-off in image quality between the first two images of the grebe, and the last one, or this one for that matter.

Pie-billed grebe

I’ve also stopped exposing to the right to prevent noise, or exposing to the left to preserve highlight details, now I’m back to trying to get the exposure as close to correct as I can in the camera, and that seems to work best for me.

Grey catbird

I suppose that it’s all part of the learning process to try what the various experts recommend, and to find out what works the best for yourself, as I’m doing now.

Before I continue with the photos, I should list the places that I went on my two days off. On the first day, I started at Harbor Island in Grand Haven as I mentioned before.

My next stop was East Grand River Park, the spot that I wrote about in my last post because I couldn’t believe the number of birds in that small park. This week, I didn’t see a single warbler or vireo, just a few of the typical summer resident species of birds such as robins, Canada geese, red-winged blackbirds, and so on. What a difference a week made, but that’s the way this spring seems to be going, everything is moving quickly this year.

From there, I went to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, which is where I found the blackpoll warbler and was able to cross that species off from the list of species of birds that I need photos of for the My Photo Life List project I began a few years ago. I also found a few other migrating birds lingering there, as well as the female rose-breasted grosbeak, which landed right next to me as I sat on a bench to take a break.

The next stop was the headquarters area of the Muskegon State Game Area, where I mostly dawdled about enjoying the flowers blooming…

Lilac flowers

…as the birds were all taking their afternoon siesta, and I was filling my lungs with the scent of the flowers there.

I made a quick stop at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, most of the waterfowl have moved on to the north, but I did find a juvenile common loon…

Juvenile common loon

…and wouldn’t you know, I find an adult there on a dark and dreary day as I did a few weeks ago, and the juvenile on a sunny day with great light that would have brought out the colors of the adult had I seen it in good light.

Juvenile common loon

I may as throw this one in also, as I said, it was a quick stop at the wastewater facility, and I shot very few photos.

American coot

On my second day off from work, the list of places I went is much the same. I began at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, moved to the part of the Muskegon State Game Area known as Lane’s Landing where I found the blue-winged warbler, and then wrapped up the day at the headquarters area, where once again, I enjoyed the flowers…

More flowers filling the air with their perfume

 

More flowers filling the air with their perfume

…more than chased birds.

This next part may be boring to some, it isn’t really about photography as it is about me and my efforts to shoot better images all the time.

As I said, I began the first of my two days off feeling under pressure to redeem myself for the poor quality of images in my last post, although they were about as good as I could expect given the poor weather when I shot them. I suppose that it’s because I’ve struggled in the past to shoot good quality images that I do feel the need to make up for the days when the images that I shoot aren’t very good. I knew that I was going to have two full days of good weather this week, and I should have known that the images I’d shoot would reflect that.

Also, I guess that I can’t blame myself for wanting to complete my kit of photography gear as soon as possible, I think that being in a hurry is something hardwired into our brains. Brian Johnson, the ornithologist that bands birds at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, once told me that all birds are in a hurry most of the time. They’re in a hurry to get to their breeding range if they migrate, in a hurry to breed and raise their young, then they hurry back to their winter range.

I don’t think that it was that much different for our distant ancestors, they’d have been in a hurry to consume as much of every type of nut, berry, or grain when it became ripe, before it spoiled or was eaten by other animals, as they could.

And, this spring seems to be going by extremely quickly. During the time when I was driving from one spot to the next I heard the day’s date on the radio, May 17th. I thought back to the date of the last snowstorm that we had around here, and it had been exactly 20 days previous since we had that nasty snow, ice, and sleet storm which made driving for work so difficult for me.

I knew that things were happening in a hurry from the various birding reports I had seen, and from what I have seen with my own eyes. It’s as if this spring had been on hold due to the cold, snowy April, that once the weather began to improve even a little, everything related to spring happened all at once. I noted that I went to a couple of places on both of my days off this week, and I swear, some trees leafed out overnight between my visits.

It’s no wonder that I’ve felt rushed this year, even more than usual because of the weather this spring. Three weeks ago, the ski resorts were still open for business, and now, most of the spring migration of birds is over with. I’ve missed most of the early spring flowers, as they bloomed and died between the days that I had off from work.

I shouldn’t let the type of weather that we had around here and the effect that it has on the photos that I shoot bother me as much as I do though.

I should know by now that if I have good light…

Morning mallard

…that I’ll get good images…

Blue jay

…but, I still want the best equipment now, and I would prefer not to wait for it if it wasn’t the wise choice to do so.

However, I am going to have to wait for the best equipment, at least for some types of photography. But as I’ve said before, equipment isn’t everything, or its it?

I saw some dogwood flowers and found one that I thought would make for a good image, it did…

Dogwood flower

…which I was able to shoot by stretching myself as tall as I could and standing on my tiptoes, not a good way to get a sharp image when handholding a heavy 100-400 mm lens. I thought that I could do better with the 100 mm macro lens, so I returned to my vehicle and grabbed that lens, then tried to recreate the image above. I thought that I’d be able to hold the branch in a position that would let me get an even better image, but that didn’t work at all. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t get the same lighting or background in any of the images that I shot with the macro lens, mostly due to the wider field of view of the 100 mm lens versus the 100-400 mm lens at 400 mm. Maybe if I had worked a bit harder I could have come up with an even better image, but I seldom have any luck when I attempt to alter nature in any way, even by moving a flower a few inches in hopes of getting better lighting.

It works better for me to shoot what I see, when I see it…

Great blue heron in flight

…so, when I saw the heron flying towards me…

Great blue heron in flight

…I set the camera to the saved bird in flight settings…

Great blue heron in flight

…and fired off a few short bursts of photos until the heron was past me. I’m not sure, but I think that the heron had a gullet full of food that it was taking to its young in a nest somewhere nearby, and that’s why it had its tongue out as it flew.

It does take a sharp lens and a camera with a great auto-focusing system to get images such as those, but it also takes luck, being in the right place at the right time. I got the heron flying into the early morning sun, great light to begin with, and the heron’s pupils were dilated because it had been hunting in very low light before it took off. The flight path that the heron took, flying that close to me when conditions were great, was also a matter of luck.

I had two epic fails this past week, I saw a great horned owl in a tree just before it took off flying away from me…

Great horned owl in flight

…but the owl was too quick for me to get a good photo of it. I also spotted a raccoon just as it emerged from the tall grass at the edge of the marsh at Lane’s Landing, not more than 20 feet from me, but it spotted me at the same time I spotted it, and I had to settle for this photo …

Raccoon swimming away

…of the raccoon swimming away from me.

One of the reasons that I’m including such poor photos is that both of the critters in the photos are mostly nocturnal, yet I saw them around noon on a bright, beautiful, late spring day. I assume that both the owl and raccoon had young to feed, and that’s the reason that they were both out hunting during the day.

The last time that I walked the Lost Lake trail at Muskegon State Park I heard two barred owls calling back and forth to each other, also in the middle of the day. That’s one thing that makes spring so special to me, the chance to see wildlife that is nocturnal during the day because they are forced to hunt during the daylight hours to keep their young fully fed and growing. If only I had more time to be outside to increase my chances of seeing and photographing the things that I know are happening at this time of year.

That applies to about everything in the spring, the Baltimore orioles have returned, the males are singing…

Male Baltimore oriole singing

…the females are gathering materials to weave into the nests that they are building…

Female Baltimore oriole grabbing a strip of bark to use in her nest

…and the first year males are trying to behave as if they were fully mature.

First year male Baltimore oriole

I saw where the female flew to with the strip of bark that she had in her beak, and from a distance, I watched as she wove it into her nest. If I had more time and could find a spot to watch her from without disturbing her, I’d love to sit there for a few hours photographing her and shooting videos of her as she worked on the nest together. I’d return on my next day off from work, but I’m sure that she’ll have finished the nest by then, and be incubating the eggs that she’s laid in the completed nest. That would be a good use for the portable hide that I still haven’t tried out yet if time weren’t a limiting factor for me.

I did do one thing right this last weekend. While I was admiring, photographing, and bathing in the scent of the lilacs on the first day, I noticed both a real hummingbird and the hummingbird moth seen earlier in this post sipping nectar from the lilacs. At the time, I had just the 100 mm macro lens with me, which made shooting a photo of the hummingbird impossible, and I had the lens set to limit the range it could focus in down to the low-end of the lens’ range. By the time I slide the switch to try for a photo of the moth, it was gone.

I went back and grabbed the 100-400 mm lens and set the camera and lens for action photos, but neither the hummingbird or moth returned to the lilacs while I stood watching.

So, on my second day, I made a point of being there with the right camera, lens, and camera settings, waiting for the opportunity to shoot photos of them. The hummingbird never returned during the time I was there, but the hummingbird moth did. Even with the wind blowing the flowers around, and the moth staying with the flowers as they swayed in the wind, I fired off burst…

Clear-winged or hummingbird moth in flight

…after burst…

Clear-winged or hummingbird moth in flight

…after burst…

Clear-winged or hummingbird moth in flight

…of the moth as it visited the flowers, even getting this one as pollen dislodged by the moth fell from the lilac flower.

Clear-winged or hummingbird moth in flight

I’m sorry for the jumbled up mess that this post became as I’ve work on it off and on over the course of nearly a week. I couldn’t find a way to pull all my thoughts together in a unified way. There’s too much going on all at the same time in the spring for one person to capture it all in photos if that person also works a full-time job as I do. Also, I know that most of you don’t care what camera, lens, or technique that I’ve used to shoot any of the photos in my posts, but it matters a great deal to me as I try to present the things that I see as well as I can possibly present them, whether it’s a bird, flower, insect, or anything else that I see and would like to photograph.

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


New park, new bird, but terrible weather

I’m starting this post on Monday, May 7th. It’s been almost a full week since I’ve had enough time off from work to go out with my camera, part of that is because of the change in my work schedule. I should mention that it’s going very well so far, one of the many things that I like about this new schedule is that my start times each day are closer to being the same, rather than having me bounce all over the place as my last schedule had me doing. Once I’ve adapted to this new schedule, I would be able to make it out on a day like today, when there’s good light and very little wind, to shoot macro images.

I will have Thursday and Friday off from work this week, however, the weather is looking iffy for both days. That’s subject to change at the current time though.

I may be crazy, since it’s the best time of year to catch migrating birds, but I’m thinking of taking at least a one day road trip to shoot mainly landscapes. This will be my first two-day weekend in almost seven months, since I began working for my present employer. I’d like to celebrate in a way, by doing something that I really haven’t had time for in those months. We’ll see, it will depend on the weather forecast as the time approaches.

Well, the first of my two days in a row off from work has come and is almost gone, but I’m going to begin this post with an image from an earlier outing.

 

Starling

I would write that my day began at dawn at Harbor Island in Grand Haven, Michigan, but there was no dawn. We had storms roll through the area the night before, and we were still socked in under clouds that were too stubborn to leave, along with mist and fog, absolutely horrible conditions for bird photography. Maybe I should have gone on a landscape expedition instead, but then I would have missed seeing and photographing another lifer for me, which I will get to shortly.

The weather forecast was for improving conditions, but they didn’t improve as quickly as the forecast led me to believe that they would. I fooled around at Harbor Island, struggling to get enough light for any photos at all.

Northern flicker

There were birds everywhere, but no light to photograph them in, I even tried using the flash, trying to get the ISO settings low enough to get at least a poor photo…

Warbling vireo

…but even then, I couldn’t get a shutter speed fast enough so that the birds weren’t blurred a bit in most of the photos that I shot.

Warbling vireo

And, the dull overcast sky was a very poor background whenever a bird was perched overhead…

Male brown thrasher singing

…the only reason that I’m posting these photos is that I love listening to the brown thrashers singing…

Male brown thrasher singing

…along with their cousins, the grey catbirds as well.

Grey catbird

Both of those species are related to mockingbirds, and all of them use snippets of other birds’ songs as part of the symphonies that they create as they sing their own songs.

I saw more signs of spring, both young mallards…

Mallard duckling

 

Mallard duckling

…and an occasional flower.

Daffodil

Almost two hours after the supposed sunrise, I was still struggling when photographing most of the few birds that I could even get a photo of.

Male American redstart

Not only did the poor light mean that I had to shoot at ISO settings much higher than I wanted, the light was so poor that my camera and lens had trouble auto-focusing on these small birds.

Blue-headed vireo

This chickadee was kind enough to pose long enough for me to dial in the flash settings for a fair shot of it.

Black-capped chickadee

It was very frustrating to have so many returning birds so close to me, and not be able to get photos of them. It was also quite chilly, so rather than walk the entire Harbor Island area at one time as I normally do, I walked part of it, returned to my vehicle, parked in another part of the park, and then would take another short walk. The time spent moving my vehicle gave me time to warm back up between the very short walks.

It finally warmed up enough so that I didn’t need to return to my vehicle, at least not as often, so I decided to move to another park very close to Harbor Island, the East Grand River Park, which is also in Grand Haven, Michigan.

I’ve seen bird reports from this park before, but when I looked at the park on a map, it looked too small to hold very many birds. Boy, was I wrong about that! The park is small, less than 5 acres total, and that includes a playground area and a fenced in dog park, along with a boat launch. I’d estimate that the best birding portion of the park is less than two acres in size, but it’s a birding cornucopia! By the way, the Eat Grand River Park is also right next to the Grand Haven Municipal wastewater facility, wouldn’t you know?

I was still struggling against not enough light to work with…

Black and white warbler

…but the variety of species of birds there…

Northern parula, a species of warbler

…including this hard to find northern parula…

Northern parula, a species of warbler

…was something that I had to see with my own eyes to believe.

Northern parole in flight

I missed more species than I was able to capture…

Male scarlet tanager

…but as small as the park is…

Male scarlet tanager

…and as thick as the brush is…

Cape May warbler

…meant that I could get close to the birds, even if I had to shoot at a bad angle.

Cape May warbler

In fact, I zoomed out a little for this image, to show more of the environment that this kinglet was in at the time.

Ruby-crowned kinglet

Also, because the park is so small, I had several opportunities to photograph this lifer for me…

Bay-breasted warbler

…which was a good thing, because the first series of photos that I shot of it were so poor that I couldn’t use them.

He must have needed a break, because he sat there long enough for me to get a little closer, and to find a better hole in the brush to shoot through.

Bay-breasted warbler

He also did some preening, but as slow as my shutter speeds were, most of the photos I shot while he was preening are junk, but here’s a wing stretch.

Bay-breasted warbler

With so many small birds around…

Black and white warbler

…if there had been better light, I would have gotten better shots of them taking off…

Black and white warbler in flight

…but the very poor light was against me. That, and the park is as bad as the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve as far as trying to find holes through the vegetation to shoot through.

Male Baltimore oriole

As I looked for birds to shoot, I also tried to figure out why such a small park would attract so many birds, and other than it’s where the Grand River narrows which shortens the birds’ flight across open water, I couldn’t see that much different about East River Park than many other areas of the region. But then, I’m not a bird, so maybe there’s more to it than that.

By then, I needed a break, as I was getting arm weary from moving the camera and 100-400 mm lens around as I tried to get photos of the birds so far that morning. So, I headed north to Muskegon, with the intention of stopping at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. However, the parking lot there was full, including several school busses, and I didn’t want to deal with any crowds as I attempted to shoot photos.

Instead, I went to Muskegon State Park, where I did something dumb. As I said, my arms were tired from horsing the 100-400 mm lens around all morning as I tried to keep up with the small birds that I’d been chasing, so I took the 400 mm prime lens with me as I walked the Lost Lake trail and Snug Harbor portions of Muskegon State Park.

While the 400 mm lens is lighter, and I believe that it’s also slightly sharper than the 100-400 mm lens, it won’t focus any closer than 11 feet from me. I missed a few small birds because I was too close to them for that lens to focus on the birds. The shots that I missed were no big deal, but it was still something that I needed to try for future reference. The 100-400 mm lens has to be my walking around lens.¬†Fortunately, I had also taken a 60D body and 100 mm macro lens with me.

I’ve never been able to figure the Lost Lake Trail out, it looks good for birding, yet I seldom see any birds when I walk it. I hear birds in the distance, but I seldom see any. But, I wanted to walk that trail because I read that it had been improved, which it hasn’t been that I could see. Also, I often find subjects for macro and close-up photography along that trail, and it’s just a pleasant walk on top of that.

So, without any birds to photograph, the only photos from the Lost Lake Trail portion of the day are these photos shot with the macro set-up.

May apples sprouting and sedges blooming

It was nice to see green again after the long, cold winter. I used the swiveling screen of the 60D body to shoot this image…

Unidentified sedge flowers

…as well as these ferns emerging from the ground…

Unidentified fern

…I got a little too close to that one, I did better with this one…

Unidentified fern

…and I didn’t have to lay in the mud to get the close-ups as I would have if I’d been looking through the viewfinder when I shot those.

My only photos from the Snug Harbor portion of Muskegon State Park are these…

Canada goose drying its wings

…I had seen the goose bathing, and I tried to get into the perfect position for this series…

Canada goose drying its wings

…but I was still so close that I cut the goose’s wings off…

Canada goose drying its wings

…still, I’m impressed with what my 7D camera with the 400 mm prime lens can do when it comes to shooting action photos.

I could do a little bragging at this point, but I won’t. The light had improved, as you can see in the images of the goose, but it still wasn’t that great. I took a drive the last few miles from Snug Harbor to Lake Michigan, so I could look out over the lake to see if the promised clear skies were on their way. There were a few breaks in the clouds, and wanting to feed my hunger to shoot more landscape photos, I shot this with the newer 16-35 mm lens.

Muskegon State Park sand dunes

I wanted something more interesting than the dead tree in the foreground, but that was the best thing that I could come up with that also allowed me to show the curves and lines of the dunes the way that I wanted in the image that I had in mind. I did try to work the scene a little, I set-up in several spots, and even took other photos, but that’s the best I could come up with.

By now, it was mid-afternoon, and Lake Michigan was still completely clouded over, so I started for home. But, as I was driving past the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, I saw that the parking lot had emptied, and the skies had cleared up, it had finally become the nice day that the weather forecast had promised.

yellow warbler enjoying the sunshine

I missed a rose-breasted grosbeak which I saw in the parking lot, and was my reason for walking the MLNP, but I found a few other birds to photograph.

Palm warbler

 

First year white-throated sparrow with a snack

 

Eastern wood pewee

And, to wrap up the photos for this post…

White-crowned sparrow

…and ask why I couldn’t have light like that for the entire day?

You may be asking why I’m blogging on the second of my two days off instead of being out with my camera, and the reason is the weather. As bad as it was for most of the day yesterday, it’s even worse today. It’s raining, the temperature has dropped 20 degrees Fahrenheit from yesterday, and there’s a stiff wind out of the east making it feel even colder than what it actually is according to the thermometer. It’s the middle of May, but it feels as raw as an early March day. That’s something that I’d rather not deal with, so I ran some errands that I’ve been putting off, and I’ve done a few things around home.

So, to sum this post up, most of the photos are very poor, but it may well be another year before I see some of the species of birds in this post again. It is the middle of May, and many species are already behind their normal schedule on their migration to the north. The number of migrating birds that I saw on this one day was astounding, which means that most of the birds are in a hurry to make up for the time that they’ve lost waiting for warmer weather. I hope to run into a few stragglers next week, but I can’t count on that, or that the weather will be that much better. So. I’ve had to make do with the photos that I was able to get, no matter how poor they are.

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


More signs of spring 2018

If I were to dwell on the negative, I’d say that this day, May 1st, could have been much better. Nice weather, good light, and plenty of birds around. I had the new backpack to try out, and it does what I hoped it would do, allow me to carry everything needed if I ever get around to setting up the portable hide that I have.

No, I didn’t get around to that again this week, despite my plans to do just that. The hide will work best for medium to large size subjects, not the little warblers that I was shooting this week.

Male yellow warbler

That’s because the small birds are always moving, looking for food most of the time…

Male yellow warbler

…sometimes pausing to sing to attract a mate.

Male northern cardinal singing

Time and time again, I thought of setting up the tripod to use, and is the first step to using the portable hide, but to get the images of the birds that I was seeing, I had to be on the move all the time to get at least a somewhat clear view of them with good lighting, and a background that wasn’t too distracting.

I know how other photographers work around that, they create scenes where they can set-up and wait for the birds to come to them. I have neither the time or inclination to do that, especially since I have such limited time to be outside with my camera. However, when conditions are right, and I’m photographing larger subjects, I will use the hide and my tripod.

Anyway, my day began before sunrise at the Muskegon County wastewater facility…

Sunrise over a marsh

…and even though I knew that I should have stayed there until the sun actually rose above the horizon, I moved on in hopes of finding a place to test the hide. That was a mistake, for the best part of the sunrise came later, and I was faced with nothing in the foreground to photograph, so I made do with what was at hand at the time.

Red-winged blackbird at sunrise

I shot two different takes of the scene, and I can’t decide which I like better.

Red-winged blackbird at sunrise

With great light, I was hoping to shoot a few male ducks in their breeding plumage before they continue to migrate north, but none of the ducks would cooperate.  I made do with two photos of waterfowl in flight, as all of them were even more skittish than usual.

Bufflehead in flight

 

Blue-winged teal in flight

I decided not to waste my time on the ducks, so I moved to the Lane’s Landing portion of the Muskegon State Game Area. I was hoping to see either waterfowl or wading birds there, where I could set-up the hide and take advantage of the great light at the time. I shot this sandhill crane as it flew past me while I was checking out the area for stationary subjects.

Sandhill crane in flight

I couldn’t see anything in any of the ponds along the way as far as ducks or wading birds, but the willows surrounding the ponds were full of migrating warblers.

Palm warbler

 

Yellow warbler

I heard the song of a bird that I’ve never heard before, and I was able to spot the bird, but I never did get a photo of it as it moved around in the swamp there at Lane’s Landing, darn.

Also, I was using the 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X tele-converter, which means that I missed far more birds that I was able to photograph because of how slowly that set-up auto-focuses. Still, to be out there on such a fine day in nothing but a T-shirt was absolutely wonderful! Hearing the birds singing only added to my enjoyment of the day.

I hung out in that spot watching wave after wave of warblers moving through the trees, and I have a lot of bad photos of various species of warblers that I could put in this post at this time, but I won’t.

Instead, I’ll put a bad photo of what I think is a hermit thrush that I tried to get a good photo of, after I had moved to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve.

Hermit thrush?

That bird used about every trick in the book, other than taking flight, to avoid having it’s picture taken, that’s the best I could do.

I sat down at the picnic pavilion there at the MLNP, and removed the 1.4 X extender from my lens, to speed up the auto-focus and to shoot what I saw there.

Song sparrow

The sparrow paused from looking for seeds to watch two male red-winged blackbirds fighting above it.

Song sparrow

The fight was a violent one, but over with too quickly for me to shoot a photo. One of the blackbirds had pulled a large number of feathers out of its opponent, I almost tried for get a shot of the feathers blowing in the wind, but there wasn’t time to switch camera settings for that. Instead, I settled for this red squirrel in action.

Red squirrel

 

Red squirrel

I had rested enough by then to continue on, I shot this willow flower…

Willow flowers

…and this robin…

American robin

…as more signs that spring is finally here.

Without the extender behind the 100-400 mm lens, I was able to shoot fairly good images of larger birds that flew past me as I slowly worked through the brush there at the MLNP.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

Canada goose in flight

I was worried about getting close enough to the birds, but I shouldn’t have been.

American coot

I didn’t crop that image at all, although I should have cropped slightly for composition.

By then, it was early afternoon, and the light, while good, was casting harsh shadows on the subjects that I tried to shoot, but I did the best that I could.

Mourning dove

 

Tufted titmouse

 

Tufted titmouse

 

Yellow-Rumped warbler

 

Yellow-Rumped warbler

By then, the light was getting funky from the sun being so high, a lot of dust in the air due to the wind being as strong as it was, and rising humidity levels as well.

Red-winged blackbird

That’s not cropped at all, and you can see that it isn’t as sharp as most of the rest of the images in this post are, it’s all because of the junk in the air that disperses the light coming into the camera. But, if I could get even closer to a subject…

Willow (?) flowers

…then the light was still good.

That image is a great example of why I’m not always able to identify the things in my blog. I saw the color combination of the flowers and the water, and just shot that image without looking at what species of tree produced the flower.

On the other hand, I went through 70 web pages of photos of butterflies hoping to be able to identify this one that I saw.

Unidentified (for now) butterfly

The reasons that I stopped after viewing 70 web pages of photos of butterflies are that it was late by then and I was tired, and all of the butterflies in the photos were beginning to look-alike.

I thought that these flowers were from a box elder tree when I first saw them…

Unidentified flowers

…but I know what a box elder tree looks like, and the tree that produced those flowers wasn’t a box elder, so I assume that is another species in the same family as maples and box elders.

By the way, that last photo was shot with the 60 D camera and 100 mm macro lens if it makes a difference to any one.

Now then, the big news this week is that I’ll be starting a new schedule for work this weekend, one that gives me two full days off each week, rather than one full day off and two long breaks between runs during the actual work week as I have been doing the past few months. You may find it funny, but I don’t remember the exact details of the new schedule, other than that I do get two full days off, and that the timing of the runs means that I won’t have to put up with rush hour traffic either. It will be nice to have two full days off again, even though I was just starting to get used to taking advantage of the schedule that I have been on. Which days that I have off doesn’t matter to me, other than it’s two days in a row so if I want to go up north, I can. In fact, not having days off on the weekends appeals to me, because there are fewer people out and about during the week.

So, things are looking very good to me right now, the weather has finally gotten nice on a regular basis, and spring is well and truly in full swing here now. I’m liking doing dedicated outings much more than I thought that I would, although it still bothers me a little to pass by subjects that I’d like to photograph because I don’t have all my camera gear with me all the time. On the other hand, not trying to photograph flowers blowing around in the wind and getting frustrated with the poor images that are a result of trying more than makes up for passing a flower that I’d like to photograph. I could have included more photos of more species of birds in this post, but the photos wouldn’t be very good.

With nice weather and good light on most days, I’m not jonesing for the 5D Mk IV like I was when I was shooting in low light most of the time this past winter. Yes, I’d like the expanded dynamic range of the 5D for most of my images, but I can do quite well with what I have, if I do say so myself. Again, doing dedicated outing helps in that respect as well, as I can work around the short comings of the 7D and 60D cameras that I’m using now, and the overall quality of the photos that I’m shooting continues to improve.

And maybe it’s a sign of getting older, but I’m enjoying the slower pace of the dedicated outings that I’ve been doing. It was nice to sit in a field of dandelions waiting for the bee from the last post to show up. I didn’t mind fiddling with the tripod and camera settings to shoot the buildings in downtown Grand Rapids nor the night images that I shot. On the day I shot the photos in this post, I spent quite a bit of time watching the waves of warblers moving through the trees at the swamp at Lane’s Landing. I no longer feel the need to rush ahead to see what’s over the next hill or around the next bend the way that I’ve always felt before.

In a way, it’s almost like fly fishing for trout. One of the first things that I learned when I began fly fishing was that I had to slow down and take my time, not rush from spot to spot in hopes of catching a fish. Also, just as in fly fishing, good gear makes a huge difference in how enjoyable the experience is. There’s nothing worse than trying to cast with a cheap, poorly made fly rod, other than to try to shoot good photos with a camera that doesn’t function as it should.

The level of equipment that I have now may not be the very best, but I’m still extracting more details in my images all the time. In many of my images, you can see the textures of a bird’s feathers, or in the petals of a flower. That helps to make the images look more three-dimensional as in most of the images in this post, especially the sandhill crane, in that image, you can get an idea about the muscle structure of the crane’s breast muscles as it flies.

There I go bragging again, I’m sorry, but I’m really enjoying photography more than ever as the quality of the images that I shoot improves.

Lesser scaup in flight

 

Female red-winged blackbird

Changing the subject, tonight I’m starting a new schedule at work. I’ll have Thursdays and Fridays off from work from now on, woo hoo, two full days off rather than just one! Another item on the positive side is that my Wednesdays will be the shortest workday of the week, which will give me even more time for my “weekends”. The only downside is that my first day back at work each week is my longest scheduled day, around 13 hours long.

That’s my long-winded way of saying that it may take me a day or two to catch up with any comments readers may leave to this post, as I’ll be pressed for sleep the next 36 hours. But, I will get caught up again once I have finished the long day, and I’m into the regular part of my schedule, which is three 9 hour long days in a row.

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


It’s finally spring 2018

I’m starting this post on April 25th, and it’s been a week since there has been any new snow falling! It’s warming up nicely, not too fast so that average temperatures feel like a heat wave, but enough so that it’s pleasant outside with a light jacket most of the time.

As luck would have it, my one day off from work was one of the coolest days since the last snowstorm, and there were a few rain showers scattered about that came and went during the day. When I set off from home, I wasn’t sure how scattered the rain would be, and it was still chilly, so my first stop was the Muskegon County wastewater facility. I’ll have photos from my time there in a bit, but the most memorable part of my time there was talking to an ornithologist based in Grand Rapids who studies the Great Lakes gulls and the effects of pollution on them. He also does work banding loons on the side.

It just so happened that I had seen a loon there at the wastewater facility, they are rare visitors there, as there isn’t much food available to them.

There was also a snowy owl in sight of us as we chatted, but I felt no need to shoot any photos of the owl, because I was learning so much talking to the gull expert and also listening to him tell tales about wrestling loons at night to band them. Loons are much larger than most people realize, and are quite a handful to net and band from what the person I was talking to related to me. Speaking of loons and their size, it was how large this loon was compared to the ducks around it that helped me to identify it, even if it was too far away for a good photo of it.

Common loon

It didn’t help that I was shooting directly into what light sunlight there was at the time.

Common loon

What the loon was doing at the wastewater facility is a question that can’t be answered, as there aren’t any fish in the storage lagoons as far as I know. Maybe it was just tired and needed to rest for a while.

Anyway, I also visited several other locations in the Muskegon area, including the headquarters area of the Muskegon State Game Area, where I shot this photo.

Spring beauty flowers

My other stops were the Lane’s Landing area in the MSGA, the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, where I found a few willow catkins beginning to open.

Willow catkins opening

I like this next one because it shows all the stages that the willow catkins go through, although I cut off part of the gray fuzzy stage a little.

Willow catkins opening

In addition to the four stops that I made on the 25th, I also ventured out in the afternoon around home hoping to find a few flowers in bloom a few days later. Since my plan is to eventually limit myself to specific subjects during my trips, I packed just the items of camera gear that I would need for macro and close-up photography for the most part. I did take the 300 mm lens in case I saw any birds…

Chipping sparrow

…and because with the 2 X extender behind that lens, it works well for insect close-ups. It isn’t my best lens for birding, but it will do in a pinch as the image above shows.

The 100-400 mm lens would also be a good choice, but it’s much heavier than the 300 mm lens, and I found that the total weight of my macro gear was much heavier than I had expected. In fact, I struggled to get back on my feet whenever I knelt or laid down on the ground to get the shot that I wanted with the heavy backpack holding me down. I think that a camera shoulder bag will be a much better choice to hold my gear for this type of outing. Something that I can set down on the ground easily while I’m actually shooting photos. The wise way would be to take the backpack off while I’m shooting photos, but the backpack that I have doesn’t fit me very well, and it’s a pain to take off, and an even bigger pain to put back on again. A thought just occurred to me, I could use whatever bag or backpack that I end up with to hold my macro gear as a background behind a subject when I’m photographing something. You’ll see that in the next image in this post, I shot a trout lily and ended up with a poor background of very bright dried leaves on the ground. I should have set the backpack on the ground behind the trout lily to make it stand out from the background. I hope that I remember this trick the next time that I’m out.

The other “mistake” that I made was to take only one of the 7D Mk II bodies with me, as I seldom get a chance to use that body with a f/2.8 lens as my 100 mm macro lens is. The 7D does of course allow live view shooting, but the screen is built into the back of the camera. Time and time again when I was contemplating how I could best photograph a subject, I wished that I had brought a 60D body with me as well. The screen on the 60D flips out, and can be swiveled around so that you can see the screen even when you have the back of the camera touching the ground, and the lens pointed up slightly to shoot a flower that grows close to the ground for example.

Trout lily photographed poorly

I got wet and dirty as I laid on the ground in several instances for photos that aren’t even worth posting here. So, from now on when I do a macro/close-up outing, I’ll take both a 7D and a 60D body with me to cover all the bases. The 7D, with its superior auto-focusing, especially with a f/2.8 lens…

Unidentified bee

…even with an extension tube behind the macro lens to get even closer to a subject…

Unidentified bee

…makes the 7D the best choice of camera bodies at times.

Most of all, those images are a great example of why I need to do subject specific outings from now on. I never would have had the time to get set-up and ready to shoot that bee if I hadn’t already stopped to shoot a dandelion flower…

Dandelion

..and saw the tiny insect on the flower. So, I grabbed the longest extension tube from the set that I have, and tried to get a better image of the insect. This was the best I could do before it flew away.

Tiny unidentified insect on a dandelion

Since I was near several dandelion flowers, I kept the macro set-up ready and searched for other insects, which is when I spotted the bee seen above, and below…

Unidentified bee

…as I slithered closer to the bee between shots…

Unidentified bee

…until I was close to the limit of how close that set-up will focus down to. The bee was about half an inch long, but it nearly fills the frame in these images, I’m very happy with these.

I don’t know why I never thought of sitting in the middle of a few flowers waiting for insects to come to the flowers before. It’s going to happen, since the flowers are food to so many species of insects. In turn, spiders and other predators of insects can also be found around flowers for that same reason.

Since I was already laying on the ground, I shot this one for the heck of it.

Dandelion seeds

I also attempted a few close-ups using a wide-angle lens, I need to work on those types of images a bit more, as this is my best from the day.

Mixed hen bit and dead nettle flowers

Later in the day, I returned to downtown Grand Rapids for another urban outing around sunset and beyond. I had hoped to catch a good sunset over the city skyline, but that didn’t happen. I think that the way that Grand Rapids is situated in the Grand River valley that it would be better to try for a good sunrise over the city instead of a sunset, but maybe I haven’t found the right location to shoot from yet.

Actually, these urban outings so far are for the purposes of scouting locations and learning how to use my wide-angle lenses better. What I learn shooting urban landscapes will help me when I shoot more scenic “wild” locations when I get the chance. These outings are also a way for me to prepare for the day when I have a full frame body and wide-angle lenses to go with it.

If it makes a difference, I brought my 10-18 mm, 15-85 mm, the newer 16-35 mm, and 70-200 mm lenses with me, packed in a backpack that I received for free from B&H Photo as a premium gift when I purchased the second Canon 7D body from them. The backpack is a Lowepro photo hatchback model that isn’t worth much more than I paid for it, which is nothing. It does hold what I need for these urban outings, even if it is inconvenient to get to the lenses and it isn’t padded well enough in my opinion. I would never purchase that backpack for my own use, but since it was free, I thought that I may as well put it to use.

I began the evening at the 6th Street dam, the low head dam that was built to allow boats to navigate the Grand River and which also caused the rapids which gave Grand Rapids its name to be hidden under the raised level of the river behind the dam.

The 6th Street dam in Grand Rapids, Michigan

You can also see several construction cranes in that photo, Grand Rapids is undergoing a building and rebuilding boom at the current time. That’s due in part to the fact that the city is transforming itself from a furniture and auto parts manufacturing city to a high-tech and medical research city. The skyline of the city sure has changed over the last 30 years.

The changing skyline of Grand Rapids, Michigan

Some one who hadn’t seen the city in a few years would have a hard time recognizing it today.

Anyway, even though I don’t really want to, I should throw in this photo of the dam and the bridge upstream of it…

The 6th Street dam and bridge in Grand Rapids, Michigan

..as people worked long and hard to save that bridge when it was slated for replacement due to its narrow construction and needed a lot of work to be restored. As far as I’m concerned, they should have allowed the bridge to be replaced with a newer one better suited to today’s traffic.

It isn’t that I don’t want to see worthwhile historic structures saved, I do, but to me, there was no reason to save that bridge in my opinion.

I don’t know the history of this building, but I liked it and the flowering tree beside it.

More signs of spring and an old building

I returned to the Basilica of Saint Adalbert…

The Basilica of Saint Adalbert at night

…to shoot a few close-ups of parts of the building. Here are the main entry doors reflecting the setting sun.

The Basilica of Saint Adalbert

I should have shot that a few minutes earlier as the light was already fading by the time I decided to set-up to get that shot.

I shot this one to show the details in the construction of the towers.

The Basilica of Saint Adalbert

And, here’s one of the angels that adorn the roof of the basilica.

Angel on the roof of the Basilica of Saint Adalbert

And of course, I shot the stained glass windows after it was almost dark.

Stained glass window of the Basilica of Saint Adalbert

I think that I had better light when I was there the first time, as these images don’t do justice to what I saw but didn’t photograph when I was there before.

Stained glass window of the Basilica of Saint Adalbert

Still, these will remind me to think outside the box and to shoot what moves me when I see it instead of hoping for a repeat performance later.

You may remember the fake photo that I had in my last post that showed the full moon rising over Grand Rapids. I did shoot an image which showed the full moon over one of the buildings in this next image, but it isn’t worth posting here other to show all of you that you can see the full moon and the building in this image.

Double exposure of the full moon and the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan

That’s very close to what I saw that inspired me to make these faked images. Instead of a full moon, it was a sliver of the moon, and it was higher in the sky when I saw that scene the first time. Both the moon and the city skyline were shot at about the same focal length in this faked image, and I shot this one from the bridge that I was driving across when the idea for this image came to me, so it is very close to what I saw in reality. All that I did was to swap a full moon for a sliver of a moon, and drop it a little lower in the scene.

I see that these last few images appear a bit darker in this post than they do when I view the images in Lightroom, I should go back and bump the exposure up, but I’m too lazy to do that.

Anyway, the more of these dedicated outings that I do, the more that I like doing them, and I can see how much better my images can be when I do limit myself as far as subject matter. For one thing, it’s great to not have to try carrying all my camera gear around with me all the time.

Now then, back to my trip to the Muskegon area on Tuesday. The light was poor with rain on and off, but I did a couple of short hikes over the course of my time there. I was thinking about getting the portable hide out and finally giving it a try, but I haven’t come up with a way to carry what I need with me to make effective use of the hide. The hide itself folds down to a neat package, but it still has to be carried, along with my heavier tripod with the gimbal head on it, and the cameras and the lenses that I plan on using. I also picked up a 5 gallon bucket from the side of the road to sit on while I’m in the hide, as I’d rather not stand for hours if I don’t have to. I had thought about carrying my stuff in the bucket, but that isn’t a viable option unless I’m willing to suffer some¬†cosmetic¬†damage to some of my gear as it clanks together as I walk. I’m not willing to do that, so I have nixed the bucket idea, other than as a seat in the hide.

So, I have ordered yet another backpack, as if three weren’t enough already. The thing is, none of the ones that I already have is suited to carry a long lens (or lenses) and a full size tripod. The one that I ordered should fit the bill as it’s made specifically for carrying a very long lens and full size tripod, along with all the accessories needed.

Of the places that I go to regularly in the Muskegon area, Lane’s Landing would be the best place to test out the hide to start with. With the weather improving, I hope to try the hide out this coming Tuesday, which is my next scheduled day off from work. I should receive the new backpack before then, so I may finally get around to putting it to use. And, it looks like I’m going to have good weather and lighting for a change that day.

The one nagging doubt that I have about spending time in the hide is what happens if I spend several hours just sitting there, and nothing appears within range of the camera. Right now, I only have one day per week off from work, and within that single day, just two or three hours of really good light for photography. However, the more that I think about it, the less concerned I am about coming back empty-handed.

We’ve only had two weeks of nice weather this spring, and already I have a backlog of photos that I saved to post here, but haven’t used yet. Part of that is that I’ve done things such as posting 4 images of the unidentified bee above, but if you look closely at those images, you can see that it was feeding on either the pollen or nectar of the dandelion. It was fascinating to watch its mouth working as I shot those images, if I had any idea of how to go about it, I’d give macro video a try, but I think it’s beyond my limited ability to shoot video at the current time.

I shot quite a few more photos downtown than I’m going to post, as most of them were shot as a test using the 10-18 mm lens on the 7D body to see what it will be like to use the 16-35 mm lens on a full frame body when I purchase the 5D Mk IV. I was also learning to shoot architectural subjects and wasn’t that worried about the bad lighting that I had for most of them. I wanted to see how much of the subject would fit into the frame at short distances, and how badly the buildings would be distorted. As far as testing, the evening was a success, and for that matter, my macro outing was also a success.

Coming up with enough photos to fill a post this time of year should never be a concern for me…

Canada goose landing

…as even common subjects that I seldom post photos of any longer can yield some good images…

Canada goose “greeting” its mate

…and watching the geese is always good for a chuckle or two, no matter how many times I see the scene above repeated.

News flash:

Canon and B&H Photo have just ruined my train of thought. I was going to post a few more images that I’ve shot over the course of the past two weeks…

American robin gathering material for its nest

…that showed more signs that spring has finally arrived in West Michigan…

Maple flowers (?) blooming

…and talk about how even plain-looking species of birds…

Common grackle

…look their best in the spring…

Common grackle

…unless some one with a camera ticks them off chasing them around for a photo.

Common grackle

I’ve just learned that Canon is offering the 5D Mk IV for several hundred dollars off from the list price, and also throwing in a free $300 battery grip to go with it. With the accessories that B&H Photo is adding to the package, I can save almost $1,000 off the price of the 5D and the lens that I would like to go with it.

Seeing that, I’m obsessed with the question of whether I should go into debt to take advantage of that offer now, or wait until this fall, when I’m sure that the same promotions will be offered again, or at least I hope that they will be.

Well, my bout of temporary insanity caused by the announcement of the promotional pricing for the 5D is over, I’ve decided to wait until I can afford it without maxing out a credit card. Canon will run the same promotion again this fall, or possibly even a better one. So, I’ll stick with what I have for now, as I’m doing okay with it.

Male wood ducks

 

Upland sandpiper

 

Upland sandpiper

And, here is one of the ultimate signs of spring!

Canada goose gosling

It’s hard to believe that there are eggs hatching already this spring, since we had a nasty snow and ice storm that lasted several days just a little over a week ago. I think that the adorable fuzzball above was only a day or so old when I saw it.

It’s Monday afternoon now, and I have to go and pickup the new backpack so that I can get it ready for tomorrow. It promises to be a great day for my day off from work this week, I hope that I can take advantage of it.

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